At age 1, a child is at an important crossroads. He (or she) will have learned that he can play with food or he can eat it. He can shut his mouth tight. He can make choices. His opposition to being fed by others may be intense or mild. But no longer is he at the mercy of those who feed him.

Parents can enjoy and foster this independence. But they must play a different role from the nurturing one when the child was “our baby.”

The toddler stage demands a new approach. When a parent asks me, “How do I stop a temper tantrum?” I have to break the news: “Do nothing.”

Or, “How can I get him to eat a rounded diet?” Again I must answer, “You can’t.”

It hurts. It is so hard to let go — and let a child begin to learn on his own, especially when only he can help himself, and you can’t.

Some pointers:

Don’t hover over him.

Let him make his own choices. Offer two bits of finger food at a time while you do your own work around the kitchen.

Try him out on familiar, unbreakable utensils. Most children should succeed in using a spoon by 16 months. (In Japan, children begin to master chopsticks by 18 months. To me, this represents a toddler’s determination to imitate his elders and to achieve a difficult step.)

When he’s eaten two bits of food, give him two more.

Stay behind him, not ahead of him, when offering food.

Serve one food at a time so he can concentrate on it without being distracted by others.

When he plays with the food or throws it around, that’s a signal: The meal is over. Put him down calmly and without criticism: “All done.”

Avoid food between meals other than at regular times for snacks, which are necessary for young children. Snacks can include part of the child’s daily dietary requirements. But no grazing. Grazing is a parent’s way of trying to slip food in when a child isn’t paying attention, and it prevents a child from becoming hungry enough to sit down for a meal.

When you gather for your family meal, the baby can sit in his high chair as long as he’s focused on eating his food or contributing to the family’s pleasure in being together. When he begins to tease and test, put him down and let him play where he is safe on his own.

I used to recommend that the whole family always eat together. But with my own family I soon found out what every parent of a toddler already knows: “It is no fun having him at the table when all he does is tease you about food.”

Parents may do best to feed a baby before the family meal. Then, as he plays nearby, meals remain a social time for everybody. Thus you can keep him from associating mealtimes with negative memories, making it harder for him to enjoy meals even when he is older.

(This article is adapted from “Feeding: The Brazelton Way,” by T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., and Joshua D. Sparrow, M.D., published by Da Capo Press, a member of The Perseus Books Group.)

Questions or comments should be addressed to Dr. T. Berry Brazelton and Dr. Joshua Sparrow, care of The New York Times Syndicate, 620 Eighth Ave., 5th Floor, New York, N.Y. 10018. Questions may also be sent by e-mail to:

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