It's about that time of year again. A time when most of us look forward to getting together with family and friends to give thanks and fellowship together while grazing through all of the mouth watering options...your mom's favorite dressing, hot rolls, pumpkin pie, turkey, ham, green bean casserole. But to the problem eater his worst fear may be Casserole! Casserole!!! Ahhhhhhhh! That scary stuff that's all mushy with disgusting chunks mixed in to the very same dish! He gags just thinking about it. All of the sweet smells mixed with the savory turkey drippings...sounds like heaven to me but to the child with sensory processing difficulties or anxiety in general this sensory explosion of sights, smells and happy chatter could be his worst nightmare. So what can you do to help reduce the anxiety and adapt your childs environment this Thanksgiving? I've compiled a list of suggestions that may be helpful. I will add additional links and resources to the bottom of the page as I come across them. Feel free to share links and leave a comment if you have something you would like to contribute to the topic!
Food and Environment
Include a few simple food options that your child can enjoy. A cracker and cheese tray, a bowl of favorite fruit,
Consider having these foods on a separate table for all to enjoy. This creates a 'safe space' without additional distractions, but still allows for everyone to partake in addition to giving a fun little buffet line for your little one to cruise through.
Divided plates can be helpful! I've seen children completely refuse all food on their plate (even if a favorite was there) if it was paired with too many options or servings too large. When the child felt less overwhelmed with only 2 or 3 choices and much smaller servings spaced out he began picking up food to eat. Some children are very visual and for this child divided plates can be helpful, that or just keeping the portion and # of foods on plate in mind.
Kids table? Well I for one always looked forward to the kids table! My brothers and I went through phases where we felt priveleged to be at the kids table and times when we felt shunned as we grew older! Now, even in our 30s, we long to be at the kids table together again! Having a separate, smaller table for a smaller group of people or even a "kids table" can be helpful in reducing environmental distractions such as the large casserole portions and smells as aforementioned. (I just wanted to say "aforementioned" because I cannot for the life of me think of a time I have ever used that in my vocabulary :) )
Don't use Thanksgiving as a time to ask your child to try new foods especially if he is already worried that you might. Sometimes kids will have a totally random moment when they decide to pick up that piece of food and try it and it may or may not happen on this day. He wants to enjoy the holiday also and just because the rest of us focus on the meal we cannot expect it to be the focus of his day. Which brings me to my next suggestion
Consider starting new non food related traditions!
A game of charades, maybe a different interactive game such as Cranium (We have the new Disney Cranium on our Christmas list this year!) for both kids and adults to enjoy.
An nature scavenger hunt outside or a planned scavenger hunt with clues
Gather around and share with others those things for which you are the most thankfu or talk about "favorites". For my oldest daughters birthday this year we blew up a beachball and wrote in fun questions on each panel. "What is your favorite movie character?" "What is your favorite color?" and so on and so forth
When you and your child have these fun moments to look forward to with others Thanksgiving can become less about the anxiety surrounding the food and more about a happy time you can all share together!
The adaptations do not have to be obvious. You wish for your child to feel a part of the Thanksgiving gathering but you do not want to place the expectation for him to do just as everyone else does just for the sake of enjoying the tradition the way you or others expect him to. In most cases it is Others by the way "Just try it!" " Youll love it!" "How can a kid not like pie with whipped cream?" ...you know you have heard it all before but on this particular day it is not uncommon for both parents and the child to dread the comments, the judgement they fear they may feel. I say this to the families who are just seeking help for their child's feeding concerns or who may feel alone in these thoughts. I'm here to tell you that you are not and that its ok that everyone else around you does not fully understand the complexity of mealtime.