Defense Against Oral Defensiveness
Feeding is a complex activity that involves all 8 of our senses that we participate in multiple times a day. When a child exhibits sensory issues and pediatric feeding issues, mealtimes can sometimes problematic. Common reported tactics of pressuring, force feeding, and battles to “take one bite” can eventually take a toll on a problem feeder. Your child might present with oral defensiveness. Oral defensiveness is where a child is defensive to anything in or around their mouth. This is likely a result of sensory based difficulties, negative associations with feeding, and/or gastrointestinal issues.
Combating oral defensiveness is best practiced in small steps. For instance, if someone was afraid of swimming, we would not start jumping in the deep end right away. Oral defensiveness can start with or without foods (i.e. tooth brushing, wiping mouth). Oral defensiveness can also be exacerbated by other stimuli (i.e. food, smells, textures). The mindset of battling oral defensiveness is to make small gains instead of big gains that result in large step backs.
Start with trying activities that involve the mouth but does not directly focus on placing foods directly in mouth and “eating”. Teethers and Nuk brushes (see below) are great to use. You can start by counting your fingers with the item, and then counting up to your elbow, shoulders, and ears. Then we can count our eyes, ears, mouth, nose, and teeth! Taking turns counting with your child with a non-food items and bringing towards mouth creates a positive experience. Positive experiences are what meal times are about! Then when your child is comfortable you can start to incorporate munchable foods/puree to dip and use instead. Tug-a-war with teethers or food items are also a great game to incorporate items in mouth or in lips in a playful manner. Even a playful sneeze can help sometimes and letting items fall from our nose and mouth.
Remember that even small steps mean you are moving forward! Try the simple techniques above to help reduce anxiety during meals and please consult our feeding therapist for further questions/information!