Feeding challenges are a huge source of concern for parents of children with low tone, autism, and a host of other issues. Improving how a child sits when eating isn’t magically going to solve every problem for every child, but ignoring the benefits of good positioning will make most feeding problems worse. Even problems not immediately associated with posture can become bigger problems when a child has poor postural stability at the dinner table.
What impact does posture have on a child’s mealtime experience?
- posture affects how safely and efficiently a child can coordinate breathing and swallowing. Lean back and turn your head way over to the side, then try to swallow your saliva. Imagine if you could not bring your head to the center and tilt your chin a little so that every part is aligned and fully operational. Then imagine that you have a mouthful of food. Scary. Imagine if you persistently moved your head because you are a sensory seeker and you find sitting still and balanced unsettlingly dull. You only feel awake and happy when moving. With a mouthful of food…..If the choice is breathing or eating, most of us would refuse the food and choose to breathe. Good positioning can prevent a child from having to make a choice.
- posture impacts how easily a child can pay attention, stay calm, and behave in an organized manner through the whole meal. If a child is uncomfortable, unbalanced, or trying to find a stable and comfortable position, he is not paying attention to the taste/texture of the food. He doesn’t know exactly where it is located in the path from his lips to the back of his mouth for swallowing. His own involuntary movements or the movements he makes to stay alert and engaged can distract him from eating well or eating at all. He just might want to get up and leave.
- posture affects learning and independence. It is harder to hold a spoon, harder to hold a cup, and harder to avoid spilling or drooling when a child is not sitting in a balanced position. Every child, no matter their issues, looks less capable and needs more time, support, or attention when they aren’t sitting well. Children with multiple issues might decide that they really don’t care about becoming more independent.
- posture affects the use of social and language skills. Sitting well makes it easier to coordinate speaking, listening, and eating. A child struggling to stay in a stable and comfortable position isn’t able to accomplish the multi-tasking demands of dinner conversation. If social skills are an issue, sitting for meals can become a power struggle instead of an opportunity to observe and model positive interactions, then practice them with family and friends.
My parents told me to sit up straight at the dinner table. They were concerned about manners and politeness. For a lot of kids, how they sit at the dinner table is not a deportment issue, but it makes a big difference in their mealtime experience and the overall experience of their families or classmates.