I was fortunate to be able to attend a 4-day workshop in Portland last month, The SOS (Sequential Oral Sensory) Approach to Feeding, all about picky eaters and problem feeders. The workshop was put on by Dr. Kay Toomey and her team, a speech-language pathologist and occupational therapist. Dr. Kay Toomey is a pediatric psychologist who has worked with children who don’t eat for almost 30 years and she certainly knows her stuff. There were so many great new tools I plan to add to my tool bag and incorporate in my work supporting families and their children who are problem feeders. I wanted to share a few key takeaways that can be useful for all families to consider when feeding their children.
Eating is an intuitive instinct for only the first few months of life, then it’s a primitive motor reflex (sucking and swallowing). By the 5-6thmonth of life, eating becomes a learned behavior. Dr. Kay Toomey said it best, “Starting around 6 months of age children will do one of three things, either learn to eat, learn to kinda sorta eat or not learn to eat. “ Eating is the hardest skill to learn since there are 25-32 steps to eating new foods, which start with the senses of seeing, touching, smelling. Children with strong sensory aversions can struggle at this stage.
Eating is the body’s 3rdpriority, breathing and posture stability is the 1stand 2nd. Postural stability is so important since it frees up the motor brain to focus on the tasks of eating rather than trying to not fall out of the chair. Stability also supports the respiratory function, making it easier to breathe. Children with low muscle tone are the most affected by this and need the most support. Be sure your child’s chair alignment is 90-90-90, with back support as needed to align the trunk and a footrest so their feet aren’t dangling. This allows a child to be supported in their seat so they can focus on the other tasks at hand such as eating.
The majority of children will not starve themselves and learn to eat enough. For children that don’t have the skill or a medical problem that is preventing them from eating, their appetite will become suppressed over time. They no longer will respond to appetite as a cue to eat, so parents shouldn’t assume they’ll eat when they get hungry.
Parents are the best teachers, so eat with your child. Imitating your child is the best form of teaching. Children do much better when the food is engaging, interesting and they can play with it and get messy. Remember skills comes first and manners much later, so let your child have fun and get messy and keep it positive.
If you’re wondering if your child has feeding problems, you can complete this infant and child feeding questionnaire at Feeding Matters and receive immediate feedback if there are any red flags that you should talk to your pediatrician about. Or feel free to schedule a free 15-minute phone call with me to discuss your concerns.