On the last week of the Toddlercalm course, we learned about setting up a positive relationship with food. This topic made me realised how I have been cultivating E with an unhealthy association with food. For a start, E wasn’t a fussy eater since young. The eating situation only got tricky recently when he started stating his preferences, which we ignored – of course! Thinking that eating is a necessity and should not be something negotiable, we used the conventional must-eat-everything-and-lick-clean approach all the time. “Eat quickly”, “Eat your vegetable”, “You’re not getting down until you finish your food” “Don’t want to eat? Go ahead and starve yourself” are common phrases heard at our dinner table. We have also tried the food-recycling method: if he does not finish his meal, it will be served to him the following meal and so on until he finishes all. Sometimes it took him over two hours to finish his dinner!
A negative relationship with food can lead to eating issues later on in life eg. binging when sad/happy, anorexia, obesity. This topic opened my eyes and taught me to implement a better approach in managing mealtimes with my kids:
► As adults, we choose what, when and how we eat. It should not be any different for children too.
► During a tricky eating situation, parents often feel frustrated. Coincidentally, if we really tune in, our child feels frustrated too.
► Toddlers are grazers. Like babies, they have the innate ability in knowing when and how much to eat. Studies showed that they regulate their energy intake by grazing (eating small amount of food throughout the day). They know how much their bodies need.
► What we taste may be different from what our toddler truly tastes. For instance, it may not be spicy/bitter to us, but it can be extremely spicy/bitter to the child.
► To curb the fear/concern of the child feeling hungry or not getting the appropriate nutrition, leave bowls of mom-approved snacks around the house. Have your child help himself to the fridge but first of all, you must ensure that whatever that’s in there are healthy and nutritious.
► Make mealtimes fun. Have the child determine how much he wants to eat by letting him scoop the amount of rice and allowing him to help himself to the dishes. Serve buffet style. Pretty bento once in a while. Let him help with cooking or food preparation. Once he’s done with eating, let him go. Always have healthy snacks on standby for your toddler.
Applying C.R.U.C.I.A.L. to eating
(C)ontrol – give choices: what food, colour selection, places to eat (big table, small table, picnic style?), when (now or later?)
(R)hythm – play a certain kind of music during mealtimes, set expectations, mealtimes routine (wash hand, set the table, scoop rice, bring plate to the table)
(U)nderstanding – Look deeper into why the child isn’t hungry or eating. Is he not feeling well? Is he under stress? Any changes to his lifestyle lately?
(C)ommunication – No praising for eating. Instead, see and say ie. “I see that you’re enjoying the broccoli!” or “I like it when you work very hard to feed yourself”
(I)ndividual – Find out their preferences. Respect them.
(A)voidance – Don’t rush mealtimes or plan something urgent right after mealtimes.
(L)ove – Protect the relationship between you, your child and food.
Recommended read this week:
Raising our children, raising ourselves by Naomi Aldort
Finale of Toddlercalm course
Jasmine, the teacher, wrapped up the course by sharing this with us:
“I’m not going to tell you it’s going to be easy. I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it”
It was hard saying goodbye to Jasmine for all the knowledge she has imparted. As we were her very first Toddlercalm students, she decided to do this for free. In return, we bought her some gift vouchers as a thank you present.
In a nutshell, the Toddlercalm approach is simple, makes sense and easy to understand. It correlates with what I believe in. It teaches the fundamental skills of human interaction yet it doesn’t come across our minds to do the same with our kids. However, it also requires gigantic amount of patience and empathy from parents to successfully execute and live the Toddlercalm approach.
Thanks to Toddlercalm, I can now see light at the end of the tunnel. I have dropped my previous parenting style and switched to empathic parenting. Albeit highly challenging, I find it working wonders with E especially when we incorporate the playful parenting approach. To date, the ugly, shouting/spanking incidents have decreased substantially although I still snap once in a while. E has become more cooperative, more willing to try and less whiny. He’s a lot more pleasant to be with now.
One particular incident is worth remembering. It was a hectic and tiring day for me. After being the mom I have always envisioned myself to be for three weeks, I lost it. As usual, I was exhausted from lack of sleep. E started getting on my nerves when he whined for my attention despite my playing with him just a while ago. It was getting late already, Hubby would be home soon and I hadn’t cooked. As I was busy preparing dinner in the kitchen, I heard E whining louder and louder, then came running into the kitchen – half naked – with tears in his eyes. “My pee pee came out on the floor,” he said.
Kns, I cursed. Another episode of play-first-pee-later. I was furious because that meant more work for me. As I tried to contain my anger, I saw Xan sitting on his pool of pee, splashing away. “Stay calm, breathe breathe breathe” I got E some tissues to clean up the floor. All hell broke loose when he wiped his face with his pee-stained hand while cleaning. I went berserk seeing that. To think about it now, I shouldn’t have. It wasn’t an emergency, was it?
I screamed at the top of my lungs and showered both of them for the third time that day. I let my emotions got the better of me, spanked and scolded him. Daddy came home from work, took over the situation and I calmed down. I lectured E repeatedly, asking “How many times do you want to pee on the floor?” To which he replied, “How many times do you want to scold me, Mommy?”
I was taken aback by his question. It was like a hard slap on my face. I felt ashamed for needing a three-year old to shake me into senses. Proud that he’s finally confident in speaking his mind to me, which means he knows his feelings are safe with me. True enough, how many more times do I want to scream and punish him? Did I not learn from my lesson? When is enough, enough?
That night, I decided to dedicate my full, undivided effort in practising the Toddlercalm approach. I decided to take a break from things that distract me and take my attention away from my kids the most – Facebook and Instagram – for the next one month. I want to be an empathic mum. I will be one, soon.