12 Steps to Combat Picky Eating and Create Healthy Mealtime Habits

12 Steps to Combat Picky Eating and Create Healthy Mealtime Habits

12 Steps to Combat Picky Eating and Create Healthy Mealtime Habits

You’ve just spent an entire evening preparing a new recipe and setting the table only to have your children outright refuse to eat anything you’ve made. Your pride in rocking this new recipe is dashed as your kids devolve into tears and gagging noises, convinced you are trying to poison them. How on earth are you supposed to teach healthy eating habits?

As many as 50% or kids, at least for a period of time, fall into the category of “picky eater”. As a parent, this is incredibly frustrating. You’re going to great pains in trying to nourish your offspring and instill healthy eating habits while your child wants to just eat fishy crackers and Doritos.

But you can create a healthy home and instill healthy eating habits–even in your pickiest eaters.

Here are 12 tips to help you do just that.

1) Get your husband on the same page.

Nothing will sabotage any new parenting endeavor then being undermined by dad. However, I’ve found that this is usually because I didn’t fully inform him of the new strategy I was trying. Sit down with your partner and determine what kinds of foods you want to be eating and your plan of action.

2) Involve your child

Ask your child what you should make. At the grocery store, have them help you pick out foods. Kids love picking out produce. Have them help you in the kitchen preparing the meal.

This was really helpful in our house. Involving my pickiest eater in the cooking process has not only been fun and bonding, but she’s now much more likely to eat something she helped prepare.

3) Talk about how food impacts us

I’ve struggled with my weight my whole life. It’s been in the last few years that I’ve really shifted from a weight-loss mindset, into a being really healthy and strong mindset.

As a mother of 4 daughters, I can’t tell you how badly I want them to avoid the struggles that I’ve had.

So we talk a lot about how food affects our bodies and energy level. Will this food give us energy to play and help us be stronger? Or is it going to make us feel crabby and tired? I talk about how sugary foods, while okay for occasional treats, totally zap me of energy. But salads, vegetables, raw nuts,  give me energy and make me feel good.

12 Steps to combat picky eating & create healthy mealtime habits

4) Set a good example

Children are much more likely to do what you do and not what you say. Our children are walking testaments to our actions, not our words. This applies to how we eat as well.

I’ve also found that if I am eating anything around my kids, they will want to try some. From salads to smoothies packed with kale, if I’m eating and enjoying something, my kids want a piece of the action. And I’ve been really surprised by what my children will not only try, but end up really liking.  

5) Keep only healthy options around your house

If there aren’t unhealthy options littering your kitchen and pantry, then your child will have little else to beg for in place of the meal they’ve been presented.

For example, I never have juice or soda around the house and I only buy dense whole grain bread. They think white bread is candy. So all sandwiches or toast is made with heavy fiber and nutrient-packed bread. I try to keep all snack foods they healthiest options available.

6) Make meals fun

Making mealtime fun is will go a long way in having your associate healthy eating with positive emotions. If mealtimes are a always a battle, everyone is trained to get frustrated at dinner time!

Get your kids to help out, experiment with fun dips and sauces, and switch it up (like breakfast for dinner).

7) Don’t make a seperate meal

Making a seperate meal for your child–while it may keep the peace at dinner time–only ensures that picky and limited eating will continue.  When one of my kids outright refuse everything (rare), they are always welcome to have any raw vegtables, nuts or seeds, and sometime fruit. But no seperate meal.

8) Don’t bribe with dessert

This just teaches kids that healthy food is bad, but must be suffered through to get to the true reward: dessert. If dessert is the reward, then dessert is always the goal–not healthy eating habits.

I’ll admit that I tried this…a lot. And the result was that my children would constantly try and negotiate “how many bites” until they earned dessert. It wasn’t about eating until fullness. It was all about the dessert.

If your goal is to help your children enjoy healthy eating, bribing with dessert will not get you there.

9) Introduce 1 new food at a time with foods they already like

I have found time and again that of I have 2-3 things I know my kids like at a meal and a third or fourth thing that they will try for the 1st time, they are much more likely to try the new thing than if I just try and give then a plate of full of new and strange food.

10) Never force kids to eat

Forcing kids to eat just ensures that kids will have negative associates with the food you are forcing them to eat. But unfortunately, I think for most parents this is the go to response.

But think to when you were a kid. Did your parents ever force you to eat? Did it work?

As a kid, anthing I was forced to eat became enemy number one. If my parents forced me to eat something, I was turned off to that food for years. I vividly remember as a child being forced to eat oatmeal. As I imagine it, I can still feel the revulsion I felt and my gag reflex on high alert.

I was absolutely convinced my mother was trying to kill me. So I refused to eat oatmeal for almost 20 years. And lo and behold, I discovered that I actually love oatmeal. I can’t help but wonder if I could have spent years loving oatmeal if I hadn’t been forced to eat it.

Healthy eating habits come with positive associations to healthy foods. 

11) Stick to a Routine

Keep meals and snack times at roughly the same time everyday. If a child isn’t hungry for a meal or snack, then they should be hungry enough once the next one comes around.

12) Be consistent

Children’s brains are pattern seeking. If the pattern is that you enforce something new for a day or two and then forget about it, they pick that up quickly. But if you maintain consistency with your expectations and practices, they will pick that up and develop healthy eating habits.

For most people, healthy eating habits aren’t just going to manifest overnight. But through consistently encouraging healthy eating through these steps you can help your children try new foods, enjoy healthy eating, and create habits that will serve them for life. You can create a home of healthy eaters.

You’ve got this, mama.

Nature Scavenger Hunt: A Simple and Fun Preschool Math Activity

Nature Scavenger Hunt: A Simple and Fun Preschool Math Activity

*This post may contain some affiliate links for your convenience (which means that, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase after clicking a link I will earn a small commission)  Click here to read my full disclosure policy.

On the lookout for easy, fun, and educational activities that I can do with your little ones? This nature scavenger hunt is a super fun way to explore the outdoors and practice counting.

With just a few household items and just a couple minutes prep time, you are ready to go! You can have a fun little learning adventure with your kids where they will be encouraged to think out of the box and use their math skills to add up what they find.

There are so many variations of how you can do this activity! If you want, after your hunt your kids can make a nature collage with what they found during the scavenger hunt. Get creative

Fun & Easy Nature Scavenger Hunt Preschool Math Activity

WHAT YOU NEED

For Scavenger Hunt

  • List of items to look for on the scavenger hunt
  • Pencil/crayon
  • Basket/bag to collect items

For Nature Collage

  • Cardboard
  • Glue
  • Option-tray

INSTRUCTIONS:

1) First, write a list of objects to look for on the scavenger hunt.

Your list will depend on the area you live in and the season.  For example, you can write a list as follows: Five rocks of any color, 5 flowers of any color, 10 leaves, 8 small sticks.

Create your list with your child in mind. Since we had a variety of ages on our hunt–6, 4, 2–I was flexible in my expectations for each child.

The 4 and 6 year old could easily count to 20 (and well beyond), while my 2 year old can count to about 5 right now. My goal was to just get each child to practice at their level.

For most kids, you’ll definitely want to keep the quantity of objects higher than three, that way there will be more items for your child to count and add.  

2) It’s Adventure Time!

Go for a walk and have your child use the list as the guide of what he needs to find.

You can walk around your backyard or neighborhood. We chose to go to a local reserve because there was simply more nature to explore. Plus, there were fun things like ducks and bunnies to count!

3) Use Your List

As your child finds the items on the list, have him write down what he has found and the amount. If you think it might be helpful, you can have him tally as he finds the objects on the list.

Or you can collect them in your basket/bag and count afterwards. It’s versatile!

By the way, the baskets we used (pictured) are part of some play food sets we have. They just happened to be perfect for this activity. 

Every time your child finds an item from the list, have him add the amount of items he has.  This will give him lots of opportunities to practice adding, but will also help him to keep track of the amount he has.  

4) Add the total.

At the end of the walk, have your little one add the totals from all that he found. So many opportunities for counting!

5) Make a collage

Now for the really fun part! After finding everything on the list and adding it up, your child can make a collage of the items by gluing the items on cardboard or making a display tray. By placing the items on a tray, he can have many opportunities to rearrange his collage in different ways.

Nature + Counting = Simple & Easy Educational Fun!

Educational activities don’t have to take a lot of time or effort. You don’t have to plan some complicated activity that involves a lot of prep time and organization. This scavenger hunt is super easy and super fun for kids. And you can modify it however you need to meet your needs. Really, you’re just out exploring in nature and counting! Plus, you can add a collage project at the end.  

Try this one and let me know how it goes.

Have fun, mama!

Fun & Easy Nature Scavenger Hunt Preschool Math Activity

To the Mama Who is Stressing Over Your Kid’s Birthday Party

To the Mama Who is Stressing Over Your Kid’s Birthday Party

Oh darlin’. I get it. You want so badly to make your child’s birthday party magical and perfect. And you are stressed out about it.

You want everyone there to be blissfully happy. And you want some amazing pictures for your instagram and to grace the pages of a Shutterfly album (which is also on your endless to-do list).

But oh, sweetheart. You. Are. Tired.

Your eyes are glazed over from scouring Pinterest looking for the perfect themes, decorations, and designer treats. Maybe you’ve already put in a ton of time into planning and ordering. And now you’ve had it.

Or, perhaps you are simply realizing all the hours (and $$$$) it’s going to take to make this dream party a reality.

Girl, I seriously know how you feel. I’ve been there and felt the exact same way. 

And my friend, I have some great news for you. Unless putting on an amazing party brings you immense joy, you can stop all this planning.

You don’t have to sacrifice your life at the alter of children’s birthday parties. And you can still be a rockstar mama. In fact, I would argue that NOT stressing yourself out will actually ultimately bring your child more happiness and will help you be an even better mom than you already are.

And yes, you ARE good mom. You don’t need a party to prove it.

And your child does not need this party. Your child can experience the joy and magic of turning one year older without giving you gray hairs and forcing you into sleep deprivation.

Crazy stress is not the only vehicle for a fun and exciting party.

To the Mama Who is Majorly Stressed Over Your Kid's Birthday PartyBut I get you.

It was 2:30am and I was furiously hand sewing ballet tutus for toy dinosaurs when I suddenly questioned every step in my life that led me to that moment.

What on earth was I doing staying up at all hours sewing a tutu for a TOY dinosaur?!?!

Despite a headache and serious sleep deprivation, I had been determined to have a picture perfect Ballerina Dinosaur Party for my 4-year-old. I was looking at the pile of tiny tutus I had spent hours making FOR A DECORATION (*eyeroll*) and I was like: this. is. ridiculous.

And it was.

But like so many moms, I got caught up in wanting a picture perfect Pinterest/Instagram-worthy birthday party. 

So, some real talk here. I’ve got a question for you to ponder: Who exactly is the fancy birthday party for?

It is for your child? Other moms? Social media? For yourself? A combination?  

If I was answering in that moment with the tutus, I would have had to admit it was for all those reasons. While creating a magic experience for my daughter was my primary motivation, if it was my only motivation, I’m 100% certain I would have gone about things differently.

As you well know, kids find joy in the simplest things. A cardboard box or simple kitchen utensils can keep kids busy for hours while the mountains of expensive toys gather dust.

I’m telling ya’ mama, your child does not need a fancy party to have fun and feel special.

A better way

Just days after my stressful and exhausting dinosaur party, I went to a birthday party for one of my daughter’s friends. This mom had it figured out.

We met at her in-law’s house who had fun playground equipment and they had rented a bouncy castle. As it was morning, they got a few boxes of donuts for the treat. Also, the in-laws had a pony so the birthday girl’s dad guided kids around on little rides while the mom chatted completely stress-free with the other moms and the children joyfully played.

No gift bags, organized games, decorations. or photo props. Just a bunch of deliriously happy kids and relaxed parents.

Frankly, this mom was a birthday party ninja.

Okay, I know what you’re about to say. I get that we don’t all have in-laws with playgrounds and horses. Or even funds for a bouncy house rentals, for that matter. But, I’m telling you, my friend had birthday parties figured out.

She used the resources that were already easily at her disposal and she kept it super simple.

While I ran around my kid’s party, exhausted and frantically trying to go through each activity, my friend sat relaxed and happy, visiting with all the moms. She actually appeared to be enjoying herself.

The difference couldn’t have been more stark.

The 3 F’s of a Rockin’ Birthday Party

Can I let you in on a little secret? I’ve come to realize that a successful kid’s birthday party really only needs 3 things: frosting, fun, and friends.

That’s it. Really.

At the end of the day…

Remember, mama: at the end of the day, what your kids need most is a happy, healthy mama who takes care of herself. What will shape their future is feeling loved by you and connected. Not a party.

So go hug your kid and get some sleep, my friend. You’ve got this. 

To the Mama Who is Majorly Stressed Over Your Kid's Birthday Party
Potty Training Tips & Tricks: A Survival Guide

Potty Training Tips & Tricks: A Survival Guide

*This post may contain some affiliate links for your convenience (which means that, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase after clicking a link I will earn a small commission)  Click here to read my full disclosure policy.

I’m not going to sugar-coat here: potty training can be a complete nightmare. But we willingly trudge through this purgatory with the promise of a diaper-free paradise on the other side.

To get through potty training, we want every tool possible at our disposal. Here you can find the best tips and tricks to work through the bumps of potty training and live the diaper-free life. 

Every child is different

It goes without saying that there is no one size fits all approach to potty-training. One of the most important things a parent can understand is that every child and every situation is different and we, as parents, get to forge the path that is best for our child and our family.

Nowhere is this more true than with potty training where you are teaching a child to fundamentally change their behavior. There are a lot of skills to learn in potty training!

In potty training my 3 oldest kids, I saw firsthand how even kids close in age and raised the same all responded differently.

They simply have different personalities!

The best thing we can do to prepare for potty training is learn as much as we can. We want to get as many tools in our parenting toolbox so that we have options when it comes to picking a potty training strategy.

Potty Training Tips & Tricks (free printable chart)

Potty Training Eternal Truths

Though every child is different, there are some guiding truths that will be helpful in every single potty training scenario.

1) You child has to be ready

I cannot overstate this enough. You wanting it more than anything in the world does not count.

As awful as diapers can be, they’re easier and less traumatizing than cleaning up epic poop and pee messes from around your house. It can get ugly very quickly. Trust me on this one. Wait until your child is ready.

Also, if your child seems ready but then resists once you begin potty training, stop and try again later. If things get too frustrating and negative, it could make potty training a near impossible task. 

2) Keep it positive and upbeat

In my experience, kids respond soooo much better to our positive reinforcement and encouragement rather than getting upset and pointing out what they are doing wrong.

If the potty-training process turns negative, things will devolve into “The Potty Training Nightmare Scenario” where literally no one is happy with their life.

Remember, diapers are easier than disgusting messes, heaps of laundry, and lots of tears.  You can always try again a bit later. Diapers are not forever. I promise. 

3) Be Patient

Think about all the things a child has to learn to be fully potty trained:

    1. recognizing they need to use the restroom
    2. pulling pants up and down
    3. Actually going pee and poop in a toilet
    4. If using a tiny potty, then dumping contents into the toilet
    5. Wiping 
    6. Flushing
    7. washing hands

These are A LOT of skills for a little person to master. It’s going to take time and lots and lots of practice.

Are we perfect parents? Nope. We mess up all the time. And no one jumps out and yells at us for our mistakes. We need to be patient with our little friends as they learn all these new skills.

7 Signs They Are Ready to Potty Train

Your child should be showing at least a few of these signs before you venture into potty training.

  1. Pulling at or taking off a wet or poopy diaper
  2. Hiding to pee or poop
  3. Going long stretches with a dry diaper (shows bladder control)
  4. Wakes up from naps or in the morning with a dry diaper
  5. Interest in others’ use of the potty
  6. Telling you before, during, or after they’ve gone in their diaper.
  7. Child follows directions (this is extremely important)

2 Skills to Practice BEFORE You Start Potty Training

To make the potty-training process easier, here are a few skills to practice BEFORE you begin potty training that will help the process go more smoothly. Again, our little sweeties have to learn sooo many skills when learning to potty train. Teaching some early will pay off when the real fun begins.

  • Washing hands together after changing a diaper: You’re already washing your hands after every diaper change. So start doing it together. Explain and show your child that after you pee or poop, you wash your hands. 
  • Pulling pants up and down: Since the goal of potty training is helping your child gain toileting independence, being able to pull pants up and down is a completely necessary skill. But let me tell ya, it is a hard for those little hands to pull underpants up over those cute little bums. Before you even start potty training, you can practice pulling pants up and down by helping your child with hand placement. Help your child place one hand on the back waistband and another on the front to work on pulling pants up.

Your Potty Training Toolkit: 10 Tips & Tricks

 

1) Start with a kick-off session

How do you even start potty training anyways? I’ve found that beginning with a super upbeat, fun “potty training kick-off party” is really helpful for introducing underpants and the potty training routine, all while getting the child excited about the process. Some things you may want to try:

  • Eliminate all distractions: Turn your phone off. If you have other kids, get someone to care for them. Keep it focused and your attention 100% on your little one.
  • Give lots of water, juice, salty snacks: Salty snacks promote thirst, which mean drinking, and later lots of pee. This create opportunities for lots of peeing practice.
  • Small rewards: Have small incentives for when your child follows directions, sits on the potty, practices the new skills, and of course, when they go in the potty. Stickers (see the bottom of the post for a free potty training chart) or small treats work great.
  • Use a doll that can “pee”: This can help model the behavior and you can help your child to teach the doll to go pee in the potty. In my experience, it can be hit or miss mostly due to the difficulty of finding a quality doll that pees.
  • Watch potty training shows and clips to reinforce routine and get the child excited. Here are some of my favorites:
    • Daniel Tiger Goes Potty: Episode 1 of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood (a cartoon picking up where Mr. Rogers left off) is my favorite. Teaches the process and even has a catchy song that is awesome for getting kids to remember all the steps. If you have Amazon Prime, the episode is available for free!
    • Sesame Street’s Potty Time w/ Elmo

2) Talk about what you are doing in the restroom

Let’s be honest, mama, you’re probably not going to the bathroom alone very often. Make use of your company by explaining what you are doing and the routine (wipe, flush, wash etc). Your child will be familiar with the process and excited to be like mama/daddy!

3) Read Potty Training Children’s Books

This is awesome for getting kids excited and reinforcing the learning principles. My 3rd kid basically potty trained herself after I read her a potty book. Before you get jealous of my little unicorn, just note that she discovered the transcendant joy of fecal smearing shortly thereafter. So I paid the price, rest assured. Here are our favorite Potty Training Children’s Books:

4) Use Incentives

Incentives can be very powerful in motivating kids to learn these new skills. Just make sure your incentives align with your values.

For example, if you don’t like the idea of sugary incentives–which work for many parents–don’t do it if doesn’t fit with your style and values. There is no one right incentive for everyone. 

Treats worked really well for my kids (since they are rare in our house) so I’ve used M&Ms, Skittles, and mini marshmallows for reinforcing good behavior in the beginning. Things like sitting on the potty and waiting, pulling pants up and down, and going in the potty can all earn treats as they master the skills.

I also like to give incentives for reaching big milestones.  We’ll get a $10 toy they want and display it (so it is a constant reminder) until they go like 3 days without accidents or something. 

Feeling successful is often very motivating for kids (and adults too!).

5) Naked time

Sometimes losing the diaper and training pants altogether works really well for some kids. Feeling nothing between their little behind and their environment makes them more motivated to use the potty.

This has worked really well with a couple of my kids (while another would purposely go on the carpet *sigh*).

6) Cold Turkey

Ditching diapers 100% can be a useful strategy for some while others may take a more gradual approach. This approach definitely takes a lot of pateince and positivity.

Many parents who take the cold turkey approach will spend the first couple of days cleaning up repeated messes. But a few days into it, often the child catches on and starts to do really well.

7) Keep the potty handy

I love these little potty chairs.  They’re easy to move around your house so the potty is always handy! Keep the potty in whatever room you are in. 

8) Role models

While you can be an effective model for your children, I and many other parents have found that other children are even more effective potty training role models. If there are potty-trained cousins, friends, or siblings that can model peeing on the potty, use them!

9) Routine

Children’s brains crave routine and patterns. Creating a potty routine that you do over and over and over can be very effective in teaching these principles. If you want to sing a song as you do it, sing a song. Just be consistent.

10) For Boys: Create Target Practice

Potty training boys is a little different (something I’ve admittedly never done). But I have heard over and over that putting Cheerios in the toilet for “target practice” is an easy and effective way to teach boys to aim properly. It may also be a good idea to first teach boys to pee sitting down.

Recommended Potty Training Resources

Remember, there is no one right way to potty train. Depending on your situation, different resources will be more helpful than others. Moral of the story is find what works for you and your child. These are all resources that I have found extremely helpful:

  • Potty Training Chair: A small potty chair with removable bowl is awesome for helping little ones learn to potty train. First off, you can move it to any room you are in for easy access. Also, kids can easily learn to get on and off (which is more of a struggle on the full-sized toilet). 
  • Toilet seat cover: Some parents opt to skip the chair, but use the seat cover to make the big toilet more manageable. We’ve used it as a bridge between the training potty chair and just using the big toilet.
  • 8-10 Training Pants (at least): You will, most likely have a lot of accidents in the beginning of potty training, so it’s important to have a nice stock of good training pants. Consider buying some a bit on the large side so it’s easier for your little one to pull on and off. Some of my favorite training pants:
      • The classic Gerber training pants: We’ve probably bought dozens of these over the course of potty training 3 kids. They’re a solid (and absorbent) choice. The leg holes are bit looser on my kids which has been FABULOUS when teaching them to pull underpants up and down. It makes it easier 
      • Unisex training pants: These have a plastic interior lining and tighter leg holes which I have found to be really great for containing accidents. Plus, my little ones love the animals on the bums. Con: Not as loose as others so I have to help pull on and off.
  • Step stool for toilet: Whether you start on the toilet or with a chair, once your child is on the regular toilet, a step stool will be necessary for your child to get on and off the toilet on their own. We own a few of these.
  • Step stool for sink: Since the ultimate goal is getting them to do it all on their own, they’ll need a stool to reach the sink. I love this one–looks nice, sturdy, and it was really easy to put together.
  • Toilet Training in Less Than a Day: A friend of mine recommended the book after finding success with her son. It’s intense, I won’t lie. However, it is a treasure trove of really awesome info and has completely shaped how I potty trained my kids. It’s full of really awesome strategies and can really help you wrap your head around every single step involved in potty training. 
  • Potty Training Children’s books: These can be so helpful in not only teaching and reinforcing potty training routine, but also getting kids excited about it.

Bottom Line: Stay Strong

All kids are different. Be patient. Be enthusiastic and positive. And don’t be afraid to ditch an approach that doesn’t seem to work and try something else.

Download my free potty training chart and let me know in the comments or at erin (at) theincrementalmama.com how potty training is going for you! Let me know how I can help you and simply be your cheerleader.

Hang in there!

Potty Training Tips & Tricks (free printable chart)

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11 Tips & Tricks to Managing Life With a Newborn and Toddler

11 Tips & Tricks to Managing Life With a Newborn and Toddler

*This post may contain some affiliate links for your convenience (which means that, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase after clicking a link I will earn a small commission)  Click here to read my full disclosure policy.

11 Tips & Tricks to Managing Life With a Toddler & Newborn Baby

Preparing for a newborn when you already have a toddler makes you ask yourself a lot of questions. Like How will I cope with 2 kids? What do I do when they’re both crying? How can I love a new baby as much as I love my kid? What on earth were we thinking? Trust me, I feel you 100%. But I’m here from the trenches to tell you that not only is it going to be “fine,” it’s going to be amazing. You’ve just got to know what to expect and arm yourself with a few tips on managing a newborn and toddler. 

I’ve had quite a bit of experience dealing with a toddler and a newborn. My oldest was just 5 months old when I found out I was pregnant again (just remember that for 99.8% birth control efficacy, there is a .2% *raises hand*).

Okay, I was terrified.

And I *may* have cried on and off for the next two weeks as I tried to get my head around what was about to happen. I was barely feeling kind of human again. And then, suddenly, I was in for round two of the complete unknown. In the coming months, I was going to be a mother of a 14 month-old and a newborn.

I’m not going to sugar coat it. There were definitely some rough moments. But while it certainly had its challenges, it was actually pretty dang fantastic. So much that we kept going: Rosie came 2 years later, and Lulu followed 16 months after that. Yes, my oldest was just 4 when my 4th child was born. 

Newborn Baby & Toddler Survival Tips From Mom of 4 Kids 4 And Under

Every Child and Every Situation is Different

First thing to remember is that each child will respond differently to a new baby sibling. My 4 kids ALL have very different personalities and responded very differently based on personality and birth order. Your babies come with their personalities ready to delight and frustrate you. So some strategies may be amazing for one kid and practically useless with another. The goal is to prepare yourself with as many tools in your bag as possible so you are ready with what you’ll need. This is 100% my parenting philosophy with everything. 

11 TIPS TO MANAGING LIFE WITH A NEWBORN AND A TODDLER

BEFORE BIRTH: PREPARING YOUR TODDLER

1) Help your child understand that a baby is coming

You can use pictures, talk about other babies you encounter, or even get a baby doll. Take opportunities to talk about the baby growing in your belly and about having a new baby in the house.

WhIle you may be certain that your child doesn’t understand (which may be true), you never know what is sinking in. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been blown away by how much my little ones understand. No harm in trying. 

2) Have a gift (from the new baby) for your toddler at the hospital

The first time your child sees you with the new baby can be very upsetting for them. If they immediately get a cool present that you make very clear is from the new baby, this can ease the experience. And its helps them have good feelings associated with the baby. Ideally, the first association they have with the new baby is the excitement (helped by getting some fun gift). An important key is to make sure the kid knows it’s from the baby. Build it up big-time.  

LIFE WITH BABY

3) Focus on your toddler in the first encounter with the new baby at the hospital

Just like with your first, once you are handed your second child, you will not want to let him/her go. Your heart will grow a few sizes and you’ll want to get in your maternal cocoon and just bond. This is perfect and natural. But when dad or grandma comes in your hospital room with your toddler, switch your focus to your toddler as much as you can. Hand the baby off and snuggle your toddler and get out the present from their new baby.

Again, this can be a really jarring experience for your toddler and you want to do everything you can to ease the blow and help them have a happy, loving experience. 

4) Help Your Toddler Feel ownership over the baby

One of your main goals is to make sure that the toddler doesn’t feel “unseated” by the baby and instead feels excited about a new sibling. Involve them in everything you can. Have them feel like they’re helping in diaper changing, feeding, clothing etc. Depending on age and ability, they may not actually be very helpful, but help them to do what they can. This helps them feel big and important and–most importantly–needed by you. It also provides a natural way to teach your toddler the correct way to touch and handle the baby. Example language you can use:

  • “Can you get mama a diaper? Good job! You are such an awesome big sister/brother! What a great helper!”
  • “You are a big girl/boy. Our baby is so little. We need to be soft and gentle with the baby like this [model behavior]. Can you touch the baby nicely? Good job! You are such a great big sister/brother!”

5) Be Patient With Misbehavior

For a lot of children, this can bring a period of real insecurity. The routine and foundation they have known their whole life has totally been upended. When that happens, children often act out in order to get the attention that they desire. This is completely natural. So be as gentle and loving as much as you can. Sometimes it’s going to be really tough. You will be sleep deprived and completely exhausted. But do your best to remember that this can be equally as tough for our little sweeties.

6) Praise Whenever You Can

Build up your little one with lots of praise for when they interact with the baby and for all the “help” they give you and. This will encourage them to continue positive behavior. In the delirium that can come with a newborn, it can be hard to remember. But try to keep it in mind.

7) If both are crying, don’t always rush immediately to the crying baby

Though you are pregnant with number 2, maybe you can’t imagine loving anyone as much as you love your child. I know I did. You may even question if there will be enough love for your 2nd child. Don’t worry, mama. Rest assured that your baby is going to be your new obsession and you will be madly and miraculously in love.

You will rush and jump at every single cry. But there will be times–many times, in fact–when both of your kids are going to need you at the exact same time.

This is the really tough part.

Your instinct may well be to immediately meet the need of your newborn. After all, your newborn is completely helpless. And your toddler is capable of waiting a few minutes while you tend to the baby.

The problem is that your toddler has been #1 since birth and being abruptly unseated is a terribly jarring experience. If suddenly you are always rushing to the baby–if they’re always coming in second–your toddler may very well act out with misbehavior. And, as a result, he/she may even have animosity for the baby. Be aware of the messages you are sending your toddler.

When both are crying, sometimes you should run to your toddler first. You gauge when that is possible and when the baby can wait just a tiny bit. Even if it’s just a quick 10 second snuggle and kiss before you rush to the baby, show your toddler that he/she is important.

Now, I am of the mind that it is impossible to hold a newborn too much. My mom jokes that I never ever set my babies down. I’m 100% all about meeting every single need in the beginning–it’s how to raise confident and content children that don’t needlessly cry. What I’m saying here is your baby can sometimes cry an extra 5 seconds while you show your toddler his/her importance.

8) Don’t Punish Curiosity

Your new baby may be endlessly fascinating to your toddler. Babies are interesting things! While we want to be sure and teach our children correct behavior with the newborn, we want to be careful to not punish mere curiosity.  

I was working in the kitchen, my newborn on the floor in an infant bouncer when I suddenly heard her gasping. I turned to see my 14 month old in top of her. Frantic, I pulled my toddler off immediately and started getting after her for hurting the baby. While the baby simply took a nice big breath and was perfectly content, my tender-hearted little toddler was completely and utterly inconsolable.

She wasn’t trying to hurt her. She was simply curious. As I held her and loved her while she sobbed, I realized that I needed to better gauge her intentions and help guide her obvious curiosity. Her curiosity was a perfect opportunity to teach her appropriate behavior. 

9) Be Gentle With Yourself

The adjustment from 1 kid to 2 can be huge. There is a good chance you will be late everywhere you go. Getting out the door will be tough and may even seem impossible on some days.  Between toddler tantrums and baby diaper blowouts, things are simply going to take longer. Plan for extra time and be gentle with yourself. Lower your expectations and be kind with yourself. 

Seriously, some days just keeping everyone alive will be a major accomplishment. I still feel this way on some days!

10) Ask for Help & Plan Time For Yourself

As much as you adore your kids, you will need an outlet and a reprieve from the 24/7 mothering. Or you may end up wandering the streets in your pajamas and muttering to yourself. You will need some help. In my experience, people are waiting for opportunities to help, but need to be asked.

Get a friend to come over and hold the baby for 30 minutes while your toddler plays so you can get out for a bit. Dad should be ready to make sure you get some self care time everyday. Take a nap, or a bath, go for a walk/run, go to Target by yourself, or do whatever will bring you a bit of peace.

You NEED time for yourself. It’s not selfish. Self-care is a need, not a luxury. Check out my Self-Care Survival Guide here.

11) Take lots and lots of deep breaths

Mama, this stuff is not easy. You will have moments of supreme happiness and overall, it’s awesome. But not always. You only have 2 arms and so much energy. In those crazy moments where everything is going wrong and everyone (including you) is in tears, breathe deeply and remember that this time won’t last very long. 

And when it’s gone, you’re going to miss it.

Take care, friend. And let me know how it goes in the comments or at erin (at) theincrementalmama (dot) com.

Newborn Baby & Toddler Survival Tips From Mom of 4 Kids 4 And Under

A Parent’s Guide: Being Smart About Your Smartphone

A Parent’s Guide: Being Smart About Your Smartphone

*This post may contain some affiliate links for your convenience (which means that, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase after clicking a link I will earn a small commission)  Click here to read my full disclosure policy.

A Parent’s Guide: Being Smart About Your Smartphone  

On average, we check our phones somewhere between 80 and 150 times a day. Many of us can’t function without our smartphones and we get anxious when our cell phone isn’t close. As parents, this is a MAJOR problem. It interferes with our capacity to be attentive and awesome parents. It hurst our kids and interferes with our joy. We need to be smart about how we use our phones by not letting it waste our precious time.

Smartphones are a serious threat to the parent-child bond.

Research suggests that parents distracted by smartphones may impair their children’s ability to form proper emotional processes. That’s a really big deal. When our cellphones buzz or ring, our attention is immediately diverted. This trains our children. At the sound of a cell phone alert, our children immediately disconnect from us. They then often engage in misbehavior to refocus our attention back on them.

But what happens next? Do we realize our error and put our attention back to our children? Or are we so distracted by our phones that we are impatient and short-tempered with our little one–our little one that is literally crying out for our love and attention?

Beat Smartphone Addiction w/ Detox Ideas For Parents

Ask yourself honestly

How often are you glued to the tiny screen in your hands while you ignore the most precious thing in your life? Really think about it.

If you are like most people, that question could make you feel very uncomfortable. 

My Experience

I’ve never been really techy when it comes to phones. I held out until I would have literally had to make a massive effort to special order one of the old cell phones in order to replace my dying dinosaur phone (that merely texted and made calls). So in late 2014, I gave in and got a smartphone.

Listen, I am NEVER at the forefront of technology. When making the switch, I figured that a smartphone–despite its increased capacity–would probably not have any impact on my life. Other than the maps. I was excited about the maps. 

And it didn’t. At first. Then slowly (and inevitably, I suppose) I discovered the various wonders of a smartphone.

I started checking Pinterest, Facebook, or Apple News when I had to sit around waiting (like pumping milk, breastfeeding, waiting rooms etc). Suddenly, I realized that when I was into my tiny screen, I was completely ignoring my kids. So I decided to make some simple changes like deleting time-sucking apps like Facebook, and stopping all push notifications. Making the change was hard. As someone who would have never thought I could be attached to a phone, I started to get really attached. 

But smartphones are not the devil. While smartphones can have a serious negative effect on our lives, they can also be helpful and time saving. As busy moms, saving time helps us to be happier! We need to be smart about how we use our smartphones. 

First: Reclaim Your Life With a Smartphone Detox

1) Turn off all push notifications

It can wait. It can all wait. I used to get push notifications from a news source, then suddenly I realized that every alert was giving me crazy anxiety. People got along perfectly well for a long time–even in this age of technology–before push notifications.

2) Delete problem apps and apps you don’t use

Delete time-sucking games and social media apps. This is probably the step that hurts the most. Deleting Candy Crush was extremely difficult for a friend of mine. But deleting it immediately improved her life. If you have a tendancy to waste time on your phone (ie like most everyone), I promise this will significantly reduce your screen time. Honestly, I’ve never been much into FB, but I can’t help but waste 30 minutes doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING on the app but peering into other people’s lives and watching stupid videos. I realized that when I had down time, I’d just scroll. Such. A. Waste. I deleted it and got part of my life back.

3) Create phone-free times and zones

Locate your problem times and problem locations. When and where are you most likely to check out from your kids and sink deeply into the tiny screen in your hands? I realized that if I used it when I was nursing, I was missing out on sweet interaction with my little one.

4) Keep it out if the bedroom

Screens around bedtime interfere with good sleep (and sexy time). If you use your phone as an alarm, but find yourself checking it at night or first thing in the morning, get an actual alarm clock. They still make them! It will help your sleep and save you time. I do use mine as an alarm, but I am pretty militant about not looking at my screen in the hour before bedtime and after my morning routine (for more on getting better sleep, check out my post here).

5) Unfollow people who aren’t your friends or don’t lift you up

You don’t need a clogged newsfeed and you don’t need negativity in your life. Simplify your life and keep it positive.

6) Unsubscribe from unwanted email or podcasts.

Get rid of your digital clutter and save a bunch of time. 

7) Don’t look at your phone until after your morning routine

Looking at your phone in the morning can suck up prime time to get stuff done. Make your mornings amazing and keep your phone out of it. Keeping your phone out of the bedroom is very helpful in keeping this habit.

Second: Dedicate your Smartphone to Saving Time and Improving Your Life

It’s totally possible that a smartphone has absolutely no value in improving your life. As a history professor, I can say that people have been pretty successful  and pretty happy for a really long time without them. But that being said, I do think that some smartphone functions can be really useful:

1) Use scheduling and alerts for important reminders

I do not have a great short-term memory. With deadlines, classes to teach, and 4 small kids, many things slip my mind. I religiously use my phone calendar app to schedule alerts for things like deadlines, appointments, and when my children get out of school early. These save me.

2) Organize yourself with list apps

I am a huge fan of writing down lists on legal pads. Problem is, I have about a dozen legal pads hiding around my house (oh yes, my husband loves it). The list I need is always nowhere to be found, so it’s hard to keep my information readily accessible unless I put it in my phone. I keep my master grocery lists, to-do lists and important notes in my phone. One place with all my important info has been a huge timesaver. Personally, I like Wunderlist and Evernote

3) Use apps that help beat smartphone addiction

With the alarming rise of smartphone addiction, the market has ironically responded with some really helpful apps in limiting wasteful smartphone use. Here are some to check out.

Challenge

How long can you go without using your phone? Can you follow through with the above steps and start deleting and unfollowing? What apps help you? I’d love to hear about it in the comments or at erin (at) theincrementalmama (dot) com.

Beat Smartphone Addiction w/ Detox Ideas For Parents