By: Jamie Hinchey, MS, CCC-SLP

 Taking a step back from expectations and giving your child space to build trust around food and mealtimes is an important and necessary step in the tube weaning journey. If you are familiar with the Thrive Treatment Progression, you know that Rest and Play is the second step to building the foundation of a happy and healthy relationship with food. Once you have eliminated any medical complications, pressure during mealtimes, and any harmful therapy strategies, it is crucial that the focus starts to be on building trust around food and mealtimes. The more trust a child has around food, the better chance they have of becoming a healthy and successful eater long-term. 

What does “building” trust look like? This means giving space at mealtimes for your child to independently explore food without any expectations of eating. This “independent exploration” aka play may look to adults as meaningless and distracting behaviors, but it is helping your child build their comfort and confidence around food. Child-directed food play is extremely helpful in overcoming fear and learning more about food. This isn’t a time to “work” on food or pressure your child to do something YOU had in mind with the food. Here are a couple tips to keep in mind while you’re allowing your child to explore: 

  • Take a break: Giving your child a break from what they are expected to do and allow them to be completely independent. You may find that this also helps relieve some of your stress because you are taking away the expectation for yourself that you must “get” your child to eat.  
  • Allow your child to refuse: When children are allowed to refuse touching foods, picking up a food, or eating food, it feels safe. It is so important to accept this refusal and allow your child to show you what they are comfortable doing with the food.  

This can be very hard for parents, so go easy on yourself! Parents share that this can feel as though they are doing nothing, yet this is one of the most VALUABLE parts of your journey. It’s okay to start small and work up to where you feel comfortable. If you are feeling stressed while at the table, your child will be able to sense that and may not be as comfortable exploring. Here are a few tips to getting started: 

  • Plan 1x a day where you can dedicate this independent play time with food. It is okay to start small, rather than trying to fit it into every mealtime. This can help eliminate your stress and reduce any pressure you’re feeling 
  • Have your meal WITH your child! If you are busy eating and drinking, it is likely easier to allow your child to independently explore the food on their tray. They may even show interest in what you’re eating or want to explore a new food. 
  • Move away from the table. Sometimes, it is much easier for parents to relax and take a step back when they are away from the dinner table. This could be outside for a picnic, on the floor, at a restaurant, or even at the park!  
  • If your child doesn’t yet feel comfortable touching food, start with food containers or utensils to build exposure during play! 

Remember, it is okay to start small and know that even a small change can be so valuable in building your child’s relationship with food! 

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