We have a policy in our house: the parents are more stubborn than the kids. Stated differently, I get to win.
Lately, the kids have been engaging us in food battles. It’s a popular pastime for the short set: refuse a meal based on completely illogical grounds and see what the tall people do about it. Charles usually starts it by declaring, “I don’t like this dinner” if what is sitting in front of him is anything other than plain chicken and steamed broccoli. It doesn’t matter if he’s had it a million times and loved it in the past, he complains and sulks and harrumphs. Our response is always the same: “You have to try one bite.” Usually, he ends up contradicting his earlier declaration with a new one. “Oh! I remember! I LOVE this dinner!” If, even after a bite, he decides he doesn’t like something, well, there’s always something on the table he’ll eat (usually chicken and broccoli).
Behold, the remnants of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that Charles initially rejected because it was cut “wrong”:
He threw a fit, complete with alligator tears, because the sandwich was cut into triangles and he wanted a “whole” sandwich. We sent him to his room. After 20 minutes of getting hungrier, he came downstairs, apologized to me, and ate 3/4 of his sandwich. You see? Tony and I are more stubborn than he is.
Jamie likes to play this game a bit differently from his brother. Our rules are that everyone sits at the table together until dinner is over, no toys, no electronics. Jamie prefers to take one bite of food, drink some milk, and then get down and run away. We don’t have the high chair anymore, so I can’t strap him in. Instead, he is summarily plunked back in his seat once, then after the second time of running away, he gets put in time out on the couch (no toys, no blankets, no pillows – otherwise, he would just play “nigh-nigh!” all evening) where he can see the rest of us having a nice dinner. Last night, he eventually got up from the couch and walked over to Tony’s side, at which point Tony asked him if he would like to sit down and eat his dinner now. Jamie said yes. He sat on Tony’s lap and dutifully ate several bites of what was on his plate.
We always offer a bedtime snack – the snack is not contingent upon eating dinner. It is not a reward and is not taken away as a punishment.
It’s not fun. It’s not entertaining to me or Tony to restate the same rules, to enforce time-outs and the one-bite policy again and again, day after day. Dinners are not calm and enjoyable. We rarely eat out. I know that there are lots of children in the world who don’t go through this, who happily eat everything without a fight, and who sit quietly through a meal in a restaurant. I do not have those children. So I hope, I fervently hope, that my vigilance and stubbornness, my will to win, will help these boys grow up to be polite young men who will try anything and not gag at the table when their future mother-in-law or the state senator or their boss puts mushrooms in the orzo.