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Table Manners For Toddlers (Yes, It's Possible!)

Get toddler feeding tips including how to instill table manners for toddlers with a few helpful strategies.
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With all the food your child throws, mushes, and drops, feeding her can feel like a full-contact sport. These strategies will make mealtime less messy and "stress-y".

Ack! My child keeps dropping her spoon, then laughing as I pick it up

You might find this completely annoying, but to your toddler, it’s the best game in the world, saysRobin Goldstein, Ph.D., professor of child development at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, and author of The New Baby Answer Book. "She’s just delighted that you’re engaging with her. Play along once or twice, then say, "Ooh, that was fun, but now let’s play a different game!" Then pretend to be a "hungry bear," eat a bite of food, and say, "Can you show Mommy how a hungry bear eats?"

Ack! My child smears food everywhere

Your child is using all of her senses—especially touch—to figure out the world around her, so it’s fine to let her be a Picasso with her peas once in a while (especially if you plan to put her straight in the tub after dinner). If she’s putting more food in her hair than in her mouth, though, it’s probably a sign that she’s not hungry or she’s bored, says Goldstein. Take her out of the high chair and let her crawl around or play with toys for a few minutes; then put her back and see if she wants any more food by placing just a tiny amount of food on the tray, like a couple of cubes of cheese or a spoonful of pasta.

Ack! My child likes to throw her food

When your baby flings pureed squash at the wall, keep your cool, but give a clear message that the behavior is inappropriate, says Goldstein. Say firmly, "No! You can throw a ball, but we do not throw food." Then remove her from the high chair for five or ten minutes to play with toys (and get her energy out) and try again. Also consider placing a plastic splat mat under the high chair to make clean up easier.

Ack! My child turns up her nose at new foods

Stick with tried-and-true favorites—then place just a bite or two of a new food on the tray every day until she’s ready to go for it. Remember: It can take up to ten tries before a child accepts a new food.

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