In the struggle to get kids to try new foods, or to eat foods they’re not interested in eating, gagging is basically game over.

It’s not just that gagging can lead to puking, which can be messy and gross. Insisting that kids do something that makes them gag just seems downright cruel. Who amongst us wants to be forced into a gagging situation? Enough said.

Gagging can be solved.

This is the second in a series of posts I am writing in response to questions posed by newsletter readers when I asked them what issue they would most like me to address.

Kids can prevent their own gagging. You just have to teach them how.

Gagging is the result of inefficient swallowing.

Food that lingers at the back of the throat triggers a gag reflex. So, job one in solving the gagging problem is figuring out why the food is lingering back there.

  • Some children have problems chewing and swallowing. These kids need to see their doctors and also a feeding specialist. Read When to Seek Medical Help.
  • Many children can’t decide whether or not they want to swallow. These kids don’t have a medical problem. They are simply ambivalent.

Kids who are ambivalent about swallowing food, either new stuff or items they don’t want to eat at the moment, are caught between wanting to please you—you’ve either asked them to eat the food or they know you want them to eat it— and doing what they want, which is not to swallow. The result? Food hangs around the danger zone.

Why don’t kids want to swallow? There are lots of reasons but the big one is that they think swallowing is what cases them to gag.

That’s right, kids have it backwards. They think they gag because of the swallowing. So the first step in correcting this problem is correcting this belief. Then move on to empowering change.

 Step 1   Tell your children what causes the gagging.

Indecision about whether or not to swallow means that food hangs out in the back of your kids’ throats, touching the back of their tongue, or tickling their tonsils. This leads to gagging. All kids can understand this concept if you tell them in age-appropriate language.

 Step 2    Empower your kids to spit or swallow.

Spitting is better than gagging. Tell your kids this. And tell them it’s what polite adults do when something offensive can’t, shouldn’t or won’t go down the trap. Think napkin.

Don’t get discouraged by spitting. It can lead to liking. Read Why Some Kids Should Spit.

 Step 3  Give your kids some back up ammunition. 

Children who have experienced gagging may be reluctant to even try consuming a “gagger.” A sip of water can help a lot. Kids don’t automatically know this.

 Step 4  Introduce new and/or previously gagged-on items in pea-sized portions.

The smaller the better. Really, the ideal sample is one your kids can’t even taste because your goal is to reassure your gagger that the gagging is gone.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~