02 January 2009

the shrew is dead

Other than breakfast, meals around here haven't been a lot of fun. Since we've been home for the holiday break, and today would be day ten of this little adventure, dinners have gone from major bummers to some really serious unpleasantness. In general, it goes like this:

  • Ask Oliver what he would like for dinner
  • Make what he asks for
  • Fight over whether we are washing hands with soap and water or a baby wipe (his preference)
  • Listen to him say he doesn't want what I have made
  • Beg, cajole, threaten, and bribe him to eat
  • Listen to him scream
  • Listen to Eleanor scream in response
  • Listen to him bang the table
  • Listen to Eleanor bang her high chair
  • (repeat previous four steps)
  • (one more time, just for good measure)
  • More begging and cajoling and threatening

Last night it became abundantly clear that no one is enjoying this and that I am being a total shrew about it. I had to take a step, or maybe six, back. In my head, food is not a battleground. The reality is so different. I am talking the talk but not walking the walk, and Oliver is calling me on it.

Then we made a plan.

I told Oliver I will no longer comment on what he chose to eat from his plate or how much. If I make what he asks for and doesn't eat it, oh well. There will be another meal in the morning. I will comment on table behavior I find unacceptable, but the shouting of, "Eat Oliver!" and the counting to get him to eat were over. On those rare occasions when dessert is available he will still need to eat a good dinner and "earn" dessert, but I will only remind him once during the meal.

Dinner tonight was darn near delightful, by comparison to last night. There was a little shouting and banging, but not too much. He did make one quick trip to the quiet stair, but it was, for the most part, without drama. Eleanor continues to mimic him, and he continues to find it funny while I continue to find it incredibly frustrating, but I have to let it go. They are feeding off my anger and that doesn't solve the problem.

This is one of those times, and they happen at least once a week, when I want to send a plane ticket to Canada. I want Mary P to watch over my shoulder and set me straight. I am going to start paying more attention to breakfast and try to figure out what is different. My hunch it is because he usually eats by himself, with Eleanor eating later. If that's the case, there isn't much I can do. He has to learn to eat with his family and to behave appropriately at the table. And I need to learn to take a few deep breaths and think twice before unleashing the shrew.


virginia said...

Separation from the family is your strongest weapon. Try reminding him of the rules before the meal (probably off to the side, away from Eleanor, as that preserves his dignity), using several simple rules. When trouble starts, repeat the (violated) rule calmly and firmly. Then send him to the quiet stair if the violation continues. But you know this and are already doing this. It can take time to "work."

I found asking a child what he wanted to be trouble, and to contribute to trouble. I tried to have kid-friendly food, but had to go to having what we were having (period). Instead of dessert, there was a piece of fruit and any child could have it, regardless of whether he/she ate the rest of his/her meal. I had to go to this after going nuts because I was being pushed into preparing a different meal for each member of the family. The focus finally turned from the food to the pleasure of being together; over the years, that was much healthier (and made for more flexible children, too, as a bonus).

Matt said...

I like the new plan. A little hunger will be a powerful motivator.

The other piece of advice I'd give: put out LOTS of food, keep it simple to make it sane for you, stuff that can be stuffed and restuffed into leftover containers.

What we do is I always, always, serve Duncan some of whatever I've cooked for the grown-ups (the "family" meal), but we have this arsenal of other food standing by, and we serve him a side plate of stuff that's good for him that he has established by past precedent that he will eat. He doesn't have to eat anything in particular, but we won't (except under very exceptional circumstances) do another dish for him.

Another suggestion: involve him in menu planning. (Yes, Kim, I can hear you laughing. MENU PLANNING. It's easier than one might think.) If you possibly can, stick to the same day every week to sit everybody down and plan out a menu for dinners. Make sure Oliver has one night a week where HE gets to pick what EVERYBODY is going to eat. Dad and Mom get the same privilege. Whoever is doing the cooking gets another night, whoever is doing the shopping gets another night (obviously some duplications here), designate a night for leftovers (for practicality and to let Oliver see how it works).

Finally, the bribery of dessert, despite modern philsosophies, has its place. I'm not saying ice cream every night. Mix in yogurt with berries, applesauce with cinnamon, stuff that won't make you cringe. But NEVER serve dessert without the minimal precondition of dinner being consumed. Pick and choose this every night -- your call. Finish all the broccoli. Eat half the rice. Whatever. Pick the goal, stick to it, deny dessert if the goal is not substantially completed.

And, as you say, don't get into a fight. Draw the line, stick to it, move on to bed if the other protagonist insists on being the drama queen.

I know we have it relatively easy on the food fight frontier, but everybody, EVERYBODY, goes through some kind of rough times here. Hang in there.

Matt said...

Oh, one more comment. I don't know how you use timeouts, or the quiet stair, or whatever, but I'm a believer in being strict about leaving the table. If misbehavior occurs, cancel dessert. But stick to keeping everybody at the table unless a bathroom emergency comes up. I find the necessity to concentrate on a civil dinner is essential. Instead of sending him away, force him to stay. I realize this might not work with the particular boy but give it a think through. (We are going through a "I have to leave the table for just a minute" phase which is annoying, fwiw.)

Another trick on this is the selective deafness, if you can manage it. Continue the normal dinner conversation with the spouse if you can, ignoring the interloper until he tones it down/is quiet/interrupts in a conversationally appropriate manner. Talk about anything. It may not make for a particularly relaxing dinner for you at first but it very much will improve the ultimate future harmony and table behavior.

Trannyhead said...

You're SOOOO right on the food thing. I, of course, have a kid who LOVES to eat. But I long ago decided that if he doesn't eat what's in front of him then he's going hungry, damnit. If he's hungry enough, he'll eat it!

Laura said...

Gah! I had a long, supportive comment written and Blogger ate it.

The short supportive comment is: Hang in there! Sounds to me like you're handling it perfectly!

Oh, and this is not 'Laura'. This is MaryP