10 Minute Tip--Meaningful Mealtimes

Our busy days don’t leave much time for up-close communication and shared interaction. We all eat. (Well, most of us! We’ll tackle those who don’t in a later post!) Even if it is just a brief snacktime, eating is a great chance to communicate. Decrease distractions. Turn off the TV, mute the cell phone, sit at the table or picnic on the floor together.

Most caregivers who are familiar with their child know what the typical food choices are and what the preferences might be. You are great at anticipating wants and needs. You probably know they are hungry before they do and you could fix a snack or meal blindfolded! However, taking just a little time to offer options and ask questions gets your child involved and makes a snack or meal into great, meaningful communication practice!

Hold up choices (if necessary) and use questions like, “Do you want a banana or an apple?” Let your child tell you their choice. Fix a drink but “forget” to give it to your kiddo. Ask them, “What’s missing?” or “Did I forget something?” to help cue them to use words or gestures to get their drink. For older children you can “forget” utensils. “Oh! Did I forget something? How are you going to eat your yogurt? You need a….?”

My favorite trick is to only give one or two of something…raisins, goldfish, crackers…whatever the snack is…running out is a great motivator to ask for more. Help your child by noticing they have run out and asking something like, “Are they all gone? Do you want more? Can you tell me with your words?” Encourage your child to use his or her words and say “more” or sign more with gestures. If they need help, you can help them sign with your hands over their hands to make the gesture. This is also a great time for counting! “Do you want 1 or 2?” or “Hey! You have five! 1-2-3-4-5!” You can also find things that are the same or different on the plate…same colors or shapes, things that are smushy, things that are crunchy, things that are sour or sweet, things you eat with a spoon, things you need a fork to eat…limitless mealtime fun!

If accurate sound production is an issue, model the correct way to say the words without obviously correcting your child. For example: “Oh, you want your juice.” when he asked for “duu.” Or, “Oh! You want more!” when she says, “mo.” You can also “misunderstand” their words. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what you want. Do you want broccoli or juice?” If your child says “duu” or points to the juice, you say, “Oh you want the juice! Here you go. It makes it so much easier to get what you want when you tell me. Thank you for using your words!”

The more fun you have, the more fun your kiddo will have!

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