Strategies to support children with eating difficulties
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Strategies to support children with eating difficulties

where the cause is NOT a swallowing problem, but we are having a “fussy eater” in the family, seeming for no obvious reason

When parents have a child who find mealtimes or eating difficult, it can put pressure on the whole family dynamics. Once we have observed a child’s eating and drinking skills and found that they are not swallowing impaired, but are for want of a better word “fussy” or “picky”, we can then start to look at what might be underpinning the food aversions/picky eating/food avoidance. Two of the main questions parents have (of course) are:

  • ‘is my child getting the right nutrition?’
  • ‘how can I have less anxiety-provoking and stressful mealtimes?’

We all tend to have an image in our minds about the ‘perfect mealtime’, and how mealtimes ‘should’ be. Speech and Language Therapists with a Feeding Specialism are the perfect professionals to help you unpick feeding issues. We are trained to look at swallowing and oral skills and we also know a lot about feeding behaviours and sensory difficulties which could be causing your child’s eating avoidance.

Here are some strategies that can support children with their eating:

  1. Create and maintain a mealtime culture that suits your home and lifestyle. Then stick to that. We all need some routine in our lives to thrive. Mealtimes are no different. It might be that you eat in the same place for every meal, with the same knives and forks, concentrating on maintaining good posture. Children learn by repetition so the more familiar it is, the easier they will find it. In the physical sense, our bodies also need preparing for food, regardless of whether we are eating with our mouths or we are tube-fed. We want every child to connect all the dots of the process. It starts with their eyes, noses, expectations, memories of past experiences, feelings and then finally their mouths….
  2. Be an excellent role model. Children learn through watching others, so your child will be observing you without you knowing. Ensure that you are positive about the food you are all eating, and talk about how delicious, tasty, juicy, and yummy the foods are. Make the atmosphere around the dinner table light hearted. Even though you are secretly stressed about your child not eating, try and not show this. Instead pick a topic or put on some nice music, or talk about something your child might be interested in, and try and avoid coercing your child to eat. Leave small finger foods on their plates and have a range of foods available on the table so that your child can see that everyone is eating a range of foods and enjoying them.
  3. Use positive reinforcement. Try and think of mealtimes as fun and motivating. Children who are happy will likely be more inclined to try foods and take part in family mealtimes. Reward all interactions around food, so if your child merely touches a new food then praise this behaviour. Or if your child licks a food just once, again make a nice comment and praise your child for touching and licking the food. The takeaway here is to try and keep all messages positive around food.
  4. Keep offering all types of food. What often happens is that parents stop serving foods they know will not be eaten. This makes sense in a way; we don’t want wastage! However, try and keep the doors open and re-offer all types of foods, even the ones that your child has not wanted in the past. Try and give your child one food they will like and one food they have tasted before and liked before, even a little, and then one new food to try. So, your child always has something to fall back on and they can join in with eating. But they can also try (or at least look at and think about trying) other foods that you and perhaps the siblings are eating.

Take a look at this website, I find it very helpful in showing parents what types of foods and how big a portion to offer

Have a go and try and implement some of the ideas above, and should you get stuck please get in touch!

Find a speech and language therapist for your child in London. Are you concerned about your child’s speech, feeding or communication skills and don’t know where to turn? Please contact me and we can discuss how I can help you or visit my services page.

Top Tips For The Best Chair When Weaning / Feeding Your Toddler

Top Tips For The Best Chair When Weaning / Feeding Your Toddler

Kids Speech Therapist London
Top Tips For The Best Chair When Weaning / Feeding Your Toddler

Many times I consult families for weaning or feeding difficulties and the immediate and most obvious problem I spot, as soon as I arrive or see any video footage for analysis: the high chair has no footrest! You know the one that is so popular from a certain Swedish company…and don’t get me wrong, most of my furniture is still from that same company and I mostly love it…after assembly and a fair bit of cursing…but the very cheap chair they sell is literally one of my pet hates…perhaps ‘hate’ is a bit strong, but I just do not like this chair at all. And the reason is simply this: IT HAS NO FOOTREST!? PS: it may do now, I have not been to said store in a while, but I have not come across any improved chairs in any of my clients’ homes!

Who likes to have their feet dangling in mid-air at any time of the day? I really don’t!. I need to always have my feet firmly planted on the ground or on a footrest – should I find myself lucky enough to be sitting on a bar stool these days! As soon as I clamber up that stool and I have managed to find a hook for my handbag – here’s another bugbear, but I digress – as soon as…my feet are looking and rooting for that foot rest. Because it gives us stability and let’s face it, when on a bar stool…stability is what gets us through the evening.

So back to our toddler: why would we imagine that our toddler feels any different about dangly legs? Imagine if you will, sitting on one of those bouncy gym balls… where would your feet be? Yes of course, on the floor, because otherwise all hell will break loose or, more to the point, your tummy muscles would get a nice work out, and that is FINE, no problem. Go for it, I know I should…

But if you imagine sitting on a ball like this with your feet off the ground and now you are given a plate of food as well….. I personally don’t think that would end well.

Of course our toddler in that high chair without a footrest is not quite as wobbly as you would be on that ball, but the principle is the same: there is very little stability and now s/he is meant to be tucking into some veggies as well.

As I mentioned in my PS above, I do understand that there are now some additional footrests that can be fitted on the above Swedish chair, and if that becomes a bit more common place and is easy enough to do, then all is forgiven and please go ahead. However….. and I am not on ANY commission from the company I am about to recommend, but really, I have not come across a better chair that is so versatile and will last your child until they are about 12years old!! (Both my boys had one each and 20 years later, I still use both their hairs now for children that come to see me in my clinic. They are almost as good as new and adjust so easily and well to all different heights)

Tripp Trapp® Chair
Tripp Trapp® Chair

Enter, the Stokke Tripp Trapp Chair. It costs a small fortune to be fair, but it did win the “best high chair award” in 2021. There are many cheaper versions available, for example, John Lewis sell a similar chair for about half the price! So do shop around.

But what is so important to consider is that your child has a foot rest and that his trunk is at a 90 degree angle with your child’s thighs.

This affords your child maximum stability and so now we can have a look at the rest of your child’s feeding skills and see what else can be done to help things, and there are many more strategies. But this is usually the first and a hugely important bit of advice I will give and the effect of better sitting, and increased stability is huge!

Best of luck with shopping for your great new high chair. I would also say, if you have already got a chair without a footrest and you don’t want to get another one, I totally get that too. In that case, perhaps have a think about how you could enable your child to rest his/her feet on something, with the right 90 degree angle I mentioned above: perhaps a crate of some sort? a coffee/side table that could be placed under the chair for feet to rest on? a box? Once we become aware of the problem there is most often a solution to this issue. Your toddler will thank you!

I hope this is helpful, please feel free to contact me if you have struggled with finding the right position for your child or if you found this blog post helpful.

Find a speech and language therapist for your child in London. Are you concerned about your child’s speech, feeding or communication skills and don’t know where to turn? Please contact me and we can discuss how I can help you or visit my services page.