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:
- 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….
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.