This is one of the most common questions that I’m asked. Why? Because almost every child goes through a stage where they throw onto the floor anything within reach from their highchair – food, plates, bowls, cups, utensils, etc. And, because it drives us adults crazy!
The good news is that you can nip this behavior in the bud and make it disappear.
Before I get into tips for stopping the behaviour, I want to clarify the difference between intentionally throwing food on the floor and unintentionally knocking things over onto the floor. Babies and toddlers are learning the skill of eating. It takes until at least 3 years old before a child is proficient at eating. Kids unintentionally knock things over because they are clumsy and inefficient at self-feeding. This is normal and expected. Accept your child’s messiness as a part of learning the tricky skills of self-feeding.
Intentionally throwing food, plates, cups etc is different than being messy. There are several ways to stop this behaviour. The trick is to find a match to the root cause of your child throwing food, as well as, your child’s temperament (personality). This month I’m sharing 3 successful techniques. Next month I’ll share more techniques.
- Tip: Ignore the behaviour. Respond with a simple: “Food stays on the table.” And, don’t give them back their items that they’ve dropped. They may respond with a tantrum or meltdown this time. But they’ll quickly learn to keep things that they want to eat on their tray and the throwing food on the floor will stop. Note that it’s better to use a phrase that indicates the behaviour that you do want instead of what you don’t want (e.g. “Don’t throw food on the floor.”) Use It When: Throwing food creates a strong, emotional reaction from you. Toddlers LOVE to cause something to happen. I could go as far as saying that they’re obsessed with creating a reaction. This is why it’s so exciting to push the elevator button – because little ol’ me made the elevator move! If throwing food causes you to react (especially if throwing the food really drives you crazy and elicits a strong reaction from you), your child is relishing their power to make you do something. As the saying goes, negative attention is still attention.
- Tip: Provide an alternative spot. Provide a napkin or plate for food that your child doesn’t want in front of them. It’s important at first that you are consistent with the exact same plate or napkin. When your child throws food on the floor, pick it back up again and place the food on the napkin saying “Food stays on the table. If you don’t want it right now, you can put it on the learning napkin.” What you call the plate/napkin is important. Don’t use a negative term like ‘no thank you napkin’ or ‘yuck plate’ because it indicates that your child won’t eat the food that’s on the plate. Use a positive term like ‘learning plate’ instead to subtly communicate your intention that one day your child will eat these foods. Use It When: You’ve tried tip #1 and the behaviour hasn’t stopped. Some kids will stop throwing food when you use tip #1. Other kids really need to have the food out of their sight and need us to show them an alternative solution to throwing food on the floor.
- Tip: Keep your dog out of the eating area. Either train your dog to lie outside the room during meal and snack times, or use a baby gate to block their access. Use It When: You have a dog. Babies and toddlers find it hilarious to feed the dog. I’ve never found a way to get kids to stop enjoying ‘sharing’ their food with their canine partners in crime J Keeping the dog out of the room is the only solution that I’ve ever found to this problem.
By: Kristen Yarker, MSc, Dietitian
Kristen Yarker, MSc, RD helps moms and dads support your picky kids to get good nutrition today…and instill a life-long love of healthy eating.
Find out more at www.KristenYarker.com