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Distraction Feeding: Why & How to Avoid It

The most common misconception with feeding is that it is an innate reaction and will happen automatically.  This is false. Feeding is actually a learned activity, and should be treated as any other learning skill for your child.  Which means, you want your child to be attentive to how you are behaving during the activity, and more importantly, that they are attuned to how their own bodies think and feel during this time.  

Feeding is a sensory motor activity, which means that all systems of the body are working while feeding.  It is so important for your child to visually see the food, and become familiar with how it presents on the plate, how it changes shape when it is poked or prodded with a spoon or fork.  This visual concentration on the food will help your child to anticipate how that food might feel and change when it is in her mouth. It is also important to smell food. Smell and taste are so closely linked, and being familiar with the scent of food will help your little one anticipate the taste of new foods.  

When a child is distracted during feeding, they are not attending to the sight and scent of their food. They are unaware of how they feel about the taste and texture of the food, and are then unable to identify if they like this food in their mouth.  They are focused on the distractor, typically a TV, phone or tablet. When your child is unaware of these two major food descriptors, it will be very difficult to expand food repertoires or preferences.

So, how do we move forward without distraction feeding?  Below are 5 strategies to get you feeding your child without Distractions!

How you can break the screen habit?

  1. Troubleshoot the mealtime structure. Afternoon snacks too close to dinner? Dinner is too late when the child is tired? How can you make sure she is comfortably hungry, but not starving, for the meal? 
  2. Especially at the beginning, include familiar and liked foods in family meals so the child can always find something to eat and make sure to schedule a snack 1.5-2 hours after a meal so he has a chance to eat again soon. 
  3. Adjust expectations. 10-15 minutes of sitting still at a table is a very long time for a busy toddler. Set a timer for 5 minutes at first and extend mealtime to 15 minutes gradually. 
  4. Understand whether your child’s eating is typical for his age or he is struggling with some underlying challenges that make eating difficult. 
  5. Relax about the number of bites and spoonfuls. Less pressure at meals times means better eating habits for the rest of the life. Follow the Division of Responsibility in feeding and look at a bigger picture. 

5. Get personalized help. Contact Grant Therapy Services and see how we can Help. Eating with TV, iPad or books is a very common concern for many parents and we have helped many to successfully get rid of all mealtime distractions.

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