Thursday, February 3, 2011
For This Toddler, "Reverse Psychology" Really Does Work!
"Do NOT eat your breakfast!"
"You better not take a single bite of those eggs or toast or else!"
"I made this delicious breakfast to put on the shelf and look at all day. Just look at it, admire my cooking and how nice the plate looks all full of food, but by all means, do not eat it!"
This is what I told my four year-old son yesterday as I was preparing his breakfast. And guess what? The little contrarian stuffed mouthfuls of eggs and toast into his mouth, gleefully mocking me. He was delighted at how upset I was that he was going against my wishes to NOT eat his breakfast. "Look, mommy!," he'd boast as he showed me his mouth full of eggs. I played along with my game and pretended to be mad at him for eating the breakfast that was supposed to stay on the shelf all day.
None of this is new. From the day he was born, he was "weird" about eating. Most childbirth books say that babies are "hardwired" to nurse, and will often nurse within moments of being born. My daughter was like this, but not my son! He stared at me, open eyed for a good half hour after he was born but would not nurse. He had no interest in food, probably because I wasn't zooming a firetruck around his baby blanket. In fact, in the two days' time that he was at the hospital following his birth, he hardly nursed at all. The doctor's fussed over the weight he was losing (he was only 6 pounds, so there was little of him anyway), and the nurse pointed out that he had dry, chapped lips because he wasn't nursing properly.
In time he became quite a nurser, but preferred nursing to eating. When he was weaned, he preferred drinking to eating, and will still prefer a "liquid lunch" to anything solid. I am still amazed at the profound effects of nursing on babies and toddlers, and how it continues to shape them long after they've weaned!
Usually mealtimes are a big chore. It just about takes an act of God to get my son to the table. Then begins the charade of eating. He usually refuses to eat and will only comply if somebody tells him a story, or if he plays with his toys at table while my husband or I shovel food into his mouth, seemingly unaware.
It seems that my son is hungry, but doesn't want to go to the trouble of eating. Left to his own devices, he'll only eat when he's ravenous, after starving for 20 hours, which also means that he's a tantrum-y bear. To save ourselves from such tantrums, I usually go along with the meal charade, and tell him stories about firefighters putting out fires on Christmas Trees before Santa gets there, and little boys who are junior firefighters and fight fires with the "big boys." I allow whole Lego sets on my dinner table, and other such nonsense. In short, I do anything to just get the kid to eat.
My son's pediatrician tells me that I'm not doing him any favors and that by his age, he should be able to feed himself, and to regulate how much he eats. I agree with all of this in theory, but am reluctant to actually try it out, to put the plate of food in front of him and NOT help him to eat, or NOT play the game of distraction so that he can eat without really eating.
As you can see, we haven't had much luck at implementing these tactics. The plate of food sits there getting cold while my son doesn't eat. We feel horrible at the thought of putting him to bed without a proper dinner, and so the vicious mealtime cycle repeats itself.
But perhaps "reverse psychology" can help us out after all. Whenever I tell my son not to do something, he does it immediately. If yesterday's experiment is any guide, then we'll be making lots of meals and not eating them in the near future.