How to feed picky eaters

24 May 2017

Dear friend,

The little man has always been a poor eater and I have always worried about his diet. It has caused many arguments at lunch or dinner over the last few years but as a former picky eater myself I have always tried to defend him.

I have really bad memories of being forced to sit at the table until I had eaten everything on my plate and being forced to try things that to me tasted like perfume. I never wanted my son to have these negative experiences! But lately the pickiness is becoming even more of a problem with tears at the table (not just his) and arguments beginning. I am starting to dread meal times as I know what is ahead.

I take some consolation in the fact that I am not the only mum worried about their children's eating habits. Most mums of babies and toddlers have worries about their diet or how much they are eating. However, when our children become tweens we expect this to become easier, don't we? So how can I prevent the mealtime battles in my home?

1. Don't force children to eat
If your child isn't hungry, don't force a meal or snack. This will just start a power struggle over food and your child might come to associate mealtime with anxiety.

2. Serve small portions
Don't overload plates, serve smaller portions and encourage children to ask for more.

3. Have a routine
Schedule meal and snack times and only allow water between. Don't allow your child to fill up on juice, milk or snacks throughout the day as this might decrease their appetite at meal times.

Photo courtesy of small talking

4. Gradually introduce new foods
Your child might need repeated exposure to a new food before he or she takes the first bite. Serve new foods along with your child's favorite foods.

5. Be creative
Serve broccoli and other veggies with a favorite dip or sauce. Cut foods into various shapes with cookie cutters. Add finely chopped broccoli or green peppers to spaghetti sauce.

6. Involve your child
When shopping get your child to pick out the fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods. At home, encourage your child to help you rinse veggies, stir batter or set the table.

7. Set a good example
If you eat a variety of healthy foods, your child is more likely to follow suit.

8. Minimize distractions
Turn off the television and other electronic gadgets during meals to help your child focus on eating.

9. Make one meal
Preparing a separate meal for your child after he or she rejects the original meal might promote picky eating. Encourage your child to stay at the table for the designated mealtime — even if he or she doesn't eat.

10. Be patient

Bad habits won't change overnight but by making small changes can help promote a better, more healthy eating habit.

There are definitely some things that we need to work on. Although we have a routine and try our best to involve our little man in selecting and making food he has very little interest. We do minimize distractions too but our portion sizes are probably too large and we also make separate meals specifically for him. There is definitely room for improvement especially in relation to snacking. I really like the idea of serving new foods alongside your child's favourite ones.

I also read that if you have concerns you should look at the big picture and that making a diary of your child's food intake could help as they may be eating more that you realise. Our little man is quite small for his age but he is growing well according to the Dr. I hope that these changes will help to make our mealtimes more peaceful. I'll keep you informed!

Fathers day gifts made easy

22 May 2017

Dear friend,

I don't know about you but I always find it a struggle to get suitable Father's day gifts. I never know what to buy for my own Father or for Imperfect dad from the boys. What do you buy? I always want to find something a bit different but I usually end up going for the usual gifts of toiletries or a nice bottle of something. But this year I was determined to find something different and then I was contacted by Tom from Uncommon goods and was bowled over with the concept behind the company. 

Founded in 1999 and headquartered in Brooklyn, New York, UncommonGoods is a privately-owned retailer that endeavors to feature unique jewelry, designer d├ęcor, tabletop items, and handcrafted gifts created in harmony with the environment without harm to animals or people. They make it their mission to support and provide a platform for artists and designers; in fact, half of what they sell is made by hand. At the core of the company is a great respect for the integrity of the creative individual and the belief that it is our responsibility to use our business to impact the world in a positive way.

When I started to look on the site I was amazed by the quality and diversity of the gifts on offer. Thank you for solving my Father's Day dilemma! I am going to share with you a few of my favourite gifts for Fathers on their special day. Here are my:

Top gifts for Dad

1. Beeropoly beer game:  Perfect for parties or just to start the weekend right, Beeropoly invites players to quaff their way through a series of beer challenges- from a rhyming competition to demonstrating their best dance moves. Players take turns rolling the dice (included) and moving their bottle cap pieces around the handmade pine wood board. They complete the beer challenges along the way. The last man or woman standing must drink the Community Cup. Cheers!

Price in euros 34.69.

I think my husband would like this and I love the look of the board too.

2. Personalised Family Print: Mary and Shelly Klein's personalized artwork. Choose skin tones, hair, and clothing color to create a lovely lineup, then customize with your family name and the year you were established as a quirky clan. Framed print.

Price in Euros 74.33- 123.89

I'd love this more than hubby I think but I also think this is a lovely present for a grandparent. I could just see this on my parents wall at home.

3. Whiskey and Rum making Kit: You don't need to work in a distillery to age and season your favorite spirits like a pro. Fashioned in timeless style, this handsome barrel is more than just an eye-catching centerpiece: like its big siblings found in professional distilleries, it can actually age your spirits to peak flavor. Take mixology into your own hands and create your own signature Highland malt scotch whiskey, spiced rum, or full-bodied Kentucky bourbon.

Price in Euros 74.33

The perfect gift for the men in my life as both my dad and hubby are huge Whiskey fans and they would love this.

4. Record Clock:  Rock around the clock with artist Jeff Davis handmade timepiece. Keeping the tradition of vinyl LPs alive, Davis was inspired by the iconic appeal of long lost album covers, record logos and vinyl's glossy texture, when designing these musical keepsakes. Choose from a  Rock, Jazz, Soul or 80s album to keep you on beat and on time!

Price in Euros: 37.66

This would be a great birthday gift too. My Dad would love this!

5. Whiskey wedge:
  Enjoy your favorite spirits perfectly chilled--but not watered down--by filling the silicone mold with water and freezing to form a diagonally bisected glass. Great for whiskey and design enthusiasts alike.

Price in euros: 17.79

Hubby would be proud to hold this stylish glass. Beautiful design and practical too.

6. Grandparent and Grandchild letter book set: Take a moment and keep in touch with this keepsake letter book. Brimming with personal prompts, this set of 40 cards is to be sent and shared between grandparents and their grandchildren. Once completed, stow the letters in the secret pockets of the book so you can look back, remember your bond, and pass it down from generation to generation. 

Price in Euros 39.64

Artist Whitney Scott Biggs's mother died suddenly from cancer while Biggs was going through her mother's desk, she discovered scribbled lists, notes, and handwritten tidbits that became her treasured keepsakes. With her friends Sabra Miller and Janice Maples, she created these letter journals as a way for generations to connect and remember each other. What an amazing idea!

Seriously you have to check out the uncommon goods site it is well organised, easy to navigate and beautifully put together. If you are looking for a special gift such as a gift for graduation or personalised presents for kids then look no further. The variety and quality of gifts available here is excellent.

This is a sponsored post but all thoughts and opinions are my own.

Why we are raising bilingual kids.

17 May 2017

Dear friend,

I have been living in Holland for over 10 years and I still find speaking Dutch a challenge in certain situations but according to Carder's definition (2007) I am bilingual.  I have...

The ability to use two (or more) languages in certain contexts and for certain purposes.
My children are more equal bilinguals, speaking Dutch and English well and reading well in both languages too. I feel proud when I hear them flipping between languages and speaking just as fluently with Dutch or English friends and family. But last weekend someone challenged my thinking... He questioned why I was raising my kids to be bilingual and even went as far to tell me they would have problems in the future. Was he right? I don't think so!

1) We get to share our language. 

When my kids were born I did not have a choice of language I only spoke English. I read lots of books about bilingualism and Hubby and I discussed how we wanted to raise our kids and we opted for the one parent one language approach.

2) We get to share our culture. 

I do this through my language: the rhymes, poems, songs and stories from my own childhood. These things help to form our cultural identity and make us who we are.

I think that to feel at home in your host country you should learn the language (7 reasons to speak dutch) but I never really anticipated how strongly I would want to "hang onto" my own language and culture, to remain true to myself. It is difficult to find a balance between fitting in and remaining you!

3) Our kids can speak with everyone in their family.

I believe it is very important that children have a strong bond with their family and I must admit that I did not want to be their translator every trip home.

4) English is a high value language.

Learning and speaking English in Holland will be of benefit to my kids in the future. I am lucky that my language is highly valued (they will learn English at school) some migrants are still being encouraged to drop their home language in favour of the host country language (especially if their children have any kind of special need).

5) It is easier to learn language at a younger age, preferable from birth.

Note that I didn't say easy, kids are not little sponges, they need to work hard at learning any language. But learning from a young age is certainly easier and being bilingual is just part of who we are.

6) The research tells us that bilingualism is good.

In all honesty, as a professional (I read the books on bilingualism) I knew it had benefits and I never agonised over or doubted any of our choices. We did think about our long term future and we made choices based on what mattered to us, not based on data. But if being bilingual can make my kids smarter, fight off Alzheimer's or improve memory then fantastic!

7) Being bilingual can improve communication and widen social circles.

We ignored the "experts" advice to raise our son as a monolingual, we knew he could learn 'despite' his autism. In fact, I believe being bilingual has improved his communication as he has two vocabulary banks so two frames of reference to help him understand his world. It has also exposed him to more people and different experiences.

You can never understand one language until you understand at least two. - Geoffrey Willans

I am immensely proud of my bilingual family. We can borrow from two amazing cultures and have lots of fun with our languages. My boys are open to new experiences and different ideas therefore they have a wide view of the world. But essentially we are just being us...

Book Corner: Zog

15 May 2017

My book corner choice this month is: Zog by Julia Donaldson.
Illustrations by the amazing Axel Scheffler.

We are massive Julia Donaldson fans and have many of her books. I had no idea that she had written so many (60) and that she started off writing songs for Children's television. Her first book a Squash and a Squeeze was originally a song.

What a good idea! said Zog. Then up and off he flew.

An ode to Anxiety

11 May 2017

Dear Anxiety,

I wish you'd leave...
I wish you'd stop...

I hoped, with every fibre of my being
That you'd never come back!

But you have...

You sit heavy on my chest
Making every breath shallower…

You hide in my brain
Making me fussy, forgetful, unfocused…

You sap all my energy
Ruining my peaceful sleep…

Your filter alters my clear view
To a grainy, dark picture…

Every small setback
you are there, whispering...

Told you so! Stupid!
Idiot! Fool for trying...

The fear takes over
Threatening to cripple me.

Nobody sees, nobody knows!
Because you are my secret...

I fight every day
To keep you hidden from view...

The smile on my face
Showing a different story

The laughter from my lips
Telling everyone I'm fine

The can do attitude
Hiding the feelings of panic...

Taking the lead to show
I'm in control.

Plausible excuses are made
To avoid good friends.

Nobody knows the truth,
I'm keeping up the act.

But look in my eyes
See the panic.

Listen to my voice
Hear the waver.

Feel me jump
At the unexpected.

Running from what's inside
My head is exhausting!

It's time to talk...

I need to thrive
Not just survive!

Catie x

In March 2017, the Mental Health Foundation, conducted a survey to understand the prevalence of self-reported mental health problems in the population.

Key findings
  • Only 13% of people report living with high levels of good mental health.
  • More than 4 in 10 people say they have experienced depression
  • Over a quarter of people say they have experienced panic attacks.
  • Nearly two-thirds of people say that they have experienced a mental health problem. 

Too often, people feel afraid to admit that they are struggling with their mental health. This fear of prejudice and judgement stops people from getting help and can destroy families and end lives... - Heads Together

A significantly high number of special needs parents suffer from depression or anxiety or both but as the parent of a child with autism I was offered very little emotional support. Parents quite simply feel dumped on diagnosis.

Something needs to change! Raising any child is challenging but raising a child with additional issues can be exhausting. Many SEN parents feel immense pressure to become the expert on their child's condition and then feel a failure when they struggle. Quite frankly we were left to sink or swim...

I strongly believe that psychological support should be offered to all parents of newly diagnosed children.

Let's open the dialogue about mental health and help break the stigma! 

Guide to support and services here...

How to have more Family Time

10 May 2017

Dear Friend,

I want time with my kids, I want to: play with, teach, cuddle, laugh, love, treasure and generally just be in the moment with them. But we have very little pure family time and most of it during the week occurs at the end of the day when we are all tired and often less patient. If I work late I get around 1 hour with my boys and that involves eating dinner, getting showered and going to bed, hardly quality time! It feels like there is more and more pressure being placed on our family time, especially as the boys are growing up.

Pressure on Family time is caused by
  • Work: getting the balance between work and home right is very difficult!
  • House work: There is always something to do!
  • Out of school activities: Getting children to DJ lessons, football practice etc.
  • Homework: Children appear to be getting more and more homework. 
  • Social time: Birthday's, drinks after work, meeting a friend etc all takes time. 
  • Appointments: therapy for the big lad, hospital visits, dentist, hairdressers etc

How to have more quality family time
  • Days out: I love family day trips, they are a great way of spending quality time together but they can be pricey. We keep an eye out for vouchers and always check the internet for special reductions before we book. Family passes can also be great value for money e.g. a museum pass, or yearly pass to an indoor playground you visit regularly. 
  • Active time: Going out on bike rides, walking, Swimming, playing in the park, playing football, an afternoon in the forest, walking on the beach etc having a dog has made us a more active family too.
  • Eat together: We eat 99% of our evening meals all together at the dining table. It is a great time to chat and catch up with each other especially on a day that I work.
  • Play games together: because the big man can not engage in imaginary or creative plan we invested in board games and regularly grab one to play after dinner.
  • Cook dinner or bake together: If your kids are older you can get them involved in baking and making the dinner too. 
  • Family agenda: I have moved on to an electronic diary and have synced my calendar with hubby's so we can see all the planned appointments, events etc When your children are older you can include their agenda's and then plan in family time for everyone
  • Read/study together: there is something really special about the closeness of sharing a book and engaging in the magic of a good story together. I often work alongside the big lad. I can then help without it feeling like I am interfering.
  • Take away the screens: we have a screen free time every day after dinner but this is definitely a challenge for us with two computer mad boys.
  • Build in quality time: Be there for them only no distractions for at least 1/2 an hour a day. Timetable this out and don't get distracted by household tasks, telephones etc this is 100% their time to do what they want with you. 
  • Family fun night: make one night a week your family fun night.
  • Create traditions: the first night of a holiday is always family time and we always have a gourmet together (cooking at the table on a hot plate)

How much real family time do you get each week? Do you think it is important?

Parenting from a special perspective: Joseph and his Amazing Spectrum Coat

8 May 2017

Ever wondered what it is really like to parent from a special perspective? Parent to a Special Needs Child? Where do you turn for help? What challenges do you face? What has surprised you? What have you learned? Every month I will be featuring one of my brilliant fellow SEND bloggers and sharing their reflections on raising a child with special needs. 

Welcome Tina. 

I’m Tina and I am mum to one 8 year old boy with autism, step-parent to 2 children aged 9 and 10 and a semi-decent partner to one long suffering bloke. I work full-time within the NHS and try very hard to be everything to everyone and sometimes it just doesn’t work out as I planned. Such is life!

1. When did you first realise your child has autism?

I cannot recall the specific time but I would say around the age of 2 when the Health Visitor referred me to the Speech & Language Therapist. I trained as a Nursery Nurse and knew what they were alluding to from the questions that were being asked.

2. How did you feel when you found out that your child has autism?

Heartbroken. I hear of stories of relief but I was honestly and truthfully broken. I felt like someone had taken all of my hopes and dreams away with one label and then began a long grieving process.

3. Where did you first turn for help?

My best friend. My husband and I had separated only 3 months previously and as much as we probably needed to get through it together, I couldn’t speak to him about it. I needed someone a little further away from the situation to guide me through it.

4. What advice would you give a parent who suspects or has just found out that their child has autism?

Don’t be ashamed of your feelings no matter what they may be. Just as our children are all different, we as individuals deal with these situations very differently too. It may be you need time to digest then go away and absorb everything you can about it or it may be that you march on regardless. There are no right and wrong ways, only what is right for you.

5. What exactly is autism? Did you know what it is when it was first diagnosed?

Autism is a spectrum disorder that affects individuals in very different ways but broadly speaking it is a triad of impairments that usually affect someone on the autistic spectrum; communication, interaction and imagination. I knew very little about and had my own preformed ideas about what it actually meant - most of it wrong!

6. What are the biggest challenges facing your child and your family?

Communication - most people do not understand when I say that he can speak but struggles to communicate. A two-way conversation rarely occurs, it’s usually one sided.

7. What has been the greatest help for you, your child and your family in overcoming these challenges?

Belief. I don’t doubt that we have had support from professionals along the way but I know that our positive attitude to accept nothing and challenge the preconceived ideas of others has got Joseph to where he is today.

8. What has surprised you the most about raising a child with autism?

My inner strength. There are days that I feel that life is just bloody shit and wonder how I will continue but I do. My son’s challenges frustrate me as much as I am sure they do him but for every one he faces and overcomes, he makes me incredibly proud. He is still a child with a personality and we get on each other’s tits just like any ‘normal’ parent/child relationship. He is very much like me and I think we clash!!!

9. What’s the main bit of/the best advice you’d give another parent who has a child with autism?

Don’t try and be superwoman/man. You are human and you are allowed to have off days and it’s ok to admit that there are times you find it difficult to cope. Don’t ever feel that you can’t hold your hand up and say you need emotional help.

10. Generally, what have you learnt about parenting, life, people or children from your experiences as a parent of a child with additional needs?

There are people in life who can be incredibly insensitive without even realising it but equally there are people around me who have really stepped up to the plate and shown me how lucky I am to have an array of friends who will always be there to support me. It’s harder for those with children without a disability to understand but unless you put the effort in, how will they ever? Just as you would be offended if someone thought all people with autism are the same, not all parents of children with autism are the same. Don’t ever make an assumption.

Tina writes at Joseph and his amazing Spectrum coat. I feel that she brings an honesty to the world of autism writing and that she explains their experiences with humour too. Pop over and take a look...
Thank you so much for taking part in the series Tina! Loved your answer to number 9. I know this is something I struggled with at the beginning as I felt I needed to take on the world! You are not alone...

One moment in time with Tara Neale

1 May 2017

Welcome to one moment in time, a guest posts series, where bloggers share the stories behind special or significant photographs. Joining me for the first week is the lovely Tara Neale, you can find Tara over at the Frugalfam's blog where she hopes you find something that will help your family to save money, eat healthier, and just enjoy your time together.

Not a lick of make-up. The grey showing through at the roots. Comfortable clothes. Exhausted beyond belief and dark circles under my eyes to prove it. Not exactly glamour shots, folks!

But this is still one of my favourite photographs of me with my life partner. We had been together a little more than a month and this is one of the first photographs of us together. Because it says it all…

Life is a roller coaster!

And no amount of money or good looks or intelligence can smooth out all those highs and lows…not to say they can’t help sometimes. Even the best, prettiest and richest have their troubles.

Goodness knows I had had mine. I was fifty-one. Twice married. Six children. The only one of whom still lived at home was high-functioning autistic. I was a struggling romance writer who had given up on love.

Then he came into my life. I swear if I ever actually wrote our real-life love story, I could not dream up a hero more perfect for us. He was and still is my Prince Charming. A man who not only loved me, but has the patience of a saint with my daughter. Honestly, no one would believe it even if I could find the words to describe…magic.

That day was a final ‘test’ of sorts. We had already woken up early and travelled hours by train. Then we had dragged the special needs buggy all over the amusement park in the wake of my daughter and her carer.

To top that off…we both HATE roller coasters. But my daughter begged and pleaded. So together we climbed abroad…the kiddie one. Yes, that picture is taken on a children’s ride. But the terror on my face is genuine.

Thing is…that if life is like that roller coaster…ups and downs, travelling past so quickly that you lost your stomach and your nerve on the last curve, and all you can do is hold on tight and do your best not to…

Well, if life is like that roller coaster…then there is no one else in this world that I want in the car with me. No one else I want to hold to so tightly.

It has been almost a year since that photo was taken. And we have had our ups and downs, but we have managed through the whole ride to hold tightly to one another. Tighter even than that day.

So yes, life maybe a roller coaster, but it’s not so bad when you have the right man on the ride with you to hold onto. For dear life.

I love you more today than I did then, my beloved Cookie Monster.

What a great analogy and Tara is right when life has thrown me some twists and turns or flipped us upside down I have been very glad to hold my lovely hubby's steady hand too. 

Read more from Tara here...

Tara Neale: Homemaker Blogger Mother HomeEducation RadicalUnschooler of Autistic Neurodivergent daughter with Pathological Demand Avoidance. Meet our CrazyFamily.

Follow her on Twitter: @HomeCrazzyHome or Facebook: Tara Neale

Photography @My_Dutch_Angle

©spectrum mum ~ ( 2014 - present day. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to spectrum mum with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
© Spectrum Mum. Design by FCD.