How can I stop my baby's mealtime tantrums?
Q: My son is 13 months and when my husband and I try to introduce new foods or encourage him to feed himself he throws a horrible fit!! I don't want to feed him for the rest of his life and I want him to start trying adult food and expand his taste buds a little. How do we nip these fits in the bud?
A: I am pretty sure that you will not be putting food in your son's mouth for the rest of his life. What might make mealtime more enjoyable for everyone is to set out some finger food that your son likes when everyone sits down at the table, and let your son pick it up to eat or make a mess with it or drop it on the floor--as babies of his age will usually do. You can help him explore new foods, including morsels of adult food, by setting a bite or two of these dishes down in front of him along with the foods that you know he already likes. Put a variety of finger foods down on a tray in front of him. Babies of this age will often put almost anything in their mouths, so it is not hard to capture their interest by presenting something tasty to sample. Of course, like anyone, your son may have strong preferences about what foods he likes and what foods he doesn't like. You can't really do anything about that. If he doesn't like a particular dish, you can try to introduce it a few months later when he may have changed his mind.
It has been discovered that babies will pick a healthy diet for themselves, if they are presented with a nice mixture of ordinary foods. Not every meal will be "balanced" perhaps, but the child's overall diet will be nutritious if the child is given a spectrum of ordinary healthy foods among which to choose.
Fits of rage are telling you something. There are many times that the child's rage simply has to be overridden and the parent must simply force the parent's will on the child. If a child wants to write on the walls with your lipstick, and the child is enraged by being stopped from doing this--then the child is just going to have to get over it. But many times, a child's fit of rage is a signal that the child is being forced to do something that isn't really necessary. It is wise, at these moments, for parents to ask themselves whether there is an option to manage the situation differently, so that the child doesn't feel forced. Avoiding these show-downs whenever possible will make the relationship between parent and child more cooperative, trusting, and friendly--and this good relationship, in turn, will help children to become more adventurous and independent in their tastes and their spirits.
Elizabeth Berger MD
Child Psychiatrist and author of "Raising Kids with Character"
Answered by Dr. Elizabeth Berger