- Get the body ready.
Sitting at the table for an extended period of time can be difficult or even excruciating for children with sensory processing challenges. We can help children get ready to sit by introducing movement activities immediately before mealtime. Use “heavy work” play activities like rolling or throwing a heavy ball, bouncing on a hippity hop ball, jumping on the trampoline, or crashing into pillows or sofa cushions. Have the child help wash the table using big scrubbing motions, or have them help move all of the chairs out to sweep underneath and then carry them back.
- Follow the 90-90-90 rule.
Children should be seated at the table in a position that provides optimal postural stability. The 90-90-90 rule means that the child’s hips, knees, and ankles are all at 900 angles.
If your child’s feet do not reach the ground when seated at the table, you can place a stool underneath his/her feet for support, or try stacking several phone books together and wrap them in duct tape for a stable platform. The Tripp Trapp chair is also a great option, and one that can be used for years and adjusted as the child grows: https://www.stokke.com/USA/en-us/highchairs/tripp-trapp/1444.html.
- Eat meals with your child.
Children learn to eat through social reinforcement. It’s vital for them to see a model of someone eating and interacting with the food.
- Present foods without the expectation to eat.
Children often need many, many exposures to a food (looking, touching, smelling, describing, and, ultimately, tasting) before adding it to their repertoire. Serving the meal “family style” (with everyone taking a bit and putting it on their plates) can also help children become more familiar with and comfortable with the food. If your child is unsure or resistant, you can prompt, “Oh, that’s a food that you’re learning about. You can put it here.” Then help your child “learn” about the food by describing its color, shape, texture, sound (e.g., “Oh listen, that cracker is crunching when I eat it. It’s a crunchy food”), and, eventually, taste (e.g., “I’m touching the apple with my tongue. It tastes sweet! The pretzel wasn’t sweet, was it? It was salty”).
- Encourage your child to play with his/her food.
Another way to help your child learn about a new or non-preferred food is through play. Make food into different shapes (e.g., “I can make my cheese into a stem. You can make some petals for the flower.”) Any interaction with the food on the body is positive (e.g., “I can balance my cereal on my hand. You can do that too. Let’s see if I can hold it on my nose. Will it stay on my cheek? Will it stay on your cheek?”).
Mealtime should be a positive experience for you and your child. If your child has a very limited repertoire of foods, or if mealtime is a constant struggle, the therapists at Emerge may be able to help. Call our office at (919)928-0204 for more information.
By Kelly Jones, MA, CCC-SLP
Clinical Director of Speech/Language Therapy