Posted in Compliance, Parenting

How to Get Your “Picky Eater” to Not Be So Picky

Let me start this post with a short snippet about my husband, who is a “picky eater.”  He is getting better, but when we first met, I NEVER saw him eat vegetables… except potatoes. He once told me that he blames his parents because they “never” made him eat anything he “didn’t like” or “didn’t want to eat.” Now… I wasn’t there and I’m not sure how accurate that is.  I do know that I have had other parents come in and tell me about how they will make their child a preferred food if they don’t like what the rest of the family is having for dinner.  I have seen family members give in and, when the rest of the family is having baked chicken, make a “picky eater” PIZZA ROLLS.

Before we get going into how to handle “picky eaters,” let me say that if your kiddo just doesn’t like a handful of foods, then you don’t *need* to do anything about it.  Not very many people like all foods.  If your child eats well and likes most foods, but doesn’t like meatloaf or corn, then there’s no need to force them to eat meatloaf or corn.  This post pertains to the children who will only eat a handful of foods (likely foods like chicken nuggets, french fries, mac ‘n cheese, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches).  If this is your child, read on!

How NOT to handle a “picky eater” is to just make them chicken nuggets (or pizza rolls…) every time they throw a fit.  First off, your child may not even actually be a picky eater; they just might have figured out that they can get something “yummier” if they throw a fit.  I can understand why it might happen… mom and dad have been at work all day, are already exhausted, and still have a list of 50 things to get done before bed.  The last thing they want is a meltdown at the dinner table and a fight trying to get their kiddo to eat meatloaf (or whatever it is they don’t want to eat).  It’s easier to just make them something else.  I get it; I really do.  But guess what happens?  You get a child who learns that mom and dad aren’t going to follow through and that if they throw a big enough fit, mom and dad will make them something else. Unless you break the cycle, they aren’t likely to “grow out of” this.

So what do you do with your “picky eater?”  You have to start getting them to eat non-preferred foods.  You can try a “cold turkey” method and just stop making them anything extra… but you could make it a bit easier on yourself and your kiddo if you ease into it.  So for this example, we’re going to pretend that I’m a mom to “Johnny” who loathes every single meat option BUT chicken nuggets.  If I have already been making Johnny chicken nuggets for every meal, I’m not going to just stop, but I am going to slowly make him take bites of the other meat I serve.

So the first week I will explain to Johnny that he needs to take JUST ONE bite of meatloaf, then he can have chicken nuggets.  Will he fight it?  Probably.  But one bite with the reward of chicken nuggets will be much more appealing than telling him to just “suck it up” and eat the meatloaf.  Stick with it and make sure he takes that one bite before letting him have the chicken nuggets.  And when he takes the bite?  PRAISE, PRAISE, PRAISE!!  Does it seem ridiculous to praise him for taking one bite?  Absolutely!!  But do it anyways because it makes it more likely that Johnny will take his bite the next night.

From there, keep increasing the amount of non-preferred food that Johnny must eat before he can have his beloved chicken nuggets.  If Johnny goes 3-4 days in a row without making a fuss about the one bite, increase it to 2-3 bites, then keep increasing from there.  Know that every time you increase it, Johnny might put up a fight again.  The most important thing to do is follow through – do not back down.  It may take a while, but it will be worth it.  Instead of fighting your “picky eater” for the next 10-15 years, you’ll put in a lot of work for a few months in exchange for a child who will eat more than just fries and chicken nuggets. 🙂

Also, remember that your child watches what you do!  It’s not fair to expect your children to eat their vegetables if you (or your partner) refuse to do so.  You must be a good role-model, even when eating.





Posted in Therapy

Ten Concerns that Can be Addressed in Therapy with Children

From what I’ve seen, the stigma associated with mental health therapy is still present, but getting better.  In my opinion, most people could benefit from therapy at some point in their lives.  Therapy seems to often be associated with scary diagnoses, but that’s not always the case.  A lot of times, therapy is just another tool to help someone get through an adjustment or overcome some bad habits (and develop good habits instead).  Because of the stigma, some parents may be fearful of seeking out therapy.

One fear is that their child will get some severe diagnosis that will “follow them” for the rest of their lives.  Most of the time, that’s not the case.  Most children aren’t going to get a diagnosis of Conduct Disorder!  Most children that I see don’t meet the criteria for such a diagnosis, but can still benefit from therapy (both individual and family).  So how do you know if your child can benefit from therapy?  Everyday Health created a list of signs that your child might need therapy, including constant anger and overreacting to situations and persistent worry or anxiety (you can read the full article here).There are some very severe symptoms/signs on that list and a lot of those are going to be exhibited by older children.

There are some very severe symptoms/signs on that list, but your child doesn’t need to be exhibiting the most severe of symptoms to benefit from therapy.  Below I’ve created a list of 10 things that can be addressed in therapy (these are ten common concerns – therapy can help with so much more!).  I typically will provide individual therapy for kiddos starting at age 3 or 4, depending on development.  Family therapy can benefit kiddos of any age and usually focuses on different parenting interventions that can be used to change behavior.

By the way, I’ve met with parents who dislike the term “family therapy,” because they believe it implies that there is a “problem” with the family – that isn’t the case!  Family therapy is labeled such simply because there are family members in the session!  Family therapy is a great place for parents to learn new tools they can use with their child(ren).

Ten concerns that can be addressed in therapy with children:

  • Defiance/Not following directions (this can affect so many areas of life – homework, chores, hygiene, etc.)
  • Aggression – whether towards parents, teachers, siblings, or peers
  • Tantrums
  • Worry/Anxiety (including specific fears of objects and separation from caregivers)
  • Bedtime/sleep issues (not wanting to go to bed and/or not staying asleep)
  • Potty training concerns
  • Social interaction concerns (fighting with others, not making friends, not sharing, etc.)
  • Lying/Stealing
  • Struggling to sit still and/or focus
  • Picky eaters

This is definitely not an exhaustive list.  Therapy can help with any behavior that you want to see get better!

Posted in Emotion Regulation

Tracing While Deep Breathing

There are so many deep breathing exercises you can do with kiddos.  What works with some might not work with others, so it can be beneficial to provide a kiddo with multiple options so that they can find one that works for them.

The deep breaths are important, but assigning another task while taking deep breaths can also help get the child’s mind off whatever it is they are angry (and possibly ruminating) about.  I’ve shared about TAKE 5 Breathing, but here’s another idea with tracing.

The idea is to have children trace basic geometric shapes, like a triangle, rectangle, or square, while they take deep breaths.  This helps get them fully engaged with the deep breathing and can make it more effective.  Here’s some examples of how to use a square and a star (note with the star, you’d have to trace it twice to get full breaths).



I usually have kiddos practice a few times with an actual shape in front of them, then have them trace it on a table without a template.  They can also trace it in the air, on their leg, on the wall, etc.

A few times:

  • Practice makes perfect!
  • Remind kiddos to SLOW down – it’s not a race!
Posted in Parenting

Six Tips for Avoiding Negative Behavior (and Tantrums!) at the Grocery Store

Every parent dreads negative behavior and/or tantrums in public places.  It happens (yes, to everyone!), but they can be embarrassing and frustrating.  Grocery stores seem to be “hot spots” for tantrums – maybe because of boredom, lack of attention, and tempting objects in the toy/candy aisles.  Tantrums/meltdowns may not be completely unavoidable, but there are some things you can do that can help prevent them from happening.

  • Pre-teach before heading into the store.  Your rules might be different than other parents, but decide what they are and make them very clear to your kiddos.  While driving to the store, remind children about the expectations for when you are in the store.  Also remind them about any consequences (positive or negative) that might happen.
  • Use PRAISE and REWARDS.  Praise your child often while at the store for sitting still in the cart, walking right next to you, using an inside voice, etc.  Keep a lollipop, sticker, or some other small reward in the car or in your purse.  Have clear expectations for how your child can earn that reward while in the store.  For example, your child might earn a reward if they can use an inside voice.  Or they might earn a reward if they can accept “no” appropriately when asking for something.
  • Get your kiddo involved – think of a way to engage with them while you shop.  Challenge your kiddo to help you find the items on the list.  Have them cross off things on the list as you find them.  Create a guessing game for what aisle items will be in or how long it will take to find something.  This will make the trip more fun (possibly for both of you!) and provide your kiddo with the attention they crave.
  • Keep them occupied.  If getting them involved won’t work, give them something to keep them occupied.  Let them bring a toy to the store or give them a book to read in the cart.  Tablets and phones can be great entertainment, if you’re OK with screen time at the store.  This will help prevent any boredom.
  • PRACTICE!  It might seem silly, but practice truly does increase your kiddos’ chances of success.  Go to the store when you only need a few things and practice appropriate public behavior with your children.  Going when you only need a few items means you can spend more time praising your child while they practice, and means they get to practice for a shorter period of time.
  • Don’t be afraid to leave the store, if needed.  If your child becomes too disruptive or you’ve had enough, but haven’t checked out yet, leave your items with an employee and get out of there.  You can also try taking your child to the car to calm down, then returning for your items once they’re calm.
Posted in Parenting

Seven Positive Affirmations for Moms

Everybody needs some encouragement every once in a while (or sometimes every day!).  Positive affirmations can be very empowering, especially in trying situations.  Below are 7 images with positive affirmations for mothers.  Use the phrases below (or create your own!) as your personal mantra.  Repeat it to yourself, either in your head or out load (been there!) when you need a reminder.


I always do my best to meet my child's needs



I am a capable mother




I am a loving and strong mother




I am a patient mother




I am the best mother I can be




I can handle this




I am the expert on my child Note on this last one: This can be such an empowering statement for a struggling parent.  During therapy sessions, I often tell parents that they are the expert on their children.  I may have a lot of knowledge about behavioral interventions with children, but it’s important to remember that the PARENTS are the experts on their child’s personality, likes, dislikes, motivators, and idiosyncrasies.  You know your child best.

Posted in Parenting

Rewards You Can Use at Home

Rewards are definitely NOT necessary.  Praise, hugs, high-fives, and pats on the back can do wonders when trying to increase positive behaviors.  However, rewards can be really useful in changing behaviors.  One thing I consistently hear from parents is that they don’t want to spend a lot of money on rewards.  Nor should they have to!  There are lots of rewards that parents can use that cost little or no money.  Here are a few ideas:

  • Stickers
  • Let the child pick what the family has for dinner
  • An extra book before bed
  • Staying up 5-10 minutes past bedtime
  • Special bubble bath
  • A small snack (M&Ms, a small cookie, grapes, cereal)
  • One-on-one time with mom or dad (or both!)
  • An extra trip to the park
  • Movie night (at home)
  • Get a pass on a daily chore for one day
  • Video game time or time on the computer (or extra time if they already get some)
  • Camp out in the living room or backyard
  • Game night
  • Let your child help you cook or bake a special treat
  • Bubbles
  • Get a prize box and fill it up with cheap items from the store to let your child pick from
    • Pens/pencils
    • small action figures
    • crazy straws
    • balloons
  • Let your child invite a friend for a sleepover
  • Help mom or dad with a chore or task (chores are boring, but being mom’s special helper can be fun)
  • Dance party in the living room
  • Picnic (indoor or outdoor)
Posted in Uncategorized

Emoti Dolls

I saw a product while watching The Toy Box called Emoti Dolls.  They are plush dolls whose facial features can be changed to show different emotions.  The company website says “One Doll, Infinite Emotions.”

Check out the website for Emotiplush Therapy Dolls.

Looks like a fun doll, but also – what a learning tool!  There are kiddos who struggle to understand emotions and struggle to recognize emotions by facial expressions.  This doll seems like it would be a great tool to practice recognizing emotions in others!