How do I stop my child throwing food?
It’s exasperating, isn’t it? It makes a mess AND it means they’re not eating the food!
Let’s start by looking at why it happens in the first place. Food throwing usually begins as a developmental phase – your child drops or throws food on the floor just for their own experimentation. This phase will soon fizzle out naturally – unless you react in a way that gives them a reason to carry on! So…
❌ Don’t tell them off
“Don’t do that!… Stop it!… That’s naughty.” Saying this to your child won’t work (unless you’re a very scary parent – and disciplining your child through fear is never a good idea!). In fact, telling them off will have the opposite effect because it gives your child:
❌ Don’t take their food away
If you take their food away as a punishment, you’ve also taken away their opportunity to eat it – and it’s important not to create an unhappy, punitive atmosphere around food and mealtimes. Plus this can so easily end up in a to-and-fro game, with them throwing their food every time you give it back and you having to take it away again. There’s absolutely loads of attention and power in this for them!
❌ Don’t half-joke about it
“You cheeky monkey!” you might say in a light-hearted voice, “You mustn’t do that!” – and then smile, laugh or do a mock-angry face when they do it again. This simply rewards them for doing it. Your child will revel in this seemingly-positive attention!
SO WHAT SHOULD YOU DO INSTEAD?
✅ Completely and utterly ignore it – every single time!
I don’t mean sometimes ignore it, or mostly ignore it, or ignore it 9 days in a row and and then tell them off on the 10th day. This inconsistency can actually make it worse because your child thinks “Aha – I CAN still get a reaction for throwing food – I just need to push harder for it and do it MORE!” But if you ignore it 100% every single time, it WILL fizzle out. If there’s zero attention or power to be had, what’s the point? Act as if you don’t mind – or like you haven’t even noticed.
✅ Don’t even clear the food up until after they’re out the room!
If they see you picking it up, this can give them a feeling of power in itself. Of course, if they’ve thrown their whole meal on the floor, you’ll have to give it back to them or they’ll have no opportunity to eat – but don’t do it immediately. Leave it a minute and then pick it up and give it back to them in a very casual manner, like it really hasn’t bothered you. And say nothing! (Meanwhile, a wipeable mat or old piece of carpet underneath them to minimize the damage can ease the stress of the mess.)
✅ Give them bucketfuls of positive attention at the table
This is so important – not just to stop the food throwing, but to help in the fight against fussy eating too. If mealtime is a happy, chatty, engaging 20-30 minutes when lots of positive attention is available from you, they won’t need to seek out attention through food throwing – or any other undesirable behaviours!
You can get lots more techniques, tactics, tips and tricks to improve your child’s overall behaviour in Getting the Little Blighters to Behave.