Mealtimes can provide a meaningful way for families to spend time together while giving parents an opportunity to be role models for their children. Parents can model polite manners, conversing, trying different foods, and self-feeding at meal and snack times. There may be cultural differences that affect the way children eat in the home, with some cultures valuing independence and encouraging self-feeding while others more strongly value inter-dependence and feeding their children. Thus, care should be taken when looking at developmental norms for self-feeding, as a child may have the necessary motor skills to self-feed but for cultural reasons may not have much experience with feeding him/herself.
When a child has difficulty with feeding/oral motor skills, it can be challenging for the whole family and parents may worry the child is not getting enough nutrition. Feeding difficulties may present as difficulty tolerating different textures or types of foods, difficulty biting, chewing, or maneuvering food in the mouth (oral motor skills), and difficulties with self-feeding either finger foods, with utensils, or using an open cup or straw. The links below offer some suggestions for dealing with these challenges. As always, please contact the occupational therapist in your child’s school should you have any specific questions or ongoing concerns about feeding issues.
Remember, children need opportunities to explore food. It is ok to let them get messy as they learn to try new foods and feed themselves!
It is most important that the child be supervised closely and positioned properly during all feeding/drinking activities.
POSITIONING FOR MEALTIMES
This website discusses the proper positioning for mealtimes. It also presents developmental norms for feeding and has some activities to work on pre-requisite skills for mealtime success.
The following website discusses developmental guidelines for self-feeding and cup drinking, as well as offering suggestions for activities to promote self-feeding. It is important to remember that each child develops at their own rate, and parents can provide encouragement and support to help facilitate the development of new oral motor/feeding skills.
STRATEGIES FOR TEACHING CUP AND STRAW DRINKING
It is important for children to transition from drinking from a bottle or sippy cup to an open cup or straw for a variety of reasons. Open cup and straw drinking promote more mature oral motor and swallowing skills, which can in turn facilitate improved speech skills. Drinking sugary drinks, including milk and fruit juice, from a sippy cup on a regular basis can also contribute to dental problems including tooth decay.
This website gives information on how to introduce the idea of drinking from an open cup in a fun way, providing a variety of strategies that can help motivate a child to drink from an open cup. It also reviews reasons to switch from a sippy cup or bottle to an open cup:
This website provides information on various types of cups to help transition from a sippy cup to an open cup. It also specifically describes how to introduce cup drinking for the child who is reluctant to try an open cup, using positive reinforcement.
This website gives information on how to introduce the idea of drinking from an open cup in a fun way:
Strategies for teaching a child to drink from a straw:
Drinking from a straw also facilitates the development of oral musculature, providing a good foundation for eating and speech skills. The sucking motion used when drinking from a straw provides strong sensory input which may be calming and organizing for a child.
This site discusses specific strategies for teaching straw drinking in a systematic way.
STRATEGIES TO TEACH UTENSIL USE
Some children require extra support to learn to use utensils, perhaps due to limited exposure or interest. The following website provides step by step directions to teach your child how to use a spoon and fork to eat.
STRATEGIES FOR PICKY EATERS
Some children have very restrictive diets, sometimes based on texture or food color preferences. The following websites offer some suggestions to help your child increase their food repertoire. Helping picky eaters learn to tolerate new foods requires patience and a positive approach! Whole body activities may be helpful prior to mealtimes.
The following links offer suggestions for picky eaters:
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