Many young hypermobile kids, with and without low muscle tone, struggle at mealtimes. Even after they have received skilled feeding therapy and can chew and swallow safely, they may continue to slide off their chair, spill food on the table (and on their body!) and refuse to use utensils.
It doesn’t have to be such a challenge. In my new e-book coming out this year, I will address mealtime struggles. But before the book is out there, I want to share three general solutions that can make self-feeding a lot easier for everyone:
- Teach self-feeding skills early and with optimism. Even the youngest child can be taught that their hands must be near the bottle or cup, even when an adult is doing most of the work of holding it. Allowing your infant to look around, play with your hair, etc. is telling them “This isn’t something you need to pay attention to. This is my job, not yours.” If your child has developmental delays for any reason, then I can assure you that they need to be more involved, not less. It is going to take more effort for them to learn feeding skills, and they need your help to become interested and involved. Right now. That doesn’t mean you expect too much from them. It means that you expect them to be part of the experience. With a lot of positivity and good training from your OT or SLP, you will feel confident that you are asking for the right amount of involvement. Read Teach Spoon Grip By Making It Fun And Sharing a Laugh With Your Child and Teach Utensil Grasp and Control…Without the Food! for some good strategies to get things going.
- Use excellent positioning. Your child needs a balance of stability and mobility. Too much restriction means not enough movement for reach and grasp. Too much movement would be like eating a steak while sitting in the back seat of your car doing 90 mph. This may mean that they need a special booster seat, but more likely it means that they need to be sitting better in whatever seat they are in. Read Kids With Low Muscle Tone Can Sit For Dinner: A Multi-Course Strategy for more ideas on this subject. Chairs with footplates are a big fave with therapists, but only if a child has enough stability to sit in one without sliding about and can actively use their lower legs and hips for stabilization. Again, ask your therapist so that you know that you have the right seat for the right stage of development.
- Use good tableware and utensils. If your child is well trained and well supported, but their plates are sliding and their cups and utensils slide out of their hands, you still have a problem. Picking out the best table tools is important and can be easier than you think. Items that increase surface texture and fill the child’s grasping hand well are easiest to hold. Read The Not-So-Secret Solution for Your Child With Motor And Sensory Issues: Dycem and OXO for Kids: Great Tableware For Older Kids With Sensory and Motor Issues for some good sources. Getting branded tableware can be appealing to young children, and even picking out their favorite color will improve their cooperation. Finally, using these tools for food preparation can be very motivating. Children over 18 months of age can get excited about tearing lettuce leaves and pouring cereal from a small plastic pitcher. Be creative and have fun!