Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Clean Plate Club

My Problem Child post needed a follow-up, I think, so let me pull my thoughts together and jot down some things that are helping as I train Tobin up in the way he should go.

First, a month or so ago (maybe a little longer), Jeff and I decided that it was time to let Tobin join The Club. The Clean Plate Club. Previously, it was a club with 6 members (Grandpa, Grandma, Jeff, me, Josiah, and David), although at times, the younger members of the club wished they weren't a part of it. ;) But now it was time to let the 7th member join, so from here on out, the general expectation is that Tobin will eat everything on his plate at each meal.

Before I'm accused of child cruelty, let me clarify a few things. Notice that I said "general expectation."
~ If we are in a restaurant, in someone else's home, or have guests here (for example, our monthly potlucks when the children tend to be more focused on the people than on the food), Tobin doesn't necessarily have to eat everything on his plate.
~Anything spicy, including raw onions, is excluded from this requirement.
~ For Josiah and David, we have given them a pass when it comes to eggs, since they both seem to think they can't stand them, even to the point of gagging and throwing up when confronted with them (although, of course, they eat eggs in various dishes, but when it's eggs alone, they have a problem and we don't push the issue). If a particular food arises that bothers Tobin so much, he'll probably get a pass on that item, too.
~ Also, we try to be very intentional about only putting a little food on Tobin's plate; and then if he eats that, he can definitely ask for more. Once in a while, we overload his plate, see him struggling to finish it, and then realize that it's too much, so we extend grace in those situations. Or occasionally, he will just act like he's not hungry at all, and I'll remember that he had a snack that morning during Sunday school, or I gave him goldfish crackers on the way home from soccer practice, or whatever. So there is lots of mercy, and eating everything on his plate is not really a hardship.


...he's just joined the club and is testing the boundaries to see what he can get away with. I know Mommy and Daddy said I had to eat everything on my plate, but do they really mean everything? In cases like that, this might happen:
On this particular day, weeks ago (this probably occurred during the very first week we implemented this), Tobin lingered so long at lunch that he actually fell asleep there. The food on his plate that he decided he was NOT going to eat? Nothing weird, just a few bites of grilled cheese sandwich. (David pulled this stunt once with blueberries. He LIKES blueberries!) When Tobin did this, I simply picked him up, kissed his soft cheeks, and carried him to bed for his nap; I didn't wake him up and make him eat the food, or save it for him for the next meal, or anything like that. We started fresh at suppertime to help him learn this lesson (and if my memory is correct, he peacefully ate everything on his plate at supper and didn't push the boundaries).

So why do we do this? In a nutshell, we do it to help our children learn to submit to authority because we've found that if they learn this principle in one specific, concrete area, they will be able to apply it more easily and quickly to other areas.

I know there are many families out there who don't have this guideline, and that's fine! Each set of parents has the responsibility before God to raise their children as they see best, and there's not just one way in which to do that. But we have found, for us, that the food issue is a relatively easy area in which to teach the child submission because the consequence is simple: you sit in your chair until you eat all your food. It's easy to see when obedience has occurred; it's easy to enforce the consequences when it hasn't; it's easy for the child to know exactly what is expected. And really, after just a few times of implementing this, Tobin picked up on it and fully joined The Clean Plate Club without as much angst as I thought would be coming!

Besides learning the principle of submission, here are some other pleasant side effects:
~ the child expands their food preferences and learns, through repeated exposure, to like peas or casseroles or pears or whatever food they were sure they didn't like and would never like (and then later admitted, "that wasn't so bad," and a few times later said, "I kind of like this!")
~ in social situations, it's so refreshing to have children who are willing to be gracious and grateful and try new foods, rather than having to say to hosts, "Well, we'd love to come over, but Josiah will only eat chicken nuggets and David will only eat strawberry jam on white bread with the crusts cut off and Tobin only likes mac and cheese and Shav won't open up for anything but Dannon yogurt!" I have a few food stories of when I was in important social situations and was forced to eat things I really would rather not have, and how grateful I was for the lessons my parents taught me in this regard...I've told these stories to my boys so often that they probably have them memorized :)
~ the child learns to only take as much food as he can eat...he learns his body signals and learns to avoid the "his eyes were bigger than his stomach" trap...every time we go to buffet restaurants, I'm astonished at how much food people take and then DON'T EAT...what a shameful waste!...I hope, by us teaching our boys this basic principle now, they will learn to show self-control in this area...and by the way, our expectation that our children will eat everything on their plate does NOT lead to being DOES lead to self-control which is vital for living a happy life

Sometimes as I go through my days, I spot children who seem to have no concept of living under authority. On the contrary, it appears that they rule the roost and expect their parents to bend over backwards to satisfy their every whim and desire. Seeing situations like that makes my heart ache--not only for the parents and their frustration when dealing with the child, but also for the child who is being set up for a very rude awakening. Like I mentioned before, I have no problem at all with parents who don't have the "eat everything on your plate" standard; but please, for the love of your child, have SOME area in which that dear little one can learn that he/she is not the center of the universe before he/she makes the people around him/her thoroughly miserable by his/her selfishness, disobedience, and lack of respect!

The interesting thing that I've noticed since Tobin joined The Club is that, overall, his general behavior has started to improve; and I'm confident that the submission he is learning in that aspect of life is leaking into other areas and will continue to do so. That's the kind of leak I like! :)

Well, that was a long first point! The other three won't consume nearly as much time and space. :)

Second, play with him. I've learned this one through experience, but I also read about it recently in the book See How They Run by Lorilee Craker. In it, Lorilee interviews Laurie Sargent (who wrote the book The Power of Parent-Child Play), and she includes these words from Laurie:
But do take time to stop and deliberately play a few times a day. Grab a puzzle with small pegs or another "thinking" activity. These serve as a small window into your child's mind and keep you excited about all he is learning. Also, if you are feeling exasperated by the constant babyproofing and messes, you need to stop and play. Seeing your child reach developmental milestones during playtime will help you enjoy parenting more. If your child is hanging on to your leg and whining, he's likely to need a dose of playtime with you to feel securely loved before he crawls or toddles off to explore again. But even if you both feel fine, don't let too much time pass without playing. Your child is changing every day! Don't miss it.
I agree completely. When my stress level is rising and my patience with Tobin is running low, my sure-fire way of turning things around is to drop whatever I'm doing and say, "Tobin, let's have some storytime. Do you want to pick a book, or shall I?" He smiles and runs to get a book, then we cuddle on the couch to read it. Peace is restored.

I'm not suggesting that this method be employed in the face of outright disobedience or major behavioral issues that need to be addressed; but to produce an about-face when things are getting unpleasant, this can't be beat. And really, is it so important that I organize that particular drawer in my kitchen at that exact moment in time, or would the time be better spent showing love to and making a memory with my quickly-growing toddler?

Third, work with him. This may seem contrary to my previous point, but what I really mean is this: let him help me, even when the "help" is anything but! :) If I'm doing laundry, what good is accomplished by me speeding through it as quickly as possible? Why not take the time to let him bring over the stool to the washing machine, dump the soap in, and put clothes in as I hand them to him? Why not pick him up and let him push the button to make the dryer turn on, rather than me pushing it quickly as I'm racing to exit the laundry room? What's the big rush?

When I'm doing dishes, why not take the extra step of getting out a dishpan for him, letting him push over a chair, and allowing him to "rinse" the dishes for me? When I'm dusting, why not give him the old feather duster and let him try his hand at dusting? And so on...

Sometimes I feel like if I don't have a couple of uninterrupted hours to do a project, I can't get anything done, so I wait for his nap time and then try to accomplish so much during that time. But I'm learning how to do my work WITH Tobin, because not only do I get more done, but I have a happier son and I'm a happier mommy.

Fourth, remember that this too shall pass. Tobin will not always be two. Tobin will not always resist getting into his carseat; in fact, someday, he won't even need to ride in one. Tobin will not always need to be watched with an eagle eye when we're in the library, lest he get into some kind of mischief there. Tobin will not always drag his feet when I ask him to come, thereby technically obeying (because he's moving) but doing it so slowly that I want to scream. And speaking of screaming, Tobin will not always scream when he's frustrated beyond words or provoked by a brother. Time will pass (whether I want it to or not), and these issues will pass as well. When I'm weary of the battle, I remember that I will not always be fighting it; but now, while I am engaged in this battle, I want to be faithful to use these opportunities to shape the heart and character of my beloved Tobin Bear. These issues will pass, that's true; but other issues will arise. So if he learns a good foundation of morals and values now, he will be blessed with an easier time of it later. He'll reap a "harvest of righteousness and peace," as the writer of Hebrews puts it.

Tonight after the Independence Day parade downtown, we went to Country Cookin' for dinner; and afterwards, we were sitting on the benches in the mall corridor, watching our oldest three boys running up and down and around a ramp outside the restaurant. A nice older lady and her husband walked by us, on their way into the restaurant; and she remarked to us that it reminded her so much of when they were young and were sitting there watching their children run up and down the ramp. She said, "The time goes so fast," and I know she's right. Someday I'll be an old lady (Lord willing...unless He returns first, or I die young!), and I'll wistfully watch young families and think back to the days when my boys were so small. I don't want to waste this time. These are precious days--for Tobin and for all of us--and though they may also be long and exhausting and trying and just plain HARD, I want to embrace this time--embrace the challenges, embrace the opportunities.

I'll start by crossing the hall to embrace him. :)


Jeff Fisher said...

Thanks for being such a thoughtful, caring mother to our children. God could not of orchestrated it any better! I praise Him for His gracious gift I have in you!

Margie said...

I enjoyed reading this, and wish I'd read it when the girls were younger. I chose not to make them eat based on what I'd heard about kids learning to understand when they were hungry and when they weren't and decided to keep the battle away from food. Sarah is, by nature, a clean plate girl and an adventuresome eater. Elizabeth isn't. So I give her something old (that she likes) and something new at every meal. My rule is that she has to try everything. Which she does, and usually without protest.

With girls, I am aware of the relentless public discussion about food at every turn - what's healthy and what's not, as well as the constant spotlight on weight. Before I had kids, I heard of a 5-year-old who asked her mom if she was fat, and was appalled. So I decided to make food to be a normal, regular part of our day - not to be judged as a "should" or "should not," and provide generous servings of fruits and/or vegetables at every meal. Since we almost never eat out, it's easy to do.

And I know her habits, too, shall pass; I used to eat just like her.

You wrote about so much more than food, though! And I loved the entire post. You put so much thought into everything, and love the encouragement your writing gives to those of us who read it. Thanks, Davene.

Davene said...


I agree with you that girls are faced with pressure regarding food and body image in a different way than boys are. Obviously, your girls are healthy and happy and so loved! :)

Thanks for sharing your perspective.

Sally said...

A great post! I just now took the time to read it. I am so happy to learn I'm not the only one who makes my kids eat all that's on their plates (with lots of grace in circumstances that call for it, as you pointed out). The popular thing (and even the pediatrician's instructions) is not to battle over food, not to make kids eat what's on the plate, etc. I'm like you and put a very small portion of each thing on their plates, and then they can ask for more.

I also loved all that you had to say about stopping to play, and including Tobin in your work. Our days here go so much better if we do "school" and Bible story and Bible memory time. Sure it takes time out of my day, but they are much happier the rest of the time.

And, I've found they LOVE to help, even if, as you pointed out, a lot of time it's anything but help when you look at the bottom line of productivity.

You are a great Mom!

Polly said...

I love the quote about play! That's such a good reminder. Sometimes I get so busy 'doing' that I forget to stop and just have fun with Finn....and then he gets aggravating and aggravated with me! But he's only 3, with no playmates, and does need some mommy-fun time.

*thank you* for that good reminder....!!