Written by Joan Guthrie MedlinThe first communication with babies centers on feeding. When you feed your baby from a bottle or breast, there is a natural interaction that occurs. You look in your baby’s eyes and pay attention to his or her gestures and movements to know when he or she is tired or full.
This interaction continues as your baby grows. When he or she sits in an infant seat or high chair, it is your responsibility to provide foods that are healthy, tasty and safe to eat. At this stage, a positive feeding relationship means that you are both being attentive to each other. For example, it takes time for toddlers with Down syndrome to move the food around, swallow, and then prepare for the next bite. Watch your child and wait for him or her to be ready. It is important to give babies the time they need. If they turn away, don’t chase them with the spoon. Allow them to say, “No, I don’t want that,” or “I am full!” Listening to children in these early stages of feeding teaches them that you are listening to them and respect their decisions.
This positive feeding relationship helps as children get older, too. If they know they have the right to choose how much and whether or not they eat something, they begin to understand how to listen to their body cues. This doesn’t prevent challenges that may arise, such as emotional eating or a propensity for junk food, but it helps. Most importantly, respecting childrens’ role in the feeding relationship teaches them that they can say “No thank you” when someone offers food. Too often, we praise the “good eater,” sending the message that eating everything whenever it is offered is what we expect.
Understanding your role in the feeding relationship also helps keep you from becoming a short-order cook. No one likes to prepare more than one menu for each meal, but for mealtime to be successful, it’s important to make something for everyone. If you know there is nothing on the table that your child will eat, you aren’t holding up your end of the bargain. But if you ensure that there is something available to your child, then he or she will choose to eat that and get at least some calories.
We often lose sight of the joy of food and activity. We hear so much about weight loss and the need to be active that these things have become a chore. When it comes to helping our children develop healthy habits, it’s important to relax, listen, experiment, and have fun. That said, the following are some specific strategies you might want to try:
- Explore new foods together. Go to the store and find something totally new in the produce section, or try a new shape of pasta.
- Once a month, choose a new recipe with your child that you prepare together. Plan for a mess, and enjoy the time you spend together learning new things and developing new skills.
- Always build in choices. When your child is young, for example, the development of “healthy habits” centers on learning to communicate and choose. So be sure to provide visual representations of food, such as photos and wrappers, or teach sign language for various foods.
- Involve your child in menu planning at an early age. Even if you don’t plan more than 30 minutes in advance, be sure to give your child the opportunity to choose one item on the menu or to choose between different snack options.
The information featured in this section is reproduced via an exclusive arrangement with National Down Syndrome Society [ONLINE] Available at http://www.ndss.org