What do cucumbers, dummies and cigarettes have in common?

They all provide ‘oral regulation’!!
‘Oral regulation’ means any repetitive chewing/sucking which calms the central nervous system and also improves concentration.  From babies with a dummy/thumb sucking, to kids and adults who suck lollipops, chew gum (think cricketers), chew fingernails and even cigarette smoking.
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Besides the nutritional benefit, these ‘crunchy things’ provide wonderful oral regulation.  I guess you could call them healthy oral regulation?  And it certainly works with Master nearly4!
Do you or your child use any other items for oral regulation? 🙂 Heidi

Sippy, straw, bottle, cup

[6 months +]  A cup is a cup is a cup! Not! You can almost expect to spend a bit of money just finding the right cup for your little one.  It is frustrating as even if someone gives you a recommendation for a good one, it’s likely you won’t be able to find that exact cup in the stores.  And if you do, maybe it won’t suit your child.

moving to an open cup

moving to an open cup

First, let’s look at the basics of cup drinking.

When? Any time from 6 months on, even if it’s just providing exposure.  At about 7-9 months, your baby should be more interested and able to take some water.  That means if you are still breastfeeding, your baby need not ever drink from a bottle.  And there is NO reason why your baby can’t drink formula or cow’s milk (after 12 months), or any other milk from a cup, instead of a bottle (you can have a particular one for water and another for milk).

Why? Drinking from a cup gives your child’s jaw a mini-workout.  It moves from the more ‘immature’ action of suckling, with the tongue and jaw forward (as your baby would do on the breast or bottle) to the jaw having to grade and hold itself in place with tongue back in the mouth.  Go on, pretend you are drinking from a bottle and notice where your tongue and jaw are and then change to a position for cup drinking.

This workout for your baby’s jaw and tongue position leads to stronger muscles for later chewing and holding itself in place for the different vowel sounds (try ‘ae’ vs ‘oh’ vs ‘eh’ vs ‘ih’).

But before open cup drinking stage, your child will most likely use a sippy or straw cup and even a pop-top.

Which one?

You will most likely need to start with a sippy cup with a silicone mouth piece but even a young baby can learn to drink straight from an open cup (it’s just the spill factor that makes most turn to a closed cup).  Give it a try!  Don’t believe marketing – you do not need to buy a cup for 6 months, 9 months, 12 months, 18 months, 2 years etc.  Some babies can hold on quite fine without handles and others can go straight from a silicone mouthpiece to an ’18 month old cup’ without the need for the ones in between.  Once your child is used to a soft mouth piece, you can move towards a harder mouth piece and then possibly to training more on an open cup.  There are also cups that transition through several stages, with different attachments (more info below in ‘product review’).

The other thing is, cups bring a whole lot of plastic into your child’s mouth.  Since BPA-free plastic is now being found to still be not-so-desirable (take a look at ‘Even BPA-free Plastics Leach Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals’), don’t forget to be on the watch for plastic alternatives, such as stainless steel or even protected glass.  The plastic-free sippy cups can be pricey, but why not look out for stainless steel drink bottles as soon as your little one is ready (even at supermarkets).

Sippy vs straw? And then what?

Sippy:

  • It is generally easier to teach your baby to drink from at first (silicone mouthpiece moving to harder mouthpiece). Note: the sooner you move to a harder mouthpiece, the less you will have to replace silicone tops that are easily chewn
  • The sippy cup with a silicone mouth piece can actually still promote the jaw/tongue forward position, but is good practice for open cup drinking, allowing your child to practice tipping the cup, with hand to mouth action
  • As your little one gets better at drinking, you can change to a sippy cup with a harder mouth piece which promotes keeping the tongue in the mouth (and thus jaw in a better position)
hard mouthpiece

hard mouthpiece

hard mouthpiece

hard mouthpiece

Straw:

straw_cup

  • Promote jaw/tongue back position – good for later speech
  • Can be tricky to teach but some kids just get it, easier than a sippy cup
  • Can be tricky to wash but may last longer than the silicone topped sippy cups
  • Can be easier to keep leak-free than the silicone mouth pieces that can split and allow ‘spill-proof’ to pour out
  • No plastic-free version (that I have seen), until your child can drink from an open cup…and then there are stainless steel cups and straws available

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Pop top/sports top/drink bottle:

  • These are generally the step after sippy or straw cup, but if you are struggling with the above, feel free to give them a go!
  • Stainless steel varieties are readily available which prevent plastic chemicals from leaching into the water

    say 'no' to plastic

    say ‘no’ to plastic

Making it easier

Firstly, if your little one is struggling to drink from a cup, give it some time.  Once they are really needing to take in more liquid (ie less milk feeds, eating more or hot weather), you might need to try some tips below to help them:

  • start with a silicone top (you can even widen the hole if necessary) OR use a harder mouth piece and take out the valve
  • use a very small cup, such as a medicine cup to introduce a tiny bit of liquid to your baby’s mouth
  • some have claimed ‘take and toss’ cheap varieties have been the only way..
  • when introducing a straw cup, use a short straw in a cup, a ‘lickety-sip iceblock straw’ or even cut the straw in the cup (your little one will then have to tip the cup but only suck a tiny bit to draw the liquid up)

    a short straw to practice! and a novelty..

    a short straw to practice! and a novelty..

Moving to open cup

Once your child has the hang of a sippy or straw cup (probably some time after 12 months), you can try them occasionally on an open cup.  Think any small ‘cup’ like a medicine cup or round container.  A smoothie can be easier for a child to manage as it approaches their mouth more slowly than water and they will ‘feel’ it on their top lip better too.

Here is a variety of ‘cups’ that I have used over the years with the boys.  And sometimes the more novelty the cup, the more likely they are to try something new too (for example, fresh orange juice with all the pulp + barley grass & ginger!!).

they're all cups

they’re all cups

Product Review

Weego BPA free Glass sippy cup – I wish we had known about these when we bought all of our plastic cups (now knowing that any plastic can leach undesirable chemicals from them).  However, most babies generally need to start with a softer mouthpiece before moving to a harder one that this sippy cup has.  And you will have to trust that it will be easy enough for your little one to sip from without being able to test.

http://www.shopnaturally.com.au/lifefactory-weego-bpa-free-glass-sippy-cup-bottle-9oz-250ml-with-ocean-blue-silicone-cover.html

glass_cup

There is also a stainless steel variety that converts from a bottle to a sippy cup.   More plastic-free varieties at baby-bottles.com.au http://www.baby-bottles.com.au/p/8231028/earthlust-birds-bees-stainless-steel-baby-bottle-sippy-cup-birds-207ml.html

getting away from plastic

getting away from plastic

Mag mag – 4.8 stars (from productreview.com.au) goes from teat towards straw cup with varying teats in between + handles, can easily buy replacement valves and keep the cup (a plus over others where you have to buy another whole cup)

Nuby No Spill Flip-It – 4.8 stars. no spill, easy to sip from, babies have mastered as their first cup (say 7 months old), straw and cup not so easy to clean

Take and Toss – 4.7 stars cheap, removable handles, no valve, will leak, will need to replace often as children can chew on the plastic

TommeeTippee Discovera two-stage drinker – I can’t remember where I bought this (maybe Target or Woolworths).  It is the perfect step from hard mouthpiece sippy cup to open cup.  The rim of the open cup has a good ‘lip’ on it for the child to feel their mouth on it.  We have combined open cup drinking with this cup and stainless steel drink bottle (pictured above) for out and about for Master 20 months.

sippy to open cup

sippy to open cup

Of course, there are MANY other varieties I haven’t mentioned.  I’ve stuck with the popular and the non-plastic varieties.  Please leave feedback if you have found another brilliant cup that is worth sharing with others (and where you got it)!  Thanks, Heidi 🙂

No child is naughty at the dinner table

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[4 months of age on]

Did you realise that eating is one of the most difficult tasks that a child can learn to do?

(Hence, this is a long post but please take the time to understand where your little one is coming from!  It is to encourage you to look at WHY your child is struggling at mealtimes.  Probably every parent has had a difficult time at some point, so please no one feel bad about how they have handled things!  And please share if you know anyone else that might need some help with mealtimes.)

Eating requires posture, physical chewing and swallowing coordination, breathing timing, managing the sensory aspect of  eating and attention.  It can also require communication and cognitive skills (understanding what is expected of them) and fine motor skills (using fingers and cutlery).

A child’s sensory system is developing as they learn to eat, especially as these days parents are introducing food as early as four months.  A child must learn to cope with not only the texture and taste of the food, but the look of it, the smell of it and even the sound of it when prepared or bitten and chewed.

Now to the physical act of eating.  If it sounds complicated just reading it, imagine trying to learn to do it!  Eating includes not only munching but using the tongue to move food around and also the cheeks to press inwards to avoid the food getting stuck between the gums and cheeks and having the strength to do so.  It also involves coordinating a swallow which doesn’t always happen automatically (think trying to swallow a large pill or something you don’t like to eat).

Eating is NOT easy.

Some children’s sensory systems take longer to adjust to eating than others.  Some children’s physical skills around eating take longer to become coordinated.

Something to remember – a child under 3 years of age does not CHOOSE to avoid eating but may instead get stressed and thus appear as though they are being ‘naughty’.  Adrenalin has been shown to reduce a child’s appetite, which includes any stress around mealtimes.  Yes, it can be awfully difficult to stay cool and calm at the dinner table!  That’s completely fine.  Just remember, as soon as you show any signs of stress (stern words, threats, louder voice), don’t expect your little one to eat!  This is the parent’s responsibility.

If you are having difficulties with your child, think about these factors:

Attention span

Depending on the age of your child, you may only have up to 5 minutes before their attention span has really disappeared.  It is unfair to expect them to keep their brain ‘together’ for too much longer than their limit.  This is when you might need to make the food easier to get into them, such as foods with less chewing or ones they prefer more.  You might then give them a new food or one that is more difficult to eat for the last part of the meal once you know they are fairly full.

Sensory system

Does your child struggle with particular flavours?  Did they struggle to move onto lumpier foods?  Do they struggle with wet/mushy/gooey foods?  Do they turn their head, splay their fingers, gag or blow raspberries with new smells or textures coming at them? Every child needs an opportunity to touch their food.  Do you/did you let your child play with their food enough?  Without first being able to touch it, a child’s sensory system finds it much harder to cope with that texture at their face, where the sensory system is more sensitive. It is normal for a child to want to play with their food when they are first being introduced to it.  Also, mixed textures such as casseroles and pasta dishes, can be difficult for a sensory system to cope with, rather than just separated foods. Try to remove the stress and let your child just play with or touch the food with no pressure to eat.  It might take awhile, but it’s almost guaranteed your child will eventually bring it to their mouth (still don’t put pressure on them!) and learn to like the food…one day!  Slow and steady wins the race.

Negative first reaction

Most children will go through this at some stage, some find it harder to move through.  The good old ‘yuck!’ and ‘I don’t want this!!’.  Even when they ate it the night before.  Sometimes just giving your child time to get their head around the menu for lunch or dinner can be all that is needed.  Aim to tell your child what they will be eating BEFORE they sit down at the table, even if you have to talk about it all day.  When they decide that the food is really okay, strengthen those neural pathways and get them to acknowledge ‘I like…’.

Sitting at the table

Is your child a fidgeter? Does this affect their concentration on eating?  Have a look at where they sit.  Do they have an appropriate foot rest if their feet don’t reach the ground?  Another note – be sure the table is not too high for your children.  Their elbows should be at 90 degrees when they rest their forearms on the table. Do they forget their manners? Remember, eating comes first and then manners.  You will most likely have to give many reminders of using manners at the table as a child initially does not have much understanding of why these are used and thus not much motivation to do so.  Watch your expectations.

Problem behaviours

Again, remaining calm with problem behaviours is ideal, to avoid the child doing it just for attention.  If for example, your child starts throwing food, remind them in clear language (depending what age they are) the appropriate thing to do (‘food in bowl’/’if you don’t want it, put it back in your bowl’) and help their brain to learn the correct action by calmly making them pick the food up and putting it in their bowl.  Remember your child’s age.  It is not appropriate to expect a two-year-old to understand ‘food in bowl’ expectation straight away but remain persistent in showing them what your family expects and they will learn!  Talk about what the rest of the family are doing, that is appropriate – ‘Mummy is sitting on her bottom’, ‘Johnny is using his indoors voice’, ‘Sarah just asked for a washer to wipe her hands’.

Chewing is slow going 

This may indicate your child is being worked too hard with the food they are struggling with.  Unless it is slow-cooked or fish, meat can be difficult for a child to chew for many years.  You can cut it into small pieces but this may just see your child swallowing barely-chewed meat if their jaw is not up to the chewing or their tongue is not able to control keeping it in between their molars.  (This also goes for any other small ‘morsels’ such as peas, sultanas, corn.  Just watch and see if your child has a good ‘chew’ or not.)

Appetite

Children are supposed to eat quite often in the day due to high energy demands and small stomachs.  As long as you are presenting healthy food, let your child decide how much they will eat.  Dinner may not be their biggest meal of the day.  And yes, trust they will still sleep, even with less food in their tummy!  This can take some pressure off you!  And as long as they are not falling off a curve on the weight chart, they are okay.

Now to your communication..

Aim to use only positive language.  Use ‘you can..’ phrases to show the child you believe in them.  For example, ‘you can try one more piece of meat and then you will be finished’, ‘you can just have a feel of the broccoli tonight’.  Asking ‘can you…?’ is asking for a child to say ‘no’.  And if they say ‘no’, remember to respect that – you asked the question!!  Remind your child what TO DO.  For example, ‘we keep our feet on the foot rest’ (instead of ‘stop moving around’), ‘food on the table when finished’ (instead of ‘don’t throw it’), ‘bite then pull’ (instead of ‘don’t put it all in your mouth at once!’).  This makes it clear for your child, rather than focussing on what NOT to do.
Any ‘you MUST..’ or ‘eat this or else…’ will increase adrenalin in your child and as mentioned above, make it much trickier (and less pleasant for everyone), to get them to eat.  Slow and steady wins the race.  Think about appetite or sensory system.  Studies have shown if you offer a reward (for example, dessert) for eating a certain food, the child will not grow to enjoy that food as they have been taught (in not so many words), ‘you need a prize for eating this less than exciting food’.  Trying a food (or even touching it) is worthy of dessert (if you serve it).
The more a child says ‘I don’t like..’, the more they believe in it and it becomes part of their identity – ‘My name is Eddie and I don’t like broccoli’.  Encourage them to rephrase to ‘I’m not sure about..’ and continue presenting whilst taking away stress by reminding they don’t have to eat it.
Finally! There is a lot of information in this post to take in.  Please comment if you would like more information on any of the above topics or have a specific question.  And please remember, mealtimes can be very stressful for the whole family.  Dinnertime is busy, children are tired and it can get crazy!  If all else fails, keep calm, abandon the dinner and come up with a plan for the next night.
(If you feel your child has real issues with their physical eating skills or sensory system, your first contact should be a Speech Pathologist at your local community health centre [at least in Australia].  They will be able to tell you where the appropriate service for your child is.  This is a free service.  GPs are not always sure and child psychologists do not deal with the physical skills or sensory issues in eating.)