Tonight is one of those nights I wish I had the perfect answer to every parenting situation. Tonight, was painful to me.
Phoebie had recently started this habit of holding food in her mouth, not swallowing until a very long time later, or waiting until she gagged and had to spit the food out. She had been doing it so much that I felt that enough was enough.
She had done the same last night and I put her in the naughty corner, telling her that she was only allowed to leave the corner when she had swallowed her food. When she ended up gagging and spitting her food out, I blew my top. I yelled at her and made her clean up the mess she made. Because she felt a bit feverish, I eventually relented and let her off by offering her alternatives for dinner.
Tonight, her fever is gone and she is her cheeky self and the “hamster” (we told her that only hamsters hold food in their mouths and not swallow) returned.
I tried my very best not to yell because I had felt so horrible last night. Instead, I chose to ignore her. I told her that I would only answer her when she had swallowed her food. I walked into my room and left her in the living room. When she came into the room, I walked out into the living room.
Initially, it felt like we were in some game. But when she tried to gesture or talk to me, I would stand up and walk away, I wanted her to know that I meant what I had said.
Finally, after 20 minutes, I heard her chewing loudly and she came to stand in front of me, with her mouth empty and told me she had swallowed her food. I thought things would go on smoothly from there and she would have known that I mean what I say, but no, the same thing repeated again.
By the third time the same thing happened, she took a much shorter time to swallowed her food but I was getting exhausted and impatient. She was also beginning to go to her toys since I wasn’t in the same room. I then told her that she had to stand on a particular spot right outside my room until she had swallowed her food.
She stood there for what must have been about 10 minutes and she peed in her pants and spat the food out from her mouth, all at the same time. I blew my top again. I brought her into the toilet and cleaned her up, and then I made her clean up the pee and food on the floor.
By then, I didn’t know what else to do. I told her that she would have to stay in the same spot while I fed her dinner, and that every time I had to count to five and if she still had food in her mouth, I was going to smack her hand.
And that was what I did. I didn’t yell or raise my voice but counted to five calmly, and every time I smacked her hand, tears rolled down her little cheeks. It pained me so much. It was one of those moments when I truly felt the Chinese saying “打在儿身，痛在娘心”, which means the beating is on the child but the pain is in the mum’s heart.
That was how I fed Phoebie the rest of her dinner. At some point, she recognized that when I counted to five, it meant that pain was coming and she would refuse to give me her hand. I insisted and held her hand in mine, while she tried to clench her hand into a fist. I would unclench her fist and smack her on the hand, watching as more tears rolled down her face. The pain in my heart was tremendous. But I really didn’t know what else to do.
When we were almost done with dinner, Phoebie told me that she wanted to hug me. It was so hard to hold back my tears. Even with the smacking, she still wanted to hug me.
When we were finally done with her dinner, I told her to look at me while I talked to her. I asked her if her hands were painful and whether she liked it when I had to smack her. She told me it was painful and that she didn’t like the smacking. I asked her whether she needed to be smacked so that she would eat properly and swallow her food. She said no.
I told her that it was the same for me, I didn’t like to get angry with her and I didn’t like to smack her. But I also didn’t like that she refused to swallow her food and I wanted her to eat properly because I love her.
She apologized to me and hugged me, telling me that she loved me. I hugged her really tightly and told her I loved her too.
Meals are a breeze for some kids but a pain for others. I don’t know how other parents handle it but I have tried what I can. Tonight was a painful one, and while I don’t know how Phoebie will be tomorrow, I pray that she learns and that I don’t have to do the same thing again, just to get her to eat properly. It’s just too painful.