I know what you are thinking; stopping food tantrums from even starting in babies and toddlers is a big ask - perhaps you think I am a little or largely ambitious or even delusional.
Well I am here to say that so far it has worked!
I have not seen a single tantrum, tear or crying spurt when it comes to food. I can eat and drink in front of my son with zero sharing. I can honestly say that he is content when I eat and drink.
What he does do is let me know when he is hungry or thirsty; his behaviour changes and as his mum I have learned to recognise the signs.
I have also created a schedule around his eating and sleeping patterns to help with his development and eating habits (Strategy 7). One thing we haven't mastered as yet is he is often impatient and quite vocal when I am getting his food ready (we are working on this). What he does not do is have Food Tantrums. Yay!
So follow my nine helpful Food Tantrum strategies below to help prevent or even stop Food Tantrums!
When I talk about a Food Tantrum, I am describing a child's negative behaviour when other people (especially mum and dad) are eating. They have a desire to have the food from another person or have the same food. Let's call it the "I want what you have" Food Tantrum. They proceed to yell, cry, whinge, stomp, flop onto mummy or daddy, or have a full body on the floor, arms and legs , tantrum to get what they want.
I am not talking about your baby communicating with you that they are hungry or thirsty. Depending on how hungry your baby is, how old they are and the time, will influence how you respond. Perhaps they can wait the 10 minutes until morning tea! After all, breakfast wasn't that long ago! On the other hand, if your child is getting regularly hungry early, you should consider whether they are getting enough food.
So your baby is about to start solids and you are beginning to think it would be nice if you could continue eating that delicious piece of cake without having to share a single bite with your little one?
Try the Eight Anti-food Tantrum Strategies at the beginning of starting solids with your baby to help avoid the following.
The Eight Anti-food Tantrum Strategies help to avoid:
Your baby or toddler always wanting to eat and drink what you have.
Your baby or toddler wanting to eat only from your plate.
A tantrum when you are out and about because a friend or someone else is eating.
Being obsessed with food.
Asking for food all the time.
Refusing to accept no.
Mum or dad hiding in the pantry.
Mum and dad feeling embarrassed.
Having Food Tantrums!
The Eight Anti-food Tantrum Strategies help to allow:
Mum and dad to eat the food they need for a healthy diet.
Mum and dad to enjoy their own treats.
Mum and dad to go out with their children knowing that they won't make a fuss over food.
Children to learn positive eating habits.
Children to learn when they are full and to stop eating.
Children to learn that they do not always get what they want and that this is okay and normal.
Food for Thought
Parents are creating Food Envy in their children. Food Envy continues into and is very evident in schooling! Food is a very powerful motivator in schools for many teachers because parents have allowed and encouraged this behaviour!
At times, some students are not motivated to learn or complete a task unless there is a reward like food involved. Instead of being intrinsically motivated, children are needing the extra incentive of food to get them to succeed.
Food envy is when a person or child stares at someone else's food and desperately wants what they have. They are jealous and think it to be unfair that they do not have the same thing.
Children begin to think they are hard done by or deserve what the other person has. This is NOT a healthy emotion nor attitude for children to have.
The best way to prevent food tantrums is from the beginning by using the following nine prevention strategies.
So if you are reading this and have a newborn or baby who hasn't started solids yet, then great!!! You can start from the beginning with nine strategies to help prevent food tantrums!
However, if your baby or toddler already has food tantrums, then you can also use these strategies for inspiration. Although it will be harder, it can be done!
Nine Strategies to Help You
Prevent Food Tantrums!
1. Don't feed your baby from your plate!
Many people suggest feeding your baby what you are eating to encourage them to feel safe eating solids.
I am going to carefully say - don't listen. Or at least think about the consequences and way up the cost you will pay later on. Unless your baby is refusing to eat or is not liking many solids, then I suggest not to feed your baby your food. This can be your breakfast, lunch or dinner, as well as snacks, treats or comfort food!
If your little one is refusing to eat or doesn't like many solids, there are other strategies you can try before sharing food from your plate.
By sharing from your plate they are learning that what you have is their food too. This is the beginning of food tantrums because what you have is theirs! Soon you will only eat without them there which reinforces their behaviour - food envy! Instead, you should eat in front of your baby regularly so they do not learn that they MUST have what you have.
Suggestion: Put their food in their own bowl – always. If you realise that they haven’t got enough and want to give them something from your plate, put it in their bowl first rather than putting it straight from your plate into their mouth.
2. Watch for when your baby is full.
Your baby needs to learn what their feeling full signs are. Their body naturally tells them when they are full. However, we can encourage babies to ignore these signs if we feed them too much regularly.
Suggestion: Don't give them just one more spoon when they are showing signs of not wanting anymore. There is a difference between not liking the food and feeling full. Watch your baby's behaviour to learn the difference and monitor how much food you have given.
Photo by rawpixel.com from Pexels
3. Eat your own snack food when they are full.
It is important to teach your little one that it is okay that mummy (or anyone else) eats at a different time to them. They don't have to eat at the same time as mummy nor eat what she has. Remember that they don't know what cake tastes like. What they don't know, can't hurt them!
Suggestion: Eat in front of your baby and don’t give them what you have. For example, have a time when you eat first just after they have had their milk feed (so they are full) and have your breakfast for example. Regularly have meals and food that you do not offer your baby nor offer something instead.
4. Don't rush
It is vital that you show your little one that when they are hungry adults don't have to rush to get the food to them. So don’t rush. Panicking and rushing will encourage the same behaviour in your child. They want something and they want it now!
Suggestion: When your little one is hungry and they see you getting their food ready they can start to use vocal sounds (sometimes unpleasant) to explain they are wanting the food you are preparing for them. Instead of rushing around trying to get them the food as soon as possible to stop the sound, take a deep breath and slow down. Talk to your baby and explain what you are doing. If they are really hungry give them a little snack (such as fruit) while they are waiting – but don’t rush to give them this snack. They are learning to communicate with you and by rushing to give them the food you are reinforcing the unpleasant behaviour. "When I cry and throw a tantrum, I get food," thinks baby.
By talking to your child and encouraging them to laugh and talk back while they are waiting for food, highlights to them that they need to wait and the food will come. Remember, your little one is very aware of your body language and behaviour.
Photo by Josh Willink from Pexels
5. Say no!
When you are out and about or just at home, you CAN say no! If someone offers your little one a treat, you can say no. If your baby shows signs of wanting what another child has, move them away, say no or distract them with something else. Not saying no in front of others, teaches your child that you will not say no in front of others! If you start giving your child something every time they want it, they will have tantrums.
Your little one will accept it as the norm if you start from the beginning! Although, every person is different so some babies may be more interested than others and it is your response that can either encourage or discourage this behaviour.
Photo by Oleg Magni from Pexels
6. Have a designated eating spot.
Having a designated spot to each teaches your child that there is a time and a place for eating! This can be more than one place but feed your baby in a few main places.
Suggestion: A designated eating spot should be in a highchair at your place or something similar. At your friends' places and restaurants, you could take a traveling chair (such as a bumbo). Basically, having a formal seat that restricts them from moving around. This shows them that there are times for eating and there are times that don’t involve eating (such as while playing or waiting in the line at the grocery store etc). As your baby gets older they will be able to control themselves and stay still in the one place - eliminating the need to be as formal.
I hope these six preventative strategies have been helpful and are practical enough for you to implement! I would love to hear how you are going in introducing your baby to solids! It is a very exciting time!
7. Have a meal and snack schedule.
Your little one may act like they want to be in charge, but she needs routine and structure. This encourages your baby to feel safe and secure because she knows she will be eating again soon. A food schedule also teaches your baby to understand the signs of her stomach feeling full and developing healthy eating habits.
Once you have a schedule in place and you know that they will be full between each feed, you will feel more confident in saying no at other times. If you have never had a routine, then I suggest implementing a routine on a day you are at home. This will make the transition easier for both you and your baby to follow.
8. Provide your baby with a healthy diet.
Understand what food you are feeding your baby. Find out what is important for your baby to eat and what to avoid to help them develop.
I personally used a book called Weaning by Annabel Karmel. This books is an easy and simple read.
Why you should purchase this book:
You can easily refer back to specific topics and information.
Annabel explains what to feed, when to feed and how to feed your baby
A clear guide to first foods.
Engaging pictures and tables.
Great recipes that babies love!
What foods to avoid and when.
Some information about allergies.
Truths and myths about weaning
And so much more!
Colourings, preservatives and sugars can all have an impact on a child's behaviour and addiction to certain foods. So it important to know what is in the food that you are buying and making. Is your baby having food tantrums because they are addicted to sugars and certain food? If so, then you need to consider changing their diet and making sure you know what food is going into their mouth.
9. Do not reward Food Tantrums with food!
While there are many factors involved, such as the age of your child or whether they are genuinely hungry, you should never give in and give your child food because they demand it.
Punishing a baby because they are hungry and therefore crying, is definitely not what I am saying! However, if you know your child has just eaten a full meal or snack and shouldn't be hungry, and is screaming because they want a biscuit you got out of the cupboard - then yes, don't give in!
Giving your child a biscuit because they want what you have, only encourages this greedy behaviour. While you may stop the food tantrum initially, you will have a lot more, more regularly.
Strong4Life wisely states, "When you bribe your child with treats for good behaviour, he’s quick to learn that tantrums earn a reward. He also learns to use food to cope with emotions and that he’s not capable of behaving without bribery".
Are Food Tantrums already happening?
Pulling your hair out because you can't just sit down and have a coffee and biscuit without a food tantrum?
Okay, so you have missed the boat - you were so excited about feeding your little one for the first time that you gave him food whenever he wanted and however. You fed your baby from your plate, fed them while they were playing, didn't say no even though you knew they were full and so on. There is still something you can do now to change your baby’s behaviour. There is still hope! YAY! But it will require some determination from you!
The best way to tackle this is to change things slowly. You have been doing things a certain way for a while and your baby is most likely comfortable with this pattern. Your baby feels safe by things being the same (babies love patterns and things they can expect). Rather than shocking your baby and creating a screaming match in the middle of the supermarket. You should introduce the change and the nine above strategies slowly. Introduce new changes that will be consistent and become the new pattern for your baby to rely upon.
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