twos

Even if you don’t have kids or ever thought of having kids, you have still heard of the “terrible twos” which has now expanded into the “threenager” and the “F- you fours”.    I love all of these descriptions because it really helps parents navigate these ages and it says, “You are not alone.”  “These ages are tough!”

But after spending some time outside of the good ol’ USA, I started to wonder if the “terrible twos” were an American fabrication.

Basically the terrible twos are children exploring independence.  It’s not a bad thing as I explain in this post about independence. But we have interpreted the constant “no’s” as terrible rather than as an opportunity for learning and responsibility.

So what happens in other countries that doesn’t happen in the states? Or vice versa; what doesn’t happen there that does happen here?

Good question.

I think the answer is two-fold:

Parents don’t put up with s#*$t in other countries

In the USA, we want to take such good care of our children, that we let them run the show.  Parents want to support their children, they want to nourish their children and they don’t want to squelch their children.  This desire for their children to bloom can co-exist with setting limits and letting children know what is allowed and what isn’t.  But unfortunately (often due to social media, but also other cultural factors) it manifests itself into never wanting the child to cry or be distressed, so sometimes we as parents backtrack until everyone is happy again.  But this just creates more strife and more terrible behavior.

Parents allow their children independence in other countries

We all grew up with stranger danger and it is so strong that even though it has been proven that most child abductions and child abuse come from people that children already know, we are still scared of the world.  It is OK to give our children some independence.  Even if it takes twice the amount of time, we need to let them put their shoes on.  And they can wear shoes that don’t even match and are on the wrong feet.  We can let them help us cut vegetables without worrying about ending up in the emergency room.  They can climb trees, they can dig holes for our garden, they can choose a cereal box off the grocery shelf.   This is a gift that only you can give them.  They deserve the chance to be more independent and you deserve the respite that it brings when they fuss less.

 

How can we learn from other countries?

Get your little ones a passport and book a flight to learn all the different ways to raise a child.  Then start setting some limits on what behavior is allowed in your family and what behavior isn’t allowed.  Then open the door to your children.  Let them explore the world.

 

 

 

family dinner

I was talking with my husband about kids last night and how difficult it is to raise children with drugs, media, violence, diseases, addiction and all the other bad things out there in the world.  We were starting to feel a bit depressed when I remembered that there is one thing that you can do to guard your children against all that.

The Family Dinner

Here are the top 5 reasons why you need to have a family dinner with your children this week:

1) Connection

When you sit down at a dinner table, all facing each other, there will be conversation, questions, and connection.  You will build memories, vocabularies, world knowledge and just know more about each other.  This connection will be with your family through the thick and thin.

2) Screen-free

An important part of the family dinner is to turn off all screens.  Not only does this set a precedent for how to eat with others, it will carve out an automatic screen-free time where everyone can be in the present and not connected to something else.  

 

If there is just one change that you make to create a stronger family, more resilient kids and a better world (corny, I know, but it’s true) then have at least one family dinner this week!

 

3) Nutrition and picky eaters

Do you have picky eaters?  Family dinner is one of the many ways that you can help them, but the most important thing to remember, is no pressure.  When food is presented in an attractive way, everyone is eating it and everyone is happy and comfortable, children are more likely to try it.  That doesn’t mean that they will eat it, or like it, but if a child just tries a bite of food, science shows that after 20 tries, they will like the food.  So don’t pressure them, just enjoy the food yourself and over the years, your children will be less picky.

4) Family stories

One of my favorite New York Times article talks about how children who have more of a foundation can weather trauma better.  So if they have heard more stories about their family and know more details about their parents and their lives, then they have more tools in their toolbox when things get rough.

5) Routine

With routine, you build trust and create rituals that will ultimately build a foundation on which your child can grow.  One of my favorite routines is to have everyone take a deep breath before everyone starts eating (or once everyone is sitting at the table).  “In through your nose” *breathe* “Out through your mouth” *breathe* “Smell the flowers” *breathe* “blow out the candle”.  This daily exercise will not only help you as a parent to relax and ground yourself, but it also teaches your child essential calming skills.

How to deal with a 2 year old (3)

Here is an info-graphic that you can refer to, or print up which gives a summary of how to work with your child’s behavior.  It includes minor transgressions, common behavior issues as well as more major safety issues. 

ruse

When children enter the toddler stage, they gain independence.  This is hard for parents.  This is hard for toddlers.  

They don’t know what independence is, so they have to experiment.

“Do you want the bear or truck pajamas?’
“I want the monkey pajamas.”
“The monkey pajamas are dirty.   Do you want the bear or truck pajamas?”
“I WANT THE MONKEY PAJAMAS!”

(Here’s how I know it is a ruse..)

“Ok, no problem, you don’t have to wear pajamas”

About 10 minutes later after a 5 minute tantrum with everyone ignoring, “I want the bear pajamas.”


“Do you want peanut butter and jelly or grilled cheese?”
“Peanut butter and jelly”

I hand him the sandwich.

“I DON’T WANT any peanut butter on my SANDWICH!!”
“Ok, no problem, you don’t have to eat.”

Two minutes later, “I don’t want the sandwich TOGETHER!  I WANT IT apart!”
“Well, here’s your sandwich, you can eat it or not.”

Another 2 minutes later, “I DON’T WANT THIS PART of the sandwich, it has a HOLE in it!”
“You don’t have to eat that part.”

(Here’s how I know it is a ruse…)

Ten minutes later, the sandwich is gone.

This type of ruse goes on day in and day out as it should.  Children are exploring what it means to have an opinion, and opinions are great!  We love them!  But they also can’t control everything.  I love to hear about what my children like and want but they don’t always get what they want.

The most important part of this back and forth is to remain calm and not give in during these tests.  They want to know if they can ask or demand anything.  If you want to eat inside, they will want to eat outside.  It is also a way for children to learn how families work and how people negotiate.  It is totally fine when your toddler is saying “I-don’t-like-it-that-way” to give them the option of doing it “that-way” next time (and since it is a ruse, they will actually want the opposite next time!!) but that the decision has already been made this time.  It is important to stay calm and stay strong!



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picky-eater

The thing I love most about working with parents, families and children is discipline, but nutrition comes in a very close second.

I was a super picky eater.  Super picky.  I ate potatoes, pizza, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and cereal growing up. 

I have two boys.  They shared the same food in my uterus (at least that is how I imagine it) and they shared the same flavors and substances while breast feeding.  So I was surprised when at 6 months, one of them ate everything in sight and then other one bunched his face up in disgust and spit most food out.  

But here’s the thing- they are both three now and neither one is picky.  I have to add that they aren’t very open to much when we are out and about because they really don’t know what they are getting in to, but at home, they will take at least one bite of everything and they both love a huge variety of foods including kale, elk steak, salmon, red peppers, spinach, quinoa, spicy foods, etc etc.

So if your child is picky right now, that does not mean that they are a picky eater.  ALL children are picky eaters at some point in their life!

There are two things that you can do today to help your child stop being picky.  

1) Don’t refer to them as picky eaters.  

They are not.  

They are either going through a phase where either they aren’t that hungry (It happens. Kids can go days without eating much.  Just check with your pediatrician if you are worried.  I do.  All the time.)  

Or they are going through a phase of being distrustful of food.  This comes from our ancestors since things that we put in our mouths can kill us.  Children are wired to be distrustful of food once they are more mobile and independent.  This is to keep our species alive so that little one doesn’t put a poisonous plant (á la Into the Wild) in their mouths while mama is starting a fire to cook the meat that papa brought home from the hunt.  So don’t think that you are a bad parent when your child refuses food.  That is actually their job.  So just keep offering and eventually they will eat it!



2) Be relaxed about food and eating.  

They don’t have to eat if they don’t want to.  We try and force our kids to eat because we remember the days when they were infants and they needed a certain amount of food in order to sleep.  

Toddlers are not like that.  If your pediatrician says that there isn’t any reason to force food, then don’t.   Offer three meals per day and one or two healthy snacks in between meals and then forget about it.   Don’t offer food while they are distracted.  Don’t have them carry around food hoping that they will eat.  Don’t keep offering different things hoping that one of them will stick.  Don’t give them something right before they go to bed if they don’t eat dinner. Don’t worry about how much they eat.  Children will regulate their nutrition without any adult interaction, if we just offer three healthy meals and one or two snacks per day and that is it.  


My family loves the following recipe.  We serve it with elk steak.  My boys have loved and eaten sweet potatoes from day one which allows them to try other parts of the salad.  Make sure if you serve something new (which you should do at least once per week!) that something else on the plate is well-liked.

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon tamari
1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
Juice of 1/2 orange

1 cup diced sweet potato
1 cup cooked quinoa
1/4 cup chopped chives
2 tablespoons slivered almonds
1 bunch braised kale

1) Whisk first 6 ingredients, set aside
2)Place sweet potatoes in a steamer with water and steam until soft
3) Mix everything together and serve


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disappointment

From Wikipedia:

Disappointment is the feeling of dissatisfaction that follows the failure of expectations or hopes to manifest.

This definition describes every couple of minutes in a toddler’s life.  They don’t get what they want and they don’t like that.

But it is also a great teaching tool because as adults, we are well aware of disappointment too.   Unfortunately, it is a difficult concept to teach because toddlers are so young and they don’t quite get the concept.

So they cry.

And often we give in because we want to spare them the disappointment.  It can be as simple as they want their grilled cheese cut up.  You cut it up and “NOO!  I wanted it cut up this WAY!”  or “NOO! I wanted to cut it myself!!”  and honestly, you don’t care how it’s cut up so you take their grilled cheese and give them yours to try again.   They are happy and no more fussing.

But they didn’t get the opportunity to learn about disappointment in a very non-threatening way.  Instead of giving in, you can offer empathy.  You can say, “I’m sorry that it didn’t get cut how you wanted it.”  And then you can offer choices, “You don’t have to eat it that way if you don’t want to.”   They may even negotiate and try and take your sandwich but unfortunately, that’s not one of the options.  

It is healthy for a child to experience and learn about disappointment.   It is key part of development.

It is part of the balance of control between the parent and the child.  When the child has all of the control, they way not get disappointed, but they won’t benefit from having all the power. 

When a parent sets a limit, the child will undoubtedly be disappointed, but that is OK.  You can empathize and help the child learn about emotions as part of the process.  

Allow your child the opportunity to be disappointed today!

boulder Hiking

Your child is at the precipice of a tantrum and you have a great tool at your disposal: give them a choice.

Many parents are aware of the benefits of offering your child choices, but not everyone is sure how to do it, or has all of the tools to have it go smoothly.  

A young child is learning independence and they need to have a say in their life.  So your job is to offer a choice.  But there is a very wrong way to offer a choice:

“Do you want to clean up your mess?”  “NOOOO!”

Or a better way to offer a choice:

“Would you like to use a rag or a dustbuster to clean up your mess?”

“No you!!”

“Rag or dustbuster?”

“susduster”

 

The basics of offering choices is that you offer two options within what the child is allowed to do. 

So, for instance, if a child wants to play next to a dangerous river (where they are not allowed) you can offer the choice to climb on the rocks, or to dig for worms.  This will give the child a sense of independence and responsibility while taking away the need for a power struggle.


This technique works especially well with situations that often are difficult.  If it is time to leave the house, and your child is dawdling, you can ask them if they want to wear their shoes or their boots (instead of yelling, “Hurry Up! Let’s Go!”). 

If it is time to go to bed, you can ask them if they want Mom or Dad to read a story.  Or you can ask them which stuffed animal they want to take to bed with them.


It isn’t the choice of whether or not they get to leave the house or whether or not they get to go to bed, it is how all that is done.  


Once a child starts to learn to make decisions for themselves, there will be fewer power struggles.  A person (or child) who has a sense of control over their lives will feel more secure and have better self-esteem.  

 

baby eating

Picky eaters are synonymous with toddlers.  Thats what kids do- they give their parents grief at meal times.  But there is science behind that and parents can use the science to their advantage.

Here are five things you can do with your children to keep them from becoming picky- or to cure them of their picky-ness:

1) (And this is the MOST important- every parent needs to know this!) A person needs to try a strong flavored food 10-20 times before liking it.

2) Give them a variety of foods from a very young age (or start now if they are older).

3) Have mealtimes together as a family.  If you are a busy family (like most families) then do it as often as you can.  Once per day, once a week or even once a month.


4) Don’t worry about whether a child eats or not (unless there is something medical which requires a certain diet). 


5) Give options during the meal, but once the meal is served, there aren’t other options.

 

Here are the ideas behind each suggestion.

1) (And this is the MOST important- every parent needs to know this!) A person needs to try a strong flavored food 10-20 times before liking it.

You can offer your child broccoli nine times and they will stick their tongue out but the TENTH time- they might like it.  This is where the “just take a small bite” comes into play.  If they don’t like it, then don’t force it, just offer it again a month later.


This idea really hit home for me as an adult because growing up I was the pickiest eater.  I hated red peppers more than anything.  I could tell if a food had red peppers even near it and I threw huge tantrums if a food had red peppers removed from it and then served to me because I could smell the red peppers that were previously there.

Then as an adult, I began serving red peppers to my students as a vegetable tasting lesson.  I only did it because I wanted all the colors and tomatoes were messy.  After doing this lesson for three years, I took one small bite of a red pepper, and my taste buds said, “Wholey moley!  YUM!”  They have since become one of my favorite vegetables.

As an extra experiment, choose a food that you absolutely hate and try it once a month and see if it comes around (you can also serve it to your kids and see who comes around faster…).

2) Give them a variety of foods from a very young age (or start now if they are older).

Young children will put anything in their mouths.  From the age of around 6 months (when they can bring things up to their mouths) to around one year old (and often longer), children will put anything in their hands into their mouths.  This is so they can learn about their world.  They can see what things taste like and feel like.

You can use this time to your advantage.  You can give them strong flavored foods and they will put it in their mouth and either eat it, or spit it out.  But they are building their flavor repertoire which will help with picky-ness.

Even as they get older and maybe don’t even want a particular food on their plate, just having it at the table will make it become more familiar and they will be more likely to like it later.


3) Have mealtimes together as a family.  If you are a busy family (like most families) then do it as often as you can.  Once per day, once a week or even once a month.

Not only does this help with food issues, it also helps them socially and emotionally.  But back to food, a young child will want to do whatever their parents are doing, so if you are eating some steak or a spinach salad, they will want to eat it as well.  They will know that the food they are served is good enough for the rest of the family and they are more likely to eat it.  It is also so much easier for the parents to make ONE meal and serve it to everyone.  There are no other options.


Which brings me to the next two points:

4) Don’t worry about whether a child eats or not (unless there is something medical which requires a certain diet). 


If your child is relatively healthy, it is more than ok to skip a meal or a couple of meals.  Children who are teething, have a cold, or a just a normal child may not feel like eating 3-4 times per day.  It is totally acceptable to go a day (or two) of only having a bite at each meal.


We have trained ourselves as adults to think that a child needs to eat.  If we aren’t hungry, we won’t eat most things, but a body (or our tastebuds) rarely turn down something sweet or fatty.  So even if we aren’t hungry, we can always find room for a grilled cheese, a cookie, cinnamon toast, etc.  If your child is hungry, your child will eat.  If your child isn’t hungry, don’t force them to eat.  They will be ok.  If you want to double check with your pediatrician, I highly recommend that because it is always good to be on the same page.

5) Give options during the meal, but once the meal is served, there aren’t other options.


This goes back to number four.  This is the downfall of healthy eating.  You make one meal (with at least one item that you know the children will enjoy) and then you serve it.  If they want to eat, awesome.  If they don’t want to eat, just as well.


There will always be breakfast in the morning.

 
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Problem solving

Bed time not working? Problem solve!  Leaving the house takes forever?  Problem solve!  Kids want the same toy? Problem solve!  You don’t have enough snack? Problem solve!

Problem solving is an essential skill for life so how young can a child learn this skill and how in the world do we teach it?  

Amazingly enough, researchers say that children as young as 18 months can learn how to solve problems.  Imagine what this would do for you; fewer fights with siblings and parents, more independence, higher self-esteem, more self-reliance, and the list goes on and on not to mention higher thinking skills for school.

So we know all the benefits of having problem solving skills, but how do we teach it? 

First and foremost, it takes patience.  If you solve the problem then it is much much quicker, but if you step back and just ask questions, it may take a lot longer, but the child builds the skills for solving their own problems.

For children who are very young (under two) you can start teaching it by looking for something that is lost.  “Where is it?” can be heard over and over again in houses with very young children. It would take just seconds for you to find their missing shoe, favorite toy or family pet, but it wouldn’t teach any skills.  If you have the patience to take ten minutes to find that shoe (I promise you, the people who are waiting for you won’t care, and if they do, tell them you were teaching your child problem solving skills).  

As the child gets older, bigger problems will arise such as taking turns with toys, not getting their way, boredom, disagreements with friends and the list goes on…

Problem solving skills are also essential for dealing with problems that are affecting the whole family such as bedtime or getting out of the house in the morning.

The steps for solving problems are as follows:

  1. What is the problem?
  2. What are some solutions?
  3. What solution did we choose?
  4. Did that solution work?

Let’s start with what is the problem?

The first step in problem solving is always naming the problem.  Once children can name the problem, they stop worrying about blame or past grievances and can move towards solving what is wrong.

When there is a conflict, our first reaction is to jump in and start yelling.  But if we stop and either say, “uh oh” (for younger kiddos)  or “What is the problem?” (for older kiddos)  Then we are asking our children to start thinking about what is happening.

I’m gonna go out on limb here and say that with children under the age of five, 99.97% of problems are around both children wanting the same thing.  So that makes this part easy.  You say, “Uh oh, you both want the red car” or “What is the problem?” and if they aren’t sure, “Did both of you want the swing with the blue seat?” 

Once the problem is named, what are some solutions?

Chances are, the children are too young or don’t have exposure to problem solving skills so for a good while, you will have to narrate and give them the language to problem solve. 

So you can start with, “I have an idea (or I have a solution); we can put the red car away so that nobody will fuss over it” (I always give the worst solution first so that children don’t automatically jump on it and then they have to think.  It shows them that there is always more than one idea and often it is the one that we go with if we can’t find agreement.)

Then you can ask for other ideas and again if they are younger or not sure, offer ideas. “Or we can let child A have the car for a couple of minutes and then child B can have the car.”  When child B fusses, switch the order.  Now we have gone through three possible solutions and still no one is happy.  This is where it gets fun.  This is where you can get really creative and eventually teach your children to do the same.  Say, “OK, here’s another idea, we could paint another car red and then you both have red cars.  Or we could make another red car out of paper and then we would have two. OR (and it’s fun to see how crazy you can get) we could saw the red car in half and you can each have half!” (make sure it is something you can really do (or at least try) in case they choose that option.)

Then you have to pick one solution.  If there is no agreement, then the parent can choose one, and the parent usually chooses the least desirable option.

Then implement and later you can ask the children, did that solution work?

Since each problem is different, each solution will be different as well and this is where you and your child can get very creative.  Again, it takes so much longer to have a child solve a problem and usually the solution is not one that you would choose, but it is one of the most important skills they can learn.

You can then use these steps to solve any problem that comes up in your family.