“Is My Child Just Picky, Or Does She Need Food Therapy?”
Every parent of a toddler at some point has lamented their eating habits – with a common refrain being, “She’s soooo picky!” But how do you know whether this is “just a phase” or if you should seek feeding therapy?
Our FOCUS occupational therapists in Fort Myers can start out by saying, first and foremost, we know how quickly dinner tables can devolve into battlegrounds. Parents may beg, demand, reward, short-order-cook – and it can be physically and emotionally exhausting. The worst part of it is that without strategy, you may pour all this effort in and see no real returns.
So we start by telling parents firstly to stop and look at this – for just a moment – from your child’s perspective. Eating is actually a pretty complicated thing to a fairly new human. You have to use all of your sensory systems. You have to exercise and coordinate so many complex facial and hand muscles. Put something in front of them that’s completely unfamiliar (and maybe a little scary-looking?) and it’s easy to see why a child can get completely overwhelmed.
Here is the good news: It’s not YOUR job to MAKE your child eat. Nope, it’s really not. What we advise to parents of children who take feeding therapy is to think of their role as providing their child with both the opportunity and the skills they need to CHOOSE to eat new foods.
We get this can still be incredibly nerve-wracking because you want to make sure your child is eating a healthy, nutritious diet. But at the end of the day, you cannot force-feed them. What our occupational therapists and speech therapists learned in the SOS Feeding Therapy Approach is to increase a child’s comfort level with food by exploring and learning the different properties of food and allowing them to interact with it a playful, non-threatening way. Give them the chance to tolerate the food in the room. Then in front of them. Then on a plate. Touch it. Kiss it. And (hopefully) eventually taste it.
Parents can practice this general approach at home and see if it works. However, if your child has a condition like sensory processing disorder, autism or a behavior disorder, they may need feeding therapy to help them along so that they don’t lag behind in growth development patterns that can result from malnutrition. (Feeding difficulties are often one of the first signs of sensory processing disorder.) If you can address these eating patterns head-on with early intervention, you may be able to prevent or even eliminate:
- Failure to thrive/ growth concerns;
- Unsafe swallowing;
- Poor eating habits;
- Negative mealtime behaviors (tears and tantrums).
Oral motor delays too could be another reason to explore feeding therapy. Indicators could include:
- Feeding tube dependence;
- Formula/ bottle dependence;
- Gagging or difficulty swallowing.
Most kids are picky at some point, but extreme pickiness would mean your child eats fewer than a dozen foods, has a meltdown at mealtimes that can exceed 40 minutes pr may have issues with weight gain or refusal to feed themselves.
Our feeding therapy programs – which often include coordination with your child’s speech therapist, occupational therapist and physical therapist – will be based on a plan that is written specifically for your child, taking into account their strengths and deficits and working toward a more complete and healthy diet.
FOCUS offers pediatric speech therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.
More Blog Entries:
OT Helps Children Successfully Cope With Sensory Processing Disorder, May 14, 2018, Fort Myers Occupational Therapist Feeding Therapy Blog