Silas and I have what I like to think of as a morning ritual. He calls for me, and I go into his room. We cuddle for a minute, and then I bring him downstairs, attempt to convince him to use the potty, and try to figure out what he wants for breakfast. I always give him a choice of two things, usually cereal or toast. He always picks one, then throws a fit five minutes later when I bring it, demanding the other one. When I can finally convince him to take a bite of whatever I made, he chills out and eats it happily.
This is not a fun way to start the day.
One morning, the choice was cereal or toast, and he chose cereal. When the fit started, I had an idea. I got his little pitcher and put a tablespoon or so of milk in it. “Hey, I don’t think I put enough milk in your cereal,” I told him. He stopped thrashing around on the floor. “Would you help me pour more milk on?”
He looked up and saw the pitcher. I showed him how to pour the milk on the cereal. He eagerly poured all of it in, said, “Milk! Bubbles!” and dug in. He ate his whole bowl with no further complaint. He even cleaned up the little drips of milk that he spilled on his table, which he normally would fuss about and demand that I attend to immediately.
This is such a Montessori concept–“teach me to do it myself” and practical life all rolled into one. I shouldn’t be surprised that he responded so positively to it. If anything, I should be (and, I guess, am) irritated with myself for not thinking of it earlier.
Today, I got him oatmeal for lunch. I gave him milk in a little pitcher, and also a dish with diced apples, walnuts, craisins, and dried apricots. I tried to show him how to put the fruit and nuts on his oatmeal and stir it in, but he was not interested in that (although, he did put some in my bowl). However, he poured the milk before I even had a chance to get a picture, and happily ate both the oatmeal and the dish of intended toppings.
At dinner, he didn’t want to eat his scrambled eggs, until I suggested that he put a little pepper on them. He held the pepper shaker the wrong way (and my husband almost pointed this out to him!), so no pepper actually went on the eggs, but he felt like he had done something, and, again, we had a fuss-free meal.
Now I’m trying to plan our meals around having some element that he can add all by himself. I wonder if I can teach him about sprinkling Parmesan on his pasta or give him his own little spreading knife and some peanut butter to manage his own toast. It also might be time to revisit our failed experiment with having him cut his own bananas.
I’ve always given him choices as a way of giving him a feeling of agency, but I wonder if that’s not enough for him. I have a very clear memory of my dad asking me if I wanted “Cheerios or Cheerios” for breakfast once, and being utterly frustrated by his false choice–more so than if he had just made the decision without asking for my input. Maybe Silas feels the same way.
Now I’m trying to think about other points in our day when I brace myself for a tantrum. Are there ways that I can give him more to do? Can I help him feel more like he is in control of his life?