Archive of ‘parenting’ category

What it Means to “Do the Unexpected”

On our way home from after school activities today, my kids (5 and 8) started bugging each other. You know, the typical, “Stop looking at me.” “Mom, she’s looking at me.” Followed by the other sticking out their tongue just to turn it up a notch. Sound familiar?

The thoughts racing through my head went something like, “Seriously? I really don’t have time for this. I’m exhausted. Why can’t they just get along? Enough already!”
Fortunately for all of us, I kept those thoughts to myself, but became aware of them. I then told myself they had a long day and were clearly tired. They were most likely in need of some attention and connection.

We got home, went into the house and rather than join their chaos, I took a deep breath and chose the tool of “doing the unexpected and using humor.” With an upbeat, silly tone, I said, “I see 2 exhausted kids who seem to be very in need of some LOVE!” I then grabbed them both and started kissing and hugging them. Within seconds, we were ALL laughing. Crisis averted!

We can either choose to engage in the drama or choose to connect. I find connection leads to cooperation which leads to calmer, happier parents and kids. The choice is ours – it starts with us!

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How to Enjoy Parenting

Many of us (women :)) dreamed of being a mommy one day. We spent hours as a child taking care of our dolls, bathing them, dressing them and telling them everything would be ok. We watched and copied everything our mommies did or what we hoped they would do to take care of us.

Or maybe being a mom wasn’t something that came naturally to you. Maybe you had a challenging childhood and questioned what kind of parent you would be.

Regardless, parenthood isn’t easy and to our dismay, babies don’t come with instruction manuals. So what’s a parent to do? How do we best navigate the often troubling and exhausting waters to reach the shores of balance and harmony within our families and ourselves?

As a psychotherapist and parent coach, I have spent years researching these very questions. I have found that there are no easy answers, but there are answers. The key to parental enjoyment begins with us and our willingness to look within. It begins with our willingness to pause before reacting (to our children, spouse, co-worker) and notice what is happening within our bodies and minds. In this space of pausing, we have choices and more importantly, opportunities. Namely, the opportunity to teach and guide, rather than punish and hurt.

More often than not, we react to our children (and ourselves) in a negative fashion. We are in a constant hurry, thus becoming impatient and easily annoyed. When in this state, how often have you said to yourself, “I sound just like my mother/father!”?

On the other hand, when we allow ourselves time to reflect and become aware of these patterns, a beautiful thing happens. We become present and focused.

Recall the child who lovingly took care of her doll…was she in any hurry?

To fully enjoy parenting, it’s useful to give yourself and your child the most important present of all – your PRESENCE. What does this mean and what does it look like?
To be fully present means setting aside the million things on your “to do” list to tune into your child and all that he/she is experiencing in that very moment.

Being present is more than simply listening with our ears, it’s listening with our hearts. It means appreciating the being in front of you with all his hopes, dreams and fears and ideally, without judgment.

As a first step in this process, it is crucial to accept your own imperfections and treat yourself with the loving kindness you give or hope to give to your child. Your child doesn’t want you to be perfect.  Rather, she wants you to accept yourself so that you can then accept her and all of her imperfections. When we accept ourselves and are willing to make mistakes, we teach our children that mistakes are how we learn, grow and evolve. Our children are little sponges picking up on every detail of our communication, both verbal and nonverbal. Think about what message you want to send your child about self-esteem and self-acceptance. Model the very behavior you hope to instill in your child. Become aware of your own negative self-talk and the toll it takes on your mind and body. Think about what you would say to a friend…if you wouldn’t say it to a friend, I would suggest you stop saying it to yourself.

When children misbehave, as they all do, they are doing so as a result of big, difficult to understand emotions and to get their needs met. Every human has basic needs, physical and emotional. These include the need to feel respected, loved, valued, understood, a sense of belonging and a sense of security.

All misbehavior is a communication and a misbehaving child is a discouraged child. When a child acts out, he’s telling us he needs our help.

If parenting has become taxing for you because you have a misbehaving or challenging child, you are not alone and there are steps you can take to restore your equilibrium and relationship with your child. Here are just a few examples:

 

  • Remember to pause before parenting. Take a break, walk away, BREATHE and center yourself before reacting to your child. Think about the needs of your child and what need she is trying to have met. Be curious and ask questions, rather than lecture. You’ll be surprised at the answers.
  • Act as an “emotion coach.” Use empathy to help your child understand what he is feeling. This meets your child’s need to feel understood and valued. When you address the underlying reasons for the behavior, rather than the behavior itself, you’ll see a change in your child. For example, with back talk, “You must feel really angry to be speaking to me that way. What’s going on? Let’s talk about it.” Later, when you’re both calm, review with your child how he can better handle the situation next time.
  • Ask for the behavior you want. Children receive thousands of negative commands every day. “Don’t jump on the bed.” “No hitting.” “Don’t do that.” It helps to give a child directions they can successfully follow. A child feels loved and capable when she can do what you’re asking her to do. Tell the child the behavior you want to see vs. the behavior you want them to stop. For example, “The couch is for sitting.” “Keep your feet on the floor/hands to yourself “ etc.
  • Offer appropriate choices. Children have a need to feel powerful and in control. By offering choices, you meet that need and reduce the possibility of a power struggle. For example, “Would you like the red cup or the blue cup?”; “Would you like to hop to the car or skip?”
  • Create “special time.” When your child is misbehaving, he’s sending the message that he feels disconnected from you. Carving out time in your day where your child can have 100% of your attention and he directs the play or how you spend the time can work wonders for your relationship. When your child acts out, it’s as though he’s saying, “my tank is empty.” Quality, uninterrupted time with your child (even 15 minutes a day) helps to refuel your child and your connection.
  • Teach your child to breathe and ask for what he/she wants. For young children, you can ask them hold up both hands. Have them pretend there is a flower in one hand and a candle in the other. Show them how to “smell the flower and blow out the candle.” Helping a child to manage her emotions by first learning how to calm down is an invaluable life skill. Once a child is calm, she can then ask for what she wants and/or needs. You can also teach your child to ask for attention versus acting out for attention. Offer hugs and teach your child she can ask for a hug whenever she needs one.

 To enjoy parenting is to enjoy our imperfect selves in order accept the imperfections in our children. When we take the time to slow down, breathe and be fully present within ourselves and with our children, we allow for connection – a vital human need.

 

 

 

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Tip to Prevent Power Struggles: Make Agreements Ahead of Time!

Have you ever noticed that when you ask your child to do something (such as take a bath, do homework, clean up the toys etc.) you are either met with:
a) a blank stare
b) no response
or
c) a great big “NO!”?

Yep, we’ve ALL been there!

Imagine how it would feel if someone close to you came into your space asking you to do something that really wasn’t important to you at that moment. Would you respond with a simple “Ok,” or might you feel irritated, annoyed and upset that this person wasn’t considering your needs, your agenda, your time…?

Our kids are no different. They have agendas of their own, and deserve the same respect we would expect.

So, next time, with this in mind, try making an agreement with your child in advance, kindly and respectfully – the same way you would want someone to speak to you.

Say, for example, your child’s room is a mess and you want him to pick up his toys. Sit down with your child at a calm time and begin by acknowledging how much he enjoys playing and how you love to see him so engaged with all of his fun toys. Then, kindly explain that a messy room doesn’t work for you and that you would appreciate if he could pick up his toys and put them away when he is done using them.

For example, “Sweetie, I love knowing how much you love playing with your toys. They are super fun, aren’t they? Seeing the toys everywhere doesn’t work for me as it leaves a mess and someone could trip or get hurt. So, I would really appreciate if you could please put your toys away when you are finished playing with them. Do we have an agreement?” Then, be sure to follow up with, “So, what is our agreement?” Lastly, a simple, “Thank you for your help in solving that problem…it sure helps when we can find solutions together!”

When we take the time to acknowledge that our kids have agendas of their own and make our requests in a way that demonstrates kindness and respect, we model the very behavior we want to see (respect, problem solving, kindness) and increase our chances of hearing “Ok, Mom/Dad.” when those requests are made!

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Connection Before Correction

In RCB and Positive Discipline, we discuss the idea that the challenges we have with our kids (while at times quite frustrating), actually provide us with a valuable opportunity to foster important life skills, such as kindness, confidence, respect, responsibility, decision-making, problem-solving etc.

The first step is learning to see these challenging behaviors as a communication of unmet needs and big emotions, rather than merely an act of defiance. Our kids are not out to get us – they have “off” days, just as adults do and learn best from our gentle guidance, understanding and acceptance. It’s not about letting our kids “get away with” negative behaviors; limits need to be established. Rather, it’s about understanding the way in which the brain works.

The brain is open and receptive to learning when it is not in defense mode (i.e. defending against possible punishment). So, if you want your lessons to be well-received, CONNECT with your child before you correct your child!

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The Link Between Listening and Emotional Intelligence

Parents often ask me how they can build “emotional intelligence” (otherwise known as EQ) in their children? Building EQ often begins with listening. It’s about listening to our child with an open heart VS. listening with the intention of “fixing” a “problem.”

Our job as parents is not to simply fix our children’s problems or their behaviors. Our job, rather, is to strive to understand the deeper meaning of what our child’s behavior is trying to communicate. It’s being open to the possibility that our child may be experiencing emotional pain (fear, sadness, disappointment, shame, isolation…) that is often clouded by the “misbehavior” we see before us. When we are able to slow down and really tune in, we provide our child with the most valuable gift of all, our emotional presence. Through our support and attunement, our child develops empathy for himself and eventually for others (the heart of EQ). He is then in a better position to find his own solutions.

The true key to accomplishing this begins with us. Strive to take care of yourself in order to be truly present for your family – a peaceful parent makes for a peaceful family!

Another Way to Look at “Anger” and “Frustration”

“Frustrated” or “Angry” are common go-to emotions for many kids (adults too!). Often, these emotions may, at times, be covering over other, more vulnerable feelings such as sadness, disappointment, loneliness etc. In other words, for many, especially kids, it’s easier to feel and identify anger/frustration than it is to identify and feel the more “painful” emotions noted above.

So, when you find that your child is expressing a lot of anger, BE CURIOUS. See what other more tender feelings may also be lurking beneath the surface. When parents can help their kids can get in touch with these more tender emotions, they may find the anger and frustration tend to dissipate (this also increases the connection as kids feel heard and understood).

For example, “It sounds like you’re feeling angry that your team lost the basketball game. I’m wondering if you’re ALSO feeling disappointed? I know that if my team lost, I would feel disappointed/sad too.”

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Parenting Tip: Yell Less and Play More!

Have you every noticed how deliberate young kids are? If you want to understand the true meaning of “in the moment” or “fully present,” watch your kids at play. We all know the importance of play, but how often do we really take the time to slow down and join in? In our hurry to get our kids to soccer practice, pick up the dry cleaning, make dinner, etc, we miss out on valuable opportunities to be present, to connect and simply have FUN!

So, next time you’re running late and need your kids help to get out the door on time, try singing what needs to be done. Or, take 5 minutes to put on music and just dance. Skip around the house as you gather your things.

Why yell when you can play your way through “chores?”

Let’s show our kids it’s fun to be an adult and that not everything has to be so serious!

Wishing you a joyful day!

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Parent Q and A: Help for “I Can’t”

I receive many questions from parents and will, from time to time, feature these on my blog.  Here is a question that came in from a Mom who was seeking help for the frequent “I cant’s” she was hearing… 

Help for “I Can’t”

Question: My 2 ½ year old is always saying, “I can’t” when it comes to doing things I believe he’s able to do. I’m feeling so frustrated by this and wonder what I can do to help him (and me!)? I’m also worried about his self-confidence!

Answer: The “I can’t” stage is a tough one. Parents often feel torn about how to handle these two words. Some parents feel that they should step right in and help because it is their parental duty. Others feel that those two words are unacceptable and that their child must at least “try.”

The optimal way to handle this stage lies somewhere in between these two extremes.

First and foremost, being aware of our own feelings about the statement “I can’t,” can be useful in understanding and mitigating our reactions. For example, if your own parents didn’t have much tolerance for these words, you may have less patience when you hear them from your child. Rather than react with impatience, it can be helpful to recognize that these words are simply a communication of discouragement.

Here are 6 tips you can try to help move your child from “I can’t” to “I’m capable”:

1) Be sure your child is not overscheduled and do your best to ensure proper nap and bedtimes. – Young children can become easily overwhelmed, especially when they are tired. Whether they’ve had a long day at daycare/preschool or are simply feeling over stimulated, tired kids are simply less motivated to take on a regular or new task. In other words, they’re not trying to be difficult, they merely may not have the energy needed for the task at hand. I’ve seen many families where this phrase was used as the child’s way of telling the parents to “slow down.”

If you find that your child is having a hard time because he is tired, offer help. “I see you’re working so hard on that puzzle and the piece isn’t going in as you’d like. Would you like some help with that?”

2) Be aware of how much you may be stepping in/taking over. – It is normal and natural to want to step in and help your child, especially when you see he’s having a hard time. When we step in and take over too often, however, we inadvertently send our child the message that he’s not capable. Assuming you have taken the time to teach and model the skill he’s having difficulty with, avoid rushing in to fix or do the task for him. Instead, allow your child the space to try and let him know you are there if he needs you. Allowing our kids to struggle a bit, helps build their resilience and confidence muscles.

3) Validate feelings and brainstorm solutions. – When we validate, we empower. A child who feels heard and understood gains confidence in his abilities and will be more likely to “try.” For example, “Sweetie, I can see you are having a hard time getting your shoe on. It can be frustrating when it doesn’t go on as easy as you’d like. What do you think you could do to help that shoe get on that cute foot of yours?”

4) Use humor. – Getting silly is one way to engage your child and move him out of the “I can’t” stance, especially if he’s been able to do the very thing he’s saying he’s unable to do. For example, “Come here you Mr. I can’t get my shoe on! I’m going to get that foot! I wonder if you can protect that foot with your shoe? Here I come!!” We all know how much children love to play. By acting silly and getting the child laughing in this way, we help release some of the pent up emotions that are hijacking the more logical/rational part of his brain (the prefrontal cortex).

5) Regularly notice the efforts your child is making. – “Look at you working so hard on that puzzle.” “You’re really concentrating on building that tower.” Recognize the process and the journey, not just the end result. Research has shown that children who are encouraged for their efforts are more likely to stick with a task and take on a more challenging task in the future.

6) Break task into smaller steps and/or allow your child to take a break– If you see your child’s frustration level rising, slow down and break the task into smaller steps. “I can see this is getting frustrating. I would feel frustrated too. Let’s see if we can try this one step at a time.” You can also try offering a break. “I see you’ve been working on that tower for a while and it keeps tipping over. That can be frustrating. Would you like to take a break and help me in the kitchen? We can try building again in a few minutes.”

Sometimes our kids just need a little extra support and attention to help them through their challenging moments. When we are able to view “I can’t” as a communication of a need (in this case, a need for encouragement), we offer our child what he deserves most –  our understanding and acceptance.

 

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5 Modern Alternatives to Traditional Time-Outs

As parents, we’re all quite familiar with the term “time-out.”  It’s often the first line of defense against a strong-willed, tantrum-ridden child.  But is time-out all that it’s cracked up to be?  Does it really stop a child from repeating whatever troublesome behavior is happening?

A time-out may stop the behavior in the moment, but it’s often short lived.  Many parents find themselves using time-outs so often and wonder why their kids are still misbehaving.  Let’s look at why this is as well as alternatives we can use to redirect misbehavior while maintaining our connection to our children.

Time-outs are traditionally used by parents to stop a child’s negative behavior.   More often than not, a time-out typically sounds something like, “Johnny, that’s it!  No more hitting!  You’re going to TIME-OUT!”  And off to his designated chair, corner, step or room Johnny goes, often by himself.  If he’s 2, he’ll be told to stay there for 2 minutes.  If he’s 3, he’s to stay there for 3 minutes and so on.

What we know is that when a time-out is used in this punitive way, it is largely ineffective.  Why?  For starters, it is helpful to understand brain development. Children at these young ages have underdeveloped prefrontal cortexes.  The prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain that is responsible for logical thinking and reasoning.  It is also responsible for regulating emotions and controlling social behavior. This area of the brain isn’t said to be fully developed until early adulthood!

Thus, two, three and four year olds (the most popular ages for which time out is being used) do not have the logical reasoning ability to go off and “think about” what they’ve done and are not yet able to control their emotions in the way we might expect.  Even older children have difficulty processing their emotions and need our assistance. Thus, it’s unrealistic to believe that our child is up in his/her room or corner thinking, “Gosh, I really messed up that situation.  Next time I’ll be sure to use my words instead of throwing a shoe at my sister.”  Instead, the child is most likely thinking, “My mommy/daddy is so mean.  They don’t understand.  It’s not fair.  I’ll show them!” And younger children are most likely thinking, “This is scary. I’m going to run out of here and find my mommy/daddy FAST!”

Young children have BIG feelings and when upset, these big feelings can be terrifying to them. When we use time-outs in the way described above, we’re leaving our children alone at the very times they need us the most.  When our child is misbehaving, she is trying to communicate with us.  She is attempting to show and tell us how discouraged she is.  Children experience stress just as adults do.  This is not to say that we are going to ignore the misbehavior.  Rather, we are going to address the behavior at a time when everyone is calm, being both kind and firm in our approach.  It is helpful to shift from a mindset of imposing punishment or consequences to one where we search for solutions to the “problem” at hand.  Doing this with our child is how we model healthy conflict resolution. Teachable moments and learning are futile when tempers are flared.

So how can we help our children get their behavior back on track in a more positive way?  Here are 5 alternatives to time-outs:

1.) Check in with yourself to see if it’s really you that could benefit from a time-out.  If you find that your emotions are flaring up in response to your child’s negative behavior, first, assure that your child (and any other involved parties) are safe and then give yourself a time-out to engage your own prefrontal cortex.  Go into the next room.  Pause.  Breathe. Count to ten and center yourself before reacting to your child.  Role model the very behavior you would like to see from your child.

2.) Create a self-calming space with your child (best for kids 2 ½ and older). When everyone is calm, discuss the idea of a “cool down space” that your child can use when he is upset.  Just as adults need positive outlets when stressed (i.e. exercise, calling a friend, deep breathing), our children greatly benefit from this as well. Explain to your child that you would like to help him come up with his very own space that he can go to when he’s feeling angry, sad or upset.  Choose the location of the space.  Give it a name (“Joey’s cool down spot”). Stock it with calming objects – books, stuffed animals, pillows, blankets etc.  When your child gets upset, assess the situation and remind him of the special place he created.  You can offer to go with him if he’d like.  The goal is to teach your child how to self-soothe and take care of himself when upset, rather than lash out at you or someone else.  It is important to teach our children how to calm down before we can ask them to do so on their own.

3.) Distract, redirect and assess the child’s needs.  Sometimes a simple distraction or redirection is all that is needed to address the situation.  This works especially well with those 2 1/2 and younger.  Rather than engaging in a power struggle, kindly and firmly state your limit and then change the environment.  Suggest a new activity – head outside, put on music and have a dance party, run around, be playful. In addition, assess whether your child might be tired, hungry, in need of a diaper change or coming down with an illness and address those needs as soon as possible.

4.) Be kind and firm at the same time.  As Jane Nelsen, author of Positive Discipline states, “Where did we ever get the crazy idea that in order for children to do better, we first have to make them feel worse? Children do better when they feel better.” It is important to set limits with our children.  Being kind and firm at the same time is about respect.  We’re kind out of respect to our child and her needs and firm out of respect for ourselves and the limits we are trying to establish.  Adopting this mindset (vs. a more authoritarian one) allows us to maintain our connection with our child.  The goal is to gain cooperation; the goal is not to win.  (An example of being kind and firm if your child is hitting:  “I love you and it’s not ok to hit.  Hitting hurts.  This is how we use gentle hands.”)

5.) Use reflective listening and search for solutions.  Empathize with your child; try to understand where he is coming from; once you understand his position, invite cooperation by asking him ideas of possible solutions. For example, “You really want to play with that truck and Tommy has it right now.  It’s so hard to wait.  Do you have any ideas for how you can solve this problem?”

Research on parenting continues to demonstrate that when we focus on building a connection with our children through positive guidance and mutual respect, rather than trying to get our kids to “obey,” everyone benefits.  Parents who choose guidance over punishment have children who want to come to them (and cooperate) because their child feels a sense of belonging, significance and trust in the relationship.

Managing Mealtime Battles

Ah, mealtime.  Many parents of toddlers will say that mealtimes are the time of day they dread the most.  Whether it’s because their children can’t sit still, throw food across the room or have become more “picky” with what they’ll agree to eat, it’s certainly a topic many parents struggle with.

If mealtime has become a battleground in your home, here are some tips to keep in mind:

1.) It is the parent’s job to offer healthy food options and it is the child’s job to choose what and how much he will eat.

As difficult as it may be, this is where parents have to realize that they can’t control whether or not (or how much) their kids eat.  Many parents worry that their kids will not get the proper nutrition or will wake up hungry if they don’t eat a full meal.  Remember that kids will take in exactly what they need so long as they are being offered healthy choices.  Many pediatricians will say that it’s more important to look at how kids eat over the course of a week versus just one or two days.  Take the pressure off yourself.

To avoid a power struggle, simply (and calmly) offer healthy food items (for some kids, it can take 10 times of being exposed to a new food before a child will try it) and let your child take it from there (difficult as that may be).  Also, be sure your child is well hydrated throughout the day.  Resist the urge to beg, plead or bribe your child to eat, as that will only fuel a power struggle.

2.) Be careful of becoming a short-order cook.

If your child does not want to eat what you have prepared do not make a separate meal.  Instead, have two standard choices available such as fruit or yogurt/cheese (preferably, the fruit is handheld or pre-cut so that mealtime is not disturbed for everyone else).  As your kids get older and they do not want what is being served, they can have the option to make their own meal (peanut butter and jelly, anyone?). If necessary, you can tell your child, “I’m sorry to hear you do not like what is being served.  Your options are fruit or yogurt.  You can decide.”

3.) Don’t ban “treats” or dessert.

When we deny our kids (even ourselves) of treats, the treats end up becoming the “forbidden food,” which makes it all the more interesting, desirable and what they will want the most.  Instead, we want to promote a healthy relationship with food.  Rather than thinking in terms of “good” foods and “bad” foods, it’s important to think in terms balance, moderation and portion control. So, consider allowing a small treat during the day (say after school) or, if you prefer, with a meal or after a meal (examples include a few m&m’s, a few chocolate chips, a piece of candy. Again, the key is moderation and portion control).  Don’t feel that your kids have to finish what’s on their plate in order to have dessert. This sets up a vicious cycle where kids view dessert as the forbidden food and rush through their meals to attain it.  When treats and dessert are not seen as off limits, they lose their power.  Again, parents have control over when and how many treats their kids can have. Better yet, you can ask your child when he would like to have his treat. Once he’s had his “allowance” for the day, he’ll know he can have another treat tomorrow (and if he forgets, you can remind him). Once kids are allowed to have these special foods, their desire for more and more naturally decreases.

4.) Kids model what they see.

Make sure you have a variety of healthy options on your plate.  Model how fun it is to try new foods and how enjoyable meals can be.  Again, simply enjoy your food without putting pressure on your child to enjoy his.

5.) Try finding out what your child is willing to eat.

Sit down with your child at a time when things are calm. Enlist his help in making a list of the foods he is willing to eat and consider setting up a meal chart with him.  For example, choose a mealtime (breakfast, lunch or dinner), add the days of the week and for each day of the week, have your son choose one of the items on the list that he would like to eat (using pictures of the items can be helpful).  Getting kids involved in the creation of routines is a respectful approach that models problem-solving and decision making, while increasing the likelihood of gaining cooperation.

6.) Get kids involved in the process of cooking and meal preparation.

Our kids are always looking for ways to belong, feel significant and in control.  What better way to help meet these needs then by enlisting their help in the kitchen? Take your child to the grocery store with you.  Go to the produce area and point out all of the vibrant colors.  Pick up a vegetable and ask him what he thinks it is.  Talk about where it comes from and the amazing things that fruits and vegetables do for our bodies.  Remember, food is energy! Ask your child what he would like to help you make using the fruits and vegetables he sees.  Get out a recipe book, preferably one with pictures and give him some choices.  Not only is this a way of educating your child, but think about the bond and sense of connection you are creating in the process of choosing healthy meals and cooking together.

Above all, give your child the message that you love him unconditionally and trust that he will make healthy choices for himself, when he’s ready.  It takes two to have a power struggle, so avoid accepting the invitation by trying the above suggestions.

Bon Appetit!

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