My Child Throws Everything!! It's Frustrating

My Child Throws Everything!! It's Frustrating

Calling all superhero parents of picky eaters and sensory feeders! Are you ready to tackle the mystery of food throwing with a splash of fun and a dash of understanding? Let's dive in and uncover the secrets behind this challenging behavior.

Sensory Reasons

  • Visual Needs: Some of our young adventurers find joy in watching objects descend, even their meals! These children delight in tossing various items, from balls to toys... and yes, even food! Let's channel this enthusiasm by offering alternative visual stimuli or engaging activities to satisfy their senses without turning mealtime into a messy flinging affair. When you notice these little ones tossing food, consistently guide them toward an approved bouncing toy or redirect their attention to sensory aids like the Sensory Visual Tubes. Encourage them to keep food on the table and commend their use of sensory tools instead of tossing food onto the floor!
  • Proprioceptive and vestibular (Movement) Needs: For some individuals, tossing food provides the physical activity their bodies crave. This is particularly true for toddlers or children confined to a chair, such as a high chair, where they lack mobility. For them, releasing energy might manifest as food throwing. In such instances, it might be beneficial to transition your toddler to a booster seat or an adjustable chair that ensures comfort regardless of age. While this adjustment may result in increased movement and difficulty sitting still, if it curbs food throwing, it could indicate that the behavior stemmed from pent-up energy finding an outlet through throwing.
  • Overall hypersensitivities to new foods: Some children find it challenging to tolerate unfamiliar foods on their plates. Parents often share that their child may even gag at the mere sight of certain foods. Understandably, these children may resort to throwing food on the floor as a way to distance themselves from the unwanted items. It's important to acknowledge your child's discomfort and communicate that you've noticed their struggles with new or specific foods. While tossing food is not acceptable behavior, let's work together to find a solution that respects their feelings. Introducing the concept of a "no thank you" plate can be immensely helpful in this situation. Teach your child that the "no thank you" plate is a designated spot where they can politely place unwanted or "not ready yet" foods without the need to toss them. This simple adjustment can make a significant difference in mealtime dynamics.

A way to Communicate 

For children who are still developing verbal communication skills, gestures can be incredibly powerful. If you observe a child struggling to express themselves and resorting to throwing food at the end of a meal, introducing simple sign language, such as the "all done" hand gesture, or using visual cues like an "all done" pictogram can provide them with a means of communication without resorting to food throwing. It's important to model and encourage these alternative forms of expression, showing them that there are more appropriate ways to communicate their needs and feelings than throwing food on the ground. This empowers them to express themselves effectively while fostering positive mealtime behaviors.

A Chance to Play With Food

For certain children, mealtime presents a chance to engage in playful exploration, including playing with food. While we advocate for food play as a means of introducing new textures and foods, it's crucial to emphasize that food play should occur outside of mealtimes. While messy play is encouraged, it's equally important to establish boundaries and guidelines, even within this context. One effective rule could be that food must remain on the table and should not be thrown on the ground. Here are some tips to minimize the desire for food play:

  • Ensure a consistent mealtime and snacktime schedule: Evaluate whether children are genuinely hungry during meal times. Sometimes, children may snack frequently throughout the day, diminishing their appetite during meals. Establishing a structured routine for meals and snacks can help ensure that children are hungry when it's time to eat, reducing the likelihood of food play or throwing.
  • Ensure appropriate mealtime duration based on age and sensory needs: Tailor your expectations of your child's sitting and eating endurance to their age. As a guideline (though this may vary for children with sensory seeking tendencies), anticipate a sitting endurance of 2-5 minutes per year of age. Therefore, if your child is 5 years old, aim for meal times to last around 10 minutes. Beyond this duration, your child may become restless or unable to remain seated, potentially leading to behaviors like food throwing. For our sensory seekers who might not be able to sit for longer than 30 seconds, make sure to honor their sitting tolerance, and you can work on sitting endurance! Make sure to stay tuned to new blogs where we will address this very real concern for many of our parents of sensory kids.
  • Ensure appropriate portion sizes: Recognize that children do not require the same amount of food as adults, and adjust portion sizes accordingly. Avoid overloading their plates with too much food, as this may lead to uneaten food and potential food play. Providing smaller portions increases the likelihood of food being consumed rather than discarded. Additionally, if your child is still hungry, you can always offer them a second helping. This approach encourages mindful eating and reduces the likelihood of food ending up on the floor.

Seeking Connections

All individuals, regardless of age, require meaningful connections with their loved ones. Some children naturally seek out more social interaction than others, and it's crucial to fulfill their need for connection throughout the day. For our sensory children, who may experience more negative social interactions with peers and adults throughout the day (ex. such as being labeled as naughty for their inability to sit still), it becomes even more vital to provide positive interactions and connection with their safe people – you! Children may resort to throwing food on the floor as a means of seeking attention or connection from their parents, even if it results in negative reinforcement. Did you know that for children, both positive and negative reinforcements can have a similar impact until around the age of three. Yes! Punishing and yelling at your child might be perceived as “positive” for your child under the age of three! Therefore, prioritizing positive interactions and connections with caregivers can significantly influence a child's behavior and emotional well-being.

  • Bonding Time: Be mindful of how you fill your child’s "connection cup." Are you fully engaged and present with them? Do you take time to play, interact, and give them your undivided attention? If you suspect that your child is seeking connection through food throwing, prioritize bonding moments before mealtime. Engage in play and positive interactions with your child to meet their need for connection. For these children, eating together as a family and cultivating a positive mealtime environment are essential. By fostering a supportive atmosphere, your child can fulfill their need for connection without resorting to food throwing.
  • Balancing Reactions: Teaching your child that throwing food is not the best way to get connection is indeed crucial. One effective approach is to focus on positive reinforcement for desired behaviors while minimizing reactions to food throwing. By providing attention and connection for positive actions and calmly redirecting or ignoring food throwing, parents can encourage more constructive ways of seeking connection. For instance, encouraging the child to express their need for connection through verbal communication ("Can I have a hug? Can I talk to you? I am feeling lonely") or establishing a secret language for signaling the need for connection can be helpful alternatives. On the other hand, if your child does throw food, really try to not give to giving them any attention. By consistently reinforcing positive behaviors and offering alternative means of connection, parents can guide their child toward healthier ways of seeking attention and connection.

 By understanding the underlying reasons for food throwing in sensory feeders and implementing targeted sensory solutions, communication strategies, a strict meal and snack routine, and fostering positive connections, parents can help their children develop healthier eating habits while also addressing their sensory needs.

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