Gardner mom and her garden-eating toddler

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  June 1, 2011 06:00 AM

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Barbara,

I have an almost 3 year-old. We're in the country and have a big vegetable garden and my husband and I are big outdoors people. Our son enjoys being out there with us and we're happy to think we will raise a gardener! But he wants to "taste" everything! I have to watch him constantly, constantly telling him, No! don't eat that, or needing to slap something out of his hand before it gets to his mouth. It's spoiling being outside and I am miserable.

How do I teach him that some of what grows is good to eat, just not all of it.
How will he learn not to eat something dangerous?! What can I do? When he was younger, we had him in a back or front-pack but he loves to run around!

From: Rural Gal from NJ

Dear Rural Gal,

This is a stage, it'll pass, I promise, but in the meantime, you are right, someone needs to be vigilant at all times to make sure he doesn't ingest something dangerous. Perhaps you and your husband can take turns being that person glued to his side so you each get the time you want in the garden. Slapping it out of his hand on the way to the mouth isn't the way to go except in emergency. Anticipate what he's pulling/picking up from the ground and gently but firmly stop his hand from going to the mouth, telling him simply, "No," or, "This is not food." Distract him by handing him something else. Try not to be panicked or frustrated. Accept that this season, this is just part of your job description.

It sounds like you also need to enclose an area where he can play safely and where you know there's no mushrooms or poison ivy or whatever that he can pluck. A little grass in the mouth? So what. (You don't mention that he's eating dirt because that can be a serious issue, although there are some who say even dirt may not be all that bad.)


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8 comments so far...
  1. Not every minute of the day needs to be a parent-child interactive learning experience. Does he need to be out there with you every single time you work, for the whole duration? You and your husband could take turns giving each other some time without the kid to do the real gardening work. Save a small job for the kid to do and then when he's out "helping" you can both enjoy it more and your attention won't be divided between supervising him and actually getting anything accomplished.

    Posted by di June 1, 11 11:58 AM
  1. Uh, he's 3 years old. Keep doing what you are doing and it will sink in eventually. Until then, keep watching him all the time like anyone else would do with such a young child.

    Posted by Dad June 1, 11 02:22 PM
  1. Rural Gal, the rule we follow is that the kids need to ask us before eating anything from the garden, every time. It's never okay to just pick and taste - for safety reasons. They also need to ask before they pull a "weed" so that nothing gets pulled accidentally.

    Posted by RH June 1, 11 02:22 PM
  1. At age 3, it should be pretty easy to "teach" him that some things can make him sick and he should always check with mummy and daddy before trying them.

    But really, I mean...my husband and I are big "going out at night" people except that we don't much right now because our daughter is also 3 and requires our presence and attention and not that of a babysitter every night we'd like to be out instead of at home. The real point there is that you now have a child and some things will have to be slightly modified in your life to accomodate this person for a while. If it means that you and your husband take turns in the garden or garden while your son is napping or simply look on this as a learning experience, then so be it.

    This, too, shall pass.

    Posted by phe June 1, 11 03:31 PM
  1. You might find a neighbor child to be a "mother's helper" for you, who could play outside and nearby with your son while you get some real gardening done. With a little luck the "mother's helper" will blossom into a full-blown babysitter in a few years and you will all be lucky for it.

    Posted by Gastrolgal June 1, 11 03:48 PM
  1. My mom always planted a bed of spinach just for me so that I could eat all of the "leaves" I wanted too, but she made it very clear that it was only okay in that area.

    Posted by Kellen June 1, 11 04:33 PM
  1. "Slapping it out of his hand on the way to the mouth isn't the way to go except in emergency."

    And it's child abuse.

    Slapping is abuse is slapping is abuse. I don't like this Mom.

    And what kind of message is Mom sending to her toddler? He should help, but he shouldn't help?

    She needs to lay off the slapping, and do some gentle, verbal discouraraging. And hey, Mom's the one forcing the child into the garden.

    Posted by reindeergirl June 2, 11 09:46 PM
  1. Oh yes, redindeergirl, the LW is clearly a horrible mother for "forcing" her child to spend time outdoors with nature, rather than sitting in front of a TV. And I'm sorry, but if a child is putting something potential poisonous into his mouth the gentle verbal discouraging you're talking about isn't going to cut it.

    Posted by Marie June 6, 11 09:31 AM
 
8 comments so far...
  1. Not every minute of the day needs to be a parent-child interactive learning experience. Does he need to be out there with you every single time you work, for the whole duration? You and your husband could take turns giving each other some time without the kid to do the real gardening work. Save a small job for the kid to do and then when he's out "helping" you can both enjoy it more and your attention won't be divided between supervising him and actually getting anything accomplished.

    Posted by di June 1, 11 11:58 AM
  1. Uh, he's 3 years old. Keep doing what you are doing and it will sink in eventually. Until then, keep watching him all the time like anyone else would do with such a young child.

    Posted by Dad June 1, 11 02:22 PM
  1. Rural Gal, the rule we follow is that the kids need to ask us before eating anything from the garden, every time. It's never okay to just pick and taste - for safety reasons. They also need to ask before they pull a "weed" so that nothing gets pulled accidentally.

    Posted by RH June 1, 11 02:22 PM
  1. At age 3, it should be pretty easy to "teach" him that some things can make him sick and he should always check with mummy and daddy before trying them.

    But really, I mean...my husband and I are big "going out at night" people except that we don't much right now because our daughter is also 3 and requires our presence and attention and not that of a babysitter every night we'd like to be out instead of at home. The real point there is that you now have a child and some things will have to be slightly modified in your life to accomodate this person for a while. If it means that you and your husband take turns in the garden or garden while your son is napping or simply look on this as a learning experience, then so be it.

    This, too, shall pass.

    Posted by phe June 1, 11 03:31 PM
  1. You might find a neighbor child to be a "mother's helper" for you, who could play outside and nearby with your son while you get some real gardening done. With a little luck the "mother's helper" will blossom into a full-blown babysitter in a few years and you will all be lucky for it.

    Posted by Gastrolgal June 1, 11 03:48 PM
  1. My mom always planted a bed of spinach just for me so that I could eat all of the "leaves" I wanted too, but she made it very clear that it was only okay in that area.

    Posted by Kellen June 1, 11 04:33 PM
  1. "Slapping it out of his hand on the way to the mouth isn't the way to go except in emergency."

    And it's child abuse.

    Slapping is abuse is slapping is abuse. I don't like this Mom.

    And what kind of message is Mom sending to her toddler? He should help, but he shouldn't help?

    She needs to lay off the slapping, and do some gentle, verbal discouraraging. And hey, Mom's the one forcing the child into the garden.

    Posted by reindeergirl June 2, 11 09:46 PM
  1. Oh yes, redindeergirl, the LW is clearly a horrible mother for "forcing" her child to spend time outdoors with nature, rather than sitting in front of a TV. And I'm sorry, but if a child is putting something potential poisonous into his mouth the gentle verbal discouraging you're talking about isn't going to cut it.

    Posted by Marie June 6, 11 09:31 AM
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Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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