My daughter’s almost two, and out of nowhere, she’s become a picky eater, which absolutely grates on me. She pushes away foods she’s eaten for months without taking even a single bite, and then she’s gesturing for the food she wants in its place (98% of the time it’s bread.)
So my husband and I are going to have to outlast her. She has to learn that she’s going to eat what we serve her (or at least try it before rejecting it.) That means no replacement foods: If she says no, she’ll just have to be hungry. She’s going to cave before we are. That’s my vow.
It feels mean, I’ll admit it. And she certainly howls like I’m the worst mommy in the whole world. And I’ll admit that bothers me, too: Not just her discomfort, but her being upset with me, specifically, for inflicting her discomfort.
So read on for the methods I’m employing to outlast her. Please write in with any comments (or to tell me I’m going about it all wrong, that’s good food for thought, too. This parenthood thing has an unending learning curve.)1) Take deep breaths and stay calm.
This is the most crucial. I don’t want to show anger or frustration, only resolve. Because she’s going to be plenty frustrated, and I need to model its opposite.
2) Show compassion for her emotions (particularly frustration.) She doesn’t understand why she can’t just eat bread at every meal, or the capacity to understand when I try to explain it.
Therefore, tone of voice and non-verbal communication is key. So putting together 1 + 2 = Calm compassionate resolve.
3) Take a break from the interaction when necessary (as in, when I can no longer live within the above equation because I’m getting too annoyed.)
Because while she’s thinking, “WHY CAN’T YOU JUST GIVE ME MY BREAD?!!!!”, I start thinking, “WHY CAN’T YOU JUST EAT THIS MEAL YOU’VE EATEN 50 OTHER TIMES IN YOUR LIFE AND ENJOYED JUST FINE?!!!!”
Each of us is thinking there’s an easy solution to the problem: The other person should give in.
4) Remember that power struggles are developmentally normal. It’s not a sign that anything is wrong with your child, or wrong with your parenting.
Toddlers are asserting their autonomy, and they don’t understand why so many decisions get made for them. Parents, on the other hand, are often tired and overworked and wishing they could get a little more appreciation for all they do (i.e., just eat your meal right now because it’s been a long day and I’ve kissed you and hugged you and sung 200 verses of “Wheels on the Bus.”)
5) If you’ve been applying a certain technique consistently for a while without any improvement in the target behavior, reevaluate.
Remember that inconsistency will undermine your efforts. If you slip up and give in to your toddler’s demands, it sends the message that maybe you’re not so resolved after all; your child can then cannily redouble his or her efforts to break you down. Every time you give in, you’re back at square one.
But if you have been entirely consistent, and also unsuccessful, it’s time to critique your methods. Your toddler is giving you feedback all the time–they’re so helpful that way!–so consider it.
What have you tried? What’s worked, and what hasn’t? I’d love to hear from you.
Toddler refusing to eat image available from Shutterstock.