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Teaching a kid to eat just a tad neater


amo_mea_filiis.
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5 years old, and has never been taught table manners. I'm not talking about elbows on the table on the table either! Not sure where to start.

 

He starts sitting (chair is table height for him), but soon pulls his knees up and squats, which pushes the table or makes it easy for him to stand if something grabs his attention. If the table is pushed in enough to secure him, but not squish, that causes other negative behaviors. His chair does have a seatbelt that I can put back on and he might be ok with it because it was on in the beginning (chair was being used with him and a toddler, so seatbelt prevents the toddler from just hopping down and busting her face!).

 

He rarely uses silverware, and even when he does he will take food from the fork and put it in his mouth, or pick it up, squish it on the fork, and still remove it to put in his mouth. Most foods he picks at to eat, which makes eating very slow (not good in a school setting). If he's eating chicken nuggets, for example, he consumes the entire thing, but in teeny tiny picked apart pieces squished into his mouth. He even picks apart cheerios! Maybe learned to make a small "meal" last longer? I don't know.

 

If he doesn't pick it apart with his fingers and takes a bite, he doesn't bite and chew. He sort of chews while squishing it into his mouth.

 

He rolls food between his his hands. Will often nibble at crunchy things like cookies, making massive crumb messes. Sometimes the crumb mess is intentional and I can get him to keep the crumbs on his plate, which he also eats. Other times he chews leaning over his chair, but is excited to vacuum, so I don't make it a thing (he vacuums daily after school now because he loves it, so he doesn't have to make the mess for a rare chance to use the vacuum or anything). However, in school, they think he does everything to piss them off, so it could use attention (I might suggest to the school that they get a dust buster because I think the mess is because he wants to clean, or at least doesn't mind the cleaning).

 

And of course chews with his mouth open, talks with food in his mouth, and at school often throws food. He does not throw food here so I don't even bring that up with him.

 

He's extremely rigid in his ways and a mere mention of change might produce maladaptive behaviors. Everything done is done s.l.o.w.l.y.

 

Yes, there's a sensory component. Abuse, neglect, food insecurity prior to coming here. But at this point, I do feel like it's an issue to be addressed as we've made a ton of progress in other areas. He's comfortable enough about having food that he's refused part of a meal if he doesn't like it, and he no longer looks like an aggressive dog protecting a bowl while eating (sorry if that comparasion is not the best!).

 

Yes, he has various therapists, but school is such a huge issue that these seemingly small things are not going to be touched for years.

 

There's also a pain component, and I will not start any suggested ideas until after his dental surgery.

 

Help! Where would you start and how?

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I'd get him a chair that is the proper fit.  It's extremely uncomfortable to sit in a chair with feet dangling, etc.  I know because as an adult I have this problem often.  I'm an adult though so I can control myself.  If nobody is looking and I'm uncomfortable, I sit on my legs, etc.  On the couch at home, for example, I never sit "properly" because it's so uncomfortable.

 

I would not pick on every single thing.  Gentle reminders on one thing at a time.  I can't see making every meal about being picked apart for how he is eating.  It will likely get better over time.  Sit with a group of 5 year olds and you'll see this kid is probably not that different.  I used to worry about my kids too, but at this point neither of them do weird stuff, especially when it matters (eating in public or with strangers).

 

 

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I'd get him a chair that is the proper fit. It's extremely uncomfortable to sit in a chair with feet dangling, etc. I know because as an adult I have this problem often. I'm an adult though so I can control myself. If nobody is looking and I'm uncomfortable, I sit on my legs, etc. On the couch at home, for example, I never sit "properly" because it's so uncomfortable.

 

I would not pick on every single thing. Gentle reminders on one thing at a time. I can't see making every meal about being picked apart for how he is eating. It will likely get better over time. Sit with a group of 5 year olds and you'll see this kid is probably not that different. I used to worry about my kids too, but at this point neither of them do weird stuff, especially when it matters (eating in public or with strangers).

His chair fits. It's a special tomato chair with footrest. :)

 

Very, very slow, and 1 thing at a time is the plan.

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When I get a new little over to the house we start them at a child-sized table for snack.  Just snack.  That's where a bulk of fine motor skill work is done, too.  The kids have often only been in a booster at their own homes.

So the kids sit at the small table and we work on one thing at a time:
-learning to sit.  We play "Bend forward, bend back, bend side to side.."  It's a fun little Simon-says like game for just a minute or two as we transition activities.  I make sure they sit on their bottoms and feet on the floor.

-learning to chew with their mouths closed.  "Lips closed, teeth open!"  It doesn't make a whole lot of sense but it reminds the kids.  So does a finger to the lips.

 

Since they're also working on fine motor skills each day, like working with a short crayon or playdoh or tweezers, we start to move into working with utensils more. 

 

 

We have not had any serious issues (mostly normal kid stuff), they just learn slowly over time. 

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:grouphug:   I know this is probably very frustrating and disruptive.  

 

FWIW, DD is currently squatting at the table eating mac n cheese.  She's 16.  Her legs "feel really weird" when she sits normally in a chair.  She prefers to squat.  She knows to sit in a chair like other people when away from the house, though.  We just worked on it slowly over time when she was little.  She has never felt comfortable sitting that way, though.  Honestly, I don't either, but a bad knee makes it too hard to squat now.

 

In this instance, since you know there are all kinds of underlying issues that could be contributing to the behaviors you wish to change, I guess your best bet is picking one thing you want to be done differently, talk it through, mimic what you want while you talk it through, and possibly even have a little picture poster of how you want him to sit.  Practice with him a lot, especially maybe when the food isn't on the table initially so his impulse to get to the food isn't inhibiting your attempts to get him to develop proper muscle and procedural memory.  My SIL had to do that with some of her autistic students, having them practice over and over and over, with lots of positive feedback and cheers when they did it correctly.  She called it "rehearsing", like for a performance.  No punishments for failure.  Just encouragement and cheers when done correctly, even if for only a short time.  And a little picture poster on each desk helped.  She would smile and point to the picture instead of a verbal correction when they forgot.  It seemed to work better (but only after they had been "rehearsing" for a while).

 

As for the food, yeah maybe much smaller meals.  If he is sensory seeking, could you ask the therapists for suggestions on other ways to meet those needs?

 

Good luck.  It is so hard to know which path will work best for each child.

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For school, I would control what you can, and ignore what you can't.  What you can control is what is in his lunchbox.  Give him things that don't make crumbs or drips (cheese cubes, lunchmeats, tortillas instead of bread, etc) and have it already cut up bento-style, so he doesn't feel the need to break it apart.

 

Since you say that pain is a component I would wait until after he's healed from his surgery to even formulate a plan about how he eats.  The pain going away might cure a lot on it's own.

 

For general neatness, he seems to already have an awareness of that with being willing to clean up under the table.  You might want to extend that to practice with his napkin, both wiping face/hands, and using it to brush and bits off the table and into his hand to be thrown away.  You could even try out having him keep his napkin over his lap as a way to reduce fidgeting at the table.  He might get so busy trying to keep the napkin over his lap, the he decides to stop moving around.  Maybe.

 

For fine motor work,  I would do things not at the table.  Drawing, tracing, beadwork, macaroni collages, etc.  Anything where he has to control the movement of his hands and were he has to use "pincer" fingers to pick things up and put them down will help.

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Yeah, school's not a priority. He gets off the van daily reporting his red day, and I reply that we're going to have a great afternoon. I ignore the page full of negatives and underline and comment on the minimal positives they're willing to report. Thankfully his placement is changing soon.

 

He picks at everything! A crumb after tacos will somehow get picked apart! Lol. I have even cut his nuggets into four pieces and he still will not just pop one in his mouth.

 

I give him (and all littles) a damp washcloth as a napkin during meals. Paper wouldn't touch the mess. Lol. I think keeping a napkin on his lap would become a thing, and things tend to increase behaviors.

 

I have been slowly changing the lunchbox presentation, starting with using a different lunchbox daily and never accidentally using the same on certain days of the week.

 

My son's on his 10th year of OT, so we've got the fine motor and pincer activities down. I've started modifying activities where he "cheats," like the squirrel game.

 

I'm also looking to use meals as a social time. If he's capable of eating a bit better, it would be possible to get SLP push in for a social time. Right now though, it's a "behavioral" time at school, and just a mess here.

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He's my 6th extra kid, so I'm not completely new at this. But the regular stuff doesn't make a dent in him.

 

I hesitate practicing outside of meals because the school fights him all day on sitting and doing stuff. Their go-to punishment is restricting movement (no recess, no sensory room, no gym), and even when he gets those activities, the school has a problem (E refused to play during recess, only picked at the dirt). So when we color, he's usually on the floor. Games are always on the floor. He paces and moves a LOT, so some games even have the board (or parts, like potato heads) at the bottom of the stairs with the parts at the top.

 

I wouldn't mind the squat so much if he just squatted. But he pushes the table out, jerks the table, stands up (and falls in school), climbs on the table, and does just about anything but stay near his seat and eat.

 

One day I put pretend glue on his butt and it worked, but he was drowsy from a new med. it did not do anything other days. He would just stand up, wipe the "glue," and give it back.

 

Praising the positives (I love how calmly you're sitting) will sometimes backfire and he'll spit food, or kick something. Praising is only "allowed" for actual tasks (great job putting all those toys away!).

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Have you tried a sensory cushion? It may help him sit tiller at school as well

They won't even give him small tangible rewards because he throws everything, "randomly."

 

(Funny, because here, he'll pace around repeating a threat several times before "randomly" engaging in said threat)

 

Unfortunately he's staying in the same school system, but changing programs. Hopefully it's good because the next option is a school change, but we're rural so that means an hour away. :(

 

I will pull out our sensory cushion. He might like it. :)

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One thing at a time.  It sounds like sitting is a huge deal at school.  I would leave that be for now.  I might even recommend he stand during meals if that would work better.  

 

I'd probably start with how big of a bite he can take.  Just because it would be less of a mess and eating would take less time.  I wouldn't bother with silverware for now.

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