Changing Colors: The Blog of Spectrum Pediatrics

October 24, 2017

Responsive Feeding: Do they always have to sit in the chair?

By: Heidi Moreland, MS, CCC-SLP, BCS-S, CLC

Parenting can be tough, and it is easier to find some exact guidelines on how to help your child, or how to get them to “do the right things.” Responsive feeding is a great structure, but it can feel like there are a lot of gray areas when it comes to application.

Picture helping your child learn to walk. In the beginning you hold them upright, and even help them move their feet! As they mature in their skills, you progress to holding two hands, holding one hand or, just using a finger. Eventually, you let them walk to your outstretched hands and you catch them if they wobble. Sometimes you need to let them land on their booty in order to allow them to develop their balance independently. Once they are running on the playground by themselves, you will probably forget all of the months of practice and many steps that you went through! You can apply the same idea to other skills. Rather than giving some exact guidelines on questions such as the wisdom of making your child sit in the chair and other mealtime conundrums, here are some questions to ask yourself to help guide your reactions in the gray areas of the mealtime relationships.

Enjoyment

1. What does my child think about food (or drinking) right now? How do they communicate this?

2. What does my child think about family mealtimes (or bottle times) right now? How do they communicate this?

3. Is his or her response to mealtimes different than other areas of structure? (For example, 2 year olds often do not like to be confined, and would rather explore than eat. This does not necessarily mean that he doesn’t like food, but may dislike sitting for more than a few minutes.

Abilities

4. What do they do at about 80% of mealtimes with ____________ ? No one is 100% at anything, especially toddlers and preschoolers, so 80% is a pretty good measure of mastery. This can be any skill, such as drinking from a cup, sitting at the table, using a spoon, or just taking bites without spitting them out. It can also be behaviors, manners, and food challenges like sitting at the table or tasting new foods.

5. What do I hope they will do at mealtimes?

Shaping rules and expectations

  • If you do an assessment of their enjoyment and find that there is no enjoyment at all, you may need to back up your expectations until they are more relaxed at mealtimes.
  • Once you have some enjoyment of food and mealtimes, you can begin adding structure a little bit at a time.

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