Thursday, August 5, 2010

Making Mealtime Fun Again

Nicole Lampi MA, SLP,  Guest Blogger
Our babies' first experiences with foods are fun and exciting.  Out come the cameras, videos, lists of favorites for the baby books.  We rejoice when our babies have spaghetti in their hair, and celebrate those first pieces of birthday cake on their hands.  From the time our children are born, our job is to nourish them, body and soul.  Sometimes I think we need it just as much as they do!  But what happens when it doesn't work?  Because sometimes, it doesn't.  Some children, whether it be from severe reflux, oral motor problems, or sensory defensiveness, learn NOT to eat.  Parents become frustrated, confused, concerned, and will try anything to entice their child at mealtime.  Children, in turn, pick up on their parent's anxiety, become frustrated and anxious themselves, and dig their heels in.  Mealtime has now grown from a loving, shared time, to a stressful power struggle in which no one wins.

So how do we get back to fun, relaxed mealtimes?  The answer may surprise you.  Play!  The SOS (sensory-oral-sequential) approach created by Kay Toomey, Ph.D., takes the stress out of eating by teaching children to explore and play with food.  Through play, children learn how to tolerate and interact with the foods in a step by step approach until they can feel safe tasting, chewing, and finally swallowing the foods.

I will never forget the first child I worked with using this approach.  A 5 year old boy named Max cowered in his chair, while his mother sat nervously next to him.  When I brought out the first food, ritz crackers, he started climbing up his chair.  I responded with a simple, "It's ok, you don't have to eat it. We are just going to play."  Max seemed to melt down into his chair.  His mother looked skeptical.  Throughout the session we learned Max was ok having crackers on his plate, he did not need to throw them or have a meltdown as he had done in the past.  He enjoyed pretending they were wheels, making tire tracks through chocolate pudding, and to his mother's great surprise, sticking it on his nose with the pudding!  It was very fun! Not only was Max not throwing crackers, he was also playing with pudding, a texture that typically made him gag.  Throughout subsequent sessions we realized that Max enjoyed playing with the foods, and that his hesitation grew from poor oral motor control and decreased sensitivity in his mouth.  Basically, when he got food into his mouth, he did not know what it would do (break apart, smoosh around, stick together), or what to do with it.  By taking a fun, systematic approach, we again built the trust between Max and his mother and she became a partner, rather than a dictator at mealtimes.  Max learned how to better bite and chew his foods, first learning how they felt on his lips, then teeth, then tongue.  Then he learned how to take a bite and spit it out.  If a child knows it is ok to spit something out, they are MUCH more willing to try it, it is much less scary!  Max became much braver with trying new foods, and his mother made the best carrot stick walrus teeth I have ever seen.

Be silly, get messy, and have fun!

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