- What do you talk to a toddler about at dinner?
- Should you expect them to acknowledge or understand something that you’re asking them?
- How modeling helps your toddler learn
- Coping when toddlers misbehave
- Perfect Parenting Doesn’t Exist
- Is there any way for us to know what our toddlers are understanding?
- Understanding vs. Obeying
- How do we help them when they’re having a hard time waiting for the meal to be ready?
- What do we do when we are just met with lots of ‘no’ from our toddler?
- Tip: Get curious about the no
- Remember you are both having a hard time
Welcome back to Feeding Toddlers Made Easy! This is a very special episode. I chat with Mr. Chazz about how to talk to toddlers, especially around mealtimes. It can be a challenge to know how to communicate well with them when we’re not even sure how much they understand. This is Mr. Chazz’s specialty and he shares some amazing tips in this episode!
Note: this post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
About Mr. Chazz
Mr. Chazz envisions a world where adults truly see, guide and trust children. He goes by “Mr. Chazz” and he even has a song to prove it. He is an Educational Specialist who “teaches teachers to teach” in a chain of Child Development Centers.
Mr. Chazz closely works with 8 different schools, 100s of teachers and 1,000s of children. He has trained thousands of teachers in person and virtually. He earned his Master’s in Executive Leadership at American University.
Over two hundred thousand people follow him on Tiktok (@MrchazzMrchazz), and 150K+ on Instagram (@Mrchazz). He has appeared on platforms like Good Morning America and Parents.com. Currently, he is in the process of writing a book.
You can find him on his own podcast, “Mr. Chazz’s Leadership, Parenting and Teaching Podcast.”
What do you talk to a toddler about at dinner?
0:02:06.4 Mr. Chazz: I think sometimes we may overthink some of this stuff, especially it’s just… Not all communication’s going to be verbal. And even with their communication you might use… You might talk about the food that they’re eating or maybe even how they’re responding to some of the food. You may talk about the food that you’re eating and what you think about the food. Really the meal time is just an experience for them, just talk about the experience that you’re having, the experience that you see them having, and it can be that simple.
0:02:47.9 Kacie: Yeah, okay, I sometimes refer to that as sportscasting. Would you agree that it’s okay to just describe what’s happening and not expect them to really participate in the conversation?
0:03:01.1 Mr. Chazz: Yeah, 100%, because that may not be where they’re at. And they may be a lot more just into the feeling of the mashed potatoes inside their mouth, or they’re just really curious about the squash or the chicken nuggets, or they noticed the detail that they didn’t notice before. And they’re just really trying to process the world through their five senses. Just take note and just be in that world with them of experiencing that moment through the five senses. And you can talk about their experience, and you can talk about your experience. You can use descriptive words, like crunchy and soft, gooey, whatever, but just be present with the experience.
0:03:47.9 Kacie: I love that. I think it’s so helpful to think about it being all their senses, because eating really is a completely sensory experience. It’s cool to think about that while you’re with them at the table.
Should you expect them to acknowledge or understand something that you’re asking them?
That’s a question that a parent asked me to ask you. I’m trying to think of a good example of like, “Do you want some of the corn?” or something like that and they’re not necessarily answering you. What are you supposed to do?
0:04:30.7 Mr. Chazz: Yeah. First, especially with toddlers, throw those adult manners, expectations out of the window. We have this idea that… And from they’re young and we’re thinking like, “Oh, if I don’t teach them to look at me and to pass the peas perfectly, or perfect dinner manners,” which are just really… They’re just the social norms that we have as adults, as society made up.
We have to remember that, especially when it comes to meal time, because there’s a lot of social norms and cultural norms around meal time. And we have to remember that we made all that stuff up, that none of that stuff is intuitive to a person who is a foreigner into society. This is all very new to them. And on top of that, that they are just… They’re gonna be more engrossed in the experience and things, the feeling and looking and touching more than they’re going to be interested in having a nice conversation where we take turns saying things. So I’d say throw the social norms, expectations out of the window. If you wanna teach those things to a toddler, model it, do it.
How modeling helps your toddler learn
0:06:01.1 Mr. Chazz: There are other people, I assume, at the table other than just you and the toddler, model those things. And that’s gonna be the best way that they’re going to learn that. They’re gonna learn to pass the peas, the “please” and the “thank you” and all those things.
If you wanna go a step further, then that kitchen set you have for them, get in there and play and kinda do some role play there, too. And especially as they get into the three and four-year-old stage where they’re doing a lot more of that reciprocal play, as opposed to the parallel play or they’re just playing near you or next to you or children.
Throw the expectations out the window. If you wanna teach it: model it, and then you can also do it in play. And if you’re really looking to get their attention, then depending on what they’re doing, I would acknowledge… Let’s say they have their hands in the mashed potatoes, if you wanna get their attention, talk about the mashed potatoes and the experience that they’re having with the mashed potatoes. That’s gonna be more likely to get their attention. And then they’re looking at you, then talk about the corn, would you like corn to go with that fistful of mashed potatoes?
Coping when toddlers misbehave
0:07:09.7 Kacie: I know that I have been in this position where I’m getting frustrated because I’m already having a hard time just getting dinner on the table, and then their behavior seems terrible to me, and it’s like, Argh, why can’t they just behave? But you’re saying none of this is intuitive to them, they are not trying to behave badly at the table, they’re just kind of in their own world, and we need to over time model for them so that they can understand what kind of behavior I’m expecting, and it’s not gonna be like, do this, do that, don’t do this, don’t do that.
0:07:48.8 Mr. Chazz: Yeah, yeah, I think I’m really just gonna go back to knowing that you have lots of time to teach them social norms in terms of, please and thank you, and this is the way that you hold a fork and all this stuff and you can encourage those things, you can practice those things, and there are hundreds of ways to practice these things. But for a toddler, yes, give them the opportunity to put a spoon in their hand. But if they are eating with their hands and they’re experiencing that meal with their face, that is developmentally okay too. Now, it may get your anxiety up, because like, oh, there’s a mess and like oh, no, you’ve got mess on your face, and we have to realize that that has more to do with our own stuff, than that has to do with them.
0:08:40.1 Mr. Chazz: That’s what they should be doing right now developmentally, as they’re experiencing food, they’re learning about it, they are learning about the food, and then we who has these very specific ways of how toddlers, young children are supposed to eat, or are supposed to experience meal times, and then we’re surprised if they don’t want to come to the meal time or they don’t want to eat certain things and maybe they would be more open and willing to eating some of these foods if they were able to experience it more freely. And it’s okay if it doesn’t get into their mouth immediately. It’s okay for children to play with their food. They’re learning about their food, that’s what we want.
It may not look like it from your adult perspective, but that is how you’re going to develop a healthy eater because they’re going to feel free to explore, and right now they’re exploring with all their five senses, but that’s going to evolve into exploring it just in their mouth with the fork and exploring how to cut it, and that stuff is going to happen. Give them opportunities to happen, practice, model it, but a lot of times we overdo with pressuring them to meet societal norms right now in toddler-hood.
For more on playing with food, listen to episode #13: Why Kids Need to Play with Food here
0:09:56.0 Kacie: For sure, I think a lot of times, we take that as a reflection on how we’re doing as a parent, and if they’re not measuring up or oh, we just saw so and so on Instagram with their perfect manners eating their vegetables, and now my kid’s not doing that so now I’m feeling badly about myself. So, I love that you made that comment of thinking about when is it like your own stuff and trying to take a moment. It’s hard, when you’re in the moment to step back and realize like, Wait, this is me, this is not them.
Perfect parenting doesn’t exist
0:10:26.1 Mr. Chazz: Yeah. One note, I feel like I wanna say this about Instagram, right? It’s easy to take a quick little snap of a seemingly perfect moment, right? It’s easy. And then you post it… Like someone posted it and everyone sees like, “Oh, that’s how their meal times are all the time.” We make these assumptions, right? You very rarely see the videos, which is why I originally gravitated towards TikTok because it felt really authentic and real because it’s easy to fake a picture and to fake a moment and curate that and show that to the world.
It’s a lot harder to get a 30-second video of the perfect moment because it doesn’t exist. This need and this want, this desire to be this perfect Instagram, whatever, parent, guru, whatever, it’s you’re responding to something that doesn’t exist and you’re putting pressure on yourself to meet that expectation and then that expectation, then you put on your child. And while your child isn’t as flexible maybe as your… They’re not wanting that perfect Instagram picture, they don’t care, they’re just a kid, they’re just exploring, they’re present in the moment as we should be, and that’s something we can learn from them. But they’re just present in the moment, I’m just trying to feel the mashed potatoes on my face, like, why are you stressing me out here?
0:11:52.5 Kacie: Mr. Chazz, I think that you really like mashed potatoes.
0:12:03.0 Mr. Chazz: It’s all that’s coming to mind now, because it’s like one of those things that is fun to play with, and I think sometimes… I don’t know, I’ve seen… I’m guess I’m recalling all of the memories, all the meal times I’ve had with toddlers and mashed potatoes, and it’s typically… It’s one of those like oh, you got more on your face than you did in your mouth.
0:12:26.6 Kacie: I know. Well, I think you do make an excellent point about Instagram. I think it’s really easy to get caught up in thinking that that is real life when it is totally not.
Is there any way for us to know what our toddlers are understanding?
So, this frequently comes up with parents when I really love to have the meal and snack schedule for kids and avoid grazing, and so I will say you can tell them; this is the meal time, we’re not gonna be having anything after. And people are like, “well, can they even understand that?” So what would you say about that?
0:13:01.3 Mr. Chazz: Yeah, so for a really young child, when if you’re looking for ways to better communicate with a younger child, visuals can be super, super helpful in communicating whatever you’re trying to communicate. And so it can be something like a picture that is kind of like maybe a picture of a child, or can be like a cartoon throwing away food coupled with the words you’re saying like, “oh, five more minutes, it’s almost time.” And if it’s a routine and you’re using the same visuals and using the same words, they’re going to process that and understand and know exactly what you mean.
Now, does them understanding what you mean equate to complete obedience and compliance? No, not necessarily. And with toddlers, rarely.
0:14:01.5 Mr. Chazz: And if that is the case and you’re having trouble like, you’re… What’s going to be helpful for this transition or any transition is letting the toddler know what’s coming next, right? I’ve said a few times in this podcast that young children are very present in the moment, so they see the food, that is their whole world right now, the food, everything in their immediate field of vision. That’s why you’re walking to the parking lot or something, and they see a flower or a bug or something, their whole world becomes that in that moment.
Now that can be hard for us, but we can also help kinda shift their attention, “Hey, this is what’s coming next”. And so it’s not so much like, “stop eating, stop eating, stop eating,” but meal time’s almost over so that we can do X or Y or Z. And that’s so you can communicate it using visuals on top of the words and routine, and then kinda shift their focus a little bit to what is coming next, so like, “oh yeah, the outside time,” or whatever it is.
Understanding vs. Obeying
0:15:09.3 Kacie: I think you really hit the nail on the head with what you said about them understanding and them obeying exactly what you want them to do are totally different things. And I think that’s part of where we get caught and get frustrated as parents is because we think “Well, if they just understand this, then it’s gonna be fine,” but that’s not always the case.
0:15:31.3 Mr. Chazz: How many things do you understand as an adult, but still don’t follow, right? You understand the speed limit signs. You also understand that they’re there for a safety reason that it’s to protect lives, that there’s a legitimate reason why we have speed limits. But sometimes we choose not to follow them for whatever reason that is.
So I invite you to have a little bit of grace for yourself, and for your toddler, and just knowing that they’re doing the very best that they can with the brain, with the skills, with the knowledge that they have in the moment — as you are too.
0:16:13.8 Kacie: Absolutely. So on the note of, you were just talking about transitioning, people were also asking about how do we help them wait for the meal when I’m just trying to get it on the table and they’re having a really hard time waiting, so how can we help in that transition of waiting for the meal to come?
How do we help them when they’re having a hard time waiting for the meal to be ready?
0:16:33.1 Mr. Chazz: Yeah, so I’m a big fan of visual timers.
0:16:37.5 Kacie: Me too.
0:16:39.7 Mr. Chazz: Because it’s a communication tool, and here’s what I wanna say on this too, ’cause people when I will say visual timers they’ll be like, “oh, but it didn’t work.” And the point of a visual timer isn’t to put your child or toddler whoever into a stupor of waiting for until whenever it goes off, it’s like, “Oh, I see you have the visual timer out and now it’s easy to wait, yay! I’ll just, you know, I’ll just go over and read my book quietly.”
No. The point of the visual timer is to communicate time, because time is very abstract and ambiguous and a really hard concept for a young child to grasp. And we honestly don’t make it any better with our “five minutes, five minutes” and it not actually being five minutes, so a visual timer is a great way to communicate how much time is actually left in something.
And then I will say the hard part about this, for us adults, is that when the timer goes off, then it’s important that we hold our end of the bargain.
It’s not really helpful if you say, “Oh, this is how much time you have left, we’re communicating time to you,” and then they can’t trust that either, ’cause then when it goes off, then it’s still not time for the thing. So just be thoughtful about how much time you’re putting on there and follow through with it, right?
0:18:01.5 Mr. Chazz: And then two, they may still have a hard time waiting. They’re hungry, right? Have you ever been on a road trip or in a class or whatever you’re doing, or at work and you’re waiting for lunch and you couldn’t have it and your tummy is rumbling and it’s hard to wait, right? And even if you know how much time, it is especially ’cause their body is saying like, eat, you’re hungry, you’re hungry, you’re hungry. This is a relatively new sensation for them that they don’t know how to deal. They’re just trying to meet their need and trying to figure out how to meet their need, and sometimes it can be hard for us to wait even for not hunger things, right?
0:18:45.0 Mr. Chazz: How hard has it been for a lot of us to wait for the pandemic to be over, to go see family, to go to whatever normalcy was for you. It can be hard and challenging. And as hard as it is for us as an adult, think about how hard it would be if you didn’t have access to logic and reasoning. Which, for a toddler, that part of their brain, is in the beginning parts, very beginning stages of developing. But the survival part of their brain is the part of the brain that developed first. And that hunger is a part of that survival part of the brain. That is a driving force for young children; survival, right? So that’s where that’s all coming from.
So, take a deep breath, regulate yourself, know that they’re having a hard time. Communicate with the visual timer, yet they may still have a hard time. And be empathetic towards that as you move towards cooking the dinner, or your goal, and you can still have empathy and then the food will happen.
0:19:52.1 Kacie: We love the book by Mo Willems, Waiting Is Not Easy. I find myself referring back to that all the time when my kids are having a hard time waiting. Now Emilia will proactively tell me, “Waiting is not easy.” I say, “Yes I know waiting is not easy.” So, that’s one thing, and I think that’s such a good point about realizing that it really is not easy, and we should understand that it is hard for them and we can’t just expect for it to be easier. And one thing I will say, from the nutritionist perspective, is that if it feels like this routinely is a very or if they’re very hungry for dinner, maybe we need to move dinner time up a little bit earlier. If they’re very tired, very hungry, maybe we need to move dinner time earlier.
0:20:39.0 Mr. Chazz: Yeah.
What do we do when we are just met with lots of ‘no’ from our toddler?
We’re trying to get them to cooperate at dinner time and we’re just getting no, no, no.
0:20:57.9 Mr. Chazz: I would actually ask, and I know you don’t have the person with you right there, but if maybe you can look into the mind of the person who asked this. What would they be saying no about? Are they saying no to eating a certain food that you want them to try? Or… Is that the no? Yeah?
0:21:20.2 Kacie: I don’t know.
0:21:21.4 Mr. Chazz: Okay.
0:21:22.3 Kacie: I don’t know.
0:21:24.2 Mr. Chazz: Well, I’m gonna go with that.
0:21:25.4 Kacie: Well, here. I’ll give you what happens in our house. I’ll say, “Okay, Emilia, your choices are avocado toast or a waffle for breakfast.” And she just says, “No.” And we kind of get stuck in this spot where I end up just making a decision for her, but she’s upset, but so what are we doing when we really can’t get them to work with us and they’re just saying, “No.”
Tip: get curious about the “no”
0:21:50.1 Mr. Chazz: Yeah, I would be curious. First, I would be curious about where the “no” is coming from, because there could be very legitimate reason. Or like of just maybe how that child feels about a certain food, or it might just be a connection issue, something happened five minutes ago and they’re upset, and so now they’re just, they’re in a mood and that “no” isn’t actually about the avocado toast, it’s really about, you weren’t playing with me or you…
0:22:21.9 Kacie: Yeah.
0:22:22.6 Mr. Chazz: Stopped me from watching Paw Patrol and now I’m upset, and that’s all I can think about. And depending on what that is about, if it’s a connection thing, I would maybe take a moment to reconnect. And maybe it might look like silliness, it might look like a hand on the back or a hug and empathizing and knowing, Oh, it’s hard, It seemed like you really wanted to finish watching Paw Patrol and you’re still a little frustrated because I turned it off and said it was time for breakfast, and kinda gauge from there. Maybe they’re receptive to it, maybe they’re like, “No. It’s not that!” And they share something else.
But I’d get curious, I’d start with curiosity first. And I would try to help them through that and help them through that emotion, because it sounds like the more I’m envisioning and listening, it’s probably more of a connection thing. Now, if it’s a, “No, I don’t like that food.” Then maybe it is something about the avocado or the smell like you can get curious about it and be like, “Well… What don’t you like about it?” and get curious about it. Maybe they’ll say something, maybe they don’t. But I think also too, you could say like, “well, you don’t have to… ” If you haven’t made the food yet that sounds like you haven’t made it.
0:23:41.0 Mr. Chazz: You could say like, “Well, I’ll give you one more minute to make a choice. I’m about to… We’re not gonna have much more time left, because we’re going to leave, you can choose the avocado toast or the waffle, and if you don’t make a choice then I’m gonna choose for you.”
And maybe even put the visual timer right there, here’s your one minute right? When it goes off, we’ll check back in, and I’ll make the choice if you’re not ready to make a choice. Checks in like, “Okay. I’m gonna go ahead and I’m gonna make a choice, I’m just checking in one last time, see if you wanted to make the choice. No? Okay, it’s waffles today.” And then we put the waffles out and it’s available for them. They eat it, they don’t eat it. They don’t eat it, it’s not the end of the world. There will be another meal time, probably within two hours and there’s… Or snack or something, maybe there’s fruit available, but it’s also not the end of the world if they’re not eating that one meal.
0:24:39.1 Kacie: Yeah. I wish I could…
0:24:40.4 Mr. Chazz: But you tell me about that, maybe I’m wrong. Nutritionist.
0:24:43.4 Kacie: No, I agree.
0:24:44.0 Mr. Chazz: Is it the end of the world?
0:24:45.4 Kacie: I’m just thinking, Wow, I wish I could be this calm and measured in my approaches when I’m in the moment parenting with them. It’s not easy.
Remember you are both having a hard time
0:24:54.9 Mr. Chazz: Yeah, maybe you might find comfort knowing that you’re not alone in it, and I’m not just saying not alone as with other parents, but do we think the toddler is having an easy time with it? They’re having a hard time too, right?
I truly wholeheartedly believe, and this is a mantra that I use, when I struggle with things, they’re not trying to give us a hard time, they’re having a hard time.
And we may be having a hard time too, and it’s even more reason for us to regulate ourselves in these moments, so that we can have some composure because when we’re flustered, or we’re upset, or we’re telling ourselves all of these… All these messages are coming in like, you’re a bad parent, ’cause you can’t get your toddler to eat. They’re disrespecting you, they’re playing with your food. I think there’s one that you said too… No, actually, I said it. Or it’s the end of the world, if they…
0:25:48.7 Kacie: Mm-hmm.
0:25:49.1 Mr. Chazz: Don’t eat this one meal, all these messages are going in our mind and it’s dis-regulating us and it’s making us more anxious and less likely to access our logic and reasoning in the moment, and then we’re more likely to do things that are more harmful than helpful. And, “You just… You better eat this!” Which isn’t going to make this meal time or the next meal time, or meal times in the future any better. And so I would say that even if you know all the right words, but you have a hard time in the moment.
Practice regulation. Self-regulation is truly a practicable skill that we really all need to practice.
0:26:28.1 Kacie: Yeah, yes. This was so helpful, Mr. Chazz, thank you so much. You guys can find Mr. Chazz on his own podcast at Mr. Chazz’s Leadership, Parenting and Teaching Podcast.
Book Kacie mentions: Waiting is Not Easy
Find Mr. Chazz on TikTok – @MrchazzMrchazz, Instagram – @Mrchazz, or his podcast – Mr. Chazz’s Leadership, Parenting and Teaching Podcast