Does your child have trouble at the dinner table? Does your toddler throw food?
My child happens to learn best through touch. She can make a BIG mess and she happens to enjoy the sensations which come along with it (if she even notices).
Some kids hate the sensation of sticky, wet fingers. My kid LOVES it, and for her, playing with food was a pleasurable sensory experience.
Standing at the dinner table (rather than sitting) was something she was allowed to do until she was school-aged.
I could have judged her in any number of ways:
But what would that have accomplished?
- A kid who feels shame about things which are calming or bring pleasure.
- A kid who hides her mistakes because she is afraid of my reaction.
I didn't want either of those and I'm sure you don't either.
It is important to adjust your expectations of behavior to your child’s stage of development and respond with feedback that supports his growth including:
- Safe, Compassionate Limits
- Modeling Behaviors
- Patience & Repetition
Toddlers and young children do not have the ability to reflect on their behavior and adapt better strategies without your help.
In this TEACHable Moments video, I’m talking table manners and sharing 4 tips for teaching kids to STOP throwing food.
Did you know up to 80% of our communication is nonverbal and 90% or more is unconscious?
Even if you say nothing, but hastily take away your child's plate or abruptly end the dinner - you are teaching your child about how to meet his needs AND how to respond to events which are upsetting or unacceptable.
Would you expect a child to be able to ride a marathon with just a few rules and demanding directives about HOW to ride a bike?
No. You'd allow the child months of practice before he could even take the training wheels off, let alone do it continuously, on command and alone.
Early childhood is the same way. Young kids can't just "behave" - regardless of whether you have kindly requested it or demanded it loudly. They don't learn with your words, they learn through practice and by making memories about how they feel (safe, loved, connected) about what they experience.
The more you:
- withdraw your attention or love
- ignore behavior and give in
- or use anger, power or impatience
- to teach lessons, the more your child will encode a pattern of behavior where he seeks to meet his needs by:
- ignoring you
- or using anger, power or control
At some point you may have to decide if you can forgo certain expectations until your child is developmentally capable of handling the request.
If your child doesn't want to sit at the table, you might consider giving your child some leeway around this rule as he develops the ability to control his impulses.
When your child believes the situation is safe and predictable, he can encode patterns which strengthen his developing abilities, and you can be assured he will internalize vital life skills like patience, delaying gratification and managing frustration.
So what do you think?
After you watch, I'd love to hear from you. What are your mealtime triggers? Or, if you have older kids, can you give any words of wisdom to others on how you "let it go" and peacefully managed to survive this stage?
Share your story in the comments below. You might be helping someone who is struggling right now!
In the meantime, have a wonderful week!
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