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.
Allen, R.E., & Myers, A.L. (2006). Nutrition in toddlers. Am Fam Physician, 74.9, 1527-1532.
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
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.
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.
Whittingham, K. (2015). Connect and shape: A parenting meta-strategy. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science, 4(2), 103-106.
[00:00:00 – 00:01:16]Kids nowadays are more exposed to lots of screen time and parents are using this technology to effortlessly help in getting kids preoccupied, however this can result into massive meltdowns.
Reporter:What do you think about the modern day relationship between children and technology?
Dr. Kimberley: I often see kids using – well not often – but like, it’s becoming more regular that you see kids even as young as 2 using like, iPads, either in restaurants or while their mum’s are waiting in line, you know, in the waiting room at our clinics as well. Kids are getting exposed more and more to screen time obviously and parents are using it as a way to keep the kids preoccupied. And, I think that’s great, except that there are usually some massive meltdowns involved – that I’m sure parents can relate to. As soon as they need to like pack up and go, and take the iPad away, these meltdowns are worse than your average tantrums. Because there is quite an addiction involved, you know, when it comes to the bright light, then in the middle of the game where you have to go through those stages to get to the next level again. So I think for parents, the tantrums can be more stressful because they last longer and are a whole lot louder. My advice would be try to avoid giving screens to kids under the age 5 because we can easily keep them entertained if we give them a book, and then you don’t have the meltdowns afterwards. Or even just a fiddle toy would do. There’re so many other options to avoid screen time that you can also carry in your handbag.
[00:01:17-00:02:37] This technology is damaging to the cognitive and social development of these kids thus giving them limited interest to interact with other kids or adults.
Reporter: In terms of long-term development, is it detrimental to their cognitive and social development?
Dr. Kimberley: I think so. What I see, even in 15 years olds who have been doing a lot of gaming for long periods of time, is that they have really narrow group of friends with narrow interests. So they might have one close friend that they do lots of “gaming” with on the weekends (I’m probably not using the right lingo). But, if it doesn’t have a screen and they have to go or something, like if it’s someone’s birthday, then it’s just so hard for them to be there. It just feels more boring than it would have if they didn’t have such narrow interests because their social skills have been depleted and they haven’t been practicing on weekends, or having more conversations with people of different ages about different topics, because of their narrow interests. So we do see fifteen year-olds to want to broaden their interests, but that can be quite a challenge because they have to actually do stuff that they don’t enjoy to start with, the enjoyment will grow when they develop new network of friends and they get more physically be able to run, jump or climb, so that can get back to a normal balanced lifestyle.
[00:02:38 – 00:04:18]Kids these days have serious addiction to technology and it is making them more aggressive.
Reporter: So you think that addiction to technology is real and it’s happening at the moment?
Dr. Kimberley: Yeah, definitely. I saw a really good documentary but I wasn’t able to find it since I watched it. It was based on a Chinese rehab program for adolescent boys that have screen addictions. These are boys that have been gaming all through the night, have dropped out of school and have been spending like, 22 hours a day on screen. Some of them doing things like peeing in a bucket, wearing adult nappies so they didn’t have to come away from the screen. They serious wanting to be the best in world at whatever they were doing. In that documentary they were in full withdrawal when they have no access to a screen, and two of them in that period of time, like in that one month program, they broke out and they went straight to an internet cafe and started playing, trying to catch up after being away from it so long. Yes I do see it as a serious addiction. You want to watch it, because they’re some really lovely kids that we worked with in that middle range, from 10-12 years old. Just lovely kids that are well educated. They have supportive families, but are becoming more aggressive, throwing huge rocks through the sliding glass doors trying to get back inside once mum gives up because of too much screen time on a Saturday morning. Or breaking into a filing cabinet trying to get the laptop, fully busting the lock, doing damage.
[00:04:19 – 00:04:27]Kids who have attachment to technology are showing aggressive behaviours thus causing damage.
Reporter: In terms of behavioural issues, there is obviously the attachment to technology but you are saying there’s aggression as well?
Dr. Kimberley: Yes definitely.
[00:04:28 – 00:05:06]Technology is not the main cause of decreasing attention span of children, there are also other factors to consider.
Reporter: I’ve read a study that the attention spans of children are decreasing because of technology. Do you find that this is true?
Dr. Kimberley: It could be hard to pinpoint that as a cause and effect because there are just kids with short attention spans, with or without technology. But I think teachers are using more technology in the classroom and then, I suppose when they turn the screens off, they have to be, you know – I mean it’s great to watch a YouTube video of something and then to have the teacher try explain every word, but it doesn’t have such an impact. I imagine the kids would become more accustomed to seeing things move and hearing different voices and different scenes. It’s hard to compete with.
[00:05:07 – 00:05:50]There are pros and cons in using technology in teaching. There are games that are educational that can help kids with spelling, reading, and mathematics.
Reporter: Do you think that technology should be used in school for children in reception like iPads and that kind of thing?
Dr. Kimberley: I know some school mums are sometimes annoyed at teachers that are giving little girls, like kindergarten/year 1/year 2, a lot of time on screens because that is something that they have tried to win as off time and only use it on weekends or something like that. And when they drop in to do reading at school and some kids spend the whole hour on screen and they feel that is not teaching. So, I think you get mixed reactions. Or the kids might love doing those educational games there are really some good ones out there that can really help children with spelling words, reading, mathematics. So there are pros and cons.
[00:05:51 – 00:06:30]Technology is beneficial for children but you have to managed the use of it.
Reporter: So do you think overall the increase use in technology is beneficial to children or detrimental?
Dr. Kimberley: If it’s managed, then beneficial, totally. I think it’s a great reward for kids to get all their homework done, and then have some time to do something they really enjoy. And to use it as a reward and use it in limited periods of time so that they don’t develop that addiction. I think they get used to logging off after 5 t0 10 minutes – it not such a big drama, but if it’s been 4 to 5 hours, thats a whole waste of the weekend I think. And it’s not the right parenting in my opinion. Reporter: Yes, fair enough.
[00:06:31 – 00:06:57]Children in general should only be allowed to have screen time for 1 hour every day.
Reporter: One last question – so how long should children in general be spending on screen everyday?
Dr. Kimberley: Research says maximum of 2 hours but for me that feels like high school age when they have laptops and homework to do online and things like that. So I think two hours for those kids who have to do homework online. But for other ones, maybe two hours on weekends and one hour every day.
We hope you enjoy this resource as an easy-access portal to all of our recent collaborations, interviews and publications. Kimberley O’Brien and the Quirky Kid team are committed to contribute to various publications and media outlets on topics of interest to parents and families alike.
The Sydney Morning Herald: Kimberley discusses the topic of children and performance, stemming from children’s version of The Voice.
The Daily at 2SER Radio: Kimberley spoke about the impacts of childcare on children, especially overnight childcare and staying with at-home carers.
The Morning Show: Kimberley discusses video game addiction.
702 Mornings: Linda Mottram interviews Kimberley about social issues at school.
Wake Up on Network Ten: Kimberley speaks about Play Therapy.
The Daily Edition, Channel 7: Kimberley speaks about children and extreme sports.
2SER – Real Radio 107.3 FM: Kimberley discusses the psychological impacts of being a child bride.
We all recognise the benefits of reading. At the Quirky Kid Clinic, we’ve put our pens to paper and compiled a list of all the subtle social, emotional and language boosts a simple ‘bedtime story’ can have. We also prepared a step-by-step guide on how to build a healthy and manageable reading routine for your family!
The Benefits of Reading
Reading is a bonding experience. Reading with your child helps to nurture your relationship with them. It’s an opportunity to spend exclusive time together without distractions or external pressures. Richardson et al. (2015) found that reading with your child helps them to feel more secure and bonded with their parent as well as helps children absorb new information faster.
Reading builds language skills. Children who are exposed to a great volume of rich language are given a head start academically and develop stronger language skills (Fernald, Marchman, & Weisleder, 2013). This ultimately impacts not only their learning and cognitive development, but also positively influences a child’s communication skills.
Reading builds coping skills. Setting aside time to read with you child provides a regular forum to contemplate and work through challenges. Reading, looking at pictures and pointing things out provides an opportunity for your child to express themselves as they relate to the characters in the story. This promotes healthy relationships and provides positive ideas and ways to express oneself. For example, a child transitioning to school may benefit from reading a story about another child starting school as walking through the experience in someone else’s shoes can help normalise their own feelings, understand their experiences and build up a set of coping strategies for these experiences.
Reading is relaxing. iPads, TVs, phones, computer games; it is often impossible to compete with the whizzing, whirring, distracting nature of these devices. Finding time in your day to sit down with your child is a crucial opportunity for quiet reflection and mindfulness. Think of it as a way of “tuning in” as opposed to “tuning out”.
Reading teaches empathy. Being able to share and understand the feelings of others is a skill crucial to building our social relationships. A study out of Cambridge University (Nikolajeva, 2013) found that reading books about fictional characters can provide excellent training for young people in developing and practising empathy. Through reading, a child experiences the feelings of another person in different situations, which helps them develop an understanding of how they feel and think. These skills, when nurtured, help the child to show empathy in real life situations.
So, we now know the benefits, but how can we put this into practice? Here are some pointers that our Psychologists here at Quirky Kid recommend for people looking to transition storytime from a rare occasion to an unmissable part of their daily routine.
Building your Reading Routine
Timing is crucial. Set reading time to about 30 minutes before the child’s bedtime. Recommended time for a reading session is between 10 and 30 uninterrupted minutes depending on your child’s age and attention span, but follow your child’s interests.
Get comfy. Make sure your reading space is comfortable and that your child can see, hear and respond easily. Limit the distractions available around you.
Be prepared. For kids who have trouble sitting still, provide things to keep their little hands busy. Providing paper and crayons to draw with or toys to look at can help, whilst still listening to the story.
If you don’t like it, ditch it. Select a captivating text that will keep both you and your child engaged. Don’t insist on reading something that you or your child are not enjoying. Everyone tastes are different after all!
Encourage discussion at every turn. Start with the cover: what do they think the book will be about? At each page: what do they think might happen next? After the book: what happened here? So many lessons can be learned from these mini-recaps!
Let them try. If your child has begun school, help them to sound out words phonetically and occasionally point to some sight words that they may recognise.
Don’t try to compete. Very few children, given the choice of watching cartoons, playing games or reading a book, are going to choose books – at least, not until they’ve developed a love of reading. Set a cut-off time for technology and give the child the choice of hearing a story or reading aloud.
Make it fun. Be as animated as you can whilst reading. This will add to the enjoyment and imagination that goes along with reading, especially for the younger children. Adjust your pace, tone and volume to the story.
Fostering a positive reading environment in the home can provide many benefits for you, your child and your family. Reading with your child not only develops their language and literacy skills, but also helps them develop many foundational skills that will support them throughout their life, including resilience and empathy skills. Setting aside thirty minutes a day to make storytime a regular and enjoyable part of your family routine is one of the best and most valuable times to raise a reader and connect with your child.
We have had the privilege of working with some amazing adolescents over the years, and as a team, we have noticed how creative, connected and educated many of our youth are.
More adolescents are walking through our doors armed with ideas on where they want to head in life, with strong ideals of managing a future work-life balance, being productive with their time and helping others along the way. Our youth are at an age where they are masters of digital communication and used to working in collaborative, team-based contexts where multitasking and connecting through social media has just become the day to day norm – they are young entrepreneurs.
At the Quirky Kid Clinic, we are committed to harnessing the strengths of those we see in the clinic, and often we are talking with families about how to develop the entrepreneurial skills of our youth who are growing up and responding to their world of connectivity, creativity and innovation.
Here are five tips to foster entrepreneurial skills in your adolescent:
1 – Build Resilience
Becoming a young entrepreneur by its nature requires a great deal of resilience. To have the courage to try out something new and manage setbacks and failures in the process requires the strength of character.
Building resilience in children starts from an early age, with children learning how to delay gratification around the preschool years. This ability to understand and feel comfortable with situations in which rewards take time and effort is one of the first building blocks for resilience in our children.
While resilience skills typically develop with age and social interactions, resilience can be fostered and directly taught. Some helpful ways of promoting resilience amongst our adolescents include:
helping them develop problem-solving skills,
ensuring they feel socially connected with peers and their community and embracing their differences.
With adolescence comes a desire to be independent and providing age appropriate independence with clear and consistent limits helps adolescents develop resilience. Eric Greitens (2015), author and Rhodes Scholar wrote:
“Entrepreneurs jump on the wild roller coaster ride of life where the tracks haven’t yet been fully built. They’d have it no other way. They’re happy that way — with the wind in their hair.”
and being resilient is a necessary quality to develop and manage the ride ahead.
2 – Harness Creativity and Personal Experiences
All too often, we as parents and carers can focus on developing compliant children. It comes with the territory of helping our children conform to rules in school, manage their time and activities and be part of a happily functioning family system. Sometimes we can lose sight of just being a kid and the creative and unique ways our children often see the world.
Entrepreneurs need to be creative, seeing opportunity where others have not and taking risks where others don’t dare. Bearing in mind your child’s interests, passions and creative outlets can really help foster their positioning to become entrepreneurs. Take the time yourself to be interested in your child and schedule plenty of time for them to fill with their own interests. Utilising and reframing personal experiences can also be valuable.
Take Bridgette Veneris, the 10-year old Melbourne girl who won the littleBIGidea competition for her invention of an easy-to-use adhesive bandage dispenser (Charpentier-Andre, 2016). Bridgette utilised her experiences while in a hospital recovering from leukaemia to develop a sticky bandage that was quicker and easier to peel off. Ideas and inventions can come from unexpected places, even negative experiences, with the right support and interest.
3 – Develop a Growth Mindset
Children are becoming increasingly exposed to the concept that our abilities and capabilities are not fixed but rather, malleable and changeable.
This growth mindset is becoming part of our children’s language in the educational setting. Children are learning to swap their “I can’t do it” attitude for the “I can’t do it yet, but with effort and support I can!” mindset. Recent advances in neuroscience indicate that our brain has an amazing ability to change in response to situations, attitudes and support.
Parents and carers are positioned to support children’s development of this growth mindset. Entrepreneurs succeed with a growth mindset – they need to be flexible on the start-up roller coaster ride, learn from experiences and attribute failures to things that they can change. Parents can foster a growth mindset in their adolescents by encouraging them to problem solve issues that arise, take a flexible approach with failures and embrace the learning process involved, encourage taking a leap of faith with ideas and praising effort, persistence and self-reflection. Companies such as Google, Apple, Disney and Amazon are known for fostering a culture of curiosity, innovation and risk taking and valuing the growth-mindset of their employees.
4 – Call in the Community
Helping your child connect with those around them that have similar interests as well as complimentary skills will help position them for success in making their ideas not only a reality but a sustainable one. Entrepreneurs not only need great ideas, but they also need to be able to bring ideas to fruition and ensure the scalability and longevity of their enterprises, and having a team around them to provide backing, guidance and reflection is important.
Building a team and support network around your adolescent is an essential ingredient for the making of an entrepreneur. Some ways parents can help is by providing their adolescent with guidance, particularly on their experiences with running a business and managing success and failure, helping their adolescent link in with an appropriate mentor and fostering a network of like-minded adolescents. Adolescents need to know their parents have their backs, even in times of challenge and failure.
5 – Provide Guidance around the Practicalities
To become an entrepreneur requires knowledge around the logistics of how a business works, from understanding how to set up a bank account all the way to the knowing about the commercial guidelines and laws surrounding your business idea and model.
Parents and carers can share their business experiences and facilitate the growth of financial literacy by stepping their adolescent through the processes of setting up bank accounts and navigating business structures. It can be helpful to call on mentors or link your child into courses that may be helpful for their business, e.g.,. Commercial law or coding courses. Of course, parents and carers are also positioned well to help their adolescent understand and learn about self-care and balancing the demands of what comes with becoming an entrepreneur with those of being a child.
Our youth are growing up in an environment which is thriving on connectivity, creativity, and innovation, which for many adolescents, provides a perfect base from which to encourage their strengths and foster their entrepreneurial skills.
Do you want to help your child excel in their field?
Here at Quirky Kid, we run a program to do just this, and it’s called Power Up! Run both at clinics and as a unique online program, Power Up! takes all the essential psychological techniques used by elite performers and makes them accessible to children through the teaching of Performance Psychology.