Does your baby throw food off of their tray during meals? This is not uncommon, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating!!
As a pediatric feeding therapist, when a parent comes to me with a question about an undesired behavior at mealtime, my first instinct is to wonder, “what is the function of the behavior?”. Basically, I want to get to the bottom of WHY the behavior is happening in the first place! Here are some common follow up questions I’d be asking to get the the bottom of WHY your baby might be tossing food off of their tray:
Is your baby in a supported position? If you’ve been following me for any amount of time, you’ll know how important this is. If you’re new here, check out the blog I did on supportive seating here. Basically, if your baby’s body isn’t supported enough in their high chair, they might start to struggle to pay attention, or they might start to get wiggly. This can often include tossing food off the side of their tray. What can you do? Do a position check! Are hips, sides and back supported? Are they in a 90-90-90 position?
How long has your baby been in their chair? Could they be communicating with you that they are finished? A typical mealtime for an infant or toddler will last 30 minutes or less. So if your baby has been in their chair for 15-20 minutes and they begin to toss their food off their tray, they might just be saying “I’m done”. What can you do? When you begin to see food being tossed off the tray, and you suspect your baby is telling you they’re finished, get face to face with them and model the sign and words, “All Done!”. Then, immediately get them out of their chair. This is a great way to build language skills to replace the food throwing behavior.
Is it developmentally appropriate for your baby’s age? Thats right! This “behavior” can be totally developmentally appropriate. I find the peak of food throwing to happen around age one (around is the key word here-kids develop at different speeds). Your baby’s brain is rapidly growing and they use their environment to explore and experiment. Your baby could just be tossing food off of their tray to explore things like object permanence and cause and effect. What do I recommend? DO NOTHING!!! I’ll explain why below…
Is the behavior being unintentionally reinforced? Food throwing might start out as a developmentally appropriate phase, and then turn into attention seeking behavior. ANY reaction can reinforce behavior for an infant or toddler. Positive reactions or negative reactions, it doesn’t really matter. For a child this age, ANY reaction is their currency. Telling your child, “no”, immediately picking up the food as they watch you, or even using your family dog as a built in vacuum cleaner can all unintentionally reinforce the food tossing. So, what can you do if you think this has turned into an attention seeking behavior? Attend to your child, but do not focus on the throwing! Ignore the behavior, not the child. They’re likely trying to tell you they want your undivided attention. Don’t react to the throwing directly! You might say something like, “it seems like you want Mommy’s attention. I’m right here with you!” Don’t pick up the food while they’re watching, put the dog outside or in another room. Bonus tip-get yourself a Yeah Baby Goods Silicone High Chair Mat for easy clean up!
It might take some trial and error to figure out the reason behind the food tossing. Be patient with your baby. Be patient with yourself. This is likely just a short lived phase that will pass. You’re doing a great job!!