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How can I expand my picky eater’s palate?

Dear Mama Drama:

My two-year-old won’t eat anything, but macaroni and cheese. I’m afraid to give him other things because if he doesn’t eat it he’ll be hungry. I see other children, even younger than him, eating a wide variety of foods. I am amazed that they will eat things like tofu and vegetables.

How can I get my son to eat a wider variety of foods?

~Scared of starving

Dear Scared:

Many children have difficulty expanding their food choices once they have found a favorite food. Macaroni and cheese, PB & J, and mashed potatoes are common favorites. They may like the texture, smell, or associate a positive experience with that food. However, we have to offer them other foods on a regular basis if we want them to make other choices. Our job as parents is to provide healthy options for our children to eat, not to force them to eat it.

Children may need to try a new food several times before they develop a preference for it. Having a family rule that everyone tastes each type of food offered at a meal is a good way to start. Varying the ways that you prepare food can also make a difference. You don’t have to be a short-order cook, but cooking foods in a way that your child is more likely to eat them ensures a better chance of success. If your child doesn’t like slimy foods, don’t offer cooked spinach. Instead, offer him spinach salad with yummy cranberries or mandarin oranges and a sweet vinaigrette dressing. As parents, it is important to model trying foods we previously disliked as well.

Sometimes children are more willing to try new foods if they can dip them in something familiar. Barbeque sauce, salad dressings, and honey are just a few choices that may make a new food more appealing for your child.

Some children (and adults) don’t like their food mixed or touching. To those of us whom this does not bother, it doesn’t always make sense. But rather than forcing the issue, simply use plates that have sections in them to separate the foods. It’s an easy fix that eliminates an unnecessary battle.

If your child misses a meal or two, he will be hungry but will not starve. If you have provided healthy, kid-friendly food to eat and he has refused to eat, then you have done your job. Be sure you refrain from rescuing your child on these occasions by giving him the mac and cheese after he’s refused to eat other foods you’ve provided.

There are times when extenuating circumstances may be impacting your child’s willingness or ability to eat other foods. Some children have sensory processing issues that make eating different food textures almost unbearable. Others have very sensitive senses of smell that may cause them to avoid foods. Subtle reactions to unknown food sensitivities or allergies may also be an underlying reason. If you have concerns in any of these areas, please consult your pediatrician.  

-Lisa Vratny-Smith

Deck the Halls With Hopeless Holiday Photos

I stood looking at the holiday photos of my friend’s children. They were sitting still with perfect smiles. Not a single hair was out of place. Their clothes were on.

I wondered how they did that.

Maybe the children in the photo weren’t real.

Preschool: A Transition from ABC to X+Y=Z

Preschool started for us a couple weeks ago. By “us,” I mean my kids started school—obviously I’m not in preschool. If I was, it wouldn’t be so bad. Because it’s preschool.

Right now, school is all about rules and boundaries and fine motor skills. But, soon it’ll be about geography and geometry, which have no place in our home except for the shape of things. Really, how often do you have to figure out the area of your dining room table mirror?

A (Funny) Family Guide to Hiking With Toddlers: 12 Things You need

One of the things I love most about outdoor actives and small children is that it generally wears them out. Oh, and it makes memories and stuff.

Before we had kids, my husband and I were out every weekend on a different adventure. We had the luxury of just hopping in our car and going. We didn’t need to take naps into consideration because we’d nap after our destination hike, or wine tasting.

Boy, has that changed.

These days hiking is still fun but, it’s more of a three-ring circus kind of fun. Where people cry, and someone almost always falls and gets a face full of dirt. Like anything else with parenting, hiking with toddlers takes some trial runs to finesse it a little.

Here’s a few tips on what you’ll need:

12 Days of Toddler Christmas

As Christmas rounds the corner, I find myself officially on the other side of the Christmas magic. That doesn’t mean Christmas has no magic left. It simply means that after the Christmas magic dust has settled to the floor, I have to clean it up. With a broom. Because my three-year old shows the same amount of fear towards the vacuum as I would, if I opened my pantry and found an actual shark inside.

The side of Christmas I’m talking about  is the day-to-day side: Hey, hey! It’s Christmas! Also, it’s Tuesday! Did you pay the utility bill?

I don’t know who wrote the Christmas carol: “Twelve Days of Christmas.” But, I’d be willing to bet both the giver and recipient were adults. Not just because a verse from Twinkle Twinkle Little Star doesn’t make a cameo, but because the gifts are actual gifts. Weird gifts, but gifts nonetheless. If the writer had been singing about gift giving from toddlers, then it’s easy to understand how day-to-day life ties into an adult’s Christmas.

Ladybugasaurus Rex: a costume suggestion for an indecisive toddler

I was assigned the challenging task of selecting a Halloween costume this year.

I’m buying her costume because I can’t sew. I can glue like nobody’s business. But it’s too risky. I could construct the most amazing Mrs. Potato-head costume out of tacky glue, construction paper, foam and rubber cement; only to have it fall apart halfway through trick or treating. Because you never know when Colorado will decide that humidity should go from 0-95%. In a block and a half. Before it snows. At 95 degrees. Suddenly my child would stop getting treats. The homeowner, seeing her holding all her potato parts, would think she’s looking for a trash can.

The last two years she’s been a lion. Wearing an adorable costume my mother-in-law sewed from scratch. This year her sister will be inheriting that legacy, because the costume fits. My two-year old is too tall for a third year in that thing. Though I contemplated sending my child door to door in a costume that was high watered—it just wasn’t worth the headache of a conversation we’d have when she turned fifteen. The conversation that would start off, “How could you guys let me go out looking like that?” Then I’d have to hunt down, and destroy, all the photos of her wearing my little pony panties on her head.

How Do I Transition My Baby from the Family Bed?

Dear Mama Drama:

My husband and I have been practicing the family bed with our son who is now eighteen months olds. We all sleep in the same bed, with him either in the middle or on the outside of me with a portable bed-rail next to him. He also sleeps in our bed during his naps. As he is getting bigger we think he is ready to begin sleeping in his own bed in his room.

We want to make this a smooth transition that maintains the trusting relationship we have built with him. Do you have any recommendations on how to proceed?

 ~Trusted mama

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How can I support my toddler during sibling sports?

~With summer sports seasons moving into full swing, this post is a good reminder for families with tag along toddlers.

Dear Mama Drama:

My husband and I have two older elementary and middle school age children who are very active in sports throughout the year. I also have a toddler who gets to tag along to all of their activities. Sometimes my little one does well and other times he really struggles and has big meltdowns. He gets tired and cranky, wants to be picked up or taken home, whines and throws fits, and the games and practices often interrupt his dinner and bedtime. I try to be flexible, but am often exhausted trying to entertain him and still support the older two. I need help juggling all of this, but don’t know where to turn. Any ideas?

~ Stumped Mama

(photo credit)

Dear Stumped:

Many families with children whose ages vary widely struggle to balance the needs of all the kids when it comes to extra-curricular activities. Each one uses a combination of solutions that fit for them. Here are some ideas:

While I’m sure you want to be at all of your older children’s activities, there may be times when you need to stay home with you little one to give him some down time. You and your husband may trade off staying home and going to games/practices or enlist  family or friends to transport your older kids or stay home with the younger one.

Ask family members to attend games and share in engaging and supporting your younger son.

Coordinate with other team parents who have younger children and take turns taking the young ones to a nearby park or out in the hallway to run or play games.

Enlist non-participating older siblings. Often there are siblings of team members at games and practices who are somewhat bored themselves. Younger siblings often love attention from these upper elementary and teenage children who will play with and entertain them just for the fun of it.

Bring activities for your younger son. You can bring some of his favorite toys and books along or have a special set that are only available during these activities. Be sure to rotate what you bring so he doesn’t get bored.

Pack snacks and drinks for your little one. Hungry kids are cranky kids, so be sure to have a variety of healthy snack options and plenty to drink.

Observe your younger son to catch the early signs that a melt down is coming. Rather than waiting for him to completely fall apart, look for the subtle signs of fatigue and irritability. (One clue can be when you are beginning to feel irritated by his behavior, he probably needs a change.) Then take action to feed him, give him a break, engage him in a new activity, or take him home.

I’m sure all you Mamas out there have lots of other great ideas that have worked for your families. Please share!!

Potty Training Tips from a Mom of Nine

I have helped seven children graduate out of diapers and into undies. My first few kids were subjected to all kinds of nonsense, fueled by advice found in parenting manuals. Barrels of tears were cried as accidents mounted. Frustration and angst hung in the air as my main focus in life seemed to be the state of my little one’s innards. It took a long time to learn that bladders don’t know how to read anything, especially parenting manuals. Bladders don’t blow out birthday candles, either, so they aren’t aware they just turned two.

When I began thinking about potty training our fourth child, a thought occurred to me. My three oldest kids had terrible times mastering the numerous skills that need to come together. Kids need physical self-awareness, the ability to anticipate, savvy timing, communication skills, and muscle control. It’s a lot to piece together. If one or more of those elements are missing, all the candy and gold star stickers in the world won’t help. The kindest solution is one thing:

Mama Drama: 3rd Anniversary Advice Round Up

It’s October, which means falling leaves, Halloween, and the 3rd Anniversary of our Mama Drama advice column. We’ve rounded up and sorted out the advice over this last year so it’s easy to find what you need. Bookmark it and send it to your mama friends!

(photo credit)

Keep the questions coming ([email protected]) and remember the more we ask, the smarter we get at navigating this amazing journey called Motherhood.

Daily Routines

Ending Morning Madness