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My son won't eat dinner...

For a long time now our 3 year old son has refused to eat dinner. He does just fine for breakfast and lunch (usually) but when it comes time for dinner and we all sit down at the table he immediately starts to pout and says "no." We have been in the same routine since he was born. We always have dinner together as a family and try to make it as positive as possible. It's not that he is a picky eater. Even when I serve the foods I know he likes he still won't eat. We have tried telling him "okay, but if you don't eat you won't get anything else for the rest of the night" but that is obviously hard as a parent as I want my child to be healthy and eat! He doesn't snack often (minus the after school snack) and eats on a schedule at daycare so I know he is hungry by dinner time. I don't want it to turn into a power struggle because I want our family dinners to be a happy time and lately they have been absolutely miserable. I am hoping someone has another suggestion that we hopefully have not tried already!

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Asked by BraydonsMama262 at 11:00 PM on Jul. 30, 2013 in Kids' Health

Level 13 (1,323 Credits)
Answers (10)
  • You answered your own question: After School Snack.

    Answer by PartyGalAnne at 11:14 PM on Jul. 30, 2013

  • If you tell him he won't get anything else for the rest of the night, stick to it. It won't take more than once or twice before he decides eating dinner is better than going hungry. My daughter did the same thing, and it just about killed me not to give her anything later because I wanted her to eat, but she's gotten better. Actually we compromised. No dinner equals no sweets or snacks later, if she's hungry I'll reheat her plate from the meal and give it to her, and she gets one graham cracker before bed no matter what. Find something you can live with and be consistent because that takes the power struggle out of it.

    Answer by Ballad at 11:30 PM on Jul. 30, 2013

  • Can you do dinner a little later or have a lot of running around an hr before dinner. Could just be boring too. Arrange the food as a happy face and buy colorful plates.

    Answer by staciandababy at 11:54 PM on Jul. 30, 2013

  • You have to make your choice either you are going to stand by what you say and have an unhappy child for a few days ( and is hungry)
    or you will continue to let him rule the family dinner.

    Answer by Dardenella at 12:38 AM on Jul. 31, 2013

  • Either you need to cut out the after school snack so he'll be hungry for dinner (and don't say you know he's hungry at dinner - you can't know that), or you need to stick to it when you say if he doesn't eat, he doesn't get anything else for the rest of the night.

    Either the after school snack is filling him up enough that he's not hungry at dinner time, or he's figured out that since you don't really mean it and will give him something else, something that he likes, later in the evening, he doesn't need to eat dinner.

    Answer by wendythewriter at 7:53 AM on Jul. 31, 2013

  • My son never ate dinner until he was around 6. He just didn't need it. He had enough. If he wanted something later he could have a granola bar and a banana. Now he eats. Don't force food.

    Answer by mompam at 8:50 AM on Jul. 31, 2013

  • Thank you for the suggestions! And I do know that he is hungry. He doesn't have dinner until a few hours after he has his snack (which is usually a banana or some grapes). As soon as we get down from the table after he doesn't eat he tells me he is hungry. It is just a power thing for him. I will try to stick to no food if he doesn't eat his dinner!

    Comment by BraydonsMama262 (original poster) at 9:03 AM on Jul. 31, 2013

  • It's fine if he doesn't want to eat, but he still needs to sit down with the family since you are trying to make this habit. Let him sit and color or something. He will eat when he's actually hungry. He does fine with breakfast and lunch which will sustain him for now. Be concerned if he drops them as well. His tummy is not very big so let him decide when he wants to eat instead of expecting him to eat if he's not hungry. You'd be surprised at how full a banana can make you feel.

    Answer by 2autisticsmom at 9:17 AM on Jul. 31, 2013

  • If you don't make it a struggle, he won't "need" to struggle for power (or struggle to be in control of himself.)
    Your comment of "Okay, but if you don't eat you won't get anything else" set up a struggle around his initial assertion (of No about dinner.) I think in general your aim was a good one--to be matter of fact rather than getting into fights, but it introduced leverage in an attempt to reverse or influence his decision (about his own body.)
    I never liked it when my kids didn't go along with my program around food/dinner but I was mindful to notice when they DID assert themselves, and not to give them ANY reason to think they "needed" to do so.
    That meant not being even mildly punitive in hopes of motivating cooperation, so they weren't finding anything against which to struggle. It required faith in the child--that given no REASON to need to fight for power, he'd eventually return to making choices that met his needs.

    Answer by girlwithC at 11:25 AM on Jul. 31, 2013

  • I can imagine myself in your position (I definitely can see how it could happen, and I've had to do some personal course-correction with my own kids when their behavior reflected that they perceived a need to struggle for control/power over themselves & their choices.) If he is saying No or claiming he's "not hungry" at suppertime, and then saying he's hungry as soon as you get down from the table (supper is over) I'd see that as a clear signal that your initial response triggered struggle over the issue, rather than confirming that he had space & it was "okay" to get to decide about himself. You're right that it's about power not hunger, but rather than going to battle FOR power (over him) I'd take the long view & focus on correcting the dynamic so he CAN just eat when hungry, rather than being preoccupied with asserting personal power. So, I'd probably say, "Oh! You weren't hungry then but you are now. Here's your plate."

    Answer by girlwithC at 11:37 AM on Jul. 31, 2013

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