“And the bird goes into its nest…the birdie’s almost there…The birdie’s…” Splat! Sound familiar? Rest assured, you’re not the first parent to be hit by flying mashed potoato. Of course, that doesn’t make the sight of your floor, Jackson Pollocked with avo and tomato, any less frustrating, but it may help to know that your child isn’t motivated by spite. In fact, food throwing can be an important lesson, helping your child to assimilate cause and effect: If I drop the meatball, it falls on the floor. It can also be a way to communicate, so help your tot use words or facial expression to indicate that she doesn’t like to food.
Luckily, there are ways you can stop this behaviour before your dinner table turns into a battle zone.
Your first port of call: Tell your child firmly that throwing food is rude, and therefore not allowed. Of course, this instruction is more than likely going to be ignored – which means you’ll have to move on to another tactic – but it lays the foundation for establishing rules and boundaries.
Limit the ammo
More peas = more to play with. Yes, you want your baby to experiment and develop a palate, but accept that the more you put on the plate, the more they’ll throw around. Remember that they have a rather limited appetite at this stage, so you can definitely get away with small helpings.
Distraction is king
Distraction has to be the parents’ number one tool for pretty much everything. Sense a tantrum coming on? Divert attention to something interesting, fast. Realise that a hand’s about to interrupt your vision of a clean nappy change? Put something in that hand stat. Want to stop a food missile? Keep the dialogue going, or make an attention-grabbing noise every time a morsel goes in the mouth.
Sometimes, an air-borne fishfinger is actually a cry for attention. So give it, unstintingly. Save your social media catch ups for later in the day, and instead be wholly present for this moment.
Melissa Matthews, mother of Tamsin, says she has found ignoring to be the best solution. “Kids are ultimately trying to get a rise out of you, so they stop if they see they’re not succeeding,” she says.
Accept it, and be prepared
Sometimes, it’s easier when you stop trying to swim upstream. The reality is that food throwing – just like the “why?” phase and crying through the night – is normal toddler behaviour, and actually has a purpose (we’re back to learning about gravity). So, yes, you can get annoyed by it, or you can accept that this is a phase she’ll grow out of. And, in the meantime, invest in a stack of table cloths and placemats.
In her 16 years as journalist, Lisa Witepski’s work has appeared in most of South Africa’s leading publications, including the Mail & Guardian, Sunday Times, Entrepreneur and Financial Mail. She has written for a number of women’s magazines, including Living & Loving, Essentials and many others, across topics from lifestyle to travel, wellness, business and finance. She is a former acting Johannesburg Bureau Chief for Cosmopolitan, and former Features Editor at Travel News Weekly, but, above all, a besotted mom to Leya and Jessica. Lisa blogs at whydoialwayscravecake.blogspot.com and lisa.witepski.blogspot.com, and tweets at @LisaWitepski.