Wondering how you can wean your kid off sugar? Or how to get through a family trip without caving in to the shrill backseat demands for Happy Meals? You’re not alone.
To get some answers to these and other questions, we turned to the real experts: parents. We posted on WebMD’s parenting message boards and asked our readers for some of their best parenting tips. Here are their top tips.
1. How can you prevent your child from becoming hooked on sugar?
We do not keep cookies or junk food in the house, so our daughter’s sugar intake is limited to what is in breads and crackers and naturally in fruit and 100% fruit juice.
- If I give my son anything sweet, it's usually sugar-free. They make some really yummy candy, syrup and other things that are sugar-free and he loves them!
- I don't really think sugar is that big an issue, as long as its natural sugar and in smaller doses. I don't want my daughter to have any artificial sweetener.
- We tell our son how sugars affect his body and don't give him the good energy you get from healthy foods. He has also had a tummy ache after too much cake. We took advantage [of that] and explained how too much sugar makes you feel crummy.
I don't make a big deal out of NOT letting my daughter have chocolate, so it's not some off-limits "forbidden fruit.”
- I am more inclined to make sure my kids are learning to make healthy choices (i.e. grapes for a snack instead of chips) than [to worry about their] sugar intake.
2. Without being too severe, how can you prevent your kids from getting spoiled?
We limit gift-giving and insist that our daughter is gentle with her toys. We teach her that it's important to "do nice" with her books and toys so that she values them and cares for them, as opposed to feeling like they are disposable and replaceable.
- On the whole, I'm trying to teach my son to ask nicely, to say “please” and “thank you.” But he also needs to understand and learn that [even if] he says “please” and asks nicely, he can't always have what he asks for.
- I don't think [my kids are spoiled.] I'm not sure it's possible to spoil twins -- you don't have the time.
I don't believe in withholding things or attention from children to try to avoid "spoiling" them. In my experience, that practice can lead to adults who place too much value on material things, because they felt short-changed as children.
- Basically, to prevent spoiling, we set limitations and don't give in. I will let my daughter throw a huge public tantrum before giving into her demands for a toy, or candy, or whatever else it may be.
- In my book spoiling ... isn't loving. It is an easy answer, a palliative, that avoids tougher issues and lessons. My son needs to know that in the world, as an adult,he isn't going to get everything and anything he wants just because. We are teaching him to be patient, giving, and loving. How will it turn out? Ask me in about 40 years.
3. How do you discipline your kids?
Time outs. I don't like spanking. I was spanked and I resented the heck out of my parents for doing it.
- [Using humor] can break those difficult moments that could degenerate. If you can laugh, you can avoid getting angry.
- We keep a fairly steady schedule so that our son knows what to expect. We have strong personal self-control and act as role models to teach him self-control and its value. He knows that if we say something, we follow through on it.
- Sometimes we just let the consequences of what our daughter is doing do the disciplining -- like if she puts her paper doll in the toilet she obviously doesn't get to play with the paper doll anymore. She's learning that every action she takes has a consequence, be it good or bad.
We do "spank" with a swat on the thighs, but not in anger. Our son gets a warning, then is told again, and [then] we ask if he wants a spanking and count to three. We rarely get past two before he complies.
4. What are your child’s favorite healthy but simple snack foods?
- My daughter loves apple slices. She'll take them over a piece of candy any day.
- I've never been one to [cut] pears into rabbit [shapes] etc., so I don't have many cutesy ideas. My kids love homemade muffins, cornbread, fruit salad, scones, etc. I make several baked items at once and then freeze the batches. This allows me to offer them variety throughout the month. (We don't have to eat ALL of the muffins in two days.)
Dried fruit like apples, plums, apricots, raisins, cranberries, and even blueberries, too.
- Any fruits. And we use a good quality yogurt as a dip – my son loves to dip things.
Sliced cucumbers with some lemon juice, lightly salted.
5. Do your kids get school lunch, or do you pack them something healthy at home?
- If my kids really want to buy lunch, I will probably [only] allow that once a week or so, unless they can show me they will pick a well-rounded meal.
- [As a kid,] I always had a sandwich, a vegetable, and a granola bar. For my son, I plan to be a bit more creative than my mom was. An ideal lunch for him would be a hard-boiled egg, spinach and cheese square, small pasta salad (made with a homemade vinaigrette dressing), and for desert some berries with yogurt.
I will always pack a lunch for my children. After [all the greasy food that] I ate at school lunch, they will always have something from home.
We don't do lunch boxes. The school canteen does balanced, tasty meals.
- Once children hit their teens, they're often making their own eating choices. What steps do you take to ensure they're getting a healthy lunch as often as possible? Start when they are young.
6. How can you take your kids grocery shopping without going bonkers?
- I do my best to have a list arranged by aisles in the store, and to have my coupons in the order of the aisles -- anything to avoid extra time at the store.
- I use an online grocery delivery service.
I go straight to the toy aisle and get my son a toy. Then I put it back at the end of the trip -- when he's not looking!
I collect a bunch of twist ties in the fruit and vegetables section. The boys make them into monsters and vehicles and play with those while we shop.
- I love shopping with my kids. They read labels and compare prices. I teach them how to pick nice produce and meat, and how to check expiration dates. People who have problems shopping with their kids should raise their expectations and start teaching their kids more about it.
I leave my daughter with her Dad.
7. When you’re on the go, is eating healthy possible – even at a fast food restaurant?
- We take apples and bananas, crackers, cheese cut into cubes, diced ham, grape tomatoes, and water. We travel a lot, so we've tested just about everything. We want healthy, not too messy, and agreeable with tummies in the car.
- [In fast food restaurants], instead of fries ... lots of times my daughter will ask for a salad with apple slices.
- I bring snacks, but when we're traveling, there is enough other stuff to plan out. I don't sweat a few meals at McDonald's in order to bring down the stress level and make our trip more fun!
- Sandwiches, peanut butter and crackers, fruit, veggie sticks, nuts, and cottage cheese cups. The more protein, the better satisfied the kids are. If all they eat is empty-calorie foods, they're hungry all the time.
- When we do stop for fast food, it's such a rare event that no effort is made to make the experience healthier -- if my kids want fries, then they shall have them!
We’d like to thank all the WebMD readers who responded for their excellent advice. If you have any other suggestions, go ahead and post them on the WebMD Parenting Message Boards.