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My child drops her food. Sometimes its an accident, but often she is rebelling or throwing a small fit. Should I give into her tantrums and give her alternative choices? I am considering not giving her food if she won't eat what is in front of her. But, I am afraid she may be too young to understand cause and effect.

What should I do?

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At 18 months, she is probably able to understand your intentions. Here's what we did with our toddler at the same age:

On alternate choices:

  • We have a house rule that we eat whatever is on the table. We will not go back into the kitchen to cook another meal. Usually, the meal would have at least one component that we know he loves, e.g. his favorite vegetable. If our son wanted something else instead, he was given the choice of the current meal, or nothing. We would of course follow up by giving him suitably healthy and satisfying snacks later, but the point here is that he cannot change the situation at the table -- the menu is not his choice. He never deliberately turned this against us, knowing that he'd get snacks later anyway.

On throwing food:

  • Never accept deliberate throwing. Immediately scold and/or discipline according to your regular rules. Clean up immediately, to demonstrate that thrown food is not desired.
  • If it was a small accident (dropping a large crumb) then don't scold, but do scold for bigger ones (shoving the whole plate on the floor). If you have hardwood floors, then leave accidentally dropped food until the meal ends unless they distract the child. If you have carpet, clean up as necessary.
  • Do not replace thrown or dropped food. If the child is still hungry after the initial serving, serve another helping of the same menu. If there's nothing left, we usually offer a small slice of bread with butter or cheese.

On tantrums:

  • Don't give in to her tantrums (at least not until you're close to losing your mind). Tantrums are a way for small children to relieve stress and unhappiness, and some parents accept this as a legitimate outlet, others don't. The only important thing about tantrums is to not give in -- teach that it is not an acceptable way to get what you want. The only (rare) exception I would make to this rule is to save my personal sanity.
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I agree, however, when food is thrown on the floor it is no longer any good, but I would not serve more. It is a sign that he/she is done. If the child is hungry later provide a healthy snack, but dinner/lunch is over when food goes on the floor intentionally. – morah hochman Dec 6 '11 at 14:46

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