Establishing mealtime routines is a common area of concern for parents, and can often be very challenging.
Below are ten tips to help:
1. Increase Independence
By the age of one, children should start using their fingers to bring food to their mouth as well as attempt to drink from a cup. If your child is one year or older, encourage them to start feeding themselves to increase their independence during mealtimes.
2. Avoid Spoon Scraping
When your child begins feeding themselves, they will still need your help to eat, especially with a spoon. A common mistake that parents make when feeding their child with a spoon is scraping the spoon upwards over their child’s top lip to clear the food. Try to avoid this as it encourages passive eating. Instead, when you put the spoon inside your child’s mouth, rest it on your child’s tongue while applying slight pressure. This will encourage your child to clear the food off the spoon themselves using their mouth.
3. Limit Milk Consumption
Often when parents express concerns that their child is not eating enough, it is because they are actually drinking more milk than necessary throughout the day. If your child is over a year old, try to limit their daily milk consumption to approximately 500ml.
4. Accept The Novelty Phase
Once you start to give your child the opportunity to increase their mealtime independence, they will want to ‘explore’ this. Most children tend to experiment with food by squashing it in their hands or spreading it over a surface. Rest assured, this novelty will wear off eventually if you just let it be.
5. Put Down The Face Wipes!
Picture yourself trying to eat while someone is constantly wiping your mouth. You would find this very frustrating and unpleasant. If it happened constantly then you would start to associate mealtimes with mouth wiping, and perhaps start trying to avoiding them altogether. Well, the same applies for children. Because of this, try to avoid wiping your child’s mouth or hands until after the mealtime is finished.
6. A Social Interaction
Eating is a common social activity for adults, and you can make your mealtimes a social activity with your child as well. Encourage your child to sit at the table with you during mealtimes. Position yourself so that you are sitting across from them at the table and model eating. Your child is likely to imitate you. Even if they do not imitate you at first, you will still be exchanging eye contact which is a start to the interaction.
7. Eliminate Distractions
Children can become highly distracted during mealtimes, especially if they are trying to avoid them. Eliminate distractions by switching off the TV, hiding the iPad and putting phones out of sight. Distractions also include toys and other objects that your child is interested in which may take their attention away from eating.
8. Stimulate Language
Mealtimes present many opportunities for you to stimulate your child’s language development. During mealtimes, you can comment on your child’s actions (e.g. “eat”, “drink”), objects (e.g. “cup”, “spoon”, “food”, “water,”), requests (e.g. “more”) and the list is endless. Your child will enjoy mealtimes if they are interactive and fun. You can find strategies to do so in my previous post: http://www.theexpatspeechie.com/blog/part-2-my-child-is-not-talking-yet
9. Consult a Speech-Language Therapist (SLP)
You should consult with an SLP if your child constantly coughs or spills liquid from their mouth during mealtimes. The SLP will assess your child’s ability to swallow safely as well as the use of their oral-muscles (e.g. tongue, lips, jaw). The SLP can recommend a modified diet for your child, oral-muscle strengthening exercises and support you in implementing general mealtime strategies.
10. Consult an Occupational Therapist (OT)
If you have concerns that your child’s fine motor skills are interfering with their ability to feed themselves, consult with an OT. They can help your child improve fine motor skills necessary for feeding themselves such as bringing a spoon to their mouth, picking up food with their fingers and so forth.
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