My child is not eating the lunch I packed.

Okay, let's get this eating thing all squared away. Here's a nice little formula for you to use:

Your business: 1) What you purchase, serve, or otherwise make available. 2) Maintaining and modeling a healthy relationship with food.

Not your business: What your child chooses to eat.

Lots of parents have those reversed. They think that taking good care of their kids means that they must force them to eat certains kinds of food and restrict others. All kinds of goofy situations spring from that misconception - running the gamut from creating stress that impairs digestion, intractable power struggles, and on up to eating disorders.

When my kids were little, before I figured out this formula, I would serve them veggies for lunch and then sneak into the kitchen and break into my stash of chocolate while they ate. Then I realized that hypocrisy is at least as toxic to our bodies as junk food, and that the whole good food/bad food dichotomy was not healthy either. It set food up as a force that was stronger than they were, and that's not an empowered position to make choices from.

I also wanted my kids to maintain awareness of their hunger and sensory feedback, and placing strong taboos on certain foods only thwarted their own inner guidance. Besides, if children learn what they live, it seemed like a good idea to bring my own behavior into alignment with what I wanted them to become. So I stopped prohibiting and demonizing certain foods, and focused instead on my own integrity and listening to my own body's signals.

Assuming your child is of sound mind and body, he or she truly does not want to starve. Hold firm to your values by preparing foods you believe are nourishing and eating them yourself. Don't bother bribing with dessert - serve fruit and make it part of the meal.

Talk about nutrition, help your child get involved in the shopping by teaching her how to read labels, letting him pick out which veggie to eat with dinner, etc., and then relax and enjoy your meal together. If you are packing a school lunch, put a little note in there, or something that expresses love and appreciation.

Many times, when kids feel harrassed about food, they simply decide it's not worth arguing about and go underground; pitching out that nice hummus sandwich and eating cupcakes and twinkies from their friends. It's okay. It happens. We cannot control what they do with what we pack.

Kids need to learn how to listen to their own bodily signals, and we do them no favor when we try to protect them from experiences that are natural feedback loops. They need to FEEL the sugar crash before they can decide they prefer to avoid it. Just keep preparing and packing the nutritious stuff and don't worry about it. They will carry out their own experiments.

You might also consider collaborative problem solving. Express your values and concerns about nutrition, and your wish to provide nourishing options. Then find out why your child is not eating her lunch, and put your heads together to come up with some alternatives that work for both of you. You'd be amazed at the variety of food options available these days! They even stock vegan gummy bears sweetened with fruit juice at my local Vitamin Cottage. There are many win-wins to be found.

Ultimately, love and respect are the most nourishing things you can serve to your kids. Kids eat that right up every time, and you don't even have to go farther than your own heart to procure an abundant supply.

What do I say if my teen asks me whether I smoked pot when I was younger?

This question comes up a lot here in Boulder, since it is, after all, the Pot-smoking Capital of the World (or something like that.) And whether we smoked pot or not, there are parents all over the country who did things as teenagers that we hope our children will not do.

So how should you answer questions about high risk behaviors you indulged in as a teenager? Ultimately, that's your call. Some parents decide to simply lie. And unfortunately, I think they may be missing out on an opportunity to impart some valuable information when they shut down the conversation that way.

Other parents feel that honesty in communication is very important, but are fearful that if they tell the truth their child will perceive it as some kind of endorsement or validation to go ahead and try it themselves.

I've crafted a scripted formula to follow which seems to cover all those bases. This can be a tricky topic for many of us, so please get in touch with me if you'd like to schedule a phone or email parenting consultation to prepare yourself before having this conversation. karen@karenalonge.com

Well, son, I'll be honest with you. I'm not proud of some of the choices I've made in my past, and _________ (sex, drinking alcohol, smoking pot, etc.) in high school is one of them.

I tried it because I __________ (wanted to be cool, was curious, didn't want to be left out, was mad at my parents, didn't care what happened to me, couldn't think of anything better to do, believed my friends when they said it was harmless, etc.)

And what I found out was that it wasn't harmless at all. It was ________ (risky, illegal, damaging, the reason my grades fell, taking away my ambition, a waste of my time and money, etc.)

In fact, my friend kept doing it after I quit, and he ________ (never made it to college, got a criminal record, got fired, got in an accident, etc.)

I'm guessing you asked me because you are facing your own decision, yes? I'll be honest here, I really don't want you to get involved with ________, and I'm going to try as hard as I can to convince you to avoid it.

That being said, I hope you will always feel free to come to me with any questions or concerns you might have, because it's important to me that the channels of communication stay open between us.

So, please, tell me more about about what's going on for you, and why you were wondering about my past. I'm listening.


Fostering Independence in Older Teens

How do you help your almost-adult teenager learn to stand on his own 2 feet and be responsible for his actions and responsibilties without feeling somewhat guilty?

Let's presume that what we all want for our kids when they become adults is happiness, success, confidence, love, and competence. Ideally, I think we want to see all those qualities in balance, yes?

If we step in too often to rescue, we may insure success, but at the price of confidence and competence.

So try this on for size: when he asks for help in an area that you would like to foster more independence, start by offering just a little bit of help. Then move up the help scale incrementally.

Here's an example: let's say he has a part time job, and doesn't have enough money to pay his car insurance this month.

You could just give him the money, and you may get to that incrementally. But start with offering your attention, your empathy, and your ear. Don't jump in with a solution too fast. Let him talk it through, and see if he can reach a solution himself.

Here's how this might sound:

Mom, I can't pay my car insurance this month.
Oh, having a tough time financially, honey?
Yeah, I don't get paid until next week and it's due Friday. Will you give me the money?
Well, I'd be happy to help you explore some options.

This sends the message that you love him and are there for him, but doesn't put you in the position of bailing him out every time.

If the conversation ends with no resolution, then say, "Well, son, let's both think on this a bit and see what we can come up with. Let's talk at dinner tomorrow."

Loans are legitimate, real-world-relevant parental assistance. You may charge interest or not, whichever feels appropriate to you. Be sure to write up an agreement that includes a repayment structure and is signed by both parties. Consider asking for collateral (which you can sell to repay the loan if he defaults.)

The bottom line: As your teen gets older, your response time should be getting slower, and the type of assistance you offer becomes less about solving and rescuing and more about helping them help themselves.

If you'd like some support figuring out your parenting options, let's schedule a phone or email parenting consultation. Visit www.karenalonge.com/forclients.htm or email karen@karenalonge.com for more information.

What should I do if my child refuses to eat what I cooked for dinner?

This is bound to happen sooner or later. We each have individual tastes, and it's a good idea to make easy and nutritious alternatives available to everyone in the family in case they don't like what is being served. There's no need for you to COOK more than one dish -- kids can prepare a simple Plan B themselves.

It's fair for parents to request a "good sport bite" -- just one teensy bite to see how it tastes, so kids don't miss out on something yummy just because it looks funny. If they don't like the taste, then a good ol' pbj sandwich will suffice for backup. Don't make a big deal about it. Eating is not an area where you want to engage in power struggles!

Simply excuse your child from the table so he can make a sandwich and bring it right back to eat with the family. Even at age three kids can assemble a pbj sandwich with a plastic knife while you stay at the table and enjoy your meal.

You may want to discuss this ahead of time, and teach your child the language you'd like to hear. Mommy, I took a good sport bite of the okra, and I don't like how it tastes. May I please make myself a sandwich instead?

You'll also want to teach your children how to handle this situation appropriately for times when they are a guest in someone else's home. Remember to tell them to take very small portions of any questionable foods that they want to try -- they can take a second helping later if they like it.

Teach them how to compliment the chef on the foods they do like, and how to graciously deflect questions about the ones they don't. Kids don't just naturally know the language for these situations, and they need your guidance and example to learn good manners. And "good manners" rarely, if ever, require us to eat something that we find revolting!

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Don't confuse respect with fear. It wasn't respect that kept so many of us in line when we were kids, although many of our parents called it that. It was fear. Fear that if we didn't do exactly as we were told, we'd pay an uncomfortable price.

Remember hearing stop crying or I'll give you something to cry about? Or how about wipe that grin off your face this minute. And don't forget big boys don't cry, don't be a baby, or give your auntie a kiss. (special note to my mom: thank you for not doing any of this!)

We 'acted nice' because we wanted to avoid physical pain, shame, blame, anger and guilt. We quickly learned to deny, repress, and ignore any feelings that our parents deemed inappropriate to express. Can you blame us?

Kids today may appear to be disrespectful when viewed through that distorted old lens, but let's polish it up a bit. I don't want my kids' blind obedience. I don't want them doing what I say because I will hurt them if they don't. I don't want my presence to be required in order to force compliance. I don't want to threaten my children into fearful obedience.

What do I want instead? I want to raise kids who think, who know what they feel and aren't afraid to express it clearly and appropriately, who can voice their concerns and listen to others', and who know how to create win-win solutions together.

In other words, I want to raise kids who are respectful. And since children learn what they live, it's pretty difficult to shame a kid into respect, just like it's hard to teach kids nonviolence by hitting them.

Want respect? Give it. Yes, even to your kids. Especially to your kids.

I got a lesson in this from my son a few months ago. We were out for dinner with a friend who picked up the tab. At the table, I prompted my teenage son to say thank you. He did, and later, in private, he quietly said, "Hey mom, that was embarrassing for me back there. I was planning to thank her, and when you 'reminded' me it sounded like you thought I was so rude that I wouldn't have done it on my own."

Oops. He got me on that one. He was right, and not only that, he told me about it in private so as not to embarrass ME. I ate my slice of humble pie with a dollop of gratitude on top - bummed out about what I had said, and at the same time immensely proud of him for handling the situation so maturely with me.

So if you are complaining about how your kids talk to you, listen to how you talk to them. Make sure you are modeling what you expect them to do in your own behavior. Do as I say, not as I do just doesn't cut in in today's world. Our kids are too smart, too aware, and too strong for that approach. They do, however, respond very well to honesty, respect, and self-responsible communication.

If you'd like some help making sure you are congruent in your behavior and expectations, let's schedule a phone or email parenting consultation. Visit www.karenalonge.com/forclients.htm or drop me a line: karen@karenalonge.com