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Eating Misbehavior


Standing Up in the Highchair

  1. The rule

    "Don't stand up in your chair. Stay seated until the meal is over." This is an important safety issue.

  2. Discipline technique

    Some children can be confined to their highchair with the safety strap others can wiggle out of it. Logical consequences of being put down and having the meal end can teach your child not to stand up.

  3. Praise

    Praise your child for staying in his chair.

Playing with Food

  1. Definition

    During the early months of learning self-feeding, many children will make a mess of their highchair tray and of themselves. They may also make a mess because they mix their food with their hands or spoon. Children should not be punished for this normal behavior.

  2. The rule

    "Don't throw or drop your food. Don't put food on your body. Eat without making a mess."

  3. Discipline technique

    When your child throws food, take him out of the highchair and put him in time-out in the playpen for 2 minutes. Then let him return to the table. If he repeats the misbehavior, assume he has had enough to eat and put him down permanently. To deal with some of the normal sloppiness of young eaters, put down newspapers and offer your child small amounts of food at any one time. A dog also comes in handy.

  4. Praise

    Praise your child for eating without making a mess.

Eating Too Slowly

  1. Definition

    Some children who eat slowly are not hungry. Others are being negative. The problem arises when a child has not finished eating but the rest of the family has completed their meal.

  2. The rule

    "The meal is over when everyone else is done eating, because we have to clean up."

  3. Discipline technique

    Natural consequences. Clear away your child's plate and put her down after a reasonable amount of time. Don't give her any between-meal snacks if she only eats part of her meal. Serve her smaller portions.

  4. Praise

    Praise your child for not playing or wasting time during meals.

Eating Too Fast

  1. Definition

    Most children who eat fast are in a hurry to go back to their play. They may gulp their food in an unsavory manner.

  2. The rule

    "Mealtime lasts for at least ten minutes (or whatever length of time the parents decide on) whether you're done earlier or not. Mealtime is a special time when our family gets together."

  3. Discipline technique

    Logical consequences. Children will learn that finishing quickly does not allow them to leave the dinner table sooner.

  4. Praise

    Praise your child for eating slowly, chewing food with the mouth closed, and eating with good manners.

Demanding Frequent Snacks

  1. Definition

    Some children want a snack, fruit juice, or soda pop every 30 minutes. Frequent snacking leads to tooth decay, is disruptive, and can't be continued when the child enters school.

  2. The rule

    "Don't ask for a snack until snack time. We only have one snack in the morning and one snack in the afternoon."

  3. Discipline technique

    Ignore your child's requests for snacks before snack time. If he persists, send him to time-out.

Taking Food from the Refrigerator or Cupboards

  1. The rule

    "You're not permitted to open the refrigerator until you're five years old. Ask a grownup if you need something out of the refrigerator."

  2. Discipline technique

    If your child opens the refrigerator without your permission, send her to time-out. Put a stop sign on the refrigerator door as a reminder. If your child gets into food cupboards, send her to time-out. With a persistent child, you may need to put locks on the doors or move snack foods to higher cupboards.

Leaving the Kitchen a Mess

  1. The rule

    "Whoever makes a mess in the kitchen cleans it up."

  2. Discipline technique

    Logical consequences. If you find the kitchen messy, call your child to clean it up. If your child is not at home, cancel the snack privilege for the next day. As a reminder, put up a sign that says CLEAN UP AFTER YOURSELF in the kitchen.

  3. Praise

    Praise your child for cleaning up the kitchen.

  4. Model

    Clean up after yourself in the kitchen area.

Messing Up the Rest of the House with Food

  1. The rule

    "We only eat in the kitchen."

  2. Discipline technique

    Logical consequences. If you find crumbs or dirty dishes outside the kitchen area, call your child to clean it up. If your child starts to walk around the house eating food, send your child back to the kitchen.

  3. Model

    Don't take food outside the kitchen.


Written by B.D. Schmitt, MD, author of "Your Child's Health," Bantam Books.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2003-04-01
Last reviewed: 2010-06-02

This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a health care professional.

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