Last night I spoke at a fabulous Adlerian nursery school called the North Toronto Early Years Learning Center.During the Q & A, I had several parents who wanted to know what to do with their child, “the slow eater.”
Slow eating is a great example of how children can engage in a power struggle with their parents. Usually we think of power struggles as fighting with an explosive defiant child who is up in your face.
Less obvious are those children who are quiet, pleasant resistors. Being lazy, sloppy and slow are equally powerful, but parents don’t recognize this power tactic as easily.
Instead we are apt to fall for their sweet bumbling innocents, believing this is somehow the child’s temperament or personality rather than the child’s choice of behavior.
So why choose to eat slowly? Well, gee, look at some of the potential benefits we inadvertently bestow:
- Perhaps it leads to you spoon-feeding them. How powerful and superior to have a
- Do you allow your slow eater to take their breakfast bagel in the car to eat on the way to daycare? Car rides are less boring when you can nosh along the way, especially if you get yummier food choices in the car, maybe even drive-though!
- You let them eat in front of the TV.
- Or perhaps you offer up the 1 & 3 combo; you shovel in their breaky while they sit in their little foam plushy chair in the family room, distracted watching “Thomas the Tank” while you act as a human feeding tube.
- You sit like a hostage at the table believing you must stay with them and urge them to eat if you want anything to be
consumed. If you go upstairs to get ready yourself you fear they’ll just stare at their food rather than eat it.
- You offer them a constant stream of food all day in hopes of making up for slow and potential under eating at mealtime.
Now, imagine you stopped providing the above services? For breakfast, you can simply set out breakfast and let them know you will be clearing the table at say 8 a.m. You can give a 5 minutes heads up, or set the timer on the stove to ring at 7:55, then stand back and let the chips fall where they may! If they have only managed to eat three bites of cereal, so be it. At 8 a.m. you removed the bowl of cereal and simply state with no rancor, “It’s 8 a.m. and breakfast time is over.” If they flip out (which they will the first day), you can be empathetic and say, “Sorry you ran out of time today.” Nothing else is required. Shhhhh. Say nothing else! I know that is hard, but our talking doesn’t help and in fact hinders.
At suppertime when you don’t have the same time constraints of getting out the door to work or school, they can stay at the table as long as they wish. That is their choice
to make. However, you are free to choose too. You are free to excuse yourself and get on with whatever you had planned for the evening. Slow eaters use this to ascertain “special one-on-one time with mom,” keeping her to themselves and away from other siblings.
After a few days your child will figure out that if they would like to ensure they have enough to eat, they should eat faster during meal times. In this way, the child makes the adaptation to their behavior rather than the parent adapting the rules and changing boundaries to accommodate the child. Don’t believe me? Ask anyone who has adopted a baby raised in an orphanage or someone who went to boarding school. When we don’t cater to individuals they do just fine and fitting in and looking after themselves. If you have had success with this technique share your stories in the comment area to help motivate other nervous parents to give it a whirl.