My mom told me, years ago when Kaylee was just a baby, that there were two areas that a child felt like they had control: eating and sleeping. With everything else, they could not control you or your responses, but for some reason, they feel like they can control food and sleeping.
I think because those two things are important to us. And, we communicate that those two things are important.
When Kaylee was nearing 2-years-old, during dinner time one night, she looked at me and dumped her plate onto the floor — then laughed. Since the meal was something brand new and strongly seasoned, I made her a new plate, washing spices off meat, and making sure that the food I put on it was something she would eat. She looked at me, picked up her plate, and dumped it. I realized then that she was testing me.
I got her out of her high chair, told her that she couldn’t have anything else to eat. About an hour later, she cried that she was hungry, and I reminded her that she could have a big breakfast in the morning.
The next night, I made certain that the meal I prepared was something she would enjoy eating. She looked at me, dumped the plate, and laughed. I reprimanded her, got her out of her seat, and explained that she would not have anything else until the next day. The next night, she did the same thing, and I reacted the same way.
After that, she never challenged food. She’s taste and try and let us know if she didn’t like it, but it was never an out-and-out challenge.
I discovered that the boys did the same thing at about the same age. And with them, it took about 3 days of no dinner and a lot of bedtime whining to win the battle.
During all of the recent conversations we’ve had with psychologists about our son Scott, we’ve discovered that this is also something psychologists try to convey to parents: If you let them control you with food or sleep, then you are being controlled by your children…and don’t think they’ won’t use that against you.
We have never really given in to the control issue. When my kids don’t eat…they don’t eat. That’s not always been easy. Now that Scott is older and we realize how many issues he has, I think if we could go back and KNOW about his issues, we would have maybe catered to his eating. He doesn’t like his food to touch — so, when I serve a casserole, he spends half the meal “cleaning” off the meats and vegetables before he’ll eat them, if he eats them at all. Soups are almost always out of the question, because everything is all mingled together. Sandwiches get deconstructed and eaten separately. Even pizza is eaten in layers.
But, because I didn’t know about all of his OCD tendencies, and because I didn’t know he’d have so many issues, I have NEVER catered to him when it comes to food. There are no food battles in my house. At dinner time, if you don’t like what is served, you can eat extra salad, or don’t eat at all. Because I make all of my dressings homemade, and because I purposefully make the Homemade Buttermilk Ranch Dressing without the mayonnaise and just make it with buttermilk and Greek yogurt, my kids can consume as much of it as they want at the table and I don’t care. If after dinner they’re hungry because they didn’t eat, they’re welcome to get fruit out of the fruit bowl and drink as much water as they want. If dessert is available, they do not get to eat it. That is about the only “punishment” that comes from not eating.
Discussing meals and meal time with one of the psychologists, he said to us, “You’ve done half of my work for me. I usually spend several weeks trying to teach parents how to handle food and sleep issues. We have no problems there and I’m not really sure where to begin.”
I think Scott wants to battle us with food, but that experience at about 2-years of age has taught him that it would do no good. So, instead, he makes do with what he is served – either eating it, deconstructing it before eating it, or eating what’s on his plate that he is willing to eat.
I will admit that there’s this “mommy” side of me that wants to roast him a plain chicken thigh, cook some brown rice in some Turkey Stock, and steam him some broccoli every night to go with his salad and homemade bread – because that is his favorite meal and he’d eat it every single night if I let him. It’s not like it’s chicken nuggets and French fries – a meal that a friend of mine feels “forced” to feed her daughter daily. But, even though it’s about as healthy of a meal as I could make him, that would do nothing to teach him about coping with the “real world”, would do nothing to expand his pallet, and would make meals away from home extremely stressful.
Instead, I cook what I would cook if he was with me or not. And, he can choose to eat it, cope with eating it, deconstruct it, or not eat it. And, honestly, with most meals, I never know for sure which way he’ll go.
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