Dear Kid Whisperer,
I follow your advice when raising my three children, so I know what I am doing in the mornings with my kindergartener isn’t the right thing to do, but I’m not sure what will work. I spend a lot of time encouraging her to eat her breakfast in the mornings before school, but no matter what I say or do, she eats so slowly. I know I shouldn’t be getting angry about it, but I still yell. What do I do? –Brook, Troy, Ohio
Parents get angry when they don’t know what to do and when they are trying to control that which they cannot control. Your situation is a prime example of this. I’ll show you what to do so that you won’t try to control anything you can’t control. Caution: This will involve your child suffering the natural consequences of not eating breakfast when she is supposed to eat breakfast. If you want to find a means of getting your daughter to learn how to be responsible for herself without suffering consequences, you are asking the wrong person. There are plenty of others who will give you advice that involves no suffering. They will not help you to train your daughter to exhibit the positive behavior of listening and following directions, but they can at least trick you into having a warm, fuzzy feeling while your daughter learns that her well-being is not her responsibility.
Right now, you and your anger are training your daughter to not eat her breakfast because you are showing her that she can control your emotions just by not eating or eating too slowly. Angry adults are fun to watch. You are giving her control and entertainment, two things that kids love. Here’s how I would train her to eat in a timely manner as I give her breakfast.
Kid Whisperer: Here’s breakfast! Feel free to eat all that you can until the big hand is on the 2 (Kid Whisperer points to where the 2 is on the clock).
Kid: What happens if I am still eating when the big hand hits the 2? I prefer to take my time while consuming breakfast.
Kid Whisperer: I will let you take three big bites and three big sips. Then either you can put your dishes in the sink or I will.
By 7:10, Kid has eaten very little. Kid Whisperer is happy that Kid will finally be learning a lesson about self-reliance, responsibility and the transformative value of suffering.
Kid Whisperer: Three big bites, three big sips, you know what to do.
Kid Whisperer gives about twenty seconds for Kid to finish and then takes her food and drink. Kid freaks out.
Later that morning, Kid becomes very hungry. Hunger teaches Kid to eat her breakfast tomorrow instead of Kid Whisperer attempting to teach this lesson with lectures and anger. No extra snacks are to be made available for Kid.
Of course, don’t do this if your child has diabetes, hypoglycemic issues, or another medical issue that makes this advice dangerous, or if there is a medical reason why she can’t eat in a timely manner, don’t do this.
Again, if you don’t want your daughter to suffer, this isn’t for you. If you are OK with her suffering a little bit now so that she won’t suffer a lot later, you now have a solid, air-tight plan that will allow you to be calm AND get the behavior that you wish to see in your kid.