Everyone knows Eric Carle’s story of the “very hungry caterpillar.” He wakes up, begins to eat everything in his path, without complaining, until he decides he’s ready for a nap, curls up in his cocoon, and then transforms into a beautiful butterfly. This ideal eat/sleep/wake scenario embodies every parent’s wish!

Unfortunately, families receiving services for their child with feeding challenges usually won’t enjoy this simple routine. The family may deal with a lack of finances that limits the variety of foods presented during meals. Perhaps, the child was diagnosed with a feeding disorder. Or perhaps sensory issues prevent a child from enjoying a variety of food textures and tastes.

For speech-language pathologists providing early intervention for feeding issues, a key to reaching goals involves treating the whole child. A lack of nutrition or other feeding difficulties can affect several different areas of development, from fine and gross motor to social skills. Children might also experience focus challenges if they don’t get enough to eat. A child has trouble attending to any task if their belly isn’t full! As early-intervention speech-language pathologists treating children in the home, we often become families’ first resource. Questions about mealtimes, potty training, negative behaviors and family activities may all be areas of concern for parents. Even SLPs not specifically treating children for feeding disorders can help support parents who stress over mealtimes.

All children need proper nutrition to function throughout the day. Here are three things to keep in mind when offering advice or strategies to parents.

Understanding the family’s priorities during each session, empowering parents through positive feedback and celebrating each milestone allows SLPs to offer support in various areas for families. Development is a process and should be taken one bite at a time.

April Anderson, MA, CCC-SLP – National Speech/Language Therapy Center This article is originally published on The ASHA Leader Blog, January 17, 2017