Jul 24 2006

Just Two Bites.

Published by at 4:52 pm under amy's head,daily,kids

I am here to say, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Does YOUR child only eat 5 things total?

Mine did too.

I used to dream about those days when he was a baby and just learning to walk. I would sit on the couch and he would hang on and go down to the end, and then back to me and open his mouth up for a bite. Ahhh.. the good old days, when he would eat whatever I was, as long as it was mushy enough.

Well, that rapidly turned to crap. He got ultra picky between 18-24 months, and has only eaten chicken nuggets, scrambled eggs, yogurt, apples, and hot dogs ever since. We have had crying, fights, tantrums over getting Ethan to just TRY A BITE of something that wasn’t on The List, and I’m only talking about ME here. HE’S EVEN WORSE. Once he realizes that something is on the table, first he will say, “I’m not going to eat it. I’m NOT GIVING UP,” very matter-of-factly. (By the way, telling a child that “giving up” is something he shouldn’t do = NOT A GOOD IDEA.) The boy is just as stubborn as his daddy, and .. well. That’s pretty stubborn.

I have sat through many evenings of trying to get him to take a bite. I have read the books and the articles on babycenter.com and heard the theories. I know that you’re SUPPOSED to just offer him a wide variety, and let them eat what they choose. I’ve heard about making it a fun thing and giving lots of positive reinforcement when he DOES have a taste. I’ve seen Supernanny somehow manage to turn demon food throwing children into the best little eaters ever. It’s all well and good, but when you’re sitting there with the meal that you just spent time and energy making only to hear your son make barfing noises and holler, “That’s disgusting! I’m not eating it!” it’s enough to make you snap, and let me tell you, there have been times that I have definitely snapped.

All in all, many a martini has been consumed because of what goes down at the dinner table. Let me tell you my tactics, and give each one a stress rating.

  1. Threats.

    I would send Ethan to time out for not at least tasting what was put in front of him. Unfortunately this only worked about 1 out of 5 times. I stopped doing it because it just did not work. He would cry at first, and then refuse to come back to the table, and then I’d have to send him to his room and it would all boil down to a big ugly mess.

    Stress factor: 4 martinis (high)

  2. Positive Reinforcement

    This had a better success rate, when we could get him to take that first bite. Basically every time Ethan would have a bite, we would praise him, and count it. We would hold up a hand and list a finger with each bite, and keep it up to have a visual tally of bites. He would take a bite, and we’d make a little bing noise as the finger went up to count the bite and say, “ONE BITE! YAY! BIIIIIIING!” Then with the second bite, more of the same: “TWO BITES! AWLRIGHT! BIIIIIING!” and so on. We became cheerleaders for however long the meal lasted. This worked pretty well, but not all the time. If the food was too strange to him (you know, things like deli meat. Lil smokies. MASHED POTATOES. You can see why his pickiness would drive me over the brink of sanity, can’t you? WHO DOESN’T LIKE MASHED POTATOES! There was a time when he WOULDN’T EAT CHEESE THAT WAS WHITE! AAAAARRRRGH!) then he just would NOT try it, try as we might. We can’t give the positive reinforcement if he doesn’t actually HAVE that first bite.

    Stress factor: 2 martinis, however Tiredness factor: 5 pillows – this cheerleading shit wears you out.

  3. More Threats

    We wised up to the fact that Ethan doesn’t actually mind time out that much. This is why for serious behavior infractions, we confiscate his beloved toys instead, and THEY go into timeout, usually until the next day. This isn’t done often, but if he makes bad choices at school, hitting, calling names, etc. and he gets sent to the office, something of his is put into time out – it’s very effective, and he has been doing so well in school lately. We also give him plenty of positive reinforcement, with a sticker every day for making good choices, and a sucker on Fridays if he’s had a good week.

    Just a week ago, he so ADAMANTLY refused to taste something, that finally after 20 minutes, I set the timer for 4 minutes and told him that if he didn’t have his two bites by the time the timer went off, his train was going into time-out. None of the ‘experts’ would probably condone this behavior, but I was tired of waiting. Now, six months ago, this never would have worked, and if he was younger, it definitely would not have worked as it’s kind of a more mature concept.

    True to form, he ate his first bite by the 1:30 mark. I sang his praises long and loud and when he realized that the food he was putting in his mouth did not, in fact, taste like I was secretly trying to poison him, the other bite went down before the 2 minute mark hit. He remarked “That was pretty good, Mommy,” AND ATE ANOTHER BITE, which I followed up with, “Do you want some more?”

    “No,” he said as he ran off to play.

    Oh, and the thing he was refusing to eat? WHITE CHEDDAR MAC AND CHEESE. Aunt Annie’s, no less. You can see why I go crazy. Hello. Yummiest thing ever.

    Stress factor: 3 martinis – I guess you have to find the threat that works. The more effective (without of course, going overboard) the more successful and less stressful.

This running off and refusing to eat even if he likes it, is pretty true to form for Ethan and our food escapades. He is that stubborn, that even though he will admit it’s good, he won’t eat anymore, just because he’s mad that he HAD to eat it in the first place. But gradually I’ve been seeing this mentality slip a bit, and even more in the last month or so. Sometimes I’ll point out, “Just imagine if you’d never tried yogurt (one of his favorite things ever) – you never know if you’ll like something unless you try it.” And if he decides he doesn’t like something, then I’ll just remind him that he doesn’t have to eat it all, just 2 bites.

So the cumulative effects of the past 2 and a half years are finally WORKING.

Yesterday James cooked up some hamburgers and morningstar farm patties on the grill. One was earmarked for me, leaving an extra that I thought we’d give to the kids.

Ethan, true to form, took one look and said, “I’m not eatin’ that.” I calmly and rationally said in as blase a tone I could muster, “You only have to have 2 bites, and then you can be done.”

Usually I give him the thing he doesn’t want first, and won’t let him have anything else until the requisite 2 bites are consumed. Then we have to wait the 5-10 minutes for him to sulk, try to dissuade us or talk us out of it before he finally will eat it. Afterward, he is usually very proud of himself, “DADDY! I ATE 2 BITES!” But this time I went ahead and put his cut up hot dogs in front of him with the 2 bites of fake hamburger along with it. Jocelyn was plowing through her hot dogs and I quickly gave some to her as well, which was received with little feedback, good or bad – she eats just about anything. If it’s in front of her, she’ll try it (KNOCK ON WOOD). We didn’t mention the food, but James and I watched him like a hawk as we chatted and ate dinner, and then I spied him stabbing his hamburger bite with a fork and I quickly kicked James in the shins.

Oh. My. God. Miracles DO happen! We both did the ‘stare’ that you do when you’re trying not to seem as if you’re staring but still don’t want to miss a second of what’s happening. We watched as he PUT THE BITE IN HIS MOUTH AND CHEWED. No arm twisting! No threats of taking toys hostage! I nearly passed out from the shock. And then, he ate his other bite. And THEN, he told me he wanted the REST OF THE PATTY.

HE WANTED MORE, PEOPLE. HE WANTED MORE! Seriously, a year ago today, I never would have thought this day could happen. The day that he would taste something new, and then FINISH the rest of it.

I was so happy I could have cried.

-amy is tentatively.. ecstatic. Now there’s a term you don’t hear every day :)

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