Refusal to Eat
Q: Should a parent try to force a child to eat?
A: No. In fact, the dinner table is one potential battlefield where a parent can easily get ambushed. You can’t win there! A strong-willed child is like a good military general who constantly seeks an advantageous place to take on the enemy. He need look no farther than the dinner table. Of all the common points of conflict between generations—bedtime, hair, clothes, schoolwork, etc.—the advantages in a food fight are all in the child’s favor! Three times a day, a very tiny youngster can simply refuse to open his mouth. No amount of coercing can make him eat what he doesn’t want to eat.
I remember one three-year-old who was determined not to eat his green peas, despite the insistence of his father that the squishy little vegetables were going down. It was a classic confrontation between the irresistible force and an immovable object. Neither would yield. After an hour of haranguing, threatening, cajoling, and sweating, the father had not achieved his goal. The tearful toddler sat with a forkload of peas pointed ominously at his sealed lips.
Finally, through sheer intimidation, the dad managed to get one bite of peas in place. But the lad wouldn’t swallow them. I don’t know everything that went on afterward, but the mother told me they had no choice but to put the child to bed with the peas still in his mouth. They were amazed at the strength of his will.
The next morning, the mother found a little pile of mushy peas where they had been expelled at the foot of the bed! Score one for Junior, none for Dad. Tell me in what other arena a thirty-pound child could whip a grown man!
Not every toddler is this tough, of course. But many of them will gladly do battle over food. It is their ideal power game. Talk to any experienced parent or grandparent and they will tell you this is true. The sad thing is that these conflicts are unnecessary. Children will eat as much as they need if you keep them from indulging in the wrong stuff. They will not starve. I promise!
The way to deal with a poor eater is to set good food before him. If he claims to not be hungry, wrap the plate, put it in the refrigerator, and send him cheerfully on his way. He’ll be back in a few hours. God has put a funny little feeling in his tummy that says, “Gimme food!” When this occurs, do not put sweets, snacks, or confectionery food in front of him. Simply retrieve the earlier meal, warm it up, and serve it again. If he protests, send him out to play again. Even if twelve hours or more go by, continue this procedure until food—all food—begins to look and smell wonderful. From that time forward, the battle over the dinner table should be history.
— Dr. James Dobson
Ok, so apparently Dr. Dobson forgot the part where your hungry child becomes low blood sugar, despondent, cries himself to sleep on the floor at 10am, then wakes up and throws up the water he drank in the morning to try to alleviate his hunger. All so that he didn't have to try one bite of potato the size of a blueberry that he refused to try the night before. (we were trying to get him to try one bite of something new, no more food until he tries that bite.)
Do I just keep refusing food until he passes out? Which is practically what he was doing, he was all ready to just go back to sleep again (which he never does & definitely shouldn't be tired since he's had all his naps & gone to bed on time lately).
How is refusing him food until he eats what you want him to eat not "forcing" him to eat? It sure feels exactly like the battle Dobson describes before his brilliant solution. We were most certainly engaged in a battle of wills and stuborness.
I know we haven't done everything perfect in the food department, but where to go from here? I have a son who eats no vegetables, lots of fruit, lots of dairy & carbs, breaded chicken & occaisionally white fish. And refried beans, but only the ones at Taco Lobo that are pureed smooth. And will not try anything new unless its a condiment.
We've tried offering him new things & just letting him eat or not eat it as if we don't care. Doesn't seem to help. We've tried only giving him what we are eating for dinner and that led to:
1) Completely miserable meal & bedtimes for over 2 weeks with almost zero progress
2) Saben crying the instant I told him it was supper time. He dreaded & hated dinner.
3) Saben binging on 4 bowls of cereal every morning because he was so hungry.
4) Pregnant, tired mommy & daddy finally giving up.
What's nuts is that he actually eats fewer things these days because every now & then he'll get tired of something & drop it from his repitoire. (like cheese sticks) I tried blending some squash into his mac & cheese, and now he thinks he doesn't like mac & cheese either. Oh, and Saben LOVES to help me make food, he does it all the time. But contrary to stories you see everywhere, just because he helps me make a huge green salad does not mean he will try even one bite of it.
Ideas, weblinks, books, & encouragement welcome.