Messy Eating and Playing with Food? Is This Normal in Kids?
Messy eating and playing with food is just natural among kids (especially children ages 1 to 4 years old). Some parents may actually run out of patience from time to time because of this messy behaviour.
However, this is just your child’s way of exploration (e.g. what happens when you drop, smash or throw food?). In addition, young kids are still clumsy and they can’t yet hold many things properly. As a result, they often directly use their hands and fingers to eat (instead of the spoon, fork and plate). With this approach expect the mess here and there.
Mess and mistakes are crucial to learning
Keep in mind that almost everything is still new to toddlers. Whenever they see a new type of fruit or food, they want to know its texture and how it will react to touch. They’re still not aware of what would happen if they do this or that (e.g. smashing a banana, squishing peas) and they don’t know if it’s good or bad. Perhaps they think it’s all right for them to play with food using their hands and fingers and wait for things to unfold (and often leaving the mess behind).
This mess creation is actually crucial to their learning process. After all, learning is best accomplished by doing (especially to kids where explanation won’t suffice). They feel the need to know what happens when they do something and how objects and the surroundings will react and change based on their actions. In other words, it’s about gaining real-world experience and this can only be accomplished through rich and regular interaction with objects and the immediate environment.
How to deal with messy eating
But there are times still when it can be really stressful (aside from seeing the big mess on the chair, table and on your child’s clothes). How can then you cut down on mealtime mess and make it less stressful?
One effective way to help with that is to lead by example (kids often mirror what they see). After all, they’re just starting from scratch and they really don’t know how to eat. Another effective way is by letting your child take part in setting up the table (he/she would have less tendency to ruin what he/she worked for).
Most importantly, stay calm and patient even when there’s a big mess. Keep in mind that your response has a huge influence on your child’s long-term behaviour. It’s recommended that you show you’re still in control (by keeping yourself calm) and yes, show that you’re enjoying your time together with your child. Mealtimes don’t have to be stressful. Those times can actually be a great fun experience both for you and your active toddler.