How Shelly and I discipline our kids

kids napping, need a nap, nap at disneyland

Anticipating Trystan and Zoey’s needs

Before Trystan, our first child was born, Shelly and I attended a baby nursing class that was focused on breastfeeding.  The class taught us about different ways to hold the baby, the proper latch, nursing tips and most importantly to listen to your baby to anticipate its needs.  That final lesson is something that I took to heart and have continued to apply ever since.

“A baby whose needs are met has no reason to cry.”

Trystan doesn’t cry for things that he wants.  I attribute it to the exercise of trying to anticipate what he needs and giving it to him before he has a chance to cry for it.  While he was an infant, when he rooted while he was sleeping, then Shelly would feed him as soon as he woke up.  When he exhibited tiredness, then we swaddled him and rocked him to sleep.  When he would squirm around, we checked the diaper.  We tried to respond to his needs before he started crying so he didn’t know what it was like to cry for things.

Learning to listen to your baby is the foundation of listening to your child as they grow into adolescents, teens, young adults and adults.  These four basic needs of rest, sustenance, comfort and cleanliness (health) are what all other needs come from.  So if we know how to listen for them when our child is a baby, then we’ll better be able to listen to them when they’re older and have more complex emotions affecting their expression of these needs.

Here are just a couple of things that have helped me and Shelly listen and respond to Trystan and Zoey’s needs.

Getting your children on some sort of schedule really helps in anticipating tiredness, hunger and potty needs.  A newborn’s feeding schedule is more frequent at about every hour or so. It is consistent, unlike bladder and bowel movements which you just watch for and change the baby when it happens.  
Now that Trystan and Zoey are toddlers, they pretty much wake up between 7 and 8am, eat by 9am.  They nap anytime between 11 and 2pm.  Eat dinner about 7pm then bathe and sleep right afterward.  So my daily schedule revolves around anticipating what they are going to need at specific times during the day.  For example, I had a job interview yesterday at 3pm, so I put the kids down to nap at 11am and woke them up at 1pm to get ready to go to the sitter by 2pm.  I could have skipped their nap risking leaving a couple of cranky kids with the person kind enough to help me out.

Another thing that helped was knowing their warning signs.

Warning Signs: Tired/Sleep
The different needs yield different warning signs.  The most obvious for our kids are the signs of sleep.  It starts with them zoning out and they start losing physical strength and coordination; Trystan even drifts when he runs (runs sideways when trying to turn).  What comes next is giddy happiness followed by a meltdown.  I know that the closer they get to meltdown the less capacity to reason they have.  Therefore, I try to catch it early and start to mentally prepare them for sleep before the meltdown phase.  If I can get them to bed before the giddy phase, I can usually reason with them to get to bed, then sing them to sleep without fuss or fight.

There is a thin line between the giddy phase and the meltdown phase… it is like the pressure relief valve on a turbocharger, it needs to blow off the excess pressure then you can feel the engine “relax”.  So what I do with Trystan and Zoey is “over clock” their system so they hit the peak pressure sooner.  In layman’s terms, I hold them in a hug providing resistance to wherever they are pushing against me and let them cry it out.  After a while (shouldn’t be more than ten minutes) the cry becomes more breathy and less constricted and it usually comes with less of an effort when they push against me.  I wait for them to set up for another push at which point I relax my whole body and let them push with no resistance.  The most common response from both of them is that the screaming turns into whimpering, they relax and either curl up or sprawl out and then close their eyes and fall asleep within 2 minutes.

Warning Signs: Hunger
The first warning sign for hunger is usually schedule.  You know the last time they ate, so you should know about when they are going to be hungry again.  Some other signs are asking for snacks, or hunting for snacks.  Some of us parents get frustrated that they keep asking for candy or cookies and don’t realize that we’ve been on the go and it’s already 2 o’clock and we still haven’t fed the them anything.  The best remedy for this is good planning and scheduling, having on hand a small snack that would whet their appetite and keep them busy for a while if you’re running behind your carefully planned schedule.

Warning Signs: Comfort
Just like mommy and daddy, Trystan is a pretty emotional kid so there are times when he just needs to be comforted.  Frustratingly, this usually comes after a confrontation with me and so I have to judge whether I should console him or let him “tough it out”.  One of the things I watch out for is his “emotional win tank”.  If he is on a slippery slope of getting in trouble and it has been the third time he’s been disciplined in a short span of time, then I know that I have to drop everything and just hug the kid.  I just need to take him to his room and hold him and tell him how much I love him.  Most of the time it is due to fatigue, so I consider if we had a late night the night before, or how long or how well he napped earlier in the day, or how close it is to bed time.  After holding him and giving him words of comfort I ask him easy questions.  Questions that have no wrong answer.  Most of the time, the answer is “because I love you.”

Another time that Trystan needs comfort is because he is trying to do the right thing and the painful reality leaves him wanting.  For example, Zoey takes something he is playing with and there is no way we can get it from her.  In this case, he comes to me to “tell on Zoey” but it’s not only justice that he is seeking, it is affirmation.  He knows not to snatch from her so he goes to us to either get the toy back, or to let him know that he is doing the right thing by not snatching.  I think that affirmation in this circumstance is really important because it is forming his virtue of fortitude, his strength to stay true amidst adversity and injustice.

Trystan and Zoey, eating, kids, food

Teaching kids to eat their food

Each child is different, and with that said, these techniques may not work on your baby or toddler but they’ll at least give you something to try.

As a baby, Trystan was not a very picky eater.   Once he was able to feed himself, he did go through phases when he would not eat what was on his plate.  Initially I would sit there with him and pull out every trick in the book to try to get him to open his mouth and at least taste the food.  After all, a child develops a taste for new food after five to ten times of tasting that new food.  So how did we get Trystan and Zoey to even open their mouths to give them the opportunity to taste new foods?  As a baby there was only one option that worked for Trystan: leave him in the high chair and continue about your business.  He usually finishes the food in front of him before we get back to him.  This didn’t work for Zoey as she would just dump the food over the side of her high chair.  So in her high chair days, I would wait a little later after Trystan had started eating to feed Zoey.  This did two things 1. She was hungrier when she started eating, and 2. She watched Trystan eat and enjoy his food.  Generally, I would have two options for meals anyways and would just let her eat the one she was more inclined to. Serve the new salad, but have the carrots, peas and corn on backup.

When Trystan turned 3, getting him to eat new foods became even trickier since his brain is developing and he starts using his negotiation skills to convince us that he is not hungry or he wants a more snack-y food, until of course dessert comes.  Then when the sweets come out, the bottom drops out of his belly and he can eat boatloads.  This phase didn’t last too long, especially after we started applying the techniques below.

One note to take into account.  These techniques work best when you eliminate or minimize snacking in between meals, and if meals are well scheduled so their bodies are used to eating at roughly the same time everyday. If you are having a busy day, then bring just enough snacks to whet the appetite, not satisfy it.  Yes, you may get a whiny baby for a few minutes but if it takes you longer than an hour to get them food, then the error was in scheduling the activity/meal not in packing the snack.  If you are busy all the time, then schedule the child’s meal as an appointment and put as much importance on it as a class or work meeting.


Tips and Techniques

1a.  Involvement in food selection.  This pertains more to fruits and vegetables.  It works with everything else but if you’re on a budget, then make sure you can control which brand of jam, or juice you get and limit the options to what flavors they can choose. When at the grocery store, I just talk out loud to Trystan about the fruit/vegetable selection process.  Then letting them take it from the display to the shopping cart adds to the involvement.  Zoey and Trystan have both operated the “shopper in training carts” at Ralph’s and Trader Joe’s and now I just tell them what to get and let them put it in the cart.  I have Trystan and Zoey help me with the herb garden, by plucking or clipping leaves off the basil and spinach.

– How do you pick a good banana?  Golden brown with speckled hue, but let’s get some greener ones for later too.


1b.  Involvement in food preparation.  The cooking videos are just one of the benefits of preparing food with the kids.  I remember the first time Trystan made scrambled eggs and toast for breakfast.  He was two years old and I taught him how to crack the eggs, scramble them with a whisk and then place the bread in the toaster.  He was so excited that he ran over to the bedroom to pull Shelly out of bed so that she could eat the breakfast that he made.

toddler, scrambling, eggs, cooking, kids and food

2.  Name dropping.  Whose name?  Whoever their favorite cartoon character is.  One real reference for celery are the Wonder Pets because they do like celery.  “Trystan, do you know who LOVES lettuce?  Diego does!” Trystan just stares in disbelief.  I continue to tell a fabricated story about Diego and Alicia going shopping, picking out the perfect lettuce, going home and preparing it; of course the exact same way that we prepared it in the salad or sandwich.  Minutes later, he is munching down his meal “Look daddy!!! I’m eating lettuce like Diego!!!”


3. Tell us 4 things about the food a.k.a. Why don’t you like it?  This method requires that the child is at least 3 or 4 years old, or old enough to negotiate and apply logic.
“Trystan, you don’t have to eat that bell pepper but you have to tell us whether it is:
– crunchy or chewy
– sweet or salty
– hot, cold or warm
– dry or juicy

We’d ask each comparison after each bite, which would make him take 4 bites before we give him something else.  Sometimes he even ends up liking the food that he initially didn’t want to try because of the way it looked.  Which brings me to the next method…


4. Presentation.  Don’t just lump the food on the plate. Arrange it in a way that is appealing to little kids.  Look up Breakfasts with Trystan and Zoey for some examples.  Most of them are simple arrangements that I came up with as I was making the food.  The ingredients are already decided, it was was just a matter of how they looked like on the plate.



5.  Bribery/Negotiation – I try to do this least of all.  We don’t have to do it with Trystan as much but Zoey, who hasn’t developed her speech to the point of expression still tries to play dumb or just refuses to eat until we give in.  She isn’t sitting in a high chair anymore so leaving her with her food doesn’t work because she just walks away.  It usually becomes a problem if Trystan finishes eating first and gets dessert, or if mommy or daddy have a brain fart and grab a popsicle out of the freezer before she is done with her food.  That is when we apply the bribery technique and it goes like this:

“First you eat this (show the food you want them to eat), then you get this (show the sweets)” You can even pretend to eat each as you tell them this.  Placement matters, put the sweets directly behind the food so that visually there is a logical sequence.  The food is blocking me from my sweets!!!!  In the case of Trystan finishing first and getting dessert, we show her Trystan’s empty plate and hold it next to Trystan eating his sweets.  Then present her not so empty plate in the fashion described above.


Well, I hope that was helpful to you.  If you have other techniques that have worked for you please feel free to write them in the comments below.  I know that we only have two children and these techniques may work for them but not for my other friends and followers of this blog.  Thanks for reading.