If your mealtimes are anything like mine, then have a hug from me to you. And a glass of wine. Or two.

Archie Bear has only just started feeding himself at mealtimes, so we have had 3 years of frustration, laziness, picky eating, and a spoon-fed toddler. Not so great when another baby comes along, or when you want to eat your own meal at any temperature other than stone cold.

We tried being strict with him, which only made everything worse. He got upset and we just got angry. And he still didn’t eat anything. Bargaining with him, bribing, and pleading didn’t work either. Leave him to go hungry, you might say. He’ll eat eventually, right? Wrong. He’d feed himself cereal, bagels and toast, and that was pretty much all he lived on while we tried that particular tac.

A couple of stressed out, angry parents, and a very hungry and determined toddler later, and Daddy Bear remembered the only parenting book we’ve loved almost from cover to cover. It’s called The Discipline Book, by Sears & Sears, and is mostly full of common sense, studies, evidence, and more about how a child thinks, feels, and what they need.

William and Martha (Sears & Sears!) told us not to get upset over food at all. Not to use it to control our kids, and not to chase our child with a spoonful of anything. Sound different? Ye, we thought so too. It’s hard to just not get upset though, so this took a lot of teamwork between Daddy Bear and me, a lot of calming looks over the dinner table, and a lot of prayer and encouragement for each other!

Wills & Mar said to provide a selection of healthy food for dinner, and to let him decide what to eat and how much to eat. It’s his stomach. So if I don’t want him to just eat chocolate brioche then I don’t put it in front of him. If I’m ok with him having a few crisps with his toast and beans, then I stick a few on his plate alongside some cucumber and carrot sticks. All in moderation, right?

But you know what? It totally works. Once we told Archie Bear the new rules, that he could eat as much or as little as he wanted, and that if he didn’t want the food in front of him then there wasn’t anything else, he totally understood and actually started to feed himself. He still needs some encouragement, and he is still the slowest eater ever, but he has come on leaps and bounds. I think maybe it was feeling in control of what goes into his own tummy that really helped. We talk about the food in front of him, but don’t make a big deal of it, and don’t get stressed out or angry with him when I clear away a full plate.

“It’s your job to provide healthy, nutritious food. It’s your child’s job to eat it.”

And apparently, hungry children or children who have been nibbling on junk food or sugary treats find it harder to behave well. Huh. I wonder if this applies to grown ups too??