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5 telltale signs your toddler needs feeding therapy right now

Do you have a toddler that won’t eat even if you place a tasty meal on the table? Have you tried singing, cajoling, or even resorting to bribery to get your toddler to take a couple of bites from the meal you have prepared? You’re not alone. Many a parent has dealt with a picky eater. Whether it’s flavor or texture, some foods might not agree with your little one.

Part of growing up involves developing the palate and trying new foods. However, how can you tell if you simply have a picky eater on your hands or if your child needs some extra help with eating in general? To answer this question and more, we’ve looked into feed therapy for toddlers, what it is exactly, and how to tell if this is something you should look into for your child.

Speech therapist working with toddler girl
Tatiana Foxy / Shutterstock

What is feeding therapy?

Feeding therapy for toddlers doesn’t just focus on teaching your little one how to eat — although that’s a vital skill to acquire. Feeding therapy is carried out by a trained and licensed speech-language pathologist or occupational therapist. This professional helps children who have difficulties with chewing and swallowing and can use some strengthening of the mouth muscles.

Another benefit to working with a therapist is the cooperative effort. They collaborate with their patients’ families to uncover the source of the child’s difficulties and develop specific therapies and exercises to make the eating process easier. This involves “teaching” the parents what to do for their child during mealtimes and how to reinforce the skills that the little ones are acquiring. Thus, parents are also empowered with the knowledge to be able to help their children.

In some cases, parents are already aware of the factors behind the feeding difficulties. Their child may have been born with any of the following conditions:

  • sensory disorder
  • autism
  • cerebral palsy

Likewise, babies who are born prematurely run the risk of having difficulty with eating. Also, children who have suffered a traumatic brain injury, a stroke, or some form of oxygen deprivation, like a near-drowning, might require feeding therapy for toddlers. While parents may know the root of the cause, they might still feel overwhelmed when dealing with these challenges. A professional who can provide feeding therapy for toddlers makes an enormous, life-changing difference in the lives of these families.

What are the tell-tale signs that your toddler may need feeding therapy?

If feeding time tends to be incredibly stressful and challenging, you might look out for a few signs. Often, there are certain behaviors and habits that’ll let you know if you need to consult with a therapist. However, if you are still unsure whether your toddler needs feeding therapy, your toddler should undergo feeding evaluation which might be obtained through a referral from your pediatrician.

Below are five tell-tale signs that would point in the direction of needing feeding therapy for toddlers.

  1. Your child may not be growing or gaining weight.
  2. He or she gags on his/her food or avoids eating food during mealtimes.
  3. You notice that your child struggles with controlling and coordinating the movement of food in the mouth, chewing, and preparing to swallow food.
  4. Your toddler barely eats certain food textures or finds it difficult to transition from one type of food to another.
  5. Your child is a picky eater with an extremely restricted range of foods and patterns.

If you notice any of these signs, then you should contact your pediatrician for guidance or a referral to a speech/language therapist (pathologist) or an occupational therapist. Also, keeping a journal of behaviors and struggles during meal or snack times would help you to give a more detailed account of what’s going on and thus enable your pediatrician to get a clear picture of the issue.

How can parents/caregivers help?

Over the course of working with a speech/language pathologist, parents or caregivers would gain more information and techniques to apply at home or daycare. This extension of the therapy proves to be a game-changer in the toddler’s feeding therapy. So, learning these strategies is imperative to your child’s progress. Some examples of these skills and strategies include:

  • calming techniques for dealing with negative mealtime behaviors
  • ways to encourage your child to try new foods
  • the modeling of behavior like eating vegetables along with your child
  • keeping track of what your toddler eats and how he or she responds to foods.

With the last tip, you might need to keep a notepad at the table to record this information. Or an actual recording on an electronic device might provide more information.

Every child has his or her own unique set of needs. So, while you can’t put an exact timeline on how long feeding therapy for toddlers takes, you can hold on to hope that over time and with consistent practice, your child will come to view mealtimes as a fun, bonding experience with the family.

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Leslie Anderson
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Leslie Anderson is a freelance writer/writing coach from Roswell, N.M. She enjoys gardening, cooking, and helping students…
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