When a toddler tantrum is in full swing about food, it’s easy to jump into “fix it… and fix it now” mode. My daughter has definitely had this exact same tantrum about bananas and opening them and them breaking and… my help. I even detailed the tantrum event in my post on helping fussy eaters approach new fruits in their lunchboxes. And about 2 years ago, a picture of her 1-year-old-tears when her banana broke went gangbusters on my facebook page. Why? Well, this is something we can all relate to. A task that we were trying to do. A task that resulted in squishing or breaking the banana. How deflating is it when we just can’t open that banana? How many of us have seen our kids seemingly traumatized by the bendy fruit? BUT do they really want “Mr Toucan” swooping in and fixing it for us?
This is the video of Verity (my 3 yo) and I reading “Betty Goes Bananas” and having a little chat about Betty’s feelings when she gets angry. Watch out for Mr Toucan!
What is the emotion plan?
The emotion plan is when we help our child by giving them 2-3 empathy statements, clarify why they are feeling the way they are by giving the emotion a label and then helping them to come up with a solution. Obviously, in full tantrum mode, the emotion plan doesn’t work straight away. We need the “calm down” stage to happen first. You can use the emotion plan like in the video, when you see the situation unfolding for someone else – this can give you a really good conversation and hear what your child actually perceives about a situation. Perception is always in the eye of the beholder.
Helping a child calm down when they are distressed about food
Remembering that we are on their side, helping a toddler calm down means working with some tools and strategies that help them return to being cool calm and collected. It’s important for you to identify a “re-set” strategy that suits your child.
Re-set strategies you can try:
- Deep breathing with them
- Waiting by their side with a reassuring hand to hold
- Making eye contact with them on their level
- Joint compressions or cuddles (co-regulation strategy)
- Swaying with them from side to side (co-regulation strategy)
- Quiet humming / singing with them (co-regulation strategy)
- Oral chew toy (for self-regulation via a physical prompt – some examples below)
- Verbal prompts to have them self-regulate and calm down – enact their own deep breathing, their own proprioceptive input by pushing on a wall / table, sitting on a wobble cushion (example below), bouncing feet on a resistance band tied to the legs of the chair (example below). (See more on helping toddlers stay at the table and stop tantrums here.)
If you think that some sensory overwhelm is contributing to tantrums & food refusals for your child, have a look at my blog post on helping a sensory child with eating new foods (especially vegetables).
Has your child had a tantrum over any particular fruit or vegetable lately? Or maybe a mixed texture dish? What coping strategies do they use? Are they the best ones for calming down and resuming learning about new foods?
Below are some affiliate links to products listed above that can help children self-regulate. As an amazon affiliate I would receive a small commission if you purchased via these links at no additional cost to you.