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My daughter is 2 years and one month old. Her eating isn't great, I suspect because we let her eat treats at mealtimes, regardless of whether she eats the nutritious stuff we put in front of her.

So today for lunch I gave her a plate of toast with apple slices on the side, both of which I know she enjoys. She ate most of that so I gave her a bag of fruit wriggles afterwards. I then clean her up and get her out of the chair, at which point the meltdown begins. She's crying and kicking for more food even though she's had plenty already. When I put her down she ran up to the pantry and pointed to the treats. I said "no" and felt I had to stick to my guns after that.

The meltdown lasted for at least half an hour, and I was questioning my decision every second of it. She definitely had enough food to fill her up.

So my question is: When it comes to food, should no always mean no even in the face of a never ending meltdown? What if I'm mistaken and she's genuinely hungry?

  • My sister used to bang her head on the floor to get her own way, mum did not give in and she had a blue bruise for a while - she eventually learnt yhat “no” meant “no” independant of how much screaming you do. She still has a string character though. – Solar Mike Apr 12 at 7:28
  • Your headline already indicates not you educate her but she educates you. Your second sentence unfortunately seconds this even more (we let her eat ... regardless...). Did you try to give her another apple slice? – puck Apr 13 at 9:55
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If she’s genuinely hungry, she’ll eat vegetables or fruit. The typical strategy we use is to let the kids have as much healthy snacks as they want (so long as it’s not just before mealtime) but limit the unhealthy snacks. They end up eating vegetables or fruit when they’re actually hungry, and a reasonable amount of other things.

Any change like this will involve crying, as she gets used to things. Expect it for a while. But when she’s used to it, it will be the norm and much less frequent crying (and for much shorter time periods).

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I'd argue it's never the case that no should always mean no. No should mean no only for as long as that's your honest opinion. There's a popular idea that once you've said no you'll have to stick to that, lest the kids learn that they can have their way by screaming. I find the opposite to be true: kids who have learned that you are flexible and will stand by your decision only when it makes sense to do so, and that you will accommodate their feelings in that equation, will be more likely to respect your no, and less prone to power contests.

If once you've said no you have to stick to it, you're not limiting your child's options but your own, and you'll inevitably sometimes be picking fights over goals you don't care for and defending positions you no longer hold.

I don't see that treats would be a key component in satisfying her hunger, anyway, so I wouldn't have that specific concern. If she's used to treats at mealtime this reaction is unsurprising. If you had decided to back down and had given her the treats after a while, the meltdown would likely have been interrupted, and you would still have introduced the idea that you no longer wish to uphold this habit. So while I wouldn't worry about her potential hunger in this instance, I would still say more flexibility on your end would make life easier for both of you.

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I can totally understand refusing to give her more treats, even if it takes half an hour of crying, but there was no reason for you to deny her food entirely. You should have offered her something healthier, like carrots or cheese or yogurt. If she refuses a couple of good healthy options, then you can say "Your options are what I offered, or waiting until dinner"

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