How Was Your Day….?

How many times has a query about your child’s day been met with a glazed stare, shrugged shoulders or the one-word answer, “Fine.”  Getting into the mind of a child can be akin to breaking into Fort Knox.  There has to be a secret code, but what is it?  It seems impossible, but there are some sure-fire ways to engage your child and become privy to the goings-on about which every parent wants to be aware.

Plant the seed of communication before your child even knows what you are up to.  Make a routine of snuggling your daughter into bed with the lights out and whispering in her ear, “What was the best part of your day?”  Be sure to include asking about the worst part, too.  That might be the one part of the day she wouldn’t have told you about otherwise, perhaps the root of anxiety or unhappiness that you can then handle before it becomes a larger issue.  Offer your highs and lows, too, edited for young ears, so that she can see that everyone has ups and downs in life and that you value her enough to share yours.  You will soon earn her trust in return and be included in her private thoughts.

Joan Bohmann, PhD NCSP, is the director of professional standards and continuing professional development for the National Association of School Psychologists and a supporter of laying groundwork as soon as possible for family communication.

“If, during early school years, children know that the parent is going to ask what they learned today, it becomes a standard topic in which all are expected to take part.  Then the pattern is set for older years.”

Brittany Granger, a Seattle teen, is experienced in the communication battle between generations.  She suggests treating kids with sincerity.  If children feel belittled, they will withdraw, and if they feel threatened, they will hide truths and avoid any communication at all.

Says Granger, “Parents need to gain the trust of their child if they expect to be told anything.  They need to listen and respect the feelings and thoughts of the child.  Parents need to look at the situation, whatever it is, from the child’s point of view, be calm and respectful and not yell or swear.”

Bohmann agrees and adds, “Parents need to be careful to listen and validate the students’ point of view rather than jump in with the ‘right answer’ or ‘right way’ to think about something.”

Meet your son’s friends and teachers.  Volunteer in the school if you have time, and participate with class activities as often as possible.  Schools are constantly sending home announcements.  Scour them for potential conversation starters about upcoming projects, school programs, retiring teachers, peer successes and any other topic you can find.   Ask your son’s friends carefully placed questions, and the answers you receive will become conversation-starters to use at home.

A question that can be answered with a one-word answer most likely will be, so ask open-ended questions that can’t possibly be satisfied with a “yes,” “no-,” or “fine-,” answer.  Instead of asking how your daughter’s day was, ask about specifics.  Ask what kind of math problems she is working on, what she read during her free time and what exercises she did in gym class.  You’ll get short answers, but each will open a door to more questions.  Relate similar stories from your youth, and you’ll likely elicit questions that can easily be bounced back to her.

Consider your child’s age when you gear up for an after school-chat.  Younger kids will be open and eager to tell you about their day right away.  Parental attention at that age is key, and they’re ripe for conversation.  Tweens and teens usually need a little time to themselves before they’re willing to talk.  It’s better to let them come home and shift gears from school to family before you start asking questions.

Of older kids, Bohmann suggests, “Ask questions about the day while working on another task.  If the student helps set or clear the table, that may be a good time to talk.  Boys might do better while engaged in an activity such as shooting baskets or being active.”

In any case, you must be a super-sleuth to gather the tidbits that will point the way into your child’s mind.  Tiny clues about their life litter yours, and it’s your job to collect them.  The treasure you gain will be a life-long bond with one of the people you hold most dear.

#          #          #

Healthy Snacks

Whether it’s mid-morning, after-school or bedtime, growing kids sometimes need a snack.  Although it’s cheap and easy to grab a bag of chips, a cookie or a candy bar, the best choice is something that satisfies hunger while it meets the changing nutritional needs of growing children.

Elisa Zied, MS, RD, registered dietitian, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and author of Feed Your Family Right! (Wiley, 2007) points out that, “[Parents] need to focus more on calcium-rich snacks.”

As children grow, “calorie and nutrient needs increase,” explains Zied.  “Teens need more iron, girls because they menstruate and need to replace losses, and boys to support increases in lean muscle tissue.  They also need increased calcium as they develop peak bone mass.”

The challenge for parents is in how to meet the nutritional needs of their children while generating enthusiasm for healthy foods.

For fifteen years, Michelle Kooiker has been teaching elementary and preschool in northern Wisconsin.  Her struggle has been to entice picky eaters at snack time, and her creative technique seems to pay off.

“Sometimes kids are turned off by unfamiliar textures, so I ask them to break it down into steps,” says Kooiker, “the first of which is to ‘kiss it goodbye.’”

Kooiker’s method is to have a balking child bring a new food to his or her lips for a kiss.  Sometimes the taste on the lips is enough to tempt a bite.  Sometimes it takes longer to become comfortable with a new flavor and texture.  After a positive connection has been made to the food, she encourages a nibble.  Later on, she suggests a bite.  Before too long, the introduction is a success, and the child is picking up something new to “kiss goodbye.”

What defines a healthy snack food?

“Parents should think of snacks as extensions of meals and should include foods that fall into the key food groups:  dairy, fruits, veggies, grains, lean meats/beans,” says Zied.

Creative presentation is also helpful in selling these snacks to kids.  Peanut butter spread on celery with raisins on top becomes “Ants on a Log.”  Guacamole and hummus can be “Monster Mash” into which carrots, pita chips or jicama can be dipped.  Spinach and cheeses combine to make a great dunk for multigrain crackers and veggies.  Sweet dips are popular, too.  Blend honey with mascarpone, cream cheese or peanut butter and plunge sliced apples or graham cracker sticks into the tasty mix.

For the parent with little free time for whipping up specialty dips, low-fat pudding, chocolate milk and single-serving cheese sticks can provide a speedy calcium boost for kids.  If it’s your day to provide a snack for the class at school, bring yogurt.  Add a dollop of Cool Whip, and the kids have an activity food for stirring and cracker-dunking.  If there are 10 squealing tweens in your living room for a sleepover, sprinkle air-popped corn with tasty seasonings for their movie treat.

Avoid highly processed foods if at all possible.  Instead, buy fresh fruits and vegetables for easy munching.  Clean, slice and store them in a clear bowl in the refrigerator where they are easy to see and consume.  Sliced oranges are easier to approach than whole ones, and prepared berries are more fun to tackle than ones with stems.  A clear tray of carrots, cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumber and broccoli with a tasty dip or salsa is a quick sell to hungry kids.

A good dose of fruits and vegetables will help keep kids hydrated, which is important in maintaining good health.  Water is the best drink for kids, followed by fat-free milk.  But a cup of 100 percent fruit juice per day or a sport drink from time to time can be a treat.

To be sure kids are hydrated enough, Zied advises that they have, “enough water and other liquids so that their urine is pale in color, not yellow.”  Deep color and odor indicate dehydration and disappear with the proper amount of fluid intake.

Include kids in their own snack selections.  Talk about food groups and healthy choices.  Include them in the purchase and preparation of their snacks, and lead by example.  A kid won’t choose sliced cucumbers if Mom is tearing into a bag of Cheetos.  Keep the experience fun, and don’t make snack-time into a food battle.  By being a positive role model, you will instill in your children life-long habits that will set them off on good, long lives.


 #          #          #