Friday, May 15, 2009

To Chew or not To Chew

I have told you that Dr. Ken wanted me to identify 3 behaviors that we should address first. I had chosen sleep, tantrums and eating. We tackled sleep and I have given you the basics about that - more to come. Today I would like to speak about eating.

Jessica always had a love hate relationship with eating. She was first introduced to cereal at the ripe old age of 6 weeks. A friend suggested I introduce a teaspoon of rice cereal at night to help her sleep. She seemed to take to it and indeed it did seem to help her sleep a little longer, like her stomach was full and she was content. By the time she was 6 months she would have a little dish. Sometimes she would eat what they called 'Farley's biscuits'. They were a large cookie/biscuit that dissolved in liquid. I used her formula or warm water.

By the time she was a year she was enjoying many different tastes including apple sauce, pureed pears, baby food and of course her rice cereal. Now any seasoned parent might pick up the fact that their was something missing here. Finger foods, yes. Jess did not do finger foods. In fact she had no desire at all to even hold her spoon. I would try to give it to her but she would not close her hand around it. I was to learn that this fell into the category of tactile defensive. Jess did not like the feel of it inside her hand.

This was one of the big reasons why Melissa became so good at independent eating. Melissa had no interest in soft foods. She nursed and then thrived on the bottle until almost a year and she became really good with finger foods. If I was to try to feed her with a spoon, she would grab the spoon in a blink of an eye and show me how to use it. Unbelievable.

But Jess would continue to be fed. It became apparent to me that there was another crucial skill that Jess was lacking...she was not chewing. She would mouth the food a bit but then swallow it right down. This can not be good. How do you teach a child to chew?

At the age of 3 1/2 years, Jessica was still being fed. She would only eat if I gave her pudding between each bite and if I sang to her. Her favorite songs were "If you're happy and you know it" and "This old man". And oh by the way, her food needed to be mashed as she still was not chewing. I shake my head as I write this. We had certainly gotten ourselves in a groove. Dr. Ken had his work cut out for him.

Dr. Ken wanted me to start having Jess hold the spoon. I would do this by putting her hand on the spoon and putting my hand over hers. This is called 'hand over hand'. Jess usually responded to this by pushing my hand away, screaming and then bringing her other hand to her mouth to bite herself. I can not tell you how intense this simple task got. I always felt I had gone 10 rounds with Mohamed Ali after every feeding session. The main thing was to never lose your cool. This would only complicate the whole process. We would go back and forth like this for no more than 45 minutes than everything was put away. If I felt that Jess was hungry, I could start the process again after an hour. Man I was tired, and emotionally drained. Should such a basic need be so complicated?

It would be months before Jess would allow me to keep my hand over hers on the spoon. During that time I was to allow more lumps in her food in the hopes that she would start using her teeth. I gradually increased the lumpiness. Instead of using a hand blender, I would use a fork to mash her food. Chewing still eluded her, I once said that I would have the only child who could swallow an egg whole. We tried sticking things on to her teeth - peanut butter with a little bread for example, in hopes that she would work it off using her teeth but it was always her tongue that got the workout.

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