Got a picky eater? (Tips for ending the food battles)

Riley was a dream come true when it came to trying new foods as a toddler.  She loved garlic roasted potatoes, butternut squash risotto, various forms of grilled chicken, and just about any other adult food I put on her high chair.  The more spices, the better.  Then she went to preschool.  Suddenly my good little eater is offended by just about any smell (“Daddy I don’t like the SMELL of that salad!”) and sticks to a few favorites (although she will eat chicken in almost any form and loves steak, so I can’t complain).  And Liam has been hopeless since 18 months.  The boy who once ate a hamburger at a birthday party when he was nine months old is just about the pickiest eater in town.  While Riley will eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, and will try new things as long as they don’t “smell so bad”, Liam won’t even try.  Sean put a very small piece of a sourdough bagel on Liam’s plate this morning.  His response?  “I don’t like this.  No thank you Daddy”.  At least he was polite about it!  It makes life difficult, for sure.  It’s hard to go out to dinner or even to a friend’s house.  I used to pack some of Liam’s favorites whenever we left the house, but I’ve decided it’s time to introduce him to the real world of eating, where sweet potatoes aren’t always on the menu.  I’m not doing him any favors if he learns that mommy always carries his favorite food around for him.  He will eat any fruit you can find, and gobbles up snap peas at an alarming rate.  But other than that he sticks to a fairly consistent routine.  It’s a tough line to draw because he’s only two and I won’t ever let him go hungry, but I want to gently guide him toward making healthier choices in the future.  Sean refused to eat a grilled cheese until he was 11, and even then he ate it at a friend’s house.  I’m prepared for a long road ahead.  Here are the facts:  Many toddlers have sensitive palates, which causes them to stop short of trying new things.  Many toddlers are also weary of textures (Riley still won’t eat oatmeal because it’s to “clumpy”) and will stick to what feels good to them.  Teething and illness can lead to food aversions due to negative associations.  And many preschoolers go through a phase where they decide that they “hate” everything that they loved just one day before. Sometimes preschoolers will only want to eat one color, or stick to a few favorite foods for a while.  This can be the result of asserting their independence (more on control later) or a fear of new things.  The good news is that this behavior usually resolves itself during the fourth year.  Try not to worry too much about it.  Your child is probably eating better than you think, and the parent very rarely wins food battles.  Below are some tips to help you help your picky eater start eating a little more:
1.Take baby steps:  Try to avoid overwhelming your little one with a plate full of new foods.  Try one new item at a time.  Be sure to put a couple of foods on the plate that you know your child likes, that way he can have a good meal and choose whether or not to try to the new food (Liam immediately spied a ravioli on his plate tonight and declared “I don’t want this on my blue car plate”.  A mom can try…).  Keep in mind that it often takes multiple exposures for a child to try and to enjoy a new food.  Keep offering.  And remember, portions should be small for this age group (ex: 2Tbs of pasta or rice).  And ALWAYS model healthy choices.  If they see you eating it, it must be good.
2.Feed when hungry:  Sticking to a fairly structured eating routine ensures that a child will eat enough throughout the day and still feel hungry at meal times.  If your child is grazing on snacks all day, meals will seem inessential to him/her.  I have to cut Liam off from his snacks at a certain time, whether or not he’s finished so that he will want to eat his meals later.  Offer a new item when your child is hungry so that it will seem appealing.  When they’re hungry they are more likely to give it a try.  Again, just offer the one new item (like yummy mango slices) amidst the usual fare for best results.
3.Avoid battles:  I’ve said it before but I will say it again:  The only two things toddlers and preschoolers can truly control in this world is what they eat and when they poop.  Food wars are a losing battle.  Offer them healthy snacks and meals and then step back.  If you keep prompting them to eat they will quickly realize that the lack of eating is driving you nuts and getting your undivided attention.  Try to make meals fun and engaging.  Read a story. We always start dinner by asking, “what was your favorite part of today?”  If they don’t eat, or only eat one thing on the plate, don’t stress.  Some nights Liam barely eats at all, or only eats on the run.  He manages to sleep just as well and then loads up on breakfast the next morning.  Offer a healthy dessert as a reward.  When Riley is going through a phase all I have to say is, “you don’t have to eat your dinner, but if you do you can have some cherries” (or something else tasty) and she’s hooked.
4.Avoid negative associations:  If your child senses your stress level rising with each meal there is the potential for him/her to build up a negative association with eating.  The latest research suggests that eating disorders are being diagnosed more frequently and being seen at much younger ages.  Don’t create food issues by forcing your kids to eat.  Check in with your pediatrician regularly or track down a pediatric nutritionist (for you to consult, not your child) if it makes you feel better.  But keep your stress away from the table.  Trust me on this one, make eating a stress-free activity.
5.Make it fun:  Preschoolers shouldn’t need the gimmicks to get them eating, but they might enjoy the fun along with a younger sibling.  Riley recently ate car shaped pasta with her turkey meatballs in an attempt to get Liam to try some pasta.  He took one lick.  This is a BIG step!  Use large cookie cutters to cut sandwiches into fun shapes.  Add food coloring to make meals fancy.  Have a Fancy Nancy fan on your hands?  Have everyone dress up for dinner…works like a charm!  I usually try to avoid toys at the table, but sometimes Liam will eat something out of the back of a little truck.  Do what you have to do to keep it fun!  Again, make sure you are keeping them engaged in conversation.  Wiggly toddlers won’t last long if you pay no attention to them!
6.Try a food chart:  Print out some blank food charts and let them color in the different sections as they eat the corresponding foods.  Toddlers and preschoolers love to fill out charts!  Get a customized food pyramid chart here: Riley likes to be reminded of how food helps her.  “Mommy, will I have so much energy after I eat this chicken?  How much did I grow from those snap peas last night?”  Play along, it’s good for them to understand how food fuels our bodies and helps us grow.  Find fun ways to teach kids how to “eat the rainbow” here:
7.Milk refusal:  This is common when kids are taken off the bottle later or a new sibling arrives on the scene.  Talk to your pediatrician, but kids can get enough calcium, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin D through other foods such as yogurt, reduced fat cheese, calcium fortified orange juice, and possibly some supplements.  Not sure how to get them off the bottle?  Let them choose the sippy cup and keep offering in a very calm, non-stressed way until they accept.  It was about two months between Liam choosing his car cups and declaring “I ready for milk in a big guy cup!”  Let them lead the way, but plant the seed early (like 14-16 months).  If you’ve waited until after two you will have a more difficult transition.  Keep in mind that some kids (Riley) will only drink milk warm.  As long as it’s given well before bedtime and not associated with falling asleep, it’s ok.  You can also consider soymilk or rice milk, but make sure they are fortified and your child gets enough protein during the day.
8.Consider add-ins:  Add some grilled chicken to that macaroni and cheese or a slice of turkey to the grilled cheese.  Sprinkle wheat germ on cereal or yogurt.  Try tofu.  But don’t sweat it if they eat around it.  Just keep trying.  Riley used to pull apart her grilled cheese, remove the turkey, and then put it back together.  Now she loves turkey and cheese sandwiches!
9.Let them have treats:  You enjoy a good dessert once in a while, right?  Try to let your child have a treat here and there just because they can.  Bake cookies.  Go out for ice cream.  Do something fun.  If you completely avoid it they will find it eventually, and then they are likely to go overboard.
Hang in there.  I’m with you on this one.  Picky eaters can lead to a considerable amount of stress in your house if you let them.  But if you step back and let them approach new foods at their own pace, you just might be surprised.  After watching his Mimi make a salad a couple of weeks ago, Liam went over and plucked a tomato from the bowl when she wasn’t looking.  He ate it to mixed reviews and hasn’t asked for one since, but he was proud of his accomplishment…and so was I.  We’re still talking about it!
You tell me.  What lengths have you gone to get your picky eater to eat?

This just in from a girlfriend:  She added mashed bananas to pancakes for her VERY picky eaters and they gobbled them up! Which reminds me, my mom used to add applesauce and cottage cheese to pancakes, and we were none the wiser.  Keep sharing your tips in the comment section!

Avoiding the Weather? (Tips for getting crafty!)

It won’t stop raining in Los Angeles.  Having just returned from New York a few days ago, I know I can’t complain.  It’s COLD there!  So cold that I’m quite sure that if I actually lived there, I would probably never leave my house.  I’m not sure how I managed to survive growing up in Connecticut; that must have been some former version of me who no longer exists!  The point is…the weather outside is frightful.  No going to the park today.  It seems like a good time to stop giving advice and start getting crafty!  A while back I asked my readers to share a favorite winter craft.  Ask and you shall receive!  I’m glad I waited a few weeks to write this post; it looks like the rain will continue until next Wednesday.  With preschool vacation official as of 12pm today, I need some good ideas to keep my energetic little ones occupied in between visits to the trampoline in the garage!  I hope you enjoy these crafts too, and keep sharing your ideas.  Parenting in the winter…we’re all in this together!  Enjoy your holidays!  Tips for getting crafty:
1.Paper Mittens:  Draw a large mitten onto 8.5 X 11 paper (2 per child), you can also find a template online to print -Decorate any way you like: paint, crayons, stickers, glue on items etc. -Cut out the mitten (or pre-cut for younger children not used to scissors) -Use a Hole punch to create holes around the perimeter of the mitten, spaced approx 1/2 in apart (older children have fun drawing circles prior to punching) -Use a thick yarn (tape the end for easy handling) and weave through the holes to lace the two sides together *You can finish the craft by reading “The Mitten” by Jan Brett
2.Pasta Snowflakes:  Take a piece of colored paper and draw a large X in the middle.  Then draw one more line through the middle of the X.  Give your child glue and some uncooked pasta and have them glue the pasta along the lines.  Then give them some white paint and have them paint over the pasta.  Give them some silver glitter to shake over the snowflake to add a little sparkle!  Note:  For younger kids you can just glue cotton balls and make a fluffy snowflake.
3.Winter Wreaths:  Cut out the center of a sturdy white paper plate.  Have your child paint the “wreath” with various shades of green.  Head outside and collect pine needles, pinecones, and little berries (as long as they aren’t too “smushy”!) to glue onto the wreath.  Add sparkles and bows leftover from present wrapping!
4.Cotton Ball Snowmen:  Trace three circles (or help your child trace, different sized drinking cups work well) to create the outline of a snowman.  Provide glue and cotton balls to fill in the snowman.  Head outside to grab some twigs for arms and small stones for eyes.  Use those old buttons in your sock drawer to decorate and some felt to make a scarf and hat.
5.Marshmallow Snowmen:  Have your child trace a snowman on a piece of paper.  Then have them lick the marshmallows and stick them on the paper (I haven’t tried this one yet but am being told that it works!).  A reader sent in this craft but I also found it at, so it must work!  They have some other fun craft ideas there too.
6.Preschool Express:  Check out this site.  They have great arts and crafts ideas along with other fun preschool ideas!
7.Camp In:  Make a tent or cave inside.  Preschoolers love to build things!  Get out the extra sheets and make your play space into a camping experience!  We like to make caves and then go on “animal rescues” (Thanks, Diego!).  Large letter clips (like the ones you probably snagged from your office at some point) are great for clipping sheets onto couch cushions and pillows so that the structure stays in place.  And always remember the flashlights!  Tip for making it even more realistic:  You can make S’Mores and hot chocolate in the microwave and tell stories (or read books) around the flashlight fire!
The great part about winter is that it’s a great excuse to finish everything off with some hot chocolate while snuggling up and reading together.  We have a lot of “favorite” books around here, but my all-time favorite winter story right now is “Snowmen At Night” by Caralyn Buehner.  The story is cute and the illustrations (by her husband Mark) are super fun.  Enjoy!

Sibling Warfare (Tips for helping older siblings survive the transition)

When a new sibling arrives on the scene it can be a big upheaval for the “big” brother or sister.A world that was formerly theirs alone now requires near constant sharing.While more flexible children might handle the transition a little better, a child who already struggles with transitions is likely to have a more difficult time adjusting to life with a new baby.

There is a lot of anticipation prior to the arrival of a new baby.Mommy looks drastically different, friends and strangers start questioning your child about his/her excitement regarding the pending arrival, a new nursery magically appears.Change is in the air and children are often coached to say that they can’t wait to meet the baby.They take on a role that they don’t necessarily want.This can all come crashing down after the new baby actually comes home.

The good news is that your older child is growing and learning too, and will learn to adjust to the new sibling.The bad news is that with every new stage of development for the infant come new sources of jealousy for the older sibling.Hang tight, it’s time limited (although it sometimes feels like forever).Below are some tips to help your older child (and you) survive the transition:

1.Expect Regression:Whether your older sibling is a toddler or a preschooler, there will be some areas of regression.Suddenly your perfectly potty trained four year old is peeing all over the house or your two year old is demanding bottles.It happens.Prepare yourself.This is not the time for discipline.When she “forgets” to use the potty for the fourth time in a row take a deep breath, grab some clean clothes, give her a hug and say, “accidents happen.I will try to give you extra reminders next time.I know you can do it.”Try to avoid making a big deal out of pacifiers and bottles.They will get bored and want to get back to their usual routine soon enough.What they really want is some extra cuddle time and empathy.Sharing Mommy and loving this new baby is a tough job!
2.Expect Aggression:Even the most gentle toddler or preschooler is bound to take aim at a new baby at some point. Identifying and verbalizing needs and feelings is no easy task.Many adults continue to struggle with this.We simply can’t expect little ones to learn everything at once.I mentioned investing in a “feelings faces” poster in a previous post.If you have a new baby around, this is a must.The best way to reduce aggression is to teach your older child to identify his/her feelings so that they can use their words instead of their actions.Zero tolerance is generally the best policy regarding aggression, but that doesn’t mean yelling and taking away toys.After you’ve moved the baby out of the line of fire, get down on your older child’s level and speak in words that they can understand.If he/she is under three a simple “no hit” followed by a redirect to a different activity away from the baby should suffice.Over three?“The rule in this house is that there is no hitting”, followed by an apology should do the trick (it doesn’t matter that the baby doesn’t understand.What’s important is teaching your child the right thing to do after you hurt someone.)Repeated aggression?Giving your child a break in his/her room or another safe spot can be a good thing as long as you keep it positive (more on using “time outs” – or not -another week) and brief.Remember, they are feeling frustrated and overwhelmed and need your help.
3.Provide “Important Jobs”:Toddlers and preschoolers love to be helpful.Sometimes the best way to fend off regression and aggression is to keep the older sibling interested by helping them realize how important they are.Put your older child in charge of fetching rattles, picking clothes (again, don’t fret the outfits…enjoy the calm the mismatched ensemble brings!), choosing stories, or even “babysitting” (clearly the baby needs to be secure and out of reach).It helps them feel like they have some control over this overwhelming turn of events.
4.Arrange Special Time:Sometimes the older sibling needs a little TLC.Take them out for lunch alone.Skip the laundry and spend the baby’s naptime reading and creating art projects TOGETHER.Bake, do some gardening, play dress up.The chores will get done eventually, but your child needs your attention now.Create a “special box”.Fill a small box with toys that your older child will love.Put it in a safe place in your room.Find a thirty-minute window of time (hopefully at the same time each week) where you can have someone watch the baby, shut off the phone, leave the cell phone in another room and just play with your older child.Let him/her choose the toys from the special box and run the show.Put any other anxiety or to-do lists aside and just be with your child.He/she will really come to look forward to this special time each week.Have your partner create another box and do the same.
5.Empathize with your child:Do you remember when you had to deal with sibling issues growing up?Or yesterday? It’s not easy, especially when you are small and can’t quite make sense of the whole transition.Label their feelings.Share stories from your childhood (within reason, of course.Try to skip the ones about being beaten up by a big brother).Tell them that you know how it feels and it’s ok to feel that way.Allow them be sad, frustrated, impatient.Give them the green light to share their emotions. 
6.Avoid “big girl/big boy” talk:Nothing causes a child to regress faster than an adult looking them in the eye and saying, “you’re a big girl now, you don’t have accidents (or fill in the blank)”.Toddlers and preschoolers are dealing with constant change and shifting emotions.Some days they want to be in control of everything, other days they want to be carried around all day.They know how old they are.Let them go through the process at their own pace.“Big boy/big girl” talk places unnecessary pressure on them to act a certain way and generally backfires in the end anyway.Just let them be.Growing up is hard.
7.Books:“A Pocket Full of Kisses” by Audrey Penn is a must read.It follows Chester the raccoon along his journey to accepting that his mother has enough love for him and his brother.“The New Baby” by Mercer Mayer is a cute story about learning how to have fun with a new baby.“The Berenstain Bears’ New Baby” has brother bear growing out of his small bed just in time for a new addition to the family. “I’m A Big Sister” by Joanna Cole continues to be a big hit with Riley.The list goes on, but those should get you started.
Welcoming a new addition can be overwhelming for everyone involved.Find ways to decompress on your own (read, exercise, have a girls night out, start a blog!) so that you can be present to handle the frustration for your little ones.The good news is that they WILL start playing together and sharing…you just have to be consistent along the way!Hang in there…the light at the end of the tunnel is approaching faster than you think.And pat yourself on the back just for getting through the day…it’s no easy feat depending on your circumstances!


Good manners are headed your way! (Tips for teaching manners)

I was gone for less than a minute.  I simply ran upstairs to put the clothes in the dryer.  I literally yanked everything from the washer, shoved it the in the dryer, and pressed start.  45 seconds later I returned to the family room to hear the following transaction:  “No Liam it goes over there.”  “No YaYa, this semi-truck go to the car wash.”  “NO LIAM! STOP!”  “No thank you YaYa!  NO THANK YOU!”  “MOMMY!  He’s not doing what I want and it’s FRUSTRATING me!” Right words, wrong voice tone.  Good manners are always a work in progress around here.  Sound familiar?  Despite the yelling, they each did something right, and that’s the important thing.  Liam remembered to say “no thank you” instead of just screaming “no” when the truck was being pulled from his hands.  It took her a couple of minutes to get there, but Riley verbalized her feelings instead of resorting to hitting or just melting down completely.  There are moments when I want to remove every toy from the house so that there’s nothing left to argue about.  I suspect they would find something anyway.  In this moment, I chose to focus on the positive and help them resolve the conflict.  I praised Liam for using his friendly words, and Riley for sharing her feelings and seeking help.  Then we sat down on the play mat and created a new game together.  All quiet on the western front, for a minute anyway.  We can’t always be there to see who had what toy first.  We can’t always jump off the phone because a preschooler has a question or a toddler needs a snack.  And sometimes we actually have to get the laundry done.  I hear a lot of talk about “demanding” good manners and that children are allegedly less respectful today than in previous generations.  I’m not sure that’s entirely true.  I can conjure up some grade school memories involving ill-mannered kids and disrespect.  Manners are important.  Kindness, consideration, honesty, mutual respect, and gratitude are all building blocks for developing appropriate social interaction skills.  The good news is that good manners are easy to teach.  The bad news is that it requires near constant repetition!  The best piece of advice I can give you is to remove the word “demand” from your vocabulary.  When was the last time someone demanded something from you and you actually wanted to do it?  Probably never.  Try to keep it fun or, at the very least, easy.  Below are some tips for keeping the good manners flowing:
1.Set the rules:  Kids need rules.  This is not new information, I’m sure.  More importantly, kids need rules that they can understand and remember.  And they need frequent reminders of the rules.  Riley is the master of louder is better.  She talks a lot.  And when she feels like she’s not being heard she keeps hitting the volume until someone responds in some way, no matter the response.  This is usually a good time to refer her to the rules.  “Riley, one of the rules in our house is that we don’t yell at each other.  Should we double check our list and then try a different way?”  Our “house rules” are posted (with a picture of the rule in action by each rule) in the kitchen at eye level (for them, not us.  Not that my husband and I are immune from refreshers every once in a while!).  The rules are simple, yet they require regular repetition.  It’s ok. I expect it.  Next to the rules is a list of “house fun stuff” that we developed together.  So when we check to make sure that, indeed, there is no yelling in the house, we might switch gears and give dancing a try.  Ah, the art of distraction!  Sometimes kids have to hear “no”.  They don’t always act appropriately.  Particularly in times of frustration.  But when you follow a negative with a positive, it leaves them feeling good about something they just learned.
2.Teach identification of feelings:  Kids are on a constant ride through the world of feelings each day, yet many never learn to label what they’re feeling.  Start early.  When they can label the feeling they can work toward understanding it.  When they understand it, they can work toward coping with it.  Get on Amazon and buy a feelings faces poster.  Put it in the most high traffic room in the house.  Use it.  Don’t expect them to use it on their own.  Use it when they’re happy, use it when they’re sad, use it every chance you get.  Teach them to put a feeling with a face.  Talk about what it might feel like physically when they are angry (clenched teeth or fists, breathing fast), sad, or even happy.  Help them understand.  Teach them to use “I” statements.  When Liam grabs a toy and Riley gets upset I step in and get the toy and then have her say “Liam I feel mad when you take my toys”.  Liam is then asked to say, “I’m sorry”.  It sounds basic, I know, but can easily be forgotten in the heat of the moment.  These are the moments where we really need to step in and teach.  I often have parents say to me that my kids are really good at sharing their feelings.  I feel like a cheater.  I’m a therapist.  What would it say about me if my kids couldn’t identify their feelings?!
3.Model:  Performer or not, you are always on the stage!  Just today my husband asked me a question about a new cereal I bought at Whole Foods.  Two seconds after he stopped talking Riley piped in that she was “hungry for something new”.  She was allegedly watching Max & Ruby at the time.  The reality is, she was listening in just in case something interesting was happening!  An old friend just told me a story about someone who swears so regularly in front of a preschooler that that preschooler recently decided to try out the same language at school.  The parent was shocked and mortified.  Don’t be.  If you say it, they will say it.  The unspoken rules of society (and the explicit rules of most schools) dictate that it’s not appropriate to speak that way to other people.  Remove bad language from your vocabulary.  Always remember your “please” and “thank you”.  Share often and point it out every time.  Sit at the table the way you would like your kids to sit.  If you have your feet on the table, chances are they will too.  And, if you only take one thing away from this post, please avoid sarcasm.  Kids don’t understand sarcasm.  They understand voice tone.  They know when you’re mad.  But they don’t understand sarcasm.  It just feels mean.  Please, please, please save it for another time.
4.Teach kindness and consideration:  Sharing is one of the most difficult lessons to learn, and yet it’s one of the most important.  Whether we are at the park or at home, we are always working on sharing and taking turns.  In our house we each have “special toys” that we put away for play dates or parties.  Other than that we share everything.  Sometimes there are tears (Liam), and sometimes long faces (Riley) but we always take turns and share our toys.  Kindness doesn’t end there.  Friendly words should be used all of the time.  Teach your kids the appropriate time to use please and thank you, you’re welcome, excuse me, and I’m sorry.  And cue them every time.  Eventually it will just come to them naturally.  Encourage them to hold the door for someone else, or help if a friend drops a toy.  Help your friends clean up their toys before you leave to go home.  When they see another child crying help them consider why that child might be sad and what they can do to help.  Riley is fond of bringing Liam his favorite car when he gets sad.  And Liam brings her a stuffed animal.  Empathy is one of the greatest skills we can teach our children.  Start now.
5.Discuss differences:  Kids are naturally curious, and sometimes that curiosity results in staring at people who appear different from them.  After filling out paperwork during a recent ER visit I turned to find Riley staring at an elderly man in a wheelchair.  I didn’t tell her to stop staring or lead her away.  I sat her on my lap and said, “Are you wondering why that man has a chair with wheels?  Sometimes when people need help walking because their legs are tired or sore, they use a chair with wheels to help them get around so that they can rest their legs”.  Satisfied, she turned her attention back to her DVD player.  Sometimes an explanation is all it takes.
6.Teach honesty:  Right on cue (she turns four in a few weeks), Riley has learned the art of the white lie.  “Did you wash your hands?”  “Yes.”  No.  As it turned out, she wanted to use a wet wipe instead of washing her hands because she was afraid she might get her favorite dress wet.  “It’s always better to tell Mommy the truth.  The truth means the right story.  That way I know exactly what happened or what you really need.  Like a wet wipe.”  Of course, it’s not always that easy and it requires repetition.  After a few rounds of excessive praise for giving an honest answer, however, we are all about the truth for right now!
7.Focus on gratitude:  People often ask me how much is too much.  What constitutes spoiling?  While kids can get by on a few toys and a great imagination, it’s not how much they have that matters.  Teaching your child to be thankful for what they have, and that the best part of a gift is that someone special thought of them is the most important lesson here.  They might not be able to write a thank you note yet, but you can and they can decorate with stickers and crayons.  When it comes time to get a gift for a friend involve your child in the process.  Bring them to the toy store and let them do the thinking.  At the end of the day, it is the thought that counts.  Please teach this very important lesson.
8.Teach altruism:  Children who learn to look out for the well being of others at a young age are likely to continue to help others as they grow.  I’m not saying that you should sit down and explain homelessness to a three year old.  That would not be appropriate and would likely result in nightmares or worries for your child.  But you can teach young children that it’s nice to share with others.  Riley passes along her clothes to two of her friends, and gets excited to receive clothes from her cousins.  Liam sends his things along to “Baby James” on the East coast.  This weekend Riley and I talked about sharing some toys that we don’t use as much anymore with some kids who might need extra toys for Christmas.  “Toys for Tots” is an excellent opportunity for children to pick out a couple of toys to send to other kids for the holidays.  Not long ago a couple of 7-year-old girls in our neighborhood held a bake sale to raise money for Haiti.  Their mothers told me that they came up with the idea independently.  Start young and they will continue to want to help as they grow.
9.Books:  “Madeline Says Merci” by John Bemelmans Marciano, “Do Unto Otters” by Laurie Keller, and “The Berenstain Bears Forget Their Manners” by Stan and Jan Berenstain are great books that address manners while keeping it fun.
Model always.  Repeat often.  Praise regularly.  And enjoy the good manners that come your way!

Tears, Tantrums, and Whining…Oh My! (Tips for structuring your day to keep the tears away)


As both a mom and a psychotherapist, I know the importance of structure.When kids know what to expect each day, they have less to worry about.When they follow a routine, they don’t have to wonder what comes next.When they get sufficient sleep and eat at regular intervals they are less likely to have temper tantrums, become easily frustrated, and are more successful both in school and in social settings.There will always be slight changes in routines:Birthday parties, play groups, vacations, etc.There will always be a few temper tantrums and tears for seemingly no reason, that’s part of the difficult job of growing up.But if you develop a routine that works for your family and stick to it as much as possible, even when you’re on vacation, you might find that your children will appear more calm and happy, get frustrated a little less, and sleep a little better.
There are people who would say that my refusal to skip a nap to attend a birthday party is a little too much.I can take it.I would rather have a well-slept, happy two-year old child than one who will spend the day feeling cranky and most definitely suffer a sleep terror that night. Below are some tips to structure your days (believe me, I know the routine can get boring for the parent, but isn’t the end result worth it?) to keep the tears away:
1.Wake-Up/Bedtime Checklists:Toddlers and preschoolers love lists. My daughter is constantly creating shopping lists for me. Simple checklists (including pictures for each task) for the morning (ex:wake up, eat breakfast, get dressed, brush teeth, use the potty) and bedtime (ex:take a bath, put on pajamas, brush teeth, use the potty, read stories, hugs & kisses, lights out) help them know what to expect.It also gives them some responsibility and control over their routines.They can run to check the list and then complete each task along the way.Post them on the bedroom door at eye level. It’s a great way to start and end the day.
2.Eating/Snacking:We’ve all heard it hundreds of times, but do we always remember to do it? It’s important to give your child their meals and snacks at the same time (or at least as close to the same time as possible) each day.This is even recommended for adults.When you don’t refuel your body regularly, your blood sugar can crash.The result?Crankiness, tears, and frustration.Keep snacks and water on hand in your purse and your car so that you never leave home without them.They don’t always remember to tell us they’re hungry, we have to remember for them.
3.Downtime vs. Over-scheduling:Toddlers and preschoolers love their classes.They love gym, music, art, and just about everything else that you might find.But the truth is, they don’t need all of these activities.Many kids are over-scheduled these days, which results in exhaustion.Your child won’t be any less intelligent because he/she only took art and music and skipped gym.Find a couple of classes that he/she likes and stick to that.Change it up every few months if you like, but don’t keep adding on extras.If you have a child in preschool, he/she will need even fewer outside classes.And remember, kids also love their downtime.Toddlers and preschoolers are constantly learning and processing new information.It’s exhausting.They need to decompress.Whether or not they nap mid-day, they can have a quiet time where they engage in quiet activities of their choosing and just slow things down for a couple of hours.It will help them get through the remainder of the day.It will also help increase their feelings of success and improve their self-esteem.
4.Responsibility:It won’t be long before you have older children complaining about chores.But right now you have toddlers and preschoolers who love to help AND to be praised for the amount of helping they do.Let them help!Setting and clearing the table are met with cheers in my house, and cleaning up the toys is always enjoyable when it includes a dump truck or shopping cart.“Look Mommy!I put my dishes in the sink!” is music to my ears, and my daughter genuinely feels pride in her ability to be helpful.Not to be outdone, baby brother is right behind her.Consider installing a small coat rack somewhere for little hands to reach.They love being able to choose and put away their own outerwear as well.
5.Weekends:It’s easy to let the routine slip on the weekends.You might be over-booked with birthdays and other activities.Or maybe you just want to cram in as much family time as possible during those two very short days.Don’t fall victim to the loss of routine.You don’t have to say yes to every party.In fact, it’s good for kids to learn that sometimes we have to make choices that work for us.They can still pick out a present and make a card for their friend.Friendship isn’t about birthday parties alone!
6.Keep it Positive:Kids love their routines, and they love to be praised along the way.Everyone has a bad day. Children learn what we teach them.We are modeling behavior all day long whether we like it or not.Start the day with a huge smile (even if it starts at the ungodly hour of 5:30am) and offer lots of praise along the way.Your children will thank you in hugs, kisses, and big smiles.I promise.
Children don’t know how to ask for more structure.They know how to whine, cry, and, if all else fails, throw a temper tantrum.Take the guesswork out of it for them by setting their routines for them.And, by all means, enjoy the resulting sense of calm!