Saving the mealtime mess

It’s true, it’s no fun cleaning up a massive post-mealtime crime scene!  But really, it comes down to communicating with your child…and staying a few steps ahead!

Firstly, if your child is throwing food, it is important to look at WHY the behaviour is occurring.  To me, it’s either too much food in front of them and they literally can’t see the food for the food, get overwhelmed…and start throwing!  Or, they are finished (either the food in front of them or finished eating completely), they then get bored (a little one’s attention span isn’t long!)…and they start throwing!  I’d have fun throwing it too if someone cleaned it and me up at the end!

So let’s go back to setting the mealtime up to be successful. 🙂

1. Start with 2 bowls.  Put your child’s meal all into one, set a suction one up on the highchair, empty.  This will avoid an extra missile.

2. Think about whether a spoon and/or fork would be appropriate for the mealtime and if these would be more of a distraction or facilitator to getting your child to eat.

3. Set your child up with a few bits and pieces in their bowl.  This could be the food you know they won’t love but want them to eat the most of (like the veges) or a few bits of everything.  Less is more.

4. Then the communication needs to start happening.  To put it simply, it’s ‘more or finished?’!

Learning to communicate at the dinner table

By 12 months of age, a child can easily learn the concepts of ‘more’ and ‘finished’ and can definitely pick up the signs for these too.

More (keyword signing australia) http://auslan.org.au/dictionary/words/more-3.html

Finished sign (keyword signing australia) http://auslan.org.au/dictionary/words/finish-6.html

Declan working out his hands! Signing 'finished' using both

Declan working out his hands! Signing ‘finished’ using both

At first, you would start with the steps above and once your little one throws food, make no comment about the throwing and either pick it up or get another piece the same.  Holding it out of their reach ask ‘more….? or finished….?’.   Try to avoid any extra words that will make understanding what you are meaning harder.   For example, ‘are you finished or do you want more? more? oh no are you finished?’.

Ideally, you would be modelling the signs as you say the words and pausing (a good while) after each so the little one has some processing time.  At first, they won’t sign back but if they understand ‘more’ and ‘finished’, they might give you some type of hint of which one.  You can go with these nonverbal hints until they talk or teach them the signs which will give them a more formal way of communicating AND advance their language skills before speech comes.

‘More’ may look like reaching for the food, nodding, opening/closing hand.

‘Finished’ may look like no response, looking away, pointing at something else, pushing your hand away.

Whichever they indicate to you, you say and sign (oh you’re finished, oh more).  It is also a good idea to take their hand and help them to make the sign – showing the brain what to do helps them to learn quicker.

If they indicate ‘finished’, respect that and take the food away.  This may mean ‘i’m full’ finished or ‘i’m done with that food but still hungry’ finished so you might pick something else (which is why it is good to have some food away from them in their first bowl).  If they throw that too, again say and sign ‘finished’ and pack it all away.

If your child indicates ‘more’, give them the food back and let them have one more go.  If they throw it again, assume they actually meant ‘finished’!  So say and sign ‘finished’ and remove the food.

The same goes for the spoon/fork.  If they throw it, either pick up the spoon, say ‘no throwing…scoop’ and show them hand over hand or pick up the fork, say ‘no throwing..stab’ and show them hand over hand.  If they throw it again, say and sign ‘finished’ and away they go.

The child will learn pretty quickly one chance and it all goes away!

For older children, you can help their brain to learn the correct action when they are finished by doing.  If they throw, pick up the food/bowl/spoon etc, give it back to them and say ‘when we’re finished, we put our food/bowl/plate/spoon down on the table’ and encourage them to put it down on the table.  It sounds like it’s hardly worth doing but this helps their brain to ‘feel’ what the correct action is when they are finished.  And then be quick to remove it before they repeat!

This all sounds very technical (which it is), but it comes down to a few basic things to remember:

  • Set your child up for success by giving them only a few bits at a time
  • Hold up food and ask ‘more?….’ and if no response ask ‘or finished?…’
  • Look for nonverbal hints of more or finished and then model the word/sign to teach the child what they are expected to do.  You only have to remember two words in all of this – more…finished…
  • When in doubt, guess and let them communicate to you if you are wrong
  • Show them hand over hand the appropriate action to use a spoon/fork with
  • Show them hand over hand how to make a sign
  • Respect any communication of ‘more’ or ‘finished’ – even if you think they want more but they sign ‘finished’, put it away (but always watch in case they make a mistake)
  • Keep words very simple.  We want them to tell us ‘more’ and ‘finished’, so by using those words, you are showing them what you expect them to say (or sign)

It’s never too early or late to start teaching ‘more’ and ‘finished’!  This can be started from 6 months but children will probably pick this up closer to 12 months.

Once you and your child have it down pat, you will be able to ask ‘more or finished?’, they will tell you and you can then put more food out or take it away, saving the massive mess on the floor!

This entry was posted in Behaviour management, Mealtimes and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , by heidelightful. Bookmark the permalink.

About heidelightful

Hello friend! I am a paediatric speech pathologist and health coach. My vision is to create a world where parents can understand the real link between diet and their child's health and behaviour, and know how to create true health for their family. My two young, wonderful and sensitive sons both have food intolerances and have also taught me about my own, that I have never known about until now! Topics I have looked into for my own family's health and also from my role as a speech pathologist with children with picky eating are food intolerances, fussy eaters, creating healthy eaters and eating to prevent and ‘cure’ childhood issues such as ADHD, autism, eczema/skin issues, trouble sleeping, low immunity, frequent snot/ear infections and bedwetting, to name a few. I write many posts coming from being an exhausted mum trying to keep up with fussy boys who can only eat certain foods and also as a professional who has worked with other children with similar issues. I live on the Sunshine Coast in Australia with my husband and two boys and was previously an exchange student in Brazil! I hope to inspire you to help your child achieve their potential through health and well-being. Thanks for stopping by :) Heidi

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