Have you ever struggled with mealtime? Do you often find yourself saying, “he’s a picky eater,” “she won’t touch that,” “he’ll only eat it if I…” What we as parents don’t often realize, is that it’s not always because the child is “just a picky eater,” but it can be caused due to difficulty with sensory integration. This means that your child has difficulty processing the input they receive from their senses.
Here are some signs that your child may have some sensory integration difficulties:
They don't like when foods touch each other and/or are mixed together.
They will gag on certain foods
They will not eat certain foods with some similar properties, especially their texture (soft, mushy, crunchy, etc.)
They don't like getting their hands dirty. Maybe they ask you to clean their hands as soon as any food, dirt, or other items touch their hands and or face, and will often refuse to do it for themselves.
Although all of these can be indications for sensory integration difficulties, over time they can develop into learned behaviors. Children can quickly learn that their caregivers want mealtime to go smoothly and for them to be fed and happy. As parents we hate to see our children in pain or discomfort, and when a child is screaming and crying because they simply can't touch and/or eat the foods that are presented to them, we want to make them feel better. How do we do that? By soothing them, by taking away the aversion and presenting them with something more desirable, (i.e., replacing broccoli, with crackers). Unfortunately, over time (just a few times will do it), our good intentions have now helped to solidify a learned behavior.
Of course, this is not always the case. For some children the level of discomfort and unease during mealtime due to having to touch, smell, see and eat certain foods can feel almost painful. If you're concerned, please .
Here are some tips and tricks to help with mealtime:
Always present desired and undesired foods on the plate, at mealtime. This will increase exposure and in turn, the likelihood of them exploring the food.
Try not to make a big deal if the child refuses the food or even gags on it. Even negative attention is attention. Instead wipe their mouth, make sure they are okay and act like nothing out of the ordinary is happening.
Encourage play with food, I.e., painting with yogurt). You're probably thinking, "what about the mess?" Do you know who loves making a mess? That's right, your child!
Keep in mind that mealtime should be an enjoyable time. It's time to spend with your loved ones and connect with those enjoying the meal with you and it's difficult to do so when everyone at the table is frustrated.
If you're feeling lost or discouraged during meal time, feel free to reach out for more tips and tricks!