4-year-old is not ready yet to try out new foods


November 28, 1999|By Dr. T. Berry Brazelton | Dr. T. Berry Brazelton,New York Times Special Features

Q. I have a 4-year-old daughter who refuses to eat meat or to try any different foods. She lives on about 10 different foods, including macaroni and cheese and peanut butter and jelly. She seems almost terrified if I offer her anything else.

She is right in the middle of height and weight charts for her age. She is healthy, and her iron count is good. My husband is concerned about her diet, though. He's also concerned because I fix her a separate meal from the rest of the family every night.

Some family members think I should starve her until she eats what everyone else is eating. What do you think?

A. Your daughter is probably covering her nutritional needs adequately as long as she drinks a pint of milk (or its equivalent in cheese, ice cream, etc.) a day and takes a multivitamin to cover uneaten vegetables. Ask her doctor to review her diet carefully with you. If he feels she is meeting her needs, then I wouldn't worry.

You are wise not to make an issue of her eating, as you probably wouldn't win this battle. Sooner or later she is likely to want to identify with the rest of the family, and then she'll begin to try new foods.

Q. My question is about aggression in boys. My quiet, reserved, 3-year-old son has a regular weekly play date with a verbal, outgoing boy. This playmate has a younger brother, age 2, whom he frequently pushes, hits or bothers. Sometimes the aggression is directed toward my son, who chooses to walk away or come to me for protection.

I am aware that some of this behavior will go on between kids, but lately my son has been very disturbed by it. I noticed that after his playmate went home after one visit, my son was very aggressive toward his younger sister for days. I also noticed that on the following play date, my son immediately began to bother the other boy in the same way he had been bothered.

The other mother says this is normal and we should let them work it out. I am considering stopping their play time, since I think it is making my child angry unnecessarily.

A. I would urge you not to stop their play dates. The kind of behavior you describe in the other little boy is what I'd expect in a 3-year-old. This is the time for him (and your son) to begin to try out important aggressive feelings in a safe environment. I would want your son to be ready to "bother" the other boy in return, and I surely agree with the other mother: Let them work it out with each other. The boys will learn so much about themselves and each other this way.

You should also encourage your son to talk to you about how he feels.

The aggression toward his younger sister is normal and better expressed than hidden, as long as you do not let them hurt each other. Again, let them work it out themselves as much as possible.

Q. Lately, our 8-year-old son has been saying the contrary of what I say. If I comment on how beautiful (or ugly) something is, he quickly states his opinion -- which is, of course, the opposite of mine. If I cook his favorite breakfast, he says he doesn't feel like eating it that morning. If I compliment him on his clothes, he goes and changes into something he knows I will disapprove of.

I am starting to lose my patience with this behavior. Is this his way of getting independence?

A. Absolutely. Can you try to take it less personally and enjoy it? It sounds like a fascinating effort on your son's part to establish his independence. If you face his contrary behavior with a sense of humor, you will probably diffuse it quickly.

Let your son know you admire his efforts at autonomy. I certainly do.

Questions or comments should be addressed to Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, care of The New York Times Syndication Sales Corp., 122 E. 42nd St., New York, N.Y. 10168. Questions of general interest will be answered in this column; unpublished letters cannot be answered individually.

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