All posts by The Attached Family

A Win-Win Situation: How to Teach Sportsmanship

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

How to Teach SportsmanshipBoard games, sports, and other competitive activities can bring families closer together as well as teach children important lessons about character. A friend of mine has a nephew who is so unpleasant when he loses, that she refuses to play board games with him anymore. He pounds on the table, calling the other players cheaters or making excuses that it wasn’t his fault he lost the game.

It’s naturally for children and teens to feel disappointment when they lose a game — especially in a society where winning gets attention and attention boosts self-esteem.

The Dangers of Poor Sportsmanship Go Beyond the Game

Without a parent to teach the child how to handle wins and losses gracefully, as well as healthy ways to boost self-esteem, competitive children can turn to winning to feel good about themselves. And it’s not just winning by skills alone on the volleyball team, but winning at all costs in other areas of life where they may be tempted to turn to stealing clothes to win peer acceptance, cheating on a test to get parental approval, or badmouthing a teammate to win attention from the coach.

Teaching Sportsmanship Begins at Home

Teaching good sportsmanship is like teaching anything else. Children learn primarily from what their parents model in their behavior. In her article, “When Good Kids are Bad Sports,” Susan Linn lists these questions for parents to ask themselves when they notice poor sportsmanship in their child’s behavior:

  • How do I behave when I’m playing games with my child? How do I react when my child makes a mistake, when he wins, when she loses?
  • How do I behave at my child’s sports games? Do I ever get visibly angry at the coach or the referee?

What to Do When It Happens

In the moment when your child is displaying poor sportsmanship, it’s important to react with calm empathy and to focus on teaching the behaviors you wish to see, just as you would when your child is having a tantrum or upset with something else. Here is an example of how to do this:

  1. Observe without judgment – “You look upset.”
  2. Open the lines of communication – “I’m here if you want to talk about it.”
  3. When your child does describe the situation, empathize – “Gosh, that would be frustrating.”
  4. Problem-solve with your child, letting him take the lead but clarifying any family values – “Let’s come up with some ideas about what to do if this would happen again.”
  5. Take the pressure off your child – “I know you really wanted to win, but it’s more important that you have fun.”
  6. Share examples from your life of feelings after you won or lost, and the choices you made in displaying those feelings – “I remember playing soccer when I was younger, and we lost our last game of the season. I was so disappointed, I even cried! So I decided to practice more, and when the next year came, our team played a lot better.”

How do you resolve feelings of disappointment in your child when he loses a competition or game?

How to Play with Your Toddler

By Emily Rempe, founder of Productive Parenting

We are all too aware of how modern technology is changing our lifestyles. Arguments could be made with much validity on each side to the merits and detriments of its steady infiltration into our lives. I am not writing to deny or defend the impacts of modern technology in our society and in our families. Rather, I am writing to declare with confidence one area that remains unsurpassed by modern technology – your child’s play.

Children are designed to explore and understand the world around them through their senses. Their primary field guides in this exploration is you: the parent. Parents understand the importance of this role and aspire to introduce their young children to the world around them in creative and engaging ways. However motivated parents may be, when it comes to specific ways of engaging with their children in meaningful play, I often hear a collectively shared experience of inadequacy. This is when it becomes easy to buy into modern technology in an attempt to provide us with a commercialized means to nurture our children.

Why Do We Feel Inadequate?

I would like to offer my thoughts on why the perceived sense of inadequacy exists and how it can be alleviated. A generation ago, our mothers’ educational opportunities were primarily limited to nursing and teaching. As these teachers became mothers, they naturally applied what they were doing in the classroom to their own children. The understanding of early childhood development easily translated into age appropriate ways of engaging with their own brood.

While it is wonderful that the opportunities available to women today are much broader, it has created a need for early childhood experts to share their expertise with parents who have become educated and skilled in other areas of study.

Components of Meaningful Play

When parents are equipped with the insights and ideas of early childhood experts to promote learning through the five senses, two key developments take place that cannot be usurped by modern technology:

  1. It promotes experiential learning through a child’s five senses which lays a fundamental understanding of the world around them.
  2. Sharing the learning experiences together promotes and deepens bonds between parent and child that will lay a strong foundation for their future relationship.

When we as parents become a vital part of this nurturing process through activities that promote bonding between parent and child, we are well on our way of fulfilling our role. Equipped with timeless activities that have been nurturing young minds for centuries, we do not need to feel inadequate in our approach.

Attachment-Promoting Toddler Games

Below are a few examples of play activities that engage the senses and strengthen the attachment bond between you and your toddler. These suggestions come from, which offers simple ways to bond with your newborn through five-year-old child.

Clapping Numbers
Clapping Numbers gameTarget Age: Early 2 year old

What To Do: Children learn using the sense of hearing. Listening and following directions are important skills for your child. Introduce this fun activity by saying, “I will clap one time.” Clap. “I will clap two times.” Clap. Clap. Continue up to four times. Have your child try clapping one, two, three, and four times. Continue only if your child is still interested.

Phone Conversations
Phone Conversations gameTarget Age: Middle 2 year old
Materials You Will Need: Two toy phones or disconnected phones

What To Do: Your child has seen and heard you on the phone many times. Now may be the time to let your child have a conversation with you on the phone! Dial your home number. Say it out loud as you dial. Talk to your child. Give your child time to talk to you. Show your child how to dial the home number. Keep the phones on the toy shelf for playtime.

Letter to Myself
Letter to Myself gameTarget Age: Late 2 year old
Materials You Will Need: paper, envelope, stamp

What To Do: Children love to bring in the mail! Help your child understand how this works firsthand with today’s activity! Begin by having your child write a letter. (This usually means drawing.) Put your child’s letter in an envelope. Address the letter to your child. Let your child put a stamp on the envelope. Take your child to a mailbox and let your child put the letter in the mailbox. Let your child check the mail every day until the letter arrives. Children are so excited to receive mail, just like you do!

Past, Present, Future
Target Age: Early 3 year old

What To Do: Today’s activity will help develop your child’s concept of time. Discuss the concepts of past, present, and future with your child. Give your child a few examples of things that have happened in the past (last birthday, last vacation, etc.), and see if your child can come up with some, too. Now discuss today’s events as things that are happening in the present. Do the same for things that will or may happen in the future. Test your child’s understanding of the concept by giving your child an event and asking him/her to categorize it.

Coin Patterning
Coin Patterning gameTarget Age: Late 3 year old
Materials You Will Need: assortment of coins

What To Do: While waiting in a restaurant, use the coins you have in your pocket or wallet to practice patterning with your child. Start with simple patterns, like penny, nickel, penny, nickel and see if your child can continue the pattern. Try more complicated patterns with more than two coins or let your child come up with his/her own patterns.

Unschooling: Learning through Play

By Jan Hunt, member of API’s Advisory Board and API’s Editorial Review Board. Reprinted with permission from

Unschooling: Learning through PlayMy son Jason, now a young adult, has been unschooled from the beginning – we were fortunate to have discovered John Holt’s books when Jason was two, and never looked back.

Jason was a very inquisitive child, who loved learning new words and playing with numbers. He had an extensive vocabulary by 18 months, understood the concept of infinity at two years old, and taught himself squares and square roots at three. In spite of all this, I still wondered if I should use a curriculum, especially for math. It was hard not to worry when taking a path that was so different from the one I had taken in childhood. It was also hard not to be affected by my parents’ doubts, even though I understood the reasons for their skepticism.

When Jason was seven years old, he asked for a math book as his special holiday gift that year. We had recently read John Holt’s glowing review of Harold Jacobs’ book, Mathematics: A Human Endeavor, in Growing Without Schooling. The book proved to be as wonderful as John Holt had said, and we enjoyed it a lot. But a few months later, I noticed that Jason hadn’t looked at it for a while. I decided to suggest reading a chapter per week together. Fortunately, I was busy that day and didn’t get around to asking him. That evening, Jason came up to me, book in hand, saying, “Let’s play math.” My first thought was, “Whew, that was a close one.” Had I made my offer, he probably would have accepted it, and even learned from it, but where would the concept of math as play have gone? Continue reading

Trust Your Baby to Show You When to Breastfeed

By Jack Newman, M.D. & Teresa Pitman, reprinted with permission from The Latch and Other Keys to Breastfeeding Success

Trust your baby for breastfeeding successBabies are born with the skills and instincts to help them breastfeed, but we often ignore the messages and cues they are sending us. It is much easier for your baby to latch if your baby is calm yet ready to nurse. The entire process becomes far more difficult when the baby is upset, exhausted from crying, overly hungry, or not hungry at all, so it is valuable to tune into your baby’s cues and internal rhythms so that breastfeeding happens when the baby is ready.

Learn to recognize your baby’s early signs of hunger:

  • If you are holding the baby skin-to-skin, your baby may move towards the breast on her own. Even without the skin-to-skin component, if you are holding the baby upright against your chest, he will signal his interest in feeding by shifting to one side and moving down your body into position to breastfeed. Some babies will almost throw themselves to the side in an attempt to get into position.
  • If your baby is sleeping in a separate bassinet or incubator, he may show his desire to nurse by smacking his lips and sticking his tongue out repeatedly, putting his fists to his mouth, sucking on his fingers or the blanket, and other sometimes subtle behaviors. Watch your baby and get to know his early cues.
  • If you are not sure if your baby really wants to breastfeed, try it and see. If your baby really doesn’t want to eat, he won’t.

Waiting until the baby is crying is not helpful, as it makes learning to latch more difficult. On the other hand, by paying attention to your baby’s behaviors, you truly will become the expert in caring for your baby. Watching your baby’s cues will allow you to feed with love and respect, and increase your confidence as well.

Lose that Stubborn Baby Fat…and Keep Your Exercise AP-Friendly

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

Exercise, but keep it APPregnancy changes a woman’s body, and in ways that last long after the baby comes. Many women find that their shoes no longer fit, or that they’ve developed gallbladder and other health issues they didn’t have before. Some women find that pregnancy seems to cure previously untreatable medical conditions such as frequent headaches or, for me, a sense of smell that disappeared after a concussion in elementary school.

Almost universally, women find that their body shape has changed, too. Even with breastfeeding, which is the best postnatal weight-loss plan, mothers may not lose all their baby fat or their metabolism may slow down.

While you can easily reason that your body’s problem area, whether that’s your hips or waist, is a worthy tradeoff for your baby, it may be necessary for your sense of family and personal balance to adopt an exercise program – not to mention, the boost of health benefits that comes along with getting into shape. According to, exercising wards off not only the risks that come with obesity, such as diabetes and heart disease, but also depression and osteoporosis. It also gives you an outlet for stress and improves your stamina so you keep going on those days, or nights, when the kids are running circles around you.

The challenge with exercise is first making it a priority, so it’s something that you do regularly. Second, you’ll need to choose activities where a baby or child can accompany you. With a baby, a sling or carrier or stroller can keep baby with you. But, as a child grows older, it’ll be more appropriate to choose games that both of you can do together.

Some easy activities to do with a baby in tow include:

  • Yoga or pilates
  • Walking, or running with the baby in a stroller
  • Bicycling with baby in a safety seat or child trailer
  • Weight room or gym training activities

Toddlers like music and a lot of movement but only for short amounts of time, such as:

  • Dancing
  • Playing tag
  • Kicking a ball around the yard
  • Bicycling with child in a child trailer

An older child or teen can participate in just about any sport you choose. The trick will be choosing an activity both of you enjoy, but the list is virtually unlimited:

  • Soccer
  • Volleyball
  • Basketball
  • Football
  • Running or walking
  • Swimming
  • Bicycling

Getting back into shape is more than helping yourself feel more balanced. It’s a great way to teach your child the importance of maintaining personal health, which goes hand-in-hand with eating nutritious foods and getting enough sleep. And should you feel passionate about a certain activity, say you love to play and watch basketball, it’s a way you can share this part of your life with your child.

What activities or games have you found to help you get exercise while strengthening the bond with your child? Comment below, or discuss this topic on the new Good for You! health and wellness section of the API Forum, such as this new post on stubborn belly fat.

Diverting Anger in Toddlers

By Gaynell Payne

angry toddlerWith toddlerhood comes tantrums. While some parents are taken by surprise by the seemingly violent appearance of a child raised in a non-violent home, it is a perfectly natural rite of passage for any child. The reasons behind it are simple: lots of emotions with little logic. The emotions that can overtake a toddler can be a floodgate of overwhelming proportions.

I’m OK, You’re OK

While watching their sweet angel turn into a hitting and kicking tornado may leave some parents at their wits’ end, the idea is not to suppress your child’s anger or frustration but to teach him to control them. In a young child, the strength of his emotions can be scary for him, also. That’s why it’s important that the parents stay in control of themselves during a tantrum. When you do, you are showing him by example how to maintain calm in stressful situations, even if it doesn’t seem like he’s getting that picture yet. If you’re out of control, then you are in effect asking your child to do what you cannot: calm his intense emotions. In this situation, a child’s fear of his “out of control” emotions may eventually escalate into what psychologists call magical thinking, according to Abnormal Psychology by Leonard Zusne and Warren Jones. “If mommy can’t handle my emotions, who can? They must be too strong for anyone.” This could lead to an abundance of issues in adulthood.

No one is perfect – at least, no one I’ve met. The best of parents will occasionally fail to maintain perfect calm and no one will be injured for it, but on the whole that is the goal. If you empathize – put yourself aside and try to see things from your child’s point of view – it is easier to be compassionate and not lose your cool.

Give It an Outlet

Anger isn’t a very fun thing to have bouncing around in your insides. It’s got to come out somehow and  preferably in a way that is acceptable to the rest of the family. For me, I’ve found that some wonderful advice, such as handing my son a crayon and asking him to draw his emotions, didn’t apply to a child under three. When my two year old would try to hit me, I’d take his hands and say, “You’re really mad! I know you’re mad! Hit your hands together!” I’d pretend I was mad, too, to show him. I’d clap my hands together, growl, and say “I’m mad!” He’d clap his hands together as hard as he could and growl.


Part of why this tactic works for him is he feels validated. Validation involves listening to your child, then reflecting back to him what he is feeling.

We all feel sometimes like we are speaking a foreign language. We’re trying to talk, but the person we are talking to just doesn’t “get it.” If it’s someone very important to us, this can lead to a rainbow of very ugly feelings like frustration and despair. To a child experiencing this, those feelings can quickly escalate into rage and hopelessness. This is true from birth. Crying is the only language that infants possess. Picking up our babies to comfort them instead of letting them “cry it out” is the earliest form of validation.

When our babies grow into toddlers, their ways of communicating have evolved a little bit but not that much. It’s still a rare child who can always rationalize what he is feeling and communicate his needs. Many adults haven’t mastered that skill! It is still up to us to help them recognize what they are feeling, identify it, and work through it.

To a baby, it is enough to pick them up and change his diaper when he’s wet. They learn that “Oh, I was uncomfortable, because I was wet. Mommy fixed that.” They not only get a clean diaper but two added bonuses: They learn why they were unhappy, and they learn that someone cared enough to see it and fix it. Knowing that someone cares enough to do that for you is one of the basic emotional needs of humanity. Relationships of all types are won and lost in that regard.

A two year old is just entering the real meat of the emotional arena. Some see their constant need for emotional reassurance as manipulation or a weakness that must be toughened up. But humans are hard-wired to seek out validation at any age. We must know from someone that we are OK as we are, cared for, and loved. A toddler especially is in an age of discovery: so many new challenges and things he is learning to do, and having trouble doing, and things he can’t or isn’t allowed to do. It can all tie in to a child’s sense of self-worth. The newness that a toddler finds herself suddenly experiencing leaves her needing more reassurance.

Most of the time, it is relatively easy to validate a child. All you have to do is pay attention, and reflect back what you see. ”I know you’re mad, (sad), (frustrated), (you’re smiling, are you happy today?)” A validated child feels loved and in sync with the world.

I could tell that my son and I were making progress when we were in the mall and he wanted to go play in the toy store. Again. We were on our way out, and we had already stopped there earlier. I told him “No, it was time to go home.” He drug his feet and finally sat down and said, “I’m mad!”

“You’re mad?” I replied. “I know you’re mad! I know you wanted to play with the toys. But we still have to go now.”

He climbed to his feet and came with me without any more protest. He had just wanted me to know that he was mad. I was proud of his ability to tell me what he was feeling instead of throwing a fit.

Play It Out

Children love to play pretend, and it can be rewarding and fun for an adult to play, too. It is also a wonderful learning tool. Adults can use pretend to teach a child what to do when a real situation arises.

“Pretending that you’re mad” is a fun game for most children. This is the easiest time to show them healthy ways to be angry. This play time gives your child the opportunity to decide what works best for him, or to even come up with his own stuff. One of our favorite books, My Two Hands, My Two Feet by Rick Walton and Julia Gorton, has a line that says: “When I’m mad, I stomp my feet, like drummers as they beat, beat, beat.” My son would joyfully pretend that he was mad and stomp his feet.

The next time he’d get really mad, I’d say, “You’re really mad! Stomp you’re feet; you’re so mad!” And he would, crying through his tears, “Beat, beat, beat!”

It takes repetition for a child to learn to use their new diversion instead of hitting mommy or daddy, or the cat. That’s when you’d just gently take their hands and say, “No, don’t hit Mommy. If you’re mad, clap your hands together.”

Anger Management: Ways to Say ‘I’m Mad!’

  • Clap your hands
  • Stomp your feet
  • Growl
  • Say “I’m mad!”
  • Color a picture with angry scribbles
  • Get a cloth and twist it really tight
  • Hit a pillow

I’m Mad, Too

Sometimes, the best way to teach is by example. Some days we all just get overwhelmed. When you’re upset and he’s yelling, an honest “I’m mad!” said in a childish, exaggerated way may feel silly coming from mommy, but you’re showing your child that you’re human, too. This could be when that light of dawning association may occur: “Mommy said it like I say it. Is she feeling like I felt yesterday?” This is the beginning buds of empathy. As parents, this is one of our ultimate goals! A child who learns healthy ways of handling his emotions will feel emotionally balanced and more in tuned to everyone else around him.

Keep a Sense of Humor

You’ve talked, you’ve validated, he’s still “mad,” and you’re both a weepy mess. It’s time to change the subject. Children have a harder time walking away because for them, everything is now. Joke, make light of the situation (but never make fun of him!), and have fun. Kids are very eager to play – it’s what they do! As parents, it’s important for us also to remember that it’s not the end of the world. Tantrums happen. It’s not a personal attack; it’s just childhood.

Whatever methods you prefer, the important thing is that, as parents, we work towards showing our children what to do when they are angry or upset.  When we do that, we are also showing them that it is OK to feel the way they do. There is no shame in feeling angry. With this validation, they can go on to eventually learn more mature ways of dealing with their emotions.

Sources for Adult Anger Management

  • Boy Town –,  1-800-448-3000
  • United Way –
  • Child and Family Support Center – 1-877-900-CFSC
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline – 1-800-799-7233
  • Domestic Violence Hotline/Child Abuse – 1-800-4-A-CHILD
  • Family Violence Prevention Center – 1-800-313-1310

How do you help your toddler deal with her anger?

Name Your Baby the AP Way

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

A mix-match of namesPerhaps no activity can consume as much of an expectant couple’s time and energy as choosing a name for their baby. While other aspects of pregnancy and preparing for childbirth and parenting may interest one parent more than the other, both mom and dad are equally invested in the deliberations for just the right name.

And they should be. A name carries so much meaning. It is a person’s identity, the very first introduction any person has to the world. That a name is likely to stay attached to a person throughout his life makes choosing the name to be a huge responsibility. It makes me think of a song my dad listens to, a 1974 song by Johnny Cash, “A Boy Named Sue,” about a father who named his son, Sue, and the resentment the boy felt toward his father because of that.

An Exercise in Sensitivity

Naming a baby can have a lot to do with setting the foundation for attachment between you and your child, in that it may be the first major decision you have to make in that baby’s life. Choosing a name is great practice for making other big decisions in the child’s future that may not be as fun – although baby naming is not without strife. Some parents can get themselves into power struggles over preferred names. Continue reading

The Basics of Bottle Nursing

By Barbara Nicholson & Lysa Parker, API co-founders, reprinted with permission from Attached at the Heart ©, available through the API Store

Bottle nursingWe have been contacted by many parents and caregivers who want to incorporate the most loving behaviors into their feeding practices with their babies. Our culture often supports practices that create disconnection from our children. For instance, some parents have shared with us that they were given baby gear to encourage a “hands off “ style of parenting, including devices to prop a baby bottle so the baby does not have to be held during feedings. An Attachment Parenting International Support Group meeting may be the first place where a parent hears how important it is that babies be fed in the arms of a loved one.

API developed guidelines for bottle-feeding with a unique viewpoint. Because we encourage all parents to look at their parenting choices through the lens of attachment, we have coined the term “bottle nursing” because it reflects breastfeeding behaviors and has tremendous advantages to the parent or other caregiver and baby. These recommendations are applicable to infants who are bottle-fed breast milk, formula, or a combination.

To simulate breastfeeding, parents hold the baby in the crook of the arm, positioning the bottle alongside the breast. This position places the baby’s face and cheek in contact with the parent’s arm, and this skin-to-skin contact helps parent and baby feel more connected. Holding the baby during feeds also helps to prevent the baby from developing “flat-head syndrome,” or plagiocephaly, which can happen when a child is left on a flat surface too frequently. When a baby drinks from a propped bottle, mother and baby also miss an important opportunity to strengthen their emotional connection. Propping the bottle can also be a choking hazard.

Try to make feeding time a special time of calm for both parent and child. Maintain eye contact while feeding when the baby is alert and interested, and switch positions from one side to another; these help strengthen the baby’s eye muscles. Talk softly and lovingly to baby at feeding times. Parents should respect their child’s hunger cues by avoiding feeding schedules. Following the child’s cues helps to strengthen the attachment relationship and shows the baby that his needs are understood.

“We take care of our foster babies as if they were our birth children in every way, except that they are bottle-fed. We hold them as much as we can; I war them in a sling all of the time when I am out in public, and we never take the car seat out of the car. We sleep in close proximity to them; we have a porta-crib next to our bed.

We feed them bottles but use a breastfeeding model, holding them close, never propping the bottle, changing sides for eye-hand coordination, demand-feeding, yet being careful not to overfeed them formula (which is not a concern with breastmilk).

We answer their needs as quickly as is humanly possible, helping them to feel as if they are the most precious beings on this earth.”

~Reedy Hickey, foster mother of 32 infants

Some mothers (or primary caregivers) who bottle nurse choose to follow the breastfeeding model closely so the baby associates feeding with being held; therefore, the mother is the primary person who feeds him while using the bottle. This approach to bottle-feeding produces many benefits for mother and child. The mother will have an opportunity to sit down, to have a special time to bond and rest, just as a breastfeeding mother would be “allowed” to do. A new mother sometimes needs this excuse to rest, instead of feeling that she must do all the housework or other tasks while letting someone else feed the baby. With this behavior, the baby benefits from the consistency of his mother’s presence while feeding and is able to gaze at her face, smell her scent, and feel secure in her arms. This enables their precious attachment relationship to deepen. A mother might say to a well-intentioned relative or friend who wants to feed the baby that this is their special bonding time and a rest time for Mom.

Sucking can remain a strong need well past the first year or two. Pacifiers, when used appropriately, can satisfy that need until the child outgrows it. Breastfeeding babies suck at the breast for comfort, so parents of bottle-fed babies can enrich their child’s experience by either holding the baby in the feeding position when giving a pacifier or simply holding and comforting an older child. These modifications increase close physical contact and bonding time and can make weaning from the pacifier a more natural and gradual process.

As the baby gets older and is able to hold his own bottle, the parent may be tempted to allow the baby to feed himself or to let him walk around with a bottle rather than providing the comfort the child is seeking. If a child doesn’t associate the bottle with being held or having undivided attention by the parent, he might use the bottle or a pacifier as a comfort tool, or “transitional object.” Toddlers who use the bottle, pacifier, or thumb for comfort – rather than being comforted by the parent – may have a much harder time giving up the bottle, pacifier, or thumb down the road. If they learn to come to their parent for comfort or cuddle time and perhaps a short time of sucking on their bottle or pacifier, eventually they will prefer the cuddle and gradually wean from the transitional object, much like a breastfeeding toddler weans from the breast.

In the case of a baby or child who must be separated from their parents during part of the day, it is important that the parent evaluate how important a pacifier or other transitional object is for the security of the child. In some cases, it would be cruel to forbid the use of these comforts, so parents must use their best judgment.

Regain “Control” of Your Teen

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

Get control of your teenHas your teenager stopped listening to you? Do you routinely catch him telling lies, or does she continually break curfew? You may be finding yourself tempted to make tighter rules and to pass out punishments when these rules are broken. But Christina Botto, author of Help Me with My Teenager!, says this strategy is likely to backfire.

“It is possible to regain control by restricting your teenager and forcing him to do as you say. You can monitor their every move and bombard them with questions,” writes Botto in her article, “Trust vs. Control.” “Your teen, however, will most likely respond by avoiding you and family time, lying, dropping grades, or even running away from home. He also will be very frustrated, feel confined, and count the days until he is 18 and out of the house.”

What most parents are looking for is not to control their teen’s every move but to discourage their teen’s inappropriate behaviors while encouraging more mature behavior, like coming to them for advice and input. Because of our culture’s tendency to punish, it’s easy for parents to get caught up in this approach, when the most effective way of “regaining control” is not to punish or to control but rather to find ways to reconnect while guiding good decision-making.

As parents begin to let go of their control on their teen, however, Botto said many parents are left wondering how much independence is too much. Parents know they need to continue to teach, they know their teen is not yet at a point of being completely independent, but they don’t know where to set boundaries without seeming too controlling. That feeling of unease can lead parents of teens, just as with parents of younger children, to becoming overly permissive or controlling.

To help parents find the right boundaries for their teen, here are a couple tips to try when faced with an area of conflict:

  • Allow your teen to make some decisions, such as what type of clothes to buy or when to do homework. This boosts confidence in himself and his decisions, as well as allows parents to gain confidence in his choices. This give-and-take in trust strengthens your attachment bond.
  • You may discover your teen is more mature in her decision-making than you thought, or you may realize this is not so. When she does make unwise decisions, this gives you the opportunity to support and guide her, which when done appropriately and compassionately also strengthens the attachment bond. Don’t scold or punish. Instead, work together to talk about and problem-solve the situation. By discussing the problem and analyzing the facts, your teen will gain confidence in your ability to empathize with her and offer helpful advice. And by allowing your teen to join you in problem-solving, you’re boosting her confidence by giving her the opportunity to come up with her own solutions.

A Resource for Parents of Picky Eaters

By Heidi Green ©, reprinted with permission from

MyPyramid for PreschoolersFive years ago, I had very firm ideas about childhood nutrition. “Balanced meals” was my mantra. I presented plates with foods of different colors (indicating different nutrients), and I sought out whole foods, natural foods, and organic foods. My firstborn stuck up his nose at much of it. Even the foods children are “supposed” to love – macaroni and cheese, pizza, and hot dogs – earned his disdain.

I quickly went through what I now think of as the Five Stages of Preschooler Feeding Grief:

  • Denial – “He’ll eat it next time.”
  • Anger – “Why won’t he eat this?!”
  • Bargaining – “Eat this if you want dessert.”
  • Depression – “What’s the point in cooking good foods if he won’t eat them?”
  • Acceptance – “Well, he is a healthy boy in spite of being picky.”

And that’s the important truth: my now five-year-old son is a healthy child. He’s lean and active, energetic, and funny. And while he still prefers the foods he accepted easily, he has broadened his palate some. A little bit.

MyPyramid for Preschoolers

The title of this U.S. federal government’s subpopulation-specific nutrition pyramid, MyPyramid for Preschoolers available at, is something of a misnomer. After all, preschoolers won’t use it themselves. Most don’t read. It’s a sure bet that none are planning their own meals! So this tool is, more accurately, for parents of preschoolers. Still, those who are planning meals for children between the ages of two and five may find it helpful.

Like the other MyPyramid modules, the preschoolers’ site is customizable. Parents can enter in their children’s information, and find out information related to:

  • Growth charts – Body Mass Index and height-for-age charts are available. Unfortunately, although the site does acknowledge that there is a “wide range of normal growth,” it still encourages parents to “see where your child compares to other [children].” Truly, growth charts should compare a child to himself, over time. Also, the growth charts provided here are the typical NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) charts and not those developed by the World Health Organization as a result of a seven-year, international study of optimally-fed infants. No mention is made of those charts.
  • Eating habits – Some pretty common-sense information will give parents a starting place. Suggestions include: set a good example, offer a variety of foods, start with small portions, help them know when they’ve had enough, follow a meal and snack schedule, make mealtime a family time, and more.
  • Feeding picky eaters – If the toddlers I have known are any indication, I predict this will be the most-visited part of the site! Parents can look here for guidance about common types of picky eating, how to cope with it, and how to get preschoolers to try new foods.
  • Physical activity – Again, the suggestions seem to be largely common sense. Do parents really need to be told that they should be role models in this area? Do they need to be told that engaging in family activities leads to more activity for their children? The section on how to keep your active preschooler safe sounds promising, but actually only links to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site with just six tips.
  • Food safety rules – Clean, chill, separate, and cook are rules that apply to food preparation for any eaters, but tips about choking hazards and prevention may be helpful.

Of Note for Parents

Childhood obesity is a serious problem – and I can’t help but think that maybe the physical activity page should have been above the growth charts. Since physical activity is important for everyone, I’d rather have parents focus on what their children are doing than on these numbers!

Still, this site might be helpful as a discussion-starter for parents who are starting to grapple with the problem of picky eating in their preschoolers. If nothing else, it might help parents move from the Stages of Preschooler Feeding Grief to a more practical, problem-solving construct.

Even if it doesn’t, take heart. A friend told me of a child she once knew who seemed to survive on just doughnuts and pizza. Try as his parents might, they faced insurmountable opposition to other foods! What happened to the child? These days, he’s a strong, healthy pediatrician.

This brings us back to the final stage of Preschooler Feeding Grief: Acceptance. Parents, look at your children. Most times, they turn out healthy in spite of picky eating.