You have to fix the fight before you fix the food.

If your children don’t eat the way you want them to, consider how their behavior is impacting their eating.  Table manners really matter.

I’m not talking table etiquette.  That’s optional.  (Not that I didn’t celebrate when my daughter started using a napkin instead of her sleeve, or when she learned to chew without giving me the gift of a some delightful chewed up spew.  It’s just that these adorable expressions of childhood don’t really affect how well your child eats.)

You’ve got to address matters if your kids…

  • Scream when two foods touch.
  • Tantrum when unacceptable entrées appear on their plates.
  • Launch baby bottle bombs when they’re bored (or full).
  • Dissolve into furious fits when the TV, radio or other background entertainment is turned off.
  • Behave badly in any way when they’re supposed to be eating.

Think of it this way: If you can’t keep the peas on the plate, how will you ever get them past your kids’ pout?

If you’re thinking that a little mischief at mealtimes is a normal part of childhood, you’re probably right.

Your children might be acting out of their age, instead of expressing their inner rage—though don’t automatically discount the idea that anger/control/belligerence might be behind your kids’ actions—but that doesn’t mean you have to sit back and take it.

It’s also developmentally appropriate for small kids to push, grab, hit, bite, scream (and poop in their pants) but that doesn’t mean we don’t systematically teach our barbarians to be different. That’s what parents do: we teach.  And it’s never too early to start.

Here’s how to solve two problems parents often ask me about: Baby-Bottle Bombs and The Back Arch.

Disarm Your Little Baby-Bottle Bomber in 4 Easy Steps.

1) Pick up the first bottle-bomb that gets launched, and while handing it back to your baby say: When you throw your bottle I think you’re done.  Are you done?

2) Your child will stare at you like you’re crazy.

3) When the second bottle-bomb gets launched remove your child from the highchair/table and say: OK, I guess you’re done.

4a) If you think your child is still hungry, wait a few minutes and resume the meal. If a baby-bottle gets launched, repeat the entire procedure, starting with step 1.

4b) If you think your child is no longer hungry, teach an alternative form of communication.  End the meal and say: When you are done with your bottle put it over here. Or: When you are done with your bottle, give it to Mommy.  Or: When you are done with your bottle, say, “All done.”

Don’t be surprised if you have to repeat this procedure 3 or more times during the first meal. It will take awhile for your child to figure out what’s going on, and that you mean business. The key is to remind your child repeatedly what throwing bottle-bombs signals to you and what the consequences will be for her.

Seat Your Back-Archer in 4 Easy Steps.

Sometimes you can work around this struggle with choices—Do you want to sit in the high chair or the booster? — but other times…

1) Say: You must sit in the high chair.  If you do not, you’ll have a time out.

2) Your child will continue back-arching.

3) Say: OK, time out.  Put your child somewhere for a brief time out.

4) When the time out is over, start with Step 1.

This technique might take 20 minutes or more the first time you try it, but you’ll only have to use it once if you stick to your guns.

(I strongly urge you to fight the temptation to use strong-arm tactics to get your child into the high chair or the stroller—after all, you are bigger and stronger than your toddler; you could just sit on him until his butt hits the seat—but think of the lessons your kid will learn.)

In my experience, parents focus on the food because it seems like that’s the problem.

And, it is. It’s just not the only problem. You’ve got to fix the fight first, and when you do, the food will come along for the ride.

~ Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits. ~