Saturday, November 29, 2008

A parenting victory

Being a parent is challenging. And I'm getting the idea that it only gets more complicated as children grow up, which won't make it any easier. Right now we're debating the merits of pacifier weaning and struggling to interpret and avoid UFO's (unidentified freak-outs). It's impossible to know if you are making the right decisions, because their results are usually not evident until it's too late to do something different. Sometimes we have to do things that we hope are in Madelyn's best interest even when they may not be the most pleasant or easiest choice.

I am so happy to report one of those triumphant moments in parenting where our persistence about what we believed was the right thing to do paid off.

Two days ago, at Thanksgiving dinner, Madelyn was in the midst of one of her all-too-common ornery moods. Due to the combination of a missed nap and a bad cold (and possibly a new tooth, but I feel like that is one of those things we parents are always blaming toddlers' bad moods on), Madelyn was cranky and uninterested in eating. We tried faithfully to feed her, to no avail. You just can't force kids to eat, you know. So we eventually gave up in the interest of our own desire to enjoy the incredible feast.

A little while later, the dessert buffet appeared on the scene. One by one, members of the family plunked down at the table with plates overflowing with apple pie, pumpkin pie, chocolate fudge cake with whipped cream, and pumpkin cream sandwich cookies. Of course the mountains of sugar caught Madelyn's attention. I've always wondered how this little one can identify and lock in on any food in the dessert or candy category, even when she's never seen or tasted the likes of it before. Can she smell sugar in any form?

We weren't about to let Madelyn dive in to dessert after having not more than a few licks of dinner. I put together a little plate of leftovers intending to help her eat a little bit so she could ultimately have the dessert she wanted. Understandably, she was even less interested in turkey and stuffing now that the sweets were out in full force. When my back was turned, someone (a very loving Grandma), had placed half a slice of cake on a little plate in front of Madelyn at the kids' table. I discovered it before she delved in, and explained to my parents that we really didn't want Madelyn to eat chocolate cake in place of any semblance of a healthy meal. My mother said (kind of to me, and kind of under her breath), "But taking away her cake isn't going to make her want to eat dinner." While that analysis might be correct, I believe that giving her the cake would not be right in spite of it. See how hard parenting is?

Soon we had a dessert prohibition-induced meltdown. At a loss for how to remedy this tricky situation, we tried to lay Madelyn down for her much-needed nap. Unfortunately, that doesn't usually work at my parent's house. When there is a house full of cousins and noise and now forbidden treats, she won't be tricked into closing her eyes in a dark room. A certain crying style indicates weak protest, but this nap attempt elevated her tantrum to full speed ahead.

By this time, most of the family had finished dessert. Gary and I canvassed the tables clearing evidence-containing plates. Madelyn was content playing Nerf football with Audrey and Grandpa, so we took advantage of the crest in her mood swing by offering a bite from the savory food spectrum. She still wasn't going for it. The three of us calmly sat down on the kitchen floor away from distractions, and got her to focus. I remembered that in the morning, Madelyn was really excited to get in the hot tub, but we explained that we were going to take a walk first and then we would get in the hot tub after we got home. Thinking maybe that experience would be fresh in her memory, I set to explaining:

"Do you want cake Madelyn?"
"You need to have some yummy dinner first, and then after you eat some dinner, you can have some cake! Just like this morning we went on a walk first and then we got in the hot tub after we went on a walk. We'll eat dinner first, and then have some cake after we eat dinner."

And she took a bite of mashed potatoes and gravy.

Then she ran away.

After a quick toss of the ball, she ran back to the plate and grabbed--of all things--a floret of broccoli. She devoured it on her way out of the kitchen, while her parents still sat dumbfounded on the floor. Not wanting to risk losing this momentum, I approached Madelyn with another piece of broccoli, but made her chase me to get it. She loved that game and within a couple of minutes had eaten all of the broccoli and almost all of the turkey and potatoes on her little melmac plate.

My heart was bursting with excitement and pride. Amidst some proverbial raised eyebrows, we were persistent with what we believed to be the best thing for Madelyn, and it worked. She ate a healthy dinner without force or coersion. I truly believe that she understood what we were saying. And she got to have a quarter of a piece of chocolate fudge cake. It would have been SO much easier to just let her eat dessert with the rest of the kids. But she probably wouldn't have eaten any dinner if we had. And instead of learning the natural progression of dessert as a treat after dinner, she may have learned that if she screams loud enough and refuses dinner long enough, she'll get exactly what she wants. I wanted to stand up and shout, "See?!? It worked! She ate her dinner because we didn't let her have cake!" But I remained calm and didn't gloat.

That's what the blog is for, right?

The little rascal: she is a good girl, and so smart!
We love her dearly.


jaeyde said...

kudos to you for holding to your word with her AND for making sure she understood what you were asking her to do. both together is such a great combination!

Jennifer said...

Way to stick to your guns...even in the face of your mom! :) I'm glad it all turned out well.

M and Em said...

you are a strong woman - Andrew didn't want any Thanksgiving food either, but I broke down and gave him a PBJ sandwich purely so I could eat my meal - sigh

Kristen said...

Thanks you guys. Em, at least a PBJ is still a relatively healthy dinner. Don't feel bad about that!

Mikael said...

good for you! This totally works for Makenzie. If she doesnt eat dinner I just leave her plate out while I eat my handful of chocolate chips right infront of her. Right then she licks her dinner plate clean. You gotta mean business or it will never work!
I also mean business when it comes to time-outs. Makenzie is so well behaved (well, that is what all her nursery leaders and other moms tell me... she isnt that well behaved around me) because I believe I throw her in her timeout room right when she acts up. But deep down I just think she is a good girl!


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