Listed below are ways to create a positive feeding experience for your child, starting with early feeding experiences. It is important to realize that the caregiver and child both have different roles and responsibilities during meal time and showing respect for your child’s choices leads to trust and increased success.
- Let your baby guide you during meals. Wait for cues that let you know he is ready for a spoonful and avoid force-feeding. If your child is refusing food, force feeding will only result in further refusal. There may be an underlying reason for the refusal and you should consult your feeding specialist for further evaluation.
- Messy, messy, messy! Put the ‘clean freak’ side of you aside and allow your baby to make a mess. Exploring food textures is part of the feeding experience and you will be surprised at what your child will be willing to eat when he is allowed to have some independence!
- Give choices and offer a favorite food in addition to new or undesired foods. Make realistic expectations. It may take several tries for your child to accept a new food. If he refuses the first presentation, continue to offer the food and incorporate it into several meals.
- Pair a new food with an accepted food. For example, if your child loves to munch on club crackers, mash a new, soft fruit or vegetable on the cracker or dip in various purees or dips. Place it on the tray for independent feeding.
- The parent’s role is to provide the choices for the meal and to decide when and where to eat. The child’s role is to decide what and how much to eat. If your child is taking an inadequate amount of food, provide plenty of encouragement but do not force. Seek professional help if your child continues to refuse foods.
- Provide regularly scheduled meals and snacks and stick to your routine. Research has shown that children who ‘graze’ throughout the day with eating end up taking in 25% fewer calories.
- Eat together as a family. Children learn from watching others and keeping a meal time structure at home is a vital part of the feeding process.
- Schedule play dates for your children and create an opportunity for the children to watch each other eat.
- Talk about food and interact with it in other ways than just eating. Feed the ducks at a local pond, plant a garden in the back yard, take a stroll down the produce aisle, and build food creations at home.
- Remember to be patient with your child’s feeding. If you are stressed out, he will be stressed out. If his anxiety is up and that anxiety is created at each meal, then the stage is already set for unsuccessful feeding. Start now by creating positive associations and a laid back feeding environment.
Kristina M. Starnes, M.S. CCC-SLP
Speech-language pathologist specialzing in Pediatric Dysphagia