Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Manners, Food and A Pat On the Back

We have been trying desperately to teach Noah some manners at the dinner table. I'm not talking about the obvious ones: use a napkin instead of your sleeve, don't burp, sit still, chew with your mouth closed, etc. Those are all worthy things to be addressed by all parents, but it's kind of hard to teach your child to chew with his mouth closed when he won't even put the food given him into his mouth. Yes, we have a picky eater, and I know most of you can empathize. I know this is a common dilemma, but unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a common solution.

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.


Rachy Maree said...

We use Carnation too! Thank goodness for the Costco package.

When I finally put my foot down about Corban not eating with us it was hard- he would wait until bedtime and then ask for chocolate milk or food.

It was a few weeks of difficult evenings/nights, but he quickly learned that I wasn't going to budge. He is no longer allowed any drinks or food (other than an occasional slice of bread) at bedtime and he is starting to eat more in the day. My rule is he has to eat 2-3 bites of each item on his plate, which usually results in him eating the rest anyway. He is wary of different looking or new foods, but he knows he cannot be "scuzed" from the table (another rule I added) until he has two bites of everything. So he grimaces and gets the two bites down. Sometimes he LOVES the food, but was just hesitant to try it.

So, basically our guidelines for meals are:
- Sit quietly for prayer (this is a work in progress, but as long as they are quiet and not distracting then we just ignore the bad behavior)
- Have two bites of everything before you can ask for seconds of something.
- Must asked to be excused and actually get permission. (He used to say "scuzed" and run out of the room.)
- Put your plate in the sink or on the counter.

My neighbor is more lax than I am, plus her kids are older. The rule at their house- "If you don't like what mom made for dinner, make your own." (I found this out because I am in primary and their 9 yr old told me. Funny.)

Sorry for the lengthy comment.

Krystle said...

I happened upon your blog a while ago.

Just wanted to say thank you! We seem to be just starting down the road with a picky eater (a 2.5 yr old) and have tried some of those old techniques - they haven't been working for us either. I will definitely share this post with my husband.

Is the carnation to help with weight gain or other nutrients?

Mardee Rae said...

Oh, this is good advice. Cadence has never been picky, but has recently started being stubborn. It's like it doesn't matter if she used to like it, she doesn't like anything anymore (except, count my lucky stars, a few fresh veggies). We've somehow gotten on the slippery slope where she expects a treat or dessert after every meal half-eaten-as a reward. I really don't want that to continue, so this is something I'll need to try.