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Behaviors and Strategies for 4-7 Year-Olds

Independence blossoms in the 4-7 age range, and sometimes that means special challenges for parents. Dr. Kevin Leman offers help for handling picky eaters and sibling rivalry.

If you are the parent of a child between the ages of 4 and 7, no doubt you have discovered that your little angel came with a built-in sense of independence that makes him want to do things his way. And if you are like most parents, you've seen this independence show up in many areas, including those having to do with food and family. Here are some ideas from Dr. Kevin Leman and his popular book Have a New Kid by Friday to help you deal with these difficult parenting challenges.

Picky Eaters

My mother, whom I have affectionately named the "Queen of Phrases," always told my sister and me when we were growing up that we would eat what she had prepared. "If you don't like it, you can lump it," she said. I quickly learned what that phrase really meant: "If you don't like it and you refuse to eat, you will go hungry." Now, as a well-adjusted eater, I am thankful for my mom and her tough, "No picky eaters allowed" philosophy because I like just about all foods — with the exception of anchovies, pigs feet and anything that includes animal intestines.

If you are the parent of a picky eater, here is Dr. Leman's advice.

  • Give your kids food that God made. I once watched as a mother gave her four-year-old a choice of breakfast from a breakfast bar. There were many yummy things including fruit and eggs but the little girl chose French toast. OK, there is nothing wrong with French toast. I love it myself. But according to Dr. Leman, if you want to grow a child who is not a picky eater, don't overexpose them to sugary foods and snacks. Why? It creates a habit for "bad-for-you" foods that will encourage your child to be a picky eater. So instead of loading your kitchen cupboards with junk food, load up on fruits, vegetables and things that God made.
  • Don't make a mountain out of a molehill. According to Dr. Leman, "Many studies have been done that show that children, if not pushed by their parents, will eat what their bodies crave. For example, children who are in a growth phase might require a lot more protein. Who cares if a child eats a lot of fish one week, and feasts on veggies the next week because that's what she craves? She's still getting an overall balanced diet."

    What this boils down to is not making too big of a deal about eating. Just bring home healthy food and don't push your kid to eat all of her veggies or try to bribe her with a candy bar to eat all of her peas. This kind of reasoning not only doesn't work, but it's detrimental to kids. They'll eat when they're hungry if you don't make a mountain out of a molehill.
  • Remember that your kids will eat how much they need when they are hungry. Kids don't typically have hang-ups about food like adults. Unlike many grown-ups, they eat when they are hungry and they stop when they are full. Dr. Leman suggests not pushing your kids to finish everything that's on their plate. "Studies have shown that your child can eat in one sitting only the amount of food that is the size of his fist. If parents push children to eat more than they are comfortable with, it can lead to struggles with overeating later on."

Sibling Rivalry

Sibling rivalry has been an issue since Cain and Abel had it out with each other. Of course, there are other, more productive ways to deal with fighting, bickering and bullying between your kids.

  • Let them duke it out. When I was a girl and my sister and I were fighting, my mother had often, as she said "Had it up to here!" Because she wanted peace, she let us duke it out. "Go outside and fight out there!" she'd shout. Or, if outside wouldn't do, she'd put us in a room together and let us go at it. Strangely, something happened when mom did this; it was no longer fun and our fighting stopped. Dr. Leman would have been proud of my mom because she didn't get into the middle of our argument, which according to him is like getting in the "middle of a battle."

  • Drive back home. But sometimes bickering happens in the car. What about those times?When my sister and I fought in the car my mom always said, "Stop fighting or you can get out and walk home." I remember only one occasion when I was forced to hoof it back to the house. But Mom only had to kick me out of the car once and I never disobeyed this way again.

    But perhaps you're thinking, "It's not safe to kick your kids out of the car anymore." True. So, Dr. Leman suggests that if your angels won't stop bickering to turn the car around and go back home. This will have the same effect that it had on me when my mom made me walk. Dr. Leman says, "…your smart kids will figure out that it doesn't make sense to do things that don't get rewarded."

 

 
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