Assisting a child with feeding

Assisting a child with feeding

Some children are unable to manage the tasks of eating and drinking without help from a family member or caregiver. Help should be thoughtfully provided, and your child should be in control, eating at his/her own pace and selecting what to eat next. When assisting, there are several ideas which you may like to think about:

  • Comfortable, calm, enjoyable and distraction free environments can assist both your child and the person helping. It is difficult for children who need to focus on the process of eating and drinking when people are continually getting up and down or doing other tasks. (Novita Children's Services, 2008).

  • A regular routine can help children understand what's going to happen, be familiar with what is expected of them and those assisting them, stimulate their appetite, be cooperative and enjoy themselves at mealtimes. (Novita Children's Services, 2008).

  • Ensure that your child is adequately supported in their chair. Poor seating can contribute to eating difficulties. For example, opening the mouth and swallowing food is very difficult if your child is sitting in a slumped position with their head forward.

  • Tell your child what is going to happen in language that they can understand. This may mean using visual cues such as signing, pictures or photos. (Novita Children's Services, 2008).

  • Position yourself in front or slightly to one side of your child, so that you can see each other and communicate more easily.

  • Position the meal in front of your child so that they can see what the meal comprises and more easily indicate what they would like to eat next. A shallow table, such as a cantilever table, can be useful for this.

  • Encourage your child to do as much as they can for themselves. For example, your role may simply be to cut up the food and load the fork.

  • An overloaded fork or spoon may make it difficult for your child to eat without spillages. A spoon with a shallow bowl may assist with this.

  • Regular sips of a drink may help your child to keep his/her mouth moist and swallow food.

  • Try to give help in a discreet way. For example, if you know food needs to be cut up, perhaps do this before the meal is brought to the table. (Novita Children's Services, 2008).

  • If the eating process is messy, protective clothing may be required.

  • End the meal with a signal to clearly indicate its conclusion - particularly for children who have difficulties understanding or those with visual, hearing or sensory impairments. For example, use the sign for finish or stop, wipe your child's face or pack up utensils. (Novita Children's Services, 2008).


To view some of the equipment solutions mentioned in the above advice, click on the links below:
Activity chairs
Bibs & aprons

Advice last checked: 30 January 2018 Next check due: 30 January 2021

All advice is either supported by references (cited in the text) or is based upon peer reviewed professional opinion. Our advice is impartial and not influenced by sponsors or product suppliers listed on the site.
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  1. Novita Children's Services 2008  Mealtime Routines
    View reference   Last visited:  13/03/2009 Evidence type: 2