‘Try it you will like it!’  ‘I just wish you would try something new!’ ‘You can’t survive on plain pasta and cheese!’ ‘Why can’t you eat something with some nutritional value?’

Does this sound like mealtimes in your house? If so your child may have an underlying sensory or motor feeding difficulty which is affecting their willingness to eat a range of foods or causing them to be selective in terms of the types and textures of foods that they eat. Parents are often told that their child will outgrow it and that they are just trying to exert independence, in most cases this can be proved untrue. If a child is fussy there is almost always an underlying cause for their fussiness.

Neophobia or the fear of new foods generally peaks at 2 and declines after that. A fussy eater or behavioural feeder will continue having a very limited diet and selective food intake, often having less than 25 foods in their repertoire. 

Eating is both a motor and sensory based activity. Fussiness around eating is often due to inefficiency in one or both of these systems. Oral-motor difficulties will affect a child’s ability to chew and swallow firmer textures. In these cases exercises would be implemented to improve oral movements and functioning, resulting in an improvement in a child’s ability to eat a wider range of foods.

A child with sensory difficulties often can’t tolerate having their hands dirty and they can’t tolerate touching different textures. This can be evident when a child is playing with some foods as well as non food items, like sand. They will regularly ask to have their hands cleaned and will try and clean mess that is in their view. They may also be sensitive to strong smells, having to move away from the source. Parents often say that their child will eat dirt off the floor, but won’t eat food! Infants explore the world using their hands and should be encouraged to explore their food on their plate the way that they do the dirt in the park. Our attitude to food is that it should be eaten, not to play with, but exploration is key! Children who find this challenging need help with learning how to regulate their sensory systems, as well as decreasing their irrational fears around eating new foods.

Children don’t have definite likes or dislikes. It takes 16 dislikes to acquire a like! Repeated exposure is key! 

If mealtimes are a constant battle and your child is surviving on a limited diet it is worth having them assessed. It’s not something that they will grow out of and no individual needs to live their life being scared of something that is integral to their survival. All children have the potential to be great eaters!

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