Parents

Building Social and Emotional Learning during the School Holidays

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Posted on by Leonardo Rocker (Quirky Kid Staff)

child inside a backpack. social and emotional skills for kids

The school holiday period can be a great time to reflect on the last term, prepare for upcoming changes and review skills that need to be improved.

Returning to school is typically experienced with mixed emotions. For some parents, it is a welcome relief after what feels like a very long holiday. For others, the return to school signals the end of a carefree, relaxing break and there can be feelings of sadness and/or anxiety associated with the return to routine and the academic and social demands associated with the school.

Children and young people equally experience a range of feelings about the return to school. For some, there is great excitement about starting a new school, seeing friends or perhaps finding out who their new teacher will be. For others, there may be sadness about the end of the holidays or anxiety about a raft of possible concerns such as making friends in their new class or coping with the work/homework requirements.

A tried and test way to prepare for changes and transitions is by focusing on your child’s social and emotional adjustment.

Tips to Help Your Child Settle Into Term 3

Whilst a lot of focus is placed on the academic tasks associated with school, paying particular attention to a child’s social and emotional adjustment over the coming weeks/months is also critical. Below are 3 tips to get you started:

  • Make time to check in with your child about how they are feeling and coping with the school year so far. It’s important to really listen to what your child is saying. To do this, begin by just repeating back or paraphrasing what your child is telling you. Where your child is experiencing uncertainty try to normalise this and remind your child that it can take a few weeks to really settle in. It is not uncommon for children (and parents) to express disappointment about a new teacher they may have been assigned or about the discovery that they don’t have as many close friends in their class. Rather than jumping to solve the problem for your child, build resilience by encouraging your child to come up with some ideas about ways to help themselves cope in such a situation.
  • It can often be a good idea to make time to check in with your child’s teacher as soon as terms resume. Whilst you will, of course, wish to discuss their educational strengths/weaknesses, also address how your child is feeling about their progress and to highlight anything (e.g. camp, homework) that may be worrying your child.  Make sure you also discuss your child’s social skills with the teacher. If they are struggling with friends, ask your child’s teacher how the school can help in facilitating friendships. If your child has had any ongoing incidents of bullying/teasing it is critical to mention this again and ask how they can help to ensure that such incidents don’t occur again during the next terms. Equally, if your child has a history of seeking attention from others in a class by misbehaving, check on how this is been handled at school. Teachers will undoubtedly find your insights into what works and what doesn’t work at home very useful.
  • Encourage friendships and further consolidate social skills in by organising playdates or outings with any new classmates made throughout the term. Whilst children often request existing friends, it can be worthwhile trying to extend friendship networks by inviting new children over. This is not only good for your child but can also help to expand social support networks for you as a parent. In secondary school, it is equally important to encourage friendships by providing opportunities for your son/daughter to have friends over or by offering to drive them to a movie etc. This not only helps foster friendships but also gives parents valuable insights into the type of friendships that your child is building.

Why social-emotional learning is so important

The importance of focusing on the social and emotional well being of children is becoming increasingly acknowledged. In the current climate of increasing rates of mental illness in young people and concern over youth suicide rates, the NSW government has reportedly decided to tackle the problem more aggressively by proposing to adopt a more preventative approach in addressing such issues. The Government’s decision to begin at the grassroots level and start better-educating school-aged children (from Kindergarten) about mental health issues is welcome news to everyone here at Quirky Kid.

The changes to the Personal Development, Health, Physical Education (PDHPE) syllabus which are apparently due for implementation from 2020 include a more comprehensive effort to address social-emotional learning and mental health issues from primary school onwards. Beginning in Kindergarten, it is proposed that children will begin with simple social-emotional concepts such as feelings and building relationships with others, but as they progress to higher grades the aim will be to address important issues such as coping with success and failure, overcoming adversity, grief and death, coping with controlling behaviour in others, domestic violence, and substance abuse.

Helping Children to Build Important Social-Emotional Skills

Equipping children to cope with the social and emotional demands of school fosters increased coping and resilience skills. The evidence suggests that well developed social and emotional skills are both protective and helpful. Strong social and emotional skills in children not only predict fewer behavioural problems in the classroom but they are also related to positive academic outcomes and improved school performance  (Myles-Pallister, Hassan, Rooney, & Kane, 2014; January, Casey & Paulson, 2011; Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, & Schellinger, 2011)

The government and other mental health agencies hope that by tackling such topics in school and by better-educating children about mental health, steps will be made to not only demystify such issues but will crucially equip children with a more effective toolkit for managing difficult feelings. It is further hoped that lessons learned at school will have a lasting impact as children become adults.

How Can Quirky Kid help develop your child’s social-emotional learning skills?

At The  Quirky Kid Clinic, we are strong advocates for prevention and early intervention when it comes to children’s mental health issues. Prevention, is, of course, the preferred approach. In our experience, providing intervention to children and families before problems become too entrenched can often be the key to success. Where issues have been developing for some time, it can be much harder to address problems and for both the child and family such situations can feel insurmountable.

The Best of Friends® gives children the knowledge skills and confidence to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, develop and maintain friendships and make good decisions. Designed for children aged 7 to 11, the program teaches these critical skills to children in an age-appropriate and practical way.

So embrace this potentially challenging time with your son/daughter and remember children tend to take the lead from their parents. With this in mind, try to model calm, brave behaviour whilst at the same time keeping the doors of communication wide open. By adopting these strategies your child should feel a little braver about adapting to their new classroom, teacher and school expectations.

Term 3 Social and Emotional Learning Programs for Children

If you are looking for a more extensive approach to preparing your child for Term 3, book now for our The Best of Friends® holiday and Term 3 Programs.

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References:

Durlak, J.A., Weissberg, R.P., Dymnicki, A.B., Taylor, R.D., & Schellinger, K.B. (2011).  The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions.  Child Development, 82(1), 405-432

January, A.M., Casey, R.J., & Paulson, D. (2011). A Meta-Analysis of Classroom-Wide Interventions to Build Social Skills: Do They Work?.  School Psychology Review, 40(2), 242-256

Myles-Pallister, J.D., Hassan, S., Rooney, R.M. & Kane, R.T. (2014).  The efficacy of the enhanced Aussie Optimum Positive Thinking Skills Program in improving social and emotional learning in middle childhood.  Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 909.

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Breaking Bad News to Your Children

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Posted on by Freya Gardon

Father, daughter and mother. Grieving child, around dog's grave

Allied health professionals, such as psychologists, can undergo years of training and practical experience to build their communication skills to deliver difficult news sensitively. They quickly learn that, when it comes to delivering bad news to children, it is essential to be prepared.

Parents, however, may need to learn as they go. At some point, all parents will have to communicate difficult or unpleasant situations to their children. Whether it’s the death of a family pet, moving away, separation/divorce, or harder still, the passing of a loved one – children and parents will need help navigating their emotional responses and behaviours through these tough times.

Clearly, this is a daunting task for anyone as we may feel inadequate to handle such situations. Research and experience tell us that the key is to let children know you are available to answer all questions and to provide as much support as needed. 

Here are some other top tips for delivering –  and dealing with the aftermath – of delivering bad news to your children.

1# Be honest

Lay out the facts at a level that is developmentally suited to the age of the child. Younger children may need help to understand the implications of the bad news and what it means for them. For example, approaching the topic of death or loss may result in a conversation about what death really means. Use words they understand and avoid saying things in such a way that might leave children confused about what you’re really saying.  Speak clearly.

For teenagers, it is particularly important not to “sugarcoat” or limit details of the information, as this is often perceived to be dishonest or patronising. A study of young adults revealed that if they viewed their parents to be hiding something, or later found out that the parents had not been entirely truthful, the response was negative.

2# Be prepared to answer their questions

Children want their questions answered.

In fact, a survey of young adults revealed those who had access to the information they wanted from their parents in times of crisis were much more satisfied than those who were told  to ask “no questions.” It is essential to schedule a time when there is enough opportunity for children to react and to think about what they want to ask, and for you to have time to respond calmly.

Avoid having difficult conversations immediately before school or work as this may be met with stress and anxiety without the chance to address these feelings appropriately.

Additionally, be prepared for awkward or tricky questions and be ready to answer them if you can. If you can’t answer a particular question, it is okay to admit you don’t know, rather than over-complicate an explanation.

3# Respect their ability to cope with the news, and their right to hear it

Respecting children’s developmental stage and maturity is essential. No one likes to be talked down to. Children whose parents speak to them as ‘equals’ feel respected and trusted, and are likely to respond with more maturity in a problematic situation.

In a research study by Donovan, Thompson, LeFebvre, and Tollison (2017) early adult respondents who perceived that their parents discussed tough issues with them more as peers, reported higher ratings of disclosure quality and in turn, greater relational closeness following the disclosure.

4# Provide reassurance

It is an essential role of parents to provide comfort and reassurance to children in stressful or distressing times. Let them it is ok to feel whatever they are feeling (e.g. sadness, anger). Confirm that these emotions are entirely valid responses to the situation.

Reassure them that you will be available to answer any questions or talk about this situation again at any time. Reassure them that they are loved.

5# Model good self-care

Share how you feel. Experiencing difficult situations, as well as talking about it with others, can be exhausting. Taking care of your own emotional well-being is essential and being honest is part of it.

Besides, it is perfectly okay to let your kids see that you are sad, angry, upset, etc. This gives them a chance to see how emotions affect other people and to learn how to regulate them effectively.

Parents are emotional role models, especially in times of crisis, and your children will inevitably look to you to assess what is an appropriate response in these times. Be natural and talk about it.

6# Seek help for yourself and your child(ren) if needed

This all being said, it is essential to reach out for help when needed; both for yourself, and for your child.

Calling on your support network and sharing how you feel or what do you need, can help everyone to cope better.

Additionally, if you’re feeling overwhelmed or the kids seem to be having an especially hard time coping, find a child psychologist who can work with your family. Child psychologists can assist you in developing an appropriate strategy for moving forward. You can contact the  Quirky Kid.

References

Brott, A.(2014, September 29) 9 tips for breaking bad news to kids[Blog post]. Retrieved from: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/knowmore-tv/9-tips-for-breaking-bad-news-to-kids_b_5623488.html

Donovan, E. E., Thompson, C. M., LeFebvre, L., & Tollison, A. C. (2017). Emerging adult confidants’ judgments of parental openness: disclosure quality and post-disclosure relational closeness. Communication Monographs, 84(2), 179-199. doi:10.1080/03637751.2015.1119867

Levetown, M. (2008). Communicating With Children and Families: From Everyday Interactions to Skill in Conveying Distressing Information. Pediatrics, 121(5), e1441-e1460. doi:10.1542/peds.2008-0565

Livoti, N.(2013, June 30)Honesty and reassurance is key when talking to kids about bad news[Blog post]. Retrieved from: http://www.pennlive.com/bodyandmind/index.ssf/2013/06/honesty_and_reassurance_is_key.html

Marshall, L.B.(2016, July 8). How to break bad news to your teen. Retrieved from: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/business-career/communication/how-to-break-bad-news-to-your-teen

 

Surviving Long Trips with Kids

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Posted on by Dr. Kimberley O'Brien

Kids and parents traveling together in a car. Bubbles dogs, drawings. Article by Quirky Kid

Long distance travel is often intimidating for parents. The combination of energetic kids, and prolonged periods of time in a confined space seems like a recipe for disaster. However, by preparing in advance, being flexible to change and following these tips compiled by the Quirky Kid team, your long distance travel experience can be more positive, rewarding, and fun for children and parents.

Tip #1 Let Kids Play a Role in Planning the Itinerary

Make the trip more inclusive and enjoyable for kids by letting them have a say in the kind of places they would like to visit, sites they would like to see, and activities they would like to do along the way. Letting them take part in family decision-making teaches children valuable skills as they learn to advocate for what they want, listen to others’ wishes and make compromises. It also keeps them excited and interested and gives them specific things to look forward to. Furthermore,  acts as an incentive and a reward for sitting through the parts of the trip that less suit their preference.

It may not always be feasible, and children may not always come up with appropriate suggestions, but letting them select between a couple of alternatives that you deem acceptable and possible (e.g. stopping at a pool along the way, or, having a picnic at a roadside park/playground) is a great way to make the trip pleasant for all.

Tip #2 Avoid Relying on Screens to Keep Kids Busy

It is tempting to keep kids occupied with screens on long haul trips. Phones, Ipads, and laptops are easy time-fillers on the road. Dr. Kimberley O’Brien, principal Child Psychologist at the Quirky Kid Clinic, warns about the use of technology to keep kids preoccupied, particularly for long periods of time. While it may not always be avoidable, it is recommended to try all other entertainment avenues before turning on the screens, and ideally avoid using them at all when only travelling short distances.

An alternative strategy Dr. Kimberley suggests is planning for the trip well in advance, and packing a “kid-box” to keep kids entertained throughout the journey. The box can be filled with resources that are specific to each child, by asking them before you take to the road to “imagine they are on a long trip, and to think about the kind of things they would like to do”.

Here are some suggestions of fun activities for your long trip with kids:

  • Activity books (such as, colouring-in or dot-to-dot books) and story books/audiobooks
  • A great creative resource is the Tell Me A Story cards. These cards encourage kids to recall and retell some of their most extreme moments (“Bravest!” “Fastest!” “Highest!”), while uncovering a sense of pride in their past achievements and skills. Kids love hearing and telling stories, especially true stories, and it is an engaging and interactive way to pass the time together.
  • If you want to get more creative on the road, a few erasable whiteboard markers can turn the car windows into works of art, or a simple cooking tray can be turned into a magnetic play table using assorted fridge magnets (e.g. letters and numbers) or with a magnetic puzzle to keep all the pieces stuck in one place.

Tip #3 Take Frequent Breaks

A recent study (Morris & Guerra, 2015) examined 22 000 frequent travellers’ responses, in order to explore the link between trip duration and mood during travel. Not surprisingly, trip duration was found to negatively influence mood, primarily due to rising levels of stress and fatigue over the course of the journey. To combat this, consider frequent breaks where possible. Children have shorter attention spans than adults (Cowan, Fristoe, Elliott, Brunner, & Saults, 2006) and have not yet fully developed impulse control (Tarullo, Obradovic, & Gunnar, 2009). This means they will quickly become restless, fidgety, and uncomfortable if not given the opportunity to change environments and ideally, move around.

Taking breaks on family trips with kids where possible is important for drivers and passengers, both for safety and sanity. For kids, the opportunity to get out of the car should also involve some form of physical activity to let them burn off some steam. While this may mean allowing extra travel time to reach your destination, it makes the trip more bearable for all.

Tip #4 Plan Your Snacks (and take plenty of them)

Nutritionists admit that on the road with family it is often convenient to fall back on take-away foods and processed snacks from roadside stops. Sugary and highly-processed foods are not ideal and giving kids more energy that they are not likely to use up in the car is likely to backfire. Additionally, unhealthy snack options can deplete energy levels and leave you feeling drained over the course of a long drive. Nutritious treats can be prepared at home for easy on-the-go snacking and keep everyone feeling happy and healthy over the journey. Additionally, having access to plenty of snacks while travelling, giving kids a choice as to what they want to eat, sharing and divvying up snacks as the trip goes, is often a welcome distraction.

Tip #5 Use travel as a teaching/learning opportunity (for yourself & the kids)

Sometimes a change of mindset is needed. We often view travelling with kids as something impossible and difficult, or as the kind of trip you suffer through to get to your destination. In reality, travelling is a wonderful opportunity to share exciting, new experiences as a family and learn about other places, cultures, and ways-of-life. In fact, a study (2006) conducted by researchers at Clemson University (U.S.), used data compiled from the U.S. Department of Education, and found that kids who travel over their vacation/holiday period (no matter their destination) tended to perform better academically at school (indicated by better performance on standardised tests of reading, maths and general knowledge) than peers who didn’t travel.

To make the most of this learning opportunity, Quirky Kid recommends encouraging children to hit the books/computers to do some research and learn more about the trip and destination before you go, and encouraging kids to keep a travel journal. This could be in the form of drawings, photos, hand-written pieces, blogs, or whatever strikes their fancy. Not only does it keep them busy and help them remember the experience, it can be shared and enjoyed with friends and family on your return. The kids will love to show it off and tell everyone about how much fun they had on their family trip.


References

Butler, N (2016, June 3) Eight Kid-Pleasing, Healthy Road Trip Snacks. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health-slideshow/healthy-road-trip-snacks

Cowan, N., Fristoe, N. M., Elliott, E. M., Brunner, R. P., & Saults, J. S. (2006). Scope of Attention, Control of Attention, and Intelligence in Children and Adults. Memory & cognition, 34(8), 1754-1768

Denny, S. (2014, January 5). 25 healthy snacks for kids. Retrieved from http://www.eatright.org/resource/food/planning-and-prep/snack-and-meal-ideas/25-healthy-snacks-for-kids

Morris, E. A., & Guerra, E. (2015). Are we there yet? Trip duration and mood during travel. Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour, 33(Supplement C), 38-47. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trf.2015.06.003

O’Brien, Dr. K(Producer). (2017, August 31). Children and Technology (Audio Podcast). Retrieved from: https://childpsychologist.com.au/podcast-children-and-technology/

Pantley, E (2003). Taking a Road Trip with Your Babe. Retrieved from: https://childdevelopmentinfo.com/ages-stages/baby-infant-development-parenting/road-trip-with-babies/#.WcG_I9Og-8U

Parker, J. L. (2006). The Relationship of Family Summer Vacation Trips an Academic Achievement Among First Graders: A National Study.

Shellenbarger, S.(2017, May 17). Dare to let the Children Plan Your Vacation. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from: https://www.wsj.com/articles/dare-to-let-the-children-plan-your-vacation-1494947476

Tarullo, A. R., Obradovic, J., & Gunnar, M. R. (2009). Self-control and the developing brain. Zero to three, 29(3), 31. Retreived from: https://web.stanford.edu/group/sparklab/pdf/Tarullo,%20Obradovic,%20Gunnar%20(2009,%200-3)%20Self-Control%20and%20the%20Developing%20Brain.pdf

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5 Tips on Preparing Young People for Greatness

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Posted on by Dr. Kimberley O'Brien

Greatness comes in many forms and is quite subjective depending on an individual’s age and abilities. For a child overcoming anxiety, greatness may be winning a public speaking competition or finding the courage to confront a new fear. For others, greatness may reveal itself through academic or sporting achievements, kindness, creativity or thoughtful leadership. In any case, discovering one’s unique strengths or passions is easier with the help of a caring coach, an attentive teacher, or a dedicated parent.

According to a recent survey of Australian students in Year 4 to 12, parents and teachers are the greatest influencers of a student’s sense of satisfaction and fulfillment (State of Victoria, Dept of Education and Training, 2017). Therefore, it is essential for parents and teachers to give sound advice on the subject of achieving greatness as defined by the child.

Leadership expert, Robert Kaplan (2013), developed a roadmap for reaching potential. In brief, he suggests greatness is achieved when we know our strengths, take the initiative and connect our daily actions to a clearly defined goal. For most children, defining a goal is easy but taking the initiative to make it happen is usually dependent on the adults around them. That’s where we come in!

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Foster their self-belief. For example, if you know a child who aspires to be a professional soccer player, help them find a great coach or coaching clinic. For those with more left-of-centre skills outside the areas of sporting or academia, keep an open mind to the activities available that might help push their strengths to new levels. Show them that you believe in them and make it happen!

  2. Research together. Show young people how to take the initiative by helping them to research and connect with experts in their field of interest. A child with a passion for making robots would be forever empowered if you showed them how to contact the Head Inventor at Battlebots. Imagine if they said yes to a Skype call?

  3. Use a wide-angle lens. Think broadly when it comes to inspiring young people. Be proactive and organise a range of guests to visit your school to spark an interest in every child. These could include artists, refugees, adventurers or someone with a “diffability” who is pursuing a passion. You never know when inspiration will strike!

  4. Set an example. Take on a challenge of your own and you will inspire others to do the same. Show some initiative and take steps on a daily basis to reach your goal. Share your journey’s highs and lows with the young people around you and make haste towards your destination.

  5. Work together. Challenges aren’t meant to be simple, but staying focused on the task at hand is easier when those around you are doing the same. Achieve greatness among your classmates, family or friends and your success will be even sweeter!

Power Up:

Our online Performance Psychology program Power Up! has been specially created for kids who want to push their performance skills to the next level. Power Up! gives them the power to: build self-confidence, cope with the pressures of competition, overcome self-doubt and negative self-talk, set goals and make plans to achieve them and maximise performance in any chosen field.

References:

  1. Kaplan, R.S. (2013) What You’re Really Meant to Do: A Roadmap for Reaching your Unique Potential.Ebook. HBR.
  2. Right School-Right Place (2017) State of Victoria. Department of Education and Training (Vic).
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Parent Tips for Fussy Eaters and Toddlers

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Posted on by Leonardo Rocker (Quirky Kid Staff)

For some families, dinner time can be the most challenging time of the day, kids and adults are exhausted and just need some space to relax. Dinnertime can quickly spiral out of control, deteriorating towards a full-on disaster zone. Navigating the ‘terrible twos’ at dinnertime can be emotionally challenging and downright exhausting.

Let’s set the scene – you and your little one have had a fabulous day at the park, you’re on top of the household chores, and you’ve just booked the next visit to the grandparents. You head home to start the evening routine, and dinner is next on the agenda.

Tonight’s menu is deliciously grilled chicken pieces, steamed broccoli, carrot sticks, and sweet potato mash. You serve your little one your ‘MasterChef’ quality meal and…cue whining, food smearing, flying carrot sticks, and ultimately tears, most likely from both of you. If you’re lucky, your little one will spend the meal smearing mash over their face, body and high chair while dropping carrot sticks on the cat. However, if your little one enjoys a tantrum or two, the mere sight of a vegetable will bring on an emotional outburst similar to a tropical thunderstorm.

The following recommendations have been revised from a previous Quirky Kid Fussy Eaters article and updated to support you through this tricky age and stage.

Managing Your Emotions

Sometimes it can be really hard to manage your own emotional responses when your child is demonstrating an escalation in their behaviour. Consider these tips for Parental Self-Regulation:

  • As hard as it sounds, try to remain calm – when you feel your emotional responses begin (anger, frustration, resentment), remind yourself to breathe, long, slow, deep breaths.
  • Remind yourself ‘It’s only a phase, this is normal behaviour, this is my little one testing the boundaries, the behaviour is their means of communication at this age’.
  • As a parent, modelling calm behaviour, as well as being willing to accept your child’s emotional responses, will in the long run support your child’s emotional regulation (Ramsden & Hubbard, 2002).

Understanding and Responding to Behaviour

When your child’s behaviour is beginning to escalate, as long as they are not in any immediate danger, it is important to evaluate their behaviour before you respond:

  • Ask yourself ‘What is my child’s behaviour trying to tell me?”
    • are they trying to avoid a food due to its taste?
    • are they trying to avoid a food due to its smell, texture and/or visual aversion?
    • are they already full because of late snacks at daycare?
    • are they seeking my attention because I am busy cooking?
    • can they see their favourite toy, which is just out of reach?
  • When you take a moment to try and understand what your child is trying to ‘say’ with their behaviour, then – and only when your child is calm – can you model an appropriate replacement behaviour, e.g. ‘Mummy, more chips please’ or ‘Finished, Mum’.

Positive Behaviour Strategies

Ongoing negative behaviour at dinnertime can be really challenging for everyone, so alongside the tips and strategies above, the following positive behaviour management strategies may be beneficial to support calmer, happier, more productive dinner times:

  • Tantrums may be unpleasant and noisy but they are also a great opportunity for parents to demonstrate to their child how to regulate their emotions. Parents can  show their child that they are providing loving support within appropriate boundaries. Providing ‘loving, sensitive guiding, and firm’ practices, as opposed to overly firm or overly flexible practices, supports your child’s emotional development (Coyne & Murrell, 2009).
  • Consistency is the key – always follow through with the contingency you have set up beforehand. You set your child up for success when you explain your expectations clearly before the meal, such as ‘‘Let’s explore lettuce and cauliflower tonight”. Then provide a contingency and/or choices based on whether your expectations have been met: “After we explore the new foods, you can have your sweet potato mash” (the most preferred item on offer), or “Do you want yoghurt or strawberries after we explore the new foods?” Present the new items alongside foods your child enjoys, withholding the most highly preferred food as reinforcement for meeting your expectations. Reinforcing appropriate behaviour will increase the likelihood that this behaviour will be demonstrated again in the future (Whittingham, 2015).
  • Ensure the focus of the meal is about curiosity to try new foods, with achievement measured in small steps, rather than expecting your child to finish a portion of less preferred foods in one sitting. Shaping your child’s food preferences means that you are providing reinforcement based on successful target behaviour and repeated exposure to new and interesting foods (Whittingham, 2015).
  • Trying new foods may include talking about the colour, the shape, the texture, what it does to fuel your body, how it feels, how it smells and lastly how it tastes. Encourage a pathway of touch, smell, lick, bite and allow the child to work their way along the pathway at their own pace. Repeated exposure to non-preferred foods in a non-punitive way will support increased likelihood of the child’s willingness to try the foods in the future (Wardle, et al., 2003).
  • Remember, your child’s energy intake and hunger may not be aligned with ‘mealtimes’ just yet and so it is important to meet their needs with healthy snacks  and food choices across the day (Allen & Myers, 2006).

Prevention and Planning Strategies

It is important to set your child up early with healthy eating behaviours, to provide ongoing information about food and health, and to provide opportunities to explore new foods and textures. Outside of mealtimes, the following tips can be helpful in supporting a child’s positive eating behaviour:

  • Depending on your child’s age, incorporate foods into other learning concepts, such as using foods to teach shapes, colours and textures.
  • You can incorporate different vegetables and foods in art and craft play, and use this as a time to talk about the foods’ nutritional value.
  • Make sure you keep healthy foods accessible to your child – you can keep  pre-cut vegetables in the fridge or on the table. When children are hungry, they may be inclined to eat the foods that they wouldn’t normally choose.
  • Pair non-preferred foods with highly preferred foods, such as salad dressing or sauce for dipping, this will help your child tolerate new tastes and textures and the sauce can be faded out slowly.
  • Encourage your child to participate in the grocery shopping. Let them choose new fruits and vegetables based on fun colours and textures and involve them in meal preparations. Giving your child some choice over their food (within limits) will support them to become more willing to eat the meals you have prepared.

While the information above is intended to support difficult eating behaviours in children at the toddler stage, it is important to note that some children experience more complex negative eating behaviours. In cases of severe food avoidance or associated conditions, families may benefit from individualised consultations. For a child who demonstrates severe food refusal and/or avoidance of particular tastes and textures, a consultation with both a Psychologist and a Nutritionist may be a consideration. Please contact us to schedule an appointment.

References

  1. Allen, R.E., & Myers, A.L. (2006). Nutrition in toddlers. Am Fam Physician, 74.9, 1527-1532.
  2. Coyne, L., & Murrell, A. (2009). The Joy of Parenting: An acceptance and commitment therapy guide to effective parenting in the early years. New Harbinger Publications, Oakland, CA
  3. Ramsden, S. R., & Hubbard, J. A. (2002). Family expressiveness and parental emotion coaching: Their role in children’s emotion regulation and aggression. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 30(6), 657-667.
  4. Wardle, J., Herrara M.L., Cooke, L. & Gibson, E.L. (2003). Modifying children’s food preferences: The effects of exposure and reward on acceptance of an unfamiliar vegetable. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 57, 341–348.
  5. Whittingham, K. (2015). Connect and shape: A parenting meta-strategy. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science, 4(2), 103-106.
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