True Romance
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Ike the Mastermind

So if any of you are regular-ish readers of the Advice Smackdown, you'll appreciate this delicious slice of piping-hot irony: 

Ike won't eat his dinner. Ever. A bite or two, at the most, followed by dramatic "yuck" faces, protests over non-existent spice levels, feigned gagging over textures, then a sustained and stubborn refusal to touch anything else on his plate. And whining. So much whining.

It's funny because oh ha ha, how many times have I told other parents EXACTLY how to handle this type of behavior, like we had it SOLVED FOREVER and LOCKED THE HELL UP. 

Step One: Buy Ellyn Satter's book.

Step Two: Do whatever Ellyn Satter says to do.

Step Three: Be smug about it on the Internet.

Ike has never known anything BUT the Satter method. He has always eaten what we eat, he has always been offered a wide array of flavors and textures, he has two older brothers modeling damn near picture-perfect table manners and eating habits.

And he is not an unreasonably picky eater. At breakfast, lunch and snack time, he will eat anything and everything you put in front of him -- INCLUDING DINNER LEFTOVERS -- with minimal to zero protest. Sure, he'd probably live on pizza and PB&Js if we let him, but for 23 hours a day he is perfectly capable of eating a plethora of flavors and textures from across all major food groups. 

But then dinnertime rolls around and suddenly everything is...well, a thing know, FINE. He can go hungry. I'm a seasoned Satter-er and I know this game. You don't have to eat, but you have to at least sit here and not be a jerk about it. You won't starve, you're getting plenty of calories and nutrition every day so if you want to sit here pretending that spaghetti and meatballs are suddenly the most unpalatable food imaginable, go right ahead. 


After a few months (yes, months, and MONTHS) of this, we finally admitted that maybe we should possibly try something else. 

We did the whole "more positive attention, zero negative attention" thing. He'd get praise for at least keeping his butt on the chair or holding a fork correctly. Tantrums meant he had to take his plate and eat alone in the kitchen. Oh, how he HATED that. Still wasn't gonna eat, though.

We involved him in meal preparations put him in charge of setting the table and assigning seats for everyone. Oh, how he LOVED that. Still wasn't gonna eat, though.

We went ahead and made dessert conditional on at least making at effort to eat some of your dinner. (This is totes-anti-Satter but it was admittedly unfair that his brothers would clean their plates night after night and then watch Ike take one bite and then just sit there, whining and waiting for the cookies to show up.) Oh, how he...totally did not care about that, and still wasn't gonna eat. 

We went a step further and made watching a TV show before bed conditional. Tantrums or excessive whining at the table meant immediate banishment to bed, rather than the kitchen.

We experimented with his snack schedule, tried to find a link between days when he took a nap (which as you know, Ike is #NOTTIRED) and his dinnertime antics.

We finally hypothesized that he just eats so much during the day and naps so intermittently that he's a combo of #NOTHUNGRY and super-overtired on weeknights. And he is a little better about dinner on the weekends, when there's no mid-morning snack at school and I can move the afternoon snack forward. (He insists on waiting until his brothers get home from school during the week, and I've yet to find a compromise that doesn't involve a lot of tears and genuine upset from the baby brother feeling super left out.) But the weekends also usually involve eating off of restaurant kids' menus or frozen pizzas with a babysitter, so he can indulge his picky-ness a bit more. 

We fell into a pattern of going through the motions at dinner. He gets the same food as everybody else in a super-modest serving size, but everybody sorta knows he's not gonna eat it, he'll eventually act out for attention, get sent to bed early, rinse and repeat. 

At least, I told myself, I'm sticking to our expectation that dinnertime = family time, everybody at least needs to sit down and be pleasant for a bit...while also letting the kid get the extra sleep that he needs but refuses to take in consistent nap form.

And to be fair, Ike's protests over being sent to bed were...unconvincing. Like he was also just going through the motions. It almost seemed like he wanted to go to bed, most of the time, and was using the dinnertime battle to save face in front of his brothers. 

Far from an ideal solution, but at least we seemed to be free of the full-on battle of wills we'd stupidly let ourselves get roped into. He's not starving, he's getting more sleep, he's also not driving me completely batshit bonkers at the dinner table because IT'S NOT SPICY. IT'S A CARROT.




(This post is possibly an M. Night Shyamalan movie in disguise.)

The other night was business as usual. We made a delicious yet perfectly-palatable-to-kids dinner, everybody dug in, Ike immediately started finding fault. He wasn't going to eat this and didn't like that. He dropped his fork. He crawled under the table to get it, then refused to get back in his seat. 

His brothers tried encouraging him: This chicken is DELICIOUS, they assured him! You LIKE potatoes, they reminded him! This is the same leftover salad you ate at LUNCH, they reasoned with him! Noah even offered to let Ike select the night's TV show, daring to run the risk of getting stuck with Wild Kratts instead of Transformers

I just ignored him, for the most part, before finally sighing and straight up asking him if he'd rather go to bed. Without a whiff of protest, he hopped off his seat and went up to his room. After making sure that he really was in PJs and had brushed his teeth, I tucked him in, kissed him goodnight and turned off the light. Then I went back to finish dinner in relative peace.

I saw him dash across the stairwell landing at one point, but assumed he was just up grabbing another book or something, and he quickly returned to his room. 

A couple hours later, his brothers started their bedtime routine...this time with some bonus tattling.

"There are screen noises coming from Ike's room," they both breathlessly rushed to tell me, all that early #TEAMSTORCHBROS unity thrown by the wayside because #THISGONNABEGOOD.

"Screen noises" meant one thing: Ike was playing games on one of the many tablets/old phones we have, which we are incredibly strict and stingy about. We keep them in our room, in a drawer, and they are a Privilege with a Capital P. 

By the time I got up to Ike's room, though, there was no screen to be seen or heard. He was awake but in bed with the lights off, blinking at me innocently.

I was just about to close the door when the visual image of that mountain of candy wrappers I found under Ezra's bed flashed through my brain.

"Ike, where's the screen?"

He sheepishly slid out of from under the covers and pulled his tablet from under his bed. 

I contemplated leaving without a word (he knewwww he was in troubbbbble) but once again thought better of it.

"Ike, is there another screen under there?"

Out came Ezra's tablet.




Oh look, it's the Kindle. 

He also had various charging cables and plugs. (I should also mention that all of the tablets have a parental time-limit control enabled, so in order to play for more than one hour, he needed to bounce from device to device.) I collected everything, told him to get back in bed and we would talk about consequences LATER, SNEAKY MCSNEAKERSON.

The next day, while he was at school, I went in his room for a secondary sweep for contraband. It did not disappoint, as tangled up in his sheets I found my headphones, which I've been missing for God...well over a month, maybe longer. And thus were the secret to:

1) How long this has been going on

2) How he's been able to not get caught by the "screen noises"


So. Great. Back to square one on the dinnertime antics. (At least I know which side of the whole "do your teens have any right to privacy or do parents have the right to search their rooms" debate I'm going with?) 


I'm onto you, child. I have absolutely zero idea what I'm supposed to DO with you, but I am certainly onto you. 



Oh my god, this is amazing... and terrifying, in a tiny supervillain kind of way.


I fear this one.


Wow. He definitely is "something"! I'm impressed, I got to say! Good luck!


I'm sitting here at work, doing the "silent desk laugh" at how great he is at the whole "baby of the family" business. Man, oh man, are you going to have fun with him.


Wow! What a smart little bugger! How do you set time limits on these devices? An app? I need something like that for our iPads


WOW. That makes me hopping mad just reading it. The level of premeditated deception!! I would be putting the fear of God into that child if I were you, and take away all screens for two weeks (or possibly forever). And a single peep about refusing to eat dinner would win him another day without screens.

I have to ask, though - do you never make his bed or change his sheets? What else is he hiding in there??


I am in awe of his sneakiness. That was epic, epic strategery right there. And, um, good luck. You're gonna need it.


BWAHHAHAHAHAHA, I love a twist ending.


Sorry, just had to respond to Cee... if you have read this blog for a while or know Amy, you'd know that "putting the fear of god" into her children is not her jam. At all. And also, do you think he had been hiding those devices there for a month? Of course not. His brothers both own one of them and they'd be missing them. Sounds more like Ike took them each night and possibly returned them to their rightful place every time. So Amy wouldn't find them when changing sheets or miss them when allowing kids screen time.


OMG. This was better than the 6th Sense. THE PLOT TWIST!! damn, that's a clever fellow!


Wow. That I'm impressed, Ike! And terrified.


I do not envy you this third child, this very clever fellow. Good luck, I do however have faith in you!


You got me rolling with laughter! That boy was allll set up. Screens, cords, headphones! Genius boy right there! Damn I am impressed.


Omg that little stinker!!!! I would have been sooooo mad. In fact I feel kind of pissed off on your behalf. Kids, argh!


Sadly, my 4 year-old is very sneaky as well but we do not limit technology that much and amazingly, they do not overdo it.
I wonder if it is kind of like the contraband candy/food idea. If it is available, it is not as desirable??
We really only give the ipad to the little one when we first wake up to get some quiet time.


Wendy- so glad you responded to Cee. Beat me to it!Ditto everything you said!


I was reading this saga with pretend popcorn and 3-D glasses. Riveting!! Cunning! Intrigue! Red herrings!!


That is some real high-level craftiness right there. Wow. Kind of impressed.


Ike, you are a future FBI/CIA secret agent spy kind of guy. Brilliant! Good job #TEAMSTORCHBROS for catching on and leading you to the truth in this little caper! I love this :-)


You've made me feel much better about getting owned by my devious four year old and the fact that Satter is just not getting him to eat dinner, like, ever. Like ever ever. And then he wakes up more at night if he's hungry. (like 5 times instead of 2-3).


Um, this is one of those situations where I fail at parenting because child cannot be in trouble if mom cannot scold him with a straight face and I totally would have been giggling here...


Maybe get one of those cheap little alarms that you can put on doors and windows that beep if they are opened and put it on the inside of the electronics drawer -- give him a little scare when he tries to sneak into it (at least until he learns how to turn it off!)


This might possibly top the cat bath story. I love the Inherent Ikeness stories!!!!


I've read your blog for years--love it. Your boys are adorable. My background is teaching special ed. Ike is GIFTED. He knows how to get what he wants. Try using educational tech time as a reward AFTER he eats his dinner right at the table. No afternoon snack. Tell him he needs tummy room for dinner. He will live. Tell the other boys privately you are concerned about Ike's health/eating habits or some other rational explanation. And, no it's not fair. May the force be with you.


Wendy - I was referring to Amy's headphones missing for at least a month and found in Ike's bed.

This kind of lying and deception is completely unacceptable in my books. YMMV.


Forgot to mention: Loss of afternoon snack = punishment for Ike's crimes. Parent's drawers are always off limits. You have to admit, the kid even knew how to keep all his options, all his screen time, open and ongoing. Smart, smart, smart. He's creative. He's problem solving. He's bored. Ike has mental energy to burn.


Great Story! I laughed out loud at the headphones in the sheets part! I think the lesson is, as always: they will eat if they are hungry and they will not die.


I don't know what it says in the magic book, but the boys in my house are not hungry at dinnertime. I finally achieved success by swapping the afternoon snack with dinner. They are starving from 4:30-5:00 so that's when they get their main protein meal. When Mom and Dad eat dinner, they are welcome to join us for a snack-sized portion of the meal, or maybe not. They are also welcome to play Minecraft as long as the homework is done. This is much more peaceful than watching an unhappy kid stare at his plate when he isn't hungry.


I love this. My kid is Ike's age and this was both amazing and terrifying to read. I'll have to check his sheets, which I haven't changed since - before Christmas, maybe? Feel free to judge, Cee. Nice sense of compassion you have there.


@Cee oh good lord. Of course I change their sheets. He was hiding them under his bed with the screens but lost them in the sheets this ONE TIME, which is why he DIDN'T USE THEM. And also, he's four. Look up lying/deception at this age on even freaking BabyCenter. He's not a sociopath, he's a typical preschooler. Calm down. We enforced consequences (no screens!) and he's since repeated exactly what rules he broke.


HOLY SHIT. That is some straight up brilliance right there. I would be SO PISSED but also AMAZED at the work it took to pull off the scheme.


Equal parts impressed and terrified. Terrified because I can totally see my 4yo doing this if I ever convince her to get the hell out of my bed at night.


Amy - your comment :-) - this is why I loooooooove you. You're doing a great job!


Um ... Not to get off topic ... But seriously re: cee. How often do you change your kids sheets? We definitely do more than, say, annually ... But monthly?! Weekly?? They don't pee, too young to have ... Leakage ... It's definitely only on an as needs basis ...


Wow. If he survives adolescence, he will rule the world. Man. I was totally falling for the tired thing, too.


I love that we're all having an honest discussion on how often we change kids' sheets.

I have it scheduled on my household task list (APP!) for every two weeks. Not even going to lie that sometimes I go with the pillowcases only and let the rest go a little longer.


Smarty! Ditto on the rec to serve them dinner at 4. Thats what I do with my reluctant dinner eater. He gets healthy snacks at 4 when he is starved from being at school all day, has to sit with us at the table, but I try not to sweat it if he doesn't eat what we're having. He loves veggies amd fruits, growing fine, and he will grow out of this. And every last one of our devices has a passcode on it, so nobody's on screens unless we say so! (Until they figured out how to log in as guest user on my laptop, sigh.)


I am so, so, sorry to revel in your misery, but this had me laughing until big fat tears ran down my cheeks.


Wow. I didn't see that one coming as you were telling this story! I've sadly realized Ike is really not "baby Ike" anymore. He's a full grown preschool mastermind, lol. Very cute and very smart. Oh, and changing the sheets, ugh, especially on bunk beds.


Ok. #1 we don't food fight in our house. I grew up in a food fighting house, sat at the table 1 night for 3 hours to finish my steak. It hurts my jaw and I at 41 am still not a fan! I make modified food for's not a big deal to me I have bigger fish to fry. Can we discuss the lack of give a sh@t about peeing IN the damn toilet??
Ok sheets. Total after thought in my house. We change em when I get the notion or when something smells. I have a nursey friend with 5 kids. She changes everyone's linens on Fridays. Takes her 3 or 4 hours to do it all. She is certifiable.


My husband used to sneak a cassette player into the hat of his Paddington Bear to take to preschool and keep himself occupied during naptime. He now writes software for spaceships and Guiness Book of World record sized airplanes and is hoping to snag his first software patent soon. Go easy on him, but know that this is only the beginning of a lifetime of him snagging and destroying all your shit. Keep a list so you can wave it in his face when you want him to pay for a cruise or get your diapers changed.


This story was simply amazing and I will be checking out my 4-year-old's bed tomorrow. She has just started sneaking the iPad into her room during "nap" time. As for her sheets, it's probably been a month but I wash the pillow case more often. She usually wipes her nose on just the pillow. :)


You've got yourself a cute little Slytherin right there, yes you do.


This story is brilliant!!! Seriously sheets? On bunkbeds? Well I don't have the luxury of a housecleaner, and seeing as all 35lbs of them is only in them for 8-10 hours a day, while laying in clean pyjamas, they get changed like every 2 monthes give or take. @cee, your craze balls.


Tears, real tears are currently streaming down my face.

For someone who I don't even know, you sure as hell make me laugh!

(and admit it, I bet Ike makes you laugh most of the time too)


I hate changing the kids sheets because half the time as soon as I do something (vomit, spilled water, contraband food etc) happens that day and I have to change them again right away.


Amy, I am sorry to say I am kinda glad your third is like my two whom Satter has utterly failed to move at any meal. I read her book after your many recommendations and thought all this time that I must be doing it wrong somehow. But no, I just got blessed with two Ikes, minus the screen shenanigans. Good luck! We are in the dinner trenches with you.


You know what though, Satter is still right... Food "fights" are almost never about the food.


My oldest is the same age as Ike, also with dinner issues, and I'm nodding along thinking, "Yes! Maybe Amy found a solution!"

And then I was blown away. Wow, Ike. Wow, wow, wow.

Very interested in hearing the consequences for Mr. Sneaky.


Tiffany had the best response, to me: Ike as tiny supervillain! I mean, ideally, we all have perfect angels, but since that isn't the world we live in... at least Ike's clever and non-destructive in his sneakiness. Hilarious post!


That moment you realize that having a third is not a great option because they are always super-villianish despite being super adorable.


The only thing I'm loving more than Ike right now is the fact that he belongs to you! (Oh, and the fact that most other people don't change the kid linens like clockwork, either. Whew!)


*sigh* I have nothing but sympathy as I also have "that" child!
I just have to hope he uses it for good and not evil in the future. Or as my husband likes to say - "he's one lab accident away from evil genius". He's 8 now, it doesn't get better

michelle b

Okay, so I admit that I change sheets weekly. But clean sheets are my jam. Like, I look forward to clean sheet night. I know, my world seems very small right now. Weirdly, I'm a very uncommitted laundress. We have stains on our clothes. Whatevs.


My 3rd son to a tee!! He is 6 now- it has been a wild ride- but he keeps us amazed. His brothers complain that we laugh off stuff that would have gotten them in trouble- we have mellowed so very much and just learned to go with the flow. Also why we gave up those food fights- and changing sheets- ha!


You should write a follow-up post with what the consequences were/how you solved the dinner problem + sneaking electronics. That's like 10+ discipline decisions right there!
I'd be very interested!


P.S. we have a bed wetter and HIS sheets only get changed when wet (which is always more than twice a week). One day when I was changing MY bedsheets he asked me WHY ... and of course I told him his dad wet the bed.


Wow. I had a similar revelation when, at bedtime, I went to take my son's screen out of his room to charge it. He started making vague protests. But why, dude, when you're not allowed to use it anymore tonight??? Right? So it shouldn't matter if I take it out of here. Riiiiight. It just makes me concerned about other things I may be assuming about my kids' behavior, that they are doing what they are supposed to, etc. Bah!


I'm 100% sure that when we no longer have a nanny changing sheets weekly, it will happen...oh, I don't know, when I remember? when something spills? when my mom is due for a visit?

but really, I need more info on the magic ap/device/control that shuts the screens off after a time limit! I thought I had set most of the parental controls on our bevy of discarded screens, but I still have to physically remove them from the 4 year old.


Dying. Seriously, that kid is devious!

Glad to hear I'm not the only one having Satter-related distress lately, though. My son is two, and is eating nothing but plain bread for dinner these days because we're engaged in a Satter standoff. I thought it would work well for us because he tends to be a bit oppositional, but holy god, no. We are quietly losing our minds behind our "couldn't care less whether you ever eat a food that isn't macaroni and cheese" facades.

Amy A

And here I was, ready to commiserate with Ike since I was a super picky eater back (wwwaaaayyyyyyy back) when I was a kid. I used to drink my milk and then be full, and the thought of any kind of food would make me gag (why my Mom never caught on to the milk thing is anyone's guess). Anyway, I was going to suggest that you monitor his milk (or fluid) intake before meals, if you hadn't already.
But......upon further reading, I got nothin'. Except for props for Ike's inventiveness and cunning. Well played, child.


You have a mini genius on your hands. OMG.

Mrs Q

I keep rereading this article because it makes me laugh. Smart, charming little guy. We now keep all device chargers in a docking station in the master bedroom. Everything must be returned to the mother ship at night or it will not be charged for the next day, which is, after all, the worst thing that could ever happen. Peace, supermama.


1- I'm so so SO relieved you're having Satter issues .. I'm battling with my 3.5yo, read and re-read all of your food columns, read and re-read her book and have been drafting my Dear Amy email for advice. But this. This gives me hope!
2- I now feel compelled to change my kids bedding. It's been ...... A while?! Though, admittedly, I have a lazy approach - waterproof mattress cover, fitted sheet. Waterproof crib pad, another fitted sheet. So when one is wet/dirty/otherwise gross, the first layer gets ripped off and ta-da! Clean sheets. In the course of the me vs the kids, I take any and all small mom victories.
3- thanks for the awesome read .. Totally didn't see that twist coming!

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