SOS for kids who won't eat

SOS for kids who won't eat

An evidence-based approach to mealtimes for problem eaters


Eating can be and should be a fun, positive time in a child's life. We love going out for lunch and dinner and meeting with friends and family. Mealtime is a social time, one that the entire family should be able to enjoy together. But some parents are left to wonder why mealtimes are often a battle. They ask "Is my child just picky or is eating hard for my child?" These are questions that therapists hear all the time. 

Once you've recognized the red flags of problem eating, therapists can help families return to a normal, happier mealtime. On one hand, parents want their children to have a pleasant relationship with food and family meals. On the other hand, they often are challenged to make sure their young child is getting enough nutrition to gain and grow. 

Team Feeding

The SOS (Sequential Oral Sensory) Approach to Feeding uses a team to assess the "whole child" – looking at the development of sensory processes, oral-motor skills, learning and behavior, nutrition and the feeding environment. So everyone works together, psychology, pediatrics, occupational therapy, speech-language pathology and a dietitian. Most importantly, the SOS Approach to Feeding is family centered with the caregiver involved in all aspects, in order to help their child at home.

Wait – There Are Steps to Eating?

One of the first concepts addressed is the myth, "eating is easy – you sit down, and you eat!" That is not the case!!! For a child without eating difficulties it can be a 25-step process – for children with eating difficulties, up to 32-steps! The SOS Approach leads a child through these steps to eating. 

Treatment focuses on the child's comfort level while he or she is exploring the properties of foods (the taste, texture and smell) in a playful, non-stressful manner. But sometimes they have to start with just tolerating food in the room, before proceeding to smelling, touching, tasting and eventually swallowing particular foods. 

Working Through Food Groups

Many common complaints are that a child rejects entire food groups, eats the same foods over and over, overstuffs their mouth, or needs to have the foods broken into pieces. They may have difficulty with specific tastes, textures, and consistencies of food. 

A feeding therapist, using the SOS approach, can recognize and target oral-motor, sensory, and behavior challenges that a child may have—and then guide that child and the parents to make the progress needed to building a full diet.

A picture of a kid who may need an SOS approach

Benefits of SOS

There is a "trick." To work through the challenges and accomplish their goals, the parents and therapists have to learn how to follow the child's lead. The therapist is not "doing something" to the child, or forcing the child to do anything. This approach builds trust and a sense of safety between the therapist and the child (and the family) to decrease anxiety and ensure success at each level. The goal is to build positive interactions with foods. In this way, children have great success increasing their number of preferred foods, developing age-appropriate feeding skills, and creating mealtimes that are positive and fun for the entire family!

Resouces for SOS