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Some Changes

June 29, 2011

It is with mixed feelings that I am announcing that I will no longer continue to post on this blog. I am sad to leave this space where I’ve been sharing parenting experiences with you, but happy with some changes that I’m making with my business.

For the past couple of years I have been posting recipes and articles related to feeding a healthy family on the Dinner Together blog while simultaneously posting articles related to parenting in a broader context on this blog. As I continue to evolve and develop my business, I’m realizing that I can’t continue to effectively write two separate blogs and offer two distinct newsletters. So going forward, I will be offering only the Dinner Together blog and newsletter. I firmly believe that feeding is parenting, and my goal is to help parents strengthen their relationships with their children ~ and the family table is a great place to start.

The content offered on the Dinner Together blog will change a bit. In addition to publishing recipes and other helpful, practical information to help you with family meals, I will also publish information to help parents learn strategies and skills for raising healthy, happy children.

So please join me over at Dinner Together!



Helping Children Own Their Problems

June 10, 2011

Yesterday the chairperson of a local school district’s Committee on Preschool Special Education where I do some work handed me an article to read that had inspired her to implement some new programming for the children she serves. The article* is a relatively quick read and worth the time if you have any interest in helping young children learn social skills.

The authors describe the first step in interpersonal problem solving to be answering the question, “What is my problem?” They go on to write, “Initially, children will need guidance to reframe defining the problem as the other person’s problem (e.g., ‘They won’t let me play’) to their problem (e.g., ‘I want to play with them.’)”. This one sentence really hit home for me because it’s something that I think is so important.

I guess I’m not past the “initial” stage with my own teen daughters. I am quick to pounce on any of their attempts to deflect responsibility for something that they’ve done onto some external person or situation ~ just ask them :). That’s not to say that external factors don’t have any influence, but we can only change what we can control. So if I want my children to learn from a problem, I want them to first see their own role in contributing to that problem. Then we can start to identify possible alternatives for going forward.

My experience is that teaching children this first step in interpersonal problem solving may not be so widespread. I have witnessed too many situations where parents are quick to blame others when their child has a social difficulty rather than examining the entire context including their own child’s role. It frustrates me, and I’m not sure what the answer is. I guess I’d like to hear from any of you who have had some successes – in your role as parent, teacher, coach, friend, whatever – in helping parents assist their children in that first step of answering the question, “What is my problem?” It would be encouraging to read.

*Joseph, G.E. & Strain, P.S. (2010). Teaching Young Children Interpersonal Problem-Solving Skills. Young Exceptional Children, (11) 28-40.

Using Behavioral Plans

June 8, 2011

I recently read a blog post criticizing the use of behavioral plans with children because they are not effective in longterm behavior change and because when you use a behavioral plan the rewards need to become increasingly bigger in order to work. Other critiques of using behavioral reinforcement systems with children that I have heard in the past include the belief that children should behave properly because “it’s the right thing to do” or because of intrinsic motivation, not because of an external reward. Further, some parents are opposed to behavioral systems because they feel that children should “just know” what behaviors are appropriate and expected.

I would argue that while all of these concerns are potentially valid, behavioral plans can be used effectively with children. I have used them with my own children and have helped other parents implement them with their children. Some of the above concerns reflect a lack of understanding about how to use a behavioral plan. An effective plan needs to consider: 1) clearly defining a small number of behaviors to target; 2) determining how the behavior will be tracked; 3) to choosing an effective reward; and 4) phasing out the program when behaviors are achieved. Rewards should not become increasingly bigger. Rather the demands for achieving them should increase over time. My Empowered Parenting Workbook discusses this all in more detail.

I have found that a behavioral plan or reward system is most effective for establishing a new behavior in the short term. When you find yourself stuck in the same negative pattern with your child repeatedly (e.g., battles over morning routines, struggles over your child’s forgetfulness with bringing home necessary materials for homework, fights over cleaning up after play, etc.), a behavioral plan can bring focus and attention to making a change. Once the new pattern is established, the plan should be phased out. Long-term use of behavioral plans can be difficult to enact because of the demands of tracking and adjusting the system on typically very busy parents, and is usually only necessary with children with significant behavioral disorders.

Children are not necessarily born with the internal knowledge of expected behavior and reinforcement systems can be a valuable tool to help them on the path to learning. The motivation for good behavior often becomes internalized with repeated practice and experience.

Further, I would argue that using behavioral plans and creating a loving connection with your child are not mutually exclusive.

I’m curious what your experience in using behavioral plans has been. Successful? Challenging? A disaster? Frustrating?

Special Event for Parents of Picky Eaters

June 5, 2011

I will be hosting a free call-in for parents of picky eaters on June 14, 2011 at 8pm EST/5pm PST. For more information about this event and to register, visit Kitchen Table Parents.

If you can’t join us live, please leave your questions in the comments below. A replay recording will be made available to Kitchen Table Parents members.

So what are your most burning questions about feeding your kids successfully? What would you like to know?

One Size Does Not Fit All

May 10, 2011

I’ve been trying to catch up on some of my psychology reading lately. An article on positive psychology in the APA Monitor, used a term, “person-activity fit,” that I hadn’t seen before, although the concept is familiar. The term (which is a little too jagony for me) reflects the finding that not all happiness-increasing strategies work for everyone. For example, some people may benefit from taking the time to “count their blessings,” while others may not. The concept of “person-activity fit” is particularly relevant for parenting.

It sounds so obvious, but I think it’s an often overlooked obviousness. We may read about a particular parenting strategy that sounds like a great idea, but then it doesn’t really seem to work with our own kids. Or maybe something that worked with your first child doesn’t have nearly the same effect with your second child. It really gets to the heart of one of my 3 keys of empowered parenting: knowing your child. Taking the time to figure out what makes your child tick is vital to the success of any parenting strategy.

So while we may know that “one size doesn’t fit all” and that “each child is unique,” sometimes we may forget and unintentionally end up banging our heads against a figurative wall trying to parent in a way that “should” work, but isn’t. What has been your experience with “person-activity fit” and parenting? What do you do to really try to understand your individual child?

My Place of Peace and Calm

May 4, 2011

I took this photo on my phone a couple of weeks ago while lying on a beach chair on Spring Break with my family. I wanted to remember the moment. I felt so calm and peaceful. It was a short but wonderful vacation. We were all together, the sun was shining, and we left our crazy schedules behind. I wanted an image to remember what that feels like. I’m hopeful that this image will bring me back to that moment when I need it.

I know that not everyone has the opportunity to afford a tropical vacation. But my hope is that everyone has some special moment in their life that they can call upon when they need a place of peace of calm. What is yours? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

Essay Writing as a Behavior Teaching Tool…and America’s Next Top Model

April 20, 2011

This weekend we had some friends over for dinner, and one of my 9 year old daughter’s essays was lying on the counter. This was not a school essay, but an essay that I had assigned her to write. Essay writing has been a tool that my husband and I have used heavily since our oldest was able to write.

This is how it would work typically. One (or more) of our girls would behave in a way that we were not happy with for some reason (e.g., disrespecting us, fighting with a sibling, blatant defiance, etc.). We would send her to her room to write an essay which described a) her version of what happened, b) her version of what lead up to what happened, c) her ideas on why it was wrong to do whatever it was that she did, and d) her thoughts on what she could do differently next time.

Typically these essay assignments were met with some dread and resistance on our kids’ part. Often multiple drafts were needed before we accepted a final version. Even knowing that they would sometimes write separate essay versions that were not for our eyes containing content like “my sister is a jerk,” “I hate Dad,” and the like, I truly believe the process was valuable. They learned to make connections between their behavior, their feelings, and their effect on others. They had to stop and think about these connections. And through the process of the discussions of their essays with us, they learned clear expectations for their behavior from us.

Interestingly, the essay that was out on the counter this weekend was not assigned as a disciplinary action. Rather, I was feeling that I may have been a “bad parent” in some way for letting my 9 year old watch re-runs of America’s Next Top Model. She had recently become enthralled with the show, which although it has been on the air for many years, I had never seen. Watching it with her, I was thinking aloud, “I don’t know if I should let you watch this. It doesn’t seem to have a very good message about women and body image.” So I asked her to write me an essay outlining her argument for why I should let her watch it. The essay she wrote (with the help of her older more experienced essay-writing teenage sister), was priceless. My daughter is very dramatic and is her happiest self when she is performing in some type of show. In her essay she wrote all that was learning (e.g., how to smile with her eyes, how do hair and make-up, etc.) that will help her in her future as a performer. Needless to say, America’s Next Top Model is now a show that she can watch…and I’m saving her essay.