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.

screen free

This is one of those things that just happens.  Before we have kids we really want to be the parents that don’t give their child a screen to calm them down or entertain them, and then real life happens and it is a lot harder than we ever thought it would be.

But here’s the thing, giving our children an unplugged childhood is a gift that only we can give them.  They can’t choose it for themselves and if we think about our childhoods, we remember all the times we were outside, exploring, playing,and we realize that our parents were never in this quandary.  This problem is ours and all ours. It is up to us to do this for our children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children remain screen free for the first two years of their life.  This is a huge developmental period and should be filled with interactions and hands on activities.  After the first two years, you can start adding in videos or games but the time should still be limited and not during family time.

So here are five things you can do to ultimately make your life easier (yes! it is actually much much easier in the long run to be screen free or screen limited) and to give your children the gift of an unplugged childhood.

1) Make a plan

Without a plan, you won’t be able to keep your children screen free or screen limited.  Talk with your spouse ahead of time so that you don’t find yourself in a situation where you have to give your child a screen.  

2) Carry stickers and fruit chews with you everywhere

Having an arsenal of non-screen distractions will help you keep the screen from appearing in front of your child.  Buy some cheap stickers online or at a craft store and bring them with you everywhere.  When a situation comes up where your child is bored, give them some stickers instead of a screen.

The time that I was most wanting to use a screen to reign in my children was when they were screaming.  Either because they were hurt, tired, hungry or just screaming because they were kids, I didn’t know what to do.  Turns out, fruit chews worked really well.  If they were sucking on something sweet (that isn’t a choking hazard and is mildly healthy) then they couldn’t cry.  Worked like a charm.

3) Have the option to leave

This one is super important.  We often don’t get out of the house enough, or we are so excited to see our friends, that we don’t leave open the possibility to leave the situation.  If we can’t leave, then we have to give the child something to do for distraction.

If you can leave when your child can’t sit still or stop screaming, then you are dealing with the situation without giving them a screen.  This may sound drastic, but it isn’t every time that you have to leave.  

Two situations where you might not be able to leave are when you are in a car or on an airplane.  For the car situation, I try to find places where we can get out and walk and get some fresh air, food and exercise and that takes care of that problem.  And for an airplane, I use the old-fashioned techniques that our parent’s used: lots of interesting toys, stickers, games and just walking up and down the aisle.

4) Have a “no-devices-at-the-table” rule

This one is also super important.  If you carve out part of your day where there aren’t screens, then you won’t fall into the trap of giving your child a screen for distraction.  Dinner time is one of the most important times of the day for a family to get together and even if your little one isn’t a part of the conversation, they are watching, observing, learning and listening.  They see how adults interact and they hear stories about the world.  Eventually, they will sit and converse with you (if you don’t give them a screen) so the hard part is now- the benefit (which is huge) comes later. 

5) Go outside at least once per day

This last one doesn’t seem at all related but it really is.  One of the reasons that we turn the screen on is because we are all tapped out of energy and we can’t muster anything else.  But if we open the door and get outside for even a couple of minutes (I know how hard that it when it is 3 degrees below zero, but those are the most important days to get outside) you will feel refreshed and refueled without turning to a screen.

10 tips

Here’s a list of 10 tried and true tips to being a good parent:

  1. Routine

It may not fit your lifestyle if you are used to being more spontaneous and flying by the seat of your pants before you had kids, however it is the number one way to having happier kids.  Doing more or less the same things at more or less the same time of day every day will make your children better sleepers, better eaters and better behaved.

2. Eat dinner together as a family

There is study after study about how eating dinner together as a family insulates your children from many societal ills.  Be sure to use the “no devices at the table” rule or you won’t benefit from the time together.  But this one simple thing will set your child up for life!

3.  Breathe

The best thing I ever heard as a parent is, “breathe in for a count of 5, breathe out for a count of 5”.  Not only does it calm you down, but it is a great model to help your children calm down.

4. Rotate your children’s toys

When your children have fewer toys to play with, they are more engaged and more focused.  Clean up is much, much easier and when they are bored with their toys, the ones in storage will feel like new!  Get some good storage bins (or even plastic bags) and put about half of your kid’s toys away in the garage or a closet.

5. Don’t force your kids to eat

Take all the stress away from food and eating and your children will be better and healthier eaters.  Provide them with three healthy meals a day with fruit for snack in-between meals and as long as there is at least one thing on the plate that they will eat, let them decide how much food they want.  It’s OK if they decide not to eat, or just eat the one thing that they are familiar with.  Have them take one bite of the new food even if it is a tiny bite.  It takes 20 times of trying most foods before children will eat it.

6. Carve out a little time for yourself

If you are burnt out, you won’t be much support for your children.  Taking some time for yourself doesn’t make you a bad parent, it makes you a good parent.  Whether it is a 5 minute walk around the block, a little meditation in the morning, or watching your favorite show while they are sleeping- just do it!

7. Teach your children problem solving skills

If your children can solve their own problems, then your life will be much easier and your children will have more success in life.  Start by identifying the problem (you both want the same toy) and then help them come up with solutions.  The more creative, the better!

8. Get outside every single day (even and especially on the worst of days)

One of my favorite quotes is “Nature is cheaper than therapy.”  Getting outside is something you can do with or without your children.  When you go outside for even a short time, your whole look on life will improve.  If you have even more time to get a walk around the block or a get out into nature, your outlook on life will increase ten-fold.  And if the weather is super rainy, cold, hot or just uncomfortable, then coming back home will be that much more enjoyable.

9. Get down on the floor (when times are good and when times are bad)

Getting down on the floor does many things:

  • It changes your perspective so that you see things from your kids point of view
  • It moves your body in ways that you aren’t used to and puts you into a mood to have fun
  • If tempers are flaring, it lowers the anxiety level of your children (Seriously. Try this- they immediately calm down)
  • It puts you on the same level as your child which increases connection and decreases power imbalance

10. Give your kiddos a hug every single day

This one is a no-brainer, but somehow I still seem to forget!

 

 

social media

Right now I’m reading an interesting book (with a boring title), Parenting Well in a Media Age by Gloria DeGaetano.  It is stirring up so many thoughts and ideas about raising children in our day and age.

First of all, things are very different now than they were just 30 years ago.  We are part of a very media centered culture and it is often how we connect ourselves to the world.

BUT.. our children are what connects us to the world.

Put down your phone, set aside a specific time to be on your computer and unplug so that you can plug into your children.  There are days when I am jealous of my childless friends, but that only lasts for a minute (and usually happens when I am on Facebook) because as soon as I plug into my children, I become more connected to the world.  I connect to the clouds outside; I connect to the truck drivers driving by; I connect to the neighbors who are also out on a walk.

There are many benefits to having children, but I am realizing as the world gets more are more media centered, that the biggest benefit is that kids pull us away from that corporate-created fake online world into the amazing and crazy real life world.

So what does this have to do with my biggest fear of raising children?  I have absolutely no idea how to raise a child in a world dictated by media.  Even the problems that teenagers are experiencing today will be obsolete.  New problems haven’t even been invented yet.

It is the scariest feeling, but I think I know one solution.  Plug into your kids.  The more you are connected to them today, the better you will be connected tomorrow.

The New York Times recently published an article that I can’t get out of my mind.  It spoke about how children who had heard more stories about their family, had an easier time dealing with conflict, trauma and other difficulties.  The idea was that they had deeper roots and a stronger connection to their past and who they were.

I think the same idea transfers over to how controlled your children are by media.  If they have a strong connection to their world, they will be less inclined to live in a media world.

So start today, have a “no devices at the table rule” where you put down all screens and devices while people are eating at the table.  This rule applies to meals at home and meals out at a restaurant.  This rule will be easy to enforce with teenagers if it is what they had when they were growing up.

Then, once you have that rule in place and it feels pretty stable, add in “Screen-Free-Saturday” or “Screen-Free-Sunday” and put down all screens for an entire day.  We have tried it twice and are working towards it being a regular part of our routine (not there yet!).  But it amazes me how much more plugged in to my kids and my husband I am after spending an entire day away from a screen.

So if you have the same fears about how you will deal with a teenager and social media, then start building a connection with your young child today to help weather the social media storms of tomorrow.

mindful 1

If you are like me and have visited Pinterest for great parenting ideas, you have probably had the same impression I did, that children should be busy or entertained with activities pretty much all the time.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I love to have fun activities with my kids but I also think it is super important for children to have absolutely nothing.

In other countries around the world, children don’t have many toys, they don’t have scheduled sports or art workshops, they don’t even have activities planned by their parents.  And when I watch little kids sitting on a bus, or waiting somewhere, they don’t need to be entertained, they just sit.

We spend a huge amount of our adult lives trying to slow down our minds.  We do yoga, we meditate, we go on vacation and amazingly, children already have that ability to do nothing and often well-meaning parents erase that important skill.

And yet, every time I go onto Pinterest, I see at least 10 pins for “How to keep your toddler busy during road trips” (or  waiting in line, or on an airplane, during quiet time, or sitting at a restaurant, etc).

Here’s the thing, I understand.

I have twin toddlers and it’s not like they want to sit still for all of these activities.  But if you don’t offer any kind of toy or screen or distraction, you eventually teach them how to “be” in a world without distractions.  They can already calm their minds.  They can already be aware of their surroundings and soon (SOON!) they will just be able to sit and watch the world around them or entertain themselves.

Just like what we are striving for as adults.  The ability to just sit and quiet our mind.  We have so many opportunities for that all day long.  Waiting at a red light.  Standing in line at the bank.   Sitting at a restaurant waiting for a friend to arrive.  These are times when we can just sit and quiet our minds and yet these are the times that we feel we need to “entertain” ourselves and pull out our phones.

So if one of your goals is to quiet your own mind and find awareness in the daily moment, then allow your child to do that as well.  Let them sit in the car on the way up to the mountains with nothing but conversation.  Allow them to watch the people in the restaurant without a distraction.  Bring an emergency toy on the airplane but have it be a goal to use only the environment and surroundings as your toys and see if you don’t even need it.  Let them play for an entire snow day without one planned activity.

 

In my head, I am thinking:

All of this sounds good and all, but the reason that we distract children is to keep them from fussing and tantruming.  If I don’t distract them when they are losing it, then I will lose it too.

 

Yep, so the shift here isn’t to not distract them, it is to distract them with their surroundings, rather than with objects.  This is how to build a mindful childhood.

So what does that look like?

When you are at the doctor’s office, walk around and look at the art that they have on the wall.

When you are on the airplane, play with the buttons on the seat, walk up and down the aisle if they let you, look out the window if you have a window seat and talk about the clouds.

When you are in the car, look for different things out the window.

All of this can be exhausting, super exhausting if you are doing it for hours.  But here’s the thing (and every teacher knows this) if you put in more work now (exhausting work when you are already exhausted) then you (and especially your children) will reap the benefits later.

Your child already has the skills to be aware of their surrounding, and we as adults are constantly working towards that type of mindfulness and being in the moment, so resist the urge to distract your child with a thing and give them the gift of a lifetime!

family dinner

With all of the different parenting philosophies out there, a mother or father could get quite confused.  One group believes in one thing, while another group believes the exact opposite (when did parenting  begin to mirror politics?)

But thankfully, there is one thing that everyone can agree on: the family dinner.

The family dinner is like the holy grail of parenting, you get this one down and you can check off a whole slew of other parenting struggles.

That’s because family dinners promote language development, communication, and nutrition.  It is the perfect time to be screen-free and it helps children build the skills they need to help overcome challenges.

When the entire family sits down to dinner once per week or more, then a lot of the other parenting woes such as behavior issues, communication issues and defiance tend to slip away.  The family is seen more as a unit and when children feel more a part of something, they are more likely to take care of it and respect it.
family dinner1A family dinner is also one that doesn’t include the television or other distractions.  It is totally fine to eat dinner in front of the television, as long as you do a family dinner without it at least once per week as well.  Hopefully, you have a space in your home where your whole family can sit and eat together.  If not, it is something worth investing in.

So how young can children be to be involved in the family dinner?  You can start once they are eating solids.  They don’t have to eat the same things that you are eating, but by the time they are 8-10 months old, they should start having part of the same dinner.  

And how old is too old to start a family dinner?  Any age works, you can introduce the topic and say “one night per week, we are all going to eat dinner together”.  If they are somewhat resistant to the idea, then make it special.  For instance, for the weekly family dinner, we get to make or take-out pizza, and then we all eat it together.


I often hear parents saying that they feed the kids first, then put the kids to bed and then eat.  That is a great way to have some alone time with your husband or to invite friends over, but it shouldn’t be the norm.   Whenever I hear that, I picture the children eating box macaroni and cheese and I picture the adults eating some steak and asparagus later.   The ideal is to eat all at the same time with macaroni and cheese, steak and asparagus.  The children will love eating what the adults are eating and if it is their first time trying asparagus and they don’t like it yet (they need 15-20 times to try it) then they have plenty of mac and cheese to eat.

Above and beyond the nutritional aspect of family dinners is the connectedness that children feel when they eat dinner together with the whole family.   A study was recently done about the “ties that bind us”  which showed that children who knew more about their family, and about their past were able to heal faster after trauma.  As a parent, I worry a lot about all the challenges and difficulties my children may face but to know that they have had all of these family dinners in their favor allows me to worry a little bit less.

And one last bonus: dinners out at restaurants are way easier because if it is part of your routine to sit and eat dinner all together, then little ones won’t be as squirmy and you will be able to enjoy your meal out so much more!

So if your children are young, don’t wait!  Start now with either a nightly or weekly family dinner and know that all the TV shows and other things can wait until after dinner and know that this little change can make a huge difference in your children’s lives.


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Twins playing

You’ll have to excuse the obscenities.  It is Louis C.K. after all.

But he has some excellent points.  We have already established the no-devices-at-the-table rule, but I like the no-smartphones-for-the-children rule.  It will be a bit harder to enforce but worth it.  Children need to learn to be with themselves.  They need to be bored.  They need to have human interaction and I believe that the smartphone takes away many of those opportunities.

This is going to be one difficult road to keep smartphones away from my children (and until what age?!?) but if Louis C.K. can do it, then so can I!

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unplug

We instinctively know what is best for our children and ourselves which doesn’t explain hours spent on pinterest, watching bad TV or eating tons of chocolate.  But we do need to tap into those instincts as we raise our little ones and keep our time with the screen as little as possible.
An article in the New York Times has some interesting findings.  It talks about a nerve that connects the heart to the brain.  This nerve was always thought of as static and unchanging.  It is a nerve that sends signals back and forth from the brain to the heart and part of those signals are how we interact with other humans.  The nerve changes depending on how much time we spend with other people. So a quick synopsis of the article says that the more human interaction we have, the healthier hearts we have. 
It goes way deeper than that, but as a parent, we don’t always have time to read about the intricacies of our nervous system.  What we do have time to find out is that we need to get off our phones when we are around our babies.  They have found that babies who are breastfed with distracted mothers have more behavior and now cardiovascular problems.  
So we can start tuning into our babies and kids starting tomorrow.  It will make us healthier and our children happier and healthier.
Two ideas that you can implement tomorrow are to have a a “no devices at the table” rule where if you eat a meal together as a family, under no circumstances can a phone be used.  (Trust me, situations will arise that a phone will seem obligatory, but you can live without it).  The other idea is to have an entire unplugged day.  I love this idea, haven’t implemented it myself, but would love to someday.
This may seem like small stuff, but all of this technology is very new. We don’t know what it is doing to us, but we do know how important we are to each other; especially as children and parents.
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