Imagine for a moment how rewarding it must feel to emerge from being a totally helpless infant into a baby with enough control to pick up an object, move it to the edge of a high-chair tray, and release it over the side. Pure power in action! No wonder a baby usually does this with a look of satisfaction.
However, food on the floor does not make a baby’s mom or dad happy. Throwing food is not a habit any parent hopes to perpetuate. The question becomes how to encourage the new skills of grasping and releasing while also establishing behaviors that will not increase the workload of new parents.
Begin by replacing “You are being a bad girl when you throw food on the floor” with “If you are finished eating, please leave the food on your tray. Food does not belong on the floor.” If a baby continues to throw food over the edge of the tray, remove the tray or dish as you say, “I can tell you are finished.”
Since no parent wants a baby to feel hungry, return the food if she clearly wants to continue eating. Food on the floor again? Repeat: “It looks like you are finished eating.” You are not losing if you need to repeat this process. Each statement and action will help connect meaning with your words. The more succinct and consistent you can be with what you say, the more you help her connect the sounds with understanding.
In addition, provide one or two small toys that are appropriate for throwing, such as rubber balls or soft objects that will not hurt parents or damage the floor. Teething instruments can also satisfy a baby’s need to grasp and release, as well as reduce your frustration. A variety of teething toys are available.
If you provide a few balls or toys, you can say, “These toys are for throwing. Food stays on your plate (or the tray).” Again, remain succinct and consistent. Unless you recall that it is your job to connect meaning to words, you may be tempted to decide your baby is deliberately disobeying. Remember that language is new to her. Repetition and patience will eventually come together in ways that work for you and for your baby.