The Rise of the Threenager

Spitting Milk At Dinner

Keener has been dancing on my nerves. Two nights in a row, he spit a full mouthful of milk out at dinner. Of course, monkey see, monkey do. Grace followed with the exact same move, milk flying across the table and all down her front.

On night one of milk spitting, I instantly said, That’s disgusting! You can’t stay at the table with Grace and me if you aren’t using your manners. We have to teach Grace the right thing to do. You need to sit in the other room until I come back and get you.

I swiftly carried him to another room. I really wasn’t thinking of this as a “time out” – a natural consequence of spitting out milk is that you cannot sit at the dinner table. I also was simply trying to give myself a minute to figure out my next move without clobbering him. After about a minute, I went and got him. Keener, we swallow our milk. When you spit it, it makes a huge mess and you don’t grow big and strong. When we go back into the kitchen, show me what it looks like to swallow your milk. After giving myself that minute, I was able to think clearly and calmly and communicate with him without the extreme frustration.

On night two of milk spitting, I said something to the effect of Keener! Why did you do that? You usually have such wonderful manners. I’m so surprised you would do that! To which Keener replied, “Are you going to make me go sit by myself?”

In that moment it hit me —  he very much enjoyed my intense, crazy reaction from the night before. I therefore responded, No, you are not going in another room. Your milk is going to take a break. If you can’t drink it and swallow it, you won’t have any milk with dinner. Your milk is going to sit here and watch you use your manners to eat the rest of your dinner. “Are we going to have time to play after dinner?” No. Unfortunately, you will have to spend any free time after dinner cleaning up the milk that is all over the table. When you swallow your milk, you often have time to play after dinner but you didn’t make that choice tonight. Hopefully tomorrow night, you will swallow your milk.

I was dreading dinner the next night, and realized I needed to make a change. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do if he spit his milk out for a 3rd night in a row. Instead, I did the following:

  • I casually talked to Keener during the day about the importance of swallowing milk. Milk makes us grow strong and healthy. You need it to grow big strong muscles. When you take a sip of milk or water, you swallow it down your throat.
  • I casually talked to myself throughout the day about remaining calm. I need to save my “I’m going to lose my mind” reactions for things that truly are extreme – such as running into the street or playing ‘rough and tumble’ near the top of the stairs.
  • I named for Keener the one place where it is OK to spit – brushing his teeth. Most rules are not hard and fast. Instead, I have found that naming for Keener the places he can engage in certain behavior helps keep the behavior limited to those times (see post about naming options).
  • I changed up our dinner routine. I needed a different energy at dinner. I told Keener and Grace We are going to listen to music tonight at dinner, how fun is that? It allowed me to convince myself that ‘dinner time is fun’ (ha!), and allowed the kids to focus on the songs, not on poor behavior.

Night 3 was a success. Talking to him calmly before he had the opportunity to misbehave, talking to myself, and using music to change the mood all helped Keener swallow his milk. He now often says, “We don’t spit milk.” (see post about giving kids the language).

Of course in true almost 3 year old fashion, he got me again last night at dinner. He learned he can swish milk in his mouth like mouthwash and then let it drool out of his mouth which is technically not spitting. Oh almost threenager, you got me. Another good reminder to focus on what he can do instead of listing all of things he can’t do with his milk (spit it, drool it, blow bubbles, make art with it, pour it on the dog, etc.) Swallow your milk, my man.

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