Anyone who’s ever parented a four-year-old knows that the words “mealtime” is enough to cause a belly-full of dread. “I don’t want that!”, “I’m full!” (often followed five minutes later by, “I’m hungry!”), “there’s a brown thing on it.” Or your own voice saying over and over again: “Eat!”, “Take another bite”, “C’mon, you can do it!”
It’s a battle. Four-year-olds (or, in our case, five-year-olds) are just learning about this thing called “other people” in the world around them, and what that really means. That means a lot of psychological warfar as they learn how they relate to their place in the world. For instance, who controls who. Are the parents really the bosses? Can the pre-schooler make them do certain things? Can they get reactions out of the parentals?
Oh, kid – you have no idea.
The X-man is smack dab in the middle of this. He’s always had his daddy wrapped around his finger, but since I don’t believe in kids running the show, we’ve slowly been working on all of that. Which means our showdowns over who’s in control have been a bit epic. And unfortunately, the stage right now is mealtimes.
Unless it’s waffles or pancakes, the X-man is taking hours to eat any of his food. Jeff gets impatient and starts snapping at X-man. The X-man either cries (causing Jeff to comfort X-man. Score 1 for X-man.) or takes even longer, because hey! no one can tell him what to do! And since we often have other things to do besides hang out with the X-man in the kitchen and make sure he eats, we’ve implemented a new element: the timer.
The X-man now has 30 minutes to eat his meal. If he beats the timer, he earns a marble. If he doesn’t, the meal is picked up and set aside. If the X-man says he hungry later, he’s offered his uneaten meal – unless it’s too close to the next meal, in which case he’s gently reminded that he chose not to eat earlier and will have to wait a little bit because it’s almost time to eat.
Last weekend, the Xman didn’t finish a single meal. He didn’t eat anything on Saturday. Convincing Jeff that the little guy wouldn’t starve took a lot of talking and a few links online to back up my case. Last Sunday, he ate a bit of lunch, but not before the timer, and the same with dinner. He gets a few bites in, but knows he’s being timed and so he just shuts down. We did have a breakthrough, though. Jeff was convinced the X-man wasn’t eating because he didn’t like what we gave him. (Pfffffft.) He was grilling X-man, asking him why he wasn’t eating. The X-man, god bless ‘im, looked up at Jeff and said, “Sometimes I just want waffles.” Jeff asked X-man if he would eat a waffle if he made it. The X-man’s face lit up, as he smiled ever so big and nodded his head vigorously. Jeff, whom I thought I was going to have to tackle to get him to comply, swiftly changed tones and told X-man, “Then you’re hungry enough to eat this. You don’t get to have waffles for every meal, X-man.” I was so proud.
This weekend, we were prepared for more of the same. It helped Jeff to know that it’s the most common complaint parents have about 4- and 5-year olds and that I went through the same thing with both girls. (Mostly Bee.) Still. But the X-man surprised us. He didn’t do great on Saturday, but he plodded through, at least, instead of refusing to eat. Sunday he did refuse to eat, until Jeff started cheerleading. “Okay, have a bit of chicken!” “Good job, have some corn!” It’s something we’re working on not doing because the kid needs to learn how to eat without it, but I think by that point Jeff was just done with mealtimes. I get it; we just need to be consistent.
At least I only have to face Mealtime Death Cage Battles on the weekends. I still hear “I don’t want that!” for dinner from my own tweens during the week, but I can usually silence them with the raising of my eyebrows. It’s a nice break. And pretty soon this phase, too, shall pass.