How Connection Helps Picky Eaters

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Do you have a child who has some irrational eating preferences? For example they eat certain foods at nursery but not at home, or there are foods they used to love that they now claim they don’t like? I know this situation well! Some of my daughter’s preferences have been that she eats cashews at her best friend’s house, but only almonds at home (even though she used to like all nuts apart from hazlenuts). Or that she will eat chips but not potatoes, (!?) or that she will eat spaghetti with sauce if she’s at a restaurant, but at home the sauce is ‘yucky’ and she wants it plain, (even though she used to like it!).

If this sounds like your child, then you may have given up hope that there’s anything you can do. I know I’ve gone through phases like this. You may have put it down to just ‘toddler irrationality’ and hope they grow out of it. You just want to make sure your child has some calories in them, and you just want to relax and eat your own dinner.

However there is a solution! Chances are if your child is acting irrationally in their food choices, the problem is not really about the food but with their feelings about the food.

Hand in Hand Parenting is based on the understanding that when children feel good, their thinking brain works well, and they can make rational choices, and co-operate from us, even from a very young age. However when children experience stress and upset the feelings get in the way of their behaviour. They start telling us that they aren’t feeling good by acting in ‘off-track’ ways.

When your child is acting picky about food, it’s hard to tell what to do. We may not want  to force them to eat anything they don’t like, but we also want to make sure they are getting enough vitamins. And also just as important is that if your child’s pickiness is a sign that they aren’t feeling good, so we want to address those feelings, so they don’t get in the way of them enjoying life, and all the wonderful opportunities out there!

If your child is acting afraid of food, it’s often a pretext for deeper fears from difficult experiences your child has had. As Patty Wipfler and Tosha Schore describe it in their book Listen: Five Simple Tools To Meet Your Everyday Parenting Challenges, ‘those feelings are stored away, raw and powerful still, in the child’s emotional memory. There they sit uneasily, tangled with information about the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures of the experience.’

So when a child gets picky with food, it’s often that they are projecting their fears and upsets, onto the smells and tastes. It’s hard to be adventurous with new foods when our children are still re-experiencing fear from the past.

I have gone through periods where I have let my daughter’s picky eating slide. I was learning and observing to try and figure out the best approach. I noticed that she was highly sensitive to smells and tastes. As she got older she would sometimes complain about the smell of my food and not want to sit near me! However I began to notice that when she was feeling good she didn’t get so irritated by unusual smells and tastes. So it really wasn’t actually about the food.

Here’s how connection can help. When a child connects with us, they get to feel safe, and they also get to be listened to. One strategy we’ve tried is doing special time before dinner. (You can find out more about Special Time here) My daughter carries that sense of happiness and connection to the dinner table, and then when she sees the food there she sees it through a lens of connection and joy rather than fear.

Another strategy is play and laughter. Children (and adults!) naturally like to giggle away our fears, and  and we can bring play to the dinner table with fun and powerful results. (see my article 20 Playful Ways To Help Picky Eaters, for some inspiration).

We can also set limits about food, and listen to the feelings. It’s not about forcing our child to eat something they don’t like. But proposing they try it, and then listening to the upset. (You can read more about this approach which Hand in Hand Parenting calls Staylistening, here).

A few years ago, I wanted to help my daughter expand her pallete. So I decided we would try some new fruits. I told her my plan and we went to the shop and bought a mango and some kiwi. We laughed at these ‘funny fruits’ and took them home. The next day I proposed we tried them, and my daughter cried for a long time. In the end she did try them, and ended up eating two kiwis! After that she liked them and now mango is one of her favourite foods.

At that time we used to go to a music class for toddlers. All the children would play with musical instruments, and then put them back in a basket when it was time to finish. My daughter had always been shy to go up to the basket and didn’t like the rush of children all together. However the two days after I staylistened to her feelings about the new food, she happily rushed up and put her instrument back in the basket. It was amazing to see how listening to her fears about the food was not just about the food, but helping her with fears that were getting in the way of her living life to the full.

I know I go through phases where I just don’t have the energy to figure out how to work on this big emotional project for my daughter, and that’s where listening time helps (You can read more about listening time here). Because every family is different we need time and space to think through the emotional projects we want to help our children with and see how we want to tackle them. Having space to vent our worries, and also talk about how eating was for us as a child allows us to get our head clear to figure out an action plan for our family.

I hope you find these suggestions helpful, and I wish you many happy adventures at the dinner table!

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Diary of an imperfect mum
A Mum Track Mind

A Giggle Parenting Book Review

My friend over at Walking On Mom blog, Tara McLaughlin recommended me this book, as being part of her silly bedtime routine for getting the giggles flowing. We read it last night and my daughter asked for it four times and laughed the whole way through. She then fell asleep instantly!

This book perfectly encapsulates the principles of Playlistening, one of the Hand in Hand Parenting tools. For those of you new to the concept Playlistening (or Giggle Parenting as I like to call it), is when we pick up on whatever makes our child laugh while they are in the more powerful role.

Children love it when the roles are reversed for a while and we adults make mistakes, do things we don’t want to do, and act clueless and confused. It is a welcome relief to the tension, and upset they sometimes experience as they learn and build their confidence in the world.

The Book With No Pictures is a book where the adult finds themselves having to say the words in the book, no matter how silly and nonsensical they sound. As the adult ‘blorks’ and ‘blurfs’ their way through the book they have to say more and more ridiculous things such as declaring they are a monkey and that their head is made of ‘blueberry pizza.’ I love how the author B.J Novak adds in the voice of the exasperated parent who feels out of control having to say such silly things.

You can watch the author reading the book to a group of schoolchildren on youtube here and see just how hilarious it is.

With Hand in Hand Parenting we’ve found that when children feel well-connected, and get to release their feelings with a loving adult, whether it’s through laughter, or tears, then their behaviour and emotions are more on-track.  Having good emotional health is also key for healthy brain development, and learning new skills.

It’s been well-documented that bedtime reading helps brain development and children’s literacy, but adding in giggles takes it to a whole new level. Research has found that laughter helps toddlers learn 

So add this book to your child’s shelf and you’re not only having a fun read together but also helping them with their emotions, and their behaviour. You can buy it here.

To learn more read my article Giggle Parenting: The Best Discipline Tool Out There And check out Walking on Mom’s post to learn why Silly Bedtimes Lead To Better Sleep.

If anyone has any funny books or ways to get giggly at bedtime I’d love to hear from you!

3 Little Buttons

The Five Step Plan For Preventing Early Wakings

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Early waking is common in children . In the summer months we might blame it on the light outside, or noises that your child hears that disturb their sleep. It might be that your child is unwell, or teething, or any of the other myriad reasons children have for waking. Or we might just put it down to being an inevitable part of raising little ones.

However all these things are usually just the trigger for you child to wake, the root cause often goes a little deeper. If your child is regularly waking up tired without having enough sleep, then one of the most common reasons is their sense of connection.

Children often wake in the night, or wake early, when they are feeling disconnected. Sometimes children just need their connection cups to be filled a little more. At other times they may be experiencing hurt feelings or stress that get in the way of feeling our warm presence and attention. This can cause them to seek out connection with us a little earlier than usual.

This week I’ve been hearing a lot of success stories from parents who are trying out Giggle Parenting at bedtime, with amazing results. Kids are sleeping through the night. Nightmares and morning grumpiness are reduced. Laughter when kids are in the more powerful role (or playlistening as we call it at Hand in Hand) is a powerful way to strengthen our connection with our child.

But simply adding laughter to your bedtime routine may not be enough to completely cure sleep issues. The Hand in Hand parenting approach consists of 5 tools to listen to our children’s feelings and build connection with them. Whenever we are struggling with our parenting we can use all five of these tools for the most effective results.

So here are your five tools to help prevent kids from waking early.

  1. Get Some Listening Time For Yourself – First get yourself a listening partnership, and read more about them in Hand in Hand parenting’s Listening Partnerships For Parents Booklet. The Hand in Hand parenting tools are a way of listening to our children that takes a lot of patience and energy. With your listening partner you can vent about how tired you are in a safe space. Talking and being listened to by a warm listener is a powerful way to prepare yourself to do the same for your child. Read more about listening partnerships here.
  2. Do Some Special Time In The Daytime – Next schedule some time to do daily special time with your child. This may not always be possible, but while you’re dealing with sleep troubles it’s great to attempt it most days. Even five minutes can make a difference. Let your child do something they love, and shower them with attention. With special time it’s really about the quality of the time rather than the quantity. Your child can internalise a deep sense of connection with you, that can help them relax and sleep well. Read more about special time here.
  3. Staylisten To Morning Grumpiness – When our children wake early in the morning in a bad mood, we often tend to assume it’s because they haven’t had enough sleep. However it’s most likely that the grumpiness is what caused the early rising rather than the early rising causing the grumpiness. If your child gets upset about something that seems small and inconsequential, then stay and listen to the feelings until they have finished crying. Tears contain cortisol, the stress hormone, and other mood balancing hormones. When children get to cry with a loving adult they can release all the feelings that get in the way of feeling closely connected to you. Without these upset clouding their thinking their sleep will be much more peaceful. You can read more about staylistening here, and if this is challenging for you, don’t forget step 1 😉
  4. Set Limits and Listen To Feelings – When your child wakes grumpy you may find yourself walking on eggshells trying to avoid an upset. A child’s early waking can effect the mood of the whole day, but it doesn’t have to be that way. When a child behaves in ‘off-track’ ways, it’s like they are waving a red flag to saying, ‘’Help! I’m not feeling good, and so I can’t think well.’’ Setting a limit on their unworkable behaviour is actually a gift to them. As we stop them from throwing toys, or hitting a sibling, in a warm and loving but firm way we can listen to the emotional upset behind their behaviour, and also heal their sleep. You can get a free Hand in Hand parenting guide to setting limits here.
  5. Giggles At Bedtime – This tried and tested method is scientifically proven. Add giggles to your bedtime routine. Anything that gets laughter flowing with your child in the more powerful role. Chase games, roughhousing and any silliness that puts you in the less powerful role is a guaranteed sleep inducer. Read more about giggles at bedtime in my friend Tara’s fantastic article here.

Tried all this and your child is still not sleeping? For more indepth help applying these tools check out Hand in Hand parenting’s online sleep course Helping Young Children Sleep. Or for personalised advice contact me for a free 30 min initial sleep consultation.

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The Pramshed

Roughhousing Inspiration To Help Your Child Sleep In Their Own Bed

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This looks like a cosy scene! But if co-sleeping isn’t working for you, or if your child has fears or anxieties that come up in a need to be close to you at night, you might want to help them work through those feelings before deciding what sleeping arrangement works for you in the long run.

I’ve blogged about this in detail before in Why I Helped My Daughter Feel Safe To Fall Asleep Alone. Now here is a fun game that I call ‘The Bed Door’ to build closer connections even as you help your child to sleep in their own bed.

You might want to play this with comfy cushions or a mattress on the floor next to your child’s bed.

You might want to snuggle up with your child, and read a few bedtime stories with them in their bed. Start the routine earlier than normal to give you some time to play. Then when it’s time for sleep, tell them that you hope they will stay in their bed, in an inviting playful tone, that actually suggests to them the possibility of getting out of bed.

Then you become the ‘bed door.’ You try to block your chid from getting out of bed, in a playful way. Put up some resistance, but don’t use force and overpower your child. The key is to always let your child win, but feel like it was a bit of a challenge. Go for what brings the giggles. After resisting for a while let your child escape. Act all frustrated and playfully exasperated to get them laughing! And repeat!

Last night we played this and my daughter and I invented all sorts of different powers. I would have the ‘grabber power’ where I would use my hands to grab her, and then she would be so strong that she would escape. Then I would have ‘lock’ power and my arms would lock around her to try and lift her back into the bed. Then the arms would make a ‘mistake’ and accidentally unlock. I would act all annoyed with the arms and say, ”hey! Come on arms, you are meant to lock not unlock!”

My daughter would have ‘strength power’ where she would be strong enough to knock me over. I would have ‘rolling power’ When I would wrap her up in a duvet and try and roll her back in the bed. We had many variations and really got each other laughing with our new power ideas. When you try this, follow where your mind takes you and see what makes your child laugh.

The aim of the game is always to ‘try’ to get your child back into bed in a fun way, and to use resistance but not force. It should be played when you are in a good mood and aren’t feeling time pressed. If you struggle to find the patience, you might need some listening time before trying.

In the end we were too tired to continue and it felt like the right moment to stop.  My daughter ‘won’ and fell asleep in my bed. But we have played similar games before which I blogged about here, when she’s then been happy to sleep in her own bed.

I hope you enjoy this game! I’d love to hear how you get on in the comments below.

Have you added giggles to your bedtime routine yet? Here’s why they are key to a good night’s sleep. 

For more info about listening time check out How Telling Your Life Story Can Transform Your Parenting 

For in-depth help with all your sleep challenges check out Hand in Hand parenting’s self-study online course, Helping Young Children Sleep

Two Tiny Hands
Cuddle Fairy
Diary of an imperfect mum

Giggle Parenting Inspiration – Teeth Brushing School

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Our child’s natural state of being is to co-operate with us. And one of their number one ways to tell us they are feeling disconnected is to refuse to do something. Refusing to clean teeth seems to be one of the most common ways! So here is yet another fun teeth cleaning game.

My daughter has been role-playing a lot of classes lately. She goes to ballet class and art class and I know she’s thinking a lot about starting Kindergarten in August.

When she didn’t want to clean her teeth the other day, I started joking around about how it was time to go to her ‘teeth cleaning class.’ Then I got a cuddly rabbit who was the teacher. Except the rabbit would say things like, ”okay to clean your teeth you need to take your toothbrush and hide it under the duvet.” She would laugh a lot, and go and hide her toothbrush. Then I would act all frustrated with the rabbit and say, ”Rabbit! That’s not how we clean teeth, you need to tell R to put the brush in her mouth.”  Rabbit said all sorts of crazy things like you, need to hide in your room and shut the door, or you need to go and put your toothbrush in your shoe, or you need to put a sock on your toothbrush, and then put it in your coat pocket. The more crazy the situation the better! I would act all exasperated and  complain about what a terrible teacher he was.

After lots of laughter she was much more connected and her natural desire to co-operate was back.

Do you need more help with teeth-cleaning? Check out Giggle Parenting For Teeth-Cleaning and Emilie Leek’s article Using The Tools To Help With Teeth Cleaning has lots of suggestions and links. 

Giggle Parenting For Grumpiness

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If your child wakes up on the wrong side of bed, or gets whiney or grumpy it can be a sign of upset feelings under the surface that are causing them to feel disconnected.

Here’s a fun giggle parenting game to playfully add connection and shift your child’s mood. Put some music on if you’re at home, and pretend to phone someone up to order some ‘dancing energy’ for your child. Tell the person on the phone your child’s name.

Then start dancing across the room. Act all out of control, as if you can’t stop yourself from dancing. In a playfully frustrated voice tell your child, ”oh no! They’ve sent the dancing energy to me. This is not right!”

Phone back up, and complain to the person on the phone in a playfully grumpy voice. ”Hey you have sent the dancing energy to the wrong person. Please don’t send it to me, send it to (insert child’s name.” Spell out your child’s name to add emphasis.

Repeat with the person on the phone making all kinds of mistakes. They can send you crab energy, which makes you walk sideways. Or climbing energy, that gets you climbing on the sofa or table, as you frustratedly phone up the person to stop them from sending you the energy and try to send it to your child instead.

As your child laughs, their mood will shift, and the rest of the day should go much more smoothly.

Cracking The Parenting Code

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Before becoming a parent I had many questions. How could I bring up my child to be happy and well-adjusted when at least 1-4 adults will have a mental health problem in their life? How could I ensure that she wouldn’t have to spend her adulthood trying to recover from her childhood?

After becoming a mum my list got much longer. Why is my child crying when I have met all her needs? Why is she not sleeping through the night? Why is every parenting book telling me something different? If I want to be a peaceful parent how on earth can I get my daughter to ‘behave’ if I’m just nice to her all the time?

Then I discovered Hand in Hand parenting. I must admit that since then my capacity for reading parenting books and articles is seriously diminished. I don’t spend all night scouring the web trying to find solutions to my problems.

Instead now I have internalised a simple universal code that I can apply to almost any situation. Here it is:

  • Children are born naturally, joyful, loving and co-operative. They don’t want to try our patience with challenging behaviour.
  • Children will be their naturally loving selves, when they feel well-connected to the adults around them.
  • When children experience stress and upset they often feel disconnected from us even when we are right there with them. Cue lots of off-track behaviour to try and reconnect with us (so-called ‘attention seeking’).
  • We can help our children release their upset feelings with laughter and play. Laughter causes a reduction in stress hormones in the body, and promotes endorphin release. When children feel better they will behave ‘better.’ (Giggle Parenting)
  • We can listen to our children’s emotional upsets. Tears have stress hormones in, so we shouldn’t try to stop them. They are nature’s way of healing and restoring emotional equilibrium. (Staylistening)
  • We can set limits on behaviour that allow room to empathise and listen to our child’s tears, or laughter.
  • Special time, (1-1 time spent with our child doing something they love is a powerful way for children to soak up a deep sense of connection to us and prevent ‘misbehaviour.’

Okay, so that’s the code you need for bringing up happy kids!

However, there is one thing that makes applying this code a little challenging and that’s our own feelings. Few of us were brought up by parents who listened to us and understand that there were emotional reasons behind our behaviour. Every day, I still struggle at times to apply this simple code.

That’s why we also need to apply this code to ourselves. To know that when we aren’t the parent we want to be, it’s because we have upset feelings clouding our thinking. To get support so we have somewhere to take our thoughts and feelings, to get them out, so we can get back to ‘behaving well’ with our child. Listening time is a tool to support us to be the parents we want to be.

You can learn more about how to apply this code by checking out the archives on my blog. Hand in Hand’s online Parenting By Connection Starter Class also helps as you can learn and connect with other parents to get the listening you need.

Have you got a parenting challenge you’d like to crack with this parenting code? Leave me a comment or contact me via facebook, and your challenge could be the subject of my next blog post! 

Cuddle Fairy
Two Tiny Hands

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