Sunday, March 24, 2013

Toddler 101: Food Wars

If you have a child over the age of 2, chances are you've experienced toddler food wars. If you have a bitty baby, gear up. It's about to get crazy.

Feeding a toddler is a bit like feeding a bear: get too close & it could be dangerous for all of you. Yet, such a primal need must be handled with care. I've found that nothing stresses out parents more than attempting to feed your child. Why is feeding your child so stress inducing? Maybe it's because we know we need food to sustain us. Maybe it's because there's so much judgement when it comes to eating and it starts right away. Before you even have your baby the inquisition begins: Are you going to breastfeed or bottle feed? Are you going to make your own baby food? Oh, you didn't get the organic strawberries? (insert look of fear & trepidation) Bottom line is feeding your child(ren) is stressful to some degree. Add a toddler to that mix & it becomes mayhem.

It's about control.

Toddlers like to control their environment & the people in it. They have this sudden new awareness of life & how the world works. They want to take part. They also want to be in charge. They decide what toys they will & won't play with. They decide when & where they want to be picked up/put down/unstrapped, etc. They let you know what pleases them by playing peacefully & they let you know what sets them off by screaming like a banshee. No news is good news for a toddler- unless, of course, they are out of sight which means you should sprint to their location without hesitation because they are definitely into something they shouldn't be. The biggest thing a toddler can control is what goes in & out of his mouth. 

Food Strike

Your baby eats all of the delectable baby food Gerber has to offer. Peas & squash mixed with apricots? Yum. Spinach & blueberry puree? Heavenly. All is right with the world. You make the transition from bottle to sippy cup, no problem. Your baby has mastered the pincher grasp & is in the early stages of self-feeding. You are parent of the year, no doubt. And then the food strike occurs.
Suddenly your adorable little bundle won't eat anything- A.N.Y.T.H.I.N.G. Food starts to go flying, no's are being screamed, milk is dumped on the ground. Your kitchen looks like a bomb went off & then the tears start: "He won't eat anything! I don't know what I'm doing wrong, he used to love salad. Now, he just throws his bowl. He won't even eat cheese. He MUST have protein or he's not going to grow!" And on, and on, and on. 

Sound familiar? Oh, I've been there many, many times. I've scrubbed down every surface of my kitchen after every meal. I've sat & made an 18 m/o pick up every bit of food that he threw- hand over hand, both of us crying the whole time. One day it dawned on me: I'm done with the food wars. Meals are a necessary means & I'm tired of WWIII. It took me 4 kids & 8 years, but I think I've come up with 7 strategies to make meal time more peaceful. 

7 Strategies to Winning the Food Wars

*** these can apply to older kids as well, not just the 3 & under crowd

1. No Grazing

Make meal time, meal time & snack time, snack time. My boys will eat all day if I let them, but when it comes time for dinner no one is hungry. So, I started limiting them to a designated snacking period of time. For example, we usually eat dinner around 6:30. I cut off snacks by 5:00 so everyone has time to digest a little of their snack & are generally hungry by dinner. OR if I do offer snacks after 5:00, it's something that I don't mind them filling up on- like fruits or veggies. 

2. Stay in Your Seat

This goes along with no grazing. You must remain seated during your meal or snack. This solves a couple of problems. One, food stays in the kitchen versus being all over your house. Two, it reduces the choking hazard of nose diving into the sofa with a mouth full of goldfish crackers. And three, it trains your child to stay in his seat during restaurant visits, therefore, making your meal more pleasant for all of you & avoiding those judgy stares from the childless people around you who do not appreciate your adorable 2 y/o bellying up to their chocolate cake. 

3. Let Your Child Self-feed

Now, I know letting your 18 m/o feed herself applesauce causes the 2nd biggest mess possible- 2nd only to the child who decides to log-roll mid poopy diaper change. A child who feeds herself is a child more likely to eat. If you think about, it makes sense. Aren't you more likely to try something new if you can control it? I'm pretty sure most of us would balk at a giant person shoving a spoon in our mouths. It's worth the cleanup if she'll eat her yogurt. 

4. Limit Milk

According to my pediatrician, toddlers need 12-16 ounces of milk a day- significantly less than what went in their bottles. If your child loves milk & is drinking way more than that, he may just be too full to eat his dinner. Milk is great for little, growing bones but is no longer the primary source of nutrition for your child. Moderation may go a long way for your little one.

5. Find One Thing He'll Eat

If you know your child will always eat bananas, try to offer that during meal time along with whatever you made for the rest of your family. That way you know there will be one thing on your child's plate that he'll eat. Are green beans a favorite? Add it to your dinner. You'll both leave the table happy that at least something nutritious went into your child's mouth. Try not to get into the habit of making your toddler his own meal (or your big kids too!). Your child will never try anything new if he's not exposed to it, AND you'll make yourself crazy trying to cook for everyone! You can't please everybody all the time.

6. Get Creative

Your child might (I said might!) be more likely to eat if the food looks fun. Open up that Pinterest account & find something fun & easy (emphasis on the word easy!). Is your child not a milk drinker? Try chocolate milk- it's STILL MILK, calm down. I could feel the hair on the back of your neck stand up as your read that. It's true. My son hated milk. My doctor suggested we try chocolate or strawberry milk instead. He started to drink it & we slowly phased it out. Now, he's a regular milk drinker though he does have an insatiable sweet tooth...hhmmm.... Bottom line? Think outside the box a little, it might work for you!

7. Listen to Your Momma

I'm afraid it's true: Your child will eat when he's hungry enough. Until then, I recommend a good Flintstone vitamin. 

Hope you find these tips helpful! I wish you peaceful meals & easy clean-up. A girl can dream :) 

Want more? Follow me on Twitter @preschoolmomma 
Want to share your mealtime masterpieces? I'd love to share ideas that work! Leave them in the comments below or email me

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Toddler 101: Taming of the Shrewd

Is there anything cuter than a toddler?
I mean, really. Look at that face. Still a baby but one that responds back to you, shows undying love to you. Priceless.
But you know what I've learned over the years? Be wary of anything that cute. It's usually cute for a reason.

Case in point:
Koala bears: very cute, super mean. Same goes for squirrels.
Puppies: super cute; can destroy a house in minutes, they poo all over everything
Kittens: adorable; cats? No explanation needed

I could give you a list of unattractive, low maintenance animals as well but you get my point. Cute for a reason. Personally, I love a good toddler. Being on my 4th, I've learned a thing or two about taming this little beast and I'm happy to share. You're welcome.

Toddler 101

To defeat or at least pacify your opponent, one must understand her opponent. So let's break down the mind of a toddler.

Toddlers are intense

These little guys are extreme: they're extremely happy or extremely distraught. There's no middle ground. They feel everything completely. They love with the most love & when they're upset, it's quite literally the worst thing that's ever happened to them. And it can turn on a dime. One minute you're covered in kisses & the next, they look like this:
my apologies for the quality of my photo, I had to snap quickly before he got over it :)
That kind of intensity can be exhausting. They're usually spent after a major meltdown & almost always need a big hug. It's tough to be that emotional. 

Toddlers think you're stupid

This is how I think it goes inside my toddler's head:
Oh, wow! That's where the candy bowl went. I loooovveee candy. I really want a piece. I'm going to ask her. "Hey Mom, I want a piece of candy." What? She doesn't know what I'm saying? Hmmm, ok. I'll just point up & say it again. "Mom, candy please." She said NO??? I can't believe it. She must not know what I mean. I'm going to scream it really loud so she can hear me. "CANDY! CANDY! CANDY! CANDY!" Still no? Oh, this is worst day ever. I can't take it. I can't live without candy. I can't even stand up straight, I need candy. Why oh why doesn't she know how much I want candy? My life is so awful, I can no longer show my face. This cold, hard floor must hide me from her, she has shamed me.  I can't even look at her right now. My heart is shattered. End scene
 Been there before? I'm there daily, to the point where I'm hiding things or bribing my older kids to "please don't eat that/get that out/open that drawer right now" so that I don't have to diffuse the fit. It's quite a balancing act.
Toddlers are easily frustrated by their lack of language. They have thoughts & emotions just like us but not the words to express themselves. That has to be incredibly maddening, especially when you're highly charged about everything.

Toddlers are dealing with physical changes

Most toddlers are still experiencing some teething. Teething is brutal. Have you looked inside a toddler's mouth lately? Yowzer. Red, swollen gums everywhere. It's gotta hurt & it's gonna make 'em cranky. It would make me cranky to have a mouth full of newly protruding teeth & a mom who won't give me candy. Candy makes everything better. 
Sleep patterns also change in the toddler years. Many are going from two naps a day down to one. For most, that sleep probably occurs right after a meal (lunch & dinner) so those hours leading up to the nap/bedtime have the potential to be very hairy. Hungry + tired+ mouth full of new teeth + people who don't always give you your way = meltdown. See? It's really just all about math.

What can I do to get through this & actually enjoy it?

Match their intensity

I wish I could remember where I read this so I could give this genius proper credit. It is hands down the best piece of toddler advice out there. It goes like this: when your toddler is having a meltdown, get down on his level & repeat back to him what he's saying to you at the same level of intensity. That means if your toddler is screaming, "Candy, candy" then you get down face to face & scream back, "You want candy." Now, you're going to feel (and look) like an absolute fool but I swear it works. The instant he realizes that you understand him, the screaming stops. It's amazing, I NEVER would've thought it would work but it makes perfect sense if you think about it. You may find that you don't necessarily have to get as loud as your toddler. Different temperaments need different intensities. 
The 2nd part of this awesome advice was name your price. So, you'd say, "You can have candy after dinner." This will usually invoke more screaming, more matching & more price naming. It's quite a vicious cycle and again, will make you feel foolish. But they do eventually give up & move on. Or you can distract them with something else, like an empty box or that $75 hunk of plastic that no longer lights up & makes noise. Your call.
*Side bar: I do not recommend "matching your child's intensity" in public unless you are completely confident in your parenting & can handle the gawking. A softer approach will likely warrant similar results with a lot less stares from old ladies. Nothing like a grandma shaking her head at you to take the wind out of your parenting sails. Back off lady, it's different now. 

Provide language

Children with no words get frustrated that they can't express themselves so, give them some words. I like to start with sign language. Teach them a few basic signs from an early age & you'll find yourself able to communicate fairly well. I used the signs: no, yes, more, milk, water, thank you, please & sorry. There are a bazillion more but those were all I needed. Research shows that babies who sign tend to develop oral language more quickly. Win-win. I just incorporated the signs into my language, especially when speaking with my baby. You'll find that they pick the signs up fairly quickly & will still use them even after they learn to speak the words. It's really quite amazing & empowering- for all of you!

Be the boss

The earlier that you establish that you're the boss, the better. No must mean no consistently. The minute you give into the fit you dig yourself a huge hole, one that's going to be harder to get out of next time. Toddlers are smart & manipulative. They absolutely know how to work you & your weak points. This will continue throughout your existence as parent & child so, toughen up buttercup. It's a lot easier to move an 18 month old than an 8 year old, trust me on this one. Oh, & here's your freebie: they NEVER stop crying. There is ALWAYS going to be something that sets them off. Better learn to deal with it now because it's not going away. Can I get an Amen from my parents of teenagers?

Don't sweat the small stuff 

Pick your battles. Is it inconvenient that your toddler can empty a drawer in seconds? Absolutely. Is it worth a few minutes of peace to you OR is it worth the screaming battle to stop them? That, my friends, is for you to decide. Find your battle points & go after them. Leave the rest. You'll make yourself crazy trying to fight every battle. Let. It. Go. You'll all be happier. 

Godspeed, my parenting friends. May you all be on the receiving end of one of these:

It's totally worth it, snotty nose & all. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Who Knows Mo?

Know this guy? 

Well, you should. His name is Mo Willems & he's only just about the best children's book author around. How do I know? Because I've seen kids fight over who gets to read his books first, you can hear a pin drop when you read them aloud or you can hear kids laugh hysterically over the pictures & nod their heads as they listen. They have a connection with his story. Oh & he's won about a gazillion awards, that's all.

Know this one? 


  Or, this one?


                                  How about these two?

Sounds like you have some reading to do!

Mo Knows Kids

These books are written for kids, pure & simple. The pictures are as entertaining as the subject matter. They love the crazy Pigeon & his ridiculous antics. They love to scream "NO!" when he asks to drive the bus. Kids can relate to Trixie in Knuffle Bunny & her attachment to her rabbit. They understand the relationship between Elephant & Piggie & what it's like to have a best friend. These books fit perfectly into a child's world & cover subject matters that are important to them
Also, Mo used to write for Sesame Street, 'nuff said.

Mo Knows Parents

Is there anything more torturous than reading a boring children's book? Ugh, I can bring a few to mind that make me shudder. They're too long, too cutesy, too overdone, too long... we've all been there, reading the words as our minds wander. Mo's books are the complete opposite. They're quick, to the point & funny, full of imagery & irony. 
One of my all time favorite lines is from Knuffle Bunny. Trixie has gone to the laundromat with her father & brought along her beloved Knuffle Bunny. On the way back home, she realizes that she's left Knuffle Bunny at the laundromat & begins to flip out, like only a toddler can. Mo is describing her meltdown & uses the phrase, "she goes boneless." Ever had a toddler go boneless on you? I have had plenty do that thing where their shoulders become useless & there's no way you're gracefully picking that mini-monster up. We've all been there (as well!) & just like this book, it ain't pretty.
When Trixie gets back home to her mother, her mother immediately asks about Knuffle Bunny & the dad finally gets what she's upset about... I'll let you draw your own conclusion there. I do have to say that if Trixie had gone to the laundromat with her mother this story probably wouldn't exist. Are you with me, ladies? (No offense, dads ;)

Mo Knows Education

I had a friend once tell me that her daughter taught herself to read using the Elephant & Piggie series. So I did some investigation & it turns out, she's spot on. The Elephant & Piggie books contain repeated text, high-frequency words & simple pictures with illustrations that match the text. Boom! What a great tool right at your fingertips! The Pigeon series contains speech or "talking" bubbles, a great (and fun!) example to use when teaching children how to enhance their writing. See? Learning IS fun! 

Get to know Mo, you won't be disappointed!

* I am in no way compensated for this post, I just love a great book (or ten).
* All of my Mo-info & his picture came from his website
Check it out!