3 year old power struggles... how to deal with them? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 62 Old 01-31-2007, 08:57 PM - Thread Starter
 
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ok, so the power struggles happen at various times, but most frequently now at dinner. dd1 will say she's not hungry, eat a little, and then, because dh and I don't want to push the issue, we let her out. Right as soon as the light is out after story time, she is hungry. Part of this is stalling bedtime, but I don't doubt for a second that she really is hungry. So far dh and I have been really firm, and have said we are sorry she is hungry and that dinner time is when we eat, so next time make sure to eat dinner. Next time she does it again, and when we remind her about the previous time it just doesn't sink in, she still insists that she's not hungry. Sometimes I can distract her, or explain to her that her tummy will really hurt if she doesn't eat, but this usually means feeding her, which is something that we are trying to stop doing.... (don't most 3 and a half year olds feed themselves? or am I expecting too much?) but still, it doesn't always work, and with a new baby i am not always available to do this, and it doesn't work at all when dh tries.... soooo I am looking for a way to get through to her, and make sure she eats... ideas, advice? thanks!
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#2 of 62 Old 01-31-2007, 09:08 PM
 
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First, I would NEVER deny a child food. I can't tell you how many times DS gets up at 2:00am and wants yogurt. How do I know he's not hungry? He's growing, maybe he didn't eat enough at dinner. I don't play the food police with them.

"Sorry your hungry but next time please be sure to eat?" Wow, that is definately not something you watn to do to a kid!

Do you have some examples of what you mean by power struggles?

About the food: Prepare healthy choices, let her eat any time of day anywhere. That will get rid of the struggle. Eventually maybe she'll enjoy "family dinner." we actually dont' eat at the table hardly ever. We have picnics on the floor a lot. If you're willing to give up the need to have something a certain way for her, and let her decide, your life will become a lot easier.
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#3 of 62 Old 01-31-2007, 09:25 PM
 
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I disagree with the previous poster. I think that the child should learn that bed time is not when we eat. Especially since we're talking about a 3 year-old not an infant. I have dealt with this issue with families that I babysat for and what we finally decided to do was let the child up from the table when they're finished with dinner, but save a portion of dinner in the fridge (probably what's left on their plate when the child gets up from the table) and then about 30 min before bedtime let them know that this is the last call for food. They can finish their dinner at this time, and if they are still hungry they can have another healthy snack. let them eat until they're full. But when they're finished they are done for the night. This way you can be sure that they're not hungry when they lay down for bed. However I don't think a child should be allowed to stall their bedtime by claiming they're hungry everynight.

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#4 of 62 Old 01-31-2007, 09:37 PM
 
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Exactly what we do with 3 y.o. DS.

Also, battles of will at this age are pretty normal developmentally...I guess my best advice (that I don't always follow) is keep your cool and choose your battles. Offer choices, be clear about the reasons for the limits, and try to give her some extra one on one with the new baby. (We're dealing with that as well with a seven week old into the mix, and we've seen an increase in that kind of "oppositional" behavior.) He really just wants us to see him as an independent individual with power of will.

Sometimes, if I get the feeling DS just is looking for a spirited argument (sometimes he will tell me to disagree with him), I'll divert his attention by making a ridiculous claim, like "I see you have a zebra behind your ear." Pretty soon we're giggling, and often he'll comply with the original request after a few minutes of engaging with him.

Good luck...this age is much harder than those famed "terrible twos", IMO.
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#5 of 62 Old 01-31-2007, 09:39 PM
 
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Maybe scheduling a snack before bed would help with her hunger, and help you avoid feeling at odds with her right before bed. If you were hungry, wouldn't you eat? Why deny her the same?
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#6 of 62 Old 01-31-2007, 09:47 PM
 
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We have a "last call" for snacks before bed too. Always looking for new ideas though.

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#7 of 62 Old 01-31-2007, 09:50 PM
 
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Originally Posted by fek&fuzz View Post
Maybe scheduling a snack before bed would help with her hunger, and help you avoid feeling at odds with her right before bed. If you were hungry, wouldn't you eat? Why deny her the same?
This was my thought too. If it's important to her to eat before bed, why not make a snack a part of her bedtime routine?
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#8 of 62 Old 01-31-2007, 09:57 PM
 
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Wow, if my kid is hungry, and I have a 3 year old, meeting their needs is so much more important to me than keeping a scheduled bedtime. Do you worry that denying food will create issues with food later? Or telling her, when she isn't hungry that this is the only chance she gets to eat might confuse her?
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#9 of 62 Old 02-01-2007, 01:22 AM
 
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Wow, if my kid is hungry, and I have a 3 year old, meeting their needs is so much more important to me than keeping a scheduled bedtime. Do you worry that denying food will create issues with food later? Or telling her, when she isn't hungry that this is the only chance she gets to eat might confuse her?
I understand what you are saying (I couldn't stand feeling they are going to bed hungry) but the other thing that goes through my mind is the possible issues that could arise later out of habit of eating so close to bedtime. Most health "officials" (pediatricians, nutritionists, etc.) tell even adults not to eat meals too close to bedtime because of digestion and your body's ability to burn off fats, etc. A healthy snack would be considered but I would be afraid if I allowed them to eat "dinner" at bedtime, I would be setting habits that could cause health problems or weight issues later.
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#10 of 62 Old 02-01-2007, 02:51 AM
 
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FYI - most 3 year olds are NOT capable of understanding delayed consequences, which is what you're giving her when you say 'if you don't eat now, your tummy will hurt at bedtime.' They do not have the ability to link being hungry at bedtime with not eating dinner at dinner time. The reason she does this over and over again is because she's three and not developmentally able to link the two. Not until a child is 4 or 5 does this become a possibility, and even in our 5 1/2 yo, it's a weak skill.

I vote for snack before bedtime. We offer food every 2-3 hours in our house, and it's usually 2 hours from dinner to bedtime. A 3 year old still needs to refuel regularly. Most early childhood programs feed children every 2-3 hours. Not only do the kids need to refuel, but this ensures that if a child isn't hungry/doesn't care for one meal, they don't go too long without something else to eat.

My kids have a snack before bedtime. Dd's is usually nursing. Ds's varies. He's in the 94th percentile for height and the 60th for weight. He's in NO danger of being overweight. Both my kids stop eating when they are full, even if it means leaving half a dish of ice cream on the table. They have much healthier attitudes toward eating than I do precisely because it's not restricted. They have learned to monitor their own hunger and full cues.

So: Quit feeding her. Let her eat more regularly. Let her choose a healthy snack (with complex carbs and a bit of fat) at bedtime. Read the book "Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense."

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#11 of 62 Old 02-01-2007, 10:56 AM
 
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Just a thought -- if these are fairly new issues, I'd think there was a link to the new baby. Does she see you feeding her? This seems like a potential place in which your DD is trying to manage her feelings about the new baby and the caretaking/attention/physical warmth that goes into feeding your new baby. If I were you, I would allow her to be "fed" by you and held on your lap during dinner for a while ... and link it for her to her feelings about the new baby and that she wants to be taken care of in that way, too.

Its so hard ... knowing the line between honoring the struggle your DD is going through adjusting to a new baby and "keeping boundaries of behavior" clear. At least it was very hard for me at that stage, wrapped as I was in my own deeply ambivalent feelings.

Just remember that your DD needs some place to express the jealousy and a sense of loss that she feels with the new baby and it may not come out in obvious ways. This those might be one of those places and if it is, she needs tenderness and empathy. I suspect that these behaviors will go away soon if you allow her those moments of being a baby.

Worth trying?

Becca

P.S. Child of Mine is a GREAT book. It saved us from loads of eating/food issues.
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#12 of 62 Old 02-01-2007, 11:20 AM
 
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My five yr. old will often ask for food right before he falls asleep. It's one of the ways I know he's getting ready to fall out.

I would just build a snack into the bedtime routine.

I think trusting babies to nurse when they're hungry ought to extend to older kids eating when they are. All that power struggle, manipulation stuff sometimes just gets in the way of meeting our kids needs and building attachment. Assume the best!
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#13 of 62 Old 02-01-2007, 11:46 AM
 
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I am maybe at the opposite extreme. I have scheduled mealtimes and everyone comes to the table and mostly everyone finishes what is served. The focus is socialization and family time not eating. My four year often does not eat much, she will eat some bites or ask for seconds on what she really likes and then she asks to go play. I have a picky nine year old who will ask for only certain items on his plate and that is fine too. If dessert is being served and they want it then they get it regardless of what other foods were finished. I don't do any short order cooking and no one is allowed to say the food is gross, we are learning good manners.

My children are allowed to eat whatever and whenever they want outside of scheduled mealtimes. I keep lots of healthy foods around and milk or real fruit juice for drinks. I don't tell them no, I trust them to know what they need. About a half hour before bed they are reminded that bedtime is coming and last call if still hungry. If they forget or get distracted there is some flexibility but a timer will be set for five minutes so that they don't use this as a way to delay bedtime.

My only motto is take all you want and eat all you take. I don't enforce that because sometimes even adults misjudge their servings or discover they don't really like a food. All of them are perfect weight and height for their age. I have some that are lower in weight percentile (25%) and higher in the height percentile (50-75%).

If my preschooler asks to be spoon fed then I will. This is usally at night when they are hungry but tired and want to be babied a bit.

I find that my children usually experience a real pickup in appetite around first grade when they are in school and the snacking opportunities decrease, then they come to the table famished and join the clean plate club. Then it kind of levels off again until adolescence.

I don't power struggle at all with my children of any age over anything. There is no point to this and I can't win, especially concerning anything that goes into or comes out of a child. I try to get into their heads and understand why they are resisting what I want them to do. Often it is a matter of maturity and if I give them space they will come around in time. I find it important to trust that my children are really smart and that they want to mature in these areas as much as I want them to. Most problems are outgrown with time and understanding.
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#14 of 62 Old 02-01-2007, 11:49 AM
 
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I haven't had time to read all of the responses so I'm not sure what's been said.

Anyway, we have a similar problem with our ds (3 1/2). He frequently will not eat at dinnertime but then about an hour later he's complaing of being hungry. I hate the idea of depriving him food so we've been just saving his dinner until later. Usually he's fine with this and he'll happily eat it.

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#15 of 62 Old 02-01-2007, 12:15 PM
 
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I am amazed that so many posters are "firm" on this issue. Um...hunger is a need. They are still babies. A 10 year old I would expect to wait-most of the time. Even then I would try to be compassionate about it and give them the benefit of the doubt.

If I didn't feed ds when he woke up hungry, I would be up all night because he would keep waking up crying and asking until I gave in. I can't do that to my child. I don't give 2 hangs about "letting him win" and I'm not going to deny him if he's hungry or thirsty. How many times have I woken up in the middle of the night hungry? LOTS.

I know "stalling" is frustrating but geez, how do you know when they are and aren't? Last night ds woke up SIX times asking for a drink. He guzzled it everytime. He's not stalling. He often asks for food in the middle of the night. He's a grazer and I'm not going to force him to clean his plate so that I can make him wait until I decide it's mealtime again.
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#16 of 62 Old 02-01-2007, 01:42 PM
 
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I am amazed that so many posters are "firm" on this issue. Um...hunger is a need. .
Me too, I couldn't believe anyone disagreed with me to say give them food!

And I'm not so sure to who ever mentioned it, that I would listen to "health officials" regarding diet. I always eat some yogurt around 10pm or I wake up hungry. DS always eats a snack like yogurt right before bed. I don't know if people are afraid their kids will become fat or have heartburn, but we are all thin and healthy.

If my kid says "I'm hungry," I feed them
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#17 of 62 Old 02-01-2007, 01:45 PM
 
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I disagree with the previous poster. I think that the child should learn that bed time is not when we eat. Especially since we're talking about a 3 year-old not an infant. I have dealt with this issue with families that I babysat for and what we finally decided to do was let the child up from the table when they're finished with dinner, but save a portion of dinner in the fridge (probably what's left on their plate when the child gets up from the table) and then about 30 min before bedtime let them know that this is the last call for food. They can finish their dinner at this time, and if they are still hungry they can have another healthy snack. let them eat until they're full. But when they're finished they are done for the night. This way you can be sure that they're not hungry when they lay down for bed. However I don't think a child should be allowed to stall their bedtime by claiming they're hungry everynight.
I agree...and also, allowing them to eat right before bed and in the middle of the might, IMO, sets them up for really bad eating habits. It's not good for the metabolism.
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#18 of 62 Old 02-01-2007, 02:26 PM
 
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My 3 1/2 year old does this too...but I don't think it is to stall bedtime or a power thing.

I think that she just has too much fun playing, taking a bath, etc. that she doesn't want to stop to eat or may not even notice she's hungry until she settles down for bed.

If we are in bed and she says she's hungry, I get up with her and give her something. Yoghurt, cheese, peanut butter toast, a banana, you know any of these things will usually satisfy her and then she sleeps right away. We are talking 5 min to give her what she needs, then back to bed. A power struggle trying to tell her she should have eaten dinner would take much longer!
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#19 of 62 Old 02-01-2007, 03:37 PM
 
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If my kid says "I'm hungry," I feed them
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#20 of 62 Old 02-01-2007, 03:55 PM
 
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I understand what you are saying (I couldn't stand feeling they are going to bed hungry) but the other thing that goes through my mind is the possible issues that could arise later out of habit of eating so close to bedtime. Most health "officials" (pediatricians, nutritionists, etc.) tell even adults not to eat meals too close to bedtime because of digestion and your body's ability to burn off fats, etc. A healthy snack would be considered but I would be afraid if I allowed them to eat "dinner" at bedtime, I would be setting habits that could cause health problems or weight issues later.
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My kids have a snack before bedtime. Dd's is usually nursing. Ds's varies. He's in the 94th percentile for height and the 60th for weight. He's in NO danger of being overweight. Both my kids stop eating when they are full, even if it means leaving half a dish of ice cream on the table. They have much healthier attitudes toward eating than I do precisely because it's not restricted. They have learned to monitor their own hunger and full cues.
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My only motto is take all you want and eat all you take. I don't enforce that because sometimes even adults misjudge their servings or discover they don't really like a food. All of them are perfect weight and height for their age. I have some that are lower in weight percentile (25%) and higher in the height percentile (50-75%).
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Me too, I couldn't believe anyone disagreed with me to say give them food!

And I'm not so sure to who ever mentioned it, that I would listen to "health officials" regarding diet. I always eat some yogurt around 10pm or I wake up hungry. DS always eats a snack like yogurt right before bed. I don't know if people are afraid their kids will become fat or have heartburn, but we are all thin and healthy.
OK – this isn’t exactly answering her question but after all the references to weight percentiles and my post, I felt the need to clarify. First, I did NOT say she should let her go hungry. If you notice, my post said a healthy snack would be considered – I would consider yogurt and many of the other foods listed a healthy snack. I would not feel a full dinner at bedtime to be a good idea for my family. This is my personal opinion. Everyone is entitled to one. I neither said that if you do this, your child will immediately become overweight at age 3, nor did I imply that they would without a doubt at some point. I simply stated that it is a possibility. There’s no guarantee that a child is in NO danger of being overweight, as many people struggling with their weight will go back to adolescent years and show they were once within their percentiles (and no family history of weight issues) but unhealthy eating habits became difficult to break, just as any other habits formed. All I’m saying about that is in those particular situations, one of the first things warned from “health officials” is to restructure their eating habits, beginning with not eating large meals such as dinner within (allotted time frame here) before bed time. Also, the higher your metabolism, the less likely you are to have weight issues, and eating smaller amounts more frequently promotes a higher metabolism – that is a great thing. Most children have a high metabolism, which is why they seem to be hungry frequently –but my post didn’t address weight and eating frequently, only eating meals at bed time. This is also more of a concern if you have a family history of weight problems. I do not but my husband’s family does – maybe that is why it is more of a concern for me.

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I agree...and also, allowing them to eat right before bed and in the middle of the might, IMO, sets them up for really bad eating habits. It's not good for the metabolism.
Thank you! That’s all I’m saying. My children’s physical health is just as important to me as mental health & development. Many effects of early habits will not be noticeable until later on and I would feel horrible if my child began to struggle with metabolism and weight and I had to wonder if it was from a habit I’d helped form. We as humans know what we need, but sometimes we feel we need something out of habit that we don’t necessarily need. I’m not saying this is the case now with a 3 year old but just clarifying my statement of the possibility of eating issues later on if they get used to eating meals that close to bedtime.

I’m in a hurry now and not sure if I’m making sense but I hope you understand what I was trying to say. Either way, I wasn’t trying to attack anyone or their parenting style – just adding a little something that crossed my mind.
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#21 of 62 Old 02-01-2007, 03:59 PM
 
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: x2

YK, just like in dancing it takes 2 to engage in power struggle.

"Eat when you hungry sleep when you tired" motto trumps all the other reasons for me. Just like other posters mentioned - infants eat right before going to sleep. Then again in the middle of the night. When I was pregnant I ate in the middle of the night. I never heard of health issues arising from that.

Not taking away kids innate ability to trust their own body is big in my book and way more important than any schedule
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#22 of 62 Old 02-01-2007, 05:02 PM
 
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I agree...and also, allowing them to eat right before bed and in the middle of the might, IMO, sets them up for really bad eating habits. It's not good for the metabolism.
So at what age does this apply? B/c babies need to eat throughout the night. Is there some specific age where you feel this no longer applies, and suddenly it's a "bad eating habit?"
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#23 of 62 Old 02-01-2007, 05:16 PM
 
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Ok, my son is only 2 1/2, but I know what you're going through.

First, it was easy to just get up and get him something to eat when he was the only one. But now that I have two kids (DD is only three weeks old), it's impossible for me to feed him at his every whim when that whim is right before bed. I see your second is a little older, but still, if you're like me, things have to have a rhythm and part of that rhythm is not every other night feeding DS at bedtime instead of suppertime.

I think my answer would have bee very differet two months ago, but now that I have two, I understand the need for something other than following a 2 or 3 year old's whims.

So, what I have started doing and it has made our life a lot easier is to just offer a snack before bedtime. Sometimes it will be dinner reincarnate (my DS will eat almost anything rolled up in a tortilla and named a 'burrito' - go figure) or sometimes it's some fruit and yogurt or some nuts or dried fruit or pretzels or whatever I have. Yes, it's a snack and it's right before he goes to sleep. My grandpa tho is 85 and he still has a snack every night before bedtime. So

Now, if DS still gets to bed and insists that he's hungry, I tell him he can eat in the morning. It's just not humanly possible for me to scrap the bedtime routine, make hm more food that he's not going to eat and then start all over again. That's just me - you can judge me all you like as a cruel parent, but I have my own limits and that's one of them.

Bottom line, you might try offering a snack and making it clear that this is the last food available until morning.

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#24 of 62 Old 02-01-2007, 05:21 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Thanks for all the replies, for the most part I feel good about my parenting, but i guess there are always issues where advice is useful! I like the snack 30 minutes before bedtime idea.... another question I have though is what if, as is currently the case with my dd, all she ever wants to eat are tamari almonds (or something else, should the phase pass)? How do you deal with that?
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#25 of 62 Old 02-01-2007, 05:28 PM
 
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I think my answer would have bee very differet two months ago, but now that I have two, I understand the need for something other than following a 2 or 3 year old's whims.
Hunger is a whim?

I just don't understand how we, as AP parents, can go from trusting our babies to nurse on demand and condemning scheduled feedings, to in a few short years swinging in the opposite direction? How does that happen?
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#26 of 62 Old 02-01-2007, 05:31 PM
 
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Hunger is a whim?

I just don't understand how we, as AP parents, can go from trusting our babies to nurse on demand and condemning scheduled feedings, to in a few short years swinging in the opposite direction? How does that happen?
No, hunger is not a whim, but my DS is sometime (most times) obviously NOT hungry, he's just trying to delay bedtime.

I also subscribe to the thought that at 2 1/2, my DS's wants are not always necessarily his needs.

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#27 of 62 Old 02-01-2007, 07:19 PM
 
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Originally Posted by monkey's mom View Post
So at what age does this apply? B/c babies need to eat throughout the night. Is there some specific age where you feel this no longer applies, and suddenly it's a "bad eating habit?"
Yes, I do. Once breastmilk (or formula for those who ff) is no longer the main source of nutrition, I think it's very important to establish healthy eating habits. Don't get me wrong, I feed my child when he's hungry, but I restrict him from bad food choices. If he asks for juice, and he's already had a cup of juice earlier, I tell him he can have water if he's thirsty. If he asks for cookies, and he already had some earlier, I give him alternative choices. If he refuses, then too bad...no cookies. I don't deny him the treats kids love, but they are very limited.
If he's asking for food at 9:00 at night (usually he's asleep by then, but occasionally he'll still be awake) and he's in bed, falling asleep, I explain that it's too late to eat, and why. He just rolls over and goes to sleep. Once or twice he said "Mom, I'm *really* hungry".....I fed him a piece of toast, and he went to sleep. I just don't think it's something that should be an established bedtime ritual...it's just not healthy in the long run.
We have weight issues in my family, and they are all from very poor eating habits. This is a very important issue for me in child rearing. Everybody is going to do what they feel is best for their child.
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#28 of 62 Old 02-01-2007, 08:11 PM
 
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I believe that teaching kids how to establish healthy eating habits by "making" them eat certain things at certain times is akin to teaching math by giving ready answers to a problem, instead of explaining how to get those answers and showing them how to work the problem

What is going to happen when they grow up and there is nobody around to restrict foods? Wouldn’t the "forbidden fruit" be so much more appealing?

I keep healthy foods in the house. We all eat healthy stuff. And a homemade oatmeal cookies with raisins is no less healthy than the oatmeal hot cereal with raisins that may be eaten as a meal.

A tray with healthy snacks on a table – fruits, veggies, etc., that everybody munches on is a hit at our house.

As kids get older (though 3 is plenty old to start) I discuss nutrition, involve them in coming up with ideas, trying new things.

FTR – nobody in my family is overweight, nor malnourished, quite the opposite even though any one of us can start dinner with a candy if desired. As a matter of fact I don’t even introduce the concept of “treats” or "deserts". It’s just food.

I know I can not handle too much sweets at a time – I crave veggies after that. I believe it’s because I was always left to make my own decisions about my own body and was never restricted (food-wise) in any way.

My DD happily eats two bowls of bean soup after having eaten a piece of chocolate.

Another point I want to address is eating big meals. As PP mentioned – eating small portions all throughout the day is way healthier and more natural. Sometimes there is no "big dinner" at our house. We may eat a meal X together (let’s say pasta), then eat a meal Y (lets say string beans) in two hours (together or separate). Or may not. Since both meals were prepared at the same time – I am not a "short order cook", the term I see being used here.
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#29 of 62 Old 02-01-2007, 09:39 PM
 
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Do the parents serving food after dinnertime or in the middle of the night just not brush their dc's teeth? After having gone through dental hell with my oldest (3 in March) I can't imagine serving her food at bedtime without brushing her teeth which wakes her up again.
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#30 of 62 Old 02-01-2007, 09:43 PM
 
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Originally Posted by irinam View Post
I believe that teaching kids how to establish healthy eating habits by "making" them eat certain things at certain times is akin to teaching math by giving ready answers to a problem, instead of explaining how to get those answers and showing them how to work the problem

What is going to happen when they grow up and there is nobody around to restrict foods? Wouldn’t the "forbidden fruit" be so much more appealing?

I keep healthy foods in the house. We all eat healthy stuff. And a homemade oatmeal cookies with raisins is no less healthy than the oatmeal hot cereal with raisins that may be eaten as a meal.

A tray with healthy snacks on a table – fruits, veggies, etc., that everybody munches on is a hit at our house.

As kids get older (though 3 is plenty old to start) I discuss nutrition, involve them in coming up with ideas, trying new things.

FTR – nobody in my family is overweight, nor malnourished, quite the opposite even though any one of us can start dinner with a candy if desired. As a matter of fact I don’t even introduce the concept of “treats” or "deserts". It’s just food.

I know I can not handle too much sweets at a time – I crave veggies after that. I believe it’s because I was always left to make my own decisions about my own body and was never restricted (food-wise) in any way.

My DD happily eats two bowls of bean soup after having eaten a piece of chocolate.

Another point I want to address is eating big meals. As PP mentioned – eating small portions all throughout the day is way healthier and more natural. Sometimes there is no "big dinner" at our house. We may eat a meal X together (let’s say pasta), then eat a meal Y (lets say string beans) in two hours (together or separate). Or may not. Since both meals were prepared at the same time – I am not a "short order cook", the term I see being used here.
This is EXACTLY our home. I made homemade truffles and DS ate 2... then I made some rosemary and white bean soup and he drank a HUGE mug of it, along with some homemade bread.

Food is to fuel the body, not just fill your gut. Keep healthy food around and let them eat what/when they need to! I have bigger things to do then being the food police around here. We are all very healthy and I'd never live otherwise...so I guess it's anyone's business how they want their kids to feel about food/nutrition
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