The most predictable thing about toddler eating is that it is unpredictable. Variations in appetite will occur and while there will be days when your toddler only wants to lick, taste, or nibble, there will be other days when the volume of food consumed is unfathomable. Trust that your toddler knows how much to consume at each eating opportunity.
When one of your kids is tube-fed or recently weaned, it’s easy to overlook the other kids at your dinner table, or forget that safe and joyful meals are just as important for non-tubies as for tube fed kids. I learned this the hard way – that there are a few things to be aware of when your tubie is not an only child.
Being the parent of a toddler is exceptionally fun and rewarding. It can also be exhausting. Developmentally, toddlers are learning to be independent people. Having a toddler with a feeding tube brings its own set of challenges. How do we, as loving caregivers, help the toddlers in our lives with tubes get ready to participate in a wean during this sometimes challenging developmental stage?
One of the big questions that comes up as a child becomes more and more driven to eat orally is “How do I get their skills to catch up?” While some kids will need the help of a local feeding therapist to more intensively work on the muscles for biting and chewing, there are some things that we can do to help set our kids up to be successful, as well as help progress their skills for biting and chewing naturally.
I learned how to let go of my anxiety-ridden control tactics, and my daughter found her appetite and learned to eat happily and independently. But that took time, patience, and a lot of help. And looking back, there is one thing that I would tell that tired, frustrated mom who skipped Thanksgiving dessert to cry in the bathroom.
When starting a wean, there are so many questions. One of the recurring fears that I discuss with parents is: What if this doesn’t work, where do we go from here? When tackling this answer, it’s really important to back up a step and to start with another question: How do we define success and “working”?
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.
As a kid, I was the designated “picky eater” of the family. Every family has one, and we all know who they are. My mother would often introduce me to new people as “her picky eater” and the one “whose best vegetables are ketchup and pumpkin pie.” I would slink off with the kids, doing my best to disappear until the inevitable dinner bell rung and I'd have to endure the humiliation of being the picky eater in front of strangers.
Weaning is a long, hard, and exciting journey for everyone, but is possibly truest for families working to wean their toddlers: children gaining newfound independence in all ways, but especially with food. This independence likely comes with behaviors such as refusal, pickiness, short attention spans at the table, tantrums for no apparent reason, and possible plate throwing.
A safe eating dynamic is one in which no one feels pressured, neither caregivers nor kids. There is room to explore food, to enjoy it, to be heard and respected when you say "no thanks" and when you say "yes, please." In a safe dynamic, your eating is not the focus of people’s attention, and no one is trying to impose any agenda beyond having a relaxed meal.