Category Archives: 3. The Toddler

From 18 months to age 3.

AP Teaches Assertiveness

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

Most parents who practice Attachment Parenting (AP) aren’t concerned about their children becoming bullies. After all, the goal of AP is to teach children empathy, compassionate, and respect for others – qualities not usually afforded to bullies. But some AP parents may be concerned that their child could become the target of a bully.

In the Spring 2008 issue of Attachment Parenting International’s The Journal of API, in the “Ask the Founders” feature, API Co-founder Lysa Parker answered a question from a parent about her three-year-old son being the target of bullying by his playmates. This mother’s concern was that his friends were mistaking her son’s kindness and sensitivity for weakness. Parker recommended that the mother use the situation to teach her son and his friends about friendship and how their actions can be hurtful. Parker also said, at this age, talking with the bullies’ parents would be appropriate.

As this boy grows older, the mother does need to teach him how to deal with bullying, Parker said – which can start now: “When your son runs to you for help, he is communicating his need for support, but he also needs to be empowered by learning the words to say to express his feelings.”

This advice is right on target, according to a 1997 article from the National Association for the Education of Young Children, “Teaching Children Not to Be, or Be Victims of, Bullies,” reprinted on the Focus Adolescent Services website “The key to promoting positive interactions among young children is teaching them to assert themselves effectively. Children who express their feelings and needs, while respecting those of others will be neither victims nor aggressors.”

AP Prevents Bullying

AP parents, while they may be concerned, are a step ahead of non-AP parents in preventing bullying. As outlined in API’s Eight Principles of Parenting, responding with sensitivity is a critical component of AP. By responding to our infants’ cries, we teach them to trust us as their caregivers and to trust themselves as communicators of their needs.

As children grow, we gradually learn how to let our children become more independent, at their own pace, by watching for their cues. We can encourage them to make their own choices, and therefore learn to become confident in themselves and their abilities, by beginning to allow toddlers to choose what they wear, what game or activity to play next, and so on.

With older children and teens, we can help them discover their talent and develop skills in an area of interest, and let them begin to make larger decisions for themselves, both of which add to a healthy self esteem.

In all of these ways, parents provide their children with tools to thwart bullying incidents.

“Adults must show children that they have the right to make choices – in which toys they play with, or what they wear and what they eat,” according to the National Association for the Education of Young Children article. “The more children trust and value their own feelings, the more likely they will be to resist peer pressure, to respect warm and caring adults, and to be successful in achieving their personal goals.”

How to Teach Assertiveness

The best way to teach assertiveness is by modeling it and accepting it from your children. Parents need to remember that assertiveness is not the same thing as aggression. Instead, as outlined in The-Self-Improvement-Zone’s article “Teach Your Children to Be Assertive” on, assertive behaviors communicate:

  • No one has the right to make me feel guilty, foolish, or ignorant.
  • I do not need to make excuses for everything I do, although I do need to be accountable to my immediate family and close relatives and myself.
  • I am allowed to change my mind, and not feel bad about it.
  • It is not necessarily my fault if things go wrong.
  • I do not have to know everything, it is OK to say “I don’t know,” and I shouldn’t feel inferior because of that.
  • No one is perfect, and it is not the end of the world if I make a mistake.
  • Not everyone has to be my friend, and there is nothing wrong with me if someone doesn’t like me.
  • If I don’t understand something, it’s OK and I shouldn’t feel inferior.
  • I don’t have to prove myself to anyone else.
  • I don’t need to be perfect, rather I should strive to just be myself.

Social Skills are Key

Besides teaching these attitudes to their children, parents can also help their children improve their social skills through role-playing to practice social conversation and teach children how to initiate and sustain conversation through both asking and responding to questions and careful listening.

“Teaching them social skills is the first step to making them more comfortable in just about any given situation,” according The-Self-Improvement-Zone. “The more comfortable they feel in these situations, the easier they will learn how to be assertive. The better they understand themselves, the more they will know and articulate their needs.”

Learning How to Handle Frustration Important, Too

Another area where children may need help is in learning how to handle frustration. Parents should teach their children not to use anger as a tool for asserting themselves, as anger creates negative reactions in other people and contributes to communication breakdown. Parents themselves – especially in response to tantrums, hitting, and breaking toys – should never use yelling and punishment as forms of discipline. Instead of anger, parents can teach children how to work out a win-win compromise when appropriate, and when not appropriate, how to relax and let the situation bother them less.

“Keep in mind that the only way you will be able to teach your children how to assert themselves is by learning how to be assertive yourself,” according The-Self-Improvement-Zone. “It is up to you, as the adult, to set the example for your child. No means no. You do not need to become a doormat to ensure that your child becomes assertive. Be a good role model for your children. Children learn what they see and experience. If you are assertive and fair, they will learn to become one, too.”

The best way to teach assertiveness is by modeling it and accepting it from your children.

Gently Persuading the Picky Toddler to Eat

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

It can be shocking to parents when their voracious eater suddenly begins refusing food when he enters the toddler years. Sometimes, he even skips a meal. All kinds of thoughts may go through your head: Is he sick? Does he have an ear infection? Does he have an upset stomach or food allergies?

If your child acts healthy when not sitting down to eat, more than likely, your child feels just fine. Toddlers – the development stage from one to three years old – are naturally picky when eating. Their weight gain begins slowing around their first birthday, and many parents will notice their children’s weight stalling. The child begins to grow taller, rather than putting on weight, gradually transforming from the compact body of a baby to the proportions of a young child.

Still, it can be difficult for parents not to worry when their child only eats cheese and peas for a week, or if she regularly refuses to eat lunch. Here are some tips to make sure your child is getting the nutrition she needs to thrive in his first years:

  • Allow your child to graze – Due to his nearly constant activity and curiosity, sitting down to eat can get in the way of your toddler’s wanting to explore his world. A great solution is to allow him to snack in between meals. Cheese, crackers, cereal, and fruit slices are easy-to-prepare and easy-to-clean-up options.
  • Don’t worry – Your child won’t starve; she’ll let you know when she’s hungry. Toddlers, like babies, are comfort-seeking creatures, and when they need to eat, their bodies will signal them to seek out food. Just remember to think “hunger” as a possibility when your child becomes cranky a few hours after lunch.
  • Consider a vitamin supplement – Many children seem to get stuck on one or two foods, refusing to eat anything else even if they tried and liked it in the past. Eventually your child will move on to different foods, but if you’re concerned, talk with your child’s health practitioner about giving your toddler a vitamin supplement to be sure he’s getting all her nutritional needs met.
  • Turn off the TV – Just as television can encourage older children to eat too much food during the day, television can be a distraction from eating for young children. Encourage your child to play without the television on. She’ll be more cued in to her own hunger signals, and with more activity, she’ll be more likely to be hungry at meal times. The same holds true about turning off the TV during meal times, so your toddler focuses on eating.
  • Don’t snack right up until meal time – Allow some time between mid-morning and afternoon snacks and meal times. Otherwise, your child won’t be hungry enough for a big meal. To defer snacking, engage your child in playtime or another busy activity.
  • Offer a variety of foods – If your child doesn’t seem to want to eat, she may be wanting to try something new. Don’t assume she’s not hungry; move on to another food group. If she consistently refuses new offerings, then she’s probably not hungry right now.
  • Limit liquids during meal time – Try offering your child’s cup or your breast after he’s eaten. Liquid takes up room in the stomach, so if your toddler is drinking a lot of milk or water or juice during the day, he won’t be as hungry. However, if your child insists on drinking or breastfeeding, let him.
  • Let your child eat on the go – For many children, it’s the act of having to sit still to eat that’s the problem. During snack times, and even some meal times, consider letting your toddler munch on something while she’s playing.
  • Instigate meal time – Get your child interested in eating by eating in front of him and then offering to share. For many toddlers, the food on Mommy and Daddy’s plates looks better than what is on their own plates, even if it’s the same.
  • Let your toddler “help” make dinner – Young children love to do what Mommy and Daddy are doing. Mixing up a bowl of cookie dough can be fun for older toddlers. For a younger child, give her a clean bowl and spoon, and let her mix up some of her small toys and then pretend to serve the food to all the family members. She’ll enjoy doing something grown up, plus she may be more interested in getting to eat for real at meal time.

The key is to let your child guide you. Respect her hunger cues and don’t try forcing her to eat when she’s not hungry, even if you know that she’ll be hungry in only an hour or two. Offer nutritious foods, so she isn’t tempted to fill her tummy with unhealthy choices when she is hungry. And, most of all, don’t worry! Toddlers’ appetites come and go; if he’s not eating much this meal, this day, or even the past couple of days, be patient. Another meal, or another day, he’ll make up for it. Everything balances out over time.

For More Ideas
– “Feeding Toddlers: 17 Tips for Pleasing the Picky Eater” – “Dealing with Picky Eaters” – “Tips for Dealing with a Picky Eater” – “Feeding Strategies for Toddlers – What Not to Do” – “Getting Toddlers to Eat Their Veggies”

Focus on the Simple Moments

By Nikki Schaefer, staff writer for The Attached Family


On a rainy day, I took my three-year-old son to the restaurant with the golden arches, thinking that he would love to go down the big slides. He did…one time…then stopped to take a bite of his apple dippers.

I asked him, “Do you want to go down the slides again?”

“No,” he replied emphatically. “All done!”

He began to gobble down a few more slices. Having trouble believing that a child would not want to play in Playland, I asked him again, “Do you want to go down the slides?”

“NO,” he said, “ALL DONE!”

He began to run around in circles yelling, “Circle! Circle!” His blond curls bobbed up and down with a toothy smile across his face as he continued to run around, over and over again.

Amused, I watched my son closely. “This is why I love being a mom,” I thought. “What a joy it is to watch this little person take such delight in something so simple.”

It was in that instance I was reminded that, it is not in the jungle gyms of life but in the daily cycles of being where the greatest joys are found.

In a culture that teaches that a child needs Disneyland, a dance class, and a soccer team at age three to find satisfaction, my child reminded me that what he needs most is the space to “be.” My call as a mother of a young child is to allow him the freedom to run, spin, laugh, dance, chase a bug, touch the rain, paint a mural, or just “be.” My job is to create the margins in my life to hold him, talk to him, delight in him, mend an ouchie, pour a glass of milk, and share the wonders of God.

Sometimes, the Playlands of life have their place. It is good to get out of the house, move our bodies, change the scene, and experience some of the greater amusements…from time to time. Yet, instead of always ordering the Big Macs, we are called to “supersize the ordinary.” By consciously choosing not to focus on the highs of life, but instead on the simple moments, we as parents choose a love for our families that is extraordinary indeed.

My call as a mother of a young child is to allow him the freedom to run, spin, laugh, dance, chase a bug, touch the rain, paint a mural, or just “be.”

Beyond Babies…Promoting Attachment Through Feeding of Older Children

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

Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting calls parents to feed their children with love and respect. With infants, this easily translates into breastfeeding or “bottle nursing.”

But what does this mean once children transition to solid foods? How do parents continue AP as their children grow?

An Act of Love

First, parents need to remember that providing food to their children, no matter the age, is an act of love and a way to strengthen their emotional bond. By feeding them, parents are fulfilling a vital physical need. When children’s needs are met, they feel closer to their parents. This doesn’t change as babies grow into toddlers and toddlers into older children.

More than simply offering food, parents reveal how much they care for their children by offering healthy foods and modeling healthy food selection. This may mean that parents, themselves, have to change their eating habits, which can be difficult. This may also mean disagreements between parents and their children as they grow and are exposed to more models of unhealthy habits, especially as teens when peer influence begins to compete with the parental attachment.

Not Always Easy, But Worth the Work

Feeding with love and respect may seem to be one of the easier Attachment Parenting tools offered by Attachment Parenting International – that is, until the first time a weaned toddler decides to refuse all solid foods offered, except graham crackers, for a week. It’s the first sign of independence in the feeding department, and it can make parents worry about whether their child is getting all the nutrients he needs to thrive.

The advice for these parents, in dealing with challenges in feeding their children, is to explore strategies that are attachment-friendly. Forcing a child to eat a food she doesn’t want to eat doesn’t promote attachment; encouraging her to be a picky eater by not offering a variety of foods is unhealthy. Parents often have to be creative in coming up with AP solutions and may have to try several ideas before finding one or a couple that work.

Be Creative in Problem-Solving

It’s important to remember that one size does not fit all, and what may work for one parent may not work for another. Some parents say to simply not worry about a picky eater, that the child is eating as much as he needs and will eat more if he needs to; others find that if they don’t encourage their child to eat more foods that she consistently refuses to try new foods. Some parents trust their teens to make healthy food choices when they’re with their friends; other parents find that talking to their teens about the potential medical consequences of unhealthy food choices what works best.

No one knows a child, and what strategies will work to encourage healthy eating, better than her parent.

The advice for these parents, in dealing with challenges in feeding their children, is to explore strategies that are attachment-friendly.