Don't have food fights with your child Q: My 2½-year-old used to be a good eater. Now, though, he only wants to eat bread, butter and jelly. I thought it was a phase, but it's been going on now for three months and I don't see an end in sight. I have tried telling him he can't have his butter and jelly sandwich until he eats some meat and vegetables, but he throws a complete tantrum and doesn't eat anything. Some days it seems like all we ever talk or think about is what he is eating. I am at my wits' end. Please advise. C.L., Romeoville
A: The first step is to consult your pediatrician and find out what foods besides jelly sandwiches, vitamins and milk your son needs to eat to stay healthy. Then take your son to the pediatrician and let him hear the doctor tell him what additional foods he needs every day.
Choose one meal, and make sure your son eats the added foods before he gets his jelly sandwich. If he cries, wait him out without becoming angry or isolating him. Eventually, he will be hungry enough to eat the necessary food and move on to his favorite dish. The point is you are not arguing with your child over food preferences, you are only using the same principle as when you give him medicine or put him in his car seat, namely that there are certain things that have to happen to keep him safe and those are not negotiable.
In general, it is pointless to go to war with any child, especially a 2-year-old, over food preferences. If you begin using punishments or rewards for eating, you open a door you don't want to go through because you will be stuck with the consequences for years to come-hardly a meal will go by without your having to use threats or rewards to get your child to eat.
So remain firm, consistent and caring. Within the limits of preserving his health, let him eat bread, butter and jelly to his heart's content. At some point, he will outgrow this food fad and move on-and he will outgrow it sooner rather than later if you can avoid making a power struggle out of it.
When can you reason with a 2-year-old? Never Q: What do you do when you are putting a 2-year-old to bed and you have promised to read two stories and she begs and begs for more? Before I start reading, I say, "Just two books, right?" and she smiles angelically and says, "Wite." But when I finish the second book, she starts demanding, "More, more, more." No matter how many times I remind her that she agreed she would go to bed after two stories, she shakes her head and insists I read more. If I don't give in she has a tantrum, but if I keep reading the process just goes on and on. It has gotten to the point that I am tempted to just leave her to have a fit by herself, but I know from your column you don't advise doing that, and I have always agreed with your logic. Suggestions? P.K., Oak Park
A: The problem is you are trying to reason with a 2-year-old. Two-year-olds not only want what they want when they want it, but they assume they can get what they want when they want it. In other words, because they are normally both impulsive and cognitively immature, 2-year-olds cannot be overpowered by logic, and it is really not fair to get angry or punish them for acting their age.
We suggest loving regulation, which means managing your daughter's behavior while you continue to offer affection and closeness. Tell her you will read her two stories without making her promise not to ask for more. She will never be able to keep the promise. After the first story, say in a friendly way, "OK, we're going to read the last story now." After the second story ends, offer some sort of night time ritual such as songs, hugs and kisses.
If she cries because she can't have another story, tell her you know it's difficult to go to bed when she wants more stories, but that she needs her sleep and you will read more first thing in the morning. If she continues to cry, hold her until she stops and then go back to putting her to bed. Your daughter will get enough sleep and she will have learned a valuable lesson, namely that even when she can't have what she wants, she can count on having a loving relationship with you.
Will my 3-year-old ever get along with the baby? Q: I have a 6-week-old and a 3-year-old and although I was looking forward to the new baby, my 3-year-old is turning the experience into a nightmare. He pitches a fit whenever I have to do something with the baby, yells that I don't love him anymore, says his life is "horrible" since "he" came. I'm afraid to leave him alone with the baby for fear he might hurt him. Before the baby was born I had visions of the two of them becoming best friends. At this point I'll just be happy if my older boy ignores the baby. What do you suggest? S.H., Chicago
A: Your older son is feeling displaced and he blames the new arrival who is taking up so much of your time. When you get angry at your son for trying to let you know how he feels, it makes him more certain that he has lost his place in your heart.
The answer is to do everything you can to make him feel included and to let him know that you love him as much as ever. Make special time for him every day while your husband watches the baby and have your husband do the same while you babysit. Enlist his help with the baby in ways that will make him feel he is your partner. For example, ask him to carry bags of baby supplies from the store and compliment him on his strength.
When the baby needs attention, try to engage your older son in singing songs or telling stories so he doesn't feel so left out. When he complains about the baby, agree that right now it's frustrating that he can't have as much of your attention as he once did. Most important, do your best not to lose your temper at him, but to be especially kind and tender.
Questions? Here's your chance to get some answers to your pressing parenting questions. If you're trying to figure out how to handle some aspect of your child's behavior, send your question to Chicago Parent Q&A, 141 S. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park, IL 60302; or e-mail it to SPedersen@wjinc.com. The Piepers will respond to three questions per month. Sorry-they are unable to respond to questions that they do not answer for publication.
More Answers For more answers to questions from readers since January 2000, visit our Web site, www.chicagoparent.com. Click on "Past Issues" and then "Smart Love." For a more complete understanding of the Pieper's philosophy and psychology, read their book, Smart Love: The Compassionate Alternative to Discipline That Will Make You A Better Parent and Your Child a Better Person.
Martha Heineman Pieper, Ph.D., and William J. Pieper, M.D., are the authors most recently of Addicted to Unhappiness: Free Yourself from Moods and Behaviors That Undermine Relationships, Work and the Life You Want (McGraw-Hill, 2002, paperback edition just published),which helps parents and other adults improve their own lives. They also wrote the best-selling parenting book, Smart Love (Harvard Common Press, 1999, 2001). The Piepers have spent more than three decades practicing psychotherapy with infants, children, adolescents and adults; counseling parents; and supervising other mental health professionals. The parents of five children, the Piepers live in Chicago.