Have you ever seen your child shovel too much of their favorite food into their mouth, until it’s falling out or too hard to swallow? This behavior, called overstuffing, can occur from time to time with our favorite foods. However, if you notice your child overstuffing their mouth frequently, this may be a sign of difficulty with pacing their feeding, or a sensory seeking behavior. Overstuffing can happen when a child has poor oral awareness, as the larger amount of food provides additional input to their mouths to help them recognize where the food is. However, overstuffing can cause concern for parents and inhibit the development of appropriate oral motor skills to chew and swallow foods. If you notice frequent overstuffing with your child, try some of these tips to help them learn pacing!
- Provide small portions of food at a time. For example, instead of handing over an entire bag of your child’s favorite fruit, put a few pieces onto their plate ,and don’t offer more until they have swallowed the first pieces offered. You can also offer smaller bites or portions to prevent overstuffing by putting excessively large pieces into their mouth.
- Make it fun and play-based! Encourage your child to only have “one car in the car wash” at a time, or only one bite of food. Have them show you that their “car wash is empty” by opening their mouth after swallowing a bite, before offering the next “car.” Model big, loud, exaggerated swallows between bites to help facilitate this!
- Provide alerting input to your child’s mouth before meals to improve oral motor awareness, so that they don’t have to overstuff their mouth in order to register the presence of food. Use a vibrating tool or toothbrush, bristles on a toothbrush, or chewy toy to rub their gums, tongue, insides of cheeks, and palate. Make sure to follow your child’s cues of what they are comfortable with when providing alerting inputs to their mouth.
- Provide alerting foods during their meal. Some examples include sparkling water, spicy foods, sour foods or drinks, cold foods, or crunchy foods, like raw carrots.
- Have your child eat in front of a mirror to provide visual feedback to help understand whether their mouth is too full before taking their next bite. Cue them to say, “Ahhh,” after swallowing to determine if they need to swallow again to clear all of their food. By watching themself eat, your child can improve their oral awareness to understand how full their mouth is and when they can take another bite.
- Use utensils to help little ones pace their bites. The fine motor control and attention needed to use a fork or spoon helps them to slow down and only take bites as big as they can fit onto a fork. Try offering toothpicks with small cubes or pieces of fruit to encourage them to move slowly and carefully as they eat! For an older child, try a fun feeding tool like chopsticks!