My daughter, Kenzie, is a year-and-a-half now, and her spirit is showing. She likes to refuse even more than she likes to choose, she says no when she means yes and expects us to puzzle out which her little sphynxian-self means this time, and she relishes in the thrill of deciding the fate of each piece of food to pass her way: shall she eat you, little morsel, or shall she mess around with the joys of gravity again? Perhaps she'll chew on you a bit first, decide for herself in the moment. Her sweet blue eyes have wicked gleams. She's an evil queen.
My husband has less patience for this than I do. Sometimes I feel her thrill as she explores the knowledge of her budding powers and displays her developing personality. She's finding lines, seeing what happens when she crosses them, making up her own mind, and I've got to say, I am so proud of what I see every new day. I like it best when she knows the line is there, is fully aware, but watches my face as she defies it, just a bit. It feels like a meeting of the minds, two wild spirits eye-to-eye, the youth showing the elder they have something in common, a fluidity with rules that slurs them into guidelines at best. So sometimes I am grateful that her father will encourage some order, some borders amidst the chaos. I'm only just establishing these boundaries now, and 38 feels likes a late time to start. I don't want Kenzie to have to face this particular challenge.
However, we're really at a loss how to do this. Our methods have no effect. I'm afraid we're making too big a deal out of a natural impulse; I'm equally afraid I'm raising a wildebeest with the face of an angel.
I found an article by Sarah Remmer at Todaysparent.com that resonated with me, and if you need tips, I highly encourage reading the whole thing. For me, I have a few key takeaways to try.
1) Eat with her, or at the least, sit with her while she eats.
This makes sense to me, though I am already missing the freedom to clean up and flit around (or check Facebook) while she's safely hogtied to her highchair. I expect this change to be relatively easy. It fits into the mindfulness that society, in general, and my therapist, in particular, recommends so highly. I love the moments spent communing with my daughter. Her language skills are growing in leaps and bounds, but I still love trying to understand what she means by guessing at her thoughts, based on her context and expression, finding her point of view in her eyes. I am pretty good at this, it helps me recognize that she understands more than she could possibly convey. I hope the skill stays with me. I hear it may come in handy when she's a teenager.
Plus, the article points out eating together is a great modeling opportunity. See Kenzie? We really DON'T throw our food on the floor.
2) Smaller portions, more servings
She's less likely to squander limited resources. Babies are clever and dumb. By the time she realizes she really does have all the food she'll want and more, she should be less inclined to waste it anyway. As I type this, I can't help but feel grateful that "all the food she'll want and more" is a lesson she gets to learn. Note to self: raise her to be grateful, too.
3) Don't react, don't return her food.
We can remind her we don't throw our food, but if she asks for it, we're not supposed to return it. I know me, I'm not going to follow this to the letter. Sometimes I'll let her pretend she did it accidentally, but she knows I know the truth, or I pretend she knows I know the truth, and I'm okay with either. Also, I'll always return her water eventually. But! All the rest of the time, I can do this, and, fine, I'll cut down on the "accident" exceptions, which in retrospect undermine all our other good work. Perhaps this is one of those guidelines I should grow up and adhere to, rule-style. See: wildebeest concerns.
4) Believe her when she says she's all done, even if she hasn't eaten as much as I think she should have.
I actually excel at this one. What I struggle with is the guilt and fear that I will be sending my beloved child to bed with an empty stomach and vitamin deficiency. But this article reassures me. It pats me on the head and states calmly that she'll intuitively eat enough, and that, given enough opportunities and variety, she'll "meet her nutritional needs over the period of a week." Between the schedule she follows at daycare and what we feed her at home, I know we're doing what we should. I can stop beating myself up over this. That's one of my favorite conclusions to draw.
I'm sure there will be more failed attempts and secret tricks along the way, but this at least feels like a place to start, just tweaking our already established routines. Chances are good she'd grow out of it even without our efforts, but the battle seems worthy and she really is the cutest of foes.