Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Family Dinner

Back in college, I was required to take a few sociology classes as a psych major, so I signed up for one that sounded interesting, 'The Family.'  And still to this day, whenever I hear about family issues, I think back to that class.  We learned about American families and the changes the 'family' has had over time like divorce, parenting changes, how families went from mostly one-income to two during women's lib, and the one change that stands out to me now, family dinners!  The American family is just not eating together as much as they used to.

Our professor's lecture on 'families eating dinner together' was engrained in me as a 19-year old and it has made me strive to follow her advice ever since!

A LOT of families do not eat together anymore with teens racing off to be with friends, dads getting home late from work and families that are just too busy to eat together.

But what exactly does it mean when a family eats dinner together? It sounds like no big deal, but the research I found supports what I learned in school and is super interesting (sources,, PBS, NPR and webmd):

-Families that eat dinner together have been found to lower their child/teens chance of smoking, doing drugs and drinking

-Children are less likely to be depressed, consider suicide, or develop an eating disorder

-Teens are less likely to engage in sex at an early age

-Children will eat more fruits and veggies when they eat with their family

-Children are less likely to be obese, because they are eating home cooked meals with smaller portions and lower in fat

There are a ton more benefits to eating dinner together as a family, but the ones above are the ones that really grabbed my attention.

How does eating together cause your child to have so many positive outcomes?  Here is some of the research I found:

Having a set time for dinner when the kids come home shows teens that they can depend on parents.  Eating dinner together sends a direct message telling teens that 'my parents love me and care about me.'

The teens who reported having frequent family dinners were also more likely to say they had excellent relationships with their mother, father and siblings.

Eating dinner together as a family helps a child just say NO! Eating family dinners at least five times a week drastically lowers a teen’s chance of smoking, drinking, and using drugs. Teens who have fewer than three family dinners a week are 3.5 times more likely to have abused prescription drugs and to have used illegal drugs other than marijuana, three times more likely to have used marijuana, more than 2.5 times more likely to have smoked cigarettes, and 1.5 times more likely to have tried alcohol, according to a CASA (Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse) report.

When a child is feeling down or depressed, a family dinner can act as an intervention. This is especially true of eating disorders, says Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, PhD, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health, who has studied the impact of family meal patterns on adolescents. She also reports that if a child eats with his or her parents on a regular basis, problems will be identified earlier on.

Of teens who eat with their family fewer than three times a week, 20% get C’s or lower on their report cards, according to a CASA report.  Family meals give children an opportunity to have conversations with adults, as well as to pick up on how adults are using words with each other, which may explain why family dinner time is also thought to build a child’s vocabulary.

Healthy Eating Benefits:

-9- to 14-year-olds who ate dinner with their families most frequently ate more fruits and vegetables and less soda and fried foods.

-Family dinners are the perfect setting for kids to try new foods and learn from their parents eating them and to expand their tastes.

-Eating out together is better than not eating together, but eating meals at home helps control the portion sizes that restaurants have and lessen obesity in children

-The average restaurant meal has as much as 60% more calories than a homemade meal.

-Americans spend more than 40% of their food budget on meals outside of the home.

-One study found that children who shared mealtimes at least three times per week were 24% more likely to eat healthy foods and have healthy eating habits than those who shared family meals less often.

So, how can you get started if you aren't having them regularly?

A good place to start is reading the amazing cookbook: The Family Dinner

The cookbook has great kid friendly family dinner recipes, conversation starter tips and advice from Maya Angelou to Jamie Oliver.  The author has summed up pretty well the benefits of family dinners: Research has proven that everything we worry about as parents—from drugs to alcohol, promiscuity, to obesity, academic achievement and just good old nutrition— can all be improved by the simple act of eating and talking together around the table.

It's also a good idea to start off with small goals, such as trying to plan 2-3 meals together a week, than starting right off with 5.  Your family will probably wonder why you went crazy all of a sudden and you'll probably be met with a lot of 'no way!'

Encourage your children to help plan and cook the meal, starting with the menu planning, grocery shopping, cooking and setting the table.  Remember too that the more responsibilities you give your kids, the more it helps to increase their self esteem.

Engaging your kids during dinnertime can be a challenge, but remember instead of always asking "how school was?", or "how was your day?", come up with more specific questions (positive and negative) such as "What was the worst thing that happened today?"

So, do any of you have good tips to help get families started or help engage children during dinner?

Saturday, November 26, 2011


At what point with your young child/baby/toddler, do you go from constant cuddles and on-demand care to setting limits and saying "no"?  That is a hard transition to make as you were told from the day your child was born to give your newborn whatever they desired.  So when do you stop?

If your baby was crying, you asked yourself if his diaper was dirty, or if he was tired, or hungry? Or was he crying because he was in pain from a diaper rash, acid reflux, gas or from being sick?  You were taught to do 'on-demand' feedings and to feed whenever she seemed hungry. Sometimes I used to nurse my baby every hour, every 30 minutes or every 2 hours during the day.

And you picked your baby up when they needed hugs and cuddles, were crying or seemed frustrated.

When they acted like they wanted a toy and made a grimace to give them something or 'turn-on' some electric toy, we gave in to appease them and make them happy, and we gave in because we were so happy they were learning something new!

Then when your child was more mobile and crawling or on the verge of walking and started tumbling, running into things and getting boo-boos, we picked them up and comforted their tears.

We still fed them immediately when they moved onto solid foods because we were desperately trying to get them to eat solid foods at any cost.  As they cried or used their sign language to show us they wanted to eat we would think, "What, you are hungry, of course you can eat something now!", and we gave in even though it was 15 minutes before their dinner time.

When they began taking steps, we let them run all over the house, as it was so amazing to us that they could walk and run.  When they started learning to climb, we clapped when they could climb up on the sofa, their chairs or a large toy.  We didn't say "no".

Soooo, when as a parent do you stop the on-demands and move into the "no, you can't"?

We go from yes, yes, yes, to no, no no:

"No, you can't have any more milk today" as you try to wean them from breastfeeding

"Sofas aren't for climbing on (no!)" as we try to teach them things are not for climbing on, because we know one day they will fall, or start to climb on other people's things like at Grandma's house

"I know you want a snack now, but dinner is in 15 minutes (no!)" as we tell a picky toddler eater who only eats ketchup anyway

We don't rush to pick them up for every little tiny bump on the floor because we want them to learn that A) we can't always be there to pick them up and B) sometimes you might trip and fall over a toy, and that's okay, you can get up and keep playing

So when do you stop going from on-demand to disciplining? Well, that is kind of a rhetorical question.

I know as a parent my job is to guide my child through life so she can one day be independent and on her own, making her own choices.  But I know it's hard as a parent going from constant hugs and snuggles to setting limits and saying "no" to things.  I miss those days of scooping up my little bundle of joy and taking away every ache and pain and fulfilling every need she presented.  But I know that putting tender loving care in my limit setting, creating boundaries, and being 'present' for your child is the best way to still be there for your little one at the same time you are helping them grow and live in this crazy world.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Black Friday Toy Deals

Amazon is having some great Black Friday online deals for toys that you won't want to miss.  I know a lot of other retail merchants are having some too, including Target opening at 12am Friday morning, or should I say Thursday night. Those poor employees having to go in Thanksgiving night, what are we coming to?  I signed the petition at to push back the opening time for employees to 5am instead of 11pm.  That way they can still spend some time with their families.

So, in place of retail shopping this upcoming weekend, I am advocating online purchasing, it's faster and way, way easier than fighting the holiday crowds.  I have posted just a few of the deals, but they are having a ton, so click the link see what toy deals Amazon has for Black Friday:  Shop Amazon's Toys - Black Friday and Cyber Monday Deals Week

Here are just a few of the amazing deals they will have:     

LeapFrog Leapster 2: LeapFrog Leapster 2 Learning Game System - Pink

Was 69.99$ and will be marked down to 39.99$


The Fisher-Price iXL 6-in-1 Learning System , Fisher-Price iXL 6-in-1 Learning System (Blue)

Original: 82.99$ marked down to 49.99$


Tonka Tonka Race Along Chuck, Tonka Tonka Chuck Race Along Chuck

Original: 47.99$ marked down to 24.99$



The Fisher Price Deluxe Playcenter, Fisher Price Deluxe Playcenter

Original 71.99$ to 48.29$:

Happy shopping and let me know what good deals you find out there!
Thursday, November 17, 2011

Preschool Talk

I've been going on a few Preschool tours lately since I know pretty soon I will have to enroll my child in one. I've tried to listen in on how the teachers talk to the children and how they treat them, because after all, your child will be spending a long part of their days at school learning from these surrogate parents.  Preschoolers and toddlers are little sponges as parents know, soaking up new things every single day.  Researchers say that their little personalities are mostly formed by age 6, so I take that to mean that the first 6 years of their lives are super important!  They learn right from wrong, empathy, compassion, how to get along with others, etc. etc.  So with that in mind, we really need good role models and teachers to help during this critical time in their lives.

So as I have been listening to some of the teachers at these schools, let's just say I heard a few things that were not exactly child-centered. Now, I know that these teachers don't have to hold a masters degree in education, but I took classes as an undergrad in Child Development where we learned how to talk to children in a child-centered way and how to discipline them in a preschool setting (we took it a step further in grad school, but most of it is the same principal).

Associate degrees in child development teach the same things too.  And if the teachers don't have an associates, then at least teacher trainings should cover this too, right?  Get my drift?  It's something that most of these teachers should already know!  Aren't there training seminars at these schools on how to talk to children in a preschool setting? It shouldn't be THAT hard for these teachers to learn.

In my classes back in college, we learned things like when a child is standing up on a slide, instead of saying "Don't Stand Up on that!," to say, "We sit down on slides" or "slides are for sitting on."

Basically we learned to say, THIS is what you can do vs. DON'T and No!  To not start your sentence off with these negatives: "stop, don't, sit, no, etc."

And remember my post on being silly?  You can get a lot more cooperation from children when you are being silly.  Just another approach to working with kids.  Like when a child is upset because they want a toy and someone else is playing with it, you can talk in a silly voice and say, "Awh Mia, I can see how much you want to play with that toy and it's just so hard to wait your turn, if I could wave a magic wand and get one for you I would, but I think the tickle monster might get you first!" as you chase her around the room.

Besides an occasional punch thrown, or an intentional biter, what is the worst thing about kids in preschool?  So when I heard a teacher snap at a child, because their little rear end was not fully sitting on the floor during story time, was that a reason to snap "Sit down right now!" or "Stop that!?"  Yes, unfortunately those were commands I heard from a teacher while visiting.  And to me, that was a mild situation, mild.

Or hearing from another room, "No"...."No, I said no!, Stop it!"  I don't know what was going on behind closed doors, but really, what could cause those sharp commands? What if the child was standing up on a chair? Okay, then a calm little redirection is all that is needed, "that chair is for sitting on, they are not for standing on."  And then the teacher can redirect them to another toy or redirect them to a place where they ARE allowed to stand up.

Now I know there are more situations and problems that can go on in preschools, and it may not be an easy fix every time, but I'm telling you, the situations I saw were teeny tiny and not even worth all the fuss these teachers gave.

I don't want my child to be around such strict, mean talking militant teachers during the day.  Plus, is this how I want my child to learn how to resolve a conflict?

My little discoveries at these schools have my curiosities going! I was lucky enough to catch these mishaps during my visits.  Now I want to sneak in and walk the halls at other ones without a chaperon to see how much more I can hear. But I have a feeling they won't let me.  Maybe I can use the excuse to take my child to the bathroom and secretly go the long way so I can listen in on some of the rooms. Because I am sure that the directors give the teachers a heads up that morning, "We have some prospective parents coming in today, please put on your smiley faces, use your nicest voices and pretend your children are perfect little angels," :)
Monday, November 14, 2011

Top Ten Toddler Myths

A girlfriend of mine gave me the most hilarious book to read,The Girlfriends' Guide to Toddlers by Vicki Iovine. I read her book The Girlfriends Guide to Pregnancy, and laughed all the way through it, so I was super glad to hear she had written one about Toddlerhood.

Sorry to bore you moms out there with grade-schoolers reading this, but had to post some of the books laugh out loud hilarious tidbits that I've read so far.

I am still only on Chapter One, but her description of toddlers and how they evolved from infants cracked me up!:

"Mother Nature was so smart to give you your child in infant form first and give you a year to get to know your baby in a somewhat calm and orderly fashion before turning into toddlers. Sure she may have wreaked havoc with your sleep, nursed until you thought your breasts would fall off and she may have left you with 10 pounds you have no use for, but she probably cooperated most of the time. Not that toddlers aren't adorable, it's just hard to imagine devoting your life to a person who breaks your things, eats with her hands and hurls herself onto the floor if she doesn't get her way, if you aren't first hopelessly devoted to the little tyrant."

See what I mean? She captures the toddler stage so well.

And I love her Top Ten Toddler Myths:

10.  The smarter the baby, the earlier she learns to walk

9. If they can talk, they can be reasoned with

8. Toddlers can't wait to sleep in their own beds, especially if the sheets have race cars or Barbies on them

7.  Biters are the product of miserable parenting

6.  Boys and girls will play exactly alike if never exposed to gender specific toys like dolls and weapons

5.  Nature will ensure that toddlers are attracted to the food their growing bodies need

4.  Toddlers love newborns, especially new baby brothers or sisters, and can be counted on to treat them kindly

3.  Toddlers love animals, and can be counted to treat them kindly

2.  The difference between toddlers and babies is that toddlers are better at expressing their emotions

1.  Your mother really did have you fully potty trained at eighteen months

I can't wait to get in bed and start Chapter Two.
Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Kid Kraft Pretend Play Kitchen Review

With Christmas/Hanukkah quickly approaching, several people have asked me for ideas on a good, large, pretend play gift item.  And of course my favorite pretend play item is the play kitchen. Yes, even if you have a boy.  He could be the next Emeril, Bobby Flay or Dean Fearing for you Dallas folks.  There are gender friendly colors widely available out there for them too, not just the pink ones :)

Of all the miniature play kitchens out there, so far my favorites are the Kid Kraft brand because they are pretty affordable and longer lasting.  Yes, there are a few nicer wooden ones out there, but they are way over the 200$ budget most families are wanting to spend. And I like this one better than the Step 2 plastic ones because they are more sturdy. I have had several of the plastic models in my play rooms for work, and they break very easily, not to mention that they are constantly falling over. The wooden feel of Kid Kraft makes it feel as much as the real thing as you can get too.

Now, I know you have seen the super cute vintage kitchens at Pottery Barn Kids and even Kid Kraft makes one too, and as much as they look cute to us adults, they don't look very real to our kids.  The 1950's refrigerator looks nothing like the ones built in 2011!  I'm not sure how much our modern day kids are going to be able to do much pretend play in them.  But they do get my vote on the cuteness factor.  If you do want to go this route, Target has the Kid Kraft one in pink for $99.99 and it also comes in red and white (keep in mind this one is also much shorter at 35 inches tall than the regular one discussed below at 43 inches):

My favorite gender neutral one by Kid Kraft is the Let's Cook Deluxe Kitchen and is on Amazon for 131$: Kidkraft Deluxe Let's Cook Kitchen pictured below. It comes with a full fridge that opens on the top for the freezer and the main fridge compartment.  The oven opens as well as the microwave and they both have see-through windows to "check on your food," too. The sink is also removable for easy clean up. There's also shelving above the sink for quick and easy storage.  This one is also much TALLER at 43 inches in height than the vintage one at 35 inches, so your child will still use it at age 4+:

See how real the burners and sink look:

And if you must have the girly version, they make a cute pastel colored one too:

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Older Toddlers 18-24 months

Of course I still think of my little girl as a baby and not a toddler.  Even strangers still ask me how old my 'baby' is.  But I have come to accept she has grown, sigh, and she is in the middle toddler stage- that hard age where you have to watch them like a hawk and they are faster than ever. Not to mention super independent and easily frustrated.

Even though I know this is the hard age (between 18-24 months), I still had to get out my old grad school reading materials just to confirm it, so I don't think I'm going crazy.

It felt good to re-read some of these points and to definitely remember them these next few months:

-Language is hard for toddlers at this stage because their words are so limited.  Words can express parts of an experience but not the whole experience, so when a toy gets broken, words like 'sad' are not adequate enough and can't capture the toddler's intensity of their loss. At these times, a hug and holding your child can convey feelings much better than words.

-Understand that your toddler can't "sit still" for long periods and you need to gauge rest stops, breaks, and the need to switch to a new activity by your child's restlessness and agitation.

(Keep in mind that the attention span of a 4-5 year old is 10 minutes! So imagine that for a 1-2 year old, it's about 1-2 minutes) :)

-Remember that a child's frustration level peaks around 17-24 months of age!  They are trying to become increasingly independent at the same time they are trying to use new words, so their need to be willful may override their ability to communicate her needs or explain her behavior. How to best deal with this?  Patience and understanding and help them with their words.  For instance if they say "Bye Bye" ask them if they mean they want to go outside, or if they are wanting to move to a new activity.

-Introduce gradual transitions throughout the day so they do not feel rushed or interrupted. Give time limit warnings such as "in 5 minutes, we are going to go and take a bath."

-Keep in mind that when a toddler gets easily frustrated, that they also might need a change of play, such as going outside, runninh around a park, engaging in quiet/story time, or turning on a children's CD to sing songs, etc.

Keeping these little tips in mind helps me understand that all children have tough times and are easily frustrated and that hopefully soon, they will be able to express themselves better and their tolerance to frustration will increase.

I think having more patience is the key at this age too, but sometimes it's hard to have when we are rushed, or have a lot to do and get done in a short amount of time and our child is having a melt down.

We just have to remember that things will get done, and take the Scarlet O'Hara approach: "I'll just worry about that tomorrow (or another day)" :)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Anger in Kids

So I got a call the other day from a friend who is concerned about her little girl's angry outbursts and she wondered what on earth to do about it....So I gave her a few pointers but wish I could give her a quick solution.  Unfortunately, there's not exactly a one word answer here.  The whole topic of ANGER in children is a huge one from mild feelings of anger to Conduct Disordered juvenile delinquent problems, so I will just go into the basics here.

First off, I always tell kids (and parents) that ALL feelings are good feelings.  There is no such thing as a bad feeling. We don't want kids to feel ashamed for 'feeling' certain things.

Do you really want your kids to learn that it's okay to feel the happy feelings of joy, glad, happy and excited, but not okay to feel mad, shame, sad or angry?  If they feel that only part of them is accepted, then they will feel the other half of them is not.  We definitely want our kids to know that all of them is accepted, even the feelings that don't feel as good.  After all, we ALL have different feelings all the time. If we never felt feelings like anger, then we wouldn't be human.

So what is it about anger that makes parents cringe and want them to stuff it deep down and never show up again?

The 1950's taught kids to never show anger, that it was bad to feel mad, and that we must get rid of it and never speak of it again.  The horror and shame of it all.  1950's moms taught their children to always smile, and be happy, never mad or sad.  How realistic is that?  Maybe there is something to the old saying my professors always said "a smile is a mask for anger".  Hmm, passive aggressive maybe?

So what do we do when our kids show anger??

A good start is to first pass along the message (in your own words of course) that it's: "okay to feel mad, but not okay to hurt people or things when we feel that way."  Teach them that the feeling is okay, it's the ACTIONS that are not okay.  Or basically that it's okay to feel anger, but it's not okay to punch the wall, throw their toys, break toys, use bad words or use words to hurt people, scream and yell at others, etc.

What are our kids supposed to do instead?

Redirect it.  Have them throw or kick a ball outside, scream into a pillow, take a red marker or crayon and have them scribble as fast as they can on a piece of paper.  For older kids, they can journal how mad they are in a notebook.  For young ones with temper tantrums, remember to encourage them to use their words and either ignore them if appropriate, or encourage them to release their frustrations safely (kick a pillow, etc.)

Continue to make sure they hear the message that it's okay to feel angry.  Such as when your child hits their brother: "I can see you are mad that your brother is playing the video game, and I can understand that you are mad and don't want to wait and really want to play too, but remember that people are not for hitting.....  It's okay to feel mad, but it's not okay to hurt people.  If you are mad, use your words to tell him you want a turn, or go and throw your ball outside to feel better."

Also, you can try role playing with your child for situations at home or at school.  I know how hard it is for us adults to stop and think before we speak when we are upset, so imagine how hard it must be for a young child with little impulse control!  Role playing situations can help them come up with alternatives when you aren't there to help, such as at school.

For example, "I know you probably felt really mad that your friend didn't sit by you at lunch today.  I'm sure you also felt hurt too.  And it's okay to feel that way, but it's not okay to stick your tongue out at her and tell her she is stupid.  Remember that when we feel mad at someone, we can't say mean things to people.  What do you think you could do next time someone hurts your feelings?" And role play it out.

Another thing to also keep in mind is when your child is acting out on purpose. I won't go into detail here because that can be a whole other post, but ignore if possible the negative actions so you don't reward them with attention.

There are also lots of good children's books to read to them that can help them deal with anger.  Here are a few to get started:

Order it here:

Order here:

I would love to hear your opinions and what has worked for you parents out there?