What baby led feeding taught me about food refusal

From the day Ruby started solids she has predominately been feeding herself. Baby led feeding (also called baby led weaning) is a method of introducing solid foods without purees or spoon feeding. In short you introduce foods that are easily picked up and soft enough for the age of the child.

IMG_4725We started around six months with things like avocado, banana, paw paw, papaya, cooked pumpkin, sweet potato and zucchini. As Ruby grew more accustomed to eating, and grew a few more teeth, we added different textures and varying crunchiness. The great majority of this food has been placed on her high chair tray then she has been left to explore the food in which ever way she likes (including shoving it into her mouth).

Throughout this time there has been instances when I would spoon feed her. Think yoghurt, soups, porridge. All that sloppy stuff that hands do not cope with well. But here is the thing, the majority of the time I spoon feed Ruby it becomes a headache. First I have to convince her to try it, then after a few happy mouthfuls she simple refuses to eat any more. Because we also have a 3 year old with special needs who requires help with meals I regularly gave up the fight and passed her the food, conceding I would clean the massive exploratory mess up later.

And she would proceed to finish the meal, in her own messy way.

IMG_6656It is behaviour I have observed from the very first weeks of feeding solids, and therefore not caused by baby led weaning. I am led to wonder what would have happened if I had been predominately spoon feeding. I may have decided she was a fussy eater and thought she didn’t like a whole range of foods. But the truth is she likes to feed herself, and I doubt she is unique in this instinct.

I believe it is her way of learning about the food and feeling comfortable with what she eats. It is also one way she has power over her diet. Sure I choose what is placed on the food tray, but she decides what to eat, how much to eat and how to eat it. I also believe this is pretty wonderful, a little tool/method/experience I want to share with you.





Our stay-at-home Village

The last four years have been a real eye opener for me. Before I had my own children I really didn’t understand the reality of being a parent, many of us don’t. At times parenthood feels like a marathon with no finish line, and let me tell you…people break down. I am actually quite saddened by how hard this journey has been on both myself and quite a few of my close friends. In general it is more pervasive into a mothers life, but of course there are exceptions. It is hard to a point where you lose yourself to exhaustion, isolation, self doubt and a weird rage that was never there before. But I do not believe it has always been this way. The fact is our modern society, our neighbourhoods, our new age family…just doesn’t support raising human children.

pa and rubyI recently read a great article about how the loss of village life has most affected mothers and I whole heartedly believe this. “Perhaps most tragically of all, the absence of the village is distorting many mothers’ sense of self. It’s causing us to feel that our inadequacies are to blame for our struggles, which further perpetuates the feeling that we must do even more to make up for them.”

My own journey has been hard, I have been at breaking point many a time, but there is one thing that has helped beyond all else. My tiny stay-at-home village. My mum and dad.

My parents are retired, and since our son’s birth four years ago we have all lived together for two years and only lived five minutes apart for the remainder. We see each other almost every day. They help with pretty much everything, from entertaining kids to household chores. If I am in a fowl mood, they accept it. If my house is a bomb site, they help clean. If I feel like giving the kids away, I can (for a short time at least;)). They are always there. 

To be honest I have had many a pang of guilt about how much I rely upon them. Sometimes thoughts of inadequacy creep into my mind, “this is wrong, I should’t need them”, which is RIDICULOUS. But, as the years go on and I still rely on them more then ever, I am accepting that it is right. That having our family (and ideally our extended family) close by, helping daily, is actually the way it was for so many thousands of years. Accepting that our current family makeup is a blip on our existence as a species.

bozandgranmaI also have the most amazing friends. Beautiful, caring, inspiring people. Shouldn’t they be enough? Well, no. Because the fact is most of them are in the very same exhausted, isolated, self doubting, weird rage head space that we are in (that is most of them have young children or demanding jobs, or both).  On top of that our days are just not intertwined enough that we can fully support each other in the ways that are needed. Whether that means we live too far apart, work varying hours or simply cook, eat and sleep separately (because hey, that is what happens when you don’t live in a huddle of huts).

So here’s a tired mum saluting her tiny stay-at-home village and sending a little wish out that one day our villages will grow again, in a different and wonderful way.

Parenting How To; An aggressive toddler and his little sister

Last week the heavens saw fit to bless me with a little parenting challenge in the form of our toddler acting like an aggressive little devil. Picture him yanking his sisters hair while imitating her screams and then giggling like a mad man once he was detached from her locks. Then picture me filling with rage, staring wide eyed at my gorgeous son, wondering how he could be so mean and nasty…the evil giggle really makes you wonder, where am I going wrong as a parent????!!!

siblingsAll I want to do is scream at him “NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!! Oh my gosh what is wrong with you can’t you see you are hurting her, YOUR SISTER WHO YOU ADORE! why are you laughing? You are a crazy evil human!”

Instead I try two approaches;

yell NO so loud I scare myself then, growl like some canine mother, and in some weird attempt to stop him laughing and make sure he realises this is not funny but serious and wrong, I put him in his room and close the door. He continues to giggle before banging on the door and beginning to cry, when I open it he smiles from ear to ear and runs out.


while trying to comfort Ruby, look into his eyes and explain that his behaviour hurts his sister and that he needs to be gentle. He meanwhile tries to dodge past my blocking arm to grab back at her hair. Giggling or screaming the whole time.

Neither approach was helping and the problem seemed to be escalating. My super amazing mum came around and shared some golden advice…”just ignore it”….well, thats the short version.

In that moment, when he was being aggressive, all he wanted was attention. There would have been a need he had that was not being met, whether he was tired or hungry or feeling wound-up or just in need of connection…so when other attempts to get my attention hadn’t worked (or weren’t working fast enough) he took action. The bigger RE-ACTION I gave him the more aggressive he became, and by far the worst response was when I myself became aggressive in language and in shutting him away. I do not believe this sort of behaviour from a toddler is a conscious effort to manipulate, he isn’t plotting to be evil and steal my attention, no…it is just an event that occurs and then an intuitive response to react.

So what, am I just meant to ignore this negative behaviour? Isn’t that just the same as condoning it? As a parent don’t I need to control my child, teach them wrong from right?

Here is what I learnt.

That moment will not be when I teach him wrong from right.

In that moment I need to stop the behaviour, but not give it energy, not fuel the fire.

Now when he acts aggressively I stop the behaviour, say firmly but calmly “No, pulling hair hurts and I won’t let you hurt your sister.” Then I walk away with Ruby far enough so he can not reach her but not out of sight. I console her without making a fuss and go about doing exactly what I was doing before the incident. All the while I keep an eye on how he is reacting. Sometimes he will follow and start grabbing, so I repeat “No” firmly and calmly, then move away with little reaction. There is no shaming or guilt, no evil eyes. I believe it is so important that we let our children feel every emotion, anger and frustration are not bad, but sometimes children deal with those emotions in unacceptable ways (ahem.. like hurting their sisters).

I am learning to accept that my toddlers behaviour, aggressive or otherwise, is just part of him finding his way in the world. Sometimes our initial reactions in a situation may seem like a guiding force, but they are not always the most appropriate or helpful. Teaching wrong from right doesn’t happen in one moment, it happens over a whole childhood. We do not learn how to deal with our anger in one moment, it takes a life time of guidance and self development. And we do not learn kindness and gentleness through a lecture our parents gave, but through the behaviour they mirror for us day after day after day after day.

It is also really important to remember that aggressive behaviour is usually caused by an unmet need. Sometimes this is inevitable, as parents we can not always cater to exactly what our children need in each moment. I wrote a post a while back about aware parenting, it has a few tools for helping meet the needs of our children…and hopefully reducing their frustration and anger. Time to Aware Parent your kiddies?