Category: Child Development

The Best Developmental Spaces for Your Baby (pssst… NOT a car seat)

A baby’s car seat is essential and one of the most important baby gear items you will purchase before your newborn arrives. The absolute best and safest place for a baby inside of a moving car is buckled into an appropriate car seat! However, outside of a moving car, a car seat is NOT the best place for a baby. Outside of the car, parents will want their baby in spaces and positions to foster their baby’s best development and a car seat is NOT one of those places. Hopefully, I can help spread understanding about the best spaces for your baby’s development and also spread understanding that the best place to leave your baby’s car seat is inside the car.

Car seats have been designed to be very convenient for parents to move and carry their baby for almost every activity except changing a diaper. You’ll see babies being carried in a car seat from their car into home, into the store, onto a shopping cart, into a restaurant, set up to the restaurant table, sitting in church, going for a walk that attaches to a stroller, sleeping at home… As a mom of three, I completely understand the importance of convenience on days when I am sleep-deprived and stressed to the max. (Those days happen too often!) But just like the convenience of feeding my older children fast food from the drive-thru each day, convenient options for parents are NOT always the best choice for your children.

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links as a convenient way to find recommended products.

WHY NOT A CARSEAT (OR OTHER SEMI-RECLINED BABY GEAR)?

A baby’s first year of development is primarily about learning through her sensory system, integrating the sensations she receives from the world, and producing important motor movements with the information she has gathered from her sensory world. The sensations babies are processing include: sight, sound, touch, taste, smell, movement and muscle and joint input. As a baby begins to understand this sensory input, she begins to experiment with her own new body in response and in anticipation to these sensations. These responses may include calming and falling asleep when being swaddled, sung a lullaby and rocking back and forth in the arms of her sweet-smelling mama. Anticipation may include recognizing the face and smell of her mama who breastfeeds her or recognizing what a bottle looks like, showing exciting movements and opening her mouth in anticipation to suck her bottle, swallow her milk, fill her tummy and interact with her caregiver during her feeding. As a baby is exposed to the sensations of the world, she develops ways to move and navigate through her world, and as she moves more in her world, she learns more and more and in turn develops more and more ideas and skills, with the cycle going on and on…

Car seats, especially with a car seat cover (as cute as they are), significantly limit a baby’s ability to interact with his sensory world outside of the car seat. Sights are obstructed, sound is muffled, touch and smell are blocked, and movement, muscle and joint activation is limited when a baby is buckled into a car seat, therefore limiting a baby’s ability to learn and develop ideas and motor skills to navigate and understand his world.

Positioning and buckling a baby into a semi-reclined position restricts movement. If a baby spends too much time in this position, it can cause other developmental concerns, including flattening of a baby’s soft skull (plagiocephaly is the medical term) and muscle imbalances of the neck (torticollis is the medical term). Plagiocephaly or flattening of the skull may require a helmet to reshape your baby’s head. Torticollis or muscle imbalances of the neck can lead to even further developmental motor concerns for your baby if not addressed appropriately. Too much time in car seats, bouncy chairs, swings or other baby-holding gear with a semi-reclined sitting position can often cause and will always make both of these conditions worse. (Torticollis can develop despite good positioning habits, but good positioning habits are always an important part of a good treatment plan and prevention plan for plagiocephaly and torticollis.)

As an occupational therapist treating babies with developmental concerns, including torticollis, plagiocephaly, motor and sensory delays, I recommended that babies be in car seats, bouncy chairs, swings or other semi-reclined positioning baby gear no more than 20 minutes at a time and no longer than 2 hours a day, unless the baby is required to be buckled safely in a carseat for a longer car ride. I find that these are good recommendations for all babies to foster their best overall development.

WHERE ARE THE BEST SPACES FOR A BABY’S DEVELOPMENT?

The best spaces for a baby’s development is… (drumroll please…) BEING HELD IN YOUR ARMS or ON THE FLOOR or other flat surface! So simple, so inexpensive, but so important for your baby!

Hold your baby, snuggle your baby, rock your baby or recruit happy helpers to do this when your arms need to be doing something else. Don’t underestimate the importance of holding your baby! When my babies were little, I liked to pass hand sanitizer to any happy helper willing to hold my babies or at least wrap them in a blanket to avoid passing germs. Don’t be surprised if I happen to sit by you and your buckled baby and ask if I may hold him. (Yes, you can ask me to use hand sanitizer too.) When you are holding your baby, he is immersed in calming sensations similar to the womb from which he’s recently come.

Flat surfaces are best for your baby’s motor development. Lay your baby down on a blanket on the floor. Lay your baby on her flat crib mattress or in the flat surface of a playard (also called pack ‘n play or play pen). Lay your baby in a stroller that lays down flat. Allow your baby to lie on her back, on her side and yes, her tummy for essential tummy time to foster good motor development. (Remember when putting your baby down to sleep, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends lying her on her back. Your baby’s supervised awake time is best for tummy time. Click to see the AAP Safe Sleep Recommendations.) Your baby can look around, focus on your face to smile at you, listen to the sounds around her, find her hands to suck on them, move her head from side to side, kick her legs back and forth, practice picking her head up… As a baby gets older and her motor skills develop, the floor is still the best place, but movement will include pushing up onto her hands while on her tummy, rolling over, sitting up, crawling and learning to walk. She can’t build strong foundations to learn or practice these motor skills well while buckled into a car seat or other baby-holding gear.

WHAT BABY GEAR WILL FOSTER MY BABY’S BEST DEVELOPMENT?

Going for a walk? Going to the store? Or even going to a restaurant? Use a baby wrap or baby carrier that can allow your arms to be free, but still allow the sensory experiences of being held in your arms. Strollers that can lay down to a flat surface are best for your baby until he has stable head and trunk control and can sit up in a buckled stroller seat. While lying flat in a stroller, your baby can still move freely and will not be positioned to cause developmental concerns, such as plagiocephaly (head flattening) and torticollis (neck muscle imbalance).

If you are concerned about putting your baby on the floor, use a playard with a flat surface. (Some playards come with “napping” attachments that are in a semi-reclined position. Don’t use these.) Some playards come with a bassinet option that is a raised flat surface. These are great sleeping and playing options for newborns that can’t sit up and reach over the edge. When your child is able sit or stand, you will want to remove the bassinet option and place her on the bottom surface. Flat surfaces for sleeping and playing are always best for the motor development of your baby.

Below are some examples of baby gear with options to position your baby and foster the best developmental opportunities so can you leave your baby’s car seat in the car and put away your semi-reclined baby holding gear. Click on the following link if you’d like to create an Amazon Baby Registry and add any of these items.

BABY CARRIERS:

Boba Wrap

Boba Wrap, Grey, 0-18 Months

Baby Bjorn Baby Carrier Original

Moby Wrap Baby Carrier

Moby Wrap Baby Carrier for Newborns + Toddlers Soft Baby Sling Baby Wrap, Ideal for Baby Wearing, Breastfeeding, and Keeping Baby Close - Black

Baby K’Tan Original Baby Carrier

Baby K'tan Original Baby Carrier, Black, Small

Onya Baby Infant to Toddler Bundle – Outback Carrier 

LILLEbaby Complete All Season Six-Position 360 Ergonomic Baby & Child Carrier

SIX-Position, 360° Ergonomic Baby & Child Carrier by LILLEbaby - The COMPLETE All Seasons (Stone)

Ergobaby 360 All Carry Positions Award-Winning Cool Mesh Ergonomic Baby Carrier

Tula Ergonomic Carrier with Tula Infant Insert (sold separately)

Tula Ergonomic Carrier - Urbanista - Baby                    Tula Infant Insert - Black

 

STROLLERS WITH A FLAT RECLINE AND/OR FLAT BASSINET ATTACHMENT:

Some travel system strollers with car seats included have great full recline or bassinet options. But remember that you will want to choose these full recline/bassinet features, not the “snap ‘n go” feature of using a car seat in the stroller. 

Graco Aire3 Click Connect Stroller

Graco DuoGlide Click Connect Double Stroller (The rear seat reclines fully, even though it is not pictured.)

 

Graco Modes Stroller

Evenflo Sibby Stroller (Although this picture shows the car seat  clicked into the stroller, I recommend using the stroller in the full recline position without the car seat.)

 

Joovy Scooter X2 Double Stroller (Both seats recline to “near-napping” position, even though the reclined position is not pictured.)

Joovy Scooter X2 Double Stroller, Black

Baby Jogger City Mini Stroller with optional Bassinet Kit (sold separately)

                   Baby Jogger City Select Bassinet Kit - Black

Evenflo Pivot Stroller

Chico Urban Stroller

UPPAbaby VISTA Stroller with Bassinet

UPPAbaby 2017 VISTA Stroller, Taylor

PLAYARDS:

Graco Pack ‘n Play Playard On the Go

Graco Pack 'n Play Playard On The Go, Pasadena

Evenflo Arden Playard

Evenflo Arden Playard, Sky Blue

Joovy New Room2 Portable Playard

Lotus Travel Crib and Portable Playard

4Moms Breeze Playard

*I am part of the Amazon Associates Program. If you choose to buy any of these products from Amazon, I’d love for you to purchase them through the links on my website to help support the work I do with Yums Theraplay! Thank you!

 

 

Simple Tips, Tools and Resources to Help Young Students Develop Basic Handwriting Skills

I recently collaborated with Help Me Grow Utah, a great Utah resource, to write a guest post, “3 Simple Ways to Prepare Your Kindergartener for Handwriting Success”.

As a follow up to the Help Me Grow Utah post, I wanted to share some very simple tools, products and resources to help your young student develop basic foundational skills for good handwriting!

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links as a convenient way to find products and tools recommended.

 

ENCOURAGE THE USE OF SMALL TOOLS

The use of small tools will require the small muscles of the hand to develop important fine motor skills for handwriting. You already have perfect items in your house right now: toothpicks, beads, string, pipe cleaners, tweezers, tongs, sticks, chalk, Legos, small game pieces, clothespins, paint brushes, etc. Get these out for play time to help develop fundamental fine motor skills!

Smaller is better! Stay away from thick or chunky writing tools for your young students. Buy the regular-sized pencils, crayons and thin markers. (Remember this when buying school supplies also.) In fact, save some money! Broken crayons and short pencils are ideal to encourage a proper pencil grasp.

Add a stylus to screens to encourage better fine motor skill development than just using fingers.

Below are examples and links to some of the small tools I use to help young students develop handwriting skills!

Crayola Chalk

Chameleon Tails Pipe Cleaners

Chameleon Tails Pipe Cleaners/Chenille Stems 12 Inch x 6mm 100-Piece, Assorted Colors

Games with Small Pieces (Hi Ho Cherry-O)

Boogie Board eWriter

Boogie Board Jot 8.5 LCD eWriter, Blue (J32220001)

Stylus Pen

 

 

ENCOURAGE AN IDEAL PENCIL GRASP


Encourage a tripod pencil grasp. Thumb, pointer and middle finger should pinch the pencil while ring and pinkie fingers are tucked into the palm.

“Let the pencil breathe!” Allow thumb, pointer and middle fingers to form an circle while the finger tips hold the pencil. If fingers or thumb are wrapped against the pencil, it is difficult for fingers to move effortlessly without getting tired.

 

 

ENCOURAGE FORMING LETTERS FROM THE TOP

Reinforce starting each capital and lowercase letter at the top with the exception of lowercase d and e (which start in the middle). Handwriting becomes more automatic when letters have a consistent starting point. Eventually, we want students to be thinking about the thoughts they are writing, not on how to write the letters.

 

I love using handwritingpractice.net to create free worksheets with correct starting points. (I recommend using the print letters with the starting point dots. I don’t recommend using the arrows from this website.)

 

Handwriting Without Tears letter formation charts are what I use to help children remember how to form their letters. (The letter formation from this program encourages more fluid letter strokes over the letter formation arrows in the previous website mentioned.)

 

You can also use Handwriting Without Tears workbooks specifically for your child’s grade level. It’s always convenient to have a workbook for them to follow. I love these products.

Happy handwriting!

 

You can read my full article with tips for handwriting here on Help Me Grow Utah’s blog: 3 Simple Ways to Prepare Your Kindergartener for Handwriting Success

Help Me Grow Utah is a great Utah-based resource to help answer any parenting and child development questions a parent or provider has by providing information and community referrals. You can contact them at no cost by dialing 211 and asking for Help Me Grow.

 

*I am part of the Amazon Associates Program. If you choose to buy any of these products from Amazon, I’d love for you to purchase them through the links on my website to help support the work I do with Yums Theraplay! Thank you!

 

See Tera talk about developing handwriting skills with FOX 13 The Place here.

Toys and Activities to Keep Kids Active and Meet Their Sensory Needs in a Small Home

Have you ever seen an occupational therapy sensory integration room? (You’ll be jealous of my OT job if you have.) It is a fabulous, big gym with swings, balls, trampolines, mats, bolsters, crash pads and looks like a child’s dream room. If you have a child with sensory processing or sensory integration difficulties and have received therapy in one of these rooms, you’ve wished you could take this room home to help regulate your child’s sensory system each day! And if any child with or without sensory difficulties has been in a sensory room, they’ve begged their parents for a room like one of these in their own home (my own children included)!

Some families are fortunate enough to be able to replicate a big sensory room in their own home, but many simply do not have the space. Parks and outdoor play are the best sensory input in good weather, but snow, rain or even extreme heat may keep you and your child with high sensory needs inside for days at a time. Families can create environments in their own small homes to support their child’s sensory processing needs! Be inspired by this family of 5 who lives in a small home (2 1/2 small bedrooms) and has used their small amount of space wisely.

For about the past 2 years on and off, this family and I have worked together to create the appropriate environment with the right equipment and key activities to help their children regulate their sensory systems at home. They wish more than anything that they had a designated sensory room, but for now while space is very limited, they’ve incorporated important pieces throughout their home. They’ve slowly added equipment throughout the last 2 years so the expense wasn’t so big to start. I’ve asked them to share what the most important equipment and activities they use to help their children regulate their sensory systems and stay active. Even if you don’t have a child with a sensory diagnosis, be sure to look at these ideas, because any child can benefit from being active and having fun in their own home! (And any parent’s sanity can benefit from non-screen activities and equipment like this when their children are cooped up inside!)

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links. This family actually bought much of their equipment from Amazon. I’m hoping this post is informative, but also that these links will help families save time and energy if interested in using some of these ideas in their own home.

 

GORILLA GYM

One of the hardest pieces of equipment to replicate at home from a full sensory gym is a swing. Yet, a swing is also one of the most powerful pieces of equipment to help regulate a child’s sensory system and ask any of the kids, it’s also the most fun! The Gorilla Gym is a fantastic way to get a swing into your home without a big price tag, large space or expert installation. The Gorilla Gym has a pull-up bar that can be installed onto a door frame without drilling and comes with attachments that can hang from the bar. The Gorilla Gym Kids Deluxe Package includes a pull-up bar, swing, trapeze bar, rings, rope ladder and rope that attach to the pull-up bar and can be used in an open doorway. The Gorilla Gym Kids Package includes the pull-up bar with a swing, rings and rope ladder. Or there’s the Gorilla Gym’s Children’s Package with the pull-up bar and swing only. I LOVE the Gorilla Gym, so do the kids who live in AND the kids who visit this small home!

 

ROCK CLIMBING WALL

Climbers need a place to climb! Rock walls are perfect for a small home because you already have all the space you need! Dad built this wall fairly easily. He used some extra backer board leftover from a tile remodeling project. Although, he says most people typically use plywood on the walls. He used these Rocky Mountain Climbing Gear’s kids’ rock climbing wall holds with hardware. (Be sure to order child-sized holds for small hands.) The mounting hardware is easily screwed into the wall through the center of each hold. Really, rock climbing walls can be as simple or as elaborate as you want. And there’s no reason you can’t add onto it later and let it continue to grow or shrink as needed.

 

 

MINI TRAMPOLINE  

Big or small trampolines will be great investments for your child’s sensory needs. I love the handle bars on the mini trampolines for stability and more sensory input into the child’s arms as they lean into it while jumping. A trampoline helps give great input in one contained spot in your house. This family bought this Little Tikes mini trampoline from Amazon. I’ve also had good experiences with the Fold n Go mini trampoline. For bigger kids, the Pure Fun mini rebounder trampoline is a good option.

 

 

POP-UP TENT AND TUNNELS

Small, enclosed spaces can create a sense of safety for an overwhelmed child needing to calm down. Pop-up tents and tunnels are great for this purpose. Tunnels are great to crawl, hide and play inside because moving inside a small space gives more proprioceptive (muscle and joint) input and creates a higher demand on the body to move than a wide, open space. If space is a concern, buy tents and tunnels that can be folded up and stored in small spaces, like this package of 2 pop-up tents and 2 pop-up tunnels or this set of one tent and one tunnel.

 

 

KIDOOZIE SUPER SKIPPER

Mom happened to find this toy in a small toy store on the clearance shelf in Wyoming. This was a great find and she says they use it every day at their house. The toy is placed on the ground and when turned on, the sticks spin and the kids jump over it again and again and again. We haven’t seen this exact toy again, but found this similar KidSource Musical Hop Skipper on Amazon.

 

 

AMERICAN EDUCATIONAL PRODUCTS’ GONGE CAROUSEL 

Spinning is intense vestibular (movement) input and is great for children who have a hard time keeping their bodies still. Spinning will meet movement needs quicker than back and forth movement. This family used an old office chair to spin until little baby brother’s arrival and they had to replace their desk and office chair for a crib. Now they use this fun Gonge Carousel! The Gonge Carousel spins easily without a constant push. Its uneven mounting causes spinning with the body weight of even small children. It’s also low enough to the ground that a child can stop quickly by putting their foot down. If you have a small home and a child who loves spinning, you need this!

 

 

POOL NOODLE SWORDS

A couple of years ago, I happened to see these pool noodle swords at a farmers’ market in North Logan, Utah made from PVC pipe, pool noodles and duct tape. They were a great price, so I also bought some larger batons (think ninja warrior equipment) for my own older kids at the same time (and they STILL love them). These pool noodle swords have proven to be perfect for this family to help regulate their sensory systems. The pool noodle is soft enough to not cause injury. The design with pool noodles on both sides seems to keep them from falling apart after almost 2 years of play. Visit Kid’s Armory Facebook page for contact info if you’d like to try these fun pool noodle swords and batons also. (In case Utah is too far away, I found this package of 4 pool noodle swords on Amazon. I’ve not used them, but wanted to give a link to find something similar.)

 

WEIGHTED PILLOWS AND BLANKETS

Weighted pillows and blankets are great way to help children to settle and calm for a midday nap or after a long day of play. My favorite local Utah company, Comfort Weighted Blankets, is where I usually recommend buying weighted blankets. (Not only do I like to support local companies, but I’ve found that buying from local companies can decrease the shipping cost on weighted items.) You can also find other companies or you can make your own. This family loves Minky Couture blankets, also a local Utah company. These aren’t as heavy as weighted blankets, but use a super soft material that is quite heavy. Because this family has so many, they usually pile several minkies on top of their kids for deep pressure, especially when it’s time to calm and settle.

This little guy has a very favorite old throw pillow and loves to chew on the corner of it. Mom decided to make it into a weighted pillow to help him calm at night with deep pressure. She sewed pockets of rice into old fabric, unstitched the side seam of the pillow, put the rice pockets inside and then stitched it back up. It was easy for even a mom who claims she doesn’t sew. He uses it every night and asks for it when he needs to calm down as he sets it on his lap and chews on the corner. You can always add weight into pillows, blankets or stuffed animals on your own with rice, rocks, or plastic pellet stuffing, etc.

 

EASY OR NO-EQUIPMENT-NEEDED ACTIVITIES

DANCE PARTIES : Only music needed to get your dance moves on!

BALLOON TOSS: Blow up a balloon and try to keep it in the air! (Easy activity for kids to do while parents are occupied.)

CLIMB, JUMP, CRASH: Jump from the couch, stairs or beds into blankets, pillows, cushions, bean bags or stuffed animals. You can always buy a crash pad or make a crash pad, but a pile of blankets, pillows and stuffed animals on the floor to crash works well also. Your children will incorporate more intensity on their own if they need it with somersaults, flips, etc. (Bunk beds are the preferred jumping spot in this house.)

WRESTLING: A great way to keep kids and adults active! (P.S. Dads and uncles are wrestling all-stars!)

TWISTER: A classic game that can be fun for all ages!

Please share if you have great equipment and activities you use to meet your children’s sensory needs and keep them active in your home!

*Be sure to follow all product safety recommendations. Always supervise your children to help them stay safe with all equipment and activities.

 

*I am part of the Amazon Associates Program. If you choose to buy any of these products from Amazon, I’d love for you to purchase them through the links on my website to help support the work I do with Yums Theraplay! Thank you!

 

See Tera talk about toys and activities to keep kids active with FOX 13 The Place here.

Every Minute of Every Recess for Every Student!

Recess is a critical part of every student’s day! As an occupational therapist who has treated children with sensory processing and other special needs in outpatient clinics, schools and as a mom of children whose favorite part of the school day is recess, I will always advocate for every minute of every recess for every student! I’ve shared my professional opinion of the importance of recess for all children with many parents, teachers and administrators. Recess that includes physical activity, unstructured play and socialization with peers improves student behavior, attention and academic performance, as well as the more commonly known physical benefits.

Several years ago, the local schools in my community began cutting recess time to give more time to academics. Although my children did not attend these schools, I felt passionate about raising concern about this trend. At this same time, I was treating many children with sensory processing or sensory integration disorders who had high needs for vestibular (movement) and proprioceptive (muscle and joint) input who were also losing recess time through school policies to give more classroom instruction time or as a result of poor behavior or academic performance in the classroom. These children struggled even more in every aspect of their day when their recess time was cut. If only the school staff understood that increased movement and physical activity would improve their behavior, attention and learning while in the classroom! And also understand that student behavior, attention and learning suffers when recess time is cut for any reason!

I want to share some good resources to help advocate for every minute of every recess for every student. Share this with other parents, teachers, administrators and policy makers so best practices for our children’s recesses are put into practice at every school in every classroom for every student!

A new document, Strategies for Recess in Schools, from the CDC and SHAPE America, was recently released in January 2017 with evidence-based recommendations given from experts about recess! The document references 41 other research studies and documents on the importance and benefits of recess. The website also includes links for a Recess Toolkit with ideas and resources for parents and schools to advocate and plan for successful recesses at their school and in their communities.

BENEFITS OF RECESS (pg 4)

  • Increased physical activity
  • Improved memory, attention and concentration
  • Improved on-task behavior in the classroom
  • Reduced disruptive behavior in the classroom
  • Improved social and emotional development

RECOMMENDED GUIDELINES FOR RECESS (pg. 5)

  • Recess time and physical education time should be separate and should not be used to replace each other.
  • Schools and students should be provided with adequate spaces, facilities, equipment, and supplies for recess.
  • Spaces and facilities for recess should meet or exceed recommended safety standards.
  • Recess time should not be taken away for disciplinary reasons or academic performance in the classroom.
  • Required physical activity during recess should not be used as punishment.
  • Recess time should be scheduled before lunch.
  • Staff members who lead or supervise recess should be provided with ongoing professional development.

The American Academy of Pediatrics also issued a policy statement in January 2013 on The Crucial Role of Recess in School with 47 reference documents.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that recess is a crucial and necessary component of a child’s development and, as such, it should not be withheld for punitive or academic reasons.” (pg. 1)

“Ironically, minimizing or eliminating recess may be counterproductive to academic achievement, as a growing body of evidence suggests that recess promotes not only physical health and social development but also cognitive performance.” (pg. 4)

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR RECESS: (pg. 4) 

  • Recess is a necessary break in the day and should be considered a child’s personal time. It should not be withheld for academic or punitive reasons.
  • Cognitive processing and academic performance depend on regular breaks from concentrated classroom work. The frequency and duration of breaks should be sufficient to allow the student to mentally decompress.
  • Recess is a complement to, but not a replacement for physical education.
  • Recess serves as a counterbalance to sedentary time and contributes to the AAP’s recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per day.
  • Recess should be safe and well supervised.
  • Peer interactions during recess are a unique complement to the classroom and build skills for a foundation for healthy development.

Any questions? Now go and play!

 

See Tera talk about the benefits of school recess with FOX 13 The Place here.

 

 

The Best Ways Any Caregiver Can Support a Picky Eater

Mom is stressed, Dad’s frustrated, Grandma is worried… and a few more recognize that this little one should be eating more or have a wider variety in his diet. So, what can the village who loves this child do to help?

Every child is different and when I treat children with feeding difficulties, each child’s treatment plan looks different also. But, there are a few things that can be put in place with anyone, in any home and for almost every child that can support more individualized strategies used later.

I hear concerns about children with limited diets from parents, but also grandparents, aunts, uncles, daycare providers… The strategies recommended here are simple enough they can be implemented by anyone feeding the child. If all caregivers are working together to support the child, the positive outcomes will be seen quicker and with better staying power!

Make mealtimes enjoyable, fun and stress-free!

This point is absolutely the number one strategy! No other strategies will be effective without a pleasant mealtime environment and trusting relationships established between the child and her caregivers.  

Each one of us creates strong emotional memories when we eat. Think of your favorite foods and what that reminds you of… My husband absolutely loves sugared cereal… Froot Loops, Lucky Charms, Apple Jacks… Growing up, his dad had a long commute to work, so left early in the morning and came home late at night. As a boy, my husband wanted to see his dad during the day, so he would set his alarm early in the dark morning hours and eat breakfast (sugared cereal) with his dad before he left for his long drive. He’d then go back to bed to sleep a bit longer. My husband has fond memories of those early morning talks with his dad and has associated the food that he was eating with that fondness.

Now think of foods you can’t stand to eat or won’t even touch… My husband hates bananas and doesn’t even like them on the counter in our house. When he was young, he had a babysitter who was determined that he would finish all the food on his plate. He has memories of being force-fed bananas, with it squishing between his teeth as he was fighting it. He’s a grown man and still has definite strong aversions to even the thought of touching bananas.

So what emotions are swirling around your food being served at your house with your children? What’s the stress level with the adults and children? Children pick up on our adult stress level so quickly and profoundly, so it’s important that caregivers come to the table able to enjoy the meal also.

Eat together and enjoy social interactions around nourishing foods. Have fun! Create a mealtime environment that makes your child smile and feel at ease as you’re eating together. This means you may have to relax traditional table etiquette and that’s perfectly fine. Because in the long-term, we would rather have our child be able to independently eat a healthy, balanced, nourishing diet. Table etiquette rules can be implemented more fully at a slower pace after they’ve learned to acquire a taste for a well-balanced diet.

Creating a pleasant environment also means you are avoiding power struggles and stressful pressure on the child during the meal. Absolutely never, ever force feed a child! Don’t make them sit pouting at the table alone until they eat every last bite of food. Don’t require they stop eating a favorite food served with dinner because you feel they have already had too much. Part of enjoying a meal means the child feels a sense of control over their body, hunger cues and what enters their mouth. (If you’d like to learn more about this philosophy of feeding children, called The Division of Responsibility, The Ellyn Satter Institute is a great resource.)

Remember that the swirling smells and tastes of food and emotions at the table will mix together to form strong emotional memories during mealtimes. Caregivers have control over the mixture that will create a lifetime of emotional memories and food preferences.

Offer both preferred and non-preferred foods at meals and snacks. 

First off, I want to emphasize the word offer. The definition of offer is to present or proffer (something) for (someone) to accept or reject as so desired. Yes, in offering food you are presenting it to your child with the option to either accept or reject. That’s ok.

Tell your child that placing the food on the table or on their plate is not a requirement for them to eat it. In fact, don’t even ask your child to eat it, just tell them that this is what you’ve prepared and are offering them for their meal. If asking or requiring them to eat it creates too much stress, we’ve destroyed step number one of creating an enjoyable environment necessary for any other strategies to work.

A caregiver’s responsibility is to choose what foods to buy, prepare and present to nourish your child. Your child’s responsibility is to decide what and how much of that food to eat.

Make a list of safe foods your child will almost always eat. When planning your meals and snacks, be sure that at least one of those foods is always served with the family meal (not separate from the family meal). So, your family meal on the table may include goldfish crackers with spaghetti and salad for dinner or chicken nuggets with scrambled eggs, toast and orange juice for breakfast.

Now, make a list of foods your child won’t eat consistently, but you’d like them to incorporate into their diets. Be sure to include at least one of these foods at meals and snacks. I recommend offering foods everyone else is eating at the meal or snack. It’s convenient to offer a small spoonful and if it’s not eaten, it’s a such small amount that it’s not a worry when it’s thrown away.

Remember that caregivers decide what is offered, not the child. The child give some input, but the caregiver has the responsibility to make the ultimate decision. Caregivers will want to choose foods for a balanced meal with starches, proteins, fruits and vegetables. Include at least one food the child feels safe with and will almost always eat. Also include a non-preferred food that you’d like them to eat, even if you’re sure it will be rejected.

Yes, food may go in the garbage because we will allow the child to eat the food or not. That’s ok. Because food has been thrown away is NOT a reason to be a short order cook or hurry and make a second meal. The important recipe here is exposing the food to the child in an enjoyable mealtime environment. Caregivers and children will have another chance in a few hours to perform their jobs again at the next meal or snack and again after that… You can always load up on safe foods and only include one non-preferred food if the child didn’t eat much at the last meal.

Encourage interaction (not necessarily eating) with non-preferred foods. 

So far, we’ve created a pleasant mealtime environment without stress and have offered and introduced non-preferred foods into that safe environment.

For some children, just presenting a non-preferred food at mealtime, such as setting it on the table or serving it on their plate may be where you start with this step. They may not tolerate more than this. If that’s the case, don’t push any farther until they are comfortable with this minimal interaction of seeing it close by. Realize with the food even this close, they will be seeing what it looks like and smelling it, and really are interacting with some of the food’s sensory properties

From this point, you can slowly start to encourage and challenge the child to interact with the sensory properties of the food, while maintaining a safe and enjoyable environment. Look, smell, touch, listen to and finally taste the food. Ideally, interaction with the food should gradually get a little closer to the face and mouth until it is finally eaten.

Remember again that this step is where the child’s responsibility comes in to decide what and how much food they will eat. Every caregiver should absolutely respect the decision of the child. You can continue to encourage while maintaining a trusting relationship.

Support other caregivers without judgemental attitudes, especially the primary caregiver (usually Mom).

Feeding a child with feeding concerns is SOOOOO stressful! It’s hard to hide a caregiver’s stress from the child during mealtimes.

In my feeding therapy and my own mama experience, moms especially seem to carry a heavier load of guilt and worry if their child isn’t eating how they feel like they should. They also seem to hear and receive feedback and opinions from others sensitively, especially when they are already stressed.

Be supportive of the child and all caregivers. Share small successes. “She really liked helping me pass out carrots to the other children.” Or, “He seemed to enjoy making a smiley face out of his apple slices and even tasted it to his lips!”

Avoid pointing blame towards other caregivers. “If you were more strict, he’d eat more.” Or, “Well, he eats that at my house.”

Don’t sabotage mealtimes with treats, like unexpectedly showing up with a box full of donuts to eat just before dinner is being served. Ask the caregiver preparing the meal when an appropriate time would be to give treats and present it towards the end of the meal.

One caregiver can destroy a safe mealtime environment in every setting by force feeding. Never, ever force feed a child!

Seek out professional support sooner than later if these suggestions don’t help. 

Talk with your pediatrician or seek out an experienced pediatric occupational or speech therapist who specializes in feeding therapy. They can help screen for and identify underlying conditions or delays that may be hindering progress with your child’s eating and give more individualized treatment ideas. Don’t wait to seek out more support. Children who receive treatment earlier have better outcomes and often times need less professional support because they’ve avoided further complications. If you’re trying to decide if your child needs more help, this earlier post I’ve written, “When Does Picky Eating Become a Problem?”, may be helpful.

I’d love to be able to help in your northern Utah home with any feeding concerns. Happy eating!

 

See Tera talk about how caregivers can help picky eaters with FOX 13 The Place here.