I have tired quickly of Matthew's recent tendency to bemoan whatever it is that I've prepared for dinner. Most days, around late afternoon, Matthew asks me what I'm making for dinner. And most days, when I tell him, he reacts with a cry of "oh, not that - I hate that!" It's rather odd that he's taken to reacting like this, because he's actually a pretty good eater (even of things like broccoli and fish...and last night's hamburger soup!). But I don't like the attitude - it embodies a lack of thankfulness/gratitude.
A number of months ago, a friend of mine told me that she'd tried a new strategy with her four children when it came to complaining about dinner. When her son (about seven years old) grumbled about a dinner set in front of him, she silently took his plate and, in full view of him, shovelled the entire contents of his plate into the garbage. He went hungry until breakfast the next morning. Wow, I thought, that takes some guts.
I've been toying with the idea of doing the same thing with Matthew. In fact, the only thing stopping me is my dread of Matthew's inevitable nighttime hunger that will cause me a sleepless night while I listen to his crying...and his rumbling tummy. It's one thing if he chooses not to eat and he goes hungry til morning, but it's another for me to take away that choice. I know, I know, short term pain for long term gain...but you're talking to someone (me) who is already remarkably short on sleep given her tendencies to insomnia and sleep-robbing nightmares. Also, because I know my resolve would demand that he make it through the night with not one iota of food, my soft heart would be crying along with him and I'd feel tormented about the fact that he'd be hungry.
So...what to do then? Determined that my child will learn something about gratitude (I am stubborn, after all!), I've taken my first step. A few days ago, after fielding the usual wail about how much he hated the dinner I was preparing, I calmly told Matthew that I appreciated him letting me know that he didn't want dinner, because I wouldn't have to set the table for him. He was surprised, then said that he was getting hungry so maybe he could eat something else for dinner (note: I never do this - I'm not a short order cook - he eats what we eat or not at all!). I said that, no, dinner was what I'd told him it would be so I would set the table for just daddy and me, since he wasn't interested in eating the food I'd made. He was quiet and looked a little uncertain; but he went off to do something. A half hour later, when I set the table for dinner, I set it for two. Matthew noticed, as I'd hoped he would. He asked if Daddy was coming home for dinner. I said yes. He asked if I was going out for dinner. I said no, I was eating at home. He then said that we needed to set another place then, because we were three people, not two. He looked a little anxious, clearly remembering our earlier conversation but not really wanting to remind me of it. I responded by saying that, as I'd told him earlier, I was setting for two because he expressed a distaste for dinner. Matthew started looking a little freaked out at that, and commented that he would actually be interested in eating dinner after all. I said that this was interesting, but that it wasn't enough for me to be convinced that he was going to be happy with the food in front of him. He asked what else he should say to be able to eat dinner. I said that I wasn't exactly sure what it would take on his part, but that I certainly expected him to be thankful to have food to eat for supper, and to express gratitude to me for making it. A few minutes later, he came back and said: "mom, I've been thinking. I'm really glad that I have food to eat for supper and thank you for making it. I'd really like to eat with you and dad and I won't complain about what the meal is, even if I don't like it. Can I eat supper with you guys?" I solemnly said yes, and gave him dishes to add a place-setting to the table. He ate without complaint.
The next day, Matthew came (as usual) to ask me what I was making for dinner. I told him that I was making something new, and explained what it was. He looked at what I was making, looked at me (I could almost see the wheels turning in there), and said: "mom, I'm not sure if I'm going to like this dinner or not, but I'm sure going to try it and try to like it because I'm glad we have food to eat. I'm not going to complain." The several dinners since then have gone similarly. I figure that's a good start; and, if things slide backwards again, I think I'm now geared up to take the next step.