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)

Finished sign (keyword signing australia)

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!

Do I get on this ‘baby sign’ bandwagon or not?…

Baby sign has become quite popular lately and is certain to be a topic at mother’s groups.

The trouble is, you don’t have to be qualified in early language development or signing to teach it.  Hence, ‘baby sign’ can thus vary and be very expensive to learn.

What is key concept signing?

The ‘real’ baby sign is called ‘key concept signing’.  Here are some features:

  • it uses individual signs from Auslan (Australian sign language) along with gestures, pointing and facial expression
  • just the key concepts (or words) are signed, not the whole sentence – for example, ‘come get your hat or ‘more or finished?
  • words are always spoken as you sign
  • you might find key concept signing at childcare centres (if they use any)and also by Sofya, the hearing impaired Play School presenter

What are the benefits of signing?

Research indicates that all babies, not just those with hearing difficulties or language delays, benefit from being signed to.  Whilst many parents can only dream of teaching their baby a second language, signing allows your child to experience the same language opportunities of learning an extra language. These benefits include increased neural pathways in the brain and thus enhancing the language areas of your child’s brain.

Just like teaching another language, teaching your baby a sign for a word is teaching it that we can give more than one symbol to the same meaning (eg. flower), that is, a spoken word (‘flower’ or even a hand movement (the sign for ‘flower’).  This develops ‘symbolic thought’, which is the crux of language.

On top of having a ‘second language’, signing to your child gives more information than just saying a word verbally, which teaches them more about that concept.  For example:

  • the sign for ‘cow’, showing horns above your head, teaches the child a feature of a cow
  • the sign for ‘duck’, showing the duck’s bill with your hand, also teaches a feature of that animal
  • the sign for ‘book’, opening two palms outwards, shows that a book is something to be opened
  • the sign for ‘bath’, rubbing fists up and down in front of body, teaches your child the action that takes place in the bath

This all sounds very simple, but is literally building pathways in your baby’s brain and helping them to remember the word for next time, as it would be easier for you to learn a word in another language with someone reminding you with natural gestures (think ‘hat’, ‘come’, ‘stop’).  The sooner your child starts communicating to you, the sooner they get more interaction which is like a snowball effect for their development.

Keyword signing has been shown to promote quicker language development and definitely not hinder speech!  Here are a few reasons:

  • The adult is forced to speak slower and use simpler phrases, whilst they learn the signs.  This allows extra processing time for the child to understand the message.
  • Signing encourages establishing more eye contact and using more hand movements and facial expression.
  • A sign lasts in the child’s visual field until you take it away, whereas a verbal word comes and goes.  Think about someone talking to you in another language.  You would stay ‘with’ someone longer if they were using some gestures, rather than someone just talking.
  • You virtually only need to know a handful of signs at first, and repeat them.  This repetition of early words/concepts, thus helps your baby to learn language much quicker.
  • A baby starts to understand words well before they begin to speak.  They also start to use their hands before their lips and tongue can produce speech.   Hence a child can start to use their hands for signs, before their lips and tongue can produce speech.   Giving them signs is a way to help them express what they want to say much sooner.
  • Signing can help to decrease frustration not only now but also down the track when your one or even two-year-old hasn’t developed clear speech.
  • An example would be being at the shops  and with no context, your child says ‘doo’.  It could be ‘two’, ‘do’, ‘zoo’ – but then they sign ‘zoo’ … Some children develop clear speech quickly, others do not.  Some children don’t mind if you don’t understand them, others do.  Having signs is a good back up, just in case!

Remember, the early years count.  The sooner you get your child understanding and then expressing their thoughts, the more they can interact with you, which builds up the social and language areas of the brain and of course the cognitive areas.

So can you see the benefits of signing to your child?  It is quite easy and quick to get started.  See post Getting Started With Signs for more information.

🙂 Heidi

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

Declan working out his hands! Signing ‘finished’ using both (his brain hadn’t yet worked out how to only use one)!

My sister and I signing the alphabet song to Hayden when he was about 7 months old.

My sister and I signing the alphabet song to Hayden when he was about 7 months old. Fun!