Most children learn how to properly chew and swallow at least a few types of food when they are between 12 and 14 months old. Even if your toddler once chewed her food correctly, she may have temporarily stopped doing so. Eating is a complex task that requires the coordination of all the organ systems in the body. To chew and swallow her food, your toddler needs to learn how to work her tongue, teeth and throat muscles together. It's imperative that your toddler knows proper eating habits so she gets the nutrition she needs and you can feed her without the fear of choking.
Give your toddler a safe, comfortable place to sit while she eats. You may need to place a booster seat on a chair so she can reach the table. If your toddler feels uncomfortable and insecure during mealtime, she's unlikely to spend time properly chewing her food.
Encourage your family to eat together at the same table as your toddler. This enables her to watch adults as they chew their food.
Put food in your mouth, then chew with your mouth open so your toddler sees how your teeth break down the food into smaller pieces. When the food is small enough, tell her it's time to swallow.
Describe the process as you chew and swallow food. Talk through each step with your toddler. You might say "I'm chewing with my front teeth and now I'm moving the food to my back teeth. Now it's in little pieces and I'm ready to swallow it."
Tell your toddler not to stuff her mouth with food, as this makes it hard to chew and can be a choking hazard.
Teach your toddler to chew with foods she enjoys eating, but don't use things like candy or snack items. Give small pieces of fruit, such as bananas or berries, since the sweet taste will encourage her to eat more.
Put just a few items on your toddler's plate so she doesn't feel overwhelmed. If you fill her plate with food, chewing and swallowing all of it may seem daunting to her.
Give your toddler play food and encourage her to "cook" and "eat" it. Offer her pots, pans and kitchen utensils so she can pretend to cook the food.
Encourage your toddler to explore large toys with her mouth. Offer toys with a variety of shapes and textures. This helps her get used to the sensation of something being in her mouth. Do not, however, give her any toys containing small parts.
Praise your toddler whenever she makes an attempt to eat properly so she knows she's on the right path.
- If your toddler seems to dislike a certain food, don't stop offering it. It may take up to 20 offerings before your toddler begins to enjoy the food.
- If your toddler continues to have difficulty with chewing and swallowing, make an appointment with her pediatrician as soon as possible and ask for an evaluation to rule out a feeding disorder.
- Do not argue with family members while eating or discipline your toddler during a meal. Never punish your toddler for not chewing her food correctly. Your toddler will associate mealtime with stress, anxiety and fear.
- Don't give your toddler nuts, hard candy, chunks of hot dog, whole grapes or stringy foods if she hasn't properly learned how to chew and swallow.
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