Q: How do I train my 2-year-old to clean up after herself? She'll go into her sisters' room and destroy it, and won't help clean up unless I threaten to punish her. Then she only picks up a couple of things before getting distracted. Frankly, it's easier for me to clean it up myself. My older girls complain that they have to clean up but their little sister doesn't. I know this isn't fair, but what else do I do?
Juli: As any parent knows, the most challenging task of raising a toddler is setting boundaries. It is important to teach your daughter that she has to clean up the messes that she makes, but that might be an impossible task if the messes are too big. Part of teaching your 2-year-old responsibility is not allowing her to get into trouble or messes that are too big for her to clean up.
To start with, limit her play areas. If she's going to trash her sisters' room, then make that room off-limits. Keep play areas to her own room or a family room. Even in those areas, limit the number of toys she has access to at a given time. She can choose to play with the dollhouse or the blocks, but not have access to every toy in the house. Consistently ask her to clean those up immediately before she moves on to the next thing.
What she's capable of handling is going to grow with time. The lesson of cleaning up a few toys will transfer to greater responsibility in years to come. Resist that temptation to swoop in and clean up for her. The extra time and effort now will be well worth it as your daughter grows.
Q: I was astonished to read how much childhood obesity is increasing. Do you have any suggestions for parents who want to help their kids avoid this health nightmare?
Jim: Rather than focusing on the obvious, like eating well-balanced meals and keeping junk food to a minimum, let's look at something that moms and dads might tend to overlook: snack time. Every situation is different, but research suggests that on the whole, many children are simply snacking too much.
Health Affairs reports that kids are taking in significantly more calories from snack foods today than they did in the 1970s. Other statistics show that half of American children snack four times a day, with some kids eating almost constantly -- as many as 10 snacks a day! It's not likely that these kids are hungry that often. Researchers believe they're simply eating the food because it's there, almost as a form of entertainment. Obviously, when kids spend so much time snacking, they're less likely to eat a balanced meal at breakfast, lunch or dinner.
The snacks themselves are a problem, as well. Cookies and cakes are the most popular snacks among kids, with chips and other salty items running a close second. Children are also drinking a lot more fruit juice. That might sound good on the surface, but most of these drinks are loaded with excess sugar and are much less healthy than an actual piece of fruit.
An after-school snack isn't a bad thing. But most people would agree that snacks are no substitute for a healthy and well-balanced meal. And of course, the snack itself should be nutritious. Parents need to make sure they're setting a good example for their kids in this area. Don't expect your child to be happy with an apple if you're snacking on candy bars and soda!
Dr. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of Focus on the Family, author of several books, and a wife and mother of three.
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