You see, I have a picky toddler. You know, the kind of kid who only eats about 10 different things and refuses anything else, with varying degrees of vehemence. It's not technically a serious issue, because he's growing just fine and most of the things he does eat are extremely healthy (he lives off of fruit, green smoothies, applesauce, Greek yogurt, and peas & carrots). But any mom of a picky eater knows the emotional agony mealtime can bring. It's a power struggle each and every day, no matter how hard you try to avoid it.
We've tried just about everything — having him help prepare the food, allowing him to choose from a selection, ignoring his actions completely, forcing him to try new foods (I'm talking literally forcing him), weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth, bribing, offering incentives, etc. etc. etc. Nothing has worked.
Lately we've had mild success with offering a more enticing food if he eats what's on his plate, but that quickly wore off. But today a lightbulb went on.
Evan and I were sitting down to lunch right before his nap. Actually, I was sitting down, he was climbing on and off the bar stool, occasionally swirling his applesauce and asking for crackers. Things were on an even keel for the day and I was not about to send them spiraling with a battle over a few bites of applesauce. Suddenly, I knew what to do.
I turned on the timer on my phone.
I said to Evan, "I'm setting this timer for 5 minutes. When the alarm goes off, lunch time is over and we're going upstairs. If you finish your applesauce before it goes off, you can have some crackers."
And it clicked.
For whatever reason, this did the trick. He happily ate it all, and still had time for a few Wheat Thins before trotting up to bed.
Later that night at dinner, I was reminded of this trick when Evan again refused to eat the carrots he had chosen. I told the hubby about how well it worked at lunch, so we gave it a whirl. Aaron was dubious, but the minute I told Evan I was starting the timer, a miracle occurred: He looked at us and said, "Oh, I'd better eat these carrots!"
It took more than 5 minutes, but he was steadily eating the entire time so I secretly pushed pause every now and then to keep the illusion going. When he'd start to lose interest again, I'd hold the phone up to show him the timer. He'd say, "Yep, it's clicking away!" and get back to business. Adorable.
I think this method works because it jibes with Evan's primary motivations: competition and the desire to be independent. It also has something very powerful going for it: the ability to make the phone, not the parent, the enforcer, eliminating any chance of negotiations and power struggles. And, it's finite. Once it goes off it's over, and there's no going back. Sorry, Charlie. Better luck next time.
I hope I'm not prematurely waving the victory banner, because with toddlers I realize things flip on their head in an instant. But for now it feels like a glorious, miraculous end to an increasingly desperate situation. Please take me seriously when I say that this may be an answer to our prayers, because I truly believe it is. Either way, I'm grateful for today, and I hope it can help some of you parents out there with picky eaters of your own.
Now, go forth and conquer!!