As you excitedly welcome your toddler’s increased mobility and observe their delightful interactions with the world around them, you will quickly discover that there is much to learn. Toddler hood may feel like a perpetual balancing act. Much attention will be given to setting safe boundaries for exploration while promoting your toddler’s developing independence. All of this can seem overwhelming. Your pediatrician can serve as a reliable resource to help you establish a solid foundation for navigating your voyage through the toddler years.
Two common frustrations parents experience during this stage are, dealing with the picky eater and handling tantrums.
Toddlers are known for their challenging feeding behaviors. Picky eating creates tremendous worry for parents. The go-to solutions of bribery and constant snacking is the exact opposite of what should be done. Just remember it is important to keep yourself centered, knowing that these eating habits are completely normal.
A good start to addressing the picky eater is to create well-structured mealtimes and offer a healthy variety of foods. A simple shift in how the mealtime experience is viewed can make a big difference. Rather than becoming fixated on whether your child cleans their plate, focus on placing your child in an environment free from distractions (such as the television) and offering a selection of nutritious foods.
Your job as a “mealtime partner” is to decide which foods are offered, and when. Your child’s job is to choose how much they should eat. Mealtime should be seen as another opportunity for your toddler to learn. They will experience different textures, new tastes, and an array of colors. How exciting! At times they will eagerly participate in the experience, and at other times, reject it altogether. It may take your toddler up to 10 times to accept a certain food type. Additionally, they sometimes fall in love with a particular food only to turn around and have great disdain for it a week or two later.
Tactics such as bribes and threats place a tremendous strain on mealtime. In fact, studies have shown that forced eating prevents your child from recognizing when they are naturally satisfied. This places them at a greater risk for developing childhood obesity. Additionally, compensating for less food intake during a particular meal by offering unhealthy snacks or sugary drinks, will create a pattern of poor eating habits.
To help make mealtime a more enriching and fun experience check out the links below for tips on how to effectively manage the picky eating experience.
Tips for Parents of Picky Eaters
A note of safety:
While building your toddler’s menu, be mindful to avoid choking hazards. Under the age of 4 years old, the following foods should not be offered whole:
Chunks of peanut butter
Tantrums – massive emotional meltdowns that’ll leave you wondering, what happened to my adorable child? As frustrating and inconvenient as tantrums may be, they are completely normal for children between the ages of 1 to 3 years old.
Developmentally, it makes perfect sense. At this stage, your toddler’s thinking skills continue to grow significantly while their language skills are trying to catch up. This limits their ability to express desires and feelings. Yet, they expect you to understand everything they want! Tantrums can manifest in the form of screaming or becoming physical.
The best defense for coping with tantrums is, 1) recognize that this is an alternate way for your child to communicate with you about something that makes him/her feel unhappy and 2) try not to lose your temper. There are a few techniques that can be used to manage tantrums. Some techniques may include ignoring the undesired behavior. Even so, there are certain things that should never be dismissed. This includes allowing your toddler to physically hurt others (for example, kicking or biting) or when a tantrum places your child in a dangerous situation.
Hopefully, you find at least a few of the following recommendations useful while handling your toddler’s tantrums.
Redirect or Distract: Toddlers have short attention spans so redirecting can be an effective way of helping your child to settle their feelings of upset. This can be achieved by changing the environment, offering a toy of interest, or switching gears altogether with a new activity.
Ignore: As long as your child is in a safe environment, it is completely acceptable to ignore their tantrums. Simply separate yourself a reasonable distance away and avoid speaking to them during that time. This sends the message that you will not be lending your attention to those outbursts. Gradually, the undesired behaviors will fade away.
Recognize good behavior: On the flip side, reinforcing moments of good behavior will get you more of it. Your toddler will take pleasure in receiving praises. If you don’t recognize the good behaviors often enough, you may find your toddler engaging in the “naughty” behaviors simply to grab your attention.
Give your toddler the opportunity to choose: Providing your little one with limited options, may help calm the dissatisfaction that arises after not getting exactly what they want. Choices will make your toddler feel as if they have some sense of control over the situation. For example, “would you like bananas or yogurt for your snack today?” may be all you need to ask, after denying candy.
Don’t overextend: You may have commitments for the day which end up pushing your child to their limit. A missed nap or meal may tip the scale, ultimately triggering a meltdown. Thinking ahead can minimize these events. For instance, make sure you have a healthy snack available if you happen to be out and about during lunchtime or consider structuring your schedule around nap time.