In my family, we all have fast and sensitive metabolisms. While it is true that we will not die of starvation if allowed no food for 12 hours, the low blood sugar makes us feel panicked and furious. While it is true that eating the "wrong" food when we have strong feelings about what is the "right" food will not kill us, it can cause us a day or so of headache, acid stomach, constipation, or other problems. Everything goes more smoothly for ALL of us if ALL of us are able to eat when we're hungry and fulfill any strong food cravings.
We have tried being the strong parents who won't let their child "control" them by letting him have a different food or an unscheduled meal, and we have found that we cannot do it. It's not just because his behavior is so horrible as a result. It's because of empathy: "How would I feel if I couldn't make oatmeal myself and I was looking at the oatmeal up there and being told that if I won't eat chili I can't have anything, when I KNOW that my body needs oatmeal now and beans would be VERY BAD for me?" And it's because we want our child to be aware of his body's needs and make intelligent choices about foods, instead of being like most Americans.
That said, when we have cooked a full meal for the family (that is, we're not having leftovers or breakfast) and it's ready to eat, EnviroDaddy and I sit down and eat, and our response to requests for something different is, "This is ready now, and we are eating. If you won't eat this, you'll have to wait until one of us is available to make oatmeal." And we won't make him a separate food that requires elaborate preparation, only things like leftovers, sandwich, fruit, yogurt, cereal, etc.
We had an interesting time on Saturday when EnviroKid woke from a late nap just as I was about to start dinner. I told him we were going to make beans and guacamole, a meal he normally loves to eat and loves to help make
, but he got very anxious: "I can't, I can't eat that, it's too--watery? spicy? I don't know how to say it, but I just can't eat that; it will make my tummy hurt." I said that was fine, but the avocados were perfect and this was what I was making and he could have a sandwich. "But no! If you guys are eating that, I'm going to eat it. Because I like it. Except today I should NOT eat it. But if I see you eating it, I will have to eat it." We talked about how sometimes you have to be around other people who are eating things you can't eat, and we know he can cope with that because he's routinely not allowed to eat the meat at school. (But I was thinking, sometimes you HAVE to be in that situation, but sometimes you're at home with your loved ones who could wait one day for guacamole out of consideration for you!) He said, "If we make Honey Baked Lentils
and sweet potatoes and put it all in the oven, then we can play Parcheesi while it's baking, and in one hour we will have a nice dinner we all can eat." Hard to argue with that! We had all the ingredients on hand, it would be easier than making the other meal plus something for him, and I could still make the beans and guac the next day. So we did that, and it worked out fine.
Now, is that child-centered, or is that being flexible in order to meet the needs of all family members?About interrupting:
It takes years for kids to learn etiquette, but it's never too early to start! We say, "You're interrupting. Please let me finish." and insist on it, but then we give him an opportunity to speak ASAP so it's clear that waiting pays off and he WILL get his turn. (It took me a while to realize how important that is. I was trying to finish the whole conversation with another adult before giving him a turn. That's too frustrating for a young child. The only kids I've known who've accepted it are those who have a very compliant, patient temperament and those who are spanked every time they interrupt.)
To make that work, it's crucial that his dad and I respond appropriately when he points out to us that we've interrupted him! We actually do it WAY too often! Now that he's calling us on it, we're realizing that we had not been giving him the conversational respect we expect from him. Now we are using these opportunities to model the way we want him to respond when we tell him he's interrupting: "Oh! I'm sorry. Go ahead."