Changing Colors: The Blog of Spectrum Pediatrics

January 31, 2018

Family Mealtime Coaching: What is it and how can it help?

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

We all want our kids to be the best that they can be.  In fact, many families hire coaches to pump up their kids’ soccer game, to improve their free throw shot, or to work on their ballet positions.  But a baby?  An eating coach?  That seems like the ultimate in helicopter parenting.  In reality though, working with a coach on your child’s mealtime abilities can be exactly the opposite of being a controlling parent.

One of the foundational aspects of eating is the development of self-regulation.   By definition, that means that the baby or child is learning to be in charge of themselves and their eating.  The job of a parent is to provide the necessary, developmentally appropriate support to help their child be successful to the best of their ability.  It sounds simple, but the mealtime relationship can be complicated by developmental difficulties, medical problems, culture, differing family expectations, and the child’s own temperament.  Often a feeding therapist is recommended to work on the child’s skills, but many times, skills are not actually the problem, or only part of the problem.  Parents need help with defining their own role and responsibilities within that relationship.  The job of a mealtime coach is to teach parents to be aware of their own impact on the mealtime relationship, as well as to read their child’s cues so they can determine when to step in, and when to allow their child to work through a problem with less support.  This balance is what will allow the child to advance their self-regulation skills without allowing them to try things that are unsafe, or inappropriate.

There is good evidence that shows many benefits to the development of self-regulation.  The benefits go beyond healthy relationships with food and weight.  Self-regulation was defined by Shonkoff & Phillips as “gaining control of body functions, dealing with strong emotions, and maintaining focus and attention.” That mean that self-regulation skills can also impact the ability to form and maintain relationships, pay attention in school, control anger and anxiety, and adapt well to new situations.  By working with parents on healthy boundaries and support during mealtimes, a mealtime coach can provide parents with the tools to read their child’s cues and support their self-regulation in all areas of life.

There are a number of reasons why coaching is a better model than therapy or teaching.   A coach may be a therapist or a counselor, or another parent, but the coaching model describes how the professional, parent and child interact in the mealtime setting.

  • The job of a coach is to listen first, to make sure they understand the whole problem.
  • A coach is focused on helping families identify some of the root causes of the difficulties
  • A coach will encourage families to come up with solutions that will work in their own home or circumstances
  • A coach will focus on the family and child interaction and relationship, rather than providing a strategy or intervention and expecting the family to imitate the therapy relationship

If you’re interested in learning more about how a mealtime coach could help your family, we would love to hear from you. Spectrum Pediatrics currently has therapists in Virginia, Tennessee, and New York. We are also able to coach remotely from a different state. Contact us here!

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