Just Flip the Lip! The Upper Lip-tie and Feeding Challenges

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While many pediatric professionals are familiar with a tongue-tie, the illusive lip-tie hides in plain sight beneath the upper lip. Because I focus on feeding difficulties in children and an upper lip-tie can be a contributing factor if a child has trouble feeding, then I probably encounter more lip-ties than some of my colleagues. Still, I’d like to encourage my fellow SLPs to just flip the lip of every single kiddo whenever assessing the oral cavity. And document what you observe. Help increase general knowledge among professionals on different types of upper lip-ties by raising awareness of how they may impact the developmental process of feeding.

Upper lip-ties refer to the band of tissue or “frenum” that attaches the upper lip to the maxillary gingival tissue (upper gums) at midline. Although most babies should have a frenum that attaches to some degree to the maxillary arch, the degree of restriction varies. So it’s important to flip the lip of every child we evaluate in order to gain a better understanding of the spectrum of restriction – especially if you are an SLP who treats pediatric feeding.

During the feeding evaluation process, consider four things: 1) The mobility of the upper lip for breast, bottle, spoon and finger feeding; 2) How well it functions in the process of latching and maintaining the latch; 3) If the lip provides the necessary stability for efficient and effective suck-swallow-breath coordination; and 4) If the lip is an effective tool for cleaning a spoon, manipulating foods in the mouth and contributing to a mature swallow pattern.

Dentist Lawrence A. Kotlow has created an upper lip-tie classification system to better identify, describe and consider the need for treatment. The tie is classified according to where the frenum connects the lip to the gums, known as “insertion points.” Envision a child with a very big “gummy” smile and the upper gum line exposed. Divide the gums into three zones, as described in this article by Kotlow:

“The soft tissue covering the maxillary bone is divided into 3 zones. The tissue just under the nasal area (zone 1) is called the free gingival area; this tissue is movable. Zone 2 tissue is attached to the bone and has little freedom of movement… Zone 3 extends into the area between the teeth and is known as the interdental papilla. This is where the erupting central incisors will position themselves at around 6 months of age.”

Now, consider the insertion points. A Class I lip-tie inserts in Zone I and (unless extremely short and tight) does not inhibit movement of the upper lip and should not interfere with breast or bottle feeding. However, if the lip itself is retracted to the degree that a child cannot flange his upper lip for adequate latching and for maintaining suction, further consideration of this type of lip tie may be necessary. Class II lip-ties have an insertion point in Zone 2, where the tissue is attached to the bone. Kotlow describes the Class III tie as inserting in Zone 3, where “the frenum inserts between the areas where the maxillary central incisors will erupt, just short of attaching into the anterior incisor.”  A Class IV lip-tie “involves the lip-tie wrapping into the hard palate and into the anterior papilla (a small bump located just behind where the central incisor will erupt).”

How might an upper lip-tie impact the developmental process of feeding?

The impact of the upper lip-tie can vary according to its classification and, in my professional experience, the fullness of the upper lip also comes into play. But, in general, consider these key points:

Breastfeeding and Bottle Feeding

  • Breast – Inadequate latch: An infant must flange the lips to create enough suction and adequate seal around the tissue that includes the areola and not just the nipple. It is essential that babies take in enough breast tissue to activate the suckling reflex, stimulating both the touch receptors in the lips and in the posterior oral cavity in order to extract enough milk without fatiguing. When the baby suckles less tissue, painful nursing is also a result. One sign (not always present) is a callus on baby’s upper lip, directly at midline. While not always an indicator of a problem, it’s typically associated with an upper lip-tie. It’s simply a reminder to flip the lip!
  • Bottle – Inadequate Seal: Because bottles and nipple shapes are interchangeable and adaptations can be made, it’s possible to compensate for poor lip seal. However, these compensatory strategies are often introduced because all attempts at breastfeeding became too painful, too frustrating or result in poor weight gain…and the culprit all along was the upper lip-tie. It is then assumed that the baby can only bottle feed. I’ve assessed too many children held by teary-eyed mothers who reported difficulty with breast feeding – and no indication in the chart notes that the child had an upper lip-tie. But, upon oral examination, the lip-tie was indeed present and when observing the child’s feeding skills, the tie was at the very least a contributing factor. Releasing the tie resulted in improved ability to breast feed and progress with solids.
  • In addition, an inadequate latch and/or a poor lip seal may contribute to the following partial list of symptoms:
    • Gassiness; fussiness; “colicky baby”
    • Treatment for gastroesophogeal reflux disease, yet to be confirmed via testing
    • Fatigue resulting in falling asleep at the breast
    • Discomfort for both baby and mother, resulting in shorter feedings
    • Need for more frequent feedings round the clock
    • Poor coordination of suck, swallow, breathe patterns
    • Inability to take a pacifier, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and noted here.

Spoon Feeding

  1. Inability to clean the spoon with the top lip
  2. Inadequate caloric intake due to inefficiency and fatigue
  3. Tactile oral sensitivity secondary to limited stimulation of gum tissue hidden beneath the tie
  4. Lip restriction may influence swallowing patterns and cause compensatory motor movements which may lead to additional complications

Finger Feeding

  1. Inability to manipulate food with top lip for biting, chewing and swallowing
  2. Possible development of picky, hesitant or selective eating because eating certain foods are challenging
  3. Lip restriction may influence swallowing patterns and using compensatory strategies (e.g. sucking in the cheeks to propel food posteriorly to be swallowed) which may lead to additional complications

Oral Hygiene & Dental Issues

  1. Early dental decay on upper teeth where milk residue and food is often trapped
  2. Significant gap between front teeth
  3. Periodontal disease in adulthood
  4. Possible changes in dentition with certain compensatory methods to propel bolus posteriorly for swallowing, such as finger sucking.

After documenting what we observe during the evaluation, clear communication with parents and other professionals will help to determine next steps. In feeding therapy, our role is to provide information for involved parents and professionals (this may include pediatricians, lactation consultants, otolaryngologists, gastroenterologists, oral surgeons and/or pediatric dentists). Our primary role is to determine, document and communicate to what degree the restricted top lip is influencing a child’s difficulty feeding.

For detailed information and additional photos, please read Kotlow’s article, Diagnosing and Understanding the Maxillary Lip-tie as it Relates to Breastfeeding, published in the Journal of Human Lactation in May 2013.

In a future post for ASHA, we’ll discuss tongue-ties (ankyloglossia) and the impact on feeding. Upper-lip ties are frequently associated with tongue-ties, so please remember to look for both during oral examinations.

Have you had an experience with an upper lip-tie impacting the feeding progress of one of your clients? If so, please tell us in the comments below.

 

Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLPtreats children birth to teens who have difficulty eating.  She is the co-author of Raising a Healthy, Happy Eater: A Parent’s Handbook – A Stage by Stage Guide to Setting Your Child on the Path to Adventurous Eating (Oct. 2015), the author of Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids and the producer of the award-winning kids’ CD Dancing in the Kitchen: Songs that Celebrate the Joy of Food!  Melanie’s two-day course on pediatric feeding is offered for ASHA CEUs.  She can be reached at Melanie@mymunchbug.com

 

Snow Day Recap

AugustSnowman

It’s a snow day here at ASHA and for many of our members on the East Coast. So whether (pun intended!) you’re snowed in or not, curl up with some of our most popular posts from 2014 in this compilation published earlier this year.

 

From stuttering to aphasia, hearing loss to hearing aids, early intervention to telepractice and more, ASHA’s blog posts are written by you—our members—sharing knowledge with peers on a variety of subjects. But there’s no doubt about it, pediatric feeding has been the topic on ASHAsphere in 2014!

Check out your five favorite posts from last year:

Step Away From the Sippy Cup!

SLP Melanie Potock specializes in pediatric feeding and explains that sippy cups were created to keep floors clean, not as a tool to be used for developing oral motor skills.

“Sippy cups were invented for parents, not for kids. The next transition from breast and/or bottle is to learn to drink from an open cup held by an adult in order to limit spills or to learn to drink from a straw cup. Once a child transitions to a cup with a straw, I suggest cutting down the straw so that the child can just get his lips around it, but can’t anchor his tongue underneath it.” – Potock

Baby Led Weaning: A Developmental Perspective

For parents interested in following the Baby Led Weaning (BLW) philosophy of pediatric feeding, which states that babies are developmentally capable of reaching for food and putting it in their mouths at about 6 months of age, SLP Melanie Potock shares some thoughts to consider.

“For children in feeding therapy, incorporating some aspects of BLW is dependent on that child’s individual delays or challenges and where they are in the developmental process, regardless of chronological age. My primary concern for any child is safety—be aware and be informed, while respecting each family’s mealtime culture.” – Potock

Collaboration Corner: 10 Easy Tips for Parents to Support Language

Paying attention to body language, reading every day and using pictures are just a few tips SLP Kerry Davis shares with parents to support their child’s language development.

“Take pictures of your child’s day and talk about what is coming up next, or make a photo album of fun activities (vacation, going out for ice cream) to talk about.” – Davis

What SLPs Need to Know About the Medical Side of Pediatric Feeding

To overcome pediatric feeding problems, SLP Krisi Brackett explains the importance of first figuring out why the child’s in a food rut.

“Whether the child is dependent on tube feedings, not moving to textured foods, grazing on snack foods throughout the day, failing to thrive, pocketing foods or spitting foods out, using medical management strategies can greatly improve a child’s success in feeding therapy.” – Brackett

Preventing Food Jags: What’s a Parent to Do?

For kids who only eat a limited number of foods, it can be difficult for parents to provide the right nutrition for their kids. SLP Melanie Potock shares her top 10 suggestions for preventing food jag.

“Food Left on the Plate is NOT Wasted: Even if it ends up in the compost, the purpose of the food’s presence on a child’s plate is for him to see it, smell it, touch it, hear it crunch under his fork and  perhaps, taste it.  So if the best he can do is pick it up and chat with you about the properties of green beans, then hurray!  That’s never a waste, because he’s learning about a new food.” – Potock

 

ASHA always welcomes new blog contributers. Interested? Apply to here become an ASHAsphere blogger.

Sara Mischo is the web producer at ASHA. She can be reached at smischo@asha.org.

Picky Eaters in the Preschool Classroom: 7 Tips for Teachers

Two scoop sizes allow children to select a smaller portion for unfamiliar foods.

Two scoop sizes allow children to select a smaller portion of unfamiliar foods.

As a pediatric feeding therapist, part of working in the child’s natural environment is making regular preschool visits to offer teachers and staff guidance when a child is not eagerly participating in mealtimes. Whether a child is a selective eater or the more common picky-eater, here are seven tips for teachers that focus on the seven senses involved in food exploration and eating:

  1. Sight: New foods are better accepted when the sight of them is underwhelming. When serving foods family style, include TWO utensils for scooping from the main bowl or platter [see above]. Present each food with one larger scoop and a standard spoon. The kids at the table can choose which scoop/spoon they would like to use, which allows the more hesitant eater to choose a small sample instead of what might feel like an overwhelming shovel-full. If meals are served pre-plated, offer smaller portions (1 tablespoon) of new foods and allow the kids to request more after their first taste.
  2. Smell: Warm foods often have a stronger aroma and for some kids, this can be a quick turn-off before the food ventures toward their lips. In regards to the hesitant eater, begin passing the bowl of warm foods so that it ends up at his seat last, when it will be less aromatic. For meals that are pre-plated, simply dish up his first but place it in front of him last, so that the food has time to cool a bit. Straws are an excellent option for soups, because they allow the child to sample by sipping. The longer the straw, the farther away they are from the smell. The shorter the straw, the less distance the soup needs to travel to reach the tongue, but the closer the nose is to the aroma. Consider what suits each child best and adjust accordingly. Thinner straws allow for a smaller amount of soup to land on the tongue, but if the soup is thick, you may need a slightly wider straw. Keeping the portion as small as possible also keeps the aroma to a “just right” amount for little noses. Try tiny espresso cups, often under $2, for serving any new beverage, soup or sauce.
    espresso cups
  3. Taste: Experiencing food doesn’t always mean we taste it every time. If the best a hesitant eater can do that day is help dish up the plates or lick a new food, that’s a good start! But when it comes to chewing, encourage kids to taste a new food with their “dinosaur teeth.” A fun option are these inexpensive tasting spoons commonly found in ice cream shops. Keep a small container in the center of the table for kids to take tiny sample tastes direct from their plates.
    tasting spoons
  4. Touch: Like any new tactile sensation, few of us place our entire hand into a new substance with gusto. It’s more likely that we’ll interact with a new tactile sensation by first using the tip of one finger or the side of our thumb. Take it slow – and remember that touch doesn’t just involve fingers and hands. The inside of the mouth has more nerve endings than many parts of our bodies, so it may be the last place that the hesitant eater wants to experience a new texture, temperature or other type of sensation. Start with where he can interact and build from there.
  5. Sound: The preschool classroom is abuzz with activity and thus, noise. Beginning each snack or mealtime with a song or a ritual, such as gently ringing some wind chimes to signal “it’s time to be together with our food” is a routine that centers both teachers and children. Whatever the ritual, involve the most hesitant eaters in the process and encourage their parents to follow the same routine at home if possible. Kids do best with when routines are consistent across environments.
  6. Proprioceptive Input: The sense of proprioception has a lot to do with adventurous eating. One fun routine that provides the proprioceptive input to help us focus is marching! In one preschool classroom, we implemented a daily routine where the kids picked a food and marched around the table with it as a way to mark the beginning of a meal and provide that much-needed stomping that is calming and organizing for our bodies. Download the song “The Food Goes Marching” here (free till February 1, 2015) as the perfect accompaniment!
  7. Vestibular Sense: While we all know the importance of a balanced diet, you may not be aware that a child’s sense of balance has a lot to do with trying new foods! Our sense of balance and movement, originating in the inner ear and known as the vestibular system, is the foundation for allfine motor skills. In order to feel grounded and stable, kids need a solid foundation under the “feet and seat.” Many classroom chairs leave preschoolers with little support and feet dangling. Create a footrest by duct taping old text or phone books together or if you’re extra handy, create a step stool that allows the chair legs to sit inside the stool itself.
    footrest
    An inexpensive version can be made with a box of canned baked beans from COSTCO, like this one. Carefully open the box because you’ll be using it again to create the footrest. Simply remove the cans, empty just two, then rinse thoroughly and discard the lids. Now place the cans back in the box with the two empty cans facing up, so that the legs of the chair will poke through the box and into those two cans. Reinforce with duct tape. Instant footrest!

Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLPtreats children birth to teens who have difficulty eating.  She is the co-author of Raising a Healthy, Happy Eater: A Parent’s Handbook – A Stage by Stage Guide to Setting Your Child on the Path to Adventurous Eating (Oct. 2015), the author of Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids and the producer of the award-winning kids’ CD Dancing in the Kitchen: Songs that Celebrate the Joy of Food!  Melanie’s two-day course on pediatric feeding is offered for ASHA CEUs.  She can be reached at Melanie@mymunchbug.com

More than a Picky Eater: How to Really Know?

boy not eating

The struggles of a parent during mealtime with a picky eater can range from bad to worse. It often begins with the ever-present protest of “No!”  then ends with screaming, tantrums and food flying across the room. The question remains: is the food refusal normal of a picky eater or could the signs be more consistent with a feeding disorder?

A pediatric feeding problem is often accompanied by a developmental delay or medical disorder. These can include, but are not limited to, autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, gastrointestinal motility disorders, cerebral palsy, respiratory disorders or cystic fibrosis.

Children who were hospitalized for an extended time at birth or who received a tracheotomy or feeding tube may also have difficulty transitioning to an age appropriate feeding pattern. However, children who are considered typically developing can also develop a fear of food. Research shows that 25 percent of children suffer with some degree of a feeding disorder. In children who suffer from a developmental, neurological or genetic disorders, that number rises to 80 percent (Branan & Ramsey, 2010).

A feeding disorder is characterized by any difficulties eating or drinking including chewing, sucking or swallowing. Children who have not developed age appropriate feeding skills and/or have a genetic, developmental or behavioral disorders can have difficulty during mealtime.

Some signs and symptoms of a problem feeder include:

  • Trouble breathing when eating or drinking
  • Choking, gagging or excessive crying during mealtimes
  • Tantrums when presented with new foods
  • Excessive drooling or spillage of foods/liquids from the mouth
  • Difficulty chewing or swallowing food
  • Restricted variety of foods eaten—usually less than 20
  • Refusal of categories of food based on texture or basic food group
  • Refusal to eat meals with the family

In order to better treat children with feeding problems, it is important to understand those children who do not meet the criteria. Children who are picky eaters present with the following signs and symptoms (Toomey 2010; Arvedson 2008):

  • Eat a limited variety of foods; but have around 30 foods they will eat
  • Intake enough calories a day for growth and nutrition
  • Lose interest in a certain food for a period of time, but accept it again after a few weeks
  • Eat at least one food from all major food groups (protein, grains, fruits, etc.)
  • Tolerate a new food on the plate, even if they don’t eat it

Although mealtimes with either issue can be difficult for parents, distinguishing between the two helps SLPs create the best individualized treatment approach.

Once a professional diagnoses a child with a feeding disorder, there are three key concepts to remember:

  1. Contact a child’s pediatrician, nutritionist and other health care providers in order to create the best treatment plan for that child. A multidisciplinary approach provides various viewpoints that bring the whole child into consideration.
  2. Choose foods that are meaningful to the family. If no one else in the family eats broccoli, it may not be a necessary food to add to the child’s eating repertoire.
  3. Create both short term and long term goals to track progress and keep both the child and family motivated.

Treating a child with a feeding disorder is a challenging but rewarding task. The end goal of treatment should always be a safe, happy and healthy eater.

 

April Anderson, MA, CCC-SLP, is a Speech-Language Pathologist at National Speech/Language Therapy Center in Bethesda, MD.  She works with infants and toddlers, as well as school-aged children with feeding disorders. April can be reached at  april@nationalspeech.com.

 

Pediatric Feeding Tops the Charts in 2014

baby eating

From stuttering to aphasia, hearing loss to hearing aids, early intervention to telepractice and more, ASHA’s blog posts are written by you—our members—sharing knowledge with peers on a variety of subjects. But there’s no doubt about it, pediatric feeding has been the topic on ASHAsphere in 2014!

Check out your five favorite posts from last year:

Step Away From the Sippy Cup!

SLP Melanie Potock specializes in pediatric feeding and explains that sippy cups were created to keep floors clean, not as a tool to be used for developing oral motor skills.

“Sippy cups were invented for parents, not for kids. The next transition from breast and/or bottle is to learn to drink from an open cup held by an adult in order to limit spills or to learn to drink from a straw cup. Once a child transitions to a cup with a straw, I suggest cutting down the straw so that the child can just get his lips around it, but can’t anchor his tongue underneath it.” – Potock

Baby Led Weaning: A Developmental Perspective

For parents interested in following the Baby Led Weaning (BLW) philosophy of pediatric feeding, which states that babies are developmentally capable of reaching for food and putting it in their mouths at about 6 months of age, SLP Melanie Potock shares some thoughts to consider.

“For children in feeding therapy, incorporating some aspects of BLW is dependent on that child’s individual delays or challenges and where they are in the developmental process, regardless of chronological age. My primary concern for any child is safety—be aware and be informed, while respecting each family’s mealtime culture.” – Potock

Collaboration Corner: 10 Easy Tips for Parents to Support Language

Paying attention to body language, reading every day and using pictures are just a few tips SLP Kerry Davis shares with parents to support their child’s language development.

“Take pictures of your child’s day and talk about what is coming up next, or make a photo album of fun activities (vacation, going out for ice cream) to talk about.” – Davis

What SLPs Need to Know About the Medical Side of Pediatric Feeding

To overcome pediatric feeding problems, SLP Krisi Brackett explains the importance of first figuring out why the child’s in a food rut.

“Whether the child is dependent on tube feedings, not moving to textured foods, grazing on snack foods throughout the day, failing to thrive, pocketing foods or spitting foods out, using medical management strategies can greatly improve a child’s success in feeding therapy.” – Brackett

Preventing Food Jags: What’s a Parent to Do?

For kids who only eat a limited number of foods, it can be difficult for parents to provide the right nutrition for their kids. SLP Melanie Potock shares her top 10 suggestions for preventing food jag.

“Food Left on the Plate is NOT Wasted: Even if it ends up in the compost, the purpose of the food’s presence on a child’s plate is for him to see it, smell it, touch it, hear it crunch under his fork and  perhaps, taste it.  So if the best he can do is pick it up and chat with you about the properties of green beans, then hurray!  That’s never a waste, because he’s learning about a new food.” – Potock

 

ASHA always welcomes new blog contributers. Interested? Apply to here become an ASHAsphere blogger.

Sara Mischo is the web producer at ASHA. She can be reached at smischo@asha.org.

Ten Tips for Making Progress in Feeding Therapy

Dad and son at farmer's market

Parents’ Ten Tips for Making Progress in Feeding Therapy

The end of a year is a reflective time for many parents, especially those who have children in any type of therapy.  As a pediatric SLP who focuses on feeding, I asked over forty parents for their number one tip that helped their child progress through feeding therapy.  I found it interesting that typically what popped into their minds wasn’t an oral motor tool or a specific therapy modality or other tips like “practice, practice, practice!”  What struck me was that most parents focused on an emotional component.  When we consider the bond between parent and child, that makes perfect sense.  I learn so much from the parents of the children I treat and I’m grateful for their wisdom.

Here are the Parents’ Ten Tips for Making Progress in Feeding Therapy:

#10: “Meet my child where she is…show interest in what she’s interested in” and build from there.  It builds relationships and that’s the foundation for mealtimes.

#9 “Your child sets the pace.” Expectations and goals are two different things, as described in this article for ASHA.

#8: “Patience.” This was the most popular response.  One…step…at…a…time.

#7:  Pause and “be compassionate.” It’s not easy for many kids to move through the developmental process of eating.  Both physical and emotional pain may come into play.

#6: “Have FUN and PLAY daily in food!”  Join in and get the whole family involved, as noted in this ASHA article.

#5: “Expose kids to the Joy of food” – and not just at mealtimes: Farmer’s Markets were a top pick along with the produce isle at the grocery store.  Focus on sharing time together and the event, not what might or might not happen when the food makes it to the dinner plate.

#4: “Build Trust.”  When a child trusts their mealtime partner, whether it be a therapist, parent or caregiver, that builds confidence in eating skills over time.

#3: Kids get sick and sometimes that stalls progress or causes some regression.  One parent stated that: “It’s just part of being a kid, so it’s also part of the process.”

#2: “Rely on Faith,” and not just the religious kind: Faith in family and faith in your child … but also faith in yourself as a parent.

#1: “Park your own stress in the driveway.”  That’s a tip that I teach to parents – and I am pleased to see it repeated here.  Life is full of stressful moments and it’s easy to bring those into your home.  But family mealtimes are a time to focus on family and if there is one thing I am sure of,  it’s that kids mimic  their parent’s emotions.  Be sure to take care of you too – the  feeding therapy process isn’t always easy, but it’s incredibly rewarding and exciting when you witness even the smallest changes in your child’s ability to enjoy all kinds of food.  Those changes often start with your emotions: Smile when you can, laugh even more and be ready for all the good things to come.

Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, treats children birth to teens who have difficulty eating.  She is the author of Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids and the producer of the award-winning kids’ CD Dancing in the Kitchen: Songs that Celebrate the Joy of Food!  Melanie’s two-day course on pediatric feeding is  offered for ASHA CEUs and includes both her book and CD for each attendee.  She can be reached at Melanie@mymunchbug.com.

 

If You Give My Picky Eater Some Turkey…

PickyEaterGirl

An open letter to any relative who plans to invite my family to Thanksgiving dinner:

In the spirit of the season, I want to thank you and yours for inviting my family and our little picky eater to your traditional Thanksgiving celebration.  I should warn you that my sweet 3-year-old isn’t always the most adventurous eater and may turn up her nose at the traditional holiday fare, but I have a few helpful tips for you here:

If you give my picky eater some turkey, she’s going to ask for a hot dog.  When you give her the hot dog, she’ll probably ask you for ketchup.  Then, she’ll ask for more ketchup.  And then, she’ll refuse the hot dog, because it’s “cold”.  It’s a cold dog.  So she’ll just eat the ketchup.

If you give my picky eater green bean casserole, she’ll panic.  She only eats foods that are easily identified.  Green bean casserole is not easily identified.  But, if you put ketchup on it, it’s fine.  I’ve brought her favorite brand of ketchup, which you have to serve in the original plastic bottle so she can see you squirting it onto her plate. Don’t ever remove the bottle from your lavishly-set table. She’s needs to see it at all times.

If you give my picky eater cranberry sauce from a can, she’ll ask: “How did it get in the can?” along with 100 gazillion other questions.  “Why does it jiggle? What are those lumps? Cranberries? What are cranberries?  It looks like red vomit.”  Now, no one at the Thanksgiving table will eat the canned cranberry sauce…even with ketchup. I’m very sorry for that. That’s why I brought you this very expensive bottle of wine. I suggest you open it now.

If you give my picky eater the platter of candied yams and suggest she helps sprinkle on the mini-marshmallows, she’ll stick out her tongue, but then join in.  As she places the last tiny marshmallows on the layer of yams, she’ll ask why the marshmallows stick to yams.  You’ll probably tell her “It’s the sticky syrup on the yams.”  She’ll reply “Oh, I thought it was because I licked each one.”  You’ll have another glass of wine.

If you give my picky eater some mashed potatoes, she’ll gag.  “But, they taste just like French fries!” you’ll exclaim. She’ll gag again and run from the table.  While having a complete Thanksgiving meltdown, she’ll scream “I want French fries!!!” and you’ll make an immediate mental search of what fast food drive-thrus are open on Thanksgiving. You’ll send you husband out to find French fries and he’ll happily agree to leave.

If you give my picky eater some stuffing, she’ll stare at it.  You’ll tell her it’s chopped-up chicken nuggets that your husband bought while he bought her French fries at the drive-thru. She’ll pause…she’ll ponder…she’ll ask: “Where’s the toy?”  You’ll grab three mini-marshmallows, smoosh them together and tell her it came with a toy “Olaf” from Frozen.

If you give my picky eater some gravy, she’ll ask: “What is this?”  So you’ll lie and say “It’s brown ketchup.” She’ll stare at the brown ketchup and ask “If I eat it, do I get dessert?”

Upon the suggestion of dessert, you’ll give my picky eater a slice of pumpkin pie.  After all, pumpkin’s a vegetable, right?  She’ll ask for some whipped cream to go with it.  But not the homemade kind: She only eats the kind in the can.  “Not like the can that had cranberry sauce,” she’ll explain.  “Only the ‘squirty’ kind of can.”  She’ll eat all the whipped cream off the top of her pie, completely missing any remnant of “vegetable” you hoped she would consume.  That is, unless she detects any kind of lump…like those lumpy cranberries…which are red.  The red will remind her of her favorite food: ketchup.  So, she’ll ask for some ketchup.  And chances are if she asks for ketchup, she’ll want some turkey to go with it.

(Many thanks to Laura Numeroff, author of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, which was the inspiration for this piece.)

 

Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, treats children birth to teens who have difficulty eating.  She is the author of Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids and the producer of the award-winning kids’ CD Dancing in the Kitchen: Songs that Celebrate the Joy of Food!  Melanie’s two-day course on pediatric feeding is  offered for ASHA CEUs and includes both her book and CD for each attendee.  She can be reached at Melanie@mymunchbug.com.

Teens and Feeding Therapy:  An SLP’s Top Five Tips!

Making trying new foods fun for teens.

Making trying new foods fun for teens.

As a pediatric feeding therapist, it’s not unusual for me to get a call from a mother who says “My kid’s 14 years old and still eats only six foods. He’s so picky!  I thought he would grow out of it.”  True, with patience and consistent strategies, some kids do indeed grow out of the picky-eater stage, typically at its peak aro

und age three. But if the child had underlying motor, physiological or sensory challenges that stalled the developmental process of learning to eat a variety of foods, it’s not unusual that selective eating behaviors will prevail into the teenage years.  I approach treatment with teens in a similar manner as my younger clients while respecting one important fact: They are teenagers!

Here are my top five tips for interacting with teens while building trust and confidence, plus making feeding therapy successful (and fun!) for both of you:

#5  Use Cool Games:  I always incorporate games into feeding practice.  Learning to try new foods is HARD, at any age.  Including games in the process of biting, chewing and tasting keeps anxiety levels low and still allows learning to take place.  Using games as a means of distraction, such as eating while playing independently on an iPad, does not allow for conscious learning.  Instead, try using games that are reciprocal in nature and where each player’s turn lasts no more than ten seconds.  If your client is working on learning to drink a smoothie, perhaps he might take a drink, get a turn, etc.  Try Blockus, UNO Blast or  Connect-4 Launchers, all interactive and exciting games. Plus, they are easy to clean, which is important in feeding treatment.

#4 Create Your Own Games: To quote a bit of teenage lingo, find out what the teenager “is obsessed with” and create games around that obsession. Does she love three-toed sloths?  Pull up the best sloth videos on YouTube and create a Jeopardy game around them, hiding each video under categories like  “Kristen Bell for One Hundred Please.”   I once had a client who knew every Movie Production Logo in Hollywood.  His mother sent me pictures of ten favorite logos and I laminated two copies of each.  During feeding therapy in his home, we would spread out the laminated pictures all over the kitchen floor and after each bite, try to toss a penny onto a picture.  Get a match, and you get a point.  Another client of mine was obsessed with paintball, but I wasn’t about to do feeding therapy in a paintball bunker.  Instead, I brought my Discovery Toys Marbleworks® and with each bite we added one piece, eventually building intricate contraptions and using the paintballs as marbles.

#3 Ask WHY: Once I get to know a teen, I always ask this question: “Is there a special reason you want to learn to try new foods?” One teen told me that he wanted to ask his girlfriend to Prom, but was afraid that he couldn’t take her to a fancy restaurant for dinner.  “I don’t think they serve pizza there, and that’s all I know how to eat.” That was eye-opening for me!  Now I know his motivation and we have a timeline for success. When there is no motivation, that’s a problem.   It’s common for a teen to reply: “I don’t want to learn to eat anything new – my Mom is making me.”  This is the time to help a teen FIND motivation.  “How’s wrestling going?  Did you know you need protein to build more lean muscle? What types of protein would you like to learn to eat: nuts, hamburger or vegetable protein?”  One of my clients had been consisting on  four strawberry Pediasures mixed with whole milk every day for over three years before starting therapy. He used to eat some solid foods, but over time began to limit his intake until he was food jagging on Pediasure.  He didn’t see a problem, because he liked the way he could gulp down a Pediasure and rush outside during break time to play basketball with his friends. That worked for him because it enabled him to avoid social eating in the cafeteria, which made him very anxious.  I suspected that the high dairy content was making him constipated, thus decreasing appetite.  Let’s face it: A teen is not likely to tell ME about his constipation.  But, I called his pediatrician and requested that they have the constipation talk during the upcoming sports physical.  Once his doctor explained that he would no longer have to struggle with bathroom issues, which was a huge source of embarrassment for him, the teen was open to tasting some new foods.  Feeding therapy, especially with teens, goes best when we focus on the whole child and learning what’s important in his unique world.

#2  Teach positive self-talk: So many older kids engage in negative talk about food because it stops parents from serving it.  Over time, those negative comments become a habit that for lack of better term, is a form of self-brainwashing.  While it’s important to acknowledge a teen’s feelings if he says “I can’t – I’m scared I’ll gag,”  it’s just as important to help him talk positively about eating.  I explain it this way:

I want you to talk to your own brain the way you would talk to your best friend.  If your best friend had practiced with his soccer coach to take a goal kick in soccer but was feeling anxious when it came time to attempt it, he might turn and whisper to you, “I can’t – I’m scared that I’ll miss.” You’d probably tell  him “You’ve practiced with coach and you have the skills to do it!  It’s OK to be nervous – you can still make that goal!”  He needs to hear that from you.  Well, your brain needs to hear the same positive talk from you when you talk about food.  It’s OK to be nervous and it’s OK not to like the taste of it.  We’re just beginning to learn how to how to eat this new food and we are practicing it.”

And this SLP’s #1 Tip? Give Them the Script: Teens may not always have the most descriptive vocabulary, except to narrow taste and texture down to “gross.”   Give them the language and discuss what terms like savory, buttery, creamy truly mean.  A reference list of 345 terms to describe food can be found here.  Plus, it helpful to use comparison phrases such as “It’s similar to tiny dots of corn, but it’s called polenta” in order to build familiarity with a food they’ve experienced in some manner, such as corn.  If the most interaction they’ve had with corn is just staring at it, that’s OK!  Stare at the polenta.  Make it a kitchen science experiment and discuss all the properties of polenta if you need to.  Give them the words that build visual familiarity with polenta: “yellow cornmeal”, “hulled”, etc.  Talk about how it can be baked, fried, grilled or stirred into a porridge.  Interact with it – get to know it.  Now you’ve got a teen whose introducing his brain to polenta by saying: “Polenta is cornmeal, which is made from something I’m familiar with: corn.  I think it looks best when it’s fried, because I like fried foods.” He’s OPEN to the concept of Polenta because he has the terminology to describe it and understand the properties. As you progress from visual interaction to tactile exploration, provide terms that describe the feel of polenta such as “gritty” and “course.” Eventually, you’ll be discussing the same feel in the mouth.  As all SLPs know, language is empowering.

What other strategies do you have when helping teens interact with new foods?  Please list them in the comments section, thank you!

Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, treats children birth to teens who have difficulty eating.  She is the author of Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids and the producer of the award-winning kids’ CD Dancing in the Kitchen: Songs that Celebrate the Joy of Food!  Melanie’s two-day course on pediatric feeding is  offered for ASHA CEUs and includes both her book and CD for each attendee.  She can be reached at Melanie@mymunchbug.com.

You Want My Kid to Play in Food? Seriously?

1messykid
Yep, seriously.  For many kids, food exploration begins with just learning to tolerate messy hands and faces. Many parents who bring their kids to feeding therapy have one goal in mind:  Eating. In fact, as a pediatric feeding therapist, a common phrase I hear when observing families at their dinner tables is, “Quit playing with your food and just eat it!”

What parents may not understand is that the child is not avoiding food—the child is experiencing it. For the hesitant eater, this may be where a child needs to start. The palms of our hands and our fingers are rich with nerve endings, but the mouth has even more. Playing with food provides the child with information about size, texture, temperature and the changing properties of food as little hands squish and squash, pat and roll, or just pick up and let go: splat!

Here are three silly ways to play in food!  Give it a try—some of it just may end up in your child’s mouth in the process. But if it doesn’t, don’t  worry. Learning to be an adventurous eater takes time and the most important part of the journey is keeping it fun!

  1. Pudding Car Wash: For kids who can’t tolerate the feel of purees, learning to play in a consistently smooth puree, like chocolate pudding, is the preliminary step to eventually playing in more textured foods, like mashed cauliflower. The key is water.  Most kids who hate to get messy enjoy water play, for obvious reasons.  If they can’t tolerate water play, then that’s the place to start, and eventually they will progress to pudding.  You’ll need:
  • Cookie sheet
  • 2 large bowls—one filled with water and soap bubbles and the other with clean water
  • Small toy cars
  • Chocolate pudding
  • It’s simple! Dump some “mud” (chocolate pudding) on the cookie sheet and you now have a “muddy run raceway” to drive through till the cars are coated!  Pushing a toy car through the mud is much easier than just playing in the mud with a bare hand.  The bigger the car, the easier it is to tolerate the sensation, because less mud gets on the hesitant child’s hand.  Plop the car in the “wash” (the soap bubble water) and then fish it out.  Plop it in the clear water and begin again.  The water adds a bit of relief for the kids who are tactilely defensive, but the fun of driving the cars through the mud provides the reinforcement for getting messy. Warning: This could go on all day—kids love it!
  • Variation: Use plastic animals and wash the entire zoo!
  1. Ice Pop Stir Sticks: For kids who cannot tolerate icy-cold in their mouths, add cups of water to take off the chill. There is a significant difference between straight-from-the-freezer-frozen and just icy-cold.  When fruity ice pops on a stick are dipped in cool water, the surface of the ice pop immediately begins to melt.  Now, when your kiddo takes a lick, they’ll lick off just flavored cold water. Keep stirring and the water becomes darker and more flavorful.  Add a skinny straw so kids try a taste. Coffee stirrers work well for this, because the narrow diameter of the stir stick allows just the tiniest taste to land on the tongue.
  2. Hand Print Animal Pictures: I always shudder when I see kids in daycare having to make “hand print” pictures if I know they have sensory challenges including tactile defensiveness. The well-meaning teacher grabs the child’s tiny hand and pushes it into a paper plate of paint before pressing it onto a piece of construction paper to make the infamous hand print, which is later transformed into an animal to be displayed in the classroom. Or, and for some this may be worse, the kids get their hand painted with a tickly paint brush.  That can be very upsetting for a child who doesn’t like to get messy.  Instead, try starting with the teacher’s own handprint, then encourage the child to use the tip of his index finger or the side of his little thumb to make the eye of the handprint animal. That’s the part of the hand where most kids are willing to tolerate a little mess. Think about how you pick up a slimy worm on the sidewalk…you snag it with just the tip of your index finger and the side of your thumb and then toss it quickly back into your garden. That quick release is key—kids need that too. Over time, they’ll work their way up to making an entire zoo of hand print pictures!  Here’s a video that will help you create three African animals—your own handprint safari!

So, the next time you get frustrated with your child for playing in his or her food—think of the child as a little explorer discovering all the properties of food! Encourage it…. it just might lead to a closer food encounter with the mouth!

Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, treats children birth to teens who have difficulty eating.  She is the author of Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids and the producer of the award-winning kids’ CD Dancing in the Kitchen: Songs that Celebrate the Joy of Food!  Melanie’s two-day course on pediatric feeding is  offered for ASHA CEUs and includes both her book and CD for each attendee.  She can be reached at Melanie@mymunchbug.com.

 

She Didn’t Eat a Thing at School Today!

school lunch
It’s that time of year again and little kids are climbing onto big yellow buses, tiny hands clutching lunch boxes that are packed full with a variety of choices, with their wishful parents praying that they will “just eat something!”  But at the end of the day, especially if the child is a picky eater, parents sigh as they open the lunch box latch and see that lunch has barely been touched.

For children in feeding therapy, treatment doesn’t stop when a child is eating well in the clinic setting.  Once a child has begun to eat even a limited variety of foods, I prefer to generalize new skills to the community environments as soon as possible, even as clinical treatment continues.  The school cafeteria in the one hot spot in the community that most kids visit five times a week.  It can be a chaotic setting, as described in one of my first blog posts for ASHA, which offered some tips on how to help kids eat in the Café-FEARia.  But what can a parent do at home to encourage kids to bring a healthy lunch, even when they only eat only five to 15 foods?  Here are six tips to encourage even the most hesitant eaters to not only eat preferred foods, but phase-in eating those new options showing up in their lunchboxes:

  1. Begin with Exposure: Kids may need to see a new food multiple times before they may even consider trying it.  That means they need to see it at school too.  If you’re thinking, “But he won’t eat it, so why pack it?” remember that the first step is helping your  hesitant eater get used to the presence of that food in his lunch box again and again.  The link to this ASHAsphere post will explain more, including why food doesn’t have to be eaten to serve a purpose in food education.
  2. Pack All the Choices under One Easy-Open Lid: For my school age clients, I use a compartment or bento-style lunchbox, such as EasyLunchboxes® or Yumbox®.  Even little fingers can open the lids quickly to reveal their entire lunch, so no time is wasted when most kids in the public school system have about 20 minutes to enter, eat and exit the cafeteria.
  3. Give them Ownership in the Lunch Packing Process. Kids like predictability and need to feel a part of the process, especially when it comes to food exploration.  For my clients in feeding therapy, once they have the oral motor and sensory skills to eat a few foods, those foods get packed along with other safe choices in their lunchbox.  A child who is receiving tube feedings may still take a lunchbox if he or she is able to eat even a few foods orally.  To make them the Lunchbox Leader, we create a poster board together that has a photo of the inside of their bento box, essentially creating a “packing map.”
    Packing Map #2
    Using colored markers, I help the child list the foods they can eat with arrows pointing to where the foods go in the box. For example, the Yumbox® has compartments with fun graphics representing dairy, grains, proteins, fruit and veggies. If the child is limited to purees, we write “applesauce” next to the fruit compartment on the poster. But we also write a few more future purees that he/she just needs to be exposed to, and those show up too. Parents and kids pack the lunchbox together the night before, and the kids choose from their short lists what goes in each compartment.  If they have exactly five preferred foods and there are five compartments, then we create a rule that they need to pick a new food for at least one of the compartments.
  4. Include a Favorite, But Just Enough:  Selective eaters always eat their favorite foods first, so be sure to include their preferred food, but not too much.  Provide just enough so that you won’t be worried that they are starving, but not so much that the other less-preferred choices don’t stand a chance.  That’s why the bento boxes work so beautifully, because the individualized compartments, along with the “map” to fill them, guide the packing process.
  5. No Comments Please!  When the lunchbox comes home, resist the urge to unpack it immediately. Give everyone a chance to breathe, especially those kids with sensory challenges who have difficulty with transitions from one environment to another. When you eventually open it, no comments about the contents please!  Nothing, not positive or negative. For many kids, it creates too much focus on whether they ate or not.  That’s addressed in feeding therapy. For now, just wash it out and set it on the counter for your child to pack again later that evening.
  6. Keep Up with Other Strategies: Parents who have kids in feeding therapy understand that it’s a steady, step by step process.  Keep  up with strategies listed in this ASHAsphere post or this one and/or those recommended by your child’s therapist.

Whether you have a child in feeding therapy or a “foodie” with a palate that rivals a Top Chef, I encourage you to have all the kids in your family create a packing map and be responsible for their own lunch packing, with the kids choosing from each category while the parent provides the healthy food options and keeps the kitchen stocked.  You might be surprised to see some of your young foodie’s choices shift to the more hesitant sibling’s packing map over time!  Remember, it starts with exposure and builds from there.

Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP, treats children birth to teens who have difficulty eating.  She is the author of Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids and the producer of the award-winning kids’ CD Dancing in the Kitchen: Songs that Celebrate the Joy of Food!  Melanie’s two-day course on pediatric feeding is  offered for ASHA CEUs and includes both her book and CD for each attendee.  She can be reached at Melanie@mymunchbug.com.