Quite a while ago, somebody gave us a tip: use a sand-timer to give little toddlers a sense of time. It is useful to get them to transition into the next activity, and especially during times when we needed to peel her away from the playground when it was time to leave.
It was a simple suggestion shared by a child educator and a really effective parenting tool; one which we haven’t thought of before that fateful meet. We have been an advocate for it since and have gone through 2 sand timers which unfortunately had broken into pieces due to rough handling of the little hands.
And because sand timers are not as easily found here in Bangkok, we had been without one for a couple of months since the last one broke. We then soon forgot about it, sticking to just, “You have 5 more minutes according to the hand on my watch or that clock on the wall.” To our credit, it mostly worked with Spud.
Then came one long week.
It was the week when Spud decided to dedicate a whole hour to finish her meals. She would sit at the table and do everything else but eat her food or she would put the food in her mouth and not chew for 15 minutes or she would put her spoon down after every frickin’ bite and started fiddling with her hair or whatever that was in sight.
I tried being nice, I tried being gentle and I tried giving descriptive positive reinforcements (which was extremely tiring and later become absolutely annoying! I mean how many times do you have to cheer her on and descriptively praising her for every single thing she did – from picking up the spoon, to putting the food in her mouth, to her chewing away – and do it like a hundred times in a super-happy tone as if you are cheering for the million dollar lottery like a lunatic?). Whatever trick I tried, I failed miserably.
It was the week when I was at my boiling point. She has been pushing my buttons all week and now this. The entire family was miserable at meal times, I was getting a little out of control with my temper, I was completely at my wits end and all the supposedly genius recommendations of descriptively praising in gentle parenting style made me feel like a complete failure. It was the most frustrating week that I thought she didn’t deserve to have any meals served in front of her anymore. That was how mad and defeated I was.
I ran out of ideas as to how to make her to not only eat, but eat faster, so, when I saw a kitchen timer during my lunch break at the supermarket one day, an idea struck me. I thought, perhaps, I ought to try one more thing: Use a timer during every one of her meal times. If she is not able to finish up her meal within the stipulated time, we take her food away. If that happens, she would not be entitled to have any snacks and she would have to wait for the next meal time to come.
I then bought myself a ringing cow. It was to be a test device to be introduced to Spud at breakfast the next day.
When I showed Spud what I had bought and explained the concept to her, she got excited. We first set it at fifteen minutes (I was determined!). She finished most of her food but when the time was up, we had to remove the food from her and told her that she could try again at lunch. On the hindsight, 15 minutes was rather ambitious and I was setting her up for failure; I could have actually increased the time. On the other hand, I was also conflicted – I felt that if I had increased the time, she would have seen me reaching out for the timer, and then, she would not have taken me seriously. I felt that it was more important to educate her on the consequences of her food being taken away if she didn’t finish eating when the timer goes off. I then set a time of 25 minutes on subsequent meals.
Since then, there has been some improvement to her eating speed at mealtimes. She understands that she does not have to finish everything on her plate, and while lots of encouragement and reminder in the form of “chew, chew, chew, swallow” like a drill master are needed, I could see her trying really hard to beat the clock. And when the timer finally goes with a loud “drrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinggggggggggggggg”, everyone, including Squirt would be clapping and cheering.
My ringing cow is now our best-friend. Spud understands the concept that there’s always time attached to everything we do and it helps her to transition to the next activity without much protest because she knows what would happen next.
For now, kitchen timer has become that perfect little device that tells Spud that time’s up because the cow says so. Not Mama. Not Papa. Not Nanny. It is the bloody damn cow! Now go argue with it.Drrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinggggggggggggggggg!!!