What should you do if your child throws their food on the floor? It depends on how old they are and what the situation is.
When a young child is learning to eat on their own, it’s normal for things to get messy. But sometimes, when kids are between 6 months and 2 years old, they go through a food-throwing phase. What’s the right way for parents to handle this behaviour? The answer depends on the child’s age and the situation.
Why do children throw food on the floor?
Your child may be throwing their food for various reasons.
Before 12 months
- They lack coordination and motor control. Your child is simply dropping their food by accident. At the age of 6 to 8 months, babies rarely throw food on the floor on purpose.
- They’re experimenting or just having fun (9 months onward). Your child may be discovering that not all foods make the same sound when they hit the floor. They may also get a kick out of their family members’ reactions.
- They’re expressing doubt or uneasiness about a food they’re unfamiliar with or whose appearance, smell, or texture they don’t like. They’d prefer not to be anywhere near it.
- They’re hoping you’ll give them something else to eat (e.g., their favourite snack) instead of what’s on their plate.
- They’re full.
- They want to grab hold of their spoon and plate so they have more autonomy when they eat.
- They’re tired, which can make them impatient.
- They’re having trouble picking up, holding, or chewing their food. The pieces may be too small or slippery for them to pick up and put in their mouth. Some babies may throw food on the floor in frustration if they can’t eat.
After 12 months
- They’re trying to get your attention, whether your reaction is positive or negative. They understand that even if their behaviour leads to a scolding, it’ll mean getting a bit of time with you.
- They don’t like the food they’ve been served.
- They’re full.
- They want to get out of their high chair and go play. In this case, they may throw their food on the floor because they’re playing with it.
Worried your child isn’t eating enough?
Try not to be too concerned about how much your little one has eaten; young children will eat until they feel full. If your child is rarely hungry at mealtime, go over their meal and snack schedule and adjust it as needed:
Do they drink a lot of breast milk or formula before meals?
Are they eating too often?
Did they have a filling snack less than 2 hours before the meal?
If your baby is drinking a lot of breast milk or formula before solid meals, try shortening their breast or bottle feeds. You can give them a post-meal breast or bottle feed afterward. This way, your baby won’t be too full to eat the solid meal, but they also won’t be too hungry. If they’re too hungry, they may get impatient with the food you put in front of them.
What to do if your child throws their food
Eat with your child to model good table manners.
If your little one throws their food on the floor, try to figure out why so you can take the right approach. Whatever the case may be, stay calm and be patient.
Don’t punish your child if they make a mess. Family meals should be enjoyable so that your child finds it fun to try new foods. This will go a long way in helping them develop their taste buds and learn to eat a variety of foods.
Before 12 months
- Don’t react. Leave the food on the floor for a minute. This will make your baby realize that food disappears when they drop it. Then, calmly say: “Is your food on the floor? That’s what happens when we drop our food. We’re going to pick it up because food belongs on the table.”
- Try another 2 or 3 times to get them to eat again, but no more than that. In a calm voice, remind them that food belongs on the table. Beyond 2 or 3 attempts, your baby may feel they’re being forced to eat, or they may playfully drop the food once more just to watch you pick it up.
- Keep serving the foods you want your baby to eat. Offer them a variety of nutritious options, even if they seem to want their favourite snack instead.
- If your baby looks tired and starts rubbing their eyes, say, “Looks like you’re all done,” and gently take away their plate or bowl.
- Gently take your little one’s arm when you see they’re about to drop their food. Guide their hand back to the plate or table and calmly say, “Food belongs on the table,” to help your baby understand the action and your words.
After 12 months
- Before every meal, remind your child about table manners (e.g., “Food goes in your mouth” or “If you’re full, the food stays on your plate.”). Kneel or crouch down to their level and look them in the eye when you do this. You can also place a hand on their arm to help them focus on your words. Afterward, check that they’ve understood by asking “Where does food go?” for example.
- Immediately take your child’s plate away if they throw their food and tell them they shouldn’t do that. Gradually, they’ll learn that throwing their food is unacceptable.
To avoid having your child throw their food to end mealtime and ask for a snack right after, stick to the meal and snack schedule you’ve established.
- If you think your child is throwing their food to get your attention, ignore their behaviour and stay calm. Wait until after the meal to clean up the mess. This will teach your child that throwing their food is not an effective way to get attention. Instead, give them positive attention by praising them when they leave their food on the table.
- Offer your child several small portions instead of one big one. They may be less likely to throw their food if there isn’t as much on their plate.
- Teach your child to put any foods they don’t like to one side of their plate. You can even give them a different-colour plate or bowl for this purpose. Teach them to put what they don’t want to eat there, gently guiding their arm if needed.
- At the end of the meal, ask your child to help you pick up the food they threw. Explain why you have to clean it up: “Look, there are pieces of chicken and carrot around your high chair because you threw them on the floor. Now we have to pick them up to make the floor all clean again!”
- Make sure no one laughs when your child throws their food. Having a receptive audience might encourage your child to keep throwing their food to get more laughs.
- If your child is rubbing their eyes and looks tired, say: “Looks like you’re all done. Next time, say ‘Done’ instead of throwing your food.” Then, gently take their plate.
- If your child throws their food because they want to play, say: “Are you finished? Or are you still hungry? The food has to go in your mouth or stay on the table.” If they’ve finished their meal, calmly take their plate. The goal is to help your child learn to tell you they’ve finished eating using baby words or signs instead of by throwing their food.
- Praise other family members for demonstrating good table manners by not throwing their food. Since children learn through imitation, you can say, “Daddy doesn’t throw his food on the floor. Good job, Daddy!” and applaud. Your child will want to earn a round of applause too.
Why doesn’t my child throw food at daycare?
Kids are sometimes better behaved at daycare than they are at home. This may be because the rules are repeated and enforced more often at daycare. Being around other kids also makes a difference. At daycare, your child learns what not to do when they see that other kids are punished for misbehaving. Similarly, they see how kids who show good table manners are praised, which encourages them to do the same.
Things to keep in mind
Throwing food on the floor can occur for different reasons, depending on your child’s age.
Even if your child throws their food, keep mealtime positive so that your little one stays open to trying new foods.
Your child needs to learn to say they’re done eating using baby words or signs instead of by throwing their food.
Scientific review: Stéphanie Côté, M.Sc., nutritionist
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: May 2022
Note: The links to other websites are not updated regularly, and some URLs may have changed since publication. If a link is no longer valid, please use search engines to find the relevant information.
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