Breaking Bread

My twelve-month old son loves LOVES bread.  If it were up to him, he’d eat nothing but bread at all three meals.  When he was younger, I could give him his food and then offer a piece of bread and he’d be content with the arrangement, but now that he’s keenly aware of the goings-on at the dinner table, he’s realized that there’s bread available at dinnertime.  Of course, to him that means that he can have bread instead of all the other food, and he’s prepared to throw a tantrum to get his way.  Being of Spanish descent, I’m not about to give up eating bread with a meal just because Zach is still developing impulse control.  Quite the opposite: I now make it a point to include bread with dinner precisely so he can work on this skill.

I recently read this insightful post by Janet Lansbury, and thinking of her advice helped me stay calm during a recent limit-setting opportunity.  Here’s what transpired…

We were having a tasty minestrone soup for dinner, with our usual bread.  Zach ate a couple of spoonfuls of soup, saw that his dad was eating bread with the soup, and decided he simply had to have bread.  He pointed wildly at the bread and made loud noises, so I said “You want some bread with your soup” and gave him a smallish piece.  He happily ate his bread and when it was gone he demanded some more.  I told him: “First you need to eat more soup and then you can have bread.”  I offered him a spoonful of soup and, as you might imagine, he lost it.

He gave an infuriated wail and then went into “silent-turning-purple” crying.  “He’s winding up,” my husband announced and sure enough, Zach finally let out a loud angry cry.  It took everything I had not to hand over the bread, not so much because his crying bothered me, but because I know it stresses my husband, and that in turn stresses me.  “First have some soup and then you may have some bread,” I repeated calmly, offering another spoonful.  Zach wailed and babbled, presumably telling me how much he wanted bread.  “I understand you want bread,” I said.  “But you also need to eat soup.”

He kept crying so my husband and I went back to eating our own soup.  It certainly wasn’t fun to eat while he screamed, but I had a feeling that this was a powerful teaching moment to help him understand that tantruming was not the way to achieve his goals.  Every couple of minutes I offered a spoonful of soup and he batted it away.  Without reacting, I would put the spoon down and go back to my meal.  Zach eventually saw he wasn’t getting anywhere with all the crying, so he calmed down.  I offered him some soup and he accepted several spoonfuls.  Then he gestured for bread and I gave him some.  Now, here comes the cool part: He finished his bread and not only did he not ask for more, but he grabbed for the spoon to have more soup!  We finished the rest of the meal in peace, with only a glistening crocodile tear on Zach’s cheek as a reminder of his outburst.

Last night we again had bread with our meal, and enjoyed all the food peacefully and in a balanced manner.  Will this be the last tantrum?  Hardly!  But I was glad to see that even at 12 months of age, children can understand limits and begin to develop impulse control.  And I was relieved that I was strong enough to maintain my resolve and composure during a crying fit, because that – not bread – is what he was really asking for.

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