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Crazy Mealtime Theater: saying ‘no’ to the oatmeal tantrum

Posted by on Dec 18, 2012 in Blog Posts | 11 comments

I am fortunate to have a very competent eater. She self-regulates and enjoys a variety of foods, but not all by any means, and that’s okay.  At just 7, we’ve been at this Trust Model for more than five years. And yet, we still on occasion have scenes like this…

Asked M this morning what she wanted for breakfast. She said, “I don’t know,” so I got my toast ready, and a few boxes of cereal on the table, milk, bananas, clementines. Our toast was hot, so hubby and I start buttering and there were options at the table that she usually would eat.

M: I want oatmeal
Me: I’m sorry honey, it’s too late for oatmeal. I asked earlier what you wanted. (I could have not said that last part…)
M: I didn’t know I wanted it then!! AAHHHHHH!!!!

Cue the screaming, shouting tantrum that she kindly took to her bedroom. (She knows the table is a tantrum-free zone.)

Hubby and I are looking at each other. It’s been a while since a full meltdown, and it seemed like she needed to get something out. (Remember, every child is different, and you know your child best, so perhaps stepping in earlier or differently works for your child.) A few minutes later she emerges wiping her tears, and I scoot back to offer a cuddle. She sits on my lap.

M: I’m hungry, can’t I please have oatmeal? I’m sorry I screamed.

And here is where I almost cave.  I think, “It’s just oatmeal,” I look to my husband, with imploring eyes, and he mouths, “Don’t you dare.” (Make her oatmeal that is.) Because we know better, because that would be caving in to her show of force, because that would reinforce that tantrums get her what she wants. Because that would be letting her take over my job of putting food out and having her choose, because that’s catering to her demands. (This is nuanced if you’re new at it as I had given her choices initially, and had she requested earlier it would have been fine. One good rule of thumb is if you have to get up from your own meal to prepare something, it’s crossing the line and catering…)

And I knew he was right, but it was hard. Hard not to get up and make her oatmeal because it feels loving and nurturing, and I empathize in these moments with my clients who have very small children, or children they adopted who have experienced real malnutrition, and how all-consuming that urge is to feed and nourish and please and love with food, and how hard this Divisio0n of Responsibility stuff can be.

Me: “I’m sorry you’re disappointed, Honey, we can have oatmeal tomorrow. How about some Rice Krispies with sugar.”
M: “Lots of sugar?”
Me: “We’ll have it how we always have it.” (With sugar on top.)

And that was that. She sat and calmly enjoyed her cereal and milk and a little banana. Until she got a little rough with the cat and had to clean the cat litter, then it was tantrum-city again.

See a few past installments of CMT. You’ll notice that most happen around breakfast, traditionally our most challenging meal of the day. And yes, I think it’s okay at breakfast to let kids have more choice if you are all eating different things routinely (this also depends on the child’s age and skill-level with eating.) We seem to rotate between toast, cereal, oatmeal, smoothies, boiled eggs (whites only),  left-overs, biscuits—all served with some kind of fruit (not always eaten) and milk…

smoothies
picky eating
fickle tastes

more on kids and tantrums around food

What have your experiences been? Mine are generally if I wait out the tantrum, meet the emotional needs but hold firm, that soon enough it blows over. This is often what my clients share as well…

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