It’s time to feed your toddler! And that probably means it’s also time to break out the mop, since toddlers aren’t only notoriously messy eaters, but to top things off, many love throwing their food
on the floor. And the more you tell them to stop, the more it happens. Your frustration grows at about the same rate as the mess.
Yet experts say that toddlers throw food not to drive you crazy, but because experimenting with the world around them is ingrained in their DNA.
“This is normal and healthy behavior,” says Bette Alkazian, a family therapist and parenting coach in southern California. “Toddlers throw things on the floor to learn so many things, like that gravity is predictable. They watch our behavior and see that we, too, are predictable. This repetition helps their brain synapses to grow and connect.”
So every Cheerio your toddler tosses to the floor is teaching him important laws of physics. Meanwhile, the annoyed face you make every time he does it is teaching him what makes humans tick. That said, this doesn’t mean you have to just put up with mealtime mess. Here’s some advice to make that happen:
- Don’t try to reason with your toddler. At this age, it won’t help to explain to your toddler that he’s making a mess, and you’re tired of cleaning them up. “Talking about it, even saying no, is really lost in translation at this age,” says Blythe Lipman, a parenting expert at My Best Parenting Advice.
- Don’t get angry. We know it’s hard to stay calm when you’re picking a hundred peas off the floor, but any emotional reaction just shows your toddler he’s found the perfect method for getting under your skin. And for him, that’s fun!
- Take the food away. “When a child is hungry, he is likely to focus on eating, and when that hunger has been satiated, then play ensues,” says Alkazian. So once throwing commences, say, “I see you’re all done eating” and remove him from the high chair. After all, he can’t throw what he doesn’t have — and even if he is still hungry, that will teach him that mealtime isn’t playtime (plus, you can go ahead and try feeding him again an hour later). It may sound harsh, but if you’re consistent about it for a few days, your toddler will get the message.