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I've looked at other questions here about toddlers throwing food. But they seem to do it for the fun of watching things fall, or in the middle of their meal. So those answers do not apply to my situation.

My son only starts to throw food when he doesn't want to eat any more. This may be because he's full or he doesn't like the food. So taking food away is not "punishment" - that is what he expects from us. He doesn't even look at the food he's thrown down, so I can't imagine it's for the fun of throwing. (He did use to throw food for fun and attention a few months ago. He has mostly stopped doing that after we stopped paying him attention as soon as he starts throwing food. That tactic hasn't worked for throwing because he's done.)

We always ask him "do you want more?" before serving him again and he nods yes if he does. When he starts throwing we ask him "are you done?" and he nods yes. He can say the word "done", but just doesn't when he's done eating. He throws food instead. How can we help him communicate instead of throw?

P.S : We're mostly doing baby-led weaning (BLW), with occasional purees and mashed things that we feed him. He likes eating on his own better than being fed.

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The good and bad news is that this is something that will almost surely pass on it's own with time. Your son is using throwing food on the floor as a way to initiate the "are you done?" interaction with you. This may be because he believes it's the right or best way to communicate this (it's been working for him so far) or because even though he can say the word 'done', he hasn't reached the level of mastery where he can spontaneously make the entire connection 'I'm done eating > I can use the word done to express that > "Done!"' This is a skill that he will probably master soon. If waiting it out doesn't appeal, you can try to give him other ways to feel in control of his mealtime experience and communicate when he's finished.

What I did with my son was a two part approach. First, I designated an area of his highchair tray as 'the no thank you zone' - a place to put food he didn't want out of the way rather than on the floor. I just redirected him to placing food in the corner/cupholder area of his tray whenever I saw him throwing the disliked item. "You don't want that? Okay. Let's put it over here. No thank you!"

Second, I taught him to to say "all done" in American Sign Language, which gave him a gesture to replace the food throwing gesture to express the desire to end the meal. With lots of repetition, praise when he successfully signed his intent (even if he also threw food) and quick, enthusiastic response to his appropriate communication, he was able to change his habit from throwing to signing, then to signing while saying the words, then eventually dropped signing- At three he can say out loud just about anything he needs to, but sometimes uses his signs to emphasize his words!

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  • 2
    Why sign language? Is the gesture actually easier for toddlers to grasp than saying "done"? Jan 6 at 23:15
  • 8
    @Carcigenicate It gives them something else to do with their hands instead of using them to throw food. For many people, ‘retraining’ a habit is much easier when you can’t do both the old habit and the desired new habit at the same time, and this largely applies to small children just as well as it does to adults (and animals for that matter, it’s seems to be kind of wired in at a subconscious level). Jan 7 at 1:41
  • 5
    And yes, many children can learn simple signs before they can speak. Teaching infants signs is fairly common. Jan 7 at 4:58
  • 6
    @Carcigenicate. Talking is an insanely complicated physiological task, requiring incredibly subtle manipulations on multiple different muscle groups in precise coordination. We just don't notice because we learnt so long ago.
    – Brondahl
    Jan 7 at 10:34
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    Baby sign language is also the cutest form of actual communication you'll ever have with your child (citation needed).
    – Tanaya
    Jan 7 at 20:02
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Use the Kazdin method (Kazdin & Rotella, 2013):

  • Identify the desired (positive) behavior. In your case, it is eating without throwing food. That's what you are trying to increase.

  • Praise the desired behavior. From "Summer Review – Praise", by Alan E. Kazdin, http://alankazdin.com/summer-review-praise/ :

  • Be specific – tell the child exactly what they did that was good

  • Be close – go into the same room as the child when you are praising

  • Use touch – high-five, hug, kiss, pat on the back, or fist bump each time

  • Be immediate – praise right after the positive behavior

  • Be enthusiastic – sound super excited

Also, from Kazdin & Rotella, 2013, p. 159:

Use a high-quality reinforcer. This doesn’t mean expensive rewards. It means, for instance, that when praising young children you need to be effusive and enthusiastic. Mediocre, nonchalant, and low-key praise for young children just does not work as well. Quality is also influenced by combining verbal praise with a touch or positive physical gesture—rubbing the child’s shoulder, a high-five, a hug — whatever suits the parent-child style. The idea is to do something physical, approving, and affectionate.

  • Avoid punishment, which is less effective than praise.

  • If the positive behavior does not occur by itself, do simulations or games where the child is pretending to do something you want. In your case, do make-believe eating with imaginary food. Praise the child for the positive behavior, in your case, for pretending to finish eating without throwing food.

  • Praise small steps toward the desired behavior. You may not see the fully developed positive behavior right away, but you may see something better than usual (less throwing food), so praise this.

REFERENCES:

Book:
Alan E. Kazdin and Carlo Rotella, The Everyday Parenting Toolkit: The Kazdin Method for Easy, Step-by-Step, Lasting Change for You and Your Child. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013: https://www.amazon.com/Everyday-Parenting-Toolkit-Step-Step/dp/0547985541/

Videos:
Everyday Parenting - Praise Technique: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lK9L8r2U1XE
Kazdin method: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vp6khwx2zv0

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Throwing food is a normal stage of development for 1 year olds. If i remember correctly it has to do with the stage of development when they realize their actions have certain outcomes. my tip is not to make a fuss about it, because then they do it more often to get a reaction. Rest assured they won't do it forever.

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