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Young Toddlers and Mealtime Manners

Young toddlers (1-year-olds) are busy little humans. They are wandering, exploring, hauling, pushing, pulling little mobile people. At 13-months, I sometimes, I wonder if Teddy has sat down at all, all day long. Most of the time, I'm pretty sure the answer to that is "no." This can make mealtimes at his weaning table fairly interesting. But, today, I wanted to talk about something other than movement - I wanted to talk about manners. As babies turn into toddlers, and start becoming bigger and more capable, there is the question of manners. 

What happens when your young toddlers shoves their banana into their cup? What happens when they stand up at the table? What happens if they wander away? What happens if they dump their water? What happens if they throw their food? Or play with their food? 

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While there can be a big leap in our toddler's abilities as they start to grow, it is important to remember that they are still learning through their senses. They still need to explore the world around them in a variety of interesting and new ways. They are still going to want to feel how it feels to smash their food, to watch the water run down, and still need to follow their inner need to move. 

On this topic, I'm reminded of a Maria Montessori quote from Maria Montessori Speaks to Parents, "We are eager to see them grow into intelligent, useful citizens, with find characters and good manners. And so we spend our time and our patience correcting them, telling them to do this, not to do that...We say that we correct them for their own good, and a great deal of the time we honestly believe it. But it is strange how often what we feel to be their good amounts to the same thing as our own comfort." 

Manners are a secondary concern at this age. They are something that will come with time and on their own, as your child watches you eat and interact at mealtimes. And, it will especially come in the second plane of development (over age 6) when children become much more acutely aware of social interactions. 

Teddy eats with this 5" toddler/baby chair

So, for our family, we set few limits at mealtimes for Teddy. Those that we do set, have to do with safety. We don't wander around eating because then I can't watch him and he might choke. So, if he's wandering away, I simply say that it looks like he is all done and he can come back and try again later. Usually, though, if he's wandering, he is done eating. The other thing we don't allow is throwing cups/plates/etc because they can break. We gently block him from throwing those things and say "the cup stays on the table." If it's a constant issue, then we stop and redirect to more appropriate objects to throw. 

Manners will come! I trust that they will. I trust too that Teddy is taking mealtimes and using them for his own developmental advantage. He's learning what he needs to learn and getting from them far more than just nutrition. And, the time for perfect little table manners will come - just much much later. 

How do you approach mealtime with your young toddler?

Montessori parenting advice for toddlers and mealtimes. Here's a look at how we approach meals and manners with a 1-year-old.



My 14 month old will wander off with a piece of food. I will say that it seems she’s done and take the plate away. A little later she’ll come back to the table, so I’ll put the food back and she’ll wander off with another piece of food. Should I be trying to take this piece of food off her? I’ve previously left it as it’s only the one piece she’s holding and then I’m taking the rest out of the way so she doesn’t do it with the whole meal.

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