Why Letting Your Toddler Get Messy at Mealtime Helps with Brain Development
“You haven’t lived until you have cleaned pureed sweet potatoes out of a baby’s ears,” said no Mom ever!
But don’t fear moms, I’ve got great news! First, this phase does end eventually and your toddler will grow up to be a sophisticated eater and will not rub yogurt in his hair at a dinner party when he is 30 years old. And second, know that there is a method to their madness. I know it seems difficult to believe but allowing our toddlers to be messy actual helps with their brain development.
So next time you get frustrated when your toddler throws the baby fork on the floor and decides to use his hands to eat cereal, remember these 4 ways that the mess is actually helping them grow and learn.
Developing Sensory Play
Mealtime is full of learning experiences for children. They learn what is socially acceptable at meal time by watching and getting cues from the rest of the family. But aside from learning behavioral cues this could be one of the first times that they are able to have active and independent sensory play. Think about it. They are able to independently touch, feel, taste and smell the different foods you put in front of them and with that they are nurturing their curiosity, discovery and exploration.
Learning How to Self Feed
Have you ever watched a baby play with their food and as they are rubbing it all over their face, they get some in their mouth and they are like “Wow! That’s delicious!”? That is the moment when they realize that they can grab food and feed themselves. It is a very important step in your child gaining their independence and learning how to self feed. So, let them get messy. It will lead to eventually learning the cause and effect of grabbing food with a spoon and putting it into their mouth. It is all part of their development and self-discovery.
Preventing Tactile Defensiveness
Believe it or not, keeping your baby too clean at meal time can actually do them more harm than good. Kids need to be exposed to different textures as they are growing. If they are not, they run the risk of becoming sensitive to them. In other words, if you are constantly trying to keep your baby perfectly clean then they could start to be very uncomfortable if they ever get messy. This is called tactile defensiveness and it can be learned. The best way to avoid it is to again, let your child explore with all of the textures of their food in whatever way they need to in order to learn.
Making Mealtime a Happy Time
How fun do you think eating will be if you are constantly wiping your toddler’s face with a napkin, or scolding them for throwing the fork or rubbing squash on their cheeks? While you don’t want this behavior to continue into middle school now is the time to tolerate the chaos. As long as they are being respectful, make mealtime a time of happiness and positivity and not a time where you are on edge because you want to prevent any little mess from happening.
So the next time you find yourself frustrated while you are cleaning smashed blueberries out the creases of the highchair remember this…today, your toddler got smarter in that messy chair.