Parenting

How Dragons' Den star Manjit Minhas negotiates with her tiny tyrants

The Canadian entrepreneur and mom of two reveals the tactics that work equally well on CEOs and small children.

Calgary’s Manjit Minhas co-founded a distillery at age 19 and grew it into a $220-million business. She also co-owns a production company, serves on several boards and is a co-star of CBC’s Dragons’ Den. None of that happens without becoming an expert negotiator. Here’s how she handles negotiations with her toughest adversaries: her two daughters, ages nine and 12.

Are there any tried-and-true business strategies that you use when negotiating with your kids?

So many! One is the “take it or leave it” method. Sometimes my husband and I play good cop/bad cop—I’m always the bad cop. Other times I’ll offer a bogey, which is an issue you pretend is important to you, but really isn’t. Or we use a “door in the face,” where you make an unreasonable demand so a second, smaller offer is likely to be accepted.

Do your kids ever see through your tactics?

Yes, which is why you need lots of tools you can use.

Are you open to counter-offers?

A few months ago, the days were getting cold but my younger daughter wanted to still wear summer dresses. She surprised me and said, “Mom, I’ll layer.” I said, “OK, that’s a deal.” More recently, our older daughter was invited to an event at her new school that was going to go beyond her bedtime. She brought her points: It was a chance to make new friends, and leaving early would be awkward. I got where she was coming from, so we settled on a time.

Do you ever walk away from a negotiation?

When strong emotions come up—anger, tears—I often walk away. Then I do my homework and come back with a plan.

What’s the most important skill a negotiator can have?

Listening. People often just want to be heard.

How is negotiating at work different from at home?

At work I run a democracy. At home I run a dictatorship!

Parenting

How parents are coping with yet another round of virtual school

Parents are worried for their kids' education, livid at the government and stressed beyond belief. A few Toronto parents explain what they're going through.

Liza Egbogah

Manual osteopath

“When I first heard about the return to virtual school, my first thought was—pardon my language—F the Ontario government. I was incredibly angry. My son, Bemi, is in Grade 2, and last year, there wasn’t a single Covid case in his class. His school took all the necessary precautions over the summer to keep the students safe from Covid: there are only 15 kids per class, and they keep a row of windows open for ventilation. But because other schools can’t do the same thing, we all get cut short. I don’t consider virtual learning to be real school. The first time around, Bemi was taught by a number of supply teachers who would tell him to go on YouTube or do a math game for an hour.

“I work at my clinic or shoe office every day, and my husband, who’s in finance, works from home in his basement office. That means means our seven-year-old is essentially alone without supervision for most of the day. My husband is supposed to go back to the office in March. If Bemi is still in virtual school, I’m facing the possibility of having to reduce my clinic hours, which will be a financial hit.

“It’s basically impossible to keep Bemi engaged in virtual school. He will leave his iPad and start playing games, or leave his room and go play basketball. He’s tech-savvy, so sometimes he turns the camera off and blames it on technical difficulties. I take the approach that as long as he’s doing something creative and using his brain, it’s fine. He creates things like airplanes and pulley systems, and makes robots or buildings out of cardboard.

“He’s much more irritable doing virtual learning. When he’s at school, he gets to run around and be with his friends, but when he’s on the computer all day, he gets bored and frustrated, sometimes to the point where he throws stuff and yells. Now I can’t even tell him that spending all day in front of a screen is bad for him, because he has to do it for school.

“At my work, I can see the physical toll this is having on parents. They’re coming in with headaches, migraines, neck pain, back pain, you name it. Before the pandemic, when I saw patients get to this point, I would recommend they quit their job. Now there’s nothing I can say. It’s really dark.”


Tyler Clark Burke

Artist

“My husband and I have two kids, aged eight and nine, and virtual school usually goes poorly for us. My son spent much of the last year of virtual school on the carpet, lying on the floor, bored, staring at the ceiling. Over time I realized the lack of in-person socialization affected him socially, although I didn’t notice it until he went back to school and found that he was suddenly shy around new people.

“When the government announced they were postponing school by just two days, I laughed because it was just so comical. This whole thing has been a slow-moving train wreck. I’m angry at the way things Stephen Lecce and Doug Ford have handled things. A month ago it was so obvious what needed to happen: red alert, shut everything down. The last-minute decision-making is inexcusable. At the same time, I’m relieved the kids don’t have to go back to school because it didn’t feel right sending them back. I knew that everyone in our house would get sick and we’d be going through a never-ending cycle of symptoms and isolation.

“During virtual school, I’m basically just tech support for my kids and ended up completely losing my own sense of purpose and self-worth. As a parent, I’m so exhausted that it’s almost impossible to stand up and protest. We just don’t have a voice.”


Aga Maksimowska

Teacher

“When I heard the virtual school announcement, I felt a mixture of anger and relief. Anger because our government is reactive instead of proactive, and relief because I knew it was the right move. It’s not safe to have everyone inside right now. And yet having four people at home during the day—me, my husband and our two daughters—in a small two-bedroom home is tough. We have to schedule who gets to sit where in the house right down to the minute; the bedroom desk is reserved for whoever is in a live meeting. I’m a teacher and guidance counsellor, and my husband works at a non-profit. Both of our jobs can be quite sensitive. I often have Zoom meetings with students where I’m discussing material that I don’t want my seven- and nine-year-old to hear.

“My older daughter loves online school and jokes that all she wants to do is stay home watching movies and playing video games. My younger daughter hates it. She’s dreadfully bored by the slow pace. The teacher talks, and students can only talk one at a time. Last year, she cried every single morning before logging on. I would give her a pep talk even though I usually felt the same way. As a teacher, I want to cry before I Zoom into class. Nobody wants to be there, and everything is horrible on Zoom. It’s hard for teachers because we have to hold down the fort, despite seeing the dead eyes and kids pretending to pay attention while playing on their phones.

“As a teacher I’ve seen a lot of challenging behaviour in class. Kids can’t seem to listen or follow instructions. They are struggling with judgment and decision-making and confidence. I give them assignments and they’ll ask me a million questions on how to do it instead of just interpreting the instructions on their own, as they would have done a couple of years ago. Our children need much more freedom than we’re giving them right now. Much more.”


 Photo by Cristian Ordóñez

Brian St. Denis

Arts administrator

“If there’s anything I have learned over the course of the pandemic, it’s that everything is going to be announced incredibly last-minute. Parents have to think several steps ahead of the government announcements because we can’t count on any of them. I’m hoping that, over these two weeks, the post-holiday caseload works itself out. I’m tired of hearing government officials say they’ve done everything they can to protect kids when two days later they pivot to a shutdown. As a parent, I’m looking for as much certainty as I can get around my schedule so I can keep working. Having my kids at home feels like the easiest option, even though it means I’ll be working nights and weekends in order to accommodate the child-care burden during the day.

“My eight-year-old is a homebody, so he enjoys virtual school, but the longer he’s home the more he prefers it. I’d rather get him outside his comfort zone and see him socializing with more kids. I wouldn’t say he is fully engaged with virtual school either. He does it in his bedroom, so he usually finds something else to keep him occupied. If he wants to play with Lego for 20 minutes to get off the screen, whatever. As long as he can read and has opportunities to work on his basic math and writing skills, that’s good enough for me. I’m hoping this will only last for two weeks, but after what happened last year I’m expecting it to last longer.”


Joy Henderson

Child and youth care practitioner

“In our household, we’re one device short. There are five people—myself, my partner and our three kids—and only four laptops. I’ll be giving up my laptop during the day so that my kids can learn. I’m working on a book and was planning on doing a lot of writing this semester, but I don’t think that will be happening anymore. I get a lot of speaking gigs and consulting work through social media, so being offline during those sweet-spot hours is going to make it difficult to promote my work.

“We faced a lot of AV challenges during the first two rounds of virtual schooling, trying to get mics and headsets working. After getting scolded by a teacher for having a broken mic, my 11-year-old just gave up on handing in assignments and participating in his French class. My two older kids haven’t had a normal year of high school since the pandemic started. They’re not able to participate in extracurricular activities. My oldest wants to get a job and do driving lessons, but everything is on pause. It’s frustrating for them to not be able to hit those milestones.

“I was exasperated by the latest government announcement. It’s yet another setback, and the government keeps coming up with half-hearted measures to keep schools safe. They’re so focused on the economy, and it’s just not sustainable. As a parent, I have to monitor my kids’ moods to ensure they’re in a relatively healthy place. It’s my job to ascertain what the new normal is, because it’s certainly not the normal we grew up with.”

Parenting

Should kids get to spend their money however they want?

Experts say yes—even if it hurts to see them blow $40 on a soon-to-be-lost Pokémon card.

Toronto mom Blake Eligh was determined to teach her kids key financial lessons before they had to go out into the world on their own. She did this, in part, by giving her two daughters decision-making power over their own money from a young age. She and her husband set the girls up with both an allowance and a savings plan when they were eight and 11 years old. Now her kids are 12 and 15 and Eligh only wishes she’d started earlier. “Giving them a chance to learn about spending money at this point allows them to make financial mistakes when it doesn’t really count.”

But what do the experts say? If Grampa hands your kid some cash or they’ve saved up a bunch from weekly allowance, should they get to spend it all however they want?

Learning financial literacy the hard way

When it comes to teaching your kids about money, there’s a simple rule to remember: Kids learn best from their own actions. That’s why Nancy Bisogno, a district leader at TD Bank who’s worked with elementary schools on programs that teach kids about money, encourages parents to give their kids as much financial freedom as they can. “There are two big lessons that can come out of letting a kid spend money how they like,” says Bisogno, who is based in Stratford, Ont. “One, which we can all relate to, is buyer’s remorse—when we purchase something before realizing that it’s not worth it. The second is realizing, I can’t afford this. This puts the cost of things in perspective, which kids don’t always understand until they have their own money to spend.”

Chelsea Brennan, a former hedge fund investor and the founder of Boston-based Smart Money Mamas, acknowledges how hard it can be for parents to watch their kids waste money or be demoralized by their poor spending decisions. But it’s an important lesson to learn while the dollar value is still relatively low. “We want to stop them from making those mistakes, but we need them to experience making a wrong decision,” she says. Eligh’s daughter Grace once saved up for a particular doll with articulated joints, which she had been coveting for a long time. “Within a week, both the hands had come off irreparably. That was really disappointing for her because she’d spent a lot of money,” Eligh recalls. Still, Grace learned not to buy that brand of doll again, and to think hard before spending that much money on one single toy.

Starting money lessons early

Brennan suggests starting an allowance as young as four or five years old, or when kids start asking for money or wanting to buy things from the store. “Begin by giving them some spending money, and then when they get a little bit older, start spreading it out into different kinds of goals,” says Brennan.

In Eligh’s house, they started the allowances off small at $2 and $5 per week, just enough to buy a treat or a trinket at the dollar store, and have recently bumped it up to $5 and $10. Once your child is able to get the hang of how spending money works, you can set up a system that includes spending and saving. For Eligh’s kids, one-third goes directly into a savings account and the other two-thirds can be spent however the girls like. “If they want to invest those two-thirds in gumballs, that’s fine. They can do whatever they want with that portion of the allowance. But the stuff in the bank—we need to have some discussion about how that will be spent.” Brennan’s young sons divide allowance up into thirds: a third to spend, a third to save for larger purchases, and a third to give to someone else.

Values added

While we shouldn’t micromanage every dollar our kids spend, that doesn’t necessarily mean they get carte blanche either. Brennan talks about what she calls a family’s money values—and that it’s important for parents to decide what their own financial mindset is before they guide their kids. “What values do you want to focus on through your spending? What emotions are you trying to create with your money? Are we prioritizing education? Are we prioritizing feeling charitable or feeling joyful?” she says. Those values can then help establish the parameters for how your kids are allowed to spend their own money. Some parents will insist their kids set aside a certain amount for charity (or for “sharing,” as Brennan calls it with her own young kids), for example. Or they might enforce a hard ban on specific types of items, such as toy weapons, violent video games or makeup.

Financial growth

As kids get older, the basic premise of letting them spend their own money within the boundaries of the family’s values doesn’t really change. What does change with age and independence is the type of things they want to spend their money on. Brennan sees this as a great opportunity to give your children more responsibility for their spending alongside, perhaps, a more generous allowance. “When we give our kids money, one of the things that’s helpful is telling them what that money is for,” says Brennan. With younger kids between the ages of three and eight, say, you might tell them their money is for toys or treats.

As your children move into the tween years, you might want to expand that to include outings with friends. And then, by the time your kids are teens, they may also become responsible for paying for a cell phone or subscription services, for example. “That might mean increasing their allowance by taking money that you would have spent on them and putting it in their hands. Saying, for instance, we budget this much a year for your clothes. We expect you to have a winter coat and so many pairs of pants and an outfit for holidays, but you decide what that is,” Brennan says. This gives the opportunity to start budgeting and thinking about bills before they’re out in the world on their own.

Modern tools for modern families

Cash is the best learning tool for younger kids because they can see their money accumulate and count it themselves. But Eligh found that keeping enough cash on hand for allowances was harder than she anticipated. So for the sake of consistency, her family keeps a binder in which they track money coming in (from allowances) and out (via online and in-store card payments) and then they settle up with cash every so often.

Older kids might like to keep a bit of cash on them as well, but there comes a time when having their own debit card makes sense. By the time kids are navigating their neighbourhoods on their own, around 12 or so, Bisogno recommends setting them up with a debit card. Don’t forget to train them how to use it safely.

Ultimately, we want our kids to make their money mistakes when they’re still young and the stakes are low. “One of my core beliefs is that money is involved in everything we do,” says Brennan. “Every time we choose to spend money, we vote on what kind of world we want to live in, what kind of businesses we want to support, what kind of policies we want to be enacted. And we can show that to our kids from a young age because they’re actually really good at understanding that.”

Need help managing allowance and chores? Your phone is your friend:

Mydoh: RBC’s new app teaches kids about money basics, helps them earn money from chores and offers advice on spending it wisely. It all starts from a parent account.
RoosterMoney: This virtual chore and money tracker app is nicely designed and easy to use. An upgraded version lets you tie allowance to chores and set an interest rate for savings.
iAllowance: Kids earn rewards for completing chores and parents can set recurring allowances that will pay into any of the unlimited “piggy banks” you set up.

How parents should handle larger cash gifts

Grandma surprises your kids by handing them a $100 bill. What do you do next? When kids are given a decent chunk of change, it’s important to have a consistent rule for how that money should be accounted for. Smart Money Mamas founder Chelsea Brennan says many parents she speaks to are fine with letting their kids spend $20 or so however they want, but prefer to confiscate larger amounts to deposit them directly into savings. She’s not a fan of this approach. “When you do that, you’re taking away their autonomy,” she says. “Some kids can build a mental relationship that saving is my money disappearing, and that’s not going to be helpful in adulthood.” In her house, her kids can spend half of all cash gifts however they want, and then the other half gets divided into thirds (spend, save, give away). Other rules for spending cash gifts can work too, as long as you’re consistent. What you want to avoid is kids getting excited over a large gift and then feel like somebody has taken their money away.

Parenting

A guide to parenting fat kids

How do you raise a fat, healthy, happy child? As a fat kid who grew into a fat adult, here's what would have been helpful to me.

My mom and I never really talk about how she mothered her fat child. It’s too painful for both of us. But after she read a blog post of mine, she called me.

“I’m so sad,” she said. “I experienced the same issues with being an overweight child, and I didn’t want my daughter to go through the same experiences. But the steps I took just made it worse.”

I get it: It’s impossible to have a child and not feel a primal need to protect them from painful things you experienced in your childhood. But in trying to pre-emptively protect me, she ended up being the first person to teach me to distrust and feel ashamed of my body.

I don’t blame her or hold a grudge. Parents do the best they can with the tools they have. When my mother was parenting me, there was no guidebook for how to raise a fat child. The only thing she knew how to do was teach me to protect myself by thinking about what people might tease me for, to sign me up for sports, to listen to the paediatricians telling her I should lose weight, and to encourage me to eat less and move more. In my case, it was trying to fight city hall. I come from a family of large, stocky people. I was going to be fat no matter what she did.

So, since no guidebook was available for her, this is my attempt to help parents who are where she was. How do you raise a fat, healthy, happy child? I’m not a doctor or a psychologist. I’m just a fat kid who grew into a fat adult, and this is what would have been helpful to me.

1. Teach them about body diversity.

One of the most painful things I experienced as a fat kid was the sheer helplessness I felt being in my body. Thin was the default. All the kids around me were thin. My siblings were thin. My mom was thin. I was not. And it really and truly was not my fault; fatness is hard-coded into my DNA. And yet I felt like my body was failing me.

But what would have happened if I had been told that my body was good as it was? What if I had learned about body diversity as a child instead of in my late 20s? As a society, we have become much better at teaching children about the differences in humans, but we rarely include weight diversity in these lessons.

Raise your children to understand that thin is not the default, but just one point on a vast spectrum of different body sizes. Some bodies are thin. Some bodies are fat. Some bodies are muscular and burly. Some bodies are fat in some places while being thin in others. And they are all good.

When your child asks, “Why is that person fat?” or “Why are you fat?” or even “Why am I fat?” don’t tell them it’s mean to ask that question. Tell them that it’s just one way for a body to be. Explain to them that no two bodies are alike, and some bodies are bigger than others, just like some bodies are smaller than others. Teach them that no body has more value than another. Tell them all bodies are good bodies. Ask them, “Isn’t it amazing that there are so many different ways to be?”

2. Teach them to trust their bodies and their hunger.

Or, rather, don’t teach them to distrust their bodies. Children are born with inherent body trust. They know, without trying, what their bodies want. Babies know when they are hungry, when they are ready to roll over and hold their own heads up, and to stand and walk for the first time. Distrust is taught.

It happens slowly. Sometimes, distrust is sown by unavoidable things, like when a child feels confident they can jump from a great height and instead ends up falling and hurting themselves. That kind of distrust, the kind that teaches caution, is useful. But sometimes distrust is sown by parents questioning things that a child inherently knows—for instance, when a parent questions whether their child is really hungry, or really needs a second helping or snack. That kind of distrust can be poison. And fat children learn that distrust much more often and more harshly than thin children.

In fat children, this is the beginning of disconnecting mind from body. It’s how children develop fraught relationships with food and eating and internalize shame around food.

I’m in my 30s and I am still working on re-establishing the connection between my mind and body. By the time I was a teenager, I no longer felt the normal cues of hunger and fullness. I had my hunger interrogated as a child and learned to interrogate it myself. And soon I had no sense if I was hungry or full. I turned to diets to teach me how to eat, because I no longer had a clue and didn’t trust my own hunger and body. This pulled me further and further away from these natural cues.

Allow your children, even when that child lives in a fat body, to trust themselves.

3. Let them walk away from activities they don’t enjoy, without guilt or shame.

It’s great to encourage kids’ interests in organized movement. But where it gets tricky, and where it can have a lifelong impact, is when they are not allowed to quit activities they don’t enjoy.

I get it. Organized sports? Expensive as hell. Dance class? By the time you pay tuition and buy the leotards, tights and ballet slippers, it’s not just a class, it’s an investment. It can also seem like a great time to teach kids a lesson about sticking with a commitment.

But childhood is a time of exploration. And when it comes to trying out new activities, kids are not going to like everything they try. And when it comes to exercise and movement in particular, the ramifications of forcing them to stick with it can be long-lasting and severe. It can turn an innocent attempt to try something new into something that feels like punishment. And that, in turn, can make physical activity in general feel like a punishment.

So here’s what parents of fat kids can do: Let your kids try new things. If they enjoy it, awesome! But if they come to you and say they don’t want to go anymore, ask questions, ask them why—but let them walk away.

An illustration of a scale weighing a cake on one side and bananas on the other for a story on raising fat kids

Illustration: Lucila Perini

4. Don’t restrict their diets, and don’t moralize food.

This is hard for parents of fat children: Year after year, when they take their children to the paediatrician, they are told their child is too heavy. And usually the advice is “eat less and move more.” (Can you hear me sighing through the text here? Because I’m loudly and dramatically sighing.)

The trouble is, restriction makes people hungry, and it can lead to weird and disordered behaviour around food. When you restrict specific foods, and frame foods as “good” and “bad,” it’s hard for kids to understand. It usually results in fear of food, and a feeling that their own natural desire for certain foods that are “bad” is, in fact, what’s “bad.” It creates guilt and shame.

When my mother attempted to restrict my diet, I started hiding food. I hoarded snacks in my room. I snuck into the kitchen at night and ate in secret. I became afraid of eating in front of people. I often ate two meals—the smaller “healthy” meal of “good” foods I ate in front of my mother, and the secret meal I ate later when I was still hungry and obsessing over the food I actually wanted to eat.

Fat kids should, in fact, be offered an abundance of food. Make all kinds of food available to them. Encourage a love of food. Have them cook with you and develop positive memories of food while teaching them valuable skills that will help them throughout their lives. Add foods—don’t take them away.

And be neutral about food. All food can be part of a healthy, well-lived life. Teach them that food is just food. Eating broccoli will not put a halo around anyone’s head, and eating ice cream or chocolate or greasy fast food is not “indulgent” or “bad” or “sinful” or “decadent.” It’s all just food. This doesn’t mean that if your kid wants ice cream for dinner every night, you should give them ice cream for dinner every night. This is not about adhering to your child’s food whims; it’s just striking a balance of providing thoughtful guidance about how to eat for nourishment and setting them up to have a positive relationship with food and their bodies.

We know that restrictive diets for kids don’t work. They usually do nothing but f*ck up their relationship with food, with themselves and with their parents.

5. Work on your own f*cked-up relationship with food and your body.

Your kids see you. They watch you. They notice the things you do. You’re their role model for how to be a person. So, if you’re struggling with your own shitty relationship with food and your body, they will absorb that. And, sooner or later, they will start to mirror it right back to you.

It’s not easy. But it’s essential for parents to model a positive relationship with food and their bodies. This means eating intuitively, no food moralizing at the dinner table, no talking shit about your own body or anyone else’s, no dieting, and no limiting your own experiences and enjoyment because of your body size (for example, not joining your kids in the pool or at the beach because you don’t want to be seen in a swimsuit).

This might require some soul-searching and maybe even some therapy. But it will be worth it, not just for your kid, but for you.

You can’t possibly hope to raise a happy, confident fat kid if you are personally torn up about your own weight. You just can’t. You can’t make your kid believe that they are worthy, good, loved and enough at any size if you can’t believe it about yourself. You can’t save your kid from a lifetime of dieting and misery while you’re doing keto or Weight Watchers or googling weight loss surgery to lose weight yourself. You can’t teach them to trust their bodies when you don’t trust your own. And you can’t instill in them the idea that all bodies are good bodies when you associate your body and your child’s fat body with pain, humiliation and torment.

6. Don’t try to protect your child from bullying by accidentally assuming the role of the bully.

For me, it started when I was a chubby kid who wanted to buy a bikini in my favourite colours. “What if kids make fun of your stomach?” asked my mom, frowning.

It had never occurred to me before. It was, honestly, the first time I had really considered my fat belly at all. And all it took was a quick disapproving glance and a question to create 30-odd years of intense insecurity about my belly.

I get that this is hard. When you have kids, you’re seeing them through the eyes of all the schoolyard taunts you endured. So, letting them leave the house in the outfit they love but might get them teased in feels like sending a lamb to slaughter. But when you try to stop them, you assume the role of the bully. You are bullying your child to prevent them from being bullied.

And here’s why that’s wrong:
• It lends validity to the theoretical bully’s taunts.
• It places the onus on your child to avoid bullying, rather than on other children not to be bullies.
• Your child might not get bullied or taunted at all, which means that you’ve crushed their confidence on an assumption.
• It can be the first time your child has ever considered that something about them is a thing they could be teased or bullied about, building new insecurities.
• It erodes their trust in you as their parent and protector.
• It chips away at their self-confidence.
• It teaches them to consider what others might think or say ahead of what they want and how they feel.
• It can make them feel hurt, ashamed, embarrassed and unsafe.
• And really I could just go on and on forever.

This requires abandoning some control. Your child might get teased. They might come home in tears. But you should be a safe harbour. You should be a place of acceptance, safety and love. And you can talk to them about bullying and how to deal with people who are mean to them, and you can reinforce that their body is their own, belongs to them, and it’s not OK for anyone to make fun of it. But you should never, ever imply that they were even remotely at fault or that they are deserving of ill-treatment.

An illustration of a fat kid smiling and floating in the water wearing water wings

Illustration: Lucila Perini

7. Be a fierce advocate for your child with doctors, teachers and other adults.

Fat kids are almost certain to have their weight singled out as a problem by adults. But you, as their parent, need to be your kid’s fiercest advocate.

If your doctor is telling you that your child’s weight is a problem, there are things you can do. Insist that these conversations happen without your child around to hear. Request that your child not be weighed. Request that they provide you with evidence-based medicine and provide scientifically sound information about their concerns and recommendations.

And, if necessary, move to a paediatrician who focuses less on your child’s weight.

Don’t allow them to beat you down into thinking that a higher-weight child is a medical crisis. Don’t allow them to convince you that you must make your child lose weight at any cost. Stand firm in your belief that all bodies are good bodies, and call them on fatphobia and bad information. Arm yourself with knowledge—Lindo Bacon’s book Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight is a great place to start.

Other adults, even ones who are “professionals,” have no right to undermine your intention to raise your child to believe they are good, worthy, valuable and loved at any size. You do not have to listen to paediatricians or school nurses or administrators. Stand. Your. Ground.

8. Teach them about fatphobia, weight bias and why they’re wrong.

Your child is sure to encounter fatphobia at some point in their lives, directly or indirectly. And, like racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and other forms of discrimination and hate, it’s important to talk about it with your child and let them know that it’s wrong.

This can mean pausing a movie and talking about negative depictions of fat people. (I love Harry Potter, but whoa, Nelly, the Dursleys would be a great entry point to talking about how fat people are often portrayed as villains.) This can mean calling out a friend or family member making fatphobic comments about other people’s bodies. This can be sitting down and having tough talks about discrimination your child personally experiences. But it’s important to frame it as what it is: inexcusable, rooted in hatred and fear, and never OK.

9. Expose your child to positive representations of fat people.

Representation is important, so make sure your fat kid has access to media where they are represented. Have conversations with your kids about the representation of fat people in books and movies where fat means villainous, dishonest, lazy, bad, stupid or mean, as well as balancing these portrayals with positive ones.

10. Love and accept them for who they are.

This one should go without saying, but it can be hard for many parents to do in practice. Sometimes fat children can grow up feeling like nothing they do will make their parents prouder than losing weight. I still feel that way sometimes. So it’s important to commit to accepting, supporting and loving your child no matter what—even if they remain fat their whole lives.

When you raise your fat child in an atmosphere of love and acceptance, they may grow into fat adults. But they will grow into confident, capable fat adults, well-equipped to deal with a world that still has a million miles to go toward body liberation. And that, really, is the best any parent can do.

Follow Linda Gerhardt on Instagram @littlewingedpotatoes.

Parenting

Why a social media detox might be just what you need this holiday season

Whether you're a doomscroller, a comparer or someone who lives for "likes", taking a break from social media could make you happier over the holidays.

Last year, Olga Kidisevic decided that she didn’t want to spend the holidays scrolling through social media. 

“I had been really busy at work and I felt like I was addicted to my phone,” explains the Toronto-based children’s book editor. She was also feeling anxious about the pandemic and thought she’d feel better if she stopped reading alarming COVID headlines. But most importantly, she wanted to be more present around her seven-year-old son during his school break. 

Depending on which survey you look at, the average adult spends anywhere from three hours to five hours on their phone a day—and a lot of that time is spent on social media. This has been especially true in the past few years when pandemic restrictions have limited real-life socializing opportunities and when people have turned to their phones to get news and insights about the pandemic. 

There’s another reason people spend a lot of time on their phones: the apps on them are designed to be addictive, says Sheri Madigan, associate professor in the department of psychology at the University of Calgary and Canada Research Chair in Determinants of Child Development. “[These apps] are engineered to persuade us to be engaged, or make us stay engaged,” she says, adding, There’s really good evidence that they’re very habit-forming.” 

But even though we’re on social media all the time, it doesn’t make us happier. The 24/7 news style of Facebook and Twitter can lead to doom scrolling—compulsively reading negative headlines while getting increasingly depressed. And even happy posts from friends can leave you feeling like you’re missing out, or not measuring up. Kidisevic is an amateur photographer, and she says she felt demoralized by seeing the shots other photographers produced. “Seeing these perfect images sometimes made me feel like there was no point in continuing with my own photography because I was so behind or because I could never reach their level of exposure or attention,” she says. 

Kidisevic also felt like her phone was making her document her family’s memories, instead of living them. She wanted to spend her Christmas together with her family—not on her phone. “Christmas is a big deal in our house—we’re both Orthodox Christians,” she says. “I wanted to enjoy my time with my family, with no social media distractions or negativity.” 

She decided to try a social media detox: She deleted her social media apps from her phone, and for the full two weeks of the school holidays she didn’t go on them through her computer either. (But she did keep her messaging apps to keep in touch with some friends who she chatted with regularly.) 

If you’re feeling a similar desire to get away from your phone and social media, the holiday break can be a perfect time. After all, this is when we’re supposed to be making memories, and social media has turned that into documenting memories instead. Scrolling curated feeds by our friends—or even worse, influencers—can make us feel like we’re the only ones whose kids are fighting in front of the TV while everyone else is baking cookies in matching PJs and creating Elf on the Shelf magic every night. 

How phones affect parenting

It’s also worth considering how using social media too much could be affecting your parenting. Being on your phone when your kids are around can lead to what researchers call technoference—meaning it interferes with your ability to communicate with them. 

“You can think of [attention] like a game of tennis, the child will serve up a cue, or a signal, and really what we want parents to do is return that signal,” says Madigan. “And when we’re on our phones, that’s really hard to do.”

When we’re around babies and toddlers, that might mean they’re trying to show us what they’re interested in by gesturing or pointing, and we don’t notice if we’re on a screen. Even once they’re verbal, it can be hard for them to tear us away from our phones. “Research suggests that when parents are on their mobile devices more often, they interact less with their kids, and their interactions tend to be more negative,” says Madigan. Research also suggests that kids whose parents are on their phone more often tend to feel sad and anxious more often and to be more aggressive. 

Mini detoxes can work too

If you want to cut back, but the thought of not posting or checking social media for an extended period seems like way too much, try setting aside an amount of time to ditch your devices every day while your kids are on school holidays or when you’re off work. Maybe you decide you’ll have an outdoor activity that you do together every day and everyone will put away their devices for that time. Or you might have a rule that everyone puts their devices into a box for dinner. Another variation is to delete your social media apps from your phone, but leave them on your computer, so you still have access but they’re not always calling you away. 

Easing back into social media

If you do decide to do a full detox, Madigan advises re-installing the apps one at a time afterwards. This way, you can judge the impact that they have on your life, whether it’s positive or negative

Kidisevic said the first few days into her detox last year, it felt weird to not have her phone, but after that, she felt better. “I didn’t have this thing, this to-do, that’s following me around everywhere and always on my mind,” she said. She feels like her son noticed too, and felt more connected to her. 

She also noticed that when she went out with her family, she was able to be more present in the moment—while before she would have been preoccupied taking pictures and videos. In fact, she liked being off social media so much that she kept it going for six weeks—and she’s going to do it again this year. “It was just nice, over the holidays, after working and being at the computer the whole time and dealing with the whole pandemic, to get a break from all of it,” she says.

Parenting

Why it’s OK to baby your kid

If your older kid is asking for "uppies" or wants you to spoon-feed them their dinner, go for it.

My second child, Edie, was the best baby ever. She slept a lot, and easily. She rarely cried or fussed, and was happy to go anywhere with me, in her baby carrier snuggled against my chest, whether on a subway ride downtown or across the Atlantic for my best friend’s wedding. She truly loved being a baby. She still does, even though she’s five years old.

Sometimes this just means role-playing as the baby in a game of “family” with her sister or friends. Other times I’ll find her physically trying to squeeze into her old baby clothes for kicks. The strangest is when it seems to come out of nowhere. Like when we’re getting ready for school in the morning, and she suddenly starts babbling in baby talk while feigning she’s too helpless to put on her socks. Or when we’re out for a family walk in the evening and she demands I pick her up, using a term I used to find cute—“uppy!”—but now she just feels too old for.  It can be frustrating—like at the dinner table when she insists she can’t feed herself—but also annoying. Why doesn’t my sometimes exceedingly rational and intelligent little girl not want to grow up? 

Apparently, she’s not alone. Jennifer Kolari, a child and family therapist and author of Connected Parenting: How to Raise a Great Kid, says it’s very common for kids from age two to three up to eight or nine or even older to act like a baby (from the affected baby voice to crawling around on the floor) or constantly whine for help with basic tasks. “It drives parents nuts,” she says. 

But according to parenting experts, the baby-like behaviour is actually a sign of a totally normal phase and ignoring it—or disciplining it — could backfire. That’s because if your child is whining and acting like a baby they actually need more attention, not less, says Kolari. She notes that it often happens when a child is moving between different childhood stages and they’re not quite ready for it. Regressions could come out at certain ages or major life transitions, such as starting a new class or school, or welcoming a new baby at home. It can also look different at various stages. A five-year-old could pretend they’re a baby or toddler, while an eight-year-old might behave like a kid a few years younger. 

It can also pop up because they’re tired or hungry, or simply because they enjoy this type of baby play, not just because there’s something difficult going on. Babyish behaviour also doesn’t mean your kid is going to be any less independent in life. “I think parents worry if you give into this behaviour, you’re going to create a giant baby, when it’s actually the opposite. The more connected a child feels, the less they need to do the baby play, or act like a baby.”

Sarah Rosensweet, a peaceful parenting coach, says many children enjoy the feeling of being little and getting nurtured in this way. When parents embrace that, it helps kids feel safe. “Why not fill that need? Kids really do have a strong, natural drive for independence, we don’t have to worry about pushing them towards that.” She also cautions that saying things like, “You’re not a baby, you’re a big kid,” could be a form of shaming, which hurts their feelings, self-worth and relationship with the parent.

Here are some loving-yet-clever strategies to make your big kid’s baby-like behaviour more manageable, and when it might be a sign that something else is going on.

Notice patterns 

Baby-like behaviour often appears during the “witching hour,” between 5 pm to 7 pm, and especially when your kid is tired or hungry. When the explanation is exhaustion, the best solution is bed time, or if it’s too early for that, quiet time. If the explanation is hunger, a snack can help. “With my own daughter, we had a three-bite rule,” says Kolari. “And it had to be a protein. An apple or a cracker wouldn’t do it. Three bites of a protein, like cheese or nuts, and it’s like their computer reboots.” In this scenario, Kolari says the baby-like behaviour could be just them being whiny because they need to refuel. 

Pre-empt whininess with “baby time”

If you can anticipate that your kid is going to need extra attention, you can initiate some one-on-one time, which is also a good way to avoid possible meltdowns because their needs aren’t being met, Kolari tells me. “You can say, ‘Let’s pretend you’re a baby for 20 minutes!’ You’re going to feel better because it’s on your terms. And they’re going to get what they need if you make it part of the game. When you’re done you can say, ‘Now we’re back to five-year-old Edie.’” 

Embrace the quirkiness

 If a parent notices that their kid wants to be babied, they can “reminisce” about when that child was a baby—and baby them at the same time, says Rosensweet. You can wrap them up in a blanket or towel like you used to and sing songs or just nuzzle them.  If they want to decide what to play, that’s OK, too. Sometimes, the weirder, the better. Susan*, a mother of two in Toronto, says when her six-year-old daughter, Zoe*, was between three and five, she would have to “birth” her every day. Zoe would crawl inside Susan’s shirt and then come out, head first between her legs, while Susan made grunting and pushing sounds. “Then she would lie on the floor kind of blind like how babies are, not gazing and anything and make baby sounds, no control over her hands or her legs or anything. I don’t know how she did it. It was perfect.” Susan says she didn’t question why her daughter loved this game so much. Zoe has always been sensitive, social and a typical little kid in every other way. “But I was like, ‘we can’t do this at other people’s houses!”

Do the paradoxical

Carrying a kid who is too big for a stroller isn’t always possible, but sometimes, it helps to give in right away when they start acting like a baby, or just helpless, says Kolari, especially before it escalates into a power struggle. “You could even preempt it and go, ‘I’m gonna pick you up’ and half the time they’ll say, ‘I don’t need to be picked up, I’m five!’” But do that before the kid starts whining and having a tantrum. A mistake that a lot of parents make, says Kolari, is waiting too long and then caving once the kid is already on the floor and freaking out. At that point, giving in is tantamount to rewarding the  behaviour.

Boost their confidence

 If you are helping a child with something that they can do themselves and you don’t want to encourage the need for help, you can just say ‘I know you can do this yourself, and I’m happy to help you,” says Rosensweet. The “and” is intentional. “When we say ‘but’ we erase the other thing we just said. We want both things to be true.” 

When you can’t give in, give choices

 Sometimes you can’t play along with baby behaviour or pre-empt it.  So offer perceived choices. “You can have this, or you can have that. They get a little bit of say, but within the parameters of you being the frontal lobe,” says Kolari, referencing the part of the brain responsible for emotional regulation and problem solving that isn’t fully developed until adulthood

Say your hands are full of groceries and you’re walking home and your kid refuses to budge if you don’t pick them up. You can remind them how hard it is to walk sometimes and how easy it is when they were a baby in a stroller or mummy could just pick them up, but you know that they’ll make the right choice. Then, if you’re in a safe situation, start walking, says Kolari. Or if you can’t do that, then just wait it out and keep calm. Kids can literally be thinking, “if you’re not going to pick me up, I’m going to make this so unpleasant for you that you will pick me up,” she says. “But behaviours only exist if they’re rewarded. If they’re not rewarded, they go extinct.”

Recognize the red flags

For the most part, kids’ baby-like behaviour is just a harmless pattern but it can come back for weeks or months at a time. Rosensweet has seen children up to their teen years regress to baby talk when they’re stressed or nervous, and that’s still perfectly normal (unless they’re ONLY talking like a baby). What isn’t as normal is when it’s accompanied by signs of anxiety, which should be cause for concern. For example, if your child is having a lot of trouble saying goodbye, or doesn’t want to go into a bathroom by themselves or is terrified of the dark, then it’s a good idea to talk to a therapist, parenting coach or the child’s doctor. Kolari says you might also want to check in with a professional if the baby-like behaviour is happening a lot everywhere, not just at home.

Lately, I’ve been leaning into Edie’s baby phase by fitting in “baby time” every day for lap rhymes and silliness. And instead of feeding her dinner when she starts demanding it, I’m going all in with a special “baby meal” once a week. I spoon-feed her dinner from start to finish. I don’t expect her baby behaviour to go away any time soon, but I also remind myself to be careful what I wish for. She’s not going to be little forever. 

*Names have been changed.

Parenting

Scared of needles? A parent’s guide to making vaccination shots less painful

Follow these simple dos and don'ts to make getting shots more comfortable for your child.

As parents, when our kids get a vaccination, it’s easy to brush off their fears. “It’ll just be a little poke,” we’ll say. The truth is, shots can really hurt—both the initial needle and a sore arm afterwards. Rather than skirting the issue, it’s better to address the fear—and the pain—head on.

“For kids who have a needle phobia or a lot of anxieties, we have to really acknowledge those and prepare in advance,” says Anne Wormsbecker, a paediatrician at Unity Health Toronto.

The good news is, there’s lots of research-based ways that you can make shots hurt less for your kids. Here are the best ways to prepare your kid for the shot and how to minimize pain and anxiety throughout the process.

Talk to them about the benefits

Although it’s true your kid probably won’t love getting a needle, don’t harp on the negatives, suggests Wormsbecker. Instead, tell them about how vaccines can keep themselves healthy and how they’ll be protecting others as well.

Tell them what to expect

While you don’t want to warn your kid for days in advance that they might feel some side effects, you should give them a bit of a head’s up about the process (even the morning of the appointment), and tell them what they can expect during and after the vaccination. “You don’t want it to be a total surprise to them, but at the same time, you don’t want to give them an opportunity to build it up and imagine more than it’s going to be,” explains Wormsbecker.

Pick up a topical anaesthetic cream or patch in advance

These products can numb the skin so kids don’t feel the poke as much. “Parents can buy this over the counter,” says Christine Chambers, a clinical psychologist and scientific director at Solutions for Kids in Pain in Halifax. You’ll need to know where the needle is going on the body, and it needs to be applied to the skin 30 to 60 minutes ahead of time. Chambers recommends asking the pharmacist to help show you how to put it on.

Breastfeed your baby before or during the shot

Parents who breastfeed are lucky to have this secret weapon at their disposal. And all parents should hold very young infants skin-to-skin during their vaccines.

Use distraction tools

“We’re so lucky in the 21st century, we have phones, we can access WiFi, or use our data, to pull out a video of their favourite song or favourite show to distract them,” says Wormsbecker. Deep breathing, blowing bubbles at them, having them look at book or toy or talking to them about something they like are other good distraction techniques. You could even ask them to look out a window or count dots on the wallpaper.

Don’t give your child an oral pain reliever, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, before the shot

“A lot of parents think that giving oral pain medications like Tylenol or Advil will help, but they don’t reduce the pain and some research suggests they may interfere with the efficacy of [certain] vaccines,” says Chambers. You can give pain medication after the shot, though.

Feel free to ask the healthcare provider about pain management. Chambers suggests asking, “What are you going to do to help my child with pain during this procedure?”

Don’t massage the injection site, either

There is no evidence or recommendation related to massaging the injection site after, so it not recommended, says Chambers.

Give your child something to look forward to after the shot

“With any negative experience, giving your child something positive to look forward to can change the event,” says Chambers. Let them know well in advance how you’re going to celebrate—whether they get to watch a show when you get home or you’ll be stopping for a tasty treat.

Don’t overly reassure your child.

“Parents say ‘It’s okay, it will be over soon,’” says Chambers, “but study after study has shown that using that type of reassuring language actually makes the pain feel worse.” Research shows that when you tell a child everything is okay, he actually assumes you’re worried about what’s going to happen. “Use neutral language,” suggests Chambers. Before you know it, the vaccination will be over and you can all enjoy that reward.

Parenting

5 things that actually work when your kid is having a meltdown

Going into fix-it mode, or minimizing their sadness, isn't the best approach.

Why is it that when we try to calm kids down, they sometimes get more worked up? Our intention is to be soothing. To teach them that this tiny bump in the road of life can be driven over without crashing the entire vehicle into a ditch. It will be OK! But the message they hear is a different one: “You can’t have what you want and I don’t care, because your feelings are not important enough to bother about.” Now the distress is doubled—added to the original disappointment over the missing granola bar is that lonely feeling you get when you realize nobody cares that you’re sad.

It’s true that for adults a granola bar ranks way down on the scale of global disasters. But for a disappointed kid, that missing treat is just as upsetting as any of the petty disasters that befall us grown-ups during the day. Your annoying coworker constantly uses your pens and doesn’t replace them? Stop complaining. It’s not a big deal! Your friend shared your personal health problems with the whole neighbourhood? You’re overreacting. Don’t be so sensitive. The mechanic overcharged you to repair your transmission; it broke down again a week later and he wouldn’t give you a refund? Hey, that’s life! No use getting upset about it. Don’t get mad at us. We’re just trying to help you by explaining why you’re wrong to feel bad. It’s pretty infuriating when our own disappointments, admittedly insignificant in the grand scheme of things, are summarily dismissed. When someone tries to calm us down by minimizing our troubles, we end up feeling worse—and we may even direct a fresh wave of irritation at the person who is trying to help.

We desperately want to give kids some perspective. They can’t go through life falling apart over every little thing. It’s part of our job to help them learn what’s important and what’s not, isn’t it? But the timing is wrong. When you’re upset because your new shoes were stolen at the gym, that’s not the moment you want your friend to remind you to be grateful you have feet. And when you lose your feet to gangrene, you don’t want your friend coming over the day after the amputation to remind you that you’re lucky because there are people who don’t have legs. No doubt that will be a helpful perspective at some point in the future, but for right now you’d probably appreciate a little sympathy instead of a pep talk. We may understand intellectually that we shouldn’t try to talk people out of their misery in their moment of distress. But we still have a powerful urge to minimize or dismiss negative feelings, both for our kid’s sake and for our own. When kids relate their tales of woe, we naturally try to convince them it’s not that bad. They respond by dialling up the intensity to convince us that it is indeed that bad. We react with frustration, and before you know it everyone involved is sucked into an escalating spiral of irritation. The more we try to douse the flames, the hotter they get. It turns out, we’re pouring gasoline on the fire instead of water.

OK, fine, so it’s not helpful to try to get kids to look at the bright side or to tell them that they should suck it up and stop whining because their problems aren’t so bad. Now what? Sit on the couch with noise-cancelling headphones? We present to you a set of tools you can grab when a child is in emotional distress.

Tool #1: Acknowledge feelings with words

Instead of arguing that the child is foolish, or wrong, or rude, or overreacting, stop and ask yourself: What is this feeling? Is she frustrated, disappointed, angry, annoyed, sad, worried, scared? Got it? Now show your child you get it. What we’re looking for is the kind of thing you’d say with genuine emotion to a friend with whom you truly empathize. “That sounds scary.” “Oh, how disappointing!” “What a frustrating situation!” “It sounds like you’re really annoyed with your ________ (brother/teacher/friend) right now.”

Tool #2: Acknowledge feelings with writing

There’s something about the written word that makes a kid feel like she’s being taken seriously. Even children who are too young to read are often delighted to have their thoughts written down and read back to them. The writing may take the form of a list—a wish list, a shopping list, a list of worries or grievances.

Tool #3: Acknowledge feelings with art

Art can be a powerful tool when strong emotions are in play. And the good news is, you don’t have to be an artist. Stick figures will do just fine! Sometimes children will want to jump in and show you their sad or angry feelings with the help of a pencil, chalk or crayons. Even Cheerios have been employed to create a sad face that lets kids know we understand how they feel.

Tool #4: Give in fantasy what you cannot give in reality

When a child wants something that’s impossible to have, our temptation is to repeatedly explain to them why they cannot have it. “I already told you, we can’t go swimming now, honey, the pool is closed for the day. There’s no use crying about it.” These kinds of exercises in logic seldom persuade a youngster to accept reality. She’ll cheer up more quickly if you say, “Oh, I wish the pool would stay open all night. We could go swimming in the moonlight!” Next time you find yourself wanting to jump in with a dose of cold, hard reality, take a moment for whimsy instead. Tell your child you wish you had a magic wand to make a bathtub full of ice cream appear, you need some robots to help with cleanup, it would be great to have a clock that freezes time so you could have a hundred more hours to play.

Tool #5: Acknowledge feelings with (almost) silent attention

Sometimes just a sympathetic sound is enough. Resist the urge to lecture, ask questions or give advice. Instead, simply listen with ohs, ughs, mmms and ahs!

Excerpted from How to Talk When Kids Won’t Listen by Joanna Faber and Julie King © 2021 by Joanna Faber and Julie King. Reprinted with the permission of Scribner.

Parenting

I just cried in front of my kids for the first time

I wish I’d done it sooner.

A few months ago, my eyes watering while I cut onions, my 6-year old asked me if I’ve ever cried. I answered yes, quickly changing the subject to a lighter topic, and carried on making dinner.   

The truth is, crying and I have a complicated history. While I grew up in a loving, supportive family, we didn’t really share our emotions. I became the type of person who choked back my tears or only cried when alone. It’s not that I grew up being told I couldn’t cry but rather something inside me told me sad feelings shouldn’t be shown. Anger?  No problem. But sadness should be kept to ourselves. 

This reluctance to openly share my emotions continued into adulthood. A few years ago, when my husband called me from SickKids Hospital with what I thought would be news that my five-year-old was being released in time for Christmas but instead, the antibiotics for his perforated appendix didn’t work, he now needed surgery, and he would likely be in the hospital for Christmas—I didn’t cry. When my mom put her hand on my shoulder, instead of turning for a hug I swallowed the lump in my throat and walked away.

I never thought me hiding my emotions was a problem until this year when, after feeling entirely burned out and anxious from virtual schooling, entertaining our kids all the time since they couldn’t see their friends and my husband and I trying to juggle it all, I turned to therapy for myself and my eldest to better manage.

During my son’s first virtual therapy session, he was asked to describe how it feels when he’s happy and then how it feels when he’s angry. His response? “I feel the same for both.” I was shocked. How could he not know the difference? Anger and happiness are polar opposites. How could I have failed so much as a mom that my son couldn’t describe his emotions?  

This led me to have a call with my therapist where I learned I wasn’t any better. I was great at saying what anger and happiness are, but I couldn’t describe how they made me feel.  

I also learned that anger is a secondary emotion, meaning that we use it to cover up what we’re really feeling inside. Anger feels less vulnerable as it’s so widely accepted. It was a lightbulb moment. I was bottling up so many feelings that anger was all I had. Anger was my coping mechanism.  

I realized I had to do a better job of recognizing and labeling my emotions, especially if I wanted to set an example for my kids. 

Then, at the end of the last week of summer, I got my chance. My kids had a rough week at day camp partly due to minimal social contact throughout the summer and partly due to some challenges my kids have in social settings. They disliked being back in a structured environment with people they didn’t know, got bored and started to cause trouble. On the second last day, their counsellor insinuated the boys should stay home the following day. I was shocked. She shared some incidents that had happened at camp that week, incidents I was unaware of until this moment and while I didn’t condone their behaviour, I wasn’t OK in the manner the feedback was provided and in a public setting, no less.  She also told me that “no one liked my kids” and it felt like a punch in the stomach.

I felt embarrassed, ashamed, angry and sad. 

I put my boys in the car and asked them not to say a word. And then I cried the whole way home and went straight to my room. The camp head called me, and instead of avoiding the call because I was crying, I answered. We talked for 20 minutes, all between my sobs.

Instead of feeding my embarrassment, she provided me with compassion. She listened to me and let me cry.  She empathized with me as a fellow mom about how hard life is on our kids right now. She also reassured me that my boys aren’t the only kids causing difficulties and that someone should have brought my sons’ behaviour to her attention earlier on so we could have dealt with it. I felt heard and understood.   

I got off the phone feeling lighter and I went downstairs. I told my boys that while their behaviour was not OK and there would be consequences, I also told them I wanted them to know why I cried.

I said I cried because of how someone made me feel. After a tough year and a half due to COVID, this person made me feel like a horrible parent. I also cried because I felt defeated that people wouldn’t have more compassion for kids as they try to readjust to the social world and that for some kids, social skills aren’t as easy. That I wasn’t OK with how one of the counsellors handled the situation.

How did my boys react?  

They hugged me and told me I was the best mom ever. They apologized for their behaviour and sat and cuddled with me. They got angry with the person who made me cry. They also understood their behaviour wasn’t OK and said they would end camp on a better note.

And they did.

As someone who never cried in front of people, I’ve now learned that bottling up our emotions is not only exhausting but it teaches our kids to do the same. I’ve also entered a whole new space with my sons where they now come to me and open up about their emotions, something I hope continues as they grow.  I continue doing therapy for myself and my son and want them to know that it’s never something to be embarrassed about.  We all need some help sometimes.

So, while I waited until my boys were 6 and 8 to cry in front of them, I still did it, and I’ll continue to do it. Crying is vulnerable, but I now know it’s essential to teach our kids what emotions are and how they feel. Something I continue to work on every day.  

Parenting

Why kids shouldn't wear bulky coats in car seats

A car seat technician explains the danger and offers up some simple alternatives.

You’ve probably already heard that thick or bulky coats can make car seats unsafe, because if there’s too much bulk, you can’t get the car seat harness tight enough.

But how bulky is too bulky? How do you test it? And if you ditch the thick jacket, how do you keep your kid warm? Today’s Parent asked Jen Shapka, mom of two and child passenger safety technician and instructor with the Child Passenger Safety Association of Canada, some of the questions we know you have.

Q: What’s the simplest way to check if the car seat harness is too loose?

Shapka: Try to pinch a horizontal fold in one of the straps above the chest clip. If you can pinch it and grab it, it’s too loose. If you can sort of pinch it but you can’t grab a hold, it’s tight enough. And there should be no slack in the hip area. People used to say to check if you can fit a couple fingers under the strap. But that’s too subjective, since everyone’s fingers are a different size.

Q: Do the straps have to be as tight as they’d be if the kid was just wearing, say, a t-shirt?

Shapka: No, that’s not realistic. Put your kid in a few thin, warm, well-fitting layers, with no extra bunching anywhere. Adjust the harness so it’s snug against the body and you can’t pinch the straps. That’s how the harness should fit. Now try putting your kid in the seat wearing his winter coat. If you have to loosen the straps to make it fit, then he shouldn’t wear that coat in the car seat.

Q: But my kid is going to freeze on his way to the car and when he gets in the car!

Shapka: Have your kid wear his coat to the car, climb in, take it off, buckle up, then put it on (backwards). Or use blankets. You can also start your car and warm it up in advance—but I know that’s not always practical. I know it’s cold. Getting kids buckled in without a warm coat on a cold and windy day is a pain. But the alternative is ejection or partial ejection if you’re in an accident. It’s as simple as that.

You can also look into buying car seat-safe layers—they’re thin, down, compressible layers. They aren’t warm enough to play outside for two hours, but they’re great for running errands. Just be careful not to upsize. It should fit close to the body and fit into the harness.

Q: I live in a rural area. If we get into a crash, and my kid isn’t wearing a thick coat, my kid could die of hypothermia before someone comes to the rescue.

Shapka: Hypothermia is not immediate. The first goal is to survive the crash.

Q: What about the idea of forgoing the bulky jacket for long highway drives, but keeping it on for short neighbourhood rides on slower residential streets, like school drop-off?

Shapka: Statistically speaking, you’re more likely to have a crash closer to home. I feel strongly that every time you get in the car, you should be prepared to be in a crash.

Q: I see tons of parents letting their kids wear puffy winter jackets in the car. Should I say something?

Shapka: If you feel comfortable, sure. My strategy is I make it light and casual. I’ll say something like, “I just learned this thing—it can be dangerous to…” Play dumb and upsell the positives. Nobody likes to feel judged.