My youngest son has been doing this for a while now. I'm not quite sure when it started, I guess there was no real 'start point', more like a gradual process that you don't really notice until one day you come to the realisation that things are far different than they used to be. Things really started to sink in when I observed a few incidents in the last couple of weeks - for example, one evening he refused to eat his dinner (an almost nightly occurrence) and was put to bed. He started complaining that he was hungry, so the usual "the only thing you're getting to eat is your dinner" argument began. He wasn't happy with that solution, and asked for something else. Deane, trying to be 'authoritarian', took him in his dinner, which he promptly dumped on the floor! Needless to say, he stayed in bed, and didn't get anything to eat until breakfast the next morning. That was on Friday last week. He has eaten more in the way of dinners since, but the "I'm hungry" complaints at bed time are continuing. I've suddenly become deaf to such pleas, with the hope that he will soon get the message and eat his dinner, knowing that he won't be getting anything else.
I'm well aware that it is our fault, as his parents, that he has become accustomed to getting something to eat if he asks for it enough, regardless of the fact that he's supposed to be going to sleep, and he (more often than not) didn't eat much dinner. I guess we were just happy that he was eating something, as he eats so little food in an average day, and he's so small, we worry that he's not getting enough. We've fallen into that trap, forgetting that children will not starve themselves voluntarily - if they're really hungry, they'll eat. Stubbornness and determination can only hold out so far! (Can't it?)
I was never a big eater as a child, voluntarily going without breakfast most mornings, and lunch (even though my mother made me sandwiches every day, I always threw them out. I think I've already apologised to her for that...), and then not really eating dinner. I didn't like anything green (although I did eat cabbage, and occasionally beans, and ::gasp:: brussels sprouts), so the only fruit and vegetables I ate were apples, bananas, oranges, potatoes, carrots, onions, cabbage, brussels sprouts, and occasionally beans. Yes, I am relatively small as an adult (only 5'1", and on the skinny side) but I think that's just genetics, not a lack of nutrition. I always had plenty of energy, and never went hungry. T is much the same - his food mainly consists of anything white or yellow: eggs, bread, pasta, rice, apples, cheese, bananas, chicken, potatoes, milk and sometimes fish. He ventures out of this a little with carrots, tomato sauce, a (very) small amount of red meat (although he avoids it - I'm wondering if he'll turn into a vegetarian...) but that's pretty much it. Although he is rather fond of baked beans, as was I. He drinks juice, but doesn't eat green veges (which I guess I shouldn't be surprised about) and its very difficult to get him to try new foods.
T was always a bit of a mixed bag - difficult to feed (from day one!), but well behaved and quiet, and extremely cuddly but not at all clingy. Always happy, in a very subdued way, but such a big personality when he was in a comfortable situation, like at home or kindy. He's small for his age (hell, he's small for a four year old! Bearing in mind that he's six), so his 'defense mechanism' at play group, kindy, wherever he found himself dominated by older or larger children (which was most of the time) was to scream at them. They'd freak out, and quietly sidle away, keeping their eyes locked on him until they felt they were at a safe enough distance. When he was two, about the time this behaviour started, I figured he'd eventually grow out of it so there was nothing to really worry about. After all, how else was he supposed to stake his claim on play areas, toys, the good crayons? Unfortunately though, he didn't grow out of it. He doesn't scream much now, only occasionally. But when he does, boy is he loud! Particularly when we're in the inner courtyard of our apartment building. The echo is quite deafening. For such a small little guy, he's definitely got a decent set of lungs!
But it doesn't stop there. Now he's become a little more... physical. Generally he gets on well with his older brother - for siblings, they're pretty close. But when they fight, if he doesn't get his way, he either hits or throws whatever he can get his hands on. In all fairness, he's a pretty tolerant kid, and its only once his tolerance has been pushed to its limit that he retaliates. X has learned over time how to push his buttons, and become rather accomplished at it. Hitting, although not a desirable behaviour, was not much of a problem because he was so small he didn't have the strength or the power to inflict much pain. He is growing though, and that strength and power is growing too. His punches are starting to hurt. And the throwing thing? We've always discouraged it (as well as the hitting) but he continues to do it. So far, I guess we've been lucky in that he hasn't really broken or damaged much. But I guess its only a matter of time.
The most damage he's inflicted is a nasty gash in his brother's head, when they were fighting over a Nintendo and things got a little heated. X ended up with a trip to the emergency department and a glued up forehead. Not pretty. T's thrown a few electronic devices - XBox controllers, his kiddie laptop - luckily they've come out relatively unscathed. So far.
I guess my point is, I'm going to have to up my game. We're going to have to get into the nitty gritty of tough parenting here. No more "You hit your brother again, you'll be going to time out", or "You throw anything else you'll have no more games today". Threats don't work on this child - time out? He doesn't care. A day without games? No big deal. Withholding dessert until he eats his dinner? He just goes without, and then we feel bad because we think he's not eating enough. Our punishments have escalated to the point where, after throwing his drink bottle in the car while Deane was driving, he was banned from playing XBox for a week. When he hit his friend on the head with a Nintendo after they were arguing over who could plug in their charger, he got another week's ban. I figured the punishment fit the severity of the crime, but Deane complained last night that it was getting beyond a joke, and we were running out of punishments. Ones that actually have an effect. How much further can he push those boundaries, before we can't push back?
I'm trying to come up with a game plan, which I'll discuss with Deane before putting in place. A structured 'cause and effect' type thing, where each misdemeanor has a consequence, and everybody's aware of what will happen. I've taken a leaf out of a friend's book - a friend I have always admired. She's a single mother with two boys a little older than mine. Their routine was always structured, both hers and her boys', and any misbehaviour wasn't tolerated. They're such lovely boys, but like any boys, they misbehave. When they do, they know what punishment they'll have to wear, because she's always been open, and consistent. Structure and consistency is something I lack when it comes to raising my boys.
Ooh, what's this here? A big, giant black hole full of parental guilt? Let's just try and sneak around that one... oh, argh, whoops! ::trip:: Aaaaaaaagghhh - I've fallen in!! Where does it eeeeeeeennnnnd?????