Throwing food is a common challenge many parents face with their children during the toddler years. Let us look at how we can guide our children to communicate needs, build table etiquette and stop toddler throwing food.
Why do toddlers throw their food on the floor?
In case you are wondering, what it means when a toddler throws food and if is it normal for a toddler to throw food, let me first reassure you that this is quite common and there is a reason why your toddler is throwing food.
Toddlers are unable to express themselves fully in words or regulate their emotions. They are still learning how to express themselves, therefore most of their actions turn out to be big displays so they can gather attention and communicate their unmet need.
Most unwanted behaviors in this age group, therefore, are usually an expression of unmet needs. Once you know the reason behind the display you can get to the root of the problem and then guide the child on how to express such needs in the future in an appropriate manner.
For most babies and younger toddlers throwing may be the infant brain exploring and trying to test cause and effect. Other reasons could be incorrect expectations from the parent about how much food should be eaten or how long the child must sit in the chair to complete meals, a child that’s overwhelmed with the quantity of food on the plate, the child being uncomfortable with certain tastes and textures or maybe the child is simply tired and sleepy at meal time.
All of these reasons can cause the child to react by throwing food on the floor.
So, you may ask, how do I get my 2-year-old to stop throwing food?
How to stop toddler throwing food?
- Ask yourself if the child is hungry at mealtime. Is the child tired or sleepy at mealtime? If yes, you will need to rework your meal schedules to ensure that the child is truly interested in meal time and not being forced to follow a schedule that does not align with their own body clock.
- Throwing can also be a sign the child is done eating, teach them how to say it to you instead of throwing food. Give your toddler short phrases like, “I am done.” to signal the end of meal time.
- Keep distractions to a minimum. Simply put, no screens, storytelling, books, toys, or other distractions at the table. Mealtimes are all about the food, sit together and model for your toddler how you eat and enjoy your food.
- When throwing happens, stay calm, and don’t give a reaction. This can be hard. But the more we react to unwanted behavior the more the child feels encouraged to continue. Instead, announce the end of meal time and remove the child from the seat instead of reacting or continuing on. This sets a boundary as to what behavior is acceptable at the table.
- If you feel your child is throwing food, he/she dislikes, show where unwanted food can be kept on the plate- tell them, “Keep on the side of the plate, here.” Point and show or make an “All done bowl.” This gives the child an idea of what is expected rather than simply saying, don’t do this.
- Some children are overwhelmed by large portion sizes. In that case, offer smaller portions on the plate. Start out with 2-3 tablespoon worth of food and coach the child to ask for more or say done when finished. Younger infants can be taught sign language to indicate they are finished eating. This way the child is in control of his/her meal time and practices listening to their own hunger and satiety cues.
- Toddlers go through playful stages called schemas. Swiss psychologist, Jean Piaget, noticed that young children go through stages of play and learning. One such schema that toddlers go through is the Trajectory Schema. If your toddler repeatedly drops toys and food from a height or throws toys around, they are most liking going through the Trajectory schema. Our job as parents then is to provide our child with alternate ways to satisfy the urge to throw. This helps the child’s exploration of the movement of objects. When the child throws food, maybe he is curious to know how does this food land on the ground? Does it make a sound when it lands? How long will it take to land? Your little scientist is doing what children do best, learning through play. The parent on the other hand can guide the child through boundaries as to what is okay to throw, and why we don’t throw food and provide opportunities to meet this exploration in play. Example – games that involve throwing balls into a basket, rolling cars down a ramp, balance boards, play in the park that involves throwing leaves, playing in puddles, chasing bubbles, pushing and pulling toys.
So, the next time your toddler throws food, try and understand what is the reason for throwing and then use these tips to stop toddler throwing food.
Related reading: What To Feed A Sick Toddler Who Won’t Eat
Healthy Weight Gain Foods For Toddlers
How Much Water Should A Toddler Drink and Tips To Help With Hydration.
We too went through a throwing food phase. Ultimately what worked for us was stopping meals when food was thrown, showing where to keep unwanted food on the plate, and offering smaller portion sizes.
Hope these tips help make mealtime less of a struggle for you.