Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Motivating A Preschooler To Eat

Last August, I posted about a new strategy we implemented for encouraging our daughter to eat her meals in a timely manner. The positive feedback I received from friends both in the comments and on Facebook were encouraging. What I appreciated even more was the comment that my friend Babs left for me. I started to address her concerns in another comment, but it was getting lengthy and I thought that others might benefit from seeing more of the discussion.

Babs wrote, "It's definitely a sound approach since she knows she has the option for it later. But these days I often wonder where dinner time went when it is over in just 15 or 20 minutes. How long was she taking and what was she doing while she was dawdling. So many people these days don't even realize they've eaten because the goal was to get it done, not to enjoy it while it was happening...gee, kind of a lot like life in general :) I'm not dissing the idea, thinking of motivators (charlotte's) and repercussions"

For some background, Babs is my former leader in a national weight loss chain and is familiar with some of the food issues I've had. She has also been fairly transparent about her own issues with food and therapy so when she speaks up about this, I know I ought to listen.

And last August, here was my response to her:
First, I have tried to work hard to ensure that my daughter doesn't have her own issues with food and body image. I am cautious to not reveal any displeasure with my own body when she is around. I always serve her new foods to try and open her palette, even if it isn't often successful. I focus on all the wonderful things about her that have nothing to do with her appearance. When she plays princess I emphasize how brave or strong a princess needs to be. And even though she is 3, I think I am doing okay in this way.

But I know that sometimes even the best intentions can be thwarted by something that parents never saw coming.

I have always been adamant about family dinners. We sit down to eat dinner together as a family an average of 5 nights a week. During that time, every one at the table is asked about their day and given a chance to talk. Charlotte tends to monopolize a lot of the discussion though she is usually polite about it and often shares things of value that helps us get to know her as a little person.

Unfortunately, many nights she talks so much, and gets so interested in sharing, that she doesn't eat. So, while Bruce and I might finish the eating part of our meal in 20 minutes or so, she may have just taken a few, small bites. And I'm all for spending time together at dinner, but there should be some eating going on during the process. Our total time at the table most nights is about 45 minutes.

As for breakfast and lunch, right now she spends about 30 minutes eating while she watches her "shows" (go ahead, flog me now for letting her eat in front of the TV, it is a major weakness of mine), eating, singing, etc...

I've thought that her dawdling might be due to insufficient adult attention, but let me tell  you... the girl gets quite a bit of my undivided attention every day. Probably more than is healthy because she barely knows how to play by herself. We are working on that though.

Current situation:
Since I wrote that response last August (and left it in draft instead of publishing it), I wanted to provide an update about the situation.

Over time, she slowly started eating a little more focused, but she still talks just as much. I am not worried about her not eating dinner any more. She seems to roll with whatever I serve pretty easily, though I do keep her sauces and spices down to a minimum.

I eventually figured out that she didn't fully understand how to chew her food and taught her to use her tongue to move the food over her molars so she could chew it. That helped probably more than any other thing that I did.

Now though, that Charlotte is not napping and dinner is fairly close to her bedtime, dinner time isn't the most fun part of our day. So, for the last couple of weeks, I've been feeding the girls about 30 minutes before the grown-ups eat. They have a better attitude at dinner if they aren't quite so tired and Bruce and I also get a chance to talk, instead of listening to the Charlotte show for 30 minutes while we try to eat.

Overall, I am ok with where we are with the eating issues and both girls. I wish Charlotte had a more adventurous pallet, but Mary does so that helps a little. Other than excessive talking and getting out of her chair at dinner time, things are going very well.

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