We've tried several things: force feeding (this only created a bigger tantrum and a mess all over him, me, and the floor), sending him to bed upon his boisterous refusal to eat (this punishment was quickly abolished when it was very clear he wanted this more than eating), making him sit at the table until he'd at least had one bite (while we endured his incessant wailing), and finally, feeding the "disgusting" food to him for every meal until he gave in (he never gave in, but rather, began to waste away before our eyes).
This brings us to our latest and final tactic. We've decided this a battle we do not want to make any harder than it already is. So, here's the rule: if he says anything rude about the food (says it's disgusting, yucky, or if he just plane fusses and whines about it) he is reprimanded and told that such things hurt Mommy's feelings. Then he is politely told he doesn't have to eat it and he can go play in another room while we enjoy a nice meal. But, he'll probably get really hungry because he won't get to eat until the next meal (the next meal will NOT be the food he refused because we've learned that he WILL let himself starve first). So far this has worked pretty well. The tantrums have decreased and meal times are quieter now. But I wasn't sure if he was really learning anything, until today.
Today I had one of those reassuring moments that told me all our efforts to teach Noah some manners are not in vain. Here's what happened:
We were at one of my cute sister's-in-law house during lunch time. She so kindly made us all tuna fish and tomato sandwiches. I knew Noah would not want to eat them since he is the pickiest eater on the planet (a title my sister-in-law challenged with one of her own children). But, I wasn't going to say anything, since I wanted to teach him that this was the food we were given, so this is what we're going to eat. As we all began to eat our yummy sandwiches, I eyed him nervously, ready to be embarrassed by my picky eater. He looked at everyone eating their sandwiches, then looked at the one sitting on his plate. He pulled it apart to reveal the tuna fish and diced pickles. I saw the nervous look on his face. Then the biggest surprise came. He put the sandwich back together, lifted it to his mouth, and took a bite! I tried to hide the relief that swelled within me.
The taste, I could tell, was a bit of a shock, but he was such a good sport. He chewed and chewed and tried his best to be a good boy and eat the food his nice aunt made for him. But, he just couldn't do it any longer. Pretty soon, my relief was squelched when I saw him spit the now mushy food onto his plate. I again geared myself for rude words like, "gross" or "yuck." But, again I was surprised. He said "I choked," which really means he gagged. Then he quietly said, "I'm not hungry. I don't want to eat."
I was so proud of him, and you might wonder why. Well, here are the reasons. One, he didn't say anything rude about the food. Two, he didn't throw a fit about the possibility of eating it. Three, and most importantly, he TRIED IT! He NEVER tries food at home that he's nervous about. I was so happy.
Later, I made sure and told him how proud I was at the way he behaved. He said excitedly, "I didn't say 'disgusting'!" Even though he's yet to show such nice manners at home, I'm glad to know he has learned something. Pretty soon, if we stay consistent with this, he'll show those same nice behaviors at our dinner table at home. I have a feeling it will be a while, but it's nice to know the possibility is there and that our efforts aren't for nothing.
So, the moral of the story is:
Keep at it! You never know how much your children are learning, so keep trying!
Also, when it comes to teaching your kids to eat, I think it's one of those things you have to customize to your child. They all respond so differently. What we're doing might not work for your kids. You just have to find what sort of works and be consistent with it. For some more ideas, here's my whole game plan for teaching my kids to eat:
- For breakfast and lunch, I almost always try to fix something I know they WILL eat. I reserve the teaching time for dinner (because Dad's usually home at dinner, and he'd much rather eat something other than mac and cheese)
- Since Noah's been so difficult, we've started early with Clara. If she doesn't eat what I fix for dinner, I don't worry about it. Even though she's young and small, I'm still going to expect that she eats what she's given. She guzzles her milk, and we have to put Carnation in it, so she's getting lots good stuff that way. Plus, she's not as picky as Noah, so she does usually try new things and I definitely don't want to lose that.
I'm always up for advice since I pretty much don't know what I'm doing.