4 Reasons Babies Throw Food on the Floor
Does your baby throw food off of their tray during meals? While not uncommon, it's still very frustrating! As a pediatric feeding therapist, when a parent comes to me with a question about an undesired behavior at mealtime, my first instinct is to wonder, "What is the function of the behavior?" Basically, I want to get to the bottom of WHY the behavior is happening in the first place. Here are some common follow-up questions I'd ask to get the the bottom of WHY your baby might be tossing food off of their tray.
1. Is your baby in a supported position?
If you've been following YBG for any amount of time, you know how important this is. If you're new here, check out the blog post I wrote on supportive seating. Basically, if your baby's body isn't supported enough in their highchair, they might start to get uncomfortable and wiggly. This can often include tossing food off the side of their tray.
What can you do? Do a position check! Are hips, sides and back supported? Are they in a 90-90-90 position?
2. How long has your baby been in his or her chair?
Could they be communicating with you that they are finished? A typical mealtime for an infant or toddler will last 30 minutes or less. So if your baby has been in their chair for 15-20 minutes and they begin to toss their food off their tray, they might just be saying, "I'm done."
What can you do? When you see food being tossed off the tray and suspect your baby is telling you they're finished, get face-to-face with them and model the sign and words, "All Done!" Then immediately get them out of their chair. This is a great way to build language skills to replace the food throwing behavior.
3. Is it developmentally appropriate for your baby's age?
That's right! This "behavior" can be totally developmentally appropriate. I find the peak of food throwing to happen around age one ("around" is the key word here - kids develop at different speeds). Your baby's brain is rapidly growing and they use their environment to explore and experiment. Your baby could just be tossing food off of their tray to explore things like object permanence and cause and effect.
What do I recommend? Do NOTHING, I'll explain why below...
4. Is the behavior being unintentionally reinforced?
Food throwing might start out as a developmentally appropriate phase, then turn into attention seeking behavior. ANY reaction can reinforce behavior for an infant or toddler. Positive or negative reactions, it doesn't really matter. For a child this age, reaction is their currency. Telling your child, "no," immediately picking up the food as they watch you, or even using your family dog as a built-in vacuum cleaner can all unintentionally reinforce the food tossing.
What can you do if you think this has turned into an attention seeking behavior? Attend to your child, but don't react to the throwing directly. Ignore the behavior, not the child. They're likely trying to tell you they want your undivided attention. You might say something like, "It seems like you want Mommy's attention. I'm right here with you." Bonus tip: Get yourself a Yeah Baby Goods Silicone Floor Mat for easy clean-up!
It might take some trial and error to figure out the reason behind the food tossing. Be patient with your baby. Be patient with yourself. This is likely just a short lived phase that will pass. You're doing a great job!