The Author

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I am a high school English teacher, and mother of two charming little ones of my own. I teach in a high poverty urban charter school, while I live in a typical American suburb that has frequently been rated one of the safest cities in the country. It is a paradox I struggle with constantly, but it is my life.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Just eat it... eat it....

"Don't you know that other kids are starving in Japan?"

Yup, last night, I totally pulled the typical "mom" line, but with a little twist.

I am so, so, so tired of listening to Vinny complain about food. About a month ago, he started on a no "hot" food kick, which I really thought would not last. He took some liberties with his self-imposed restriction, requesting such "hot" items as french fries, but for the most part, he pretty much wanted nothing that had been cooked or heated. He wanted only "cold" food. Every night... literally every night... as soon as dinner is even mentioned, he starts with "I don't want hot food. Just cold food" or he looks at his plate and says, "That's hot food," and whines and complains for several minutes until he finally realizes he is going to have to give in and eat it, but then the complaints continue as he eats with others added in...

I don't like this.
It won't stay on my fork.
Ew, it has something on it.

You get the idea. The frustrating part is that he isn't really a picky kid. He will pretty much eat anything and likes it, but has decided that dinner time is the time to whine and complain about what is presented to him, even if given choices. He complains at MCDONALDS that he has to have something with his fries and milk because chicken nuggets are hot. He will eventually give in and eat them, and even enjoy them, but the constant complaining has been making me CRAZY.

After being embarrassed of him doing it at the family's house over vacation, and after 20 minutes of harrassment last night over a quesadilla, rice, and beans, I decided that something needed to change. Because he is a rather empathetic kid, we had a little talk after dinner.

I sat him next to me on the couch with my laptop.
"Vinny, when you complain and whine about your food, it makes mommy sad. Do you know why?"
"Because you don't like listening to it."
"Well, yes, but also because you are a very lucky boy to have all that food. Some kids don't have food."
"Some kids don't have food?"
"Right. Some kids are hungry all the time."
"Because their mommies and daddies do not have any food  to give them because they do not have any money to buy food."
"Why not?"
"Because they are not as lucky as we are."
Then, I showed him a bunch of pictures of starving children. He is a visual learner, and I felt like this was necessary. I mean, seriously... skinny little child sponsorship program poster kids.
"Vinny, do you see how sick he looks?"
"Yes, he is skinny."
"Do you know why?"
"Because he doesn't have any food?"
We did this through several sad pictures, sick pictures, etc.

Finally, I said, "Vinny, from now on, every time you whine or complain about your food, I will take one of your toys, and sell it to give money to these kids mommies and daddies to buy them food that they will be very happy to get."
"But I want my toys...."
"I know you want your toys, but if you will not appreciate your food, then I will take what you do appreciate to give food to kids who would appreciate it."
"I can't whine?"
"No, you cannot whine or complain."
"I can't say, 'it's hot' or 'i don't like that'?"
"No, you cannot. Do you understand?"
"Yes, I understand."

I  pretty much left it at that and then called him for dinner tonight and he said, "Not yet," because he was watching a tv show. I turned it off and said, "No, now," and he replied, "Because if I do not eat it I will be like those skinny kids or you will take my toys for them?"  Well... at least it stuck. I feel a little bad about the threat, but you know what... it is the first time we have had a happy, peaceful dinner in weeks! He ate his food and did not complain at all. He got a little distracted with a song about his fork somewhere towards the end, but other than that, our battle-free dinner was wonderful.

I know that it is still fresh in his mind, so the battles could return, but I have every intention of keeping my word about the toys. It was not an idle threat. He has seen mommy sell toys and freecycle toys before, so it would be an image he would be certain to remember, especially if it was a favorite toy, which I would be likely to choose. I know, I am a meanie... but I refuse to let this continue or to write it off as "typical" childhood behavior. Um, yeah, it maybe in typical spoiled suburban American, but not in my house.

Perhaps if the good behavior keeps up, I will try a more positive approach as well. Perhaps I could reward especially good meal times with a dollar in a jar with which he could personally pick out food at the grocery store to bring to the food pantry. He does like helping people, and I don't want it to be just a punishment for not doing what he is supposed to.


  1. I really like this idea. You're raising a very well-rounded boy.