As the mum of a child with a sensory processing disorder, one of the challenges I was faced with was wondering how to get my sensory child to eat. My son probably wasn’t one of the worst fussy toddlers at meal times – I’d heard about some really full on scenarios and felt grateful that things weren’t that difficult at our house. However, dinner time was becoming a battleground day after day and I’m a big believer that meal times are special family time and should be encompass positivity, not arguments.
Some solid ground rules for meal times with toddlers is a must. Ours have always gone like this:
– No rudeness or complaining. Whinging or complaining results in the child being sent to their room.
– Good manners.
– No special meals for the kids. They eat what we eat – the chilli gets added afterwards to ours!
– No alternative options. This is what’s for dinner. Take it or leave it.
– The kids will never be forced to eat anything. It isn’t our job to make them eat – it’s our job to provide them with nutritious meals.
– It is fine to sit nicely at the table and not eat, as long as you don’t complain.
– No dinner, no dessert.
As our triplets reached their third birthday, meal times were becoming increasingly tense with my son. He was being sent to his room routinely, I was stressed, the girls were witnessing it and dinner was definitely not a positive environment. Realizing this wasn’t sustainable, I began to wonder how to my sensory child to eat without the tears and the tantrums. It took some time, but we introduced some new tactics that actually worked! Our existing ground rules remained and we tried the following:
One of the common points of conflict was that my son didn’t like cooked vegetables. He has always favored crunchy food and would often have raw veggies with no complaint, but when he found steamed broccoli or honey carrots on his plate, he would melt down. I continued to put the cooked vegetable on his plate, but in the middle of the table would put an assortment of raw carrot sticks, snow peas, raw broccoli and cucumber to be shared. The kids loved it and I was more than happy to watch my son tuck in to a plate of carrot sticks for dinner if he chose to.
Here is the other little trick that helped me get my sensory child to eat. We started putting a “scraps” bowl on the table. Anything that the kids didn’t want to eat could be put in to the scraps bowl, but they hand to give it a kiss and say “Bye bye Tomato” or “Bye bye pumpkin” before putting it in the bowl. The idea behind this was to get them to bring the food up to their lips in a non-threatening manner (ie; no one insisting that they taste it). Within two weeks of the scraps bowl method, two of our children started eating peas who hadn’t previously. I was actually starting to enjoy meal times with my toddlers!
My son’s behavior at meal times was transformed. He began trying new things and stopped being sent to his room. The more we have learned about his sensory processing disorder, the more we have been able to help him deal with things that cause him anxiety. All of our children still have days where they are fussy at meal times and typical ridiculous toddlers, but these two small actions have taken so much stress away for all of us.