Friday, 6 March 2015

Giving Choices in Behaviour Management - When Children won't Eat their Supper

Eat your Supper!

Giving Choices to Challenging ChildrenAlex, Alex, Alex.  He is my adorable, sweet, and challenging 5 year old child.  

From the moment he came home today, I knew we were in for an early night.  He and his brother (7 years old) came off the school bus to immediately fighting for my attention.  There was whining and yelling and eventually my oldest faked a punch to his younger brother.  A short break was definitely in order.  

So, the whole "Time Out" thing is becoming faux pas, but honestly, if it's used appropriately, it definitely has it's place in behaviour management.  At this moment, to save everyone's sanity, they were going to their rooms for a moment if only to separate them and give me a moment of peace.  Shortly after, I spoke with each child about appropriate behaviour and asked them what would have been a better choice.  They apologized to each other and we had a group hug.

As long as you ensure that you talk about the behaviour and collaborate with your child to make a plan for success in the future, then time outs can be very effective.

I feel that apologizing is a very important step in resolving a problem.  It makes the offending child accountable for their actions and ensures that the other person involved can feel at peace again.  Wait until your child is calm before asking them to make it right.  This gives them the opportunity to make that decision on their own and also encourages a genuine apology.  If your child doesn't want to say they are sorry, don't force them.  Give them other options to make it right, like giving a hug or talking to the other person about how they will act in the future.


Modelling appropriate behaviour is important for teaching your child how to act.  That goes for apologies.  There are times when I lose my cool and after, I always apologize to my kids for losing my temper.  Sometimes I recognize that I'm under a lot of stress and I make sure I let them know that I'm not angry with them, I'm just not feeling like myself and I'm overreacting.  
Show your children that it's ok to make mistakes as long as you learn from them and make it right. 


Sometimes, after my children have told me how they can make better choices in the future, I have them practice their ideas with each other.  When children have the opportunity to act out appropriate behaviour, it makes it more natural for them.  You are increasing the odds that they will make a good choice in the future.


As the day moved on to supper time, Alex was making more and more poor choices.  Supper was on the table and ready to be eaten, but my little man did not want to eat (I should mention that he likes this supper).  He was everywhere but in his seat eating, even after I brought him back several times.  I asked him a couple more times to please sit down and eat, but you can only ask so many times before you need to take action.  I wasn't going to fight with him, so I gave him 2 choices.  He either sits down and eats his meal or we start getting ready for bed.  I was very specific and told him that if he got up again, that would show me that he is choosing to get ready for bed.  Make sure that your child realizes that they are making the choice.

Of course, he got up again.  Now this is where most parents make the mistake of giving in, so pay close attention.

I informed him that since he got up again, it was now time to get ready for bed.  As I moved towards him, he told me that he was ready to eat.  To be effective as a parent, your children need to know that when you say something, you mean business.  You must follow through!  I told him that he made his choice by getting up again, so I took him by the hand and we started our bedtime routine.  He was quite upset as he cried and kicked at me, but unfortunately, he chose this course of action.  He will learn from this experience that the next time he has this choice, it would be wise to choose sitting and eating.

You can see from the picture above that by the end of our routine (go pee, wash hands, brush teeth, get pj's on, choose a story to read), he was quite happy.  I'll talk about routines in more detail in another post, but to sum it up, routines help children to gear themselves up for the transition.  Alex loves our story and cuddle time, so going through the steps was actually a calming sequence of events that eventually brought us to a calm, happy place.  

Now, to be completely honest, he did try to be silly again after putting on his pj's and tried to run away when I asked him to get a book, but I simply stated, "Oh?  Would you like to go to bed with no story tonight?"  

That got him motivated to find a book and complete our routine.  I also let him read for a bit by himself (actually, it's more like looking at books) after our cuddle time.

By giving Alex choices, I'm allowing him to feel in control of his actions.  I use this technique with all sorts of children.  Those exhibiting ODD, ADHD, Autism, and other developmental disorders.  It is effective because it gives the child ownership over their actions.  No one likes when they are being told what to do.  Think about it from your own point of view.  Would you rather your boss tell you that you have to do an undesirable job or would you rather him or her give you a couple of choices to choose from?

The following day, I gave Alex this option again, as it was a late supper anyways.  He chose to eat his supper.

If I had to choose the most important lesson from this experience, it would be to always follow through on what you say.  So choose wisely, so that it's something you can fulfill.  If you aren't prepared to put your child to bed without supper, then don't make that one of the choices.  I know that my child eats lots of healthy food all day long, so I wasn't concerned.  If supper is the healthiest meal of your child's day, then you might want to make different choices to follow through on, such as losing out on dessert or use of electronics.


On days where I am giving Alex a meal that he isn't as fond of, I use a visual timer.  We have an iPad, so I use the clock app to set a timer.  I didn't give him too much of this supper so it wasn't overwhelming.  I gave him 10 minutes to complete his meal.  If he finishes in time, he can choose a snack that he likes (an apple, orange slices, honey stick, etc.).  He can see a red circle go around the clock, showing when the time is up.  Every few minutes, I give him a reminder to check his time.  If he does not complete his meal in time, then he doesn't get to choose a desired food.  It is your choice to end meal time at the end of the timer or allow him to finish without a desired food following supper time.  Consider setting another timer that indicates the end of supper time, so your child is not sitting there all night.

Talk to your kids about how you work hard to make them healthy foods, so it's important for them to eat them.  Let them know that you understand that they won't like all of your meals, so that is why you are willing to compromise by giving them smaller servings of meals that aren't their favourite and then letting them choose a desired food after (I give choices). 


Kids are definitely more apt to eat supper when they take part in planning the meals.  It gives them ownership over what they eat.  
Try giving your child one meal the plan each week.  Talk about what makes a healthy meal.  Set guidelines such as, each meal must contain vegetables and a meat.  Go through food magazines, cookbooks, and search online for recipes with your child.  If you know that your child really likes chicken, then show them how to search the internet for chicken recipes.  They'll be surprised with all of the choices available to them.  If you have food sensitivities or allergies, try searching gluten-free or paleo meals.  The internet is a great source for seeking recipes that are exempt of foods that you can't eat.

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