Setting Limits after Dinner

Setting limits with children

(C) RayaGr 2012

My daughter came home from a play date happy and easy to be with, but around dinnertime her tone changed. She began to fuss about random things and used a sharp tone of voice. I figured she needed some more reconnection time after being away.

Her dad and I stayed warm and loving toward her, trying to reconnect and trying to diffuse the tension with laughter. But still, she kept returning to that sharp tone and finding fault with one thing after another. Our attempts to reconnect with her just weren’t getting through.

She didn’t eat much at dinner, but immediately asked for a snack as we cleared the table. Now she knows the rule in our house: if you’re hungry right after dinner, you can eat more of your dinner or pick a fruit or veggie.

When I reminded her of this she immediately began crying, “I’m not going to eat dinner. I’ll dump it out if you give me dinner!”

I crouched down to her level and said gently, “You don’t have to eat dinner. You can choose a fruit or veggie snack.”

She cried more and still talked about dinner. “I’m not going to eat dinner,” she repeated. “Even if it’s yummy, I’ll dump it out.” I stayed close to her and reminded her she didn’t have to eat dinner. She could choose a fruit or veggie.

This brought out more frustration and she tried to hit me so I gently held her hands and told her I was going to hold them while they wanted to hit. She squirmed and cried with her eyes shut tight.

When she calmed, I told her I loved her very much and reminded her she could have any fruit or veggie she wanted.

This just brought on more tears. She fought and cried saying, “I’ll never eat a fruit or veggie until I’m ready!”

I told her that was ok, I would wait for her to be ready. Occasionally, I listed a few fruits and veggies we had in the house, but mostly I stayed quiet and present to her. She alternated between quiet snuggling in my lap and then back to crying while trying to kick and hit.

Whatever upset she was carrying, she was working hard to let it go.

After about 10 minutes she said, “I want raspberries.” I said ok, but then waited to see if she was really done crying and fighting. I nuzzled her playfully and asked her if she could look at me. She smiled and made eye contact.

With the tension gone (and who knows what caused it!) she ate all the raspberries and then asked for celery and almond butter which she also ate happily while we played a card game. We had a really enjoyable evening together and I was reminded of what a gift setting limits with children can be when the limit is set with lots of warmth and patience for our child to go through the process of releasing their upsets.

Michelle Pate, Parenting by Connection Instructor and Consultant, join her next online Parenting by Connection Starter class. You can also connect with her on Facebook.

One thought on “Setting Limits after Dinner

  1. Somehow it sounds like our daughter is having dinner in your house. Our experience exactly, minus the successful ending. We’ll try to stick to your script a little more and see if we can get to a better outcome. Thanks, Neil (daughter of a 4 year old)

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