During discussions with friends about our children (2 years and 16 months old) I discovered that some parents give their children "normal" (and thus breakable) plates and glasses. The reason is because in this way they learn that dropping them to the ground is bad (since they break).

I know also that some parents simply do not return objects if their children drop them down.

In my family, generally we use plastic plates and we return everything, trying to explain that is not good to knock these objects off the table.

I have some doubts regarding these three different approaches. I know that children have to respect some rules (and not dropping items off the table is one of these), but sometime they have to test their parents' reactions (both of them have to agree and to be consistent).

So on the one hand you have an efficient method in which the child plays a small role; on the other you have a less efficient method, but that constitutes many "tests".

There are some differences between what is the best and what we really do, and so the two questions are:

  1. What is the best method in your opinion (also, do you have an alternative)?
  2. What do you do usually?

Thank you!

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    FWIW we also use plastic tableware for the kids because we don't want our nice tableware to be broken. Some things are expensive/impossible to replace. Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 15:18

4 Answers 4


Meal times involve a bunch of different approaches. Some people use baby led weaning and give the child real food; others will give a carefuly graduated set of foods. Some people give small portions on plates, with the child wearing a bib and having hands and face wiped after every spoonful and others will be alllowed to grab handfuls of food and smush it around.

So the answer depends on the child and the parents. Some children may find the sudden noise of smashing plates to be distressing. Others might enjoy it. Be aware that dropping items is a developmental milestone so they're not doing it for attention or to be naughty - it is a part of growing up.

Following items out of sight - http://www.babyzone.com/baby/baby-week-by-week/week-28-baby_65866

Why do babies drop stuff? - http://www.babyzone.com/baby/why-babies-drop-stuff_224786

Seeing the above two links makes me think that not returning items is a sub-optimal approach. But I understand the frustration with this dropping behaviour and I inderstand the desire to avoid turning it into a game.

About breakable vs not breakable: I don't have the time nor patience to clean broken crockery (ensuring I have found all splinters to avoid injuries) and then cleaning all the food and then getting and preparing more food. So non breaking items are good and can be attractive, and a lot of food for replacement of spillage is handy too.

  • You may not want to clean up broken crockery, I don't want to clean up spaghetti. I'll play fetch with something less messy!
    – Marc
    Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 19:21
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    @DanBeale: thanks for your complete answer. I'm not complete sure that non returning items is the best thing to do. In this way the choice of non dropping objects is not given by an awareness of the child (and I think this would be the optimal). On the other side, from the children point-of-view, decide between "drop the object" or "don't use it any more" is more complex. Commented Feb 10, 2014 at 9:59

One thing that works well for us is explaining the correct purpose and usage of, well, everything. Rather than saying, "No, that's not a toy!" or "No, don't drop the plate on the floor!", explain that a plate is for eating food of, that a spoon is for scooping food into your mouth, and so forth. Then you can say that the spoon is not for hitting the place with and so forth.

The one time when our daughter did actually break one of the plates was when she dropped a glass onto it, after balancing it on her face to get the last drops out and then letting go. The broken plate was a clear indicator that something had gone wrong, so I didn't need to yell at her, though I did express disapproval. I explained to her (briefly) what she should have done. She then re-enacted the whole scenario doing the correct thing, namely holding the glass while she got the last drops out of it. It was amazing to see.

The way I see it, she now knows what she is supposed to do, and feels happier now that she has obtained a small piece of information about how to navigate through the otherwise uncertain world.

For reference, our daughter is nearly 2. The technique of explaining the proper purpose of things has been working (with quite some success) since she was 18 months old.

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    Rather than saying "no, that's not ..." I prefer to say "yes! You are using that cup so well! They can be tricky to lift when they're full but it is nice to see you carefully holding it. And you haven't spilled a drop!" - relentless positivity.
    – DanBeale
    Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 15:38

We found returning things to be like bouncing a ball to the kids, so we didn't do that.

My youngest used a sweep of the arm across the high chair tray to signal that she was done with her meal, so we got pretty good at anticipating it, making sure there wasn't much left to fly towards the end of the meal.

Once the child can talk, however, you can address it like you would hitting ... consistently and instantly removing her to a place of boredom worked for us.


We used plastic cups, plates, etc. until our kiddos were old enough not to drop them on purpose (testing). When they were in that phase and they dropped something we would say, "uh oh, that is sad. We keep our things on the table." Return it once and if they did it again, say "looks like you are all done". Then we would clear their spot, get them cleaned up and get them down. It didn't take long for them to decide that wasn't a good idea.

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