Parenting Q & A

Susan Jarecke with daughters Sara and Emily are all smiles at the Heights Parent Center. Photo by Terry Moore.

Ellen Barrett, a parent educator at Heights Parent Center for the last 12 years, fields questions from parents about the daily ups and downs of parenting. The same issues impact many parents. If you have questions you would like Ellen to respond to in this column, please e-mail her at

Q. My wife and I have always looked forward to meal time but now find that we dread it! We have such a hard time getting our two year old to eat the food that we have prepared for him that we now expect a battle at every meal. It makes us tense and cranky and is very unpleasant. What can we do to get him to eat and enjoy dinner so we can enjoy our family?

A. The first thing to remember is that a two year-old doesn’t see meal time the same way that we do. In reality they are just as likely to wish they were playing with their trucks or running around the block! So, for right now, you might have to change your expectations. That being said, dinner time can evolve into a pleasant, quality family experience if you remember a few small things:

It is our responsibility as parents to provide the food; it’s children's responsibility to eat it. Choose tasty, nutritionally balanced foods that are also reasonable choices for a toddler. Don't be afraid to offer flavorful foods!

Let your child explore the food. He may want to touch it, mash it and it may go in and out of his mouth a few times. Try to accept this behavior and understand that it is one more way that your toddler is exploring his world.

Don’t force food on your child. The “clean plate club” mentality from our own childhood is counterproductive to the goal of developing a child’s ability to know when he is full.

Be patient! Toddlers are very tuned into the mood around them. If you become exasperated he may focus on that instead of the meal.

Set your child up for success.Set regular meal times and (healthy) snack times and resist the urge to let your child graze throughout the day. You want him to be hungry but not starving.

Most importantly make mealtime pleasant. Share your day, enjoy each other's company - and relax!

Q. My 18 month old used to sleep until 7 or 7:30 a.m. and has recently started waking earlier and earlier. Not only is it hard to wake up that early but it makes for a really long day! How can I get a little more shut eye in the morning?

A. Sleep! No parenting topic causes as much distress for so many parents (at both ends of the day and naps in between!) At this time of year, however, there are some sleep problems that might be tied to lengthening of daylight, open bedroom windows and over-tired bedtime situations. As the days get longer and warmer, the sleep environment your child is used to may change enough to upset her sleep patterns.

A few simple changes may put things back in order:

Try putting room darkening shades up in the child’s room and using a white noise machine or fan. These strategies will reduce the amount of early daylight that seeps into the child’s room and may block out the sound of birds singing or dogs barking outside. The temptation may be to keep your child up later at night so she sleeps longer in the morning. This may actually work against your goal. Over-tired children tend to sleep less not more and their sleep patterns can be more disrupted. So make sure you stick to a reasonable and regular bedtime and/or that you retain consistent daily naps.

Summer tempts you to stay outside but make a point of coming in to preserve sleep opportunities for your child. If your child continues to wake early make sure you are going to bed earlier yourself so you’ll feel refreshed and ready to go even at the break of dawn!

Read More on "Got kids?" Corner
Volume 2, Issue 6, Posted 2:32 PM, 05.19.2009