I will admit that I am in no way an expert in this area. My girls are both fantastic eaters, and if I struggle with anything big, it is trying to KEEP them from eating things. (Lily recently pooped out 12 cents and a tiny teapot!) But they weren't always great eaters. Right around the 7-month-old mark, both of my girls started refusing food. Partly because they wanted to be independent, and partly because I don't think they really trusted me :)
With Brooklyn, I didn't know what to do. She was just so little and young, I couldn't bare the thought of disciplining her. But then my older sister told me that discipline doesn't have to be a punishment, just a teaching moment, and that Brooklyn was old enough to understand basic concepts. So I gave it a try. When she would throw fits I would firmly tell her "no" and then redirect her actions. When she would refuse to try something new, I would quickly slip a small taste into the side of her cheek (the same way you would for medicine) so she could taste the food. She would automatically spit out the first piece, but once the flavor hit her tongue she would trust me on the second bite. As soon as she took a bite of her food all on her own, and swallowed it, I would say, "Mmmmmm! Yummo!" with a big smile on my face. Eventually, all I had to do was say "Yummo" and she would try the food I was offering.
I found something that worked for Brooklyn, but when Lily came along, the story changed. Lily wasn't fighting for independence as much as she was just afraid of the way her food looked, or she just couldn't stand the texture. What helped with her was changing the appearance and texture of the food. That involved using a blender, food coloring, or just breaking up something big into something small. The other thing that helped Lily was watching Brooklyn eat the food first. Not everyone has an older sibling to help out with that, but you can act as a filler and do the same thing. I often dramatically take bites of Lily's food and carry on about how good it is (What about Bob style) until she starts to giggle. Then she wants to get in on the fun and will take some bites.
OK, so now that you can see how I dealt with both situations, we will throw in a wrench. When Brooklyn turned 2, I had to go through the independence/refusal all over again. On top of that, she suddenly became completely disinterested in food, even sweets! She was so busy practicing her new words and skills, and discovering and playing in her new world, that she couldn't focus on eating. At first I made the mistake of letting her eat on the run. I would simply leave snacks laying around the house for her to grab as she was playing. Several carpet stains later, I realized that she had grown to expect that from me and I had complicated the problem. So I went back to basics.
I started putting Brooklyn back in her chair and then I gave her a choice. "Do you want mommy to feed you, or do you want to feed yourself?" She, of course, wanted to do it on her own and would start the process after the prompt. However, almost immediately she would get distracted and I would have to say, "Brooklyn, you need to focus." She would try again and then get distracted...again. At this point I would feed 2-3 bites to her myself (I was lucky here. Most kids won't open up for their moms at this stage) until she begged to do it on her own again. It was a long and tedious process but she now responds solely to the prompt to stay focused.
Now for the point of all this information. Every child is different! They each have different personalities, wants, and desires. And guess what? Every parent is different too! What works for me might seem too harsh or too wimpy to someone else. You have to find something that YOU feel comfortable with and that works for YOUR kids! Because of that, I'm going to leave you with some research I did online for this post. Different opinions, from different people, coming from different situations. First off, The Super Nanny!
In this clip, the Super Nanny eliminates snacking throughout the day so that the children will actually feel hungry come dinner time.
For some children, the only problem is that they want to be included in the family. In this clip the Super Nanny moves a little boy from a highchair to the dinner table with the rest of the family where he can be a part of the fun and doesn't need to act out for attention.
For some parents discipline is not the problem, praise is. In this clip the Super Nanny teaches a mom how to reinforce good behavior with praise.
If you think your child's issues are exacerbated because of a lack of discipline rather then a problem with food, this article will help give you ideas on appropriate discipline tactics.
And to close things off, I would like to ask any mothers out there who have had similar experiences and have good ideas rolling around in their heads to PLEASE leave them in the comments section of this blog so that we can all benefit from your wisdom! :) If you happen to have so much experience that you feel like you could write a book on the matter, then you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will set you up to do a guest post. Heaven knows we could use all the information we can get! Until then, good luck to you all!