Eating - Hints & Tips
Top tips for happy mealtimes
1. Be patient
When stress or frustration controls your reactions while trying to teach your child, they will reflect your mood and act accordingly. They will fear your reaction to their mistakes, and as a result will not be able to give their best efforts. Give instructions calmly, with positive reinforcement.
2. Invest in a funky child-sized apron
As your child gets older, even though it may still be necessary for them to wear a bib to protect their clothing, this can also be demoralising and embarrassing in front of other family members or peers. An apron is more discreet and will help eliminate any negative feelings your child may harbour before mealtime has even begun.
3. Encourage your child to help lay the table
Irrespective of the nature of your child's disability, take the time to involve them in preparing the table for dinner. Even watching you collect cutlery, cups and napkins helps your child to feel they have participated. During this process, talk your child through what you are doing and why. For example: 'We use a fork to pick up pieces of food on our plate instead of our fingers. That way, the fork gets dirty and not our fingers'.
4. Use heavy cutlery and solid crockery
As parents, we instinctively opt for plastic or disposable utensils to avoid breakage and to make cleaning up easier. But for a child who has either low or high muscle tone or difficulty with their fine motor skills, a plastic fork simply feels like air. These children need to be able to feel the cutlery they are holding. The same is true for plastic plates and cups, which are unstable and easily knocked over. Solid cutlery and crockery will make it easier to teach your child how to eat.
5. Take the time to eat with your child
If you eat your evening meal later than your child, compromise by ensuring that during your child's mealtime, you too are seated at the table. Even if you enjoy your coffee or a smaller version of what your child is eating, they will be encouraged by your presence. You can then talk about your food and how you eat with your cutlery. Take note of how quickly your child imitates your actions.
6. Keep a standalone mirror and wet cloth handy
The most effective way of teaching self-awareness to a child is to let them view themselves. Even as adults, how often after enjoying a meal with friends have we been unaware that a chunk of food, usually green in colour, has become wedged between our front teeth?
Apply this theory when helping your child to understand food residue on their face after eating. Before they leave the table, place the mirror in front of them and encourage them to look at their reflection and clean themselves using the wet cloth.
7. Encourage your child to clear their place
Again, irrespective of your child's disability, teach them how to participate in the cleaning up process after eating according to their ability. This may involve them handing their plate to you or taking it to the side to be washed; alternatively wiping their place clean as best they can. Any level of participation helps to develop their self-awareness and obligations at mealtimes.
It's important to remember that everyone likes to feel valued and needed. When you give your child responsibilities, they feel important to you and the family. This in turn boosts their self-confidence and speeds up the learning process.
If you would like any type of reward chart made to use at home please contact your Family Service co-ordinator.
Here are a few general tips and tricks to try for children with feeding difficulties
- If the picky eating seems to be sensory-based, encourage the child to play with foods to get used to them. Getting messy is OK!
- Encourage the child to get more involved with food preparation. Children are more likely to try things if they help prepare the meal.
- Encourage the child to eat with other children. In some circumstances, peer pressure is a good thing!
- Provide the child with small amounts of the foods you are eating along with a food the child usually eats. This way, the child gets used to the foods being there and when they are ready to try them, they will.
- Have a consistent routine at mealtimes so the child knows what to expect.
- Experiment with small, subtle changes in difficult changes. Sometimes just a change in temperature makes it easier to handle.