Friday, March 6, 2009

I Manipulate Therefore I Control

For those of you who are new to the blog (thanks Fatherhood Fridays!), I recently discussed the exploits of Big Brother as a picky eater.

Little Brother definitely eats a little more variety of foods than does Big Brother, but nonetheless may follow in Big Brother's picky-eating footsteps simply because he adores him and copies his every move. So, if Big Brother wants to subsist exclusively on toaster waffles and granola bars, then so may Little Brother.

However, it came to our attention this week that both boys, particularly Little Brother, have been "pulling the wool over our (Mom-E and I) eyes" when it comes to their eating.

On those days that Mom-E works outside the home, the boys go to an in-home daycare. This is a relatively new arrangement, with which we've been quite pleased. The "nanny" has good rapport with the boys (and us), and they respond well to her.

Apparently, however, they may respond "too well."

We learned that once this past week Big Brother ATE A CHICKEN NUGGET at daycare! "He what?!?" I exclaimed. This is MONUMENTAL for our little no-meat-granolbar-chocolatejuice-yogurtarian, and the source of a "well-intended bribe gone afoul" .

Big Brother cried "fowl", of course, and denied having ever let chicken touch his lips.

Not to be outdone, we learned that Little Brother enjoys mac & cheese, spaghetti with meat sauce, green vegetables, etc., etc., etc...

Of course, at home, we're luck to get just a tight-lipped scowl when such things are offered (and they continue to be offered).

And so, this got me thinking...

The boys' (particularly Big Brother's) "picky eating" really is not about eating at all. Rather, it's about two fairly precocious children manipulating their environment for purposes of increasing their control over it. (And I don't refer to manipulative here in the derrogatory sense).

As I've said on numerous occasions, young children are a lot smarter than we often give them credit for.

In the grand scheme, parents do (and rightly should) dictate much of a child's schedule: when to get up and go to bed, when to nap, when to eat, what not to play with, and so on. It only makes sense, however, that the secure child will resist and "fight back" in order to increase their level of control as they grow in their autonomy.

Keeping one's lips sealed at the table is certainly one way to do that. "You can tell me when it's time to eat, but not what I eat."

Since the nanny is perceived by them as less authoritarian (in many ways) than Mom-E and Dad-E, there's less incentive to "fight back" when it comes to food.

I realize there are a multitude of reasons for picky eating (speaking as a reformed picky eater myself), but this one is often overlooked.

That their eating is about control and not eating is supported by other experiences with Big Brother:
-He was a "closet walker." That is, even when he was able to walk, he wouldn't (especially at daycare). The daycare workers would say they'd turn their back on him to help another child, and when they turned around, he'd be on the other side of the room. The control here is "if you think I can't walk, you'll pick me up more, and I like being carried."
-Also at another daycare, Big Brother would occasionally eat something, like a biscuit, he wouldn't eat at home.
-For quite a while, the nightly routine was all about manipulation in attempt to delay bedtime (i.e., control). After he was tucked in and the lights off, there were the serial questions/protests, spaced minutes apart: "Can we read one more story?" "I have to go potty." "I'm hungry." "Can I have some water?" "Will you sleep with me?"

Fortunately, experience has been a good teacher for Mom-E and Dad-E. We've learned from Big Brother that trying to "push" a child into something they don't want to do only makes them tighten the reins of control. In the meantime, we'll just be supportive and encouraging.

When they protest, in an attempt to increase control, we'll just smile, unfazed, and continue to offer the [chicken nuggets] [green vegetables] [etc.] with pleasant indifference. They may not realize that Mom-E and Dad-E know how to manipulate, too.

The boys will come around, eventually.

Have a good weekend,


  1. Yep Busy hit the nail on the head. It is ALL about control.

  2. Yes, the little people are a lot smarter than we give them credit. They will come around one day.

  3. Amen! haha Eventually it will all be in the past and you'll be telling stories to their girlfriends!