goat cheese

I made this with my students at school and they loved it too- so it is kid-tested by many picky eaters.

The secret: honey!

I made step-by-step cards for my students and the boys used those so if you have a bit of extra time to make cards that show each step then you will for sure get participation in the making of dinner and with that comes an extra bonus: kids are more likely to eat what they help cook!

I don’t have great pictures of the steps of the recipe and the pictures don’t have to be well-drawn by any means.  Just go for it; you’ll have fun and your kids will love it along with learning early reading and math skills (that’s the preschool teacher inside me).  Get 4 index cards and draw a picture of 1) knife, cheese, a piece of toast 2) grinding or chopping walnuts and piece of toast 3) a couple of leaves of thyme and toast 4) smiley face and yum!

toastIf they are part of the process, kids will be excited about what is served for dinner.  But make sure that you also have something else with dinner that you know they already like.  This takes the pressure off and allows your kids to just try the new food.  If you force it, it won’t happen.

Make sure also that you eat dinner together as a family.  I can’t stress this enough.  If you make yummy things like goat cheese toasts, then you’ll be more likely to share your meal with your kids and you can all enjoy the food together.  Michael Pollan talks a lot about this and says that sharing meals together is what life is all about.

INGREDIENTS

whole-grain bread, 4 slices, each about 2 1/2 by 5 inches, lightly toasted
fresh goat cheese, 3 oz, at room temperature
walnuts, 1/4 cup  coarsely chopped
sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
honey, for drizzling and fresh Thyme leaves

PREPARATION

Preheat the oven or toaster oven to 375°F. Arrange the toasts on a small rimmed baking sheet. Spread the toast slices evenly with the goat 1 cheese, and sprinkle with the walnuts, dividing them evenly. Bake until the walnuts are toasted and the cheese is warm, about 5 minutes.
Transfer the toasts to plates and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle each toast with honey, then sprinkle with the thyme leaves and serve.

I just realized that I toasted them before so that the kids could do the rest of the recipe themselves and then eat them.  But next time I’m going to try the recipe the original way.

This recipe is from Kitchen Garden Cookbook by Jeanne Kelley

download (3)

Have you ever yelled at your children?  Have your children gotten angry and screamed at you or threw things?  You may feel like your family is the only family that ever gets angry, but the truth is that everyone feels anger and that feeling angry is perfectly OK.  But what do we do when we feel angry, or after we feel angry?  We weren’t really ever taught how to deal with it, so it is important that we teach our own kids about this unique emotion.

A lot of parents shy away from showing or talking about strong emotions.  We were brought up to think that emotions should be hidden.  But teaching empathy and talking about our emotions is the healthiest way to take care of our minds and bodies.

So we are going to get angry.  And our children are going to get angry.  And that is perfectly OK.  But we also talk about it and read about it.

My favorite book about anger is When Sophie Gets Angry, Really, Really Angry… By Molly Bang

Here’s why:

It’s the classic kid problem.  Both kids want the same thing.  How often does this happen?  Every. Single. Day. About a hundred times.   The classic kid response to this classic kid problem?  Anger. 

The description of anger is dead on.  She is like a volcano, she is like a tiger.  She wants to roar.  She feels like she is going to explode.  That is exactly how I feel.

How she deals with it.  She runs. She leaves.  She doesn’t hurt anyone. She breathes.  She cries.  She stops and she starts coming back through awareness of her surroundings.  It’s like Buddha wrote this book.  It is so sweet. 

Connection to nature. Being outdoors.  I heard someone say once that it is impossible to be angry while looking at a rainbow.  Sometimes just getting outside will help with our emotions and this is exactly what Sophie does. 

It’s an example of a perfect time out.  Time outs are effective when they are used as a calming down strategy.  The strategy is talked about before the child gets angry and is modeled by the parent.  So when I get angry, I say, “I’m going to take some space like Sophie and take some deep breaths.”  Then later, I can talk about how I calmed myself down and read the book again with my children.  When they get really angry, I can offer, “Do you want to take some time like Sophie?  Do you want to go outside by the tree like Sophie?”

Kids really relate to this book and it is perfect for teaching children about anger, emotions and empathy.

 

 

 

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.

equality vs equity

If you haven’t heard, “It’s not fair!”, then you are lucky.  Because it’s not fair.

Fairness is a tricky word and if you have ever been a teacher in a classroom with 25 or more children, you know the difference between equity and equality.  This is an important distinction with multiple children in your household as well.

Equality is everyone receiving the same thing or the same treatment.  Equality is giving everyone two pieces of pizza.

Equity is meeting everyone’s needs.  Equity is giving the child who eats more three pieces of pizza and the child who eats less one piece of pizza.

We all know that kids have different needs.  If you have siblings, think about how different your needs and wants are from your sister or brother.  Or how different your one child is from the other.

In many cases, one child will have more social needs and be more shy, possibly more likely to lash out, maybe less able to regulate emotions and one child will be more sociable with others, often kinder and more apt to smile.  To be equitable in this kind of family, you will have to give more energy to the child with higher social needs.

What does that look like?  If you are reading a bedtime story, then the child with higher needs always gets to sit in the middle of the lap and the other child gets to sit next to the lap.  Before bedtime, lay in the bed with the child who has higher needs for 7 minutes and in the bed with the child who has fewer needs for 5 minutes.   Now, in my family, we have been doing this since the dawn of time so they don’t know any different.

But if you have practiced equality instead of equity, you may hear some dissent.   So without going into too many details, you can just explain to them that you are making sure that everyone’s needs are met.

You are also teaching your children that everyone’s needs will be met and in a day or a month or a year, the other child may have higher emotional needs and they know that their needs will be met when that day comes.

 

taking-turns

It’s not really.  Taking turns and sharing are two different things but in the world of toddlers and parenthood, we need to put the focus on taking turns and take the pressure off of sharing.

Let’s look at this from an adult point of view:

Taking turns is: I’m using the computer right now and when I’m done writing emails, you can use it to watch youtube videos.

Sharing is: Let’s split this chocolate brownie in half so we can each have some.

In both of these cases, both adults are satisfied with the results and everyone is happy!

Now lets look at this in a toddler point of view:


Taking turns is:  There is one toy that both children want.  One child gets a turn and when that child is finished, the other child gets a turn.

Sharing is: play-dough that both children can use at the same time so one child gives a piece to the other child so that they can each have some.

In both of these cases, both children are satisfied and their needs are being met and everyone is happy!


Now let’s take a look at what sharing isn’t: Telling a child that they must give something up in the name of “sharing”.  This only creates frustration.  If your husband or wife came up to you while you were writing emails and said, “You need to share the computer” and then took if from you, you would be frustrated.  Children feel the same way.  

Don’t make them give up their toy in the name of sharing!

Children have difficulty waiting their turn for the toy but they can do it!  This is a great time to introduce the sign for waiting which is wiggling your fingers.  

 

So the interaction might look like this:

Two young children:  (screaming and grabbing toys!)

Adult: It looks like it is Maria’s turn.  Max, would you like a turn after Maria?

Max: No! It’s my turn!

Adult: So you don’t want a turn after Maria?

Max: Wait, yes!  I do want a turn.

Adult: Maria, can you give Max a turn when you are finished?

Maria: No, It’s my turn!

Adult: Yes, you are using it now; can Max use it when you are done?

Maria: Um, ok.

Adult: Max what would you like to do while you are waiting? Do you want to read a book with me?

This is written for two toddlers who have vocabulary, but works just as well for children who are non-verbal as children can understand this at much younger ages.  

The idea is to teach them the language so that eventually they can manage themselves.  This is particularly important for siblings.   This takes a lot of work in the beginning but eventually your children will be able to play together because they will be respectful to each other and not take each others toys in the name of “sharing.”

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rotate-toys

With Christmas just behind us and the onslaught of new gadgets overwhelming us, let me tell you about another great little trick.

You may have heard about the idea to put a lot of the new Christmas toys away and slowly bring them out as each month goes by.  I love that idea and I want you to take it a step further.  Do it all the time instead of just at the holidays. 

Rotate your toys!

Almost every preschool teacher in the world does this and it is really quite simple and superbly brilliant!

If you have any storage space at all (or if you are like me and live in a small house, create storage space by building high shelves) then put the majority of your children’s toys away in that space. This space should be out of reach and out of sight.  

Rotate your toys!

This way, you only have a couple of toys out with which the children can play.  It may sound counterintuitive because if the children only have a couple of toys out, they are going to fight more and they are going to be bored quicker, but it actually works the other way.

Here’s some things that will happen by rotating your toys:

  • Children are less stimulated and overwhelmed by the sight, noise and options of toys and will be calmer.
  • The toys will be more interesting since they haven’t seen the toys in a couple of months and they will be more engaged.
  • Children need to learn how to take turns with toys and once they are used to the idea of fewer toys and they have learned how to take turns, they will be able to navigate the play room more easily.
  • Cleaning up toys is an issue with every child and every parent and if you have fewer toys and the children know where each toys belongs, then cleanup is easier, faster and less of a headache.
 
Start by getting some opaque storage crates because it helps in organizing the toys and if you haven’t created storage room yet, you can just stack them in a corner.  Pack up about 60% of your children’s toys in these boxes and almost immediately, you will feel lighter and you will see the difference in the way your children play!
 
Rotate those toys!

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.