It’s time for dinner, you put a plate of food on the high chair’s tray, you say that it’s time to eat and go to lift the baby into the chair and… you encounter firm resistance. A baby who isn’t ready to eat will rage and resist, shout “no”, and feel frustrated – and so will you. What should you do?
Noga Hila Mutana, parent and family instructor and NLP facilitator, explained that the first and basic thing you need to do is to understand that toddlers have their own wishes. They’ll always be a part of you but the separation process begins to manifest itself around the age of one.
In fact, as soon as babies learn to stand they mark a new territory around themselves which is called the I stance. They begin to see things differently and their spatial perception changes as they find their place next to their surroundings.
At the same time, they start to express wishes which sometimes conflict with your demands so a negative reaction as protest is normal.
Accept and contain the feelings
After you understand the reason for a baby’s behavior, take a deep breath. When toddlers are in the middle of a game and you interrupt with dinner, they’ll cry. That’s okay, they can feel frustrated.
Allow them to cry and be angry and take out the “why?” from the discourse. This will only increase your frustration, and it’s not helpful for the toddler who needs calmness and patience.
Talk to young kids
Talk to your toddler. Yes, they understand, not all the words, but the messages conveyed in your tone, look, and body language and will even recognize the tone that you spoke in. Look at toddlers with soft, loving, and understanding eyes, and talk calmly: “I see you don’t want to sit in the high chair, I get it, it can really be no fun sometimes.”
After you understand your toddler and speak in a calm voice, say that “it’s important to eat,” “babies need to grow,” and “it’s important to eat while sitting” so that they’ll sit calmly and eat.
Think of creative solutions
That didn’t help? Think of another way. Maybe they need a hug? Offer an option that you can stick with, that’s convenient for you as well and gives a choice between two good options.
For example, if your toddler doesn’t want to sit in a high chair, use a low children’s chair, or in an adult’s chair if you can reinforce with pillows or straps and depending on the age, of course.
Other creative solutions are perhaps to dance on the way to the chair, sing or make faces or put a doll that they like next to them with its own plate, spoon and cup. Sometimes the feeling that a doll is eating with you provides companionship and encouragement.
Have toddlers choose food and they’ll eat what they think they cooked. The idea is to be creative, to see what works and to continue with it and occasionally diversify. This does not mean you’ll have to constantly manipulate but these tips might be helpful.
Check practical matters
The high chair might no longer be comfortable and you might need to switch chairs. The ceiling light may feel too strong or perhaps sunlight streaming in is too bright. Maybe a toddler wants a toy or game nearby, the bib is bothersome or they have a full diaper. Check before you serve food.
Prepare the baby in advance
If a toddler is active and likes to crawl or run around, it’s hard to stop and take time to eat. Give them a heads-up. How? Since toddlers don’t understand time concepts like hours say, “in a little while” or “in a few minutes we’ll stop playing the game and go eat.”
Develop rituals to create certainty for the next thing that’s going to happen and not to land by surprise; with rituals, toddlers will learn that when you say certain things that it’s almost mealtime.
In conclusion, power struggles with babies around the age of one year are natural. They remind you that your child is a separate being, and you should listen to what they want. Navigate the schedule but also allow choices that will encourage independence and create cooperation and internal motivation.
This happens when you’re in an inclusive, understanding dialogue without drama or crying, whether sitting in the stroller or in the high chair. When you develop balance this enables kids to feel calm. Mealtime struggles encourage you to listen and talk with your toddler.
This article was written in partnership with the JAMA parenting app.