How many of us have heard an interaction that goes something like this when trying to feed our little mouths at the table?
“Here comes the train, chu-chu!” “Here comes the plane-whoosh!” “How about, here comes the horsey!? –clip clop, clip clop! You love horses why don’t you just eat?!”
A parent or caregiver can feel an enormous frustration when their child refuses to eat a variety of foods especially when there has been love and soul mixed into the delicious dinner. It can be immensely distressing for all involved including the child at the table turning their head, kicking their feet and avoiding the food like it is poison. Don’t worry, it is not likely to be your cooking, but rather a skill deficit in your child’s ability to effectively eat the food. They have not yet learnt about how to eat this food and they don’t feel safe consuming it freely! Don’t worry a feeding trained speech pathologist can help!
Let us take a step back and understand that feeding is the most challenging sensory activity that children do as it simultaneously requires integrating information across each one of our 8 senses each time we are presented with food and chew. Our senses help to protect us from many forms of danger which include alerting us when a food has gone off, is too hot or that it has not been cooked enough. In order to eat well, a child must be able to process and then simultaneously manage multisensory inputs.
There can be many reasons why your child is not eating and often assessing feeding difficulties are best managed when assessed via a transdisciplinary team approach. Within our team at Melbourne Child Development we assess our fussy and problem feeders with a trained Nutritionist and Speech Pathologist.
The Speech Pathologist is trained to assess, diagnose and treat feeding difficulties and they apply their knowledge of development, behaviour, muscles, nerves and processes that need to occur for successful chewing and swallowing. Some children may also have poor awareness of where their various oral structures are such as their lips, tongue and teeth which they will need to effectively use to manipulate, chew and swallow food safely. These children often gag on food, are messy eaters and later in life may develop speech sound difficulties.
The Speech Pathologist can teach families how to have positive mealtimes and appreciate that mealtimes are an opportunity for children to learn how to eat and for parents to role model exploring new food, textures and flavors. For example when experiencing, new bold flavors we can use positive adjectives to describe this experience to our child such as, “wow that’s a big flavor” “that tastes smooth and sweet”.
Social role modeling is also one of the key ways in which children learn about the world around them and about food. Mirror neuron systems in our nervous system link perception to motor action. When it comes to eating, parents and carers can play a large role in demonstrating and highlighting eating skills and the social experience of eating food. These aspects are always addressed in our therapy sessions.
There are many different techniques to address feeding difficulties and a Speech Pathologist could be just the right person to assist you and your child. It is time to put down the spoon pretending to be a train, plane or horse and contact us for more information about our Feeding Clinic.