Eating in Peace

Q: We adopted two girls (ages 8 and 10 at the time) almost 5 years ago from an African country. They were incredibly picky eaters and refused to try new foods. I have been customizing our meals to accommodate them but lately have gotten fed up with their rude, entitled attitude towards my meals. They are also negatively influencing two younger children, who we recently adopted from the same country, but who are willing to eat everything.

I have uninvited them from dinner, which means they have to make their own meals and eat them on their own. Our relationship is already strained and not eating dinner together is distancing us even further. I don’t think that I can train them to eat new foods at this point in their lives as teenagers. Any suggestions?

A: Oh, dear. This has become a mealtime battle, hasn’t it? And it’s impacting your relationship with your precious girls. Adopted or not, this kind of daily friction can so easily erode the parent-child bond, but all is not lost! There is hope for a stronger bond between you and your daughters and to have mealtimes stop being full of anxiety—all without your cooking special meals!

But it will take work on your part, but I think you’re up for the challenge because on the other side is family meals and a closer bond with your older girls. You’re the adult, so you’re going to have to take the bigger steps toward reconciliation. This doesn’t mean you cater to them, but it does mean that you will smooth the way back into the family fold. Here’s how.

First, welcome them back to the table. The first couple of meals, make things you know they like. Not to cater to them, but to help sooth ruffled feelings.

Second, let each child (even the younger ones) pick one vegetable that they will never have to eat. That’s right—even if it’s served, they can say, “No, thank you” with your blessing. Post the list on the fridge (this is essential to avoid any confusion). My mom did this when I was a kid, and I’ve passed it along to my four kids. For example, my youngest choose potatoes as his veggie to avoid, so whenever we have potatoes, he doesn’t have to eat them. He can eat them (and he does eat French fries!), but he’s not required to eat them. To make this work, the child has to pick one specific vegetable: Not “squash,” but “spaghetti squash.” But the child has to eat everything else that’s served. If the child refuses, the “no, thank you” veggie is back on his or her plate. Then each year, either on a designated day (we do New Year’s Day) or child’s birthday, you allow the child to change or keep the “no, thank you” veggie. Simple, yes?

Third, remind them of the protocol for meals—manners for meals training. Items to be taught (over the course of several meals or weeks) include how to set a table, how to react when something’s served they don’t like (no “yucks,” for example), appropriate topics of conversation, etc. Work on this as a family. We often discuss our days or have a “question of the day” roundtable discussion. Eating together is more than about the food!

Fourth, follow the “one bite” rule. Each child or teen gets one, small teaspoon (literally, a very tiny bite) of everything on the table. Once their plate is clear, they may have seconds of anything on the table. In other words, no going to the snack drawer after eating the first bites!

Fifth, start involving the girls in meal prep. Buy a kids’ cookbook (Rachel Ray has a great one!), and then let each one pick a meal to make each week. Then that girl helps you cook that meal. Food always tastes better when you helped prepare it.

Sixth, consider starting a vegetable garden this summer. Again, let the girls each pick one veggie to plant, tend and pick. The closer your girls get to their food, the more likely they are to eat it! Or sign up for a community supported agriculture share with a local farm and get fresh produce delivered or picked up weekly during the growing season.

I hope this list spurs you to think of other ways you can connect your girls to food and, without their knowing it, expand their palate!

A Bright Son Making Bad Choices

Q: My very bright 10-year-old son simply refuses to obey. He is child #2 out of 4 kids. He seems to take up all of our parenting energy. He spent a lot of time in the office for the first half of grade 5, often aligns himself with the trouble makers in social situations, and doesn’t seem to care about consequences. It seems that the problems occur everywhere—within our own family, at school, at church and with grandparents. I have never been a parent who pays my children a lot of attention, but he seems to crave attention (even if it’s negative) and he definitely thinks he is a “big fish.”

We had one big incident at school last year, after which he was in his room for a month, with nothing to occupy him. His behavior improved marginally for a short time. I have told him he has this year to improve his behavior or he will not be going to junior high next year as I cannot trust him to make good decisions with the freedom he’ll have there. I fully intend to follow through. Any suggestions?

A: Ah, the child who won’t obey is a familiar figure to us all! I know how frustrating this must be for you, especially because you can see the pattern of bad behavior and the looming teen years with all the potential for disaster.

A couple of things come to mind about this situation, but before that, I should remind you that a parent does her job not because she expects the child to straighten up (although that’s her hope), but because it’s the right thing to do. Thinking that you’re going to find a silver bullet that will make your child behave is an exercise in futility, so just don’t go there. You apply pressure (consequences) to negative behavior in the hopes that the pressure will reach a child’s heart and enact change for the better. But sometimes, we apply the correct amount of pressure, and the child refuses to bend. That’s because a child is the only one who can change his behavior—you can’t. Accepting that and still continuing on with your role as one who applies pressure when necessary is what makes parenting a challenge.

Now, let’s talk about consequences. You’ve yet to give this child an offer he can’t refuse. A big incident at school and he’s only in his room for a month? You saw “marginal” improvement in his behavior after that, but nothing long term. You needed to make a big impression (a la The Godfather Principle), and instead you made a medium impression. Think about what your son loves to do.

Here’s a real-life example. A few years ago, my oldest daughter needed a wakeup call (she was around your son’s age at the time), and I had noticed how much she loved to read. So to reorient her behavior, I banned books from her life until she went 30 days in a row without doing the thing she had been doing. Was she upset? You betcha. Did she miss one of the 30 days? Nope. Have I had to do something that drastic again? No, but it’s always hanging out there as a possibility. The beauty is that she won’t know what I’ll assign as a consequence (aka pressure), but she knows she won’t like it one bit. So figure out what that number one and number two things are for your son and proceed accordingly.

Also, threatening something so far in advance as not going to junior high is worthless as motivation for his behavior improvement. He has no reference for such a thing and therefore can’t care about it! So just stop with that threat, even though you’re prepared to follow through. If it’s not something he can visualize and want, then it’s not something he’s going to care about.

Finally, it sounds like overall you’ve lost a connection with your son. If you don’t already, start taking all of the kids out one at a time on a regular basis. My husband and I take turns taking one child at a time out for breakfast. The schedule is posted on the fridge and they all enjoy spending special time with mom or dad. Also, make time each day to connect with your son. If he likes jokes, find one and tell him after school. If he enjoys throwing a football, grab it up after dinner and play catch for 10 minutes. Make sure you greet him in the morning, and when he comes home after school, not to tell him stuff to do, but to let him know you care about him—even when he doesn’t want to talk much.

Sleep Isn’t Just for Babies

With the school in full swing, the pressure to pack more into each day accelerates, which usually means sleep, especially for kids, can be sacrificed. “Bad sleep habits affect the whole chemistry of a child or teen’s day,” says Dr. Anayansi Lasso-Pirot, pediatric pulmonologist and interim head of the division of pediatric pulmonology, allergy and sleep medicine at the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital. At her practice, she sees “tweens going to bed at midnight or later without the parents realizing their children are not sleeping enough….We learn some kids are sleeping six hours a night or less, which is not enough sleep even for an adult.”

My article “Why you need to pay attention to older kids’ sleeping habits” in the Washington Post On Parenting outlines the importance of sleep for older kids and suggests ways parents can encourage good sleep habits. Here are some additional ways parents can help their kids and teens develop healthy sleep patterns.

Model good habits. Parents should place a priority on sleep themselves. “There have been several studies that show a parent who leads by example when it comes to sleep is very effective,” says Dr. Robert S Rosenberg, board certified Sleep Medicine Physician and author of The Doctor’s Guide to Sleep Solutions for Stress & Anxiety.

Have a set bedtime. Most nights, our 8-year-old goes to bed at 8 p.m., our 10-year-old at 8:30 p.m., our 12-year-old at 9 p.m., and our 14-year-old at 9:30 p.m. “A consistent bed time aids in the development of healthy sleep habits,” says Terry Cralle, a nurse and certified clinical sleep educator.

Turn off all electronics an hour before bedtime. Again, parents should set an example in this area. “What you do before bed can make it harder for you to fall asleep,” says Lasso-Pirot. “For example, if you’re playing a video game, it’s hard to go to bed right afterwards.”

Keep electronics, including cellphones, out of the bedroom. Have a central docking location or basket for devices. “If your child is getting texts in the middle of the night, know that it is a sleep distraction and can affect performance,” says Lasso-Pirot.

“Sleep is important for all of us and the younger you are, the more sleep your body requires to recharge the brain and process information,” says Christine Stevens, a certified sleep consultant with Sleepy Tots Consulting. “Parents must prioritize sleep for their families and set the example for their children with healthy sleep habits of their own.”

Sensory or Stubbornness?

Q: My 11-year-old daughter needs to start wearing a bra but is refusing.  She has always had sensory issues with clothes, such as socks, tight-fitting clothes like jeans, shoes even—very particular about the clothes she wears. She tried a bra on once but has said it was too uncomfortable. How do I get her to start wearing one?

Image courtesy of multipedia/

A: All too often we discount a child’s sensory issues when it comes to clothing, ignoring their discomfort or dismissing their concerns as childish behavior. I remember hating to wear scratchy sweaters, which was basically anything that was acrylic and sometimes wool. It always made me feel hot and itchy. I never broke out in hives or anything, but to this day, I stay away from anything but cotton when it comes to sweaters and other heavy garments. I also tend to stick with all natural fibers to avoid the experience of synthetics against my skin, which often makes me feel, well, funny in a way.

Since your daughter is already particular about what goes next to her skin, I’m not surprised that bras are on her “do not wear” list. Plus, this can be a difficult transition for girls, especially as bras are not the most comfortable things to wear and most have underwire that can constrict and pinch. I’m assuming at this age, she probably doesn’t need a lot of coverage, so you can get away with some alternatives for now.

Try cotton camisoles with or without built-in “bra” shelves or those little “halters” that are kind of like the top of a two-piece bathing suit that are less bra-like as well that might work too. Those might make the transition time work better. Girls can even wear some of the “boy” tank top undershirts, which are nearly always cotton or cotton blend. Have her do some sleuthing of her own to find out what fabrics she can tolerate and which she can’t—a good project for an 11 year old to do.

Then when she really needs to wear a bra, spend some time researching fabrics and involve her in the process to find a brand and style that work well for her. I’m guessing she probably put on the one you bought, it pinched or felt funny, and she was done. Use the interim items, talk to her about why it’s important to wear a bra or bra-like undergarment, and let her choose the model to wear. There are many different styles of bras out there, so finding the right brand and style that work for her will take some time, but it’s time well spent, given that you’re helping her figure out one of the most important garments a girl will ever wear.

Is Middle School Bad for Moms?

NPR recently ran a story entitled, “Being Mom To A Middle Schooler Can Be The Toughest Gig Of All.” In it, the author quoted a study that found during the middle school years, moms experienced the “lowest levels of maternal happiness and are even more stressed out than new parents.”

One mom quoted in the piece said, “Parenting a tween is harder than mothering an infant,” adding that when her child was a baby, “I worried about his sleeping and eating schedules, but those were things I could kind of control. Now, I obsess over how much freedom I should give him when he’s playing Pokémon Go with his friends, and how I can monitor what he’s doing online. In many ways, he’s more on his own now, and I have to trust him to make the right choices.”

The study authors said moms of tweens “reported feeling the most unhappy or depressed when their children are in middle school, but that the transition begins when children are 10 years old. Parents of teens are actually happier than parents of middle schoolers.”

Image courtesy of stockimages/

How can moms feel better about their tweens and young teens? Here are 7 suggestions.

  1. Don’t take it personally. I know, it’s hard to pull back after you’ve been so involved in your child’s life (that’s a whole other blog!), but you need to distance yourself from your tween’s life and your own. Yes, there will be ups and downs, drama and tears, but reminding yourself (daily, hourly, minute-by-minute if necessary) that this is not your life will give you perspective.
  2. Don’t project your own middle school experience onto your tween. I’ve rarely met someone who had a fantastic middle school time; mine was really horrendous in a lot of ways. But I had to push those memories aside and view my daughter’s entry into seventh grade more optimistically. My experience wouldn’t necessarily be her experience—and it hasn’t been. Both of my girls have made a fairly easy transition to junior high.
  3. Give space but stay close. Easier said than done, right? Start giving your tween and young teen more autonomy but be present physically and mentally. Check in with them on a daily basis, but don’t push too hard for details.
  4. Up the love. Yes, I know we love our kids, but was easier to hug, squeeze, kiss and cuddle when they were three than thirteen. Find ways to show and tell your tween/young teen that you love him. Keep those physical connections, although you might have to curb some of the more gushy gestures. They may protest, but secretly, they love to be loved on.
  5. Have an open house. Make your house be the one the kids congregate at after school by being around but not intrusive. A few girls come over to our house so often, they call themselves our “other daughter,” which is fine by me.
  6. Be quick to listen, slow to speak. Tweens and young teens are figuring out so much, that they often don’t have the answers to life’s questions on the tip of their tongue—but they will get there eventually if we can keep our mouths shut long enough to let them. Sure, we have advice and it’s usually spot on, but wait for them to ask for it before giving it.
  7. Focus on the positive. This is an awkward age all around, growth spurts, hormones, harder classes, possibly friend troubles, social anxiety—the list can go on and on. But a parent who notices the extra effort, who comments positively more than negatively, will have a better connection with their middle schooler.

Overall, remember to keep your eye on raising adults, rather than raising middle schoolers. That should help to keep these years in perspective.

Until next time,


The Facebook Journal Experiment

By Julie Arduini

As a parent, social media can feel like walking in a field you know has secret landmines like people who have evil intent. It makes me want to throw out our electronics and work only with notebooks and pencils. However, I realize the Internet and social media aren’t going away, so I find ways to take the best of an app or media connection and enhance my relationship with the kids in person.

One project is the Facebook Journal Experiment. Okay, Facebook didn’t think of it, but an article landed on my newsfeed last November exploring the benefits of a mother-daughter journal, starting in the tween years. “Between the Pages” offers a safe place for girls to ask questions on any topic. In turn, moms do the same. The goal isn’t to put your daughter on trial—it’s to build a relationship with them during the critical years when girls are desperate for encouragement.

The “rules” are pretty simple. Although you can purchase fancy journals or even specific ones designed for moms and daughters, I found a blank notebook with a cover design that represents our daughter’s personality well.

Then I wrote the date and an introductory paragraph talking about how I wanted to become closer in the teen years, not grow apart, but I understand how moms can be embarrassing and the last EntangledFinalperson she wants to be seen with. The journal would give us an opportunity to stay connected. I explained that we will take turns with writing in it. I started, asking a few questions. I told her she’s to answer them when she’s able, and then hand it off to me, leaving the journal somewhere where I’d find it.

It was an instant hit. I make sure my questions are diverse, from what did you like about dinner to what are you thinking a lot about. She’s asked me about favorite television shows to what things I went through at her age, and how did I handle it.

We were trading back and forth pretty fast in the beginning, and it’s slowed down as her schedule is pretty busy until summer. I’m careful not to nag, and I’m intentional about returning the completed journal entry to her in a timely manner.

Already I’m pleasantly surprised at the depth of our sharing, and I know not only will it see us through her teen years, it will be a beautiful keepsake for both of us to look back on.

So I’m grateful to social media, namely Facebook, for sharing such an article on my newsfeed that really inspired me!

January2016About Julie Arduini
Julie Arduini loves to encourage readers to surrender the good, the bad, and —maybe one day—the chocolate. She’s the author of the upcoming re-release, Entrusted: Surrendering the Present, as well as the sequel, Entanged: Surrendering the Past, set for a spring release. She also shared her story in the infertility devotional, A Walk in the Valley. She blogs every other Wednesday for Christians Read. She resides in Ohio with her husband and two children. Learn more by visiting her at


Sex and Our Kids

I recently spoke with Cindy Pierce, sex educator, college speaker, and author of Sexploitation: Helping Kids Develop Healthy Sexuality in a Porn-Driven World, out now, about how to help our kids navigate the often sticky world of sex.CindyPierce

When should parents start the “sex” conversation with their kids?
Cindy: Doctors recommend that parents talk to kids about sexuality between the ages of five and seven (around first grade). But when the time comes, parents often get so nervous that they talk themselves out of it. A common excuse parents use is: “I learned about sex in school in fifth grade, so I’ll wait a few years or at least until they ask a question.” The digital age is what makes it necessary to initiate these conversations earlier than previous generations.

In the United States, the average age a boy first looks at porn in eleven. If your kid has access to a smartphone or a computer, it’s guaranteed that he will be exposed to some form of sex before too long. Regardless of how much you monitor their phone and lock down on privacy settings, information about sex is widely available through a few clicks of a Google search. The question is: Do you want the Internet to teach your kids about sex, or do you want to teach them?

Don’t hesitate to start having conversations about sexuality with your kids early and often. Let go of the idea that it will be one talk. These conversations may be awkward and uncomfortable, but it gets easier with practice. If you demonstrate to your kids that you have the courage to get to the other side of awkward, you will set the foundation for a new level of trust and understanding. Your kids will be more comfortable having conversations about sex with you in the future and will be more likely to come to you with questions and concerns. The reason you want to talk to kids early and often is to help them develop healthy ideas around sexuality and relationships before being exposed to what the culture serves up.

Sexploitation-strokeHow should we as parents address media portrayal of sex with our kids?
Cindy: Take advantage of every opportunity to talk to your kids about sexuality in the media, from movies to music to magazines. With the rise of mobile devices, kids mostly consume media on their own. As they get into their teens, watching movies or TV as a family happens less often. Create opportunities to watch shows or music videos together. Be proactive and point out the messages the media is sending. Bring up things like sexism, violence, and rape—point out to kids that these are not healthy portrayals of sex.

I am not very restrictive about sex scenes in movies as long as they are somewhat realistic, but I am restrictive about comedies that make light of racism, homophobia and sexism. These ongoing conversations are about respect. One day, my son and I were driving in the car and the song, “Sexual Healing” came on. His comment? “Now I get it. You don’t mind sex in music as long as it is respectful.”

Bingo. Redirect your kids to healthy portrayals of sex. Asking kids what they think about the messages in certain songs, advertisements or movies is a great way to get them to start thinking for themselves and to help them develop a more critical eye.

What can we do when our children have been exposed to unhealthy portrayals of sex (porn, video games, movies, lyrics, etc.)?
Cindy: This is why I would rather have kids know about healthy sexuality early on, rather than backpedal after they have been exposed to unhealthy portrayals of sex. If you’ve missed the window of opportunity to talk to your kid about healthy sexuality, and your fourth grader comes home from school and asks you about Fifty Shades of Grey or “blumpkins,” your best option is to redirect them to more healthy scenarios. Then you can go back to their original question and explain that most people don’t have sex that way OR it’s a term that sometimes people throw around to be funny or gross.

Being the primary sexuality educator for your kid means being ready at all times. The moment you show any sort of discomfort or avoid answering their question, I can guarantee that they will go right to Google or a misinformed friend to find out the answer. Furthermore, you’ll lose that connection of trust with your kid. You want to let her know that you encourage her curiosity and that she can always come to you with questions. Once you’ve talked about healthy sexuality, you can always refer back to it when uncomfortable questions come up.

Why My Rising Middle-Schooler Doesn’t Have a Cell Phone—And Won’t

There’s a revolution happening and it’s connecting our kids more than ever. Cell phone usage has edged younger and younger, as has cell phone ownership. A 2012 study found that nearly six out of 10 parents surveyed that had tweens bought a cell phone for those children. The study revealed that between 10 and 11 seems to be the “sweet spot” for tweens to get a cell phone, too.

“Before the training wheels are coming off their bikes, many children are getting their first cell phones,” said John Breyault, NCL vice president of public policy, telecommunications and fraud, in a press release. The National Consumers League conducted the study.

Of course, my older tween has asked for a cell phone, but by her tone of voice, I could tell she had little hope of receiving one (especially given the fact that her father and I have only “dumb” flip-phones). We have no intention of giving her a cell phone even as she enters middle school next year. We’re well aware that especially in the NoVa area, we are in the minority of not wanting our children to have technology by its very nature that is disconnecting, rather than bringing together. Here’s what I mean.

Image courtesy of stockimages/
Image courtesy of stockimages/
  1. Cell phone usage encourages rude behavior. Give a kid a cell phone, and you’ll notice that he will immediately start ignoring the people he’s physically present with in favor of the ones on the other end of the phone. This isn’t just rude to those around him—it’s also cultivates an overall antisocial behavior.
  2. Cell phone usage encourages instant gratification. When that call comes in or that text buzzes the phone, it’s nearly impossible for the cell phone owner to ignore it. The need to know who is calling/texting can be overwhelming and the owner is soon hooked on the addictive nature.
  3. Cell phone usage encourages less sleep. Studies have shown that screen time in the evenings can mess up a person’s cicada rhythms, and thus their sleep patterns. Giving kids cell phones younger and younger is a recipe for sleep deprivation.
  4. Cell phone usage encourages stupidity. There’s something about having a device small enough to fit into your hand that can make you not think twice about doing something you otherwise wouldn’t do, such as taking inappropriate photographs, filming friends or situations without permission, posting offensive comments. Cell phones in the hands of kids not remotely mature enough to handle the ramifications of such mistakes is a recipe for disaster.
  5. Cell phone usage encourages disconnectedness. You’ve all seen people walk around with their attention riveted on the device in their hand more than the world around them. More than ignoring the people in front of you, cell phones create an individual world that encapsulates the user, making her miss the wonders of a beautiful spring day or the sadness of her little brother or the silly antics of a puppy.

Of course, these can be true of any cell phone user, not just a tweenager. We must all be careful not to let technology take the place of people, or allow what might be take the place of what’s right here.

A Bowling We Will Go…In a Boy-Girl Group?

Q: What should I do about a nearly 12-year-old girl who wants to go bowling with another female friend and a couple of boys in their grade? Some friends and family members are advising us that once we start allowing boy-girl “outings,” we will be inundated with such requests. But others have said this isn’t really that type of gathering. General guidance on dating would be appreciated too.

A: A few weeks ago, my 12-year-old, sixth grade daughter went bowling with a group of sixth to eighth graders, boy-girl mixed, from our church. She had a wonderful time with the group. Frankly, the thought that this might create something date-like because boys AND girls would be present didn’t even cross my mind (or the minds of the kids at the event, either).

Sometimes, we over-think things as parents and borrow trouble. I recommend letting your daughter guide these types of discussions.

  • Is she talking about being interested in boys?
  • What does your daughter think this outing is?
  • Do her friends talk about boys?

Has she started paying more attention to her appearance or wanting to wear makeup? Those are better barometers as to where she is regarding boys than is an “concern” as to what might or might be meant by a mixed gender gathering.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/

As to the bowling, it sounds very innocent and fun. If your daughter is eager to go and is excited about being with her friends, then let her have fun. The only thing I would make sure is a grownup your daughter (and you) trusts will be present the entire outing—even at this age, an adult should loosely supervise such gatherings to ensure the safety of all attending.

For general dating, you and your husband should discuss what you think this should look like in your home. I guarantee your husband will have different concerns than you do. After all, he was once a hormonal teenage boy! Questions to consider include:

  • Do you have a certain age before one-on-one dating can take place?
  • Will you allow group “dating” before one-on-one dates?
  • Will you personally meet any young men coming to take your daughter out?

This will probably not be a single conversation, but an organic one as your daughter grows up and expresses her own opinion and interest in boys. Remember that you want to create an atmosphere of openness.

Overall, I wouldn’t recommend a lot of dating rules, per se, but instead cultivate an overall attitude toward the opposite sex that would incorporate your family values. The teenage years can be an exciting time of growth and personal exploration for our children.