Rachel Richins
Pay attention to your child's feeding cues.

You are a busy parent who has just put time into preparing a meal or snack that ended up being thrown on the floor, in your hair and on your nerves. When is the best time to teach children manners? When in their development are they ready to learn this is not the best way to say they don't want to eat that food or to even eat at all?

Teaching children to turn down food politely has helped parents be less frustrated at meal times. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, by age 12 months, children have the ability to do the following:

Test parental responses to their actions during feedings

Test parental responses to their behavior

Pay increasing attention to speech

Respond to simple verbal requests

Respond to “no”

Use simple gestures, such as shaking head for “no”

By 18 months:

Say several single words (15 to 18 months)

Use simple phrases (18 to 24 months)

  • Use two- to four-word sentences

    Follow simple instructions

    Parents can start teaching them to say "please" and "no, thank you." When children are a little older, some parents use the "'no, thank you' bite" so children learn early on they are expected to try a food in order to say "no, thank you" to the rest of it.

    How are other parents handling this? Please share what works for you in teaching children to turn food down politely or to communicate when they are through.

    Rachel Richins is a registered dietitian whose focus is in pediatrics and women's health. Contact her at [email protected]