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Top 3 Ways to Get Your Child to Choose Healthy Foods

Teach healthy food choicesI spend a lot of time in my family nutrition practice helping parents with their “picky eaters.” That could be the primary reason for their visit, or the picky eating could be complicated by a diagnosis that requires a child to go on a special diet in which their favorite foods are no longer on the menu. This adds layers to their nutrition issues and it is my job to peel the proverbial onion.

How do we transition our kids to the right path with minimal conflicts? What are the underlying issues associated with food battles? Every child is unique, and that cannot be understated. But there are some common denominators with them and hopefully this post will provide you with some ideas to chew on.

It is not a news flash to you that kids want to make their own choices. When parents force things on their children, the natural thing they do is push back. But does that mean we should give children all the decision-making when it comes to eating? Absolutely not. Parents often take this thought too far in allowing their children to make too many choices on their own. It’s all about guiding them. With food, provide acceptable choices from which they may choose. That is the main theme, and here are three of the most important ways in which you can implement them:

  1. Expose your children repeatedly. Expose your children to a variety of foods. This should start super early in your child’s life and continue as they grow older. Do not delete a food off your child’s menu because they reject it one time or even multiple times. Avoid saying statements such as, “He/she does not like (fill in the food).” A child’s body is growing and developing – and that includes their taste buds! Parents provide the healthy meals and the child gets to choose to eat them or not. If they don’t eat dinner because they don’t like how it looks, that’s OK! But don’t provide an alternate meal of their choice, and don’t allow them to have a snack after dinner of their own food preference. This will never encourage them to try new foods! Stay strong, Mom and Dad. If they are hungry later, you can tell them that you are more than happy to heat up their dinner plate. If you stick to your guns on this one and your kids see that throwing a tantrum does NOT get their way, they will eat the dinner. If you have this in place from the beginning, it’s less of a struggle. They don’t know any different. But if you have done this wrong in the past, communicate that this is the new way and we are not going back.
  2. Assess your home’s food environment. Each new year should involve going through the kitchen and doing a food balance assessment. When you look into your pantry and/or fridge, are 90% of the available foods healthy? If not, you may need to make some changes. We must fill our home with “always” foods and if there are any “sometimes” foods that are being over consumed, remove them from your home. Make healthy foods ready-to-eat so those snacks are as easy as grabbing a bag of chips.
  3. Involve your children. Your entire family must be a part of the entire feeding process. That includes planning, shopping (or growing!), preparing, eating and cleaning. The parents are in charge (and must stay in charge), but the children should be involved as helpers in age-appropriate ways. A toddler can help set the table while a teenager can be in charge of cooking one night. Involve your children in the “why’s” behind healthy eating as well. A family is a team and teams must work together to stay healthy so they can meet all their life’s goals. Food is literally the fuel for our precious bodies! Use the MyPlate visual as a guide to help plan meals, and have your children (school-age or older) make their own school lunches that include all the items. If they buy their lunch, go over the school menu and encourage them to use the MyPlate when choosing their lunch.

How ironic is it that being a parent is THE hardest job on the planet and there is no training manual? When it comes to raising healthy eaters, constantly be thinking about the behaviors around feeding children. Empower them to make the healthy choices so they will choose them on their own. That, my friends, is the key to raising a healthy adult.

Why Your Child Should Be Using LinkedIn

Most parents may not have considered how LinkedIn could be part of their children’s social media experience. In my opinion, it has the greatest potential to help (or hinder) a teenager’s future by how it impacts their Digital Footprint – the evidence that we all leave behind when we go online. And not just by what it says about them, but about what it might not say about them.

Smart Social, used by over a million parents, educators and students each year and whose tagline is “Learn how to shine online,” recommends that every high school student should be using LinkedIn. In fact, they recommend that teens start preparing for their LinkedIn profile even before they’re actually using the service.

Why LinkedIn?

As the number one social media network across all professions, LinkedIn is in a unique position to help just about everyone who uses it, regardless of what educational and professional future lies ahead of them. There are reportedly over 180 million people in the U.S. using LinkedIn and close to a billion worldwide.

LinkedIn puts students in a position where they can reach out to people with a wide variety of backgrounds as well as the schools and companies that they may wish to engage with in the future. As far back as 2017 (further than that, really), Forbes Magazine has been recommending that parents help their children use LinkedIn.

Unlike many other social media platforms, the minimum age for using the service is 16, as long as your local laws don’t require something older. No access until age 16 means teenagers are under a tight time constraint if they want their Digital Footprint to help them achieve their immediate goals of getting a better job or into a good school. By the time your child is a sophomore or junior in high school, they need to be active on LinkedIn. The more time they get to spend on it, the bigger the impact it can have on their future.

LinkedIn As a Blogging Platform

Having an online presence where people can demonstrate their knowledge and skills is an important part of crafting their future. Unfortunately, creating a personal website where people can post their own content isn’t for everyone. That’s where LinkedIn can really help.

Unlike other platforms that might limit what a user can post in terms of topic, length or features, LinkedIn’s Articles can provide a robust platform and demonstrate that your child is a thought leader and lets them engage with others in a way that no other platform can.

Groups! Groups! Groups!

Most social media platforms have groups, but not like LinkedIn does. Students can use these groups to reach out to graduates, faculty, student groups and more from possible future institutions where they may wish to attend after graduating high school. My own alma mater has over 70 groups on LinkedIn. This can help focus attention on the schools that best fit their interests. As a parent, it can save families from making cross-country trips to visit potential schools only to find out that they aren’t a good fit for your child.

Groups can also be used to find other individuals who have similar career interests. The most important part about being in a group is to be active in it. That may sound like common sense, but the people in the group need to see that someone in the group is engaging with others and not only doing “hit and run” actions to get attention. If your child uses the articles feature mentioned above, it’s a great place to share those posts with people who are likely to be interested in what your child has to say.

Job Hunting on LinkedIn

One of the best ways to use LinkedIn is to prepare for sending in resumes and job interviews. Applicants can learn more about what the company does not only by looking at the company’s page, but by seeing what employees post about the company (you can search for people by where they work).

You can also see what groups people belong to, read their posts, etc. to help get an edge on other applicants. The more competitive the job is or the school that someone is applying to, the more that every advantage can mean the difference between getting accepted and being passed over in favor of someone else.

The Bottom Line

What it comes down to is that if schools and employers are going to be using a candidate’s Digital Footprint to help make acceptance decisions, then everyone should be making the most of their opportunities.

Most people think of LinkedIn only as a way to connect in terms of sales leads and having others contact them for job opportunities and while it certainly does that, it’s capable of so much more if used properly. LinkedIn has the potential to be of tremendous value to school and job applicants.

One word of caution: like any social media platform, there is always the risk inherent with using it. While I haven’t seen any of the issues of pornography or sexting that can happen on other platforms, I have seen what could pass for cyberbullying when people engage on hot button topics, such as politics.

That said, once someone becomes active on a social media site, including LinkedIn, the algorithms that help determine what people see online can get their profile noticed by people that otherwise might not get the opportunity to learn about your child. The key to using any experience, online or offline, is to use it to their greatest benefit.

First impressions make lasting impressions. Make it count!

Can Your Pediatrician Help With Your Child’s Weight Control?

Boy on scaleOne of the most frequent problems I run into as a practicing Pediatrician is overweight issues in children. It is a very prevalent problem now in Pediatrics as the population as a whole is overweight and this issue tends to begin in childhood and tracks through to adulthood. It is probably true that overweight parents tend to have overweight children; not out of any malicious cause but for a number of reasons including poor education and parental observation and habits.

When I tell an overweight parent that his/her child is overweight (using height and weight charts and BMI as back up data) or even obese I receive one of two responses. Either they have been aware of this but totally unsuccessful at any attempts to alter that situation, or they seem to be totally surprised at the assessment. The first response is a good one although not optimal; the second response is very difficult to work through. Everyone seems to be aware that obesity can and does lead to such adult life shortening diagnoses such as Diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiac events and strokes among the top of the list – there are others.

It is my responsibility as a Pediatrician to alter the course of these diagnoses by working on the problem during childhood, and helping to educate a family to all that I mentioned above. I have failed when an overweight child becomes an overweight adult – and I don’t like failure.

I believe that most Pediatricians feel the same and take this responsibility very seriously. Your Pediatrician is, along with you as parents, your child’s advocate and this is clearly stated in the mission of the Academy of Pediatrics. You have a passionate ally in your effort to keep your child healthy but you must listen to the education and suggestions of that person and try to incorporate that into a new family philosophy. Weight loss is much easier when begun early in life and becomes as difficult as in adults after the age of about 11-13yrs old, but not impossible. It will take commitment and energy to keep your child on the course of a healthy life style so that overweight issues are brought under control – and the natural course is interrupted.

My ultimate goal initially, is not necessarily weight loss but involves attempting to slowly change life styles so that weight loss becomes the eventual outcome. This will take a long time to accomplish but if one can only keep his/her eye on the goal – we can make it happen.

Want to Know How to Get Your Kids to Really Talk to You?

Does it seem like an effort to get your children to say anything to you besides, “Fine” and “What’s for dinner?” Lack of communication can make parents feel closed off from their own kids.

But don’t despair! You can get kids to talk to you — really. Try these six suggestions from experts:

1: Don’t compare yourself to TV families.

Really good talk is pricelessIf you’ve ever watched shows like Modern Family or The Middle and wondered why your kids aren’t as chatty as the kids on those shows, you’re not alone. “Parents see kids talking to their parents on TV and they start worrying that they’re not doing enough of it,” says Carl Grody, LISW, MSW, a social worker who specializes in child, adolescent and family therapy in Columbus, Ohio. “Those [TV] parents have scriptwriters and 22 minutes of airtime to solve problems. In real life, it takes longer to make changes, but the changes are real, not made up.”

2: Pause and take a deep breath.

Telling your kids you’re upset about their one-word answers will only make the problem worse. “If you seem jittery, you may be projecting this to your kids and that stress is more likely to push them away than it is to draw them in,” Grody adds. Calm down and put things in perspective. You’re probably doing better than you think in the communication department.

3: Quiet your inner interviewer.

Instead of peppering your child with questions every day, ask him just one. “This may seem insufficient, but as you have more success getting him to answer you once, your child will feel more comfortable chatting and may even start volunteering more information,” Grody says.

4: Put down your phone!

If you want your kids to talk to you, set aside your cell, tablet or any other electronic distraction, says Loni Coombs, author of You’re Perfect…and Other Lies Parents Tell. Make your body language open and assuring: Turn your whole body toward your child and make eye contact. “This is important, because when there is something really important that they need to talk about, they will feel like they can come to you because they know you will listen.”

5: Make meals fun.

Since mealtimes are often when most families gather, make that time an enjoyable one. Draw out your kids by hiding questions under each plate. Or have each family member write out a question, suggests Coombs. “Everyone feels more talkative when there’s food involved,” Coombs says. “Sharing in the preparation of the meal is also a good time to talk.”

6: Consider instituting family meetings.

To create an environment where conversation is encouraged, schedule times several days a week to get together and share your thoughts as a family. “This becomes part of the family ritual and encourages conversation and sharing,” says Richard Horowitz, a parenting coach and author of Family Centered Parenting.

And to keep things going, avoid asking open-ended questions. “Instead of asking, ‘How was your day?’, which often leads to one-word answers, ask, ‘What was the best thing and worst thing that happened in school today?’” Horowitz suggests. “And always respond with non-judgmental comments.”

How to Talk to Your Kids About…Imaginary Friends

Why Imaginary Friends?

Being a toddler can feel very restrictive. Always being told what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. Older siblings and friends want your toys and you are always competing for attention. Imaginary friends are the ideal companions. They never take your toys, they do what you say, and never steal your attention. They can also serve as an outlet for children to express their emotions, a scapegoat to blame things on, and can serve as a protector when kids are scared.

Imaginary friends can worry parents. We are afraid that something is wrong with our child or that they won’t ever have real friends. There is no need to worry. Good research shows us that kids who have imaginary friends have plenty of real friends. They are creative, independent and sociable.

As parents, how should we talk to our children about imaginary friends?

DON’T make fun of imaginary friends, or make your kids feel dumb for having them.

DON’T initiate, by asking about the imaginary friend. Wait until your child initiates to play along.

DON’T let your child use their imaginary friend as an escape goat.

DON’T use the imaginary friend to get your child to do what you want.

  • DO welcome and accept the imaginary friend. Just keep it in the context of pretend. As adults, we can pretend too.
  • DO provide lots of opportunities for your child to use their imagination. Play with them so they learn how to role-play and make believe.
  • DO spend plenty of time with your child so they aren’t making up friends because they aren’t getting enough attention from you.
  • DO provide opportunities for your child to communicate and express their feelings, so they don’t use imaginary friends to communicate how they feel.

And most important…

  • DO learn from the experience. Imaginary friends can give valuable insight into how your child really feels. If the imaginary friend is scared of the dark and doesn’t want to go to bed, it could mean your child is afraid of the dark. Listen to what your child’s imaginary friend is saying and be open to the insights it might provide.

Having an imaginary friend is very normal. Unless your child is becoming withdrawn, and refusing to interact with others, you can usually rest assured that after a little time, the “friend” will be dismissed.

Until then, be open and kind to your family’s new addition.

8 Rules to Travel with Kids – Safely and Sanely

?????????????????????????????????????????????????Winter’s winding down and many are counting down the days to spring break and a trip someplace warm, or maybe just a day trip to a water park or the local indoor pool. You can probably see yourself there now – lounging around while the kids splash happily – family bonding, smiles all around, the stress of the many months of school, holidays and routine behind you – you hope.

As a single mom who has traveled solo across multiple continents with two kids since they were babies, I’ve learned a few things about traveling with kids that also keep me sane. Here are my basic and very realistic rules:

Rule #1: STICK TOGETHER!!! We have one rule that supersedes all others – stick together! Back it up with ‘if you can’t see me, I can’t see you’. This applies to museums, airports, parks, shopping centers and always, always around water. For infants and toddlers in the water this means staying within arm’s reach, meaning if you reach out your arm, you can grab them before they go under or get into trouble. As they get older, within 10 feet in a pool but closer if open or unfamiliar water. If your child is a competent swimmer (I define this by ability to do full 25 meter laps in deep water using a proper stroke) AND is in familiar water, you can lengthen the distance – but always within eye-sight and a distance you can easily navigate. And always swim near a lifeguard when possible. For some other great open water safety tips, click here. Once they are old enough to let them out of sight occasionally, have regular check-ins – and not minutes, use ‘every two songs’ or ‘every two times down the water slide’. Oh yes, I’m really mean, they don’t check in, we leave. Period. Better a mean mom than a dead kid.

Rule #2: Set expectations. Be brutally honest when you get ‘how much longer?’ The correct answer is ‘the whole day, as long as you are awake’ or ‘six episodes of Scooby-Doo’ or ‘the length of time it takes to get to Grandma’s house’. Don’t be afraid to say ‘longer than you can imagine, so don’t bother asking again.’

Rule #3: Toys. Forget that bag of perfectly entertaining toys that you so carefully chose to enrich their formative minds that you will bring out every half hour to divert them while you all bond happily. Let them choose one toy at the airport or before you leave on your car trip, make sure they know that batteries aren’t allowed to be used in the car/plane, and don’t cringe when they choose something vile, cheap and not even remotely educational. The fact that they chose the toy will mean it will probably occupy them the entire trip. Trust me – I saw a remote control plane and battery-operated kitten occupy my then 2 and 4 year-olds for an entire 9-hour flight – with the batteries removed.

Rule #4: Pack snacks. When it was just me I’d have my bottles of water and mist-bottle to stay hydrated and fresh, an assortment of current reading material, make-up to freshen up and heavens knows what other ‘essentials’ in my carry-on bag. Now I have snacks. Pre-packaged is best. Annie’s Fruity Bunnies, Twisted Fruit, and Z-bars are firm favorites. And this would be a good time to go natural, they are hyper enough with the travel, ditch the chemicals. Plus the fruit/fiber helps in other areas. In terms of quantity, a good rule of thumb is ‘one snack every hour of travel’, and at least that for drinking juice or water. Even picky eaters seem to get the munchies when they travel. Follow this routine up with forcing everyone to use every clean public bathroom whenever you find one, whether they need it or not.

Rule #5: Have a ‘travel bag’ for each kid. Mine started with a small duffel bag I could carry and graduated to Land’s End rolling backpacks – 7 years of hard travel and still rolling well. Make them personal and special – our bags are only for travel. I’d advise not to have the child’s name embroidered on the bag, it means strangers can call to your child by name, but my kids choose an embroidered soccer ball and cat to personalize their bags. Let your kids pack what animals/toys they think they need (not what you think they should take) and remind them to leave room for souvenirs. If they can’t carry it, they can’t take it – whether we are traveling across town or across countries.

Rule #6: Home is familiar, no place else is familiar. This means that in some cases you need to be more vigilant regarding safety. If you have a sleep-walker, make sure the doors are locked and/or barricaded, especially if there is a balcony. Going someplace with a pool or beach and you have a non-swimmer? Think about investing in one of the wrist bands that emits a loud noise if it is immersed in water, like Safety Turtle. Do not buy those inflatable arm bands. They are dangerous, not even toys in my view. Stick with a Coast Guard approved life jacket or, for reasonable swimmers, a SwimFin. Remember, your child is not around a pool or beach every day, they don’t understand the dangers.

Rule #7: Leave some rules at home. Whatever it takes. I’m a stickler for good manners in public places, but I also know I ask a lot of my kids with the traveling we do, so we leave some rules at home. Electronic devices are my BFF on long trips. On one especially brutal flight I told my then 7-year old son, ‘look, there’s Terminator #75 on channel 3! Watch that!‘ (kidding, but I was really close) We have a tradition now that on one night we order room service. It’s not a luxury, it’s a sanity-saver. The kids revel in sitting on the floor eating nuggets and fries while watching a movie. I have adult food, a glass of wine, and a good book. And we all RELAX!

Rule #8: RELAX! The stories that get re-told until they become family lore are frequently the ‘do you remember when….’, when things didn’t go exactly as planned, and especially when you messed up big time – those times will be the highlight of their childhood memories. The highlight of one recent trip (for my kids) was when I earnestly asked the guide ‘why is it called a brown snake eagle?’ (doing that ‘educate the kids thing’) Um, because it’s brown, it’s an eagle and it hunts snakes. Duh. It all goes into the family lore, what makes you a family, and it is some of the most treasured memories your children, and you, will have.

Travel is an education and an adventure in and of itself, so chill out and pack your bags!

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