As many parents devoured Valentines chocolates this past weekend, many of our children are struggling to actually gain weight and eat successfully. Being a problem feeder can affect your child’s proper development and can often result in medical problems. Just as we parents can not survive on chocolate alone (or maybe we can), children need a variety of foods to grow.
Progressive Pediatric Therapy’s speech and language pathologist, Carole Walker, MS, CCC-SLP, says “Parents do not realize how complex eating is and how feeding therapy can help children who are struggling.”
Listed below are some symptoms and mealtime myths Carol shared to help parents understand the problem better.
Symptoms of Problem Feeders
- Eats foods from one category or a few in each category
- Has a limited number of foods he or she will eat (usually around 30)
- Not unusual that child cries or breaks down when faced with new food
- Often refuses to eat entire categories of food textures
- Often prefers food of one taste, such as salty or sweet
Top 10 Myths of Mealtime
Myth #1: Eating is the body’s #1 priority.
FALSE: Breathing is the #1 priority.
Myth #2: Eating is instinctive.
False: After 4-6 months of age eating is a learned behavior.
Myth #3: Eating is easy.
False: Eating is the most complex thing we do.
Myth #4: Eating is a two step process (you sit down, you eat).
False: It is a 32 step process.
Myth #5: It is not okay to play with your food.
False: Play with your food, YES!!!! Children learn through play, but play with a purpose.
Myth #6: If a child is hungry enough he/she will eat, they will not starve themselves.
False: They will starve themselves, they don’t understand starving.
Myth #7: Children only need to eat 3x a day.
False: They should have more frequent small meals.
Myth #8: A child who won’t eat has either a behavioral or an organic problem.
False: Most are non-organic in origin such as Failure to Thrive, oral motor problems, and Hypotonia.
Myth #9: Certain foods are eaten only at specified times of the day and only certain foods are “healthy for you”.
False: Sugars are not foods! Proteins, starches, and veggies are foods.
Myth #10: Mealtimes are a proper social occasion. Children are to “mind their manners” at all meals.
False: Skill 1st, manners 2nd. Play with purpose.
Carole went on to say that taking the stress out of mealtime will benefit the child’s progress immensely. If a child is stressed at a meal, then the child will go into fight or flight mode. Using positive reinforcements with praise and play at every small step will help prevent this from happening. Children learn to eat through praise, praise the child and you will get improved eating. Stay away from negative reinforcement like making the child stay in a situation until they do what you want. In addition, don’t give attention to the wrong behaviors: i.e. if you give them extra attention regarding refusing, they refuse more. Instead use more praise and imitation. Carole says to give the child foods THEY CAN physically handle to set the child up for success.