5 Ways to Get Your Toddler to Eat Everything

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Yep, that’s my 3-year-old digging in to a plate full of octopus tentacles.

I love food.  Some might say that I like it (and think about it) too much. One of my first memories is sitting at a raw bar at age 3 and my parents giving me an oyster. The people sitting next to me clapped as I slurped it down, and I felt so proud.

So I asked my parents recently what they did to encourage me to eat everything (especially since I learned later in life that my mom is actually quite picky). Here is what they said:

  1. Delay the carbs: Children love pasta, bread and all things carbohydrate. So start your meal with protein and veggies when your child is really hungry. If you have a pasta or rice dish, bring it out a little later.
  2. Don’t tell your children what they like or don’t like: I remember this being a cardinal rule when my brother and I were young. My parents would get frustrated when their friends would proclaim their child didn’t like something before even trying it. My parents knew that children’s tastes change all the time. A child won’t eat something for months, and then one day it will become his favorite food. But if a parent says their child doesn’t like something, this negative reinforcement can often solidify a child not liking a food, even if they’ve only tried it a few times.
  3. Make your kids try everything: There was a rule at our house that you had to try everything on your plate. You didn’t have to eat it, but you had to try it. If you didn’t eat it, there was no talk of not liking it. Our parents told us that because tastes change, you had to try it at least ten times.
  4. Involve them in the grocery shopping and cooking: From as far as I can remember, my brother and I were always in the kitchen helping out. My dad also loved grocery shopping and passed that on to both of us by involving us. Recently, my 2 year old started demanding to unload the entire cart himself onto the conveyor belt, so I now clear a space for him inside the cart, plop him in and let him have at it. As young children, we saw shopping and cooking as a fun activity, and eating the foods we prepared was a key part of that.
  5. Make them eat the same food you eat (and eat a variety of foods yourself!): My parents never became short order chefs. We ate what they ate. The same went for restaurants. We never got to eat chicken fingers off the kids menu. They either ordered us half portions of regular meals, or if the restaurant wouldn’t do that, we ate off their plates. My mom’s (mostly hidden) pickiness aside, my parents ate interesting foods themselves, which modeled for us a varied palette.

This is what my parents did (and what I’m trying to do with variable success with my own child). What do you do to encourage your kids to be good eaters?

Barks and Babies: Preparing Your “Furry Baby” for the “New Baby”

DOGSThere’s a lot to be said for being prepared for when you bring your baby home. We read lots of books, bought way too much gear, and signed up for a college semester’s worth of childbirth classes. In reflection, the best investment my husband and I made was taking the Barks & Babies class at The Pawsitive Dog.

We have two pure-bred American Shelter Dogs (aka rescue mutts) who came to us with their own personalities; one is afraid of people, the other is aggressive with other dogs.

As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I knew their reality was about to shift in a big way. I was anxious for advice on how to manage the changes for them -AND most importantly, have a safe environment for the new baby.

In comes Jen Vickery, a canine-human relationship guru who helps families manage the “new baby transition.” She’s the founder of The Pawsitive Dog, in Boston, MA. In Jen’s Barks & Babies class, we gained a whole new perspective on what bringing baby home would be like through the eyes (ears and nose!) of our dogs.

I was six months pregnant when we signed up for Barks and Babies. I learned there was no time to waste. It turns out there was a lot we could do even before the baby arrived! Jen promptly gave us our marching orders, and here was some of her best advice:

    •  Start walking the dogs while pushing your new stroller—they need familiarity with the new gear. (Yes, you will look a little strange because there isn’t actually a baby in the stroller yet.)
    • Channel your inner toddler by pinching and poking the dogs and then reward them with a treat. (Yes, pinching, poking and pulling WILL happen in the toddler years. Best to desensitize your pup early on.)
    • Start giving your dogs commands with your feet, not your hands. (At first I thought this was odd, but Jen was so right. Once the baby arrives forget using two hands for anything! And, if you have a sleeping baby in you arms, the last thing you want to do is utter a word that might disturb the peace. )
    • Last but not least, FORGET to feed the dogs now and again. They need to get used to unpredictability. (This has happened on more than one sleep-deprived occasion, I’ll confess.)

Jen’s been running Barks and Babies for over 20 years.  Her advice was solid, effective and helped tremendously in those early blurry days when we were overwhelmed with our newborn. We found comfort in her advice and reflected back on our learnings well into toddlerhood. Now, in large part thanks to Jen, we are now one happy, harmonious pack.


By Johanna Cockburn
JR headshotJohanna COCKBURN is a mom, co-pack leader, and nonprofit development consultant in the Boston area. When she’s not managing the canine-human life force in her home, she’s matchmaking people (and sometimes people and rescue dogs) to help build a better world through community activism and social change efforts.
FOR MORE great Gear RECOMMENDATIONS FROM JOhanna, CHECK OUT HER MAMAJAMAS LIST.

This Mother’s Day: 4 Tips to Get Dads Involved From the Beginning

Given it’s Mother’s Day today, I wanted to explore an important issue that affects many moms every single day. It’s impact is often overlooked. It’s complex. It’s wonderful. It’s personal.IMG_0691

It’s the role of Dads (and partners). Or more specifically, the role of dads in early parenting.

I’m a huge fan of very involved fathers. I believe it makes for healthier kids, more fulfilling career paths for both parents, and better adult relationships.

My father, a successful lawyer, became a stay-at-home dad for three years starting when I was three (and at great peril to his future career trajectory). His presence bonded us together in ways unique between father and daughter. I feel incredibly close to my father to this day (he was the parent, for example, that went with me to buy my first feminine products).

Now my own husband has managed to rival my dad in his face time with our son. While in between jobs, he took almost a year-long paternity leave. After becoming a Professor at MIT, he still stayed with my son every morning during his second year, and has managed to take a day off a week to be with my son into his third year.

I know that my situation is unique. Incredibly so. I know every family cannot afford, would be allowed, or would even want to have such a flexible arrangement. I also know that even if you have and want the option, to be both ambitious and present as a parent is really hard.

But I think that if you are looking for a partner that will truly co-parent with you, even if it’s just on nights and weekends, and not hand you back the baby every time he starts to fuss, there are some things you can do to facilitate more of an equitable parenting arrangement from the beginning.

Paternity leave is important. While paternity leave is not an option for many (we are, sadly, one of the most regressive of all industrialized countries on this issue), have your partner take what he can and be creative! Whether it is 2 days, 2 weeks, or 2 months, uninterrupted family time in the beginning can be so helpful in developing lasting bonds with your newborn. In Daddy Track: The Case for Paternity Leave, Liza Mundy writes:

Paternity leave is a chance to intervene at what one study called “a crucial time of renegotiation”: those early, sleep-deprived weeks of diaper changes and midnight feedings, during which couples fall into patterns that turn out to be surprisingly permanent.

Even if your partner can’t take leave in the first days, perhaps he could take a couple days or half days as early when he has some vacation time available.IMG_0656

Trust your husband! It’s unfair to correct your husband every time he puts on a diaper or chooses a onesie, and then expect that he’s going to feel comfortable caring for your baby in your absence. I admit to being a somewhat critical and perfectionist mother, but I made sure to silence myself when it came to criticizing his early care-giving so that he felt competent and “in charge”  of taking care of our child too.

Leave your husband alone with your baby. Frequently. Go on a weekend trip and leave your baby with your husband, or just plan a night out with friends. Start this early on (even if you’re feeling to tethered to breastfeeding, take a walk between feedings or something). It’s important that your partner has the time to develop a role as caregiver, without feeling like he can hand the baby to you as soon as things get difficult. The added benefit is that he’ll probably appreciate you all the more once he realizes how hard it can be to care for a new baby solo.

Encourage daddy rituals. Whether he does bath time when he gets home from work, makes breakfast, or just always plays with a specific toy or sings the baby a certain song when they are together, try to encourage “something” that only your partner does with your child. Having him play an integral part in your baby’s daily routine, or at least having a ritual that is done only with him, is wonderful for baby, and has an amazing effect on the parent too.

I saw the power of many of these tactics first-hand with my husband. Pre-baby, he did not give off any extra paternal, stay-at-home dad vibes. He had literally only held a baby once before my son arrived. But as we cocooned ourself in our hospital room post-birth for a few days, and kept visitors to a minimum for the next couple weeks, I saw my husband blossom in his new role of father and protector. He refused to let me change a single diaper (“that’s my job!” he’d say) and literally slept with my son on his chest for the first two months. I saw him get almost obsessed with spending time with our son, even exceeding my own expectations (I’ve actually had to ask him recently to spend less time with our son, and more time taking care of himself).

According to Barry Hewlett, who wrote “Intimate Fathers: The Nature and Context of Aka Pygmy Paternal Infant Care,” children in the Aka Pygmie tribe spend almost equal time with their fathers and mothers. The men carry their babies in slings on hunting trips, and literally let them suck on their nipples when their wives weren’t around to nurse.

I’m obviously not advocating men start nursing, but given that the role of the father varies so dramatically from culture to culture, I truly believe you can shape your roles as parents, together, and make it more equitable, from the beginning.

Happy Mother’s Day everyone!

5 Challenges of Motherhood No One Warns You About

dario_mamaWhen I was pregnant, I asked for, and received, a lot of good advice – everything from how to deal with the postpartum baby blues, to when you should start worrying about spoiling a child.

But here are five things people never told me:

  1. You will never be able to go out past 7:00pm again with your partner without paying someone. Even if you are one of those lucky families that has parents nearby who babysit for free, you will still have fewer opportunities to stay out past dark. My husband and I used to take walks every night after dinner. Now we feel extremely lucky when we can squeeze in a weekly “date night.” 
  2. A vacation is not really a vacation. Unless you leave the kids at home (and risk separation anxiety) or take a babysitter with you (really expensive), vacations are no longer relaxing. We recently spent a long weekend in Bermuda stuck in a small hotel room with our three-year-old while it poured rain outside. At some point, we even tried to force him to watch movies (a desperate step for parents who don’t even own a TV at home).
  3. You will have no more time to yourself in general.  I used to do pottery. It took up a lot of time but it was so relaxing. The only clay I touch these days is playdough, and I probably won’t have a chance to do pottery for another 15 years. 
  4. It’s not just parenting that makes life harder, but ALL your domestic responsibilities are a new level of hard . While pregnant, I was adequately warned about the sleepless nights and poopy diapers. What I didn’t anticipate was the added amount of extra housework and logistical planning. There is not a free moment where I am not picking up after my child, cleaning up his breakfast/lunch/crumbs/toys/clothes, scheduling doctors appointments, afternoon activities… and don’t even get me started on all the extra laundry. And the amount of extra domestic duties has not even gotten better over time (it has just changed in nature–refer to #5).
  5. Everything’s a phase and each phase presents new challenges. I had this notion that things would just get easier after the first year of parenting, but that’s not necessarily how it works. The challenges just keep changing. They move from sleep issues to behavioral issues, back to sleep again, and so on. Even now that my son is three, many challenges exist. Just as I’m getting used to him waking up at 7:30am, he decides to wake up an hour earlier. Just as he’s getting comfortable in his current daily routine, it’s time to start pre-school. Things change quickly, and it’s not always easy to keep up. That’s just the reality – once you have a kid, you have to learn to adapt to new challenges all of the time. 

Gosh. I’m making this whole motherhood thing sound pretty rough. So why do people keep having kids? Well, to be fair, it is hard to convey the rewards of motherhood in words. But I’m going to try, so without further ado, here are five great rewards I never anticipated :

  1. Every little milestone fills me with pride. Yesterday my son was strutting down the street in his new rain boots, so content, stepping into every puddle. He was singing some song he made up. Just looking at him, doing nothing special, but so fully formed, filled me with this intense love I can’t describe. I couldn’t believe that I made this cool little person that now just walks along singing.
  2. I feel my life has a greater purpose than it did before. This one is thrilling, yet a bit terrifying. There ia little person in this world who depends on me. I am his mother, and my parenting (and even just my actions) will inform much of the man he will one day become. That’s quite the feeling of a greater purpose.
  3. I’ve never felt I had a stronger community of family and friends. Good friends and family have never been more important to me than they are now. I appreciate my parents and in-laws more than ever. They provide me with much needed advice and help! I now understand why people move to communes — and why people say it takes a village.
  4. I see the world in a new way. By nature, I’m the impatient, efficient, all-work-and-no-play type. My son helps me to stop and smell the roses. Literally. He’s always stopping to smell the flowers. He helps me live in the moment and enjoy the world as a small child would see it.
  5. There is no one else I’d rather spend my time with. My son is three and I still miss him every day when I’m working. I like work, and I like having time to myself, but there is absolutely no one else I’d rather spend time with than my son. The best feeling in the world is when my son runs to me with a huge smile on his face when I come home. It feels so good to matter so much to someone.

Having kids means a whole lot of sacrifices, but it also means a new life that is more fulfilling in ways I never imagined. These moments with my child are indescribable, and I have experienced love in a way I never felt before. I’d happily trade a lifetime without ceramics, for just an hour with my son.

For Toddlers and Tough Transitions: Try Sand Timers

I can’t remember precisely when it happened, but at some point around the early twos, our son started having a tough time with some every day transitions. Time to start the bedtime routine… protest. Time to get out of the bath… whine. Time to nap… cry. We soon realized that if we gave him some notice, in the form of a countdown or number of minutes, he seemed to accept these transitions a little better because he knew they were coming. But even with a warning, things weren’t perfect. My two year old had no idea what 5 minutes meant, for example, so he would stress about when the 5 minutes would be done. That’s when my husband had this brilliant idea.

He ordered some Tea Timers. They came in a pack of three: one for 3, 5 and 7 minutes. They have colored sand which falls down so my son now has a concrete visual indication of how much time has passed and how much is left.

Now we let our son turn over a timer for each tough transition. They have worked like a charm! They work especially well for bath time. He used to protest the end of bath time like crazy (can’t blame him really–baths are great). Now we use the three minute timer when we want him to get out. He likes turning it over, can see the green sand falling down, and after it is done, he has no problems climbing out and getting his towel.

We also invested in a bigger hourglass. We got a 15 minute one to use during rest/nap time. We allow him to turn it over once or twice for each rest time and after it is done, he can get up. He watches as the purple sand falls down, and more than often, he’s asleep before it finishes. It has been incredibly helpful, especially since my son is now 3 1/2 so his naps have become less consistent. But at least now, we have a way of ensuring he gets in a good 15-30 minute rest every day.

I’ve noticed with parenthood, sometimes it’s little things that make a big difference. This is one that has helped us tremendously during the toddler phase. I’ve added the tea timers to my Mamajamas list. I hope your list will eventually help you share with your new parent friends some little things that have helped you along the way.

Your Toddler Will Make a Mess: Two Amazing Tools for Cleaning Up After Them

I just added two cleaning devices I wouldn’t want to live without onto my Mamajamas list.

As my child has gotten older, the idea that I own a cream colored couch seems more and more preposterous. Granted, I got it on Craigslist, but it’s a nice Pottery Barn Sectional, and I’m attached to it. But let’s be honest, with a toddler around, my poor couch takes a real beating.

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So I originally looked into upholstery cleaning services, and they are not cheap! I’d be spending a fortune trying to keep up with all of the dirt and food stains (and coffee and wine stains–okay, so I can’t completely blame my toddler). Instead, I found my new favorite cleaning product of all time, the Bissell Little Green ProHeat Multi-Purpose Cleaner. This little guy steam cleans all my couches and chairs no problem and also the rugs. It’s pretty much a miracle product.

It’s a little annoying that they make you buy their cleaning solution for the machine, but I do appreciate that they offer a green cleaning product (although I can’t vouch for how “green” it actually is).

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Second, if your child is like mine, they have gone (or are going to go) through a very long phase of messy eating. Whether it’s unintentional spillage, or the dreaded “dropping and throwing food to see what will happen” stage, keeping my kitchen floor clean is a constant struggle (and the only time I’ve seriously considered getting a dog).

At first, I was using the swiffer wet jet, and it worked okay, but it felt really wasteful with all those disposable pads, expensive (because you had to buy your pads and their brand of cleaning solution), and their cleaning solution was really stinky and toxic smelling.

In searching for an alternative, I discovered the incredible Rubbermaid Microfiber Spray Mop.

You add your own cleaning solution (I just use vinegar!) and it comes with two washable pads. Problem solved. I love this thing.

Parenthood is messy. The need for me to constantly be cleaning up after my child was one of the life changes I most underestimated before having a child. I would have never appreciated these products pre-kids, but now I’m so grateful for tools that can make my life just a tad bit easier!

The Pacifier Fairy

My son got hand, foot and mouth disease last week. It was brutal. He had a fever, rashes all over his little body, and a mouth full of large, painful canker sores, that made eating anything but ice cream or applesauce out of the question for 3 days.

The only silver lining was that he also couldn’t use his pacifier.

He’s turning 3 this month, so we were already gearing up for we figured would be a tough pacifier weaning. I mean, this is a kid that not only needs to suck a pacifier to sleep, but also keeps another one in his hand as a lovey.

So we seized this opportunity to turn this 3 day hiatus into permanent paci cessation. To supplement his inability to suck, I also informed him that as soon as he got better, the Pacifier Fairy would be making a stop at our house to collect all his pacifiers to give to little babies since he was a big boy now. I got this idea from my own parents, who had the Bottle Fairy come to take my bottle (when I was three!) and leave in it’s place a brand new cup.

So last Monday, Dario helped me gather all his pacifiers around the house into a box. We wrote the Pacifier Fairy a note to let her know that we were ready to give them up to babies who need them, and then he set them out for her and went to sleep.

The next morning, he was very excited to discover that in the place of his pacifiers, was this crazy plastic weed wacker toy that he had recently had a melt-down over us not agreeing to buy for him at one of our local toy stores.

It’s been three days since the fairy came and he’s asked for a pacifier exactly once. And when I reminded him that the Pacifier Fairy took them, he was immediately fine.

I’m kind of still in shock it was that easy. I know that for better or worse, the canker sores helped things along, but the fairy and $20 piece of plastic didn’t hurt either.