8 Ways to Get Your Kids to Eat More Than Just Cheese Puffs

In my efforts to get my kids to eat right, I’ve failed more times than I’ve succeeded, but I have succeeded on occasion.

Interested in having your kids eat nutritious food that hasn’t been processed and pummelled into a dinosaur or star shape? It’s tricky, in this age of happy meals and cookie-flavored cereal, to coax our children into eating actual food.
In my efforts to get my kids to eat right, I’ve failed more times than I’ve succeeded, but I have succeeded on occasion. Below are a few proven methods that have actually worked. I hope that you, too, are blessed with a child who sometimes consumes food that doesn’t fall into the cheese puff family.

1 | Ban “candy”

No, I don’t mean ban actual candy. What with Halloween and birthday party bags and in-laws, removing all traces of candy from your home is impossible. But you can avoid the word “candy.”
The reason this is so important is because once your child is thinking about manufactured sugar, it’s tough to get them to accede to eating a food that only contains naturally occurring sugars (most of them do!). So take care around these two syllables. It’s a word that must never be spoken, kind of like Voldemort.

2 | Feign apathy

Sure. You really want your kids to eat the chicken and sweet potatoes you have lovingly prepared for them. Your heart breaks when they look at the plate and a stricken expression clouds over their features, as if a live goldfish had been placed in front of them.
But here’s the thing about getting your kids to eat well – the more you need for them to eat something, the less likely they are to eat it. It’s a control thing, and since children own their mouths, they will always win this very unhealthy power game.

3 | Obscure the goodness

This one only works if you have time to cook and bake, but hiding spinach in a batch of brownies really does work, as does sneaking carrots into a smoothie and disguising zucchini as a type of muffin.
Kudos to whoever thought of adding a cup of spinach to a cake batter. Also, who on earth thought of adding spinach to batter?

4 | Condiments!

Sauces and dips are a parent’s best friend. Solitary carrot sticks look as sad as they sound. But the same exact thing next to a bowl of hummus? Magic! That’s because anything that’s messy will appeal to your kid. You probably already deduced that by now, because look at the state of your house.

5 | Negotiate at your peril

“If you eat three more cucumber slices, I will let you drive the Lamborghini” is something you should not say under any circumstances, and this isn’t just because you have never owned an luxury Italian sports car.
Bargaining with kids – while tempting – usually backfires. You know this. We all know this. The fact that we all still negotiate with our children sometimes is concrete proof that parenthood addles the brain.

6 | Reimagine pasta

My kids, and most kids, do like some healthy foods. Pasta is one of them. But because my kids enjoy it, I sometimes forget what a good, wholesome food this is. We may never own a Lamborghini, but we’ll always have this awesome Italian export.

7 | Sous chef junior

To let your child help you in the kitchen, or not to let your child help you in the kitchen – that is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler to allow small people to feel as if they are contributing to the housework, or better to just get it done efficiently and neatly while they’re watching “Paw Patrol”.
Honestly, I don’t have the answer to this age-old question, but most kids are more likely to eat something when they’ve had a hand in cooking it. You know what they say: The course of true parenthood is completely chaotic.

8 | The DIY meal

Whether it’s tacos or pitas, kids like to put things in other things. That’s why you once found 23 pennies inside your favorite pair of wedge pumps. Assembling their own meals is fun for kids and, like with the condiments, they will make a mess. Making peace with mess is just part of parenthood. Just like dealing with picky eaters!

18 Simple Ways to Infuse Each Day With Learning

Teaching your child to love learning offers them a lifetime of discovery, far outside the classroom.

Teaching your child about World War II or how to do double digit addition is important. But those are limited facts and skills. Teaching your child to love learning offers them a lifetime of discovery, far outside the classroom.
Here are 18 easy ways to foster a love of learning in the midst of everyday life.

Read to them

Reading not only has physical and emotional benefits. There is concrete evidence that it helps brain development and academic growth as well. With so much possibility, reading is the perfect way to help kids fall in love with learning.

Let them see you read

While reading to your children has many benefits, letting them see you read shows kids that reading is forever. It’s not just for babies. It’s not just for school. Read in front of them (and Facebook doesn’t count).

Be outdoors

Time outside provides opportunities for fine and gross motor development, risk-taking, and exploring, all of which prove beneficial to learning. There is also a direct correlation between time outside and reduction of stress, confidence building, and exposure to different stimuli.

Sing, play, and listen to music

The brain benefits of music are numerous. Plus, music has the ability to bring joy, relaxation, and express ideas.

Relax

True learning goes far beyond grades in a classroom. Show them you believe that by spending time with your kids doing nothing much in particular except enjoying each other’s company.

Embrace what they love

Give kids the opportunity to explore the things they love. If your child is into trains right now, find books about trains, build a train, draw a train, watch trains at the train station. Allow your child to guide their learning through their passions.

Talk about learning

Let them know when you discover something new. “Wow, I never knew that popcorn could burn so quickly. I wonder why?” Kids need to see that we are always learning, even in the ordinary.

Ask questions

I know it feels like all we do is answer questions. So start asking. “How did that bird know I just put birdseed out?” or “Why are there police officers guarding the construction workers?” Questions are the foundation of learning.

Give them money

I know it can be painfully slow, but letting them pay at the store and count change is real life learning. If you use plastic for all your payments, talk about how that works, too.

Wonder

Encourage your children to think freely about things, without boundaries. Some of the best ideas started with wild wondering!

Play

School keeps kids busy learning good things. But there is not a lot of room for play in a regular day. Giving kids the opportunity to play with no agenda allows them to be better thinkers.

Ask random math questions

Math facts are foundational for good mental math, but kids don’t always want more schoolwork. Make math facts fun by asking them when you’re doing something else, like driving, hiking, or making dinner. Make it easy, fun, and short.

Keep reading picture books

Even as kids get older, picture books can provide unique opportunities for learning. Increased connection with the text, vocabulary, and a more sensory approach to reading keeps the experience enjoyable and beneficial.

Go places

Visit the sea or a mountain. Spend time at the free art museum or check out the historical house in town. Experiences make learning part of life and create schema, a personal framework for learning.

Create

Giving kids the chance to create through art, music, science, or any imaginative play helps them develop better thinking skills that translate far outside the classroom.

Enlist help

Helping with adult tasks gives kids new skills and shows them the need to learn throughout life. Cooking, taking pictures, changing the oil, and doing laundry all show kids that there is always something new they can do.

Fail

Often. Let them see that failure is part of learning. Recognizing failure as part of the learning process rather than an end to learning shows kids to keep going. Demonstrate that it’s okay, even good, to fail because it’s all part of the process.

Did I mention read?

It’s one of the simplest things you can do with endless possibilities. Read to learn, for fun, and for life.

A Straightforward Approach to Teaching My Kids About Sex

I made a conscious decision early on to be open and honest with my kids and to incorporate sexuality and sexual education naturally into their lives.

The week before my 13th birthday, my mother, a registered nurse, handed me the small booklet called “A Doctor Talks to 9-to-12-Year-Olds.” That and occasional reminders to “be a good girl” and to “save myself for marriage” were the extent of my sexual education at home.
In seventh grade, after my mother hesitantly agreed to sign a paper allowing me to participate in the public school’s sexual education program, I remember thinking finally some real information might be shared. Mrs. Trent’s classroom was covered with posters of Voyager and Spacelab with planet mobiles made by students hanging from the ceiling. She encouraged questions and went into great detail in her answers.
But the fertilization part was exactly like in the doctor’s book. It wasn’t until the last day of our chapter on sexuality that it looked like we might finally be getting to the truth about exactly what sex is. I don’t recall what was shared and don’t remember asking any questions, but clearly, I still didn’t get it. My journal at the time states in big bold letters: “Today Mrs. Trent told us all about SEXUAL INTERSECTION!”
With my lack of information in mind, I made a conscious decision early on to be open and honest with my own children and to incorporate sexuality and sexual education naturally into their lives. The only problem was, with no experience talking as a child or with a child about the subject, I wasn’t confident in my own knowledge. I felt awkward and uncomfortable, and I didn’t know what to say or how to say it.
So I bought books. Peter Mayle and Arthur Robins’ “Where Did I Come From” and Robie Harris and Michael Emberley’s “It’s So Amazing” had a place on my children’s bookshelf before they could read. Sometimes I’d find them looking at the pictures like any other book. Every once in a while, I’d pick one up and casually read a few pages to them just as I did “Frog and Toad” or “Winnie the Pooh”.
Despite my deeply ingrained Catholic guilt and my lack of role models for valuable communication, I gradually became more relaxed about addressing the basics. I learned things no one ever told me about. The vas deferens and clitoris never made an appearance in Mrs. Trent’s basic diagram. I was using words that I’d never heard spoken out loud and certainly never said myself. Vagina became common vernacular.
From the start, I attempted to be straight-forward and factual with my children about puberty and sex. Even as a little dude, my son knew about menstruation. When he was five and found a tampon on the bathroom counter and questioned whether I smoked cigars, I gave him the basic details about periods.
My description must have included some facts about gestation because, over a year later, when he and his older sister were playing LIFE, they had gone around the board twice and my daughter had two cars full of children. I overheard my son say to his sister, “Hey, you haven’t had a period in five years!”
At first, I was thinking, “The kid is a math whiz!” and then I realized that he was no more than seven and actually grasped the fetal-growth concept I had shared so far back that I barely remembered the conversation. Point is, the kids seemed to be listening, and they seemed to be willing to share and ask questions.
During the summers, when we had some time on our hands and my children were each around 11, I made them sit with me and read through “It’s So Amazing”. My son hated it, but I told him that it was my responsibility as his mother to give him this information. Did he know how much I wanted to be a good mother? Yes? Well then, dude, you have to help me out, here.
When the subject came up in seventh-grade health, he told me he was glad he’d already heard all that information and more, and he wasn’t as uncomfortable as many of his friends clearly were.
Those early talks helped set the stage for the more difficult conversations as my children have moved through their teenage years. We’ve talked about blow jobs and masturbation, reproductive health and orgasms, hook-ups and body image, sexual orientation, identity, and sexual pressure.
We’ve talked about asserting needs, desires and limits, and a girl’s right to pleasure. When a subject gets tricky and I don’t know how to address it, I’ll check out sites like More Than Sex-Ed or Peggy Orenstein’s book “Girls and Sex” for tips.
I’ve had frank conversations with my children about the easy access to pornography and how watching it might shape ideas of what sex is or should be. I’ve shared that, when I was young, about the only access to such images were in the magazines I found at one of the houses where I babysat and how the videos were far less graphic and only available at XXX stores or if friends passed the contraband around.
Music wasn’t as graphic either. Madonna’s “Like A Virgin” was scandalous (at least in my house), and the first time I ever saw sex was when I had it myself. Now people can watch it on their phones.
I am not like my mother. I don’t say “Just Say No” without giving explanations. Just as we talk about what alcohol and drugs do to your body and when and why you might not want to make that choice, we also talk about how the images in pornography may stay in your mind and become an expectation of how you or your partners should feel, act, or pretend to act. We talk about how those videos aren’t real life.
I tell them how I hope that, when the time is right, they will have more authentic experiences. We talk about respect, for themselves and others. We talk about the emotions that go into the decision to have intercourse.
I was the first person my daughter told after she had sex for the first time. I would never have told my mother, who tried, awkwardly, when I was 29 to return to the conversation we didn’t have when I was 13, asking if I felt comfortable choosing a white wedding dress as we prepared for my wedding.
I had conversations with my own daughter for several months as she considered whether her long-term boyfriend should be her first lover. Of course, we talked about safe sex. And we talked about protecting the heart.
She still calls me from college and shares anecdotes of her relationships. Sometimes she asks for guidance, and I promise no judgment. All indications are that she is confident in her sexuality. She’s taking care of herself and has healthy attitudes about what she wants and how she should be treated. That is what I was hoping for when we first opened up “Where Did I Come From?” when she was tiny.
My children came from a safe place where they could talk about anything, and still can.

Rewards Don’t Work – Here’s What Does

While a reward system may get kids into the habit of behaving in the desired manner, it’s not a long-term solution.

“Mom, can I have the vacuum?” asked my five-year-old daughter.
I was confused and also reluctant to turn over my beloved cordless Dyson.
“Why, sweetheart?”
Normally you cannot see my daughter’s floor through the forest of books, dolls, and clothes. She grinned while imploring me: “Come see.” She marched down the hall and into her room, leading me by the hand. When we got to her doorway I laughed in surprise. The floor was completely clear. I ceded control of the Dyson until my daughter got bored (about 47 seconds later). After I vacuumed neat rows back and forth over her pink, gray, and white chevron rug, I texted the preschool teacher photos of the immaculate room along with all the happy emojis.
Earlier that day, in frustration, I’d begged the teacher to help me find a way to quell the power struggles that had been erupting between my daughter and me for months. If I’m being honest, years. No sticker chart or time-out could tame her steadfast refusal to do what I asked, whether it was to do her chore (she literally has one chore), to get out of the bathtub, or get her shoes on.
Her teacher suggested a marble jar. Here’s how it works: I put a marble in a jar every time I “catch” my daughter being good. When the jar is full, she earns a treat. The teacher said to follow a rule of never removing marbles as a consequence for bad behavior. I added my own rule: Requesting a marble (e.g., “Will I get a marble if I do my chore?”) precludes you from receiving one.
My daughter’s response to the marble jar was a classic example of positive reinforcement at work. According to Ira Chasnoff, M.D., author of “The Mystery of Risk,” positive reinforcement is the only one of the four types of discipline that actually works. In light of that, the steep improvement I saw in my child’s behavior should not have been surprising.
Still, I had questions. Why had the sticker charts not worked? And why, even as I grew lazy about rewarding “marble-worthy” behavior, did the power struggles continue to decrease both in frequency and intensity? There had to be more to the equation than simply positive reinforcement.
I talked to Sarah MacLaughlin, parent educator and author of “What Not to Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children” to fill in the gap. She cautions parents to use positive reinforcement only “as training wheels” – and even then, only if they’ve already tried approaches emphasizing the relationship. In other words, while a reward system may get kids into the habit of behaving in the desired manner, it’s not a long-term solution.
MacLaughlin cites the work of education and parenting expert Alfie Kohn, who calls rewards and punishments “two sides of the same coin” in his book “Punished by Rewards.” As MacLaughlin explains, whether you’re rewarding good behavior or punishing bad behavior, “the goal is to influence/control/coerce a child and their behavior, [a strategy that has] a rapidly approaching expiration date.” She recalls offering her son candy as a reward for taking a necessary dose of bitter medicine when he was five years old. “He burst into tears and wailed, ‘Why are you threatening me?’ It took me a minute to work out how offering him M&M’s to take the stuff was a threat, but then I realized – the threat was that he wouldn’t get the chocolate unless he took the medicine.” MacLaughlin says she then realized she’d inadvertently attempted to coerce her child, something she’d never advise parents to do.
While MacLaughlin feels positive reinforcement may be effective, it should be used sparingly, if at all. She says children tend to respond well to positive reinforcement for the same reasons adults do. Most of us would be more motivated to meet performance goals for a manager who rewards our efforts than be subject to punishment for poor performance. However, MacLaughlin points out “I’m also not likely to care much about positive reinforcement or rewards from someone I don’t respect or feel connected to.” Both MacLaughlin and Chasnoff agree on one important point: When it comes to motivating our children, no system or method can (or should) take the place of a loving relationship.
One of the risks of using positive reinforcement, says MacLaughlin, is raising a child who becomes an extrinsically motivated adult. Extrinsic motivation is when a reward or recognition motivates a person to perform. Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, is what causes people to accomplish something simply because they want to. According to Daniel Pink, career analyst and author of “Drive,” when it comes to creative problem solving, the prospect of extrinsic rewards actually hurts performance.
But the main issue with positive reinforcement is that it ignores the greatest source of influence on your child – your relationship. Says MacLaughlin, “Behavior is always driven by either development (i.e., it’s normal and to be expected), an unmet physiological need, or emotion/stress (children don’t have a fully wired brain and their off-track behavior is often a result of a dysregulated brain state).” As parents, it is crucial to understand that it’s our connection with our kids – not any “sticker, star, gummy bear, [or] punishment” according to Dr. Becky Bailey – that can help get them back on track. Bailey is a developmental psychologist and early childhood expert whose TEDx talk “Wiring the Brain for Success” explains the neurology responsible for this phenomenon.
But if offering a marble isn’t the way to go when your kid is not cooperating, or worse, having a meltdown, what is? MacLaughlin advises parents to listen. And listen some more. If your child is having a fit, she says it is futile to attempt to give consequences or feedback when a child is an elevated emotional state (e.g., crying or screaming). That does not mean you should ignore bad behavior, however. If for example, your child becomes physically aggressive, MacLaughlin recommends you first help her calm down. Only when kids are calm do they have the capacity to listen and learn. At that point, she says,

“You can validate a child who is heated by saying, ‘You tried to kick me because I said NO to dessert. I understand you’re upset, and I won’t let you hurt me.’ Then listen more, say less, and offer no ‘consequences’ or feedback until they are calm (the Hand in Hand model calls this Staylistening). Once you gauge you’re past the point of triggering those big emotions, you can offer feedback and education. For example, ‘I know you know that hitting is not okay. As you grow and mature you’ll learn how to stay in charge of yourself and not hit when you’re upset.” I call this combo a Truth Bomb Pep Talk–information, a reminder, and encouragement all rolled into one.”

If your child is simply refusing to do what you’re requesting, MacLaughlin urges parents to remember that kids are doing the best they can, and to assume that they aren’t cooperating because they need help, whether emotionally or physically. She says there could be something bothering them on an emotional level, in which case she recommends the Staylistening approach. Or it could be that using humor – making your request in a funny voice or with an accent – will get them on board. If that doesn’t work, and before you lose your cool, MacLaughlin suggests stopping what you’re doing and set a limit by calmly, kindly, physically guiding the child to the chore or task. She says parents are often surprised at how well this works.
Whenever my daughter’s marble jar filled up, she chose a treat. We would either hit the bagel shop or the used bookstore, but no matter what, it was just us. Her love languages are apparently carbs, books, and quality time. In light of what I learned from MacLaughlin, it’s clear the positive reinforcement was just the “training wheels” she needed to start rolling in the right direction. I’m convinced that it was the “reward” of spending rare one on one time together that took care of the rest.

Why Bad Behavior Is Not Synonymous With Bad Kids

Your kid’s behavior is neither driven by “badness” nor is it a sign of bad parenting. Rather, it’s a sign that you’re not speaking the same language.

Have you ever thought “my kid couldn’t possibly do that” just to find out that he can and he did? Sometimes kids do, well, bad things. Sometimes they’re difficult. But your kid’s behavior is neither driven by “badness” nor is it a sign of bad parenting. Rather, it’s a sign that you’re not speaking the same language. Here are a few tips to help you hit it off.

1 | Get on the same wavelength

You know how sometimes you’ll say something totally innocent and someone else will take your remarks as a personal attack? Well, sometimes it happens even with our own kids. Despite speaking a common language, family members may have different interpretations of family dynamics and behavior.
In other words, families in which members are not the same wavelength have higher levels of tension because of the different ways in which they interpret the same thing. What you perceive as concern, your kid may define as intrusiveness. Being on the same wavelength means making sure your kids understand why you do the things you do, but it also means being able to understand why they act like they do. It also means being clear about your expectations.
Being on the same wavelength means being receptive to your kid’s point of view even when it differs with your own, and being big enough to own even your smallest mistakes.

2 | Your child’s temperament matters

Researchers from the University of Washington found that tailoring parenting styles to kid’s personalities had a significant impact on behavior.
Over a period of three years, the researchers observed how 214 kids interacted with their mothers in the home environment. They observed issues such as everyday conversations, common problems, and conflict (for instance, resistance to homework or chores). They also analyzed parenting styles and focused on issues such as warmth, negativity, autonomy granting, and guidance. Kids’ anxiety and depression levels were also measured and their personality traits identified. The kids were nine years old when the study began.
The researchers came to the following conclusions:

  • The kids’ whose mothers were warm and encouraged them to be independent had less anxiety and depression, but only if these kids had good self-control
  • The kids who had good self-control but whose parents were over-controlling and provided them with few opportunities to cultivate independence had higher levels of depression and anxiety
  • The kids who had poor self-control were less anxious when their mothers provided more structured environments and less autonomy
  • If the mothers of kids with poor self-control skills provided little control, the kids’ anxiety doubled
  • Maternal negativity increased depression among kids low in fear

As the study shows, parenting styles are more likely to have an impact on kids’ behavior if they are tailored to their personalities.

3 | Parenting is a relationship

Relationships thrive when there’s mutual respect. They thrive when all concerned parties feel appreciated and heard. How we treat our kids speaks volumes about how we view our relationship with them.
Much evidence suggests that adopting a positive discipline approach improves kids’ well-being and behavior and also strengthens the parent-child bond. Positive and intentional parenting approaches can enable parents to use discipline techniques without negatively affecting kid’s development outcomes.

4 | Don’t forget that emotions are a big deal

It is now widely accepted that kids’ inability to manage their emotions explains much of their “misbehavior.” Indeed, much like adults, kids find it hard to communicate about complex issues. When you use age-appropriate strategies to help your kid identify his emotions, you help cultivate his emotional intelligence. You teach her that it is normal and okay to have emotions, but also that each and every one of us can learn to control our emotions. Evidence suggests that kids who have learned to regulate their emotions have lower levels of depression and anxiety.

5 | Need for professional help

In the study cited above, the researchers from the University of Washington found that kids’ temperament may render them vulnerable to certain behavioral problems, regardless of parenting. In other words, despite your best intentions, you might be unable to help your kid. When you lack the necessary skills and resources to help, turning to a skilled professional can help both you and your kid get over difficult moments. Remember that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

10 Rules for Sharing Every Sibling Should Know

What if you erased everything you’ve taught your kids about sharing and started fresh? What rules or guidelines would you put in place?

“I feel like I need two of everything,” you lament to a friend as your kids argue in the living room.
“It wouldn’t matter. Even if I had two of everything, they would still find something to fight over,” your friend replies.
Sighing, you sip your coffee, close your eyes, and try to ignore the noise.
What if you erased everything you’ve taught your kids about sharing and started fresh? What rules or guidelines would you put in place?

10 sharing rules every sibling should know

Rather than thinking of this list as a cumbersome list of expectations, see it as a starting point. An opportunity to look at the concept of sharing from a different perspective.

1 | Sharing is a choice

Start by setting the expectation that no one is forced to share. Forcing kids to share often leads to resentment and bitterness. Instead, encourage kindness and empathy by modeling the behavior you want to see. Use respect and patience as you guide your kids through the ups and downs of sharing.

2 | Give them the words

Kids need to learn how to ask to use something, how to respectfully join a game, how to politely refuse to share, how to ask for more time with a toy, etc. Slow down the conversation and give your kids time to learn and practice these phrases before expecting them to do them well.

3 | Define the word “mine”

When kids claim something is “mine!” they may actually be trying to say “I’m using this right now” or “I’d like to use it soon” or “I’m worried you’re going to break it.” Rather than getting into a power struggle over the true owner, help your child use different language to express their feelings and find a solution.

4 | Taking turns takes practice

Kids need to know that there are a lot of options when it comes to taking turns. As they build their toolbox full of ideas, they can brainstorm together to find the best method. Using a timer, setting a schedule, counting jumps on a trampoline, or giving the blue crayon when they’re done coloring the sky are all solutions to explore.

5 | Special toys need a special place

Allow each child to have a few toys, games, or objects that they do not have to share or that they can choose to share with certain people, at their discretion. Make sure each child has a safe place to store these objects so other children do not disturb them or play with them without permission.

6 | Trading can keep the peace

From the outside, trading may look like a shady business deal, but it is also a savvy social skill that kids can use to navigate play dates and friendships. Offering a different toy, packaging a few toys (and three stickers), or allowing their sibling to play with a normally off-limits toy may be a great way to play peacefully together.

7 | Long turns are acceptable

Rather than setting a random “time’s up” rule, create a common household language to give kids the option of using a toy for an extended amount of time. If someone asks for the toy, the child can say “I’m having a long turn.” Then, they can explain when the long turn will be up – the next morning, after lunch, etc.

8 | New toys get priority

Birthday gifts or other presents get special priority over the everyday toys and games. While some kids may willingly share their new toys, other kids may be more protective. Rather than forcing them to share right away, give them the opportunity enjoy the excitement of having something new.

9 | Big feelings are okay

There will be times when a sibling says “no” to a request to join a game, or when someone else is having a long turn with a toy. Let your child know that it’s okay to be upset. Empathize with these feelings. Explore ways to manage disappointment or sadness. Talk about what they can do while they wait for a turn.

10 | You can ask for help

Sometimes, the situation is too intense or complicated for kids to come to a peaceful conclusion. Let your kids know that they can come to you when they are stuck. Your role is to listen and facilitate conversation between the siblings, rather than pick a side or create a solution.

Putting the sharing rules into practice

This list may look overwhelming at first. Don’t panic. You don’t have to do a complete overhaul of your family’s sharing rules overnight. Look through the list and pick one or two that you would like to focus on first. Or, sit down with your kids and get their feedback.
The goal is not to have a rigid set of “rules” but a way to change the atmosphere around sharing in your home.
To introduce respectful communication, problem-solving, and empathy into the mix.
And … to avoid buying two (or three, or four!) of everything.

It’s not too late

Maybe you’re thinking “Well, it’s hopeless. My kids are too old to learn these skills.”
Or “I wish they were fighting over toys. We’ve moved on to bigger – and more difficult things to share – like iPads and game systems.”
You’re right, the older your kids get, the more complex sibling rivalry can become. But older kids are able to engage in discussions, think critically through challenging situations and be a part of the solution.
So, take the rules above and adapt them to fit your children’s age or developmental stage. Open up the conversation and see what insight they can bring to the table.
You may be pleasantly surprised with the results.
This article was originally published on Imperfect Families.

What You Can Do When Your Kid Prefers One Parent Over the Other

Though it’s not uncommon for children to prefer one parent over the other, it totally stings. Here’s what you can do to make it through.

“No! I want daddy to do it!”
Your three-year-old has wedged himself between the bed and the dresser and refuses to let you help him get dressed.
“Daddy’s at work right now. Mommy’s here! I can help you.”
You attempt to get closer and his little hands push you away.
The hurt inside you grows. “What makes dad so special? I’m here with you all day. And this is the thanks I get?” you think to yourself.
What are you supposed to do?
It’s not uncommon for children to prefer one parent over the other.
Sometimes this is due to a change in the parenting roles: a move, a new job, bedrest, separation. During these transitions, parents may shift who does bedtime, who gets breakfast, or who is in charge of daycare pickup.
Sometimes, a preference comes around the birth of a sibling. One parent cares more for the infant, while the other parent spends more time with the older children.
And sometimes, it’s just because daddy does better bathtimes. Or mommy tells better bedtime stories.
Regardless of the reason, being rejected by your child hurts.
Thankfully, there are things you can do to survive this difficult stage.

Tips for the “non-preferred” parent

Manage your own feelings

It’s okay to feel a variety of feelings when your child pushes you away. And, it’s okay to tell your child how you’re feeling (“I feel sad then you tell me to ‘get away!’”). But keep the big tears, angry thoughts, and hurt feelings to yourself and fellow adults, rather than sharing them with your child.

Build connection

If the relationship between you and your child is strained, take time to work on strengthening your bond. Spend quality one-on-one time with your child on a daily basis. Join your child in activities they enjoy. Or create “special” activities that are just for the two of you.

Empathize with the struggle

There will be times when the other parent is not available to come to your child’s rescue. In these moments, start by empathizing with their big feelings. Then, set a boundary. “I know you wish daddy could help you. It’s hard when he’s at work and mommy has to help you get dressed instead.”

Look for tips

As hard as it may be to admit, there may be something to learn from the “preferred parent.” Maybe the songs dad sings during bath time take the anxiety out of hair washing. Or the little game mom plays gets him moving in the morning. Stay true to yourself, and see if you can incorporate some of these tips into your parenting too.

Positive self talk

It’s easy to get down in the dumps or to start doubting your parenting when your child prefers another caregiver. Remind yourself that this is a stage, that you are the parent your child needs, and that your worth is not defined by your child’s positive response. If you can’t shake the negative feelings, seek support from a mental health professional or a parent coach.

What if you’re the “preferred” parent?

It’s hard to be pushed away by your child, but being the preferred parent can lead to feelings of helplessness, confused, and torn between two people.
Here are some tips for you:

Support the “non-preferred” parent

It’s easy to jump in and “save the day” when your child is calling for you. Instead of swooping in, encourage your child’s dependence on the other parent. You can stand close by, respond with empathy, and remind your child that he is loved by so many people, including the “non-preferred” parent.

Talk about “same” and “different”

When you are alone with your child, emphasize things that make each parent unique. Brag on the other parent’s strengths. Point out things that you both do well. Or, have your child list a few things she loves about both parents.

Be aware of hurt feelings

Keep in mind that the other parent may be struggling with your close relationship. Even though your child’s preference may make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, the other parent may be feeling jealous, frustrated, or hurt. Put your pride aside and give them time and space to talk openly about their feelings. (Remember, the tables may be turned in the future!)
Thankfully, your child is growing and maturing.
With time, they will move past this preference and realize that it’s possible to love both parents in unique ways.
Until then, take a deep breath, find some inner strength as you are passed over for hugs and kisses, and silently smile when the other parent is called in to change a messy diaper.
This article was originally published on Imperfect Families.

7 Kid Requests You Should Agree To in the Name of Autonomy and Independence

What are the costs and benefits of saying “yes” to these 7 common kid requests?

Last Sunday, my three-year old, recently liberated from the Costco shopping cart, took off running down the aisle.
My first instinct was to yell at him to stop running. Until I saw him peeking through the shelves of the next aisle over, beaming at me from between giant cans of tomato sauce.
What if I just said “yes”?
The aisles of grocery stores are made for running and sliding. Why wouldn’t I want my kid to get a little exercise while I shopped? We just had to set some ground rules. Wait for the aisle to be empty. Pick an object to run to. Run back to me.
Important lesson learned: Whatever your kid is asking, there is almost always a way to say “yes.”
There are a lot of lists of ways to say “yes” while actually saying “no,” or “not now,” or “when you’re much older.” These are of course necessary parenting survival skills. But in this list, there’s no redirection or deferring. You’re really going to let the kid eat chips for dinner, or cut her hair, or stay up late. This piece covers the costs and benefits of saying “yes” to 7 common kid requests, as well as what you’re really giving permission to with each “yes.”

1 | “Can I go outside without a coat?”

This question is one of an entire category of requests that parents say “no” to in order to spare kids from pain or discomfort. You can’t wear pants because it’s 90 degrees outside. You shouldn’t wear last year’s Halloween costume because it’s too tight. You should eat that right now so that you won’t be hungry later.
Kids are early students of cause and effect. At just eight months, they realize that their actions create effects (for example, shaking a rattle makes noise). At three years of age, kids can make and test their own predictions.
So your kid does not need to you to warn him about the discomfort of not wearing a coat. He can predict and test it for himself. And you can stand by the door and let him come back inside as soon as he realizes it’s too cold.

2 | “Can I wear this to school?”

Children are physically capable of dressing themselves between ages three and four, although they may need a little help with socks and zippers. While a child is learning to use the bathroom, a good general rule is that if he can take it off easily, he can wear it.
But parents often squabble over clashing patterns, princess dresses, and other items we don’t want to let our kids wear to school. When we tell preschoolers they can’t wear pajama pants or mismatched socks to preschool, we’re worried about how others might judge our parenting. But we do this at the expense of our kids’ self-expression. Why not let them power clash stripes and polka dots and let them enjoy being kids?
As children age, parents’ wardrobe worries shift. When we tell first grade boys they can’t wear dresses, we’re worried that they will be teased. When we tell eighth-grade girls they can’t wear midriffs, we’re worried about how they’ll be treated, either by their peers or school officials. In both cases, there’s still no reason to police our children’s fashion choices, because it’s now their job to consider the benefits and consequences of their own choices.

3 | “Can I get my hair cut?

Hair grows back. There’s no good reason to say no to this request. And yet, many parents and children suffer through nighttime detangling sessions because parents don’t want to say yes to haircuts.
This question is really a philosophical one for parents. What have you invested in your child’s hair? Do you view your child as your mini-me, a tiny version of your idealized self? Do you love watching the swish of her ponytail on the playground? Do you bask in the compliments his curls get from strangers?
You may have spent years hoping that hair would finally grow in. But it’s not your hair. It’s your child’s hair, and in “allowing” the cut, you’re reinforcing your child’s bodily autonomy.

4 | “Can we eat chips for dinner?”

We say “no” to chips because they’re unhealthy. But you can honor this request while sticking to your family’s rule of making only one (reasonably healthy) meal.
Tell your kids that yes, they can eat chips for dinner if they also make a fresh salsa taste test. Hand them tomatoes, peaches, mangoes, black beans, onions, tomatillos, garlic, and bunches of herbs. Better yet, get them to shop with you for those items. Then, review lessons about knife safety and let them start chopping.
If they want a blind test, pull out the blender so they don’t get clues from the texture. They get practice with knife skills and blenders and creative table setting.
KJ Dell’Antonia and Margaux Laskey of the New York Times argue that “children who cook become children who taste, and sometimes eat.” Early cooking also gives children more knowledge about healthy eating, a “can do” attitude, and closer relationships with other generations.
In this specific case, you’ve also allowed them some whimsy – chips for dinner! – while also eating reasonably healthy. Look at that ingredient list. It’s salad. The kids just happily made salad for dinner.

5 | “Can I decorate my room?”

You may have spent nine months or more pinning, planning, and decorating the perfect nursery. So when your kid asks if he can have that Lego Batman poster, you reflexively say “no.”
Gabrielle Blair’s endlessly creative blog Design Mom is a great resource for parents who don’t want to sacrifice good design once they have children. What you’re saying “yes” to when you let their kids decorate their rooms is not wall-to-wall Frozen paraphernalia. (Blair has a strict “No character” policy in her own home.) Instead, you’re saying “yes” to your kids’ interests.
Blair advises that parents handle kids’ decorating requests like more like designers. Designers take their clients’ interests in mind and come up with possibilities that the clients may never have thought of. You can do the same thing, making a list with your child about ideas for the room and then guide your child’s choices with a limited set of wallpaper designs, paint colors, and light fixtures to choose from.
If you take this route, though, you need to be prepared to go multiple rounds with your kid clients, just as a real designer would. Your job isn’t to choose decorations for your child’s room, but to help your child develop a space that reflects her interests.

6 | “Can I stay up late?”

If we acknowledge that our children are increasingly autonomous humans who can understand the consequences of their actions, we need to start saying “yes” to a lot more requests, even when we don’t want to.
Children’s bedtimes are often non-negotiable, with countless parenting sources stressing the need for a regimented sleep schedule. One potential consequence of such rigid adherence to the sleep schedule is that children don’t get to experience the consequences – both good and bad – of staying up late.
Without an occasional lapse in bedtime, it’s hard for kids to understand exactly why they have bedtimes in the first place. Without actual experience, kids tend to hear “bedtime” as “because I said so,” no matter how thoroughly we articulate the consequences of missed sleep. Better to just let them miss sleep and suffer the consequences.
Parents do a quick cost-benefit analysis every time we decide whether to binge-watch Netflix’s latest offering instead of going to bed. Why not occasionally extend this kind of decision-making to our children, too?

7 | “Can I touch that?”

Questions about how to decorate a room or when to go to bed fall to parents because these are our homes, and we are the ultimate decision-makers about what happens in them. But for some of the questions our children put to us, we do not have the final authority over the consequences.
At the toy store, your kid walks over to something shiny and slowly moves his hand toward it while cocking an eyebrow in your direction. You shout out “don’t touch!” But what if you didn’t? What if you let your kid touch it? What lessons might he learn?
If he picks up the toy, carefully inspects it, and places it back on the shelf, he’s learned a browsing technique that most adult humans use daily. If he picks up the toy and drops it, he will learn that it if you break it, you buy it. If he picks up the toy and dashes out of the store with it, he’ll learn the embarrassing consequences of shoplifting. In all of these cases, your child learns that in some situations, you are not the ultimate authority figure.
Imagine if you took this approach at museums, too. What if you said “yes” to touching the statue? Your child would quickly learn, through an alarm or docent scolding, that his actions have consequences. This is not to argue that we should let children destroy the world’s masterpieces. But we can teach our children that our permission isn’t always enough. We can teach them that we are not the ultimate authority figures, that different spaces come with different rules. If only the same policy worked on the adults who behave badly at museums.

“Can” versus “May”

Eagle-eyed parents may have noticed that grammatically, these questions should be phrased as “may,” because that’s the word we teach children to use when seeking permission.
But these questions are intentionally “can”ned.
First, your children can do all of the things on this list, and have probably been capable of each item for longer than you realize.
Second, although your children are asking permission, in these cases permission is not yours to give. In saying “yes” to these questions, we’re not giving permission. We’re acknowledging our kids’ bodily autonomy and growing independence.

How to Turn Mundane Chores Into Mindful Moments for Our Kids

We can make chores a special experience for our kids by incorporating mindfulness into the tasks that might otherwise seem repetitive or boring.

We could all use a little bit of help around the house, right? It seems that children these days are too busy with homework, after school activities, and electronics to do any chores. In fact, unlike prior generations, most American parents today do not believe that their children should have to be responsible for household chores. According to a survey by Braun Research in 2014, 82 percent of adults polled said they had regular chores when they were growing up, but only 28 percent asked their children to do any. This is unfortunate because when children help out with such tasks, the entire family benefits. Parents are less irritated and stressed when we have some of our responsibilities lifted, and our children thrive in so many ways.
When children take on tasks such as making their bed or setting the table they feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. Encouraging children to participate in regular, age-appropriate chores has been associated with social, emotional, and academic benefits that help them succeed throughout life. Studies show that children who start doing chores as early as three years old become more self-sufficient, independent, confident, and responsible. Chores also give kids a chance to learn how things work around the house and create many opportunities for family bonding.
When it comes to identifying the benefits of children taking on chores, Marty Rossmann of the University of Mississippi is often quoted for her work in this area. After analyzing over 25 years of data, she determined that children who started doing chores beginning at age three or four were more likely to be well-adjusted, have better relationships with friends and family, and be more successful in their careers. In addition, the chores taught children about the importance of contributing to their family and developed their sense of empathy as adults.
Rossmann also discovered that the way in which chores are presented can impact a child’s ability to become a well-adjusted adult. She recommends the following tips: tasks should not be too overwhelming, parents should present chores in a way that fits their child’s preferred learning style, and children should help choose which chores they do through family meetings and a weekly chore chart. She does not think a financial allowance is a good idea, but this is a controversial topic with many perspectives that parents can explore. Finally, the earlier parents begin getting children to take an active role in helping out at home, the easier it will be to get them involved as they get older.

Add mindfulness

Another way that we can make chores a special experience for our kids is to incorporate mindfulness into the tasks that might otherwise seem repetitive or boring. Mindfulness has become a hot topic in recent years, with science demonstrating how being mindful can improve our lives. Mindfulness is the act of focusing on the moment at hand in a non-judgmental way. Study after study indicate how mindfulness improves our health because it relaxes us and reduces stress and anxiety. It allows us to quiet the endless distracting chatter of our mind so we can focus on the current moment. Furthermore, when we experience mindfulness, we connect with our inner thoughts and feelings so we can make calm, positive decisions.
Many experts suggest that we add mindfulness into everyday tasks, so what better way to show your kids how to get their mindfulness on than during some simple household chores? Mindful chores will help bring focus, attention, and sensory exploration to basic tasks like washing the dishes. Interestingly, research published in Mindfulness Magazine in 2015 found that dishwashers who looked at their task in a mindful way showed more positive attributes (e.g., inspiration) and less negative attributes (e.g., anxiety).
Essentially, we can show our kids how to use the time spent doing chores as a mini meditative session to promote mindfulness. The key is for them to focus on what they are doing and to notice all the sensations and feelings they experience. Make it into a fun “noticing game” for them.
Here are some questions to train them to ask themselves while working on their chores:

  • What colors do you see?
  • How does what you are doing feel? Does it feel soft or hard, wet or dry, smooth or rough?
  • What do you smell? Do you like the smell?
  • What sounds do you hear?
  • How does this activity make you feel? Happy, sad, frustrated, excited, proud?
  • What thoughts are you having while you complete the task?

Start simple

Your children will be ready to take on certain types of chores depending on their age. Start simple with something pertaining to their own personal care like brushing teeth. Instead of fighting you, they will now have an activity to focus their attention. In order for your children to really experience mindful teeth brushing, they should slow down and not rush through this typically boring chore. Encourage them to appreciate the many sensations they feel at each step. You can guide them by asking some easy questions:

  • How does the toothbrush feel in your hand? How does it look?
  • What does it feel like to squeeze the toothpaste onto your toothbrush?
  • How does the toothpaste smell?
  • How do the bristles feel in your mouth? On your tongue, teeth, and gums?
  • What does the toothpaste taste like?
  • How does your mouth feel differently after brushing your teeth?

Anther important chore to ask your children to do is to make their bed every morning. It only takes a minute, but it can set the tone for their day because it creates a tidy and organized environment that will help them feel calm. Add some interest to this chore by asking them how the sheets and blanket feel.
The next time you ask your children to set or clear the dinner table, turn it into a mindful event for them. Ask them to focus carefully when they hold each object so they don’t drop it. Also, ask them the following questions:

  • How heavy does each cup, plate, bowl, spoon, knife, fork, and napkin feel in your hand?
  • Are the objects smooth or rough, hard or soft?
  • What sounds do you hear when you place each object on the table?
  • What colors and patterns do you see?
  • What do the plates smell like as you clear them off the table?

Other typical chores for children include folding laundry, cleaning their room and playroom, wiping down the table, light vacuuming or cleaning up with a dust buster, and taking care of pets. Each of these tasks can easily be transformed into a relaxing, introspective time with a little mindfulness magic.

6 Common Elements of Effective Discipline

Regardless of the method used, effective discipline methods share similar characteristics.

One of the greatest differences between discipline and punishment is that discipline helps kids learn about appropriate behavior and helps kids improve their self-control. Punishment does not.
There is still much controversy about the most effective way to discipline kids. Although science has attempted to highlight harmful discipline approaches and to provide some clues as to the most appropriate discipline strategies, it is still impossible to conclusively establish how disciplinary methods affect kids over the short- and long-term.
What we know, however, is that regardless of the method used, effective discipline methods share similar characteristics. According to the Paediatrics & Child Health journal, effective disciplinary methods have six common characteristics.
The six characteristics of effective disciplinary methods:

1 | Must be given by an adult with an affective bond to the child

Discipline is most effective when it occurs in a warm and loving environment. When we look our kids in the eye or touch them as we explain the consequences of their behavior, they are less likely to view discipline as unfair punishment.
Creative an affective bond also means being ready to listen to your kid’s opinion, even when you know that this will not change your final decision. It also means knowing when and how to negotiate.
Speaking in anger can lead to verbal abuse which can be detrimental to kids’ well-being. Being angry at your kid’s behavior is normal, but you can control how you react to that behavior. There is evidence that misbehavior can be reduced if we take kids’ emotions into account, but we have to learn to manage our own emotions first.

2 | Consistent and close to the behavior needing change

Discipline is about changing specific inappropriate behavior. It loses meaning when we “discipline” kids for everything.
Discipline is most effective when it targets specific behavior and is applied consistently only for that behavior. In other words, choosing one or two behaviors and focusing only on those until the desired behavior is achieved is likely to be more effective than trying to deal with everything you perceive as misbehavior. Once the targeted behavior is achieved, you can move on to other inappropriate behaviors.
There is also a consensus that discipline is most effective when consequences are applied as soon as the inappropriate behavior is observed.

3 | Perceived as “fair” by the child

When your kid perceives the consequences of his actions as fair, your disciplinary method is more likely to be effective. It is important for kids to be aware of the consequences of their actions beforehand. In other words, kids should know the behavior for which there will always be consequences – hitting, biting, hurting themselves, and hurting others.
Much evidence suggests that allowing kids to participate in decision-making makes it more likely that they will respect the decisions made. Allowing kids to participate in decision-making can help them view consequences for misbehavior as “fair.” For instance, you could say something like, “You know you’re not supposed to ride your bike without your helmet on. What should we do when you ride your bike without your helmet?” Remember not to negotiate once you’ve both come to a decision about the appropriate consequences.

4 | Age-appropriate

The effectiveness of discipline strategies largely depends on your kid’s age. For instance, toddlers under two years of age rarely get verbal reasoning and need to be distracted rather than to be reasoned with. Time-out works best for two- to six-year-olds. Negotiation works better for older kids.
It is also important to distinguish between inappropriate behavior – hitting, for example – and “normal behavior,” like when your kid accidentally drops his plate on the floor or spills water on the table.

5 | Temperamentally appropriate

The same discipline strategy can work like magic with one kid and fail miserably with another. Effective discipline techniques are those that are in line with your kid’s personality and your own. Although a self-quieting space may be more appropriate for some kids, time-out may work best for others.

6 | Lead to self-discipline

The ultimate goal of discipline is not to make kids “act good” when they’re being watched.
Effective discipline is about helping kids learn to manage their behavior by themselves. An effective self-discipline strategy helps kids eliminate misbehavior and teaches them to adopt appropriate behavior. Self-discipline can only occur if the five characteristics listed above are respected.