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Make Your Picky Eater an Adventurous Eater

8 Apr

By Deb Hurowitz

Being a parent is hard. So is being a kid. I’m here to make it easier for you both.

Kids are funny. One day, they love a food. The next? They won’t go near it. As parents, this can be maddening!

This week, I will address a couple of issues for toddlers and older:

  • When your child refuses all but a few select foods.
  • Ideas on how to grow your child as an adventurous eater.

You swear, when pregnant, that you won’t have a kid who only eats chicken nuggets or fish sticks and French fries. Or that they will eat more than carrot sticks as a vegetable.

You are certain your child will happily eat broccoli, steak, soups any any of the other things that you and your partner enjoy.

You hope that they will learn to love all the types of foods that you enjoy. You may plan to serve what is being served, and if they don’t want it, there will be another meal in a few hours.

And for some families, and some kids, this works out.

But for the majority? Your kids have their own palates and ideas about what makes a healthy plate.

If your child wants to eat the same things over and over again, consider if it has any nutritional value. If it does create a balanced plate, then try to let them. You can add the caveat that there will be other foods, and an expectation that they will try them. You can define the parameters that work in your family:

  • Shark bites.
  • Three tastes before declining.
  • One bite of each new item on the plate before you can have seconds of the preferred foods.

Most children will come around to trying new foods. Eventually.

It takes patience and perseverance, and not making a fuss if they claim they don’t like it.

Science says that it can take more than a dozen exposures to a food before someone is willing to eat it.

I recently learned that children’s taste buds are more sensitive than adults, which makes it easier to understand why they stick to the known. It also clarifies why certain flavors that you may enjoy cause them to make terrible faces!

Put the food on the plate. Make sure they know that your expectation is that they taste it. But once they do, let them decide whether to finish the bites you put on their plate. One of these days, they may ask for more.

So now your children have a variety of foods. Sort of. They eat pasta (maybe even ravioli or tortellini), but not sauce. They eat chicken fingers, but not plain chicken. They eat carrots, cucumber and red pepper, but not a salad.

As a parent, this may be fine with you. You may not mind making separate meals or separating ingredients. But you may want to help your child become a more adventurous eater.

I am a huge proponent of asking your kids to help in the kitchen. It may be slower or messier than if you do it yourself. However, kids (and adults) are more likely to try foods that they have had a hand in creating. Be willing to let them taste the ingredients as they go in. Let them experience a sour lemon, bitter unsweetened chocolate or salty soy sauce.

In my family, and now in friends’ and clients’ homes, we have found that cooking shows have encouraged children to try new things. Similar to letting them play with food in the kitchen, seeing master chefs play with food – and admitting that they may have never tasted or even seen some of the ingredients – can be extremely motivating for some children. Watch the show together. Talk about how they create different flavors and textures with the same ingredients. And then get in the kitchen and let your kids create.

  • Exposure to different foods.
  • Exposure to how foods can be prepared.
  • Being the sous chef (as a toddler, or young child) and eventually the chef.

All of these will help create a more adventurous eater over time.

Please keep in mind that I am not addressing families that are dealing with allergies, or sensitivities, or other complex food issues. If you would like to talk about more specific situations, please contact me directly at debhurowitz@yahoo.com, or leave a comment below.

Deb Hurowitz holds a Master of Social Work (MSW) from Boston College. She is also a mom to two wonderful children who like to show her that no matter how much she knows professionally, being a mom is still hard work! You can learn more about her practice and current groups at http://mommybutstillme.com.

 

 

Lessons in Giving Back

7 Apr

By Beth Chambers

The importance of helping those who are less fortunate has always been a value I worked to instill in my family.  To me, it meant that our children started volunteering at the local food pantry at a young age.  While shopping at the grocery store, I would ask them to pick out an item they wanted to bring to the pantry, helping them make the connection between what they have and how they can assist others who are less fortunate.

Working for a social services agency that cares for the region’s most needy, I had plenty of real stories to share on the impact one person could have on another’s life, but I quickly realized I had to encourage my children to experience giving back for themselves and form their own opinions on volunteerism.

Engaging children in volunteering is truly a two-way street—it’s helps to enrich the life of the child while also providing much needed support to someone on the other side who is in need.  The economy may be on the mend, but the demand for basic needs services such as food assistance is higher than ever.

Here are some tips for getting the family involved:

  • Start with the Grocery Store – Food insecurity is still a serious issue for too many Massachusetts families.  Next time you are with the children at the grocery store, consider picking up some non-perishables to drop off at your local food pantry.  Come across a buy-one-get-one-free-sale?  Put one of the items in your cart and set the other aside to donate.
  • Make Volunteering a Family Affair – Volunteering as a family is a great way to spend time together away from the TV, video games and iPad.  Whether pushing the shopping cart at a local food pantry or handing out turkeys on Thanksgiving, direct contact with those being served helps children understand the impact of their participation.
  • Find Outlets That Match Interests – Are your kids active and enjoy being outside?  Spring brings numerous charity walks, runs and other fundraisers in search of volunteers.  Even standing at a street corner and cheering on runners is volunteering – everyone needs someone routing for them!  Are your kids dog lovers?  Look into opportunities at local animal shelters.
  • Donate Outgrown or Unused Items – Work with your children to sort through outgrown toys, books and clothing and bring to a local relief organization.  Going on a family vacation?  Bring back the mini hotel shampoos and soaps and donate to a local shelter for the homeless.

The values we ingrain into our children when they are young impact the kind of person they become.  I truly believe there’s good in everyone and learning to give back can bring out the best in us.

Beth Chambers, MSW, is Director of Catholic Charities South

The Importance of Saying “Hi”

31 Mar

By Jim Castrataro

As I sit in my office on this beautiful winter day with a clear blue sky and a dusting of snow on all the trees I am reminded of just how great of a place New England is to raise a family.  With so much to do and see, the adventures of each day are only a short drive or walk away.  However, something is bothering me today.  You see, I just finished my walk to the coffee shop on campus and something that I have noticed over the years seemed to be exacerbated.  Not a single student on campus said “Hi” as we passed each other.  Even worse, most did not lift their head up as they walked, focused on the device in their hands.

I am fortunate to work in an arena where cell phones, iPads and other handheld technologies are not part of our day or, more importantly, our culture.   Although most kids do have a cell phone on them, they stay in their bags during the day.

So how do cell phones and saying “Hi” impact family health?  Well, I would argue this is a different type of family health, not the family health that involves doctors, dentists and nutritionists, but family health in terms of communication, love and companionship.

Young adolescents are constantly surrounded with the phrase “fundamentals.” I encourage you to work on your family health fundamentals and embrace the situations that bring these to the surface.  Although change is inevitable and the devices are a necessary part of our society, walking with our heads up and saying “Hi” cannot become a lost fundamental.  It is at the very core of our mental health and there is no better place to embrace this fundamental than with your family.

 

Jim Castrataro is the director of summer programs at Babson College.  His experience spans 16 years directing and consulting a variety of camp programs for thousands of children and young adults ranging from 5 to 18 years of age. 

Bonding with my Son through Minecraft

24 Mar

By Mark Cheverton

 

When we first bought my son the game Minecraft, I helped him load it on the computer, create his user name, Gameknight999, select his character appearance and off he went. At first, he played it on his own, but soon he was calling us into our office so that he could show us what he created—and it was pretty amazing.  He had built a gigantic castle, an obstacle course with moving parts, and even an entire underground village. His creations blew us away! As an engineer, anything that offers me a chance to build something sounds instantly intriguing. So I sat there with my son and let him teach me how to play Minecraft.  In no time at all, I bought a license for me to use and off we went into the digital realm together, building towers, fighting with zombies and dodging creepers.  And you know what I noticed right away? My son loved teaching me how to play the game: how to make zombie traps, how to use redstone, how to craft items, and so many other things. And the more he taught me, the more his self-esteem seemed to grow. I heard him telling his friend one day how he taught his father how to do things in the game, and he was proud, actually proud that he played Minecraft with his dad—wow!

He loved playing Minecraft so much that we bought a server for him the next Christmas. He spent months building things on his server: castles, bridges, underwater cities, factories, everything and anything his imagination could conceive. Next he brought in his friends from school and did some collaborative things and building gigantic structures that he designed. Again, great “teachable moments” arose as he struggled to work collaboratively with a couple of his 8 year-old friends. I was overwhelmed with how proud he was about his creations.

Well, one day, my son’s world came crashing down. Some other kids were able to get onto the server and destroyed everything that he’d built; “griefing” it, as the term is used in the gaming world.  They leveled everything to the ground, obliterating months of work.  The next time my son logged on, he saw his destroyed creations and was crushed. To make matters worse, these kids posted the video of their griefing his server on YouTube.

This was the ultimate “teachable moment,” to talk about cyber-bullying. That was when I came up with the idea of teaching my son through his favorite thing—Minecraft. I wrote a book called Invasion of the Overworld: A Minecraft Novel, to teach my son about cyber-bullying using his favorite game—a game that I came to understand as well as he did—as a backdrop. Through teaching my son about why kids bully, in the context of a game he understood, I think the lessons got driven home much harder than they would have otherwise.

Since the griefing episode, I have used video games to not only teach my son about bullies, but to teach him about other things as well. Branching out, I started looking for games that I could use to teach my son about problem solving. They helped me to teach him how to break down a problem into manageable parts and tackle them one at a time. This quickly led to a discussion on how he can do this with personal problems instead of mechanical ones. We had some great discussions about challenges I’d faced in my own life, and problems he’d faced, some of which I was hearing about for the first time, and this discussion came about because we were playing video games together.

It turns out that I am not the only one who has been using video games to teach lessons to my child. There has been a lot of research out there by respected universities on the benefits of parents playing computer games with their kids. Researchers from Arizona State University suggest that “Parents miss a huge opportunity when they walk away from playing video games with their kids.” They also echo my statement above that “Gaming with [your] children also offers parents countless ways to insert their own ‘teaching moment.’”  In addition, researchers at Brigham Young University studied 287 families, looking at how they play video games together and they found that girls between 11 to 16 years of age who played video games with a parent reported better behavior, more feelings of family closeness and less aggression than girls who played alone or with friends.

My son and I are still play Minecraft together, but we’ve also moved on to some game-making software and other games as well. Each of these platforms presents numerous opportunities for those “teachable moments” that we, as parents, crave. Playing these games with my son gives me the chance to talk with him about serious things without the ever-present eye roll and sighs. Try it, you might find what I found—that our kids are more incredible than we could ever imagine.

Mark Cheverton started playing Minecraft with his son as a way for them to bond together. His son’s experience with cyber-bullying led him to write Invasion of the Overworld: A Minecraft Novel. He is currently working on the sequel to it, Battle for the Nether. Cheverton has also written a children’s series, The Algae Voices of Azule. He lives in Albany, NY with his wife and son.To learn more about the author and his book, go to www.markcheverton.com.

Learning to Self-Feed

19 Mar

By Deb Hurowitz

Being a parent is hard. So is being a kid. I’m here to make it easier for you both. Today I would like to start with a topic that affects every parent, across a spectrum of ages, stages and needs: food and eating.

This is such a broad topic, it will take several posts to even begin to address it, but I will break it down into a few pieces:

  • What you can expect from a child learning to self-feed.
  • When your child refuses all but a few select foods.
  • Ideas on how to grow your child as an adventurous eater.
  • How to talk to your child about food and his body, as well as how you talk about food and your own body.

Learning to Self-Feed

When parents have a toddler who is learning to self-feed, they address it in different ways. Some parents are uninhibited and allow their child full access as soon as they start chewing, while others spoon feed as long as possible. Some parents offer their child a wide variety of tastes and textures, while others find something their child likes and serve variations of that food. Some parents are extremely cautious, while others allow their child to try anything that the rest of the family enjoys.

While there is no “right” or “wrong” way to go about this, here are a few things to consider:

  • Most children will eventually need to learn to use a fork, spoon and (gasp!) even a knife. Allowing them to practice is going to be a messy proposition at any age, but a three- or four-year-old who has always been spoon fed will still have to get through that phase
  • New eaters introduced to a broad variety of flavors and textures won’t like everything, but in many circumstances they will be more likely to continue to try new and different foods. They may, however, go through a phase where they are as picky as a child who did not have that exposure
  • New eaters, often, are finicky. They may love a particular food for weeks and then refuse to eat it. I don’t know a parent who isn’t confounded and frustrated by this, but just keep offering the once-loved food along with new ones. They will likely come back to it.
  • Part of introducing foods has nothing to do with nutrition. It is an opportunity for your child to explore her world, and how she has control over her body and the items around her.

A client recently asked me why her son would put something in his mouth, squish it around, spit it out and then repeat the process. The simple answer is that he is figuring out what do with his mouth, his throat and his hands, as well as explore tastes and textures and how they change.

In the end, your child will make messes. And more messes. Messes because she is exploring the texture, or the taste, or her newfound ability to fling a spoonful of yogurt across a room. Messes because he loves the taste and is excited. Messes because she doesn’t like it and let the partially chewed item dribble out of her mouth.

And you’ll be tired of cleaning up the messes (and the kitchen) with emotions that run from frustrated, to annoyed, to resigned, to finally proud and excited. Your child will learn to get the food from point A to point B. He’ll learn how to hold a spoon and how to keep the food inside his mouth. And he’ll do this all without a full scale wipe-down … eventually.

 

Deb Hurowitz holds a Master of Social Work (MSW) from Boston College. She is also a mom to two wonderful children who like to show her that no matter how much she knows professionally, being a mom is still hard work!

Hurowitz provides support to groups, families, couples and children, in person, online and by phone. You can learn more about her practice and current groups at http://mommybutstillme.com or write her directly at debhurowitz@yahoo.com.

 

 

Lean On Me: A Summer Camp that Helps with Grief

17 Mar

Circle of Tapawingo is a fun, traditional overnight camp that offers girls who have experiences the death of a parent a supportive place to share their grief.

Circle of Tapawingo is a fun, traditional overnight camp that offers girls who have experiences the death of a parent a supportive place to share their grief.

By Cathy Spear

When a young girl’s parent dies, her childhood is forever altered. Huge challenges lie ahead of her as she confronts a life that is suddenly very different from what it used to be.

Circle Camps for Grieving Children opened its first program, Circle of Tapawingo, in southwestern Maine in 2002 to help young girls feel less alone in their grief. This summer, the organization is planning to serve almost 300 girls at its camps in Maine, New Hampshire, West Virginia and California.

Each camp offers six days of traditional overnight camp activities, including swimming, canoeing, ropes courses, basketball, arts and crafts, archery, dance and talent shows. Campers live together in cabins and share in all of the summertime fun that make overnight camp experiences meaningful. Campers return year after year, so they can experience Circle as an ongoing piece of their childhood.

Throughout the week, grief activities are woven into the schedule. On the second day, under the guidance of a licensed professional, each bunk comes together for “Circle Time.” This time offers the girls a chance to share memories of their deceased parents with their cabin-mates. Craft projects allow girls to memorialize their parents. Other grief activities encourage girls to think about the changes that have occurred in their lives and to address the many feelings that arise; and coping strategies are offered.

Late in the week, there is an evening campfire that focuses gently on the theme of endings. A service held on the final morning of camp is especially meaningful as all campers and counselors place a personally inscribed rock in a memory garden. And throughout the week, there are spontaneous conversations – in the cabins, on walks down to the lake, during rest hour – that help campers feel supported and connected to each other.

Despite the challenges that may confront campers in their lives, the days at Circle Camps are typically filled with smiles and laughter. Circle offers its campers a time to really play – and to play hard! The dining room is filled with sounds of songs and cheers that lift spirits and remind us all of the potential for fun in childhood summers.

When older campers look back on their time at Circle, they talk about “making friendships that will last a lifetime” and “finally being with other girls who get it.”

Circle of Tapawingo not only offers a Camper Program for girls ages 9 to12 and a Teen Program for girls ages 13 to 14, but graduates may apply to a Counselor-In-Training program that provides them with the opportunity to work with younger campers, as well as to participate in their own activities that encourage more sharing and exploration of their grief.

And last year’s newest program for alumnae, CircleSummit, was a five-day, outdoor leadership experience that included hiking in the White Mountains. The participants glowed with pride when they talked about stretching their limits and summiting Mt. Washington.

Circle Camps aim to reach out to more girls for whom life has not always been easy. All the programs are entirely free to campers, and transportation is provided from central points.

To inquire about the camp or to register a prospective camper, please contact Cathy Spear at cathyspear@circlecamps.org.

 

Cathy Spear, LICSW, is director of camper services at Circle Camps for Grieving Children.

Medications at Camp

10 Mar

By Jim Castrataro

Many parents struggle with the question of what to do about their children’s medications, specifically ADD and ADHD medications, during the summer months. Although I am not a doctor or medical expert, I can give you my perspective as a camp director and some simple steps to take to ensure your child has a fun-filled camp experience.

First, speak with the camp director to clarify the daily schedule and possibly identify the counselor who will be in direct contact with your child. Although many full-time camp directors have plenty of experience with children with ADD and ADHD, the camp counselor may only be 18 or 19 years old and sometimes even struggling with the same issues your 8- to 10-year-old may be having. This is not to say your child is not safe, but the level of experience can vary greatly from counselor to counselor.

Next, take into account the duration of the camp. Is it just a three- or four-day camp or a multi-week overnight camp? To put this in perspective, think about how long you worked with teachers, doctors and consultants to properly diagnose, work through issues and begin to process and create a workable solution for your child. The relatively short amount of time a counselor is in contact with campers makes it not only difficult for the counselors to learn the group’s dynamics, but individual issues, as well.

After speaking with the camp director there is still yet another level of expertise you can go to.  By law, each camp in the state of Massachusetts must have a health care consultant on staff to help the camp directors manage the many physical forms  and immunization documents. Although the health care consultant may not have immediate knowledge of your particular situation during your first call, he or she is there to help manage the medications and implement protocols. Furthermore, by HIPAA Privacy Act guidelines, the camp counselor will most likely not be aware of any of the medical issues of your child unless authorized by you, the parent or guardian. This granting of permission can be achieved through the health care consultant, and it is important that you are comfortable and in full knowledge of the camp’s written plan for your child.

From my perspective, parents of children with ADD and ADHD sometimes feel the physical activity offered in a summer camp setting may allow them to be a little more lenient with medications that reduce hyperactivity. I urge all parents to also understand the timespan and experience of those in direct contact is significantly reduced and it is important to look at both sides of the equation while implementing the appropriate plan of action.

 

Jim Castrataro is the director of summer programs at Babson College.  His experience spans 16 years directing and consulting a variety of camp programs for thousands of children and young adults ranging from 5 to 18 years of age. 

Boston Kids Are Completing Chores and Learning Responsibility

3 Mar

Thousands of Boston area children not yet able to punch a time clock have been hard at work around the house completing chores, earning a reward and learning how to save, share and spend money wisely. “There is plenty of debate going on whether children should be doing chores around the house or not,” says Gregg Murset, CEO and founder of My Job Chart. “My belief is that children will do better as young adults and adults if they develop a good work ethic, as well as learn the fundamentals of dealing with money at any earlier age.”

Murset says that in Massachusetts, the top jobs are brushing teeth, packing school bags, putting away clothes, cleaning the table after meals, reading a book, getting dressed, doing homework, taking a bath/shower, making beds and picking up toys.

“According to the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics there are 74 million kids under 18 years old currently in the U.S.,” adds Murset. “This is an unbelievable workforce, but more so, it is also our future. It is extremely important that as parents we make sure our children understand the meaning of work ethic, responsibility, accountability and managing money so they can be prepared to be successful adults.”

As the winter chill eventually leaves New England and children start dreaming about what to do after school is out for summer, parents can help them find ways to fill their days away from TVs, video games or texting by developing a daily list of tasks to be completed with or without supervision.

And, if enforcing chores in your home at times seems like more work and stress for you than it is worth, try some of the following tips to motivate children to complete tasks without having to resort to threats or repercussions.

  • Let Kids Work to Support a Special Charity They Select: Help your child find a charity or cause he wants to support, and tell him by finishing his chores, part of the money he earns will be donated to it.
  • Parents Match Any Savings or Donation: Make an agreement with your kids that whatever they earn, you (or even grandma/grandpa) will match the dollar amount to go toward a charity or into savings.
  • Connect Chores with a Special Day or Additional Activity Time: Special time with mom and dad, maybe a trip to the zoo, to see a movie or to go out to eat at a favorite restaurant.
  • Allow Overtime: Give your kids the chance to work overtime to earn more money.

 

 

Romantic Date Nights

24 Feb

“Sometimes partners settle into routines and no longer experience that heart-thumping, birds singing, poetry-writing feeling they did when they were first in love,” says Haley Miller, a newlywed who recently moved to Boston and is the author of 150 Unforgettable Dates (Cedar Fort Inc., 2014). “A weekly date is the perfect excuse to act like a kid in love again,” she says. Her ideas:

• Staycation: Drop the kids with family or a sitter and don fuzzy robes for an at-home spa experience with long showers, massages and pedicures.

Two to Tango: Sign up for dance lessons. Even if you have two left feet, dancing is the language of love.

• Snowshoeing: You can rent equipment at a sporting goods store.

Pet Pals: Volunteer to walk or play with abandoned pets at a shelter.

• Regional Roadtrip: Pick a loop that takes at most four hours, then just drive, stopping at any landmarks or restaurants that look interesting along the way.

How to Brush A Young Child’s Teeth

17 Feb

By Mary Alice Cookson

Parents should brush their kids’ teeth twice daily for the first seven years of life, says Arnold Weiss, D.D.S., of The Center for Pediatric Dental Care in Brookline and a member of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry’s Council on Clinical Affairs. As children grow, they can assume more responsibility, but when they are young they lack the manual dexterity and patience to do each tooth properly, he says.

• Once teeth erupt and contact each other, floss prior to brushing, says Weiss. Plastic flossers are easiest to use.

• Brush using a circular motion with a child toothbrush that has soft nylon rounded bristles. Battery-operated toothbrushes work well also, but Weiss says “smaller is better.” For children younger than 3, the brushes may be too tall to get around the back molars and too long (covering too many teeth), so that they do not get in between them as well.

• Parents should apply the toothpaste because children who lack the ability to spit will swallow it. For children under 2, use non-fluoride toothpaste; between 2 and 4, wet bristles with a “smear” of fluoridated toothpaste; and for ages 4 and up – use a “pea-sized” amount.

• Position children so they can see in a mirror, which will prompt them to open their mouths better.

 

Mary Alice Cookson is associate editor of Boston Parents Paper.