So often I hear loving and well-intended caregivers using phrases like 'I was able to,' or how do I 'get it into them' (referring to food, utensils, or oral motor therapy tools getting into children). How do I 'get them to open their mouths' so I can 'do x to them.' I hear meals described as feeds, sessions, therapy, or exercises. Lots of words that describe doing things TO our kids.
These words matter. They have power. They dictate beliefs, feelings, and actions. They are medicalized words. Traumatized words. Words that describe us as parents in the driver’s seat, as though if we use exactly the right technique, we can 'get' that food and drink into our child, and then we will feel at ease. But 'getting' our children to eat in that sense will not set them up for long-term eating happiness and success.
Weaning is about a shift in control -- a shift from parent (putting food into tube) to child (who now gets to decide what goes into his or her own mouth). That is a huge paradigm shift, and a difficult one. And it can start with being conscious about the words we use.
So, how do we begin making this shift?
Start thinking of your child as an eater. Start thinking of meals, not feeds. De-medicalize the feeding experience as much as possible. Use “life” vocabulary, not hospital vocabulary. Model it for your family and friends. Say it out loud for your own ears to hear. Think of offering food, eating alongside, or facilitating a meal. Hold your control lightly. Use tubes when needed. Follow the division of responsibility.
And remember that the words you use both in your head and outside of it have power, and dictate how you think, and how you live.
You can start weaning now JUST by shifting those words.
Becky Keifer, MA, CCC-SLP, Lead Feeding Therapist