So. We now have on our hands a toddler who refuses to eat. Sounds familiar? Hop on and join me on this blasted train!
At the grand old age of 22 months, Mr A has decided that food is not worthy of his time. From someone who can be really, really, REALLY greedy, he has now morphed into a PITA who says NO! to anything we offer him.
We tried all sorts of tricks: letting him play with his toy trains while we feed him. Letting him self-feed. Playing music in the background. Offering food from our plates. Letting him play with his food. Telling him he can have his yogurt and fruit after dinner. Mixing his food. Separating his food. Giving him only soup and rice (he’s a Chinese ah pek at heart).
For a while, we were pissed. How dare he! After all the effort we made to prepare his food? After all that effort we made to shovel food into his mouth? The audacity!
We cajoled. And coaxed. And spoke sternly. And scolded. And explained.
And then one day, something clicked in my brain. Why are we doing this? Why are we turning mealtimes into unpleasant experiences? Why are we forcing him to eat when he is clearly not interested? Why did I start off with baby-led weaning if I am prepared to force-feed my kid?
We were getting it all wrong.
A quick click over to the Ellyn Satter Institute site confirmed my fears that we weren’t doing what we set out to in the first place: to trust the child. The whole idea of baby-lead weaning was to allow the child to dictate what and how much he wants to eat. I had believed in it then but lost it along the way.
According to Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility, the parent is responsible for what the child eats, as well as when and where he eats. The child is the one who decides how much and whether to eat the food offered by the parent.
And so, I have changed my tactics. I mean, the kid is not stupid. If he is hungry, he will find a way to get food into his stomach. Rather than assume that he MUST be hungry and force food down his throat, I should let him dictate the pace.
Every night, I’d place a bowl of his food onto the tray of his high chair. I’d tell him that this is his food and he can eat it if he is hungry. And then I would turn and have my own dinner with him sitting next to me. More often than not, he would eat a couple of spoonfuls of food and then start mucking around. He’d also ask for yogurt and grapes (the two things in the world that he will NEVER EVER reject) but I’d explain to him that I am still eating dinner even if he isn’t and he has to wait.
He still isn’t eating as much as he used to but at least mealtimes are less stressful on all of us. Plus, he has learnt to sit in his high chair and wait for me patiently to get him his beloved yogurt.
Overall, I think this is working out better than us yelling at him. His molars have been popping out (and we are only at the first set, GACK) and I suspect that this is either due to that pesky molar OR simply a toddler phase.
We shall wait and see.
(Edit: A week after penning this, we have moved on from this dratted phase! Aidan is now eating dinner amicably with the rest of us. The only difference is that he now insists on self-feeding and he’s actually pretty good at it. So yes, this too shall pass.)