So we are having an issue with our Teeny Tiny dropping, ok maybe sometimes, throwing food on the floor at meal times – do you have any tips?
Yes, this can be a frustrating and messy time, but a couple of learning opportunities may be at play here – or they can just be being mischievous too – but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and come up with a plan for meal times.
When dropping and throwing food your little person is learning cause and effect and of course it's often fun too. Dropping or throwing food on the floor has learning attached, that they can make something happen, I open my hand and the food drops. When the early reflexes integrate this allows the release and pincer grip to kick in, your Teeny Tiny begins to use their pointer finger and thumb together, the beginnings of pincer grip. With every piece of food dropped on the floor more deliberate hand and finger movements emerge. Ok, so we don’t want to encourage the dropping of food so how can we develop this outside of meal times.
Offer other opportunities for picking and dropping
- pegs into the peg basket
- manipulating pegs on a peg board
- pebbles into water
- wooden pegs into a water bottle
- messy play with playdough, mud, paints
- simple large peg puzzles
- real-world treaure baskets items
Sometimes, dropping food may be a way to receive your attention – It can be pretty motivating for a Teeny Tiny to get attention of any kind, even if it is negative. If they’ve learned you’re going to give them a big reaction every time they’re throwing food, then it could inspire them to keep going, epppp.
So what can we do – here are some strategies for meal times
Try less food – 1 -3 pieces at a time – less food = less ammunition to fire around your house.
Give them your attention – sometimes try reading a book while they are eating, talking about the food, singing, or just being there. (leave your phone on the bench)
Offer a partitioned plate/bowl - leave one of the partitions empty and encourage your Teeny Tiny to place the food there rather than throwing
Remain calm, even if you are exploding on the inside – easier said than done. Take a deep breath and try this technique. (it may not work the first, second or third time but persevere)
Try these words – Cue a mealtime your baby has just been served 3 slices of banana and they drop the first piece off onto the floor, look over the edge to see if fall and head to the next piece (I would have a guess here that this is learning cause and effect) stay calm, swiftly replace the banana back on the plate/table/tray and say “the banana is for eating”.
The next time they look you dead in the eye and drop the banana on the floor (ok this time you might guess this is attention-grabbing) repeat the same technique calmly pick the banana up and return it and say “ the banana is for eating." Now comes the tricky part some behaviour experts say repeat this 3 times some say 10 so let’s go somewhere in the middle if your Teeny Tiny repeats this maybe 5 times. (or find a number that works for you I wouldn't go for more than 10 though) On the fifth time follow up with “I can see you have finished your lunch” and remove the banana – you could offer something else if the banana was the entrée to the meal. Next up offer a cracker, if this is instantly thrown/dropped I would take that as a sign that the mealtime is over. I would calmly remove your tiny from the seat or chair and follow up with the same phrase “I can see you have finished your lunch” and carry on with your day. Clear the mess and prep yourself for the next mealtime. Phew, no one said parenting was easy.
Family Meal Times – eat together – what is the saying ? a family that plays together, stays together, well for this case a family that eats together – keeps the carpet clean and the parents sane. Family mealtimes offer the opportunity for you to role model eating, wonderful nutritious language is shared and the chance for your tiny to try some new foods from your plate too.
If all else fails get a dog – they are great at cleaning up after Toddlers!
The key is remaining calm and in control and know with consistent, continued repetition and a familiar response they will soon learn that it is not ok to throw food.
Good luck out there.
Janet Lansbury - Elevating Childcare
Alisha Grogan - Paediatric Occupational Therapist
A Moving Child is a Learning Child - Connell and McCarthy