Cereal and Banana

Submitted on Aug 30, 2020, 8:46 a.m.
My Amazing Body

Here’s my first and likely only attempt at a ‘parenting’ post - since there’s little time left for 'blogging' or much else at the moment.

Our daughter Angela has been a pretty good eater. She likes vegetables, and will happily eat broccoli, carrots, green beans and others. But getting her to the dinner table, or getting her to finish a meal has been one of our regular challenges. From everything we’ve read this isn’t unusual. There are a hundred distractions and a lot more interesting things to do once she’s eaten enough to no longer feel hungry, but not yet full.

She’s almost four years old, and the challenges above have now expanded into frequent demonstrations of ‘control’ and ‘oppositional’ behavior – leaving both my wife and I frustrated and exhausted on most days. I’m trying to work my way through Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish’s book – ‘How to Talk to Kids so Kids Will Listen, & Listen So Kids Will Talk’ - https://www.amazon.com/How-Talk-Kids-Will-Listen/dp/0743525086 . So far at least the book has been an eye opener, and I think it will help – although I’m not confident enough yet to say for sure. On a few occasions so far at least one or two of the techniques the book recommends have made a difference, and so there’s a chance that life for all three of us could improve.

What follows is an example of where I attempted to put together what I’ve understood so far from the book and other sources.

08:30 – Me: “Angela which cereal would you like this morning?”

08:30 – Angela: “I would like the Gorilla cereal! But I don’t want the banana.”

Normally we put a small ‘nam-wa’ Asian banana cut up into small pieces in her cereal. She’s eaten them regularly and I’m pretty sure she likes them. These small bananas are very nutritious and help her to eat a decent sized breakfast.

08:31 – Me: “Oh – but I thought you liked the banana?”

08:31 – Angela: “No – I don’t like the banana. I don’t want the banana Daddy.”

At this point – as has been the pattern for the past few months, I know that I’m being challenged and that Angela wants to exercise some control and power over me and her breakfast choices. You could argue that this isn’t a battle worth fighting, but I decided to try. While she may not be a particularly fussy eater, we worry that she’s not eating enough and so for me, the banana is important and I want to see if we can make this work.

The first thing I do is try to reason with her.

08:32 – Me: “The banana is delicious and bananas will make you big and strong.”

08:32 – Angela: “No Daddy - I don’t like the banana. I don’t want to eat the banana.”

For a few more minutes I continue to try and reason with her but she’s not budging. I then change tact. While it’s not okay to threaten your child with abandonment, apparently it is okay to stop, and walk away. I tell her we’re going to wait a little while before having breakfast and I put the cereal, banana and bowls away, and go into the other room and sit down and read – ignoring her, and ‘stepping out’ of the situation completely. She's a little puzzled, but I can see her mind working, reassessing the situation. After another minute she comes up to me and says “Daddy I don’t want the banana.” I say, “okay – then we’ll pass on breakfast for now, but I think when you do eat it’s important to have the banana too.” I go back to my reading. The pause gives me a chance to revise my strategy too.

I remember that we have a book called ‘My Amazing Body’ by Ruth Martin and Allan Sanders - https://www.amazon.com/Little-Explorers-My-Amazing-Body/dp/1783701331 . And I remember that there is a picture of a child growing ‘faster, taller, stronger’, and that when you open the flap, the character in the book is eating a banana and drinking some milk. Angela loves this book and so I go and get the book and show her the picture – open the flap and explain, “See – this little child is growing taller, and faster, and stronger because he’s eating the banana!”.

Superman character eating milk and banana.Growing bigger, taller and faster with 'My Amazing Body' and the infamous banana.

“Ohhhh”, she says, “but Daddy – I don’t want to eat the banana”.

So we move over to the sofa. I say okay I understand that you don’t want to eat the banana with your cereal today, and I try to coax out a reason. “Does the banana taste bad?”, “Do you not like the cold banana?” (we keep the small bananas peeled and frozen, so they store longer and can be cut up and added when we need them). “No Daddy – I just don’t want one”.

At this point I’ve worked my way through most of what I can think of and then decide to try to distract her long enough for her to forget that we’re engaged in a contest of wills.

I decide to call Ruth Martin (one of the authors of ‘My Amazing Body’). So I pick up my phone and engage in a ‘pretend’ conversation with Ruth. Angela is mesmerized – listening carefully. I pretend that Ruth has confirmed that bananas are very important, and Angela nods in agreement. And then – almost by accident, after I’ve hung up from our fascinating conversation with Ruth, I suggest that we place the little banana in a separate and smaller bowl beside her cereal. Angela nods enthusiastically.

08:45 – Angela: “Yes Daddy! We can put the banana in small bowl and I can lick it!”

08:45 – Me: “That’s a good idea! And then maybe if you like it, I can cut it into small pieces for you too!”

08:46 – Angela: “Yes Daddy!”

Success. At least so far. You’ll see in the photo that she’s happy with the result. She was able to negotiate a new arrangement, and a variation on how we eat the banana, and I feel like I super-human parent for having succeeded without losing my cool.

Angela eating cereal, with a banana in a bowl next to it.Angela eating her cereal AND the banana in a side-bowl.

Angela proceeds to eat both the cereal and the banana until she’s about half-finished, and then stops, and begins to sing a few ‘Mother Goose’, and ‘Cocomelon’ songs – working her way up to a fever pitch with ‘The Wheels on the Bus’. She knows from experience that intense, very loud, and very repetitive short bursts have maximum impact. I ask her several times to finish her breakfast, and suggest that we can sing together afterwards – but to no avail. I lose it. I’m angry now. I place my hand on her shoulder and sternly, but not too loudly say “stop” with just enough force that she stops and begins to pout before sitting up and continuing with her breakfast. I’ve gone from ‘victory lap’ to failure in the space of a few seconds.

Again – based on what I’ve read so far – being angry and resorting to force might be okay in situations where a child’s safety is concerned, but generally, all it does is teach the child that ‘force’ is good – it’s powerful and something she can use when she’s ready.

So here’s where all of this leads. I spent around 30 minutes working through this with Angela this morning. We don’t normally have this much time to spare. And at the moment we could have anywhere from a few to more than a dozen such episodes on any given day. I’ve heard it gets better. And I’ve also heard that if we are careful about how we resolve these confrontations now we’ll be setting Angela up for better problem solving, autonomy, and behavior as she develops. But what I genuinely wonder is how on earth we’re going to get through this? And if I’m wondering this – how on earth do families that are far less fortunate than we are cope at all? I can see how the knowledge and skills described in Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish’s book might help, but what does it say about modern life and parenting in general if it requires this level of effort when most would-be parents can barely afford to look after themselves, let alone spare the energy and resources required to raise a child?

We’re not out of the woods by a long shot, and I’m stunned. And that is all.