If your child is a resistant eater, it is not your fault!

Children who are fussy or picky eaters may find the tase and smell of food offensive. The food may be slimy, lumpy or strange, both in their hands and in their mouth. The sights, smells, and feeling of food might even make them feel sick. Some children may even react with fear – to them, food is scary and strange. The social aspect of mealtimes can also be very overwhelming. Sitting down at the dinner table to share a meal with others may be noisy, confusing and distracting. Others simply do not feel hungry in the way that most people do, and so are not motivated to eat. Children experiencing these difficulties are known as ‘resistant eaters’.

Every child’s sensory systems are different and have differing thresholds. In general, it is beneficial for a child to have opportunities to engage with their sensory environment in an emotionally safe manner. Here are some general strategies to address overall sensory function, which can be done outside of mealtime.

  • Provide exciting environments with many things to look at and new sounds to hear.
  • Allow them to play on various tactile surfaces, like grass and sand.
  • For a child who is overly sensitive to any sensory stimuli, try to “turn down the volume” of that sensation. For example, if a child is very distracted by visual information, give them a cozy space in your house (such as a tent or fort) that blocks out overwhelming visual inputs.
  • If a child is bothered by sound, allow them to try noise cancelling headphones in a busy environment.
  • Engaging in activities that decrease sensitivity can also be beneficial, if the child is ready. For example, if your child is sensitive to getting their hands messy, providing opportunity for play with a variety of tactile media like sand, shaving cream or dry beans can increase their tolerance over time.
  • For a child with decreased awareness of sensory stimuli in their environment, try to “turn up the volume” of that sensation.
  • Provide your child with a variety of movement opportunities (jumping, sliding, running, crawling) for the development of their postural muscles. Postural control is necessary for sitting at the table.

Feeding difficulties affect an increasing number of children with disabilities and their families. Practitioners widely use the SOS feeding approach to address these feeding concerns among a broad range of children. The SOS program is commonly used by occupational therapists to address feeding challenges among children with selective eating behaviours and sensory-processing difficulties. Limited evidence was found to support the effectiveness of the SOS approach for children with disabilities. The results do, however, show a positive trend for the majority of participants with neurological impairment, as well as being more effective for boys than for girls.

If you need support or advice, please contact High Five Childrens OT.