Smart love

The Piepers

Our 13-month-old needs better table manners Q: My 13-month-old daughter has recently begun to throw food off her tray when she eats. She does this defiantly, sometimes right after we tell her not to. It doesn't necessarily mean she's finished eating because then she will start crying either for the thing she just threw on the floor or for something else from the table.

We don't give her any food once she throws food off the tray. Both my husband and I are getting frustrated with this-we're not sure what she is trying to tell us, if anything.

How we can stop this foodthrowing? K.B., LaGrange

A: You are in a power struggle with a toddler. As every parent discovers, toddlers' minds are different from adults'. Toddlers believe they are all-powerful and that they should be able to have and do whatever they want whenever they want. So when you tell your daughter not to throw food, she will throw it just to prove that she can.

Diplomacy and indirection work much better with toddlers than confrontation or negotiation. For example, put her high chair in the kitchen (assuming the floor is easily washed) and place small amounts of finger food she likes directly on the tray so there are no plates or cups to go flying. Then, refrain from comment if she throws some food.

When she cries that she wants whatever she just threw, give her small amounts of new food. If she doesn't seem to want more food, simply take her out of the high chair and mop up the mess.

Once she realizes you have stopped playing the food throwing game, she will too. Soon, she will only throw food when she is finished eating. At that point, you can say (in a friendly way), “I see you are finished, let's get you down.” Another approach is to distract her with toys, music or a story while she's eating. She may be so interested in these activities that she will only throw food as a sign she is no longer hungry.

If you opt out of the power struggle you are in, your daughter will throw food no more than other children her age, and will outgrow this behavior by about age 3.

How do I convince my son he should learn to swim? Q: We are planning a vacation in August and have rented a house on a lake. The problem is that our 6-year-old son refuses to learn to swim, and I am very concerned about being so close to water when he wouldn't be able to cope if he fell in.

Also, there are rowboats and canoes available that we can't allow him to use if he can't swim.

His two older siblings are good swimmers and like the water, but he becomes hysterical if we try to show him how to swim. We have tried every trick to get him to take swim classes, but he won't go.

This vacation is looking as though it will make everyone miserable. Do you have any suggestions? T.K., Naperville

A: The important thing is to distinguish health and safety concerns from your irritation that your son doesn't want to swim. Pushing a child to engage in an activity that frightens him simply solidifies his resistance. In the past, children who didn't want to swim were actually thrown into the water, with the result that many of these children hated swimming for the rest of their lives and didn't trust adults much either.

You need to make sure your son knows you will not pressure him to learn to swim, but that because he is a non-swimmer, certain health and safety rules apply. For example, he can't go anywhere near the water without an adult, and he cannot go on a dock or wade into the water without wearing a life jacket. Explain that he will be able to do some boating if an adult is along and he wears his life jacket. Most important, state and enforce these rules in a way that makes clear that they are not punishments but arise from your love and concern for him.

If he is around other children who enjoy the water and can paddle around in a life jacket without being pressured to swim, your son may well decide on his own that he is ready to become a swimmer.

What do we need to know about parenting our twins? Q: To my amazement, my husband and I find ourselves the parents of fraternal girl twins, now 4-months-old. So far so good, but I am wondering if we need to be thinking about parenting them differently than single children.

We are getting all kinds of conflicting advice from friends and neighbors. L.T., Elgin

A: It is better to think of parenting twins as caring for two children the same age rather than as caring for children who are alike. When children are spaced a year or more apart, parents don't tend to assume that they will share personality traits; the same mind-set should prevail with twins.

In practical terms that means, for example, the twins may be on completely different schedules for feeding or sleeping and they may have very different likes and dislikes. The more you can be sensitive to each child's individual needs, the fewer problems you will have, because each child will feel loved for herself rather than as part of a unit. At the same time, don't force them to be different-if they both like doing the same thing at the same time, that is fine as well.

The same principle applies when it is time for them to go to school. If they get along famously and love being together, they might enjoy being in the same classroom. If they fight constantly, they would benefit from being in different classes. In short, if you approach your girls as individuals and are guided by their interests and preferences, they will enter adulthood experiencing themselves as individuals first and twins second.


Here's your chance to get some answers to your pressing parenting questions. If you're trying to figure out how to handle some aspect of your child's behavior, send your question to Chicago Parent Q&A, 141 S. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park, IL 60302; or e-mail it to The Piepers will respond to three questions per month. Sorry-they are unable to respond to questions that they do not answer for publication. For more answers to questions from readers since January 2000, visit our Web site, Click on “Past Issues" and then “Smart Love." For a more complete understanding of the Pieper's philosophy and psychology, read their book, Smart Love: The Compassionate Alternative to Discipline That Will Make You A Better Parent and Your Child a Better Person.



Martha Heineman Pieper, Ph.D., and William J. Pieper, M.D. are the authors most recently of Addicted to Unhappiness: Free Yourself from Moods and Behaviors That Undermine Relationships, Work and the Life You Want (McGraw-Hill), which helps parents and other adults improve their own lives. They also wrote the best-selling parenting book, Smart Love: The Compassionate Approach to Discipline That Makes You a Better Parent and Your Child a Better Person (Harvard Common Press). The Piepers have spent more than three decades practicing psychotherapy with infants, children, adolescents and adults; counseling parents; and supervising other mental health professionals. The parents of five children, the Piepers live in Chicago.

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