Family Mealtime Frustration

This time of year families tend to focus on feasting. We eat to celebrate, we share a meal when we get together with family and friends, and sometimes we eat just because we are so cold!

With all of this eating happening around us, it can be troubling to have a toddler who is in the habit of refusing to eat! However, it is common during the toddler years to become more selective and opinionated about food. What can a parent do? The early childhood staff of Hopkins Public Schools would like to share some tips and ideas to help your family meal-times feel fun – not frustrated.

It is helpful to remember that toddler behavior is often erratic, so it isn’t surprising that your young child will like a food one day and decide she doesn’t like it the next. The power struggle that erupts around food is often due to the toddler’s desire to assert her independence, not because she has any real or lasting opinion about the food on the table. The more we see their whims as being permanent, the more we reinforce their selective behavior. For this reason, keep family meals as stress-free as you can manage. Don’t let your child think that her eating is more important to you than it is to her.

  • Make meal time enjoyable – sit with your child and eat with her. Your toddler loves your company, it makes every activity more enjoyable and longer lasting.
  • Allow your child to experience her food fully – even though it creates a mess. Children are sensory creatures – then need to really “get into” food to enjoy it. A mess-free meal will be a future goal, but for now the mess is leading to a joy around food.
  • Have a place and time for eating established in your routine. When it is time to eat a meal or snack, sit down at the table and make space for doing so. Allow your child to eat as much or as little as she wants. Keep meal times and snack times short to respect their natural attention span. Ten to 20 minutes is enough time to eat. If your child is dropping food or playing more than eating, then she is telling you she is finished even if it hasn’t been the full mealtime.
  • Three meals and two snacks will allow your child the opportunity to eat every 2-3 hours. Between these times, don’t offer food – only water. If your child is not eating between the scheduled times to eat, her body will naturally grow hungry and ready for the next scheduled meal.
  • If your child refuses to eat at the scheduled time, honor her assertion that she is not hungry. Children need to eat a lot less than adults to feel full. We all know how uncomfortable it is to over-eat, and children have much smaller stomachs than we do. Your child will certainly survive a skipped meal or snack –especially if you and she both know there is another eating opportunity within the next 2 hours.
  • A child may need to see or experience a food 10-20 times before he is comfortable trying it. This does not make him a picky eater – simply cautious about trying new things. This is a great strategy for young children – if they jumped into new things constantly they would be in grave danger most of the time.
  • When you serve a new food that might be challenging for your child, be sure to have something that you know your child usually likes. Then allow your child to decide when he picks up the new food. If he refuses or doesn’t seem interested the first 19 times, don’t pressure. Remember, this is very typical behavior for toddlers.
  • Parents often have an influence on their child’s eating that they don’t even realize. If you have been referring to your toddler as a “picky eater”, she will believe that is what she is. Even if your toddler is going through a phase of refusing food, avoid talking about it with her or to others as a permanent situation; it won’t be. In addition, be mindful of how you present food to your toddler. If you are making a face when serving a healthy vegetable, your daughter will understand quickly that you don’t like the food. If you don’t like it, there is no reason for her to try it!
  • The more matter of fact we can be around food during the toddler and preschool years, the less likely your toddler will be to engage in a power struggle. To be sure – every toddler will attempt to engage in a power struggle, but if his parent simply doesn’t engage then there is no “game” to play over food. The fact that he ends up hungry and waiting for the next meal only creates more of an incentive for him to get to the business of eating the next time your family sits down to the table.

Daylight Savings and Your Toddler

Sleep is rarely easy in households with very young children. Just when a pattern seems to develop and the family routine includes a longer stretch of sleep, something happens that upends our restless nights.

The one hour adjustment for Daylight Savings can make a significant difference in the sleep patterns of many young children. Their rhythms for waking and sleeping are fragile at best, and this time adjustment can be hard for them to adjust to.

The staff at Harley Hopkins wanted to offer some strategies for helping your family smooth the transition to this hourly change.

  • A week before the change, begin adjusting your child’s bedtime by 10-15 minute increments.  Every other day of the week, move her bedtime up by this small among of time. When the official change happens, her inner clock won’t sense such a big difference.
  • It can take up to a week for the change to fully be incorporated into your child’s inner rhythm. Be patient with them as they wake earlier or resist sleep in the evening.
  • If you regularly wake your child in the morning, continue to wake them at the time you normally do, according to the adjusted clock. Morning waking has an effect on night-time sleeping.
  • Have a bright, sunny, and active morning each day of the week after the daylight savings change happens. Being active in the morning helps a child to develop a sense of the flow of the day. An active morning encourages a regular pattern of active / rest /active /rest throughout the day.
  • Keep a routine throughout your day for meals, naps and activity. Feed your child at regular intervals, and have a nap or rest time at regular times. Your child will be able to count on their biological needs being attended to at regular intervals, and their body will begin to internalize the schedule.

Daylight savings time is often difficult for us all – but especially difficult for families with young children. Use these strategies to successfully navigate the change this year.

Fall Fun!

The changing seasons mean cooler temperatures, shorter days, beautiful trees and a bounty of fall activities! Fall is a perfect time to build some new traditions with your family whether it be something as simple as a nature walk to admire the fall foliage or something more involved like a trip to pick apples for a delicious homemade pie.

Traditions are a great way to build a sense of family and security in your young ones. Traditions bring meaning and purpose to family time and, as research is increasingly showing, are what help teens feel attachment to their family as they’re making their way towards independence.

This may seem like a daunting task, but forming a new tradition is simply about finding something your family enjoys and continuing to do it year after year. Inevitably what the activities look like will change from 2-year-old to 12-year-old, but the fundamental aspects remain the same: time together that you look forward to each year.

The following are some ideas to help get you started!

  • Apple Orchards. Minnesota has an amazing selection of apple orchards open in the early fall ranging from small “pick them yourself” farms to larger, more commercial farms that offer activities and food galore. Each has it’s own charm, its simply a matter of what you are in the mood for!
  • Nature Drives and Walks. Fall colors can amaze even the tiniest of passenger. Plan a family excursion to an out of the way destination, pack a picnic and take in all the beauty that surrounds you. Older toddler and preschoolers would love collecting leaves to take home and press or make sketchings of. Younger babies enjoy watching the wind blow the through the trees.
  • Embrace the Pumpkin Spice craze and do some family baking! Children love to help in the kitchen and are more compelled to try new foods if they have a hand in preparing it. Take a trip to the farmers market (or grocery store) for the “special ingredients” and work with your child to create a delicious new treat.

Think back to when you were growing up. Were there activities that you just came to expect each year? What memories stick out to you about those? What memories would you like to create for your own children?

 

 

 

Boo! Young Children and Halloween

Halloween is a time for scares, tricks, and spooky stories, right? Some young children seem ready to embrace Halloween and all the scariness that it has to offer, and some children are much more likely to hide from the ghosts and goblins. As a parent, this time of year helps you to quickly learn what your child is able to handle in terms of thrills and excitement.

Children under the age of seven still have the tendency to confuse fantasy and reality, and so the child who looks like he is enjoying a thrill may later that day become scared about what he saw.

The staff at Harley Hopkins Family Center has discussed ideas for helping you navigate the spooky stuff in a way that best meets your child’s attitude toward the holiday. Here are some of our tips:

1. Halloween really celebrates spooky, but sometimes the excitement of the holiday can be too much for our youngest children. Parents often need to advocate for their child. Control the environment and expose children only to what they are ready to handle. If a party is getting too scary,  go home. Avoid areas of the store that might have Halloween displays that are too scary. If your child sees someone in a scary mask, you could ask that person to take off the mask to confirm with your child that it is just a costume, not real.

2. Our children need us to follow their lead during this holiday. This means we respect what they are willing and able to do during Halloween. We love to see kids in costumes, and we remember our own years of joyfully running in our outlandish outfits and gathering all that candy. However, young children may not be willing to even put on a costume. This is very common for the young child because the costume itself may be uncomfortable, or the child is not comfortable “becoming” someone different—even for a day. Masks can be especially difficult for young children to tolerate, as it is extremely difficult to see behind those tiny holes designed for eyes.

If your child is uncomfortable in a costume, acknowledge that this may not be the year for a costume. Parents can help children participate by handing out candy at the door rather than dressing up to trick-or-treat.

3. Are you and your child ready for the excitement of Halloween? Practice what you will be doing that evening. Talk with your child about what to expect. Talk about the people she will see in costumes. Talk a lot about how these people are pretending. Discuss what to say at the door of the neighbor’s house—both “trick-or-treat” and “thank you!” Remind your child that they are not to have any candy until they are back at their house.

4. Remember, also, to keep your expectations realistic: go trick or treating while it is still light out or during dusk (there will be lots of fun years ahead when your child will be old enough to brave the scary dark spooky Halloween experience) and feel free to go home when your child is tired of it (they are usually satisfied with the experience after just a few houses). Lastly, be sure to dress for the weather. Halloween in Minnesota often means the costume is covered by a winter jacket, mittens, scarf, and hat. Better to be warm on Halloween night than to catch a cold that lasts a week or more!

5. Enjoy Halloween with your young child! These sweet years quickly give way to haunted houses and scary parties and nights out with friends. Enjoy as a family the celebration of Halloween as a young child needs to see it.

The staff at the Fred Rogers Company provide more information on dress up, costumes and Halloween. Learn about young children’s idea of pretend and real, and follow their lead on how they want to experience the scariest holiday of the year. This can help your whole family enjoy the spooks and tricks of the season in these early years of childhood.

Our Morning Traffic Flow

The early morning rush tends to get on everyone’s nerves! Fighting slow moving traffic, moving around obstacles that seem to just sit in your way, trying to jumpstart and then outmaneuver everyone around you is just exhausting.

For parents of most young children, this description accurately explains what goes on in your own home in the morning! Often the goals of a parent who is hoping to make it to work on time are completely opposite the goals of your young child who is hoping to just relax all morning long.

How to get everyone out the door, every day, without having to spend so much time banging on the horn?

The early childhood staff of Hopkins Schools would like to offer a roadmap for morning routines.

  • Work with your children to make a routine chart. They can draw pictures if they are young, or write out steps if they are older. Put your children in charge of following the chart – “what comes next?”
  • Do as much preparation the night before as possible: make lunches, put out clothes to wear, organize the backpacks or outerwear.
  • Speak with excitement about what you are going to do. Talk about the thing your child most loves to do where he is going.
  • Provide a simple incentive for getting ready on time: “When we finish breakfast, then we can read your favorite board book.”
  • Make getting ready fun as much as possible. Have songs you sing during certain activities like getting in the car, putting on your jacket, getting out of bed.
  • Give your child a job to do that will provide motivation for getting outside: closing the garage door, carrying the diaper bag, something they can do only when they are out the door.
  • Relax your standards for what it means to be “ready”. Your 2 or 3 year old often looks adorable in less-than-perfect outfits and bedhead hair!
  • Consider what you are modeling when you are getting yourself ready in the morning. If you are feeling rushed, anxious and tense in the mornings, then the rest of your family will as well. Consider getting up 15 minutes earlier to get yourself ready; have your own checklist to ensure you have everything you need, have a special place for important items so you don’t lose them in the morning rush. Our children are learning from what they see us doing.

Mornings are hard on most of us! Use some of these tips to keep the traffic moving in your own household.

Time Flies By—How Do You Capture It?

The beginning of the school year moves us swiftly from the lazy days of summer into a fast-track structure of running from one thing to the next.  It is also a time when many parents reflect on just how fast time flies by.  Watching our child board the bus for the first time, or dropping him off at preschool and watching him walk excitedly but nervously into the classroom for the first time, makes an impression on us.  It really wasn’t all that long ago that we were holding him over our shoulder, lulling him to sleep.

There are times when we see our kids are growing so quickly that we wish we could just capture a moment, so that we will have the memory in the future. Taking time to create family rituals can do just that. Having a ritual that allows your family to come together and do something that feels special to all helps to slow things down, and creates the memories that our children take with them into life.  One example of this is the practice many parents have of creating bedtime rituals–the events that begin to calm our child’s body and mind. The books we read, the songs we sing and the activities we have each evening are a ritual that your child can count on, and that you use to create routine and structure. Rituals like this become deeply ingrained in a child–the songs we choose to sing now to our children are likely to be the songs they sing to their children one day.

Families can often create rituals around holidays, seasons or life events.  For instance, the time around back-to-school is often a ritualized time. We as parents want to mark the beginning of each school year with something special–a picture or a meal or a family event that marks the end of one season and the beginning of the next.  We document these rituals with pictures and as we add years and years, we add pictures upon pictures marking the passage of time. As our children continue to build their identity, they begin to see that they are a part of a unit that is held together through ceremony and tradition as well as daily schedules and activities.  They being to say to themselves “We are a family that goes for a walk every Saturday morning” or “We are a family that has a special dinner on our birthdays”. When children see their family as a strong group tied together through joyful activity, they are often inclined to make the effort to preserve that connection.

The early childhood staff at Harley Hopkins Family Center discussed the ways they worked to preserve memories and mark the passing of time with their children.  We thought we would share some of our favorite family ideas with you:

WAYS TO MARK GROWTH

1) Taking pictures with a treasured object each year helps to mark time. Using the same stuffed animal, or the same backpack, or something meaningful to you year after year shows the growth of your child. Each year the object miraculously gets smaller and smaller!

2) Every birthday mark the height of your child on the wall, or the door frame, or a special poster designed for the purpose.

3) Each birthday take a picture with your child holding a sign that says “I am 3 (or the age that your child is that year).

RITUALS AROUND THE SCHOOL YEAR

1) On the first day of kindergarten, (or any first day of school–or last day of school for that matter!) have a special outing with just that child to honor the day. The first and last days of school tend to be great days to go to the kid friendly places that are usually packed, because on these special days of school they are usually ghost towns!

2) On the week before school, have a crazy dinner day to celebrate that summer is ending and school is beginning. One of our staff has an “Ice Cream for Dinner Day!”

SEASONAL RITUALS

1) In the summer, one of our staff remembers having her Friday nights be “Stay up til ya drop night!”. This was the evening that the kids could stay up as long as they lasted.  Gratefully, the kids lasted usually until about 8:00 each time. But they felt as though they had made it into the deepest part of night!

2) Families on staff have spent year after year going apple picking in the fall, strawberry picking in the early summer or raspberry picking in the later summer. These seasonal experiences helped shepherd the new season in, and created a better knowledge for the kids of how their favorite foods grew throughout the year.

3) One family we know of kept her Christmas tree in the back yard throughout the winter and spring. The first day of summer was marked by a bonfire in the back yard with the Christmas tree.

4) Grow a sunflower throughout the summer. By the end of August the plant is tall and impressive, and taking a picture beside the large flower every year shows just how much a child has grown.

5) Summer time for older families can involve movie marathons. One member of staff has her kids pick a movie title out of a hat and then the family watches that series of movies over the Labor Day weekend. Her family does the same thing over the Memorial Day weekend. This marks the beginning as well as the end of summer.

6) On the coldest day in winter one staff member takes her child out to ice cream.

OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW

1) Throughout the school year our students tend to collect lots and lots of art, examples of work, and precious treasures. One way to keep all the items, without having to actually keep them, is to take a picture once a month of everything hanging on the fridge, or wherever it is kept. Then keep the most important pieces, and let the others go.

2) During the start of the new school year, one staff member asked her child to go through last school year’s paperwork. After the summer, and with the start of the new school year, many of the items had lost their “specialness” and it was easier to decide what to keep and what to let go of in order to  make room for the new school year’s items.

3) Summer time can be a good time to go through a child’s toys and clothes and decide what is no longer necessary, what has been grown out of, and what can be given away to someone who needs it more. The trip to the local thrift shop to drop off items no longer necessary can be combined with a special trip to the park, or some other refreshing activity.

4) Birthdays are a natural mark of time moving forward, and a good time to talk to your child about making room for the new by letting go of some of the old.

SPEAKING OF BIRTHDAYS

1) Special dinners chosen by the child make a birthday special. One staff member remembers providing mashed potatoes, corn and peas for years and years as a favorite birthday meal.

2) Children who have been adopted have another day to celebrate–the day they arrived to their adoptive family. One staff member marked this day by writing a list of new things she had seen in her children throughout the year, and three or four wishes for the upcoming year. She then shared this list with her family.

T-SHIRT QUILTS

Our staff also discussed the practice some of us had of keeping favorite t-shirts or outfits throughout the years. It is so hard to let go of that favorite shirt that your child loved and loved, but what exactly to do with all of them? A few of the people on our staff made (or received) t-shirt quilts. The quilts are handmade from all the t-shirts that had been worn throughout the years. When was the favorite time to offer this gift? High school graduation! So if you start planning now, you can begin collecting those t-shirts, and you likely will have years to learn how to actually make one of these magnificent pieces of art.

Marking time throughout the years by creating special rituals and meaningful events helps to keep a family focused on togetherness throughout the year. Do you have a favorite activity you would like to share with others? Log in and let us know what you do with your family to create and capture memories.

Foundations for the Future

When a parent sees a child playing in the park with his friends, we sometimes glimpse a shade of what he will be like as he gets older.  We sense the older body in the younger one, we can see the mannerisms that will one day take shape as preteen reactions. There is a part of parenting that looks forward to the older child even as we sit admiring the child we have today.

The future focus of parenting turns our thoughts to preparing our child to be the teen who will overcome the inevitable difficulties involved in growing older.  We hope he will be happy and strong and able to face challenges. We worry that the choices he makes will not suit him well or keep him healthy. Already as we look to our preschooler in the park, we sometimes consider how to protect him from falling into the use of drugs, keep him on a path that will ensure academic and social success, teach him to focus on his own health when faced with peer pressure to partake of a chemical or activity that can hurt him. How do we help to lay the foundation for a strong young adult when we are currently faced with a strong-willed young child?

Although it is hard to see the link between the preschool years and the teen years, there are many things a parent can do to reinforce values around making healthy choices, avoiding unhealthy chemical use, and finding ways to manage stress in a way that focuses on problem solving rather than avoidance. These  age appropriate strategies build a foundation of open communication and information-sharing which can help families talk about the situations preschoolers face, and find ways to address and support each other.

  • Talk to your child about the healthy choices you are making as a family
  • Celebrate your child’s ability to make decisions – choosing an outfit for the day provides good practice at decision making
  • Turn frustration into learning opportunities – find ways to work through a frustrating situation and focus on problem solving

Sometimes a child will notice the people around him are making unhealthy choices and ask about it. These conversations can be difficult to have – especially if the people who are making these choices are people you love and want to support. There are ways to approach your child’s questions in an age-appropriate way that supports your values while still supporting your family members.

  • Reinforce that adults can make decisions about themselves, but that you agree that sometimes adults make unhealthy choices
  • Talk to your child about the medicines and vitamins he sees you or others use. Stress that these medicines can help the person they are designed for, but could make others sick

We can not be sure of what the future holds. We will not be able to safe guard our children through every situation, and they will make mistakes as they grow. Use these early conversations to establish a family habit of open communication, support and learning from mistakes, and a modeling of healthy choices.