4 yo won't eat unless I feed him *UPDATE* post 46 - Mothering Forums
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#1 of 53 Old 06-23-2010, 01:24 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Is this normal? My youngest ds, who turned 4 in January, often refuses to eat unless I feed him. It's not like he doesn't like the food or isn't hungry. He just wants me to do the feeding. It's getting very frustrating, because my other 2 dc never did this past the age of 2 or younger. The meal it most often occurs with is breakfast, but can happen at any time of the day. I go as long as possible trying to make him eat by himself...up to an hour...but then, we have things to do. I can't have him go hungry and it turns into major arguments with crying (on his part) and yelling (on my part). How can I encourage him to feed himself? I've tried time outs, taking away special toys, talking with him about it, not going to special activities that were previously planned, etc.

I would love any advice!

Thanks!

Wife to Bri, mom to G (8), R (6), I (5). Expecting #4 - 8.16.11
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#2 of 53 Old 06-23-2010, 01:57 PM
 
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Feeding him? As in holding the spoon or fork and putting it to his mouth?
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#3 of 53 Old 06-23-2010, 01:57 PM
 
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Do you sit with him while he eats? He may be making a play for your company or attention. I know that breakfast is not always a sit together family meal.

My kids have gone through some power struggles around food at around this age. With the feed me, procrastination issues I have had good luck with an egg timer. I just set between 10 and 20 minutes for the meal. I sit and eat with them. If they request assistance, I let them know that I am eating my own food. After the timer goes off, the meal is over. There are some immediate consequences of hungry and grumpy kids, but it doesn't last long (a few days). Kids will eat when they get hungry. This way little guy gets your attention, but not control of the meal or family schedule.

Interested to see what solutions other mamas have come up with.
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#4 of 53 Old 06-23-2010, 02:45 PM
 
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I don't think it's "normal". But, it sounds like a typical run of the mill power/food struggle. Everybody has at least one food/power struggle before age five. What fun would it be if it was easy?

I bet your future daughter in law will appreciate it if you stopped spoon feeding him though.

In that same situation, I THINK I would probably stop feeding him immediately. It's my job to provide the food, prepare it, and put it on the table.. it's not my job to put it in his mouth. You actually CAN let him go hungry. He's probably not all that hungry. Kids can eat a surprisingly small amount of food and it's just enough for them.

But, instead, I'd either allow a decent amount of time to finish eating. If he wasn't interested, I'd put the plate on the counter for him to have a bite here and there if he wants. Or, I'd put out a few grapes and crackers to let him graze on later.

If I were needing to get a few things done and couldn't sit there and chat with him while he eats, I'd even let him take it to the coffee table and finish eating while he watched tv. (I'm not anti tv though..so, I don't have a problem with eating in front of the tv sometimes)

Most people don't like to eat alone. So, I can see how he'd like the company. But, you are both making this a power struggle. Parents almost never win a food/power struggle. Kids are amazingly strong and can hang in there longer than we can.
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#5 of 53 Old 06-23-2010, 02:52 PM
 
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No, it's not normal. I would stop if I was you. Don't make food a battle. Set food out and if he's hungry, he'll eat. It make take a few days for him to get used to the new normal. In the meantime, don't nag him or beg him to eat. Just set the food out, and let him be.

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#6 of 53 Old 06-23-2010, 03:00 PM
 
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I actually started spoon feeding my ds around age 3 and through age 4. Never did it as a baby or toddler. But it turned out there were a lot of things he wouldn't eat because he hated getting food on his lips or fingers. With him, there were mild sensory issues behind wanting to be fed. As he got older, they have faded. He isn't as sensitive and he has better dexterity to feed himself neatly. What helped was preparing his food so he could feed himself more easily. I cut everything, didn't serve him saucy or messy foods. He'd even eat bread and butter cut up with a fork. I used to assume he wasn't hungry when he only ate a few bites of a slice of pizza. Then I realized he'd eat a lot more if I cut it into narrow strips that he could bite off more easily.

Maybe your guy just wants company. Maybe feeding himself is frustrating when he is tired or especially hungry. Maybe he'd feed himself if the food was presented differently or if different food was served. Maybe it started off as one of those things and has since turned into a power struggle...

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#7 of 53 Old 06-23-2010, 03:02 PM
 
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My 4.5 year old can still get my husband to feed her. I've simply refused. She is the older of my two children. He continued to feed her beyond her displaying an ability to feed herself, but, I wouldn't play into it.

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#8 of 53 Old 06-23-2010, 03:03 PM - Thread Starter
 
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nextcommercial - yes, he wants me to hold the spoon/fork/sandwich/taco and put it to his mouth.

That Mom - I don't always have a chance to sit with him while he eats, unfortunately. I know I should probably make a better effort to do that. Part of his wanting to be babied comes from him being sick. He has asthma and has had a pretty hard time for the last couple weeks. This seems to make the meal struggles worse.

I do like the egg timer idea. I think I will give that a try, sit with him and let him know that I need to eat. If it's still a struggle after a week, I'll have to try something else.

Thanks!!

Wife to Bri, mom to G (8), R (6), I (5). Expecting #4 - 8.16.11
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#9 of 53 Old 06-23-2010, 03:23 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Gosh, I've got so many distractions that by the time I finished my response, several other people had responded!

Most of the time, he isn't eating by himself. The other two dc are eating with him. Today, he sat at the table for over an hour, not eating. But, I should probably figure out how to make time to eat with him, too. I don't usually eat breakfast, and when I do, I usually eat standing at the counter. I take a bite, go do something, come back and take another bite, etc.

He does have some sensory issues with food, like not liking it on his fingers or the outside of his lips. I cut up pizza, sandwiches, meats and other foods into smallish pieces that are easy to pick up. It's the foods like oatmeal, cereals, spagetti and soups that he wants me to feed him, mostly. But, sometimes it's the sandwiches or pizza... I try to make soups easier by serving it in cups, but I can't figure out how to serve the other things to make them easier to eat. And, the funny thing is, he will eat all of these by himself at times.

I know that it's mostly a power struggle. I will try some of these suggestions and hope for the best. It's just so frustrating when I have other things to get done and I'm fighting with a 4 yo. Argh!

Wife to Bri, mom to G (8), R (6), I (5). Expecting #4 - 8.16.11
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#10 of 53 Old 06-23-2010, 03:46 PM
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My 3 yo ds does this, and I am certain it is to get my attention. I have to feed my 16 mo old occasionally, and he sometimes insists on having me do things for him that I would typically do for her.
I do not think it would be effective to put him in time out, or take away toys for this reason. I find I have to make the negative consequences more relevent to what the undesired behavior is. (totally not trying to be snarky, but no time to word this better). I agree with pp-er, put the food out, if he doesn't eat it well, he'll be hungry. He'll learn pretty quickly to do it himself. But, I would also sit with him during breakfast, because maybe he is feeling like he needs your attention at that time.
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#11 of 53 Old 06-23-2010, 04:02 PM
 
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If I let my almost-4 year old get too hungry -- into the meltdown, tantrummy stage -- then she's too hungry to calm down enough to feed herself, but she'll happily let me feed her. I try to feed her part of the meal, just so she's not so starving. Or, better yet, give her food before it gets to that stage, but I'm not always that good.

So, could you try starting meal time 30 minutes earlier and see if that makes a difference?

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#12 of 53 Old 06-23-2010, 04:51 PM
 
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I don't have any advice but I'm interested as have similar issues with my nearly 4 year old. He does it mainly at dinnertime. We always eat together and I stay at the table until he finishes. I have a dd, 18 months who feeds herself. DS often says he's too tired to feed himself so could I hel him. Seems like everyone is advising against this. How would you explain why you're not going to feed them.
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#13 of 53 Old 06-23-2010, 05:46 PM
 
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I'd stop feeding him & give him 30-45minutes to eat. Then the food gets put away. My kids all went through a stage of not wanting to eat(or eat what we were having) so yeah there were days they went to bed hungry. The
stages didn't last that long.

Now if there were special needs involved then I'd do differnet things. The boy I work with is non-verbal & autistic. He had to be taught in kindergarten to eat(he was in K for 2 years). Apparently his older brother(also autistic but high functioning) also had to be taught to eat. they knew how to physically eat but they didn't understand when everyone sits down to eat lunch/snack that we eat too. They wouldn't feed him with a spoon or fork, but would put the food in their hands & then move their hands to their mouths.

The boy I work with had food cards he has to give me before he gets his sandwich/bar/juice. there are days(happening more & more often) where I have to physically take his hand put the card in his hand, have him hand it to me & then hand him his sandwhich & move it to his mouth. Next year our schedule is changing & we may end up doing it a little differently, but right now i leave right after lunch & he needs to be done eating before he's handed off.

The only times I put the food in his mouth is if it's taco day at school(very messy & he'll try to cram the entire thing in his mouth), subway day at school(same thing). I also do it because we get lettuce & tomato put on those. He won't eat fruits/veggies but I try to make him. If I don't feed it to him he'll put them out. He's learning to like lettuce.
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#14 of 53 Old 06-23-2010, 05:54 PM
 
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oh my: egg timer really? please don't do that. it instills fear, over eating and eating too quickly. sorry my folks did that to us, it sucked. now i eat too fast and tend to over eat. what is the rush? it is better to eat slowly anyway, your body singles you to stop eating when your full before you over eat. 10 minutes to scarf down a meal is too quick.
as for spoon feeding your child... how long do you think this phase will last? if it usually breakfast maybe indulge it.... if you have the time to sit with him, why not?

h

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#15 of 53 Old 06-23-2010, 08:06 PM
 
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Have you tried a chart? He can fill in a star for everyday he feeds himself, and on the 7th day (or 10th or 3rd or whatever works), have a special reward like a trip to the park or a small toy. Charts have worked wonders for my ds.
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#16 of 53 Old 06-23-2010, 08:41 PM
 
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My son was like this at times at that age. He also couldn't dress himself, I thought I was going to have to get him a valet. He was my first so I guess that's why it didn't bother me. He stopped doing it by 4.5. Mostly I think it was because of his OCD tendencies. He especially insisted on help with things like yogurt or spaghetti anything with a potential for being messy. I think there are a whole lot of variants to "normal". and I would hesitate to label a child that young as being not normal.
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#17 of 53 Old 06-24-2010, 12:38 PM
 
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. I think there are a whole lot of variants to "normal". and I would hesitate to label a child that young as being not normal.


some of it is cultural so maybe that colours my response. i grew up in a culture where kids arent expected to be mini-adults. and parents are much more indulgent of what mnay be viewed as "dependent tendencies". Meaning independence is not seen as a positive quality, rather the opposite depending on the situation. anyway, so i feed my almost 4.5yo some of the time. i also get him dressed, help him buckle his carseat belts etc. all these things he can do himself but if he asks and i'm able to do them, i do i figure he's growing up too fast anyway and won't want me to in a few years. i don't sweat it right now. that's how i was raised and i turned out okay.

i realise this won't be a popular opinion here but here it is.
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#18 of 53 Old 06-24-2010, 12:52 PM
 
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I disagree that it is "not normal." I have a 4.5 year old and a 2.5 year old and they both go through phases of wanting to be fed. I don't stress about it. I think they just want me to slow down and give them some extra attention. One thing I do is that I don't really set a time limit to mealtimes. I prepare it, we sit down and eat as a family. Dh & I linger around the table a little bit for the little ones who are still eating but eventually we clean up and go back to our evening. I leave the kids plates on the table until they go to bed.

Sometimes I even offer to help ds, if we are having something like burgers or subs it can be hard and clumsy for him to tried to hold and bite it. No big deal IMO. I doubt it means I'll be holding his tacos for him when he is 14 ;-)

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#19 of 53 Old 06-24-2010, 02:28 PM
 
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some of it is cultural so maybe that colours my response. i grew up in a culture where kids arent expected to be mini-adults. and parents are much more indulgent of what mnay be viewed as "dependent tendencies". Meaning independence is not seen as a positive quality, rather the opposite depending on the situation. anyway, so i feed my almost 4.5yo some of the time. i also get him dressed, help him buckle his carseat belts etc. all these things he can do himself but if he asks and i'm able to do them, i do i figure he's growing up too fast anyway and won't want me to in a few years. i don't sweat it right now. that's how i was raised and i turned out okay.

i realise this won't be a popular opinion here but here it is.
Yeah that



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I disagree that it is "not normal." I have a 4.5 year old and a 2.5 year old and they both go through phases of wanting to be fed. I don't stress about it. I think they just want me to slow down and give them some extra attention. One thing I do is that I don't really set a time limit to mealtimes. I prepare it, we sit down and eat as a family. Dh & I linger around the table a little bit for the little ones who are still eating but eventually we clean up and go back to our evening. I leave the kids plates on the table until they go to bed.

Sometimes I even offer to help ds, if we are having something like burgers or subs it can be hard and clumsy for him to tried to hold and bite it. No big deal IMO. I doubt it means I'll be holding his tacos for him when he is 14 ;-)
and yeah that.
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#20 of 53 Old 06-24-2010, 02:48 PM
 
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I guarantee you he will not starve himself. I am not saying what YOU should do but for me it just would not happen. I would tell my 4 year old that she was big enough to feed herself and then I would go about my business. If she wanted to scream and cry for 3 hours instead of feeding herself then so be it. If you never give in to it then it will stop. If you do it sometimes then he will keep throwing a fit because he knows sometimes it works.

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#21 of 53 Old 06-24-2010, 02:53 PM
 
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I completely agree with artgoddess, wookie, and StrawberryFields. I don't think there's anything abnormal about a child that age occasionally wanting to be fed.

While it's been a few months since the last time she asked, my 4 year old has requested that I feed her. I think for her it was a combination of things like seeing me feed her younger brother and wanting the same attention and having slightly perfectionist tendencies (which I consider completely within the bounds of "normal") and not wanting to make a mess.

I never made a big deal about it, and if I was able to at that time, I fed her. It never led to any dependancy on me to feed her. It was just not something I chose to make a big deal out of, and that seems to have been a good strategy for us.
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#22 of 53 Old 06-24-2010, 03:00 PM
 
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He won't go hungry if you stop spoon/fork feeding him. He's a kid, he'll eat eventually. Right now though he's just got a good thing going on. I'd just tell him no, if he's hungry, there's his spoon/fork, enjoy. (But I'm a 'little' blunt)

If it's a cry for attention, how about reading a story, or having special talks during breakfast?
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#23 of 53 Old 06-24-2010, 04:30 PM
 
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i guess i am still not seeing the big deal... letting a child cry for 3 hours because you can not be bothered to sit with them is over the top. where is the GD in that? instead of giving the child the attention they need, because 4 is still a little guy, ignoring them is offered? they are seen as manipulative, and trying to get you to do their bidding? what are these children or the spawn of satan? it seems to me that that is normal behavior of someone who is 4 and wants mom to be with him... isn't that our job as a parent?
and yes i have more then one, so i know it can be a challenge, but that is what being a mama is... caring for your kids in the good times and the more trying times.


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#24 of 53 Old 06-24-2010, 06:00 PM
 
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i guess i am still not seeing the big deal... letting a child cry for 3 hours because you can not be bothered to sit with them is over the top. where is the GD in that? instead of giving the child the attention they need, because 4 is still a little guy, ignoring them is offered? they are seen as manipulative, and trying to get you to do their bidding? what are these children or the spawn of satan? it seems to me that that is normal behavior of someone who is 4 and wants mom to be with him... isn't that our job as a parent?
and yes i have more then one, so i know it can be a challenge, but that is what being a mama is... caring for your kids in the good times and the more trying times.


h
I don't see being a parent as catering to my child's every whim. If they cry for 3 hours its because they are CHOOSING to do so. This is not a 4 month old we are talking about, it's a 4 year old child. The child does not need to be fed and there is nothing to suggest the mother does not give the child attention. This is not a need, this is a want.

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#25 of 53 Old 06-24-2010, 06:06 PM
 
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I don't see being a parent as catering to my child's every whim. If they cry for 3 hours its because they are CHOOSING to do so. This is not a 4 month old we are talking about, it's a 4 year old child. The child does not need to be fed and there is nothing to suggest the mother does not give the child attention. This is not a need, this is a want.
I couldn't disagree more. Often time a four year olds wants are their needs. I'll do battle over wanting too much sugary juice, I'll do battle over not wanting to brush teeth, but asking me to feed them is not worthy of doing battle. No one said the child was getting no attention but it seemed that the child wanted/needed more.
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#26 of 53 Old 06-24-2010, 06:22 PM
 
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I honestly do not understand for the life of me what the harm is in feeding the kid. What are people afraid will happen? What is so wrong with indulging a child's "want" as long as there is not harm in it? I mean I won't let my daughter live off cupcakes because it would be detrimental to her health. But feed her? Sure. Sign me up. To not feed her when I am perfectly capable of doing so would be a conscious choice to engage in a power struggle OVER NOTHING. What good could come of that? Would it be to show her who's boss?
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#27 of 53 Old 06-24-2010, 06:26 PM
 
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just because it is a want doesn't make it less valid. part of being a parent is taking care of their wants. or at least i thought it was. not every single one (like a pp stated no diet of only cupcakes etc) but feeding them? i can not imagine letting my child cry for three hours just to show them i could.

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#28 of 53 Old 06-24-2010, 06:30 PM
 
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How can I encourage him to feed himself? I've tried time outs, taking away special toys, talking with him about it, not going to special activities that were previously planned, etc.

I would love any advice!

Thanks!
If you're willing (as above) to try time outs, punishments, etc. I suggest allowing him to go hungry. He will be ok It is a natural consequence to not feeding yourself. If I don't put the food in my mouth, I will be hungry. It will only take a time or two before he gets it. As long as you are providing him options for foods you know he can handle with his sensory issues, then I would feel fine with this approach. It might be hard at first, but he really needs to feed himself. I haven't "fed" my kids since they were 18 months old.

Also...as people are debating over whether or not you should meet your child's "wants"....consider what the want really is. Is it that your child really wants someone else to put the food in his mouth or is it that he wants to have some face time with mommy in the morning. I would guess it's the second. Try sitting next to him and having your morning coffee/juice with him. Say, "how about I sit with you while you have your breakfast." Maybe that's all he really wants.

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#29 of 53 Old 06-24-2010, 07:00 PM
 
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Originally Posted by ThisCat View Post
I honestly do not understand for the life of me what the harm is in feeding the kid. What are people afraid will happen? What is so wrong with indulging a child's "want" as long as there is not harm in it? I mean I won't let my daughter live off cupcakes because it would be detrimental to her health. But feed her? Sure. Sign me up. To not feed her when I am perfectly capable of doing so would be a conscious choice to engage in a power struggle OVER NOTHING. What good could come of that? Would it be to show her who's boss?
This is pretty much how I feel about it. It is so not even on my radar to care about whether my 4.5 yo ds wants me to feed him. I am surprised I am in the minority on this thread because really, I am VERY no nonsense about parenting. Especially compared to other moms on MDC. I don't "do" messing around. But fighting over this seriously seems to me like turning something into a huge power struggle for no reason. Time outs, punishments, egg timers, hours of screaming and crying? If I am honestly honestly too busy I say hey, I can't feed you right now kiddo, I'm in the middle of doing laundry. And leave their plate on the table for the rest of the night. But otherwise, sure, whatever, I'll feed you. What good is to come from laying the smack down here, really? Other than, "Yay for you, you really showed that 4 year old who's boss!"

I am definitely not suggesting that a parent should follow behind their darling school aged child and spoon feed them every precious drop of applesauce his/her heart desires. Or that a parent should say "How high?" when the child demands jump. But in my house anyway, treating this whole thing as a non issue has made it just that--a non issue.

mommy to ds 11/05, dd1 01/08, and dd2 01/10!
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#30 of 53 Old 06-24-2010, 10:07 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Wow, I did not mean to start anything with this! I really appreciate everyone's suggestions and thoughts on the matter.

TBH, I do feed him 90% of the time, when he asks. It's just that other 10% of the time that I just do not have the time to do it, that's when it becomes a problem. I'm sure I gave the wrong impression, but there are not hours of crying and screaming going on. The first 45 minutes is usually him playing with his food. It's the 30 minutes or so after that when I just don't have the time, he starts to cry and I try to stay calm, but sometimes end up getting angry (and yelling or raising my voice). I always end up feeding him, in the end. I know I'm not perfect and a lot of you don't believe in punishing your children the same as I do...at least, that's what it seems. I don't really know a lot about the "gentle discipline" that some of you practice, but we do take time outs when needed or other ways that I deem necessary, at the time. (I've gone to the GD forum, but probably need to do some more looking). Most often, the punishment is as related to the "offense" (for lack of a better term) as I can think of.

DS2 is definitely my most needy child. He is so tough in some ways, and so not tough in other ways. The thing is, I am trying to cure his asthma with diet, and his behavior is also directly affected by diet. So, it is very important for him to eat what I give him. 9 times out of 10, I am in the room, although not always sitting next to him. I'm a little paranoid about the kids eating while I'm not around (in case of choking or something), so I am never further than 10 feet away. I know he wants my attention, but he also will want me to spoon feed him, even if I've been sitting right next to him eating dinner.

I will definitely take careful consideration of everything that has been said here. Please, just don't think that I am some horrible parent that just lets things get out of hand. This just happens to be one of the more challenging issues I face with him.

Wife to Bri, mom to G (8), R (6), I (5). Expecting #4 - 8.16.11
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