#52 - How are the Vestibular and Proprioceptive Senses Related to Feeding Challenges?Dec 10, 2023
In the past couple weeks we’ve talked A LOT about the proprioceptive, vestibular, and interoceptive senses. But we’re not done yet.
One area we haven’t really dug into yet is how exactly those senses are related to mealtime, and more specifically mealtime battles. Today, we’re focusing on the proprioceptive and vestibular senses.
When it comes to feeding challenges, I think sensory processing is an area that is so often overlooked, or forgotten. This is especially true when it comes to these 2 senses. But they have such an impact on eating, that we really can’t afford to overlook them.
If you’re just joining us for the first time in this post, WELCOME! I highly suggest you pause here, and first start with post #49, #50, and #51, because those are going to explain exactly what the proprioceptive and vestibular senses are, which is really going to help you better understand this episode. Of course, when you’ve finished those, I invite you to come back and join us over here!
Alright, let’s jump right in.
What is the proprioceptive sense’s purpose at the table & how is it related to feeding challenges?
As a reminder: the proprioceptive sense is essentially our sense of body awareness. It’s how we know where our body parts are at any given time in space. It helps us not only know where they are, but also how to move them.
So…what does that mean for the table?
Well, it helps with our body awareness during eating. And this can mean a couple things:
- It helps us sit upright at the table without falling down
- It helps us coordinate our fingers for holding utensils
- It helps us coordinate our hand, arm, and shoulder movements to bring those utensils to our mouth
- It helps us coordinate our mouth movements to chew, keep our lips closed, and move our tongues.
As you can clearly see, all of these are pretty essential for eating. So when our proprioceptive sense isn’t functioning as strongly or helpfully as we would like, it can lead to challenges at the table.
But here’s where it gets tricky. Kids often can’t tell you that these things are hard. Instead here’s what you may see:
- Them constantly learning on you or the side of their chair
- Shifting their position in their chair, sitting on their legs, or just seeming jittery in their chair
- Refusing to use utensils on their own
- Spilling food a lot
- Refusing or really preferring certain food textures - like chewy, mushy, or crunchy foods
- Not closing their lips
When this happens, we often come at kids and say things like:
“Stop leaning on me!”
“Use your fork, you’re not a baby!”
“Just eat it””
Now, we’re saying things in an attempt to help move them along to our end goal - eating.
But the thing is…when a child struggles with proprioceptive processing these things are REALLY hard for them. Imagine trying to do a new dance move and someone expecting you to get it all on the first, second, or third try.
They’re not there yet, even though we want them to be. So, they refuse, fight with you, or run away. These often lead to those dreaded mealtime battles we’re desperately trying to avoid.
What is the vestibular sense’s purpose at the table & how is it related to feeding challenges?
The vestibular sense on the other hand is our sense of head and body movement. It tells us when our head has moved, and allows us to use our proprioceptive sense to activate our muscles in response.
During eating, the vestibular sense:
- Helps us stay seated at the table
- Helps keep our sensory thermometer and arousal state in check so we can focus on eating
- Allows us to tip our head back to drink, and tip our head down to take a bite
- Not fall out of our chair when we do move our head during eating
Again, you can see how these are all really important for us to eat. Honestly, they’re basic needs for eating. But again, kids can’t tell us that they’re feeling dizzy, or that their body just needs to move, or that they get scared when they tilt their head.
Instead what we may see is:
- Them being unable to stay seated for a meal - or even just a couple minutes
- Refusal to drink out of cups
- Vigorous head shaking - and it just seems like they’re being silly
- Really high arousal state, meaning they seem really excitable
- Falling out of their chair
- Poor posture in their chair
- Fighting you about sitting in a chair, or being lifted into their highchair
- Rocking their chair back and forth (although this can also be related to the proprioceptive sense, if they’re looking for that banging that happens when the chair hits the floor)
In these cases, you might find yourself saying something like:
“Stop being so silly!”
“Can you just sit still?”
“You’re going to get hurt”
Again, we’re doing this in an effort to refocus on the meal, but using these sayings is often ineffective because we’re not really addressing the root of the problem - that their senses aren’t getting what they need.
And that’s where you come in. One of the most impactful things you can do at the table is to take a step back and just observe.
We often jump to blame and frustration, but the truth is that if your child isn’t eating, there’s something going on behind-the-scenes that may be causing them to struggle.
And when we can get to the root of that struggle, that’s where magic happens.
If you’re sitting here with me today, and you’re like “YES, Sam - that is my child,” then you’re going to want to listen to what comes next.
We’ve really only scratched the surface of the vestibular and proprioceptive senses in our past couple episodes.
But the truth is, they have a really big impact both at the table and throughout the rest of your child’s day.
So if you’ve been wondering or noticing that your child may have some challenges with proprioceptive and vestibular processing, it’s time that you got educated on what that means, and how you can support them.
You can’t work intentionally to support your child’s sensory system if you don’t understand what’s going on. Instead, you’re left picking strategies that never really worked for their body, because you don’t really know how or why it works.
Understanding these hidden senses is a game changer. Not only does it shed light on why seemingly simple activities like getting dressed or handling mealtimes can become battles, but it empowers you to navigate them better.
And that’s why I’m thrilled to FINALLY announce that my Hidden Senses mini-course is officially available to you, and that for one week only, you can save an extra $10 off with the code HIDDEN - all uppercase.
All you have to do is go to www.drsamgoldman.com/thehiddensenses and put in your coupon code to get started right now. It’s only 45-minutes, perfect for busy parents, and you are going to leave feeling so relieved because you finally can understand what’s going on in your child’s body and why.
Again go to www.drsamgoldman.com/thehiddensenses and use the code HIDDEN to get started right now!
I’ll see you inside!
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