Posted by: Hannah | 03/26/2013

battleground

Even given the bastardly 5AM wakeups and non-verbal screaming / grunting / demanding spells that George is going through right now, Ron is currently the kid of mine who is most making me question my parenting skills.

He doesn’t like being home all day with the dayhome kids. He likes being home with me, when my focus isn’t split five ways, but unless Louis is having an unusually cheerful day there really isn’t anyone for him to play with for more than a few minutes.

He’s already reading easily and with comprehension. He gets along well with kids his own age and older. He’s got no fear of being away from me anymore.

He’s ready to go to school, but school won’t be ready for him until September.

So – he’s acting out, in the most predictable way possible.

He’s exerting extreme control over one of those areas that kids can control from a very young age – when and what he eats.

And like rookies, both Michael and I fell for it.

It started around his 3rd birthday, and I maintain that the first incident was legitimate. “I don’t like mushrooms” he announced at dinner one night, as he carefully ate his way around the offending fungi in a plate of homemade mac & cheese.

Fair enough. A lot of people don’t like mushrooms. He ate everything else on the plate. So we started telling him he could pick the mushrooms out of things (because the rest of us love mushrooms, we use them a lot).

Then it started being mushrooms and onions. Then mushrooms, onions, and celery. Then mushrooms, onions, celery, all kinds of soup because it’s “hard to eat with a spoon”, then the next thing we knew dinner was a nightly battle with our now almost-five-year-old.

Cajoling. Bargaining. Threatening. We did it all, because we are idiots.

We slipped so gradually into the trap that it wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago that I realized I was the living embodiment of “do as I say, not as I do”.

It was their last night of winter swimming lessons. Dinner was spaghetti – something that used to be a favourite but was now cause for picking, taking tiny nibbles of plain noodles, stalling, loud talking, attempted milk guzzling, and generally doing whatever meal-disrupting goddamn fool thing he could do to get out of eating it.

I was not having a good day.

I watched him pick out the mushrooms. Then the onions. Then the red peppers (WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK, YOU LOVE RED PEPPERS, YOU ATE THEM TWO DAYS AGO). It was getting closer and closer to the time when we had to leave for lessons.

“Listen up, kiddo”, I said, “if you don’t eat that delicious food we cooked for you – and I only gave you a little, by the way – you can’t go to swimming lessons tonight.”

He took another tiny bite.

Michael chimed in. “Dude. Take a bite. A real bite. Chew. Swallow. This is not hard.”

Ron scooped up a normal-sized bite. Stuck it in his mouth. Made himself gag it all back into his bowl, and then some.

***

So, he didn’t get to go to swimming lessons, because I couldn’t go back on what I said. That night they played games for the first half of the lesson and then started up the pool’s wave function for the last half.

He’d have loved it, and he missed out because I (stupidly) decided to try and make mealtimes a battle of wills.

I stopped.

I sat him down the next night at dinner and explained that we were not going to fight at the table anymore, because it was upsetting everyone. I explained – again – that our job as parents is to provide healthy food and his job as the kid is to eat it. I said that he was old enough to understand that he needs to eat to grow and have enough energy for play. And I set the new ground rules:

  • use appropriate table manners – sitting in your chair properly, eating with your utensils, no shouting
  • taste everything once
  • if you don’t want to eat it, you must leave the table so the rest of us can enjoy our meal
  • there will be no substitute meals or snacking between dinner and bedtime

The first couple of nights he ate nothing at all. And it was hard! It was hard for both of us, because like Louis CK said (I’m paraphrasing, not quoting) – that will fucking mess with your mind because you need to eat to live! And if you don’t eat, I’ll go to jail! SO EAT!!

Michael and I did a lot of reassuring leg-patting under the table.

But the last few nights, Ron has just… eaten. With a minimum of fuss. Dinnertime has become downright pleasant. It’s the first chance we have in the day to sit down as a family and just talk about whatever comes to mind.

I’m embarrassed to admit all of this, because I know what makes a so-called ‘good’ eater. I KNOW IT. I advise people all the time on how to get their kids eating more varied foods.

Time for me to sit down and eat. Please pass the humble pie. And I’ll have an extra helping of crow on the side.

 

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Responses

  1. Thank you, I was just kvetching to my pals about mealtime battles. I feel like now that sleep is going well, I need to find another problem to drive myself nuts over.
    So my tyrant is 2.5. Won’t sit at the table unless the meal is something she loooooooves (or is in the presence of anybody else -complete angel!). Being completely non-confrontational, I find it hard to lay down the law when all I want is a peaceful dinner, so I let her do what she wants. I need to know what voodoo mind games you used to keep your toddler at the table. Is she too young for ‘rules and rewards chart’?

    • She’s the perfect age for a rewards chart! At 2.5 she’s totally old enough to understand some simple rules around dinnertime, but young enough to be motivated by sticker charts. I would definitely recommend giving it a try. I would also suggest you take a look at Ellyn Satter’s website and/or books – http://www.ellynsatter.com/ – around feeding children. She’s a GENIUS.

  2. My older son is *still* a picky eater – at 15. I’m pretty sure we failed…

    • That’s so hard. But there is still hope! His tastes may yet change.

  3. I love Louis CK. Kids! My kids love vegetables. Love them! But only raw (except Jake, who also enjoys corn and peas that have been cooked). I’ve decided this is a battle I just don’t need. When I’m making a stir fry, they can have their veggies raw. It’s still the same veggies. I love fruit but cannot abide it when it is cooked, so I get it.

    I like that my kids are old enough to understand that they need protein, carbs, calcium, vitamins, etc., and so we talk about what is in their meals that have those properties. They know I eat mostly nuts, beans, legumes for protein, and since they don’t like those, they eat meat and dairy products. I think it’s important for them to know that it’s their job to grow and be healthy – so eat, goddammit!

    • Yeah, we do a lot of raw vegetables with dinner. I agree, that’s a battle I ain’t fighting. And I do talk with both of them about balanced meals, what the different vitamins / minerals do, etc. Which helps.

      • I hate cooking vegetables so this definitely would work for me! Sadly it’s harder to use these strategies on yourself… I generally just don’t have any veg, which isn’t ideal.

        • My FIL used to buy fresh vegetables every week, and then clean & prep them all at once. Kept in the fridge in a container with a little water that you change daily, they retain their crunch, and then you can just grab a handful when you’re ready to eat.

          • That’s such a good idea! It fits in well with the way I eat generally (never mind once a month cooking, I’m more of a once a quarter cook – I have a good freezer and lots of tubs!). Thank you 🙂

  4. First off mushrooms in macaroni and cheese is just wrong, Hannah! WRONG! I love mushrooms, but I can’t approve of that combination.

    Secondly, I do let my kids pick onions from their dinners on the grounds that it makes them use fine muscle control. “Just pick them out and shut up about it.” I say because I’m the type of horrible mother who like the term ‘shut up.’

    Thirdly, we tried the “eat or don’t eat and go to bed hungry” with our youngest kid. It took me a while to cotton on to the fact the stubborn curr would starve himself to the point where his blood sugar dipped and he’d vomit for hours the morning after going without dinner.

    Fourthly, I have no idea why I’m making a list.

    Fifthly, <– did I spell that write? Because sometims I spell filthy instead of fifthly. Stupid brain

    Sixthly, mushrooms in macaroni and cheese is wrong. I know that was my first point. It just bears repeating.

    • You’ll just have to trust me on the mushrooms thing. It’s good. Really good.

      And I’m never worried about Ron going to bed hungry. He eats a HUGE lunch every day, and actually gets balanced nutrition – him not eating dinner (I realized) was more about me being stubborn and feeling resentful that I spent the time making the meal only to have him turn his nose up at it than it was about anything else. Forcing myself to take the emotion out of it brought the mealtime stress level down significantly.

  5. My toddler was, as a baby, the best eater. He’d eat anything put in front of him, with gusto. As he gained words, they were mostly food related.

    As a toddler? He’d rather play. He eats most of his daily food at lunch, and picks at dinner. The interesting thing is that if I give him something sweet once he declares himself all done, he will consume the sweet item (cookie, juice) and then resume eating his dinner. If he is actually full, he will not eat the cookie. He will always drink the juice, even if he just had 2 glasses of water. So what we do is serve a bit of fruit or a cookie as soon as my husband has finished his plate of food. I have no idea why this happens, although now that I think about it, lunch and breakfast both usually include fruit – maybe he needs the sweet?

    • Probably he does, and if it works, why not? In very young kids, the taste buds that control ‘bitter’ and ‘sour’ are hyper-sensitive – much more so than in an adult. Maybe he’s smoothing the way for stuff he doesn’t like quite as a much with that juice or cookie.

  6. Good for you. Those slippery slopes happen to the best of us. And I remember that Louis CK bit and it is AWESOME.


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