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Taming a Food-Thrower

Speak of the Devil

Speak of the Devil

In keeping with the theme of this blog about experimentation I offer up my personal test of “the pop.”  You know, a pop on the hand or tail, meant to get your child’s attention and establish a negative association between their action and your response with the hopes they won’t repeat said bad behavior?  Gemma is now 20 months-old, but when she was even younger I began experimenting with a pop on the hand or tail, but questioned myself afterwards, especially when the only reaction I got was a giggle and smile.  She thought it was funny and a game, and I was teaching her to hit.  I abandoned this entry-level form of corporal punishment and began barking at Marco to do the same if he headed towards Gemma’s highchair when she began hurling food across the room.  ”No,” I said, “we’re teaching her to hit and it doesn’t do any good.”  At a loss, we became more stern, raised our voices and wagged our pointer fingers in her face when she threw her food (at every meal).  She continued to giggle, smile, smirk or just ignore us.

At a doctor’s appointment we mentioned our toddler’s rogue behavior, to which the doctor suggested we flick her on the cheek.  ”Really?  Flick her?  On the face?”  I asked.  ”Yep.”  Replied the doctor.  ”But I don’t think she will understand.  She seems to think being reprimanded is a game.” The doctor responded, “She is old enough to know the difference between right and wrong.”  The doctor, who has four children of her own went on to explain that some children are quite compliant (this comment led to an impromptu daydream where I imagined Gemma not trying to climb out of her stroller and shopping carts, not climbing up on the window sills and standing in chairs, not repeatedly trying to get into every cabinet, drawer or the toilets, and what seemed like a miracle too impossible to imagine … Gemma not throwing her food across the room).  I snapped back to reality to hear the doctor say that had one of their more unruly daughters been born first, she and her husband would have been thrown off thinking that’s just how toddlers are, but since their first-born was one of these so-called seemingly common as a unicorn, “compliant children”, they knew better.  Flicking the cheek would get their attention and thwart their renegade behavior.  I was a little disturbed by the idea, but mostly intrigued.

That night at dinner Gemma picked at her dinner and of course began hurling her food across the room.  Marco marched over to her highchair, scolded her with a strong “no!” and flicked her on the cheek.  Cue the waterworks.  She cried like a … well … a baby.  We both began explaining to her she needed to eat her food not throw it while trying to soothe her.  We felt terrible.  After dinner Marco unexpectedly flicked my cheek.  ”Ow!”   Cheek flicking has shock value for sure.  It hurts.  But it hasn’t kept our headstrong toddler from throwing her food.  Instead, she continued to throw her food and when we scolded her she would sort of  slap herself in the face like “this is what they do when I throw food.”  Seeing her make that association for the first time was a cringe-worthy parenting moment for sure.  Like she’s thinking “When I throw food, Mommy and Daddy hit me in the face.”  And she demonstrated this new association she’d made many times … well, as many times as she would throw her food, which was a lot.

Marco’s mom was visiting us from Italy and the first time she saw Gemma hit herself in the face she was understandably alarmed.  ”Who is doing that to her?”  ”Is that happening at school?”  she asked.  Marco and I looked at each other … “umm … no … she learned that from … us.”  I’ve never been so anxious to explain something in all my life.  I let Marco do the honors to be sure nothing was lost in translation.  To-date at nearly 22 months-old she’s still throwing her food, altough thankfully not hitting herself in the face afterwards, which Marco and I appreciate.  But alas … the name of this blog entry is a bit misleading because our food-thrower has not been tamed.