Everyone must eat multiple times a day. It would be amazing if the family had at least one meal per day where everyone eats together. Children learn by watching and they want to eat more when the adults are having the same foods they are. Sometimes it’s the cafeteria phenomenon: everyone else’s meal looks better than yours. One way to help children build good eating skills is to put some of their food on your plate and you put smaller pieces of your food on theirs during the mealtime. A healthy diet in children starts with good practices modeled to them by parents and caregivers.
The adult’s role in mealtime is to present the options. You can also dictate when mealtimes will be. It’s best not to let your child graze or fill up on empty calorie foods. Building healthy habits will prepare them for school where grazing won’t be available. Children need to learn when to eat and when to play.
Your child’s role is to choose how much to eat and when they are full. We want to teach them at an early age to listen to their bodies. When they are hungry, they can eat more. When they are full, they get to stop. You can save it for later, have them help you put it aside. We want to consistently train them early on not to throw food away. Teach them to say “all done” or “no more.” Teach them to set their plate aside and wait for you to take them out of their high chair. You can take the plate and teach them to wipe the area, face, and hands when they are done. This teaches them there is a clear ending to mealtime. This also helps with transitions to another activity. Pick your clean up routine and stick to it. Make it a game. Be consistent.
Meals and snack times are a good chance to talk about food. Here are some ideas to build in language exercises when they eat. Since we want to avoid children talking too much while eating, it is a good time to build receptive language and vocabulary.
- Umami (that yum flavor)
Talk about the food. Tell them what you like about the taste in your mouth and why it is good for them. You can talk about vitamins and minerals and how eating healthy foods will make them big, tall, and strong.
Name the foods on the plate and categorize them. You have fruit, vegetables, meats, dairy, legumes, etc. Talk about color. Invite them to nod along or discuss the meal with you.
Take sips of water between bites to prevent choking. Teach them to chew first, swallow, then talk and demonstrate this to them so they understand. This will teach them the concept of first… then. It will also teach them to wait, take turns, and hopefully will be a bonding experience because you are doing a shared activity.
You can do so much while on walks with your toddler. There is so much to observe outdoors even if you are just walking around the block. Ask lots of questions. There are open-ended questions or close-ended questions; questions that have just one answer.
Examples of open–ended questions:
- What do you see?
- Where do you think we’re going?
- Where do you want to go?
- What would you like to do outside?
- What do you want to bring outside?
Examples of closed–ended questions (Yes / No questions)
- Can you find the green car?
- Can you find your shoes?
- Did you see the squirrel?
- Do you want to go to the park?
- Do you want to go to the backyard?
- Do you want to play with water?
Depending on where your child is expressively, you may have to mix it up a bit sometimes. If your toddler has a good imagination and can tell you lots of things, then open-ended questions are great. Let them explore and tell you what they are seeing. Let them name things for you. If your child cannot seem to answer questions well, we might have to scaffold (support them and make things easier). That is where close-ended questions come into play. Asking yes/no or even giving two choices takes some cognitive load off your toddler. If you ask them, “where do you want to go today?” They might not know where to start with that answer. But if you give them a choice, “Do you want to go to the park or walk around the block?” That allows them to choose but they have a couple of suggestions.
You can teach lots of different concepts when you are outside.
- Teach adjectives by playing I Spy.
- I spy something green. They have to guess what’s green. Maybe grass, maybe a bush.
- I spy something tall. Maybe a tree, maybe the building.
- Teach kids part / whole concepts.
- A tree has branches, and leaves, and a trunk.
- A car has a door, and wheels, and windows.
- Teach children to anticipate what’s next.
- Where do you think we’re going?
- Which way should we turn? (if on a very familiar path).
- Another way to teach adjectives is just to describe the things you see along your walk.
- That rock is bumpy / smooth.
- That grass is long.
- That tree is big.
- That dog is small.
I hope you can enjoy time with your toddler outside. Fresh air is great for everyone.
This has been a trying time for lots of people here in the US, and also around the world. Emotions and processing emotions is difficult for a child. You continue to develop emotional skills into adolescence. There are a lot of things that you can do for your toddler to help and understand their developmental stage. Toddlers are at the stage where they are discovering a sense of self. At this stage, what they seek is validation for their emotions and in doing so, you help them process.
We sometimes see behavioral issues when children get overwhelmed. Here is what to watch for and what you can do about it.
Things to watch for:
- Overly needy behaviors – not wanting to leave your side, crying, tantrums
- Perking up to a various sensory inputs – being startled by sirens or the phone ringing
- Eating more – Sometimes children soothe by putting things into their mouths. They might crave more food at this time.
- Decrease in attention – Children can be easily distracted when they are anxious and might not be able to concentrate as well.
- Sleep disturbances – Children may have a harder time sleeping or sleeping through the night.
What can you do:
- Stay calm – Those mirror neurons work both ways. If you show anxiety, they will also feel that. But if you are calm, you can be a regulating force for them.
- Play calm music – Slower music with a slower beat can calm the heart rate.
- Talk through those feelings – What did you hear? A police siren? That was loud, huh? Sometimes loud noises can make us scared. But you’re safe with mommy/daddy.
- Keep them busy – Allow for longer bath time to supplant some of that sensory stimulus with something soothing. Play with playdoh (also a tactile activity). Have snacks around for when they need to soothe by eating.
- Trust your gut – You have intuitive ways that you’ve calmed your child before. Use all of those methods. You are their parent, you are important in their world and you have innate skills that come to you. Trust those instincts. As long as you remain calm, you’ll model how to do that for your child.