2. They let their kid get hungry. “If your child is not sitting down to meals hungry, you can tweak your schedule (for example, dropping a snack or making a meal later in the day) because ensuring that your child has a good appetite at mealtimes is a huge step towards tackling fussy eating,” says Jo Cormack, author of War and Peas: Emotionally Aware Eating.
3. They gossip about one kid to the other. “I’ll whisper to Ben, ‘Come, look!’ and I’ll show him the awesome thing Birdy’s teacher wrote in her school report, or I’ll roll my eyes in awe to Birdy while Ben’s playing the piano, and she’ll put a hand to her heart in agreement. I like the habit of the kids getting special attention from a parent for admiring the other kid,” says Catherine Newman, a writer, blogger, and mom to two.
4. They carve out time for luxurious lounging. “We wake up ten minutes earlier than we have to on school mornings, and the kids get into bed with me, and we pet the cat and talk for a while before starting our days,” says Newman. “Which I love. Because it feels so luxurious and connective, but really it’s just ten minutes. I don’t like the way we’re always communicating that we don’t even have these minuscule bits of time, because I feel like we do, or could if we made them.”
5. They make sure their kids know they’re important without making it about “smarts” or “goodness.” Says Kim, mom to Terry, age four: “I tell my son every day that he is the little boy I always wanted. Not that he’s perfect or smart, but that he is exactly the little boy I always wanted.”
6. They pick their battles with manners, stressing one thing at a time. Says Gabriella, mom to three, “Every day, when someone asks, ‘How are you?’ my kids have to look them in the eye and say something like, ‘Fine thanks, how are you?’ [My kids] are known to have incredible manners. They don’t have incredible manners, but that one thing makes all the difference in the impression they make.”
7. They make sure their kids appreciate the natural world. “I make sure, no matter how much we’re rushing around, that we stop to look at the sky, pick up leaves, see how the seasons are changing, watch bugs…I’m hoping that later when he’s running around with a smartphone in his pocket, he’s conditioned to stop and realize he’s part of something bigger (and smaller) than himself,” says Kim.
8. They use the when…then trick. “When you put your toys away, then we can have storytime,” says Lindy, mom to two.
9. They use as few words as possible when telling the kids to do something. And they tell them, rather than ask them. “Instead of saying, ‘Kids, could you please brush your teeth after you finish your vitamins so that we can leave the house?’ I say, ‘Brush teeth now!’ It gets the desired result more quickly and I can repeat it without exhausting myself,” says Katy, mom to a six- and an eight-year-old.
10. They enforce quiet time—for themselves and for their kids. “My son has one hour every day of quiet time, where he has to be by himself, in his room or in the living room, just doing his own thing—no screens. Theoretically, he’s not allowed to talk to me. (I have to gently remind him about 10 times during the hour, but we’re working on it),” says Kim.
11. They always serve everyone the same meal. “Serving everyone everything, apart from making your life simpler, has important ramifications. First, it makes it harder for children to use food as a kind of power play or bid for control. Secondly, it gives children more exposures to things they dislike. Research shows that children often need up to 15 exposures to new foods before they will accept them (and that parents give up on a new food after an average of 2.5 exposures). And your child can’t try a disliked food if it’s not physically on her plate. By capitulating to demands for ‘special’ meals, you are taking away opportunities for your child’s palate to develop,” says Cormack.
12. …but use a back-up. Include something with the meal that you’re pretty sure your kids will eat, like rice. And, in case that fails, keep on hand a back-up you know your kids will eat—but not something they love. “The trouble with, for example, bread,” says Dina Rose, author of It’s Not About the Broccoli, “is that a lot of kids prefer bread to anything else.” So your back-up—which should always be the same thing—should be something that your kids will eat but not something they would always rather have: no cereal, no bread, no PB&J, no yogurt. In Rose’s house it’s cottage cheese. “This frees you up to make something that you want to eat for dinner, without worrying about waste, because you know there’s always the back-up.” Her daughter once ate cottage cheese for six dinners in a row. “By the seventh night she was tired of cottage cheese and said, ‘You know, I think I’ll just have dinner.'”
13. They emphasize tasting, not eating. “When kids refuse to taste the food it’s because it’s embedded in the whole idea of ‘Then you’ll have to eat it.’ The more reluctant your kid is, the more clear it has to be that it’s just a taste and not an eating request, and that they don’t have to eat anything they don’t want to,” says Rose.
14. They tidy up only once a day. Preferably at the moment when they want to enjoy the common area, like after bedtime. “Picking up toys all day long makes you feel like Sisyphus,” says Emily, mom to a two-year-old and a four-month-old.
15. They engage in activities or hobbies beyond watching television, and let their kids see them doing so. “It is possible that kids pick up cues from parents on how they spend their free time, so when possible try to model the media behavior you would like to see in your kids,” says Amy Bleakley, the author of a 2013 study on television-watching published in Pediatrics.
16. They encourage them to be good conversationalists. “Every night at dinner I ask the kids to tell me three things about their day that I didn’t know,” says Katherine, mom to two.
17. They hype up their dinner menus with the prowess of a marketing executive. Okay, this one’s mine. I can’t say I’m the best parent, but I can definitely say this is the best broccoli I’ve ever had, and I don’t even like broccoli. My four-year-old has even nibbled a stalk or two. And so, because no parenting article is complete without a recipe, here it is: The Best Broccoli of Your Life.
Photo: flickr/ alongfortheride