Helping Children Sit Still During Mealtimes: Sensory Strategies for Improved Focus and Engagement
As an occupational therapist, I understand the challenges that parents face when their child struggles to sit still during mealtimes. It can be frustrating and concerning, but it’s important to recognize that this behavior might be linked to sensory processing issues. In this blog post, we’ll explore the reasons behind a child’s inability to sit still, and how providing specific sensory input can help improve their ability to remain seated and engaged during meals.
Understanding Sensory Processing:
Sensory processing refers to how our nervous system receives and interprets sensory information from our environment. For some children, their sensory system might be either over-responsive (hypersensitive) or under-responsive (hyposensitive). These sensory challenges can manifest in various ways, including the inability to sit still during mealtimes.
Reasons Behind the Inability to Sit Still:
Sensory Seeking: Some children seek sensory input to feel regulated and engaged. Standing up, fidgeting, rocking, or adjusting their body position can provide the sensory feedback they need. Mealtimes might be overwhelming for them, making it difficult to stay seated.
Sensory Overload: Mealtimes involve multiple sensory experiences, such as the sight, smell, taste, and texture of food, as well as the social environment. A child with sensory sensitivities might become overwhelmed by these sensations, leading to restlessness.
Lack of Body Awareness: Children with difficulties in proprioception (awareness of body position and movement) may struggle to maintain a seated position for an extended period. They may not be consciously aware of their body’s position in space.
Using Sensory Input to Improve Mealtimes:
Providing specific sensory input can significantly help your child improve their ability to sit still during mealtimes. Here are some strategies to consider:
Seating Options: Offer different seating options, such as a wiggle cushion, therapy ball, or chair with adjustable footrest. These options provide sensory input through movement, helping your child regulate their sensory needs.
Sensory Diet: Work with an occupational therapist to develop a sensory diet tailored to your child’s needs. This could include sensory activities before mealtimes, like jumping on a trampoline or squeezing a stress ball, to help them feel more regulated.
Weighted Items: Weighted blankets, lap pads, or vests can provide deep pressure input, which can have a calming effect on the sensory system. Use these items during mealtimes to promote a sense of stability.
Visual Supports: Use visual schedules or timers to help your child anticipate the duration of the meal. This can reduce anxiety and help them stay seated for the designated time.
Understanding the sensory aspects of your child’s inability to sit still during mealtimes is crucial for effective intervention. By incorporating targeted sensory strategies, you can create a more supportive mealtime environment that encourages your child to stay seated and engaged. Collaborating with an occupational therapist will provide valuable insights and personalized guidance to address your child’s unique sensory needs, ultimately promoting a more enjoyable and successful dining experience for the whole family.