Q: Nicole please help with my fussy eater two year old. She only wants to eat custard and crackers. She throws her bowl of ceral on the floor when offered, and does the same with her dinner dishes. Apparently she eats all her food in her lunchbox at daycare (she attends three days a week). How do I encourage her to eat other foods at home?
Answer - Fussy two years olds are quite common. The key to solving this problem for you is actually what happens after your daughter throws her bowls on the floor? My recommendation is to not pick it up while she is looking as you do not want her to watch you clean it up. This becomes a very powerful position for her, you do not want her to see this as a game which is what I suspect is happening at this point from her point of view. To her this is worthwhile, to you it is not.
At the next meal tell her what you expect, I am a great believer in how much children do understand and how much we underestimate their intelligence – tell her that the bowl stays on the highchair, even a placemat with an outline of her bowl and drink cup is a good idea. That when she is finished to say so and give her bowl to you. Demonstrate so she knows how. The next time she does throw her bowl, my recommendation is do not talk to her, or look at her. Try not to sigh with exasperation or any other emotion. Simply turn your back and walk away. She will by now know that this is unacceptable as she attends daycare and does not do the same behaviour there. Of course she will probably protest at this stage as this is not the reaction she is used to from you. Please ignore this as best you can.
If you feel it is unsafe for her in her highchair then simply remove her from the highchair, again without eye contact and no talking, minimize your touch as much as you can and simply place her on the floor. Continue to become absorbed in another task in the kitchen. When she is quiet and ready to try again, go through the routine the same as before. This time if she throws her plate again simply say ‘ morning tea is finished’. And it is. This may seem harsh to some, however you must remember that toddlers eat about 6 times a day and at the next meal she will be hungry and will eat. You want her to come to the next meal hungry.
At the next meal praise any behaviour that involves eating, keeping her bowl on her table and handing it to you when she is finished. With this strategy there is no room for second offers when she has thrown her food, or second choices by this I mean offering her the custard and crackers because you are worried about her not eating. It is not the custard and crackers that is the issue with your daughter but I am refusing to eat and will throw this food because I demand something else. The compliance with eating at daycare shows this. Basically to her it is a game with you. I’m sure it isn’t a game to you and thus give the strategy I have outlined a go, it will not take long at all to solve this problem.
Another important point to note is that you can do away with the bowl or plate all together, and go back to finger food and just put one piece on her highchair at a time so that if she decides to throw it she is only throwing one piece. Also once again praise her for eating and praise her for keeping her food on her table. Then later progress to a plate.