Always aim for the chest so you can get maximum splatter, yet minimal harm.
Oh wait, not that kid of tip…how about a tip for when your child is the one throwing food? Yeah, that’s probably what you were hoping for. So your child is one, two, three years old? And has entered a phase in which is is fun and exciting to throw the food from her plate instead of eating it politely?
The #1 tip for this problem is: Don’t serve your child food to throw.
Serve her food to eat only. This means giving her no more food than she can eat in one bite.
If she has a plate full of food, there’s one bite for eating and tons of bites for throwing and playing with while she’s chewing.
Even if you try to narrow that opportunity down by portioning out three bites of food at a time, that still gives her one bite to eat and two bites for throwing while she’s chewing.
Take that opportunity all the way down to zero by serving her one bite of food at a time. That’s one bite for eating and…well, that’s it. You’re eliminating the chance of her throwing her food.
When you get to the point at which you’re serving her another bite of food and she throws it instead of eats it, that’s your cue that she’s all done. You can say, “Oh, you must be all done eating!” Wipe her hands and excuse her to play.
But, you ask, what if she’s still hungry?
She would have eaten the food in front of her.
What if she gets hungry in just a short while because she didn’t eat her meal?
Yes, she may be hungry soon. She can either wait until the regularly planned snack time (at which she is offered the regularly sized snack to eat) or she can wait until the next meal. She’ll make it. And she’ll be hungry and ready to eat, not throw.
The food-throwing phase is just that: a phase. It can be a difficult one because of the careful monitoring of food at each meal and the potential for hunger-induced behavior between meals. But it’s not cause for shaming or scolding a child for what is developmentally normal behavior, nor repeatedly issuing the same instructions of, “Don’t throw food,” nor catering to your child’s pleas for snacks because she literally threw her food away mealtime.
Your child is simply very, very young and driven by sensory experiences. She lacks the neural connections in her brain to control the impulse to play with her food. She will soon develop this and mealtimes will go smoothly. To help with this need for sensory stimulation during this age, you can also plan playtime activities that offer the same kinds of sensations as playing with food. Things such as shaving cream or whipped cream tubs, rice or bean bins, finger painting, or body art offer toddlers the same kinds of tactile sensory experiences without the expectation of appropriate table manners. This free play will help satisfy those sensory needs while she outgrows the instinct to throw food.
(But if you are ever in a food throwing situation yourself, try getting down low and aiming up for a great splatter to the neck and face. And use something light, like whipped cream. Way fun.)
There is frequent roughhousing around here. Not involving me…it’s not really my cup of tea…but my husband and our kids. John is rarely averse to having a good tumble on the floor with kids tackling him from all sides, rolling over and over each other, fits of giggles all around. Our kids love it, and I happen to think it’s great for them. I see the joy and happiness on my kids’ faces and hear their squeals of laughter every time they realize Dad is coming to “get them!”
Many parents aren’t completely comfortable with roughhousing, as it can be hard to distinguish between what’s playful and what’s aggressive. One mom emailed me very upset over something she read about roughhousing, wondering why anyone would endorse such an aggressive activity for children. She thought this was the kind of thing that promotes violence in children.
It can be difficult to find the line between roughhousing (which is indeed playful) and aggression (which is hurtful). A lot of the difference lies in a child’s intent behind his actions. If a child experiences anger and frustration and lacks a proper outlet for expression, this will drive roughhousing and make it more hurtful than playful. But if a child has parents who regularly listen to his feelings, accept them wholly, allow him to cry, feel angry, etc. (thus providing that outlet), those emotions won’t manifest as aggression. It’s that difference in the drive behind the physical play that is key.
And if kids have parents who play and roughhouse with them, they will learn appropriate boundaries for physical play and be much more empathic and understanding of their playmates.
True, it is possible for kids to be raging and venting under the guise of roughhousing. While we certainly don’t want that for our kids, avoiding roughhousing altogether is not the answer. Doing so will not prevent violence in our culture. Rather, raising children in secure relationships with plenty of acceptance, empathy and closeness will. This is what allows kids to process emotions in a healthy way and not move to aggression because they’re feeling “stuck” with their feelings.
Some kids are naturally very prone to very physical play while others are not. This is why, if children are inclined to roughhouse, it is so important for parents to be strong participants in their children’s play and guide them in learning the “how-tos” and boundaries of roughhousing without teaching violence. Roughhousing together can actually be one possible way of strengthening that relationship between parents and children.
There are also many benefits to other types of physical play like sports and other physical childhood games. So if roughhousing doesn’t sit well with you, don’t worry that it’s something you have to do. There are other opportunities for kids to get some of the same benefits roughhousing yields, such as motor skills, emotional intelligence, fairness, and self control. For many families though, including ours, roughhousing does happen to be a great way to connect.
It turns out I need not have worried what our kids were learning when they grew old enough to get rough-and-tumble with John. Not aggression….just play. And that Dad’s body slams are a sign of love.
I remember once a long time ago–I was quite small–I was in the car with my family. I sat in the backseat with my brother, saying something to my parents who were up front, and they told me to stop whining.
I don’t remember what I was unhappy about right then, but I do remember this: I was baffled. I didn’t know what they meant. I didn’t notice there was anything different about my voice; I thought I was just telling them something.
I remember going quiet after that, replaying my words in my head and trying figure out what ‘whining’ was. You see, I had heard of whining before. I just didn’t know how to define it and how to know if I was doing it.
I never said anything about it. I just kept the question with me over the years and tried to solidify my own answer. What is whining? It seems like such an unusual situation…but as a kid, I never felt confident of the definition of this word!
Then I had kids of my own. Then I knew for sure. I never did have anyone to explain it to me, but when you’re on the receiving end of whining, you know.
The thing is, I still remember that uncertain feleing I had…to be told you’re whining, but not understand what it is you’re doing that’s whining. Is it different than complaining? Venting? Sharing unpleasant feelings? I wanted to make sure my kids didn’t go through the confusion I did. I wanted to define it for them. Clear things up a bit. I wanted to get everyone on the same page so we all know what we’re talking about.
Once, when JJ was about 3 and Elia was 4, we started the Whining Game. It went like this:
Me: Hey you guys, you know how sometimes you might hear me talk about whining? Or that someone is whining?
Me: Do you know what that means? Do you know what whining is?
Elia: Um…it’s kind of like you’re mad?
Me: Yeah…or frustrated, or sad, or angry, or all of them at the same time.
Me: And sometimes when you feel like that, you kind of feel like crying?
Me: And sometimes you cry but sometimes you’re still trying to talk, too. So the words come out kind of half-and-half.
Elia: Yeah, half crying and half talking at the same time.
Me: Yeah like this [over-the-top nasally whiny voice]: MOOOOOOOM, I DONT WANNA DO WHAT YOU WANT ME TO DOOOOOO…I WANNA DO WHAT I WANNA DOOOOO! [giggles] Hey about you do one.
Elia: [smiling] I WANT CAAAAANDYYYYY!
JJ: [giggling] NOOOOOO!
Me: ….BUT I DON’T WAAAANT TOOOO! I JUST WANNA…Oh my gosh I can’t do it anymore. I’m annoying myself.
Them: Ahhhhha hahaha! Mom! [Hysterical laughter.]
Me: You win.
I’ve heard parents talk about their kids’ whiny stages, annoyed that everything that comes out of their mouths is said with a whine. And, remembering my 5-year-old self in the backseat of my parents’ car, my first thought is always, “Maybe they don’t know what it is.”
To help kids through whiny stages, I recommend that all parents and kids get on the same page about what whining is and what it sounds like to others, definitely in a fun way. Play the Whining Game. Be super annoying about it. And funny…aways be funny.
Then, when everyone’s clear, it’s easy to provide an alternative tone when you’re in the moment. When whining happens, you can say something like, “OK, I can hear in your voice that this bothers you. You know the whiney game we played? I can hear that voice in your words right now. So I know you’re upset. Try saying it this way instead: ‘Mom? I’m having a hard time with this. Will you help me?’”
It does take time to move out of a whiny stage. But it’s easier with some understanding. It’s easier to do things differently when you understand the differences.
“Hey guys, I know a fun game you can play while you’re going potty! But you have to be a boy and you have to pee standing up….So, sorry. You guys can’t play.” ~JJ, age 5