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Feeding tip for sensory or selective eaters: Where to place food so not to trigger immediate refusal

Posted by on Jan 15, 2013 in Blog Posts | 5 comments

When I went to the home of a nine-month old who was “refusing to drink,” I saw a lovely girl: smiling, bright, and interactive. While sitting in her high chair, the mom repeatedly tried to hand the girl the sippy-cup—putting it in front of her, trying to put it in her hand. The little girl batted it away, pushed, and cried, getting increasingly upset with every attempt. We sat back, and I suggested mom put the cup just within reach at the far side of the high chair tray and then chat or look away and perhaps sit back and take a sip of her own tea. Within a minute, the little girl reached out, grabbed the cup and began drinking.



Another home visit with a preschool girl provided a similar learning opportunity. The pre-plated foods were placed in front of the child. She was less adamant about refusal, but in a matter-of-fact way she pushed the plates and bowls away, or leaned over them to get at the crackers. When we changed tactics and placed the bowl of the new food within reach but not in front of the child and ignored the food, she became more curious. She watched raptly as the mom and I popped bites of blueberries into our mouths (step one in the process of learning to like new foods). When a piece was placed on the table within reach, she reached out, handled and inspected the food for a time, and put it in her mouth before spitting it out. (Remember, that’s a win, not proof she doesn’t like blueberries!)


feeding tip: avoid placing foods directly in front of your child, or repeatedly hold a loaded fork or piece of food at your child’s mouth


When you put a plate, or bowl, or pieces of food repeatedly right in front of the child, particularly one who has been pressured,  or is more sensitive to help from others, it can feel pushy to the child, and her immediate reflex is to physically push it away and to resist. She resents the physical  intrusion into her space. The conflict increases stress, which is known to decrease appetite and makes children more likely to rely on safe and familiar foods.

Try this instead. Get all the offering ready. Sit down with your child. Eat or drink with him if you can. Put the bowl, or food right on the table, within reach, but perhaps to the side, or let the older child help herself. Serve yourself. Then wait. Enjoy your food. And wait. Resist the urge to put it right in front of him, or to hold pieces up to his mouth in the hopes he will take it this time.

What happens? Have any of you experimented with this, or seen this phenomenon in action? If your child consistently refuses what you put in front of him, but happily eats the same food off your plate, could this dynamic be part of the issue?

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