Put a Bib on It


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Toddlers and Food

foodMy first memories with my great-grandfather are memories of him sneaking me bites of bologna and cheese. My grandpa was a chef and was always cooking for festivals, and as I grew up I got to tag along and learn a lot about cooking. Food and family gatherings have been important in my life and I want to share these experiences with our son.

As we introduce our son to our family culture and traditions around food, we have encountered some challenges and blessings. Eating can be a challenge with a young toddler, but when it comes to the way our son eats, we are blessed! Here are three of our struggles, and strategies we’ve used to cope:

It takes time.
Food with a toddler takes planning because we cook at home more often than we did before. I enjoy cooking, and I want our son to take part, even though it might make the process take longer. We have a small kid’s kitchen beside the pantry for our son to cook along with me. I have even held him on my shoulders while I’ve prepped things and stood him on a chair to wash vegetables and dishes in the sink. As he has grown he also has begun using a spoon or fork which make meal time even longer, but this is an important skill to work through. Chopsticks will be a bigger challenge down the road.

It takes patience.
When we sit down to eat it can take a lot of patience or wait time. Our son doesn’t always like the first bite of something so we might introduce a new food several times. This can be aggravating after spending time preparing a meal. Learning his preferences requires constant observation. Colors, textures, temperature, smells, and hunger level are all factors in his meal and snacks. Allowing him time to develop skills to feed himself and watching for cues of when he is finished have also been important.

It is often messy!
Being messy bothers my wife more than me. When we eat out, the floor can be pretty messy which sometimes gets more attention than we’d like. As we have added new foods, such as noodles, food ends up everywhere. Recently, he enjoys waving noodles in the air before eating them, resulting with some on the wall. But not to worry—everything can be cleaned and our dogs like helping. Although with dogs around during meals, it added to the mess. He enjoyed feeding the dogs a bit too much so we ended up needing to move them during meals. We have a huge stack of bibs which have saved on total outfit changes. We have also learned that when he is done with his bib, he is done eating.

Modeling the behavior we want to see has been important, especially when it comes to making healthy choices and learning manners during meals. There are few healthy choices out in the world for children so staying away from fast food chains and maintaining a healthy meal lifestyle has been important for my family. We  encourage words at meals and he quickly began to say “dink” for drink which was closely followed by “cookie.” But we continue to model “Please ” and “Thank you” and are hopeful that he will be a good model for a sibling.


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Get Outside!

Did you know that sunlight can actually positively affect your mood? There is actual, legitimate research that proves it. I can honestly say that I didn’t need a researcher to tell me that was true, though. I love outdoors. I love everything about it; I love the adventure it brings, I love the learning it brings, I love the exhaustion it brings, I love the smiles it brings, I love the smells it brings. Seriously, I love everything about the outdoors (except maybe the mosquitoes)!!

I was raised to love the outdoors. A lot of our family time growing up was spent bonding outdoors, whether it was at the lake, around a picnic table, playing whiffle ball in the front yard, going on bike rides, or just exploring. I want my children to have the same passion for the outdoors. For that reason, I am constantly on a mission to get outdoors and explore all that it can offer and what I have found is that the opportunities are endless!

Not only are the options and opportunities endless, so is the learning!

climb-tree
Bryce has been desperate to climb a tree ever since he saw his big brother do it. However, he is still too short to get himself into the trees at our house (unlike his big brother) and I have a rule about putting children into positions they can’t get themselves into (I don’t do it). When we were at a park the other day he noticed these bushes/trees that he could easily climb onto. He had a blast working on his gross motor skills and developing his spatial reasoning!

pond
This is Bryce, Drew and I at a pond full of fish and turtles. They come right up to the edge, making it easy to see these animals in their natural habitat. We had a blast watching them swim around and talking about the different things they do and eat. Even without many words, I knew Drew (11 months) was enjoying the experience, he spent the whole time babbling and pointing at all the animals. What a great science lesson!

caterpillar-1
Here we are at a butterfly garden. We got to experience both caterpillars (Bryce is here checking one out, up close and personal!) and butterflies. We even saw some catalysts! As we discussed how caterpillars change into butterflies, Bryce said “Like the book?!” (Very Hungry Caterpillar).  He is using his memory to recall what he has learned from books we have read in the past and making sense of it in his world!

creek
Here are the boys exploring a creek. We saw minnows, felt the water current on our bodies, and touched and discovered rocks. Talking to the children during this outing produced an overwhelming number of new words (vocabulary) we were able to experience: Cold, fast, small, hard, sharp, slippery, wet, current, creek, river, bank, and the list goes on! Books are great, but experiencing the real thing is incomparable!

water-fountain
Here is Bryce at a local park using a water pump to fill up a watering can. He then poured the water on plants, in the sand, on the sidewalk, and anywhere his heart desired (with the exception of his brother’s head). This is a great lesson on cause and effect. If you lift up the handle, water will come out and if you tip the watering can, water will come out!

evening-walk
Even something as simple as an evening walk can lead to learning! Just be sure to take the time for you and your child to notice all the amazing things around. Here, Bryce discovered an ant hill. He had a blast watching the ants crawl in and out and all around. In addition to the experience, the walk helps burn some excess energy before bed, leading to easier bedtimes. It’s a win-win for me!

Get out and enjoy the weather and the learning!


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Perseverance

toddler-running

Allowing children to explore their world is an important part of their development!

Our son is walking, almost running now and trying to be a daredevil with the furniture in the house. He has started looking right at me, smiling a little to see my reaction and then leaping, falling, and testing my reflexes. When he wants to get into something he is a pretty creative and persistent problem solver. We now have to lock the baby gates because he has figured out how to open them without much effort. He is adventurous to say the least and is extremely aware when I am actively present in the room. He has begun the “dada dada dada” as he’s doing something and I’m ready to  hear the “Watch me dad!” soon before he does something like jump from the top of the stairs.

As dangerous as some of his actions seem he is exploring his world and testing me a little —sometimes a lot. What I find really encouraging is that he is getting better at being a problem solver. He might fail for what seems like days to master opening something or getting to a book that he really wants that slipped under a chair. He never seems to get frustrated and continues to try. I could get it for him, and I do sometimes, but he is learning and it is inspiring to  see his mind working. I want to do all that I can to help him persevere as an independent little person so that he grows up and is able to see things through, meet goals, and ultimately be successful. But even if he can’t always follow through, achieve goals, or win it all that it isn’t the end of the world—we get up and try again.

I’m reminded of the persistence of athletes during the Olympics. Many people remember the Dream Team from the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games, but I remember a runner from that year. His name is Derek Redmond and he was a projected to win a medal. During his semifinals he tore his hamstring. He could have stopped, maybe he should have. But he tried to hobble toward the finish. Then a man came running onto the track through the security and judges. That persistent man was Derek’s father, and after he reached his son they gradually crossed the finish line together. I’m sure that it would have been great to win a medal, but a father and son crossing the line together is what life is about. Things happen in our journey, and it’s how we handle these bumps in the road that helps us learn and grow. Derek had worked so hard to get to the race and he probably would have gotten to the finish line on his own but sometimes it’s okay to let someone help out. This is the kind of relationship that I want with my son.


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Positive Risk Taking

PositiveRiskI want to raise children willing to take risks. The kind of risks I’m referring to are willingness to try or do things, even if they seem scary or overwhelming. I want my children to be confident in their abilities, even when faced with difficult circumstances or situations. I want my children to be willing to speak their minds and stand up for what they believe in. I want my children to know that I am completely supportive of them and are behind them (whether physically or philosophically, or both) in everything they do.

However, risk is something that can be difficult to teach. I have thought often about this, and have come up with a few things I do that I believe will help build confidence in my children.

Validate feelings. Whenever my children seem hesitant about experiencing something new, I always try to put what they are feeling into words for them. At library story time recently, they had a puppet show.  Afterwards, the librarians brought out the puppets for the children to meet. For whatever reason, Bryce (3) was hesitant to go up to meet and touch them. He clung to my leg, looking at me with eyes that made it clear he was nervous about approaching them. Rather than marking his fears as irrational and dragging him to the puppets, I reassured him and validated his feelings by saying, “I understand you feel nervous about going up to the puppets, we can go when you are ready.” We waited, watched all the other children go up to the puppets, all while talking about what the children that were visiting the puppets were experiencing. We talked about how the puppets were nice to everyone they met and how the children smiled as they said hello. As the line was dwindling down, he said he was ready.

Encourage and support, but don’t force.   Encouraging positive risk can start at a young age. In a world where safety seems to be at the forefront of everyone’s mind, positive risk doesn’t mean “unsafe”. When we go to the park, I let Drew (10 months) climb up the stairs of the climbers and slide down the short slides. I never lift him (or Bryce) up onto something. If they want to be there, they will persist, acquire new skills, and grow confidence in their abilities. Their look of accomplishment is worth the wait!!

Avoid reasoning and bribing. Telling a child they are going to like it or that it is fun likely is not getting to the heart of the problem. Bribing children will likely not lead to overcoming the fear either. Providing reassurance that you are there to support them when they are ready to take whatever challenge they may be facing will help them to overcome their fear in order to take a risk.  In my house, we try to never bribe or reason when it comes to food.  We lead by example and talk through when one of our children are squeamish to try something.  We discuss how everyone is eating it and each of us talk about how it tastes. We never force any of our children to eat anything, yet all three children will always eat anything put in front of them.  In Florida, we all even tried alligator without having to persuade anyone!

Foster independence and exploration. Children are naturally curious.  At a park recently, Bryce saw a boy go up a climbing wall that was bigger than he had ever been on. I observed him watch the boy in amazement and awe as he scaled it to the top. I then watched him slowly approach the climber. I could see and sense his hesitation, but he continued to approach it. He looked back at me for support; even though I was a little nervous for him, I smiled and nodded in encouragement. Then he started up the wall. It took him awhile to navigate the wall, but he made it to the top. I could see the pride in his face as he turned around and smiled at me.

Acknowledge Success. Take time to acknowledge when children overcome fear and take a risk. Retell what occurred to help solidify in the children’s mind what occurred. After Bryce climbed the wall, I said, “You were nervous to climb that wall, but you did it and it was fun!” In the face of future challenges, your child will remember that he felt that way then, but it ended up okay.


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A Tough Day for Mom

tough-day-for-momToday is a tough day for me.  They just wheeled my baby to the operating room.  Literally, I am sitting in a room with tears rolling down my face, looking at the spot where my two-year-old once sat coloring and racing cars around his bed with me.  He was so brave and didn’t even shed a tear. In fact, he sat on his ‘race car’ bed as they wheeled him down the hall enjoying  watching Mickey Mouse with the staff member responsible for befriending the child and making the transition away from parents and into surgery as calm and pleasant as possible for the child.  By the time he left, he was actually looking forward to seeing the “play room with lots of blue stuff”— aka the operating room!  I, on the other hand have had a constant stream of tears (I did put on my brave face until he was out of sight).  Fortunately for us, it’s just a fairly simple outpatient procedure that he has to be sedated for—I am certain there are families here for far scarier reasons and procedures.

My heart feels like it has escaped from my chest as I sit here typing this. My son’s safety and well-being are in the hands of another and I lack control in a situation I so badly want to have control over.  I want to be able to be there through the whole surgery, but I can’t. I want to be able to fix it without the procedure, but I can’t. I want to suffer the pain of recovery for him, but I can’t. I can’t be the mom I want to be able to be right now, and that’s tough.

The nurses have assured me that he did great the whole way to the ‘play room’ and only cried when they went to put the mask on him to put him to sleep. Now I must sit and wait for a grueling (at least) 2 hours before they will return him to the room I am waiting for him in. At that point, his procedure will be complete and he will be awake. I know he is in great hands, but I just can’t help but feel helpless in a time when I feel like my son might need me the most—or maybe when I need him most.


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First Birthday

first-birthdayWe just celebrated the traditional big milestone in a child’s life, the first birthday. Like many first-time parents, I felt there was a lot of stress to make this a special day, but at the same time, I don’t remember my first birthday or many birthdays growing up. My birthday always landed near a special weekend and was a busy time for our family. I don’t want this for my son—birthdays are a day of celebrating getting older and thanking and celebrating his mother as well. It doesn’t have to be a national holiday, but it does need to be special.

For this birthday, we knew it would be more of an event for the parents. We decided on setting some traditions to move forward. Since my wife is from China and our son was born in the year of the lamb, we had some toy lambs as part of our theme and hope to continue this tradition as he grows older. We decorated the house with balloons and flags making the house look like a rainbow. We also decided to have some sort of game to play each year. This year we played a fun game about occupations with items scattered on the floor that symbolized occupations/interests. First, he picked up a little football, and then he made his way through several other items until finally he was drawn to a little green New Testament bible. So maybe one day he will be a missionary, minister, writer, or librarian. We sang happy birthday and had fun with his cake, and even though he was a little sick he eventually made a huge mess for us.  He certainly gained a lot of energy after eating the cake. We finished with opening presents, and while he was most interested in the paper and bags, he really liked his lamb book from grandma.

Sadly the party had to come to an end, but our little boy did seem to have a lot of fun with everyone that day. We took lots of pictures and will have plenty of memories for this first birthday. As a worn out dad from setting things up and cleaning up afterwards, I reflected on the amount of time we are able to get together like this with our friends. I am hopeful that in the future we will have company more frequently, especially now that we have some practice after this gathering!


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Baseball Players Don’t Wear Diapers

Bryce-Baseball

My mother always told me that potty training me was as simple as building up hype to wearing big girl panties, receiving said big girl panties for my second birthday, being super excited about receiving the panties and never looking back to diapers. I thought it might be as simple with Bryce. I was wrong.

When it was Bryce’s second birthday back in July, I knew he wasn’t ready for underwear. Call it mother’s intuition—or maybe call it mother wasn’t ready (I was 8 months pregnant then, after all!). But, when Christmas rolled around, I decided to take the plunge. I was hoping it would play out just like it did for me and my mom and decided to give it a try, thinking, “How hard can it be?”

Christmas morning, he woke up to a present of some awesome big boy underwear with baseballs and basketballs on them—his favorite! To say he was interested in that particular gift would be a big stretch. However, we decided to proceed with the plan. We hoped we could spread the excitement about the underwear and he would want to go pee in the potty like daddy, mommy and big brother Ethan. His plan was much different than ours. There were a lot of outfit changes over the next few weeks, and very few potty celebrations. The frustration was evident throughout our house and we decided to back off until Bryce took more of an interest in the toilet himself.

As soon as we stopped hassling him to use the potty, and put him back into pull ups, he began to become more interested in it. He actually began asking to wear his underwear, and would tell us when he had to go potty. We usually just did short periods of time, to encourage positive results. (We had seen a lot of failure the previous month and we didn’t want potty training to feel like failure.) At that point he still didn’t want to wear underwear to child care. We didn’t force him to. By the end of February, he was still only using the toilet less than half the time and going in his pull up the majority of the day.

I knew Bryce had the control to go to the bathroom, we just hadn’t found the motivation he needed. We tried candy and small rewards for keeping his pants dry or for going in the potty. He just didn’t care about those rewards. Then we found the key: baseball.  It wouldn’t necessarily work for every kid, but for Bryce, it was the golden ticket. He loves baseball, and baseball players do not wear diapers. Baseball players go pee and poop in the potty. Simple as that. Upon this realization he began using the potty all the time. The first time that Bryce pooped in the potty, he looked at his accomplishment and said, “That’s baseball player poop?” I knew that day he wasn’t going back to diapers.

Potty training can be frustrating, not only for you as the parent but also for the child. It doesn’t have to feel like failure (like it did for us for a time). Trust your parenting instincts and listen to the cues your child is giving. It probably won’t be easy, but learn to trust each other and you will get through it together.