In writing a client summary for the mother of a six year-old selective eater today, I wrote this. (Note this post is about dealing with behavior, not what or how much the child is eating and is a brief bit in a 2-3 page email…)
“Here is what you can say when your son pitches a fit at the table: “I’m sorry you’re sad that we’re not having noodles, there are other options and this is what is for dinner. You are spoiling dinner. Please go to your room (timeout, whatever) until you are ready to come back to the table and be pleasant.”
He may need a little help calming down if that is the case in general. Don’t be afraid to take your own time-outs. I’ve done it. Calmly say, “Mommy needs a time-out, I’ll come back to the table when I can be pleasant.”
I haven’t had to do this for a long time, we’ve been at this for more than half a decade, but I’m so glad that when I couldn’t be rational or pleasant at the table, I had permission to walk away, and I could come back more calm. Taking that breather helped. When you feel yourself getting pulled into the drama, the negotiating, the— let’s face it—screaming… take a time-out. Breathe, cry, go back to the table. (Many mothers described feeling trapped in the cycle of shouting, pressuring and fighting in the middle of that Worry Cycle. This is one tactic to help break that cycle.)
It also shows your kids you are human, and that the rules apply to you too. What do you think?
*Clearly, if you have young children and you are the only adult present, you can’t physically leave the children with the food etc. Perhaps step away from the table, lean over the sink and take some deep breaths. Also, time-outs may not be appropriate for all children, children from hard places, who have experienced trauma or are working on attachment. Use the discipline, behavior and redirection methods you use with success. Also note, there are at least one or two safe and favored options for the child to eat at each meal and snack.