How To (Calmly) Deal With Food Spitting Toddlers

Let’s admit it – feeding your child with five spoonfuls of food he or she propels out instead of swallowing (after carefully stashing it deep down the throat first, it seems!) is infuriating.

I’ve been insanely proud of my little one who doesn’t seem to follow this pattern of behavior. However, he tends to have his grumpy mornings too (usually when I’m the most tired – it’s something to think about!) when keeping the food in his mouth isn’t quite fun for him.

I honestly don’t think this behavior has anything to do with kids not liking the food they’re being served. When it comes to my son, it’s his well-designed strategy to test my patience. I know that simply because he does it rarely, completely at random, and even when he gets his favorite foods.

Since I don’t believe in harsh (read: abusive) parenting, I’ve been working hard on discovering new ways to deal with this behavior in a calm and tolerant way. If you’re all about gentle parenting, too, you’ll love these tips!

Do your best to not react.

This is one of the most difficult things you’ll ever do, trust me – but sometimes, acting like nothing has happened at all can send your child a signal that the action is too boring to perform. You’ll have a messy breakfast or two, but over time, it will become boring and your kiddo will give up.

Remain calm.

Try not to yell. It’s annoying, difficult, and extremely important for them to eat, yes – but yelling isn’t going to make it better. There were a handful of times I lost my patience and raised my voice when my son started spitting out food. Not only did he continue doing, thrilled about me paying attention, he also laughed at me every time I tried to “parent”. It’s a useless method if your kid isn’t terrified of you (and that’s a good thing!).

Repeat the rules in a consistent, firm voice.

Your little one may not be able to grasp the importance of your words just yet, but you’ll have an easier time introducing all your household rules if you start practicing on time. Use simple vocabulary and keep repeating that it’s unacceptable, rude, and hurtful for them to spit out the food you served. It’ll take some time, but your child will get the message.

Make your kid clean up (or help you with it).

This is one of the most important tactics, because kids should know that cleaning is a natural consequence of making a mess. Have them clean up, or at least try to help you, if they’re too young to do it.

Introduce toys.

This isn’t a wildly popular method among the “perfect” parents – but I’m far from that. 🙂 If you think your LO wants attention, move the attention towards a toy or an activity they can do in the high chair (if you’re the one feeding them, of course).

Give your little one a spoon of their own.

If you’re the one feeding your child, maybe it’s time to learn a new skill. During mealtime, give them a spoon of their own to practice eating. They’ll most likely forget all about spitting!

Reconsider the menu.

I’m not a big fan of serving a replacement meal, and I avoid doing it at all costs. However, if your kid is consistently spitting out a certain type of food, maybe there’s something about the taste and/or texture that doesn’t appeal to them. Try serving the same food in a different way, or see if not serving it at all solves the problem. Here are some fantastic meal ideas that toddlers love.

Size the bites appropriately.

Are there large chunks of food your baby can’t process? Try cutting it into smaller pieces, mixing it with something more “creamy”, or run it through a blender to determine if size is the problem.

Take the food away.

This may sound less than gentle, but it sends a clear message about spitting being unacceptable. Serve the same food in half an hour when your kiddo decides it’s mealtime for real, or wait for the next meal. (They’ll be fine this one time.) I bet there will be a lot less spitting after hunger is experienced as a consequence!

Time-out.

Don’t be harsh about it, but you can let your child know it’s not okay to spit food by introducing time-out. If my son happens to do it, I turn his high chair towards the wall (with him still in it), until he starts complaining. That’s usually when he switches his behavior to the standard, uneventful kind.

Work on teething pain.

Sometimes, it makes meals feel uncomfortable. Try to find a way to relieve the teething pain with a gel or ice (I make homemade raspberry popsicles that work every time!). After that, try with feeding again – if teething is causing the spitting, this should help!

Acknowledge and reward good behavior.

If you’ve had a pleasant, no-spitting meal, show your child you appreciate it. Give more hugs and kisses, say some nice words about how great it was, or do something fun like going outside or playing together with favorite toys.

Change the surroundings.

Maybe your little one will prefer eating outside, on the balcony, or in the backyard. See if this kind of change makes any progress – it usually has a distracting effect and stops the spitting.

Make meals a fun, relaxing experience.

Sometimes, kids will spit out food because they feel uncomfortable and pressured to eat. Try to turn mealtime into a pleasant activity, rather than a forced one.

Eat together.

Great examples can do wonders. Don’t forget to eat your own meal while your little one is eating – here’s why it’s so important!

Don’t bribe or punish.

There are plenty of ways to get your child to eat the meal without fussing and spitting – try getting creative with some of these methods.

Bonus tips

I’ve got a free book full of additional tips on introducing solid food and making meals a great experience – Solid Food 101. In it, you’ll find plenty of useful tips.

You can take a peek and download it on Amazon. Here’s the preview!

If you’ve got some thoughts on this or another awesome way to stop your kid from spitting out food, let me know in the comments, because I’m super excited to find out!

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