How To Get Your Picky Eater Past Food Refusals

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Cindy Hooks Morrison, M.S., CCC-SLP, CLC

“Mom, I don’t like the way these string beans taste and I don’t want to eat them.” – Benjamin, Age 4

Tonight my son spoke this sentence aloud at our dinner table. Yes, even when you are a pediatric feeding therapist with a healthy little boy, food refusals still happen time to time.

I didn’t cringe, I simply smiled at him. I smiled because I have heard this sentence spoken many, many times long before my husband and I hoped, wished and prayed our sweet son into existence.  I’ve heard these words and many others just like them, not from my own child, but from the hundreds of children diagnosed with pediatric feeding disorders that I have been lucky enough to sit across from and help in my treatment room.

What made tonight different is that I wasn’t in a pediatric treatment room and my son does not have a pediatric feeding disorder.  What happened at my dinner table is a perfect example of a normal, childhood food refusal. The type of refusal that occurs and often escalates for families struggling during mealtimes at millions of tables around the globe.

Can you relate to what happened at my table tonight?

To those of you that can, I know you’re out there struggling.  You’re not alone.  There are countless families frustrated and reaching out to me. I’m here for you. You can read on, because i’m here to tell you that my son happily ate every bite of those string beans without any further refusals and all on his own.  

There is no greater thrill for a pediatric feeding therapist than when he or she watches a child pull out every trick in the book to avoid foods.  Our greatest reward is in knowing that we can and will help that same child progress to not only eat those previously avoided foods, but to enjoy them and have fun with them too.  These transformations are real and they happen in feeding therapy.

Initially a feeding therapist leads this change, but at some point, the reigns are turned back over to the parents. When children meet goals of healthy eating they are happier and healthier and their parents leave feeding therapy feeling empowered with the knowledge and the tools they need to meet food refusals at home.

This is what happens for families that seek help. These families, whose children qualify, get one-on-one help at the table, resources, education and a greater understanding of the underlying factors and sabotagers that contribute to broken mealtimes. But what happens to the families that are either unsure that help exists or who have children who don’t qualify for it?  I often wonder about the rest of the families out there that I don’t get to meet. I honestly do care about each and every one of them.

I want to reach the parents out there taking a deep breath and saying a Hail Mary before heading to the dinner table. The parents that are ducking food refusals that are at times literally flying off plates and across the table. The parents that love their children so much that they are begging, bribing, yelling, negotiating, punishing, forcing and possibly even giving up –  bite by bite – every night. The parents that dread meal time. The parents that are sick of the fight. The parents that have surrendered to hot dogs or anything that their child will eat.  These are the parents I hope to reach.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  The mealtime stress, the anxiety and dread that were once the precusor to dinner time can be replaced with a tool box loaded with real, working strategies, smiles and an enjoyable meal together.  There are a lack of resources and support networks for parents whose children do not have a diagnosed feeding disorder, but are still refusing foods during mealtimes and this is what my heart (& blog) hopes to change!

So now back to my son and his refusal of string beans.  String beans.  A vegetable that he once described as his “favorite”, “yummy” and “delicioso” had suddenly this night transformed into “gross-o.”  Why?  How did this happen?  Is he testing?  Is he looking to exert his independence?  Is he deliberately trying to be disobedient?  Is he bored of string beans?  Is he just not in the mood for string beans? Is he tired?  Is a cold coming on? Is he having growing pains?

I can pin point the reason for my son’s refusal, but the reason for his refusal isn’t important at all…because you can always find a reason.  Yes, let me repeat, there is always a reason why a child refuses food, BUT the most important part of this refusal is how we moved past it.

When your child gives you a mealtime refusal — KEEP CALM & PUT ON YOUR POKER FACE. Trust me when I tell you that I understand how you feel when a refusal happens.  I understand how frustrating they can feel when you are managing to multitask your work and your family and that perhaps getting a healthy dinner on the table was in fact miraculous, but you did it because you want the best for your kids.  Then that moment comes, when they look at you and refuse to eat.  I know it’s frustrating and that you may be inclined to dig your heels in and demand that they “take a bite.”  Unfortunately, the problem with this strategy is that they will absolutely dig their heels in too and when that happens…it’s over.  It’s no longer about the meal.  Now its a battle of wills.  You’ve already lost them.

So let me repeat.  KEEP CALM AND PUT ON YOUR POKER FACE. Give this problem back to them and help them move past it. Here are the steps to getting past a food refusal at the dinner table

STEP ONE: Acknowledge their problem

It’s important that you hear them and that you let them know. I acknowledged that this was a problem for him, “Wow, i’m sorry that you aren’t enjoying the taste of your string beans tonight. That’s too bad, because string beans are the vegetable that mommy cooked tonight and they need to be eaten to keep your body healthy.”  I said this in a sincere empathetic tone, not a stern one.

STEP TWO: Give reasonable choices (alter the refused food, don’t ever replace it!)

Give choices.  I gave my son choices, “If you’d like we can add something to your green beans to change the way they taste. We can add some butter, some salt or we can sprinkle parmesean cheese onto them. Which one of those choices do you think will help you change the taste?  You can choose or mommy can choose for you.”

STEP THREE: Give your child the power to fix the problem on their own. (let them choose and let them be the one to modify or change the food)

“I think parmesean cheese will make these string beans taste better.” said my son. “Ok, great choice, i’ll go get the shaker,” I replied. I handed the shaker to my son to let him do the shaking and make the change.

STEP FOUR: PRAISE! PRAISE! PRAISE!

Reward them for “making a good choice.”  While my son was shaking the cheese, I gave him positive feedback and praise to reinforce his choice. “Wow, that looks really yummy. You really made a great choice.  Nice work!”

And with that, we got back to dinner and he gobbled up every bite of his string beans while we talked about our day.

Why did this work?

This worked because I have a complete plan for handling normal food refusals and I am 100% consistent with it. It worked because this is just one of the many feeding “tools” that I have in my tool box to meet each meal with success.  You can read about additional strategies or “tools” by clicking here, here, here, here and here.

Let’s be honest, some kids are awesome eaters right from the start and if you have one you are incredibly lucky (offer up some thanks right now), but many other children struggle, preferring processed foods over healthier choices and its absolutely no fun when battles begin at the table.

It’s not new information that children NEED to eat healthy foods for the bodies to function and for their brains to grow. What your child eats now is forming the adult body and brain that they will evolve into. Nothing is more important than nourishing them and setting them up for a healthy and successful life.

Children that are healthy eaters are happier kids and that makes their parents feel happy too.

For more about feeding disorders and the role that Speech Language Pathologists provide, please click here.

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Easy, Breezy Ramekin Eggs!

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Cindy Hooks Morrison, M.S., CCC-SLP, CLC

I love starting my kids off with a great breakfast to set them up for a successful day of learning, but just like other families, some mornings are busier than others and it’s just not realistic to spend a lot of time at the stove.  A long time ago, I read about teacup eggs and I immediately knew they were the answer for these fast paced mornings.  I love making my own, easier version of them as a staple for our family to save time without sacrificing healthy food choices!

So busy mamas out there…back away from the breakfast cereals and pop tarts that are loaded with sugar and lacking protein and I promise that you can still make a delicious and healthy meal alternative in less than five minutes. Better yet, supervise your kids and let them have fun creating their own breakfast creation in the morning!

Here’s a step-by-step tutorial to Chew Chew Mama’s Easy, Breezy Ramekin Eggs.

Step One
Crack an egg into each ramekin (Kitchen Tip: Don’t have a ramekin, no problem!  You can use a coffee cup to do this too!)

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Step Two
Use a fork or whisk to beat the egg and then start adding your favorite extras for more flavor. On quick mornings, a sprinkle of garlic powder, chives and parmesean cheese are crowd pleasers at the house of Chew Chew Mama.  However on other mornings, our 4-year-old, enjoys tossing in diced ham, diced tomatoes, cheddar cheese, minced onions, crumbled sausage or even left over veggies from dinner the night before to turn these tiny ramekins into mini egg souffles!

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Step Three
Next place them in the microwave one at a time.  I like to microwave each ramekin for 30 seconds and then flip the egg over and place it back in the microwave for another 30 seconds. The rate at which the egg cooks can vary by microwave, so use your best judgement on this one, watch your egg and stick to smaller time increments.  Using our microwave, a total of one minute of cooking does the trick and the eggs come out looking like the photo below.

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I like to pop them out of the ramekins and cut them into smaller, easy to chew pieces for my sweet ones!  Add some quick sides and there you have it.  A healthy breakfast made in under five minutes with minimal kitchen clean up.

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Hosting A Color “Tasting Party” For Your Kids

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Cindy Hooks Morrison, M.S., CCC-SLP, CLC

Does your child turn their nose up to the green choices on their plate?

St. Patrick’s Day is a wonderful day to incorporate more green choices and make green foods more fun!  Celebrate the day in style not only by wearing green, but by eating green too!  Better yet, host a green food “tasting” party.

I’ve always enjoyed celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.  Growing up, my mother hosted parties each year with lots of corn beef, cabbage, boiled potatoes and irish soda bread. She would elicit my help to make green creations to hang all over the house.  I remember being most proud of my homemade, construction paper shamrock place mats!  It’s fun to watch my own son create such treasures for my home now.  It’s also fun to watch my kids enjoy green foods!

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This year our family hosted a green food “tasting” play date and enjoyed playing, making green crafts and putting out a bunch of green foods for our guests to talk about, explore and taste!  The kids had a fun time guessing what each food might taste like and were surprised when they were tricked with sweet pickles instead of sour ones!  They enjoyed creating monster faces with their green foods, using their spoons to paint their foods with dips and loved competing to see who could make the loudest crunch with their mini cucumbers!  (And let me just tell you, it was way to close to tell…so we needed many crunches to decide!)

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This is a monster face created by one of our guests, Landon! Can you see the monster’s hair?

 

Some of the kids were more cautious observers and not ready to completely dive into the foods, but they did follow the example of the kids that interacted with the food as brave enthusiasts.  Still some of the children only wanted to eat food familiar to them, feeling comfortable to touch the other foods and taste them by “taking a lick” instead of chewing.

Everyone’s unique experience was encouraged and accepted.  The whole purpose of the “tasting party” wasn’t to force the kids to eat bowls full of green foods.  It’s purpose was to create a fun, positive exposure to green foods and that’s exactly what happened. A really fun day for all!

You don’t have to wait for St. Patrick’s Day to host a Color Tasting Party!  You can host one in any color, any time throughout the year.  Decide your tasting color, invite your guests and tell them what color to wear!  Your guests will enjoy being a part of the fun and bringing their own favorite, specified-color foods to share.

Hosting a tasting party not only creates positive interactions with food, but it also eliminates the stress and pressure that these foods might elicit during mealtimes.  Tasting parties are a great way to introduce new food choices gradually and slowly.  Introducing new foods without pressure to eat them associates a positive association, so that subsequent exposures to the food are more easily accepted.  Learn more about how to use snack times to introduce new foods by clicking here.

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Green Food List Ideas

Green Vegetables

Peppers
Celery
Cucumber
Asparagus
Avocado
Broccoli
Green Beans
Spinach
Lettuce
Olives
Peas
Pickles
Sugar Snap Peas
Zucchini

Green Fruit
Granny Smith Apples
Kiwi
Limes
Honeydew Melon
Green Grapes

Other Green Choices
Pea or Broccoli Soup
Pesto
Spinach Wraps
Spinach Pasta
Green Veggie Chips
Guacomole
Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
Steam Spinach To Create Natural Green Food Coloring for coloring milk, yogurt and whipped cream or better yet, use one of the recipes below to make a delicious green smoothie!

 

Chew Chew Mama’s Favorite Green Smoothies (pictured above)

1 cup of milk (regular or coconut milk)

1 banana

1/2 of spinach

OR

1 cup of milk

1/2 cup of pinapple

1/2 cup of kale

Happy, Healthy Eating!

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Your Mouth is a Volcano – How To Stop Your Child From Interrupting You

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Cindy Hooks Morrison, M.S., CCC-SLP, CLC

Does your child ever interrupt you when you’re speaking?

There are times when my child’s sweet little mouth erupts like a tiny volcano forcing words out into the air! It’s usually perfectly timed with an inopportune moment, such as when i’m answering the phone, trying to exchange information with another person (i.e another parent, a cashier, a librarian, a teacher), on a business call and especially when daddy comes home.

At times when my full attention is not on my sweet little boy, he often seeks it back, by letting words spill out across his tongue while i’m engaged with another person. This causes a break in my communication and let’s be real…it can be frustrating for everyone involved in this scenario. My son does not mean to cause harm. This act is simply age-appropriate as he continues to learn how to use language in social situations.

One of my favorite quotes is “we spend the first few years getting our children to speak and then start telling them to be quiet.” The truth in this statement is that we do want our children to speak and use language to communicate greetings, thoughts, ideas, requests, promises, information, hopes, dreams and their wonderful silliness, but in addition to teaching them how to talk, it’s equally important to teach them the language rules for having a two-way conversation. We don’t really want them to be quiet, we just want them to wait for their turn.

Learning to wait to speak is called conversational turn-taking and it is a social-communication or pragmatic skill. Children learn this skill through observing the adults in their lives, but often children need more direction. Pragmatic language skills are less often discussed when it comes to teaching language, but these skills are very important to master.

There is a lot happening in the brain during a two-way conversation. Here’s a simplified version of what your child’s brain is working on during conversations with you and others each day.

Children must learn to decipher all the different ways language is being used (language usage) and when to use it. Are they simply giving a greeting by saying hello or good-bye to a friend or do they need to use their words to explain or inform an adult or peer about something that happened? Are they trying to express that they need help, (i.e. Mommy, I need my cup.) communicate a promise to do something in the future (I will pick up my toys after I find my back pack) or are they using language to ask for information instead of giving it? (i.e. Mommy, what makes the Spring flowers grow? Where did my brother go?).

In addition to deciphering how they need to use language, they also need to learn how to change the way they use language based upon the needs of the listener. For instance, my son who is age four, already uses simpler language when he is speaking to his baby brother than when he is speaking to an adult or a peer of the same age. When we are speaking to another person our brains are actively monitoring what our conversational partners are saying, reading their body language to understand what they are feeling and then formulating a response, retrieving the words from memory, lining the words up in correct order, finding and lining up those phonemes or sounds that make up each of these words and sending messages to the muscles of the oral cavity to begin the fine motor, muscular movement required to speak that reply. All of this happens in seconds. It’s rather miraculous when you really think about it.

Have you ever used the expression, “you need to use your inside voice?” This is another example of how you are teaching your child how to change their language based on the communication partner, the location or setting.

Lastly, from the time your child has been able to focus his or her eyes on you, he or she has already started learning the “hidden” rules of social language. These rules include using and reading facial expressions and eye contact to gain information and monitor the reaction that your words have on the other person you are speaking with. These rules also include how close to stand to someone you are speaking to, how to stay on topic, how to introduce thoughts and ideas at the appropriate time and in the correct order…and if all of that wasn’t hard enough, children need to wait for their turn to do all of this.

I’m not sure how your little one feels about waiting, but mine isn’t always a fan. He’s four and waiting is no fun, so sometimes interruptions happen. Here are some of the strategies that i’ve used successfully at work and at home to work on conversational turn-taking/waiting to reduce interruptions.

Step One

Saying excuse me. The first step in teaching your child the hidden rules of social communication should always be teaching them to look. Look at mommy’s face and her mouth. If her mouth is moving and her face is looking at someone else, mommy is talking. If you want mommy to look at you, you need to start by saying “excuse me.” This skill goes beyond good manners, this is teaching your child to make observations of a speaker.

Praise your child whenever you hear the words “excuse me” come out of their mouths and initially it’s important to give them immediate attention to reinforce this behavior. Try not to rush these steps. Take a week or two or even three to reinforce this. Children learn through repetition and they learn best when their foundation is solid before building upon it.

Step Two

You will know when your child has mastered saying “excuse me.” I remember that soon after teaching my son step one, I started getting the rapid fire of “excuse me, mom, excuse me, mom, excuse me mom, excuse me, mom!” Once this behavior had emerged, I smiled and knew it was time we started working on the next step.

I had a conversation with my son (more than once for the sake of learning through repetition) where I calmly explained that sometimes when he says “excuse me” I can not stop right away and that even though it’s really hard, he has to wait his turn. He was bummed to hear this news. I told him it was important to wait, because it meant that I would hear all of his important words and not miss anything. Just as I want him to listen to me when I am speaking to him, I want to honor him when he needs to speak to me by giving him all of my focus and attention.

I’ve taught him that when I hear him say “excuse me” that I will let him know I heard him by saying, “I hear you and I will be right with you.” This phrase lets him know that I did hear that he wants me and that he has to wait.

I further explained that when I turn my face to look at him that it means I am ready to listen and speak with him. This step teaches him to wait and simultaneously keeps him focused on observing me. This observation time is important because he is learning through watching my turn-taking and how I am using and changing my own language in the conversation.

This second step takes time. It’s going to require your patience. Each time your child interrupts consider it a golden opportunity to keep reinforcing these steps for building a future with less interruptions.

There is a wonderful book called, My Mouth is a Volcano by Julia Cook. The book is about a child that just can not wait to get his words out. He tries really hard to keep them in, tucked behind his teeth and lips, but sometimes they just burst out! It happens to the best of us – even to adults!

This book is enjoyable for children and provides a great reference to use when interruptions occur. It’s simple to say, “Oh no, your mouth is a volcano and it just erupted words every where. Please wait your turn and mommy will give you all of her attention in just a few minutes.” I’m always amazed by the difference I see in just a few weeks of using these strategies.

Children aren’t actively trying to cause communication break downs and frustration. They are learning to master social communication skills and it’s important work. Use interruptions as teachable moments and celebrate your child when they do not interrupt to reinforce their wonderful work!

If you are interested in seeing age benchmarks for social communication you can find them by clicking here.

If you are concerned that your child is not meeting his or her age-appropriate speech, language and/or social communication milestones, please discuss these concerns with your pediatrician.

Get your copy of My Mouth is a Volcano by Julia Cook by clicking the photo above.

Happy, Healthy Language Learning!
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Everything You Need To Know About Teething

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Cindy Morrison, M.S., CCC-SLP, CLC

Let’s Talk Teething!

Teething is a natural process for children that begins at about two months of conception. At the time of birth, most beautiful babies already have 20 teeth formed deep within their jaw bones.  Teeth typically begin to appear when a child is six months of age although this can vary by child.  Baby teeth are important because they hold the place for permanent teeth and they help guide them into the correct position. Baby teeth play an important role in the development of your child’s speech and their ability to chew foods and this is why pediatric speech language pathologists are well-versed on teething!

Did you know there are stages of teething?

It’s so important to recognize, support and give comfort to your child during every stage of teething.  Pre-teething, or erupting, occurs when the teeth are slowly rising from the bones of the jaw.  The discomfort of this first stage is often over looked. The behavior your baby uses in attempts to communicate with you is often mistaken as your baby being tired or hungry when there is a lack of physical sign (raised bump along the gum line or cutting tooth).  Many people naturally feel that their baby is “feeling cranky” or beginning to show signs of being a “picky eater”, however, some children are experiencing pain.  

The next stage of teething is the most commonly addressed.  This is the stage where the tooth shows a physical sign; a mountain of inflamed, little gum line and begins cutting and rising. It is normal for some children to experience pain and to avoid eating certain foods, textures, flavors and/or temperatures while the torn skin in the oral cavity is healing around the tooth.

When can I expect to see baby teeth and how should I care for them?

Birth to 6 months:
• Your baby’s front teeth are forming below the gums and are almost ready to erupt into their mouth.
• The best oral care and hygiene is to clean you baby’s gums with a damp washcloth each day.
• Remember that your baby may be trying to communicate discomfort with you prior to their body showing you the physical signs of teething (symptoms of teething listed below).

7 to 12 months:
• The front teeth or incisors are usually starting to erupt into the mouth and there permanent teeth are starting to form underneath the gums.
• Continue to practice best oral care and hygiene; wipe the gums off with a washcloth and start introducing a small, soft tooth brush as soon as your baby has teeth.  Brushing with water is adequate at this early stage, toothpaste is not necessary.

13-30 months:
• Primary and secondary molars are starting to erupt into the mouth and may cause discomfort.
• Use a small toothbrush with soft bristles.
• The amount of toothpaste should be smaller than the size of a water droplet.
• Brush your child’s teeth at least twice a day.

Do all children have the same teething symptoms?

There is a trend in the type of teething symptoms that children demonstrate, but it can and does vary very much by child.  In order for teeth to erupt, they grow incredibly slow pushing and tearing their way through muscle and flesh.  Ouch!  Naturally, this can cause inflammation and pain.  Your child can tell you that they are experiencing discomfort and pain even without words to communicate. Since speech and language is not fully developed during this time, the most common way that children communicate with their parents is to show changes in their behavior.

• Cranky, Irritable
• Drooling
• Difficulty Sleeping
• Running nose
• Diarrhea
• Slight fever
• Chewing whatever comes in hand OR refusing to chew anything at all
• Seeking comfort by wanting to stay close to mommy, daddy or caregiver.
• Poor appetite, food refusals
• Avoiding breastfeeding  (sucking can be painful for teething gums)
• Tugging at ears
• Red, swollen cheeks and/or gums
• Biting behavior

I saved the symptom of biting for last. Biting is a completely normal act that happens during this stage. Some children find comfort in the counter pressure they feel when they bite down against the opposing pressure they are experiencing inside their mouth from their rising teeth.

When you notice your child using this behavior, you can help your child find comfort and stay out of trouble by providing your child with a safe option to bite on. Remember, this behavior may be your child’s only way of communicating with you that they are hurting and need your help. It’s important to teach them that it is not appropriate to bite others, but be sure that you are honoring what they are trying to communicate to you and that you are giving them an appropriate alternative.

What foods should I avoid giving to my baby when they are teething?

There are several types of foods that can cause pain and discomfort while your baby is teething and are better off avoided until the skin around the erupted tooth has healed. Remember, this is an open wound and it can burn and stings when certain foods make contact.  Keep your child comfortable and prevent refusal behaviors by avoiding the following foods.

• Citrus Foods

• Tomatoes, Tomato Sauce

• Spicy foods

• Salty Foods

• Frozen teethers or frozen foods. Cool temperatures, such as items from the refrigerator are appropriate and provide comfort, but extreme temperature such as frozen items can make nerve endings zing!  Ouch! Provide your child with mildly chilled foods or teethers that can help soothe their sore gums without overloading their sensory system.

• Foods that are hard to chew

Teething is the most common time for poor eating behaviors to start, as simple refusals from pain, and to escalate.  To avoid mealtime refusals, this is a good time to back off of the chewable foods (for the older babies gaining first and second year molars) and think about offering softer foods, such as, ground meats, rice, over steamed vegetables. If your child is refusing chewable bites that you’ve presented to them, you can puree the rest of what you’ve prepared and offer the meal via spoon.  It is important for you to decrease your child’s work load, not their volume, by modifying their foods while they are uncomfortable.  Taking this important step meets your child’s needs and sets your child up for a successful, forward progression in eating once the skin around the teeth have healed.

What can I do to provide comfort to my child?

There are many ways to provide comfort for your child during each stage of teething. First and foremost, give them lots of love!  

It’s really just a personal preference whether you choose to take a more natural approach to provide comfort by offering amber teething necklaces, homeopathic teething remedies, baby massage, reflexology, cool wash clothes dipped in breast milk/formula, cool puree or fruit, natural teethers, teething jewelry and teething biscuits or whether you feel just as comfortable simply offering an over the counter medication such as acetaminophin or ibuprofen under the direction of your pediatrician.  

It’s important to discuss all of these options with your pediatrician to decide which approach is the best and safest approach for your baby.  All babies experience teething differently.  Some babies have teeth show up without a single complaint, but others struggle.  Do yourself and your baby a favor and honor that your baby’s experience is his or her own.  Together you’ll find the way!

The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that kids see a dentist by age 1, when six to eight teeth are in place, to spot any potential problems and advise parents about preventive care.

Happy, Healthy Teething!

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Building Vocabulary – Ground Hog’s Day

Was your Ground Hog’s prediction correct this morning?

Our family was very excited to see what the ground hog would do today.  Would his shadow scare him back into hibernation for six more weeks of winter or would he tell us all that beautiful, wonderful Spring is on its way?

In order to prepare for this special occasion and to build vocabulary, my son and I read several books about Ground Hog’s Day.  Some of our favorite books are linked below. We each decided to make our own prediction, or best guess, about what we thought might happen. We made a simple chart on our blackboard and polled some of our family members to see what they were predicting too. We then compared our answers on the chart to discover that most of our family was anticipating Spring!  Clearly a wishful thinking family!

My son was very excited anticipating today’s event and even more excited to learn that his prediction was correct! Potomac Phil saw his shadow this morning telling us it’s not time to pack up our coats and hats just yet.  In fact, more snow is expected up here tomorrow.

Now my son is asking what else we can make predictions about?

Did your family make predictions about Ground Hogs Day? Do you make prediction’s about the weather? Have you ever rolled dice to try to predict what number you will roll? Predicting with kids is fun!

What is your favorite predicting game to play?

Keep building language!

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Will You Be My Safe, Candy Free Valentine?

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It’s that time of year again!

Valentine’s Day is on the horizon and heart-shaped candies are filling up the store shelves already, can you believe it?

Recently my sweet little boy asked me, “Which holiday is next, mommy?”

He was utterly disappointed when I sang, “Valentines Day!”  Instead of smiling his big smile and overflowing with excitement over the sweet valentine crafting we can look forward to (like I was), he showed all signs of being a sweet, awesome, little boy and cringed.  No, not because the presence of unsafe candy will increase exponentially in the world around him, but because “Valentines day is a girl holiday, Mommy.

It made me laugh out loud. I love my son! His reply got me very excited about the fun ahead for us in the month of February.  Now that he’s a bit older, I can’t wait to share the story of St. Valentine and watch him grow in understanding of the true meaning St. Valentine’s Day and what these Valentines (notes) that we give to each other really memorialize.  Hint: It has to do with that crocus photo that I used up above.  Leave me a comment or a “note” if you know why I chose that image for this post.

I know that once my sweet son realizes there is much more to St. Valentine Day than mere “girl stuff“, he will be excited once again about making valentines for our friends and family.  As always, we love being creative and staying allergy safe by choosing candy-free, valentines.  Check out our 2013 list of candy-free valentines here and our 2012 list of candy-free valentines here.  With over 30 adorable choices collected over the past three years, you are bound to find the perfect choice for your family this year!  Be sure to send me photos of your child’s creations to share on the blog or to let me know which one’s you’ve chosen.  I love hearing from you!

These are Chew Chew Mama’s Top Ten Candy Free Valentines for 2014!

Don’t you just love this adorable zoo animal valentine from Blue Robin Cottage?  So, so cute!  Wouldn’t your heart just sing if your child got something this safe and cute?  I can already see my sweet, little cub making this guy march across the floor to munch on imaginary leaves.  Often you can find animal packs at the dollar store, so this can be cheap, easy and fun!

"Will Zoo be Mine?" Valentines from Blue Robin Cottage!

Blow me a kiss, Valentine!  These are absolutely adorable and so fun!  It’s so fun to make noise!  My little one would love this.  My only allergy note, is that sharing these would be a big no because of cross contamination risk, but from the perspective of a non-allergy mom…no one wants their kids sharing spit any way, so these are go!  Click the photo to link on over to atsecondstreetblogspot!

Blow me a kiss valentine with printable!

 

Paper Airplanes!

These are Chew Chew Daddy’s #1  pick!  I found two versions that I love.  The second is a quick and easy print out (they don’t fly as far), but they are both awesome.  Click on the photos to link to the awesome bloggers at nobiggie.net and mom.me who created these.

free printable paper airplane Valentine - NoBiggie.net

 

 

Free Airplane Valentine Printable

LEGO Star Wars Valentines with free printables from the stitchcraftcreations blog!

Glow sticks, LEGOs…need I really say more?

Totally fun and you can find the glow sticks in the Target dollar bin!

Looming Valentines!  

Check out these looming Valentines from 30 Handmade Days. I am just not sure which ones my niece and nephews will choose, but i’m guessing that this one is in the running!  Get your kids busy looming now (you’re welcome), so they are ready for the big day.

Your Friendship is Illuminating! Fun Valentine's Day idea using loom bracelets with free printable  www.thirtyhandmadedays.com

 

Dinosaur Valentines!

After all, RAWR means I love you, right?

Find this adorable free printable over at SweetCDesigns.

Valentines for boys- 4 awesome free printables! Just add a toy!

Frogs!  

Another adorable valentine and the frogs are another dollar store find.  I can already see these frogs being launched hopping all over our home.  So fun!  Have a little girl that likes to hop? Print these out on pink or purple paper to make them more girly.  I couldn’t find the link up to these — if you know who made these cuties, please let me know so I can link up!

frog valentines by lullabylubbock, via Flickr - have to search but there are a bunch of free printables for candy free valentines

My heart BEEPS for YOU! (i’m dying over here with all of this cuteness overload!)

Keep it simple with a cute robot printable and call it a day!  This is so sweet that it makes my heart skip a beep!  You can find this free robot printable over on Flickr.

Free printable robot valentines

 

Feeling crafty?  Have time to make large batches of play dough?  Fear not, I don’t have time to make play dough in bulk either, but I LOVE the sweet idea.  Play Doh brand makes miniature sized play doh packages in Valentine’s colors to re-create this exact thing.  You can find the ready made Play Doh here.

Valentine Ideas: Homemade Play Dough Valentine for Kids

 

Healthy FRUIT!  (I can hear some of your eyes rolling…keep reading!)

The kids might not appreciate these as much as the parents might, but I love these cute and washable valentines!  A washable valentine makes this a safe bet for our little man…and a peel…when I see that extra layer of food protection (from risk of cross contamination), I completely geek out and get all excited.  Rubber bands and sweet, sweet words!  Bring it!  I can see this making our sons lunch bags when they get a little older!

Healthy Valentines  Print out cards saying:   “I’m bananas for you”   “You are plum perfect”   “You are the apple of my eyes”   “You’re pear-fect”.  Cut in circles or squares. Punch a hole in each card. Match these cards with the coordinating fruit. Use a rubber band to attach the card to the fruit. Great for non-eating candy folks or for healthy eating. It’s also cute to put in someone’s lunch box.

“Love Juice”

Here is an adorable idea from tatertots and jello blog.  Attached to the bottle of water is a packet of Hawaiian Punch that turns clear water into a red, love juice.  If you go to the blog,Kalleen’s been completely generous with free printables and tells you where to get the Hawaiian Punch packets to magically turn this water into red juice.  The idea is awesome.  My son loves color mixing, but he’s four…and I can’t bare to give him Hawaiian Punch yet.  I know. I’m Lame.  But the idea is still really awesome and I can see older kids loving the fun in this!

Until he’s a little older, I think we will totally make some “love juice” at home, but use a natural red cherry juice to change the water from clear to pink or reddish.  My son is going to love doing the pouring!  He loves being my kitchen helper!

 

Valentine, you rock!

So do you, Goexplorenature.com!  One of my favorites, because it’s something my son can really make!  Collect the best rocks, draw a heart on them with a sharpie and have your kids color or paint it in.  A fun way to be creative and boost those fine motor skills all at the same time!

 

Blooming Cupcake Liners!

How cute is this!  Find some yellow cup cake liners and make a crocus to give someone a real St. Valentine treat!

How To: Make Blooming Cupcake Liners

 

Photo Valentines!
Grab your camera, secure a few construction paper hearts to your wall with painters tape and have a photo shoot!
Print the images out, write you sweet note on the back and your done!  I love this sweet idea from deliacreates.
Valentine's cards
And as always, have a Safe and Happy Valentine’s Day!  XOXO!
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An Update On Our OIT Journey

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If you saw the Chew Chew Mama Facebook page update last night then you know that I have started writing this post dozens of times.  I have so much to say about what’s been happening over the past 4 months, but i’m scared that what I am about to share could potentially cause confusion for our family, friends and teachers that interact in our son’s daily life.

So I’d like to start off this post by saying that my son still has a food allergy and is highly allergic peanuts.  If he ate a peanut, his life would be in danger.  So please continue to keep your nuts to yourself!

If you read my first OIT post, you know that our son is taking part in oral immunotherapy clinical trial (aimed at desensitizing our son to peanuts) at Johns Hopkins Medical Center. This clinical trial is three years long! It is a marathon! It is definitely not a quick fix (nor is it a guaranteed fix) and during the entire trial our son’s world needs to remain nut free. Though we are able to clearly see and understand a lot of the things that are happening, we won’t know all of the answers until the end of the trial.

I can already predict there will still be more questions at the end of the trial, so please understand that if you are lucky enough to be a part of our son’s life and he is lucky enough to be a part of yours…he still needs to be protected.

Every step we take at Johns Hopkins is incredibly controlled by the experts in this field. Our experts, who I am now referring to as real superheroes are Dr. Robert Wood and Kim Mudd, RN, MSN, CCRP. We communicate pretty often.  And by often…I mean, that yes, our super doctor has answered his cell phone at 4:45 am to answer questions about what to do when our sweet Cub was wheezing, not from OIT, but from croup.  The medical team is there for our son in an instant.  They connect with us immediately and I feel incredibly safe, blessed and lucky to have them.

Ok, so now that I said all that…guess what?

All signs are pointing towards oral immunotherapy working for our son.  This means that I am equally amazed and nervous all at the same time.

Beginning in October, we started giving our son OIT doses that were so small that they were barely visible to us. We added juice to what looked like maybe a half a grain of salt and prayed that it hadn’t flown out of the cup in the process while we watched our son drink it down.  Right from the start, our son has had mild reactions to his doses.  I remember thinking that if an amount THIS small was causing eczema all over his torso and “tickles” in his mouth and throat…that there was no way I was going to last in this trial as the doses got higher.  But we are more than lasting.  In fact, we aren’t turning back. We are amazed at what we are witnessing happening right before our eyes.

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So far, we’ve consistently seen eczema flairs and hives from dosing.  They’ve caused us concern and worry, but they haven’t ever escalated to a dangerous level.  Not once. The hives show up, almost as if to say “hello, something’s happening in here!” and then they vanish just as quickly as they appeared.  The most amazing part of this experience is that we see more reactions right after an up dose, but then as the days go on…the reactions start to fade away to none.  This tells us that his body is most likely desensitizing.  It’s mind blowing! This has pretty much been the theme of our son’s experience of OIT throughout his up doses so far.

I’m not an allergist, so I am not going to give the details of how we are advised to handle these mild reactions, but I will say that we do have a plan in place for how to treat anything and everything that comes up and we are instructed to reach out to our doctor whenever we are concerned.  In the beginning, there is no doubt in my mind that I was an annoying, new OIT mom!

In hindsight, I probably called our doctor too much at the start, but this was all new for us…of course I was calling.  Dr. Wood answered every time making me feel like our family had his undivided attention and never once complained.  I am really not sure how a man as busy as he is pulls this off, but he does!  Now that we are four months into OIT, they don’t hear from us too much unless something new comes up.

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We travel to Johns Hopkins every 14 to 20 days for our son to up dose.  During an up dose appointment, our son gets his vitals taken (weight, height, temperature, blood pressure) and then is brought to a treatment room to get his dose.   A dose increase is given mixed in juice initially, but now since we are up to 50 mg of flour, it gets mixed in apple sauce.  Once he’s taken the dose we stay for observation to make sure that he is tolerating the new dose safely before they send us home.

During this time, our son has a snack with his baby brother and enjoys being in charge of the remote control to the television in the room.  Our son loves that Dr. Wood has Disney Jr. too (watching the TV in photo below and giving a thumbs up)!  At the end of an appointment, vitals are taken once more and we are out the door.  Our son is not phased at all that we drive about 2 hours to go have some juice (now apple sauce) with Dr. Wood and Mrs. Mudd.  He loves to see them and to give Mrs. Mudd hugs, except for on pinch days.

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Pinch days.  The hardest days of OIT for us so far are the blood work days. Every so often a blood draw is required for the study to see how our son is progressing.  I think these days are harder on Chew Chew Mama than the Cub. He seems to bounce back so much faster than I do. He is such an incredibly awesome little man.

I get to see the basic results of the blood draw, but I do not get to see all the allergy numbers and MAN DO I WANT TO SEE THOSE NUMBERS!  Our doctors, who are blind in the study, can’t see those numbers either.  However, the general blood work up that I am allowed to see…has changed from what it was at baseline before we started OIT.  In fact, not one, but six of his blood levels have changed (still in safe range). This news combined with the reactions to the doses I mentioned above tells our family that a positive change is happening!  This day was the day that we really let ourselves start to get excited about what this could mean for us in the future if OIT continues to go this well.

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When we began our OIT journey, our lives revolved around the doses.  We were so nervous that life basically stopped at dose time so it was our only focus. We initially gave the home doses at 3:00 PM each day so that we could STARE at our son each second and feel safe that the dose was over before we put him to bed.  During the first two months, I don’t think I ever looked away from him during a dose other than to blink or to look at his baby brother, because yes, i’m a little over protective.  Now that I am thinking back on those early days it makes me smile at how much i’ve changed.

Over the course of the last four months, we’ve (i’ve) chilled out A LOT.  We aren’t lax at all, but OIT is teaching us so much about how our son’s body reacts to his allergen that it’s given us room in our lives to relax. I realize the sentence that I just wrote would have made absolutely no sense to me (an allergy parent) prior to starting OIT, but I promise it makes sense now.  For the first time in 4 years, we are protective and nervous about what’s ahead as our doses continue to increase — but we aren’t scared anymore.  There are no words to describe how huge this change is for us.

Our lives don’t stop during OIT anymore.  Like any other new routine, we’ve gotten used to OIT and it’s become a normal part of our day.  We now give the dose after dinner, so that the Cub can run around a little more.  He does get a bath during his dose time.  Our bath temperatures are warm (not hot), so we’ve never had temperature cause any sort of a reaction.  We’ve also never been warned for this to be too big of a concern.  We still enjoy calm activities during a dose, but calm can mean racing cars and digging for worms outside as well as building with blocks or puzzles.  Our son is sleeping during the last two hours of his dose.  Yes, we check on him more often during dose time — and yes, he’s been perfectly fine!

He’s spending his days being a busy, silly, sweet, 4-year-old little boy.  He’s a little itchy, but he doesn’t complain.  He just tells me, “Mommy, my arm (lips, head, foot, etc..) is itchy, write that in your book.”  He makes me laugh!  God made him funny!

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We’ve had a few learning bumps along the way.  We’ve learned that dosing without a snack is a bad idea.  It pretty much increases the amount of hives and “itchies” we see and brings them on much faster.  We only made that mistake once!

We’ve learned that walking next to mommy in the food store is not a “calm activity” nor is it the best idea even three hours after a dose.  This caused hives which pretty much told us “slow down, he is moving to fast.”  So into the cart he went!

We’ve also learned that getting sick and having a fever is not the end of the world.  We had heard that we would not be allowed to dose if the Cub got a fever.  We tried to avoid that from happening as much as humanly possible, but he’s four and he goes to preschool…enough said, right?

Much to our dismay, one early morning our son called out for me sounding like a honking seal and when I reached him he was coughing, wheezing and incredibly hot!  It wasn’t related to his doses at all.  He was sick.  Our pediatrician told us it was viral and our allergist told us not to dose, and I told him, “I’m scared not to give him his dose now.”  And his response was, “I know you are, but it’s going to be ok.” So I complied and guess what? Our son was just fine to resume his next dose a day later. Once you start these doses, the idea of stopping them sends your heart into a panic that the desensitization will weaken. But we are mighty!

So what’s ahead?

Our next appointment is a pinch appointment.

Ugh.  It will also raise our son’s dose to just about the level it was when he went into anaphylaxis during his food challenge. I’m a little nervous, but I trust what’s happening and I trust our doctor. I still believe whole-heartedly that this opportunity was an answered prayer and every evening when I open up our son’s dose cups and smell the undeniable, strong scent of peanut in my nut-free house, I smile and offer up a thankful prayer.

Thank you to everyone that has been checking in and praying for us.  We appreciate it so much!  We believe the prayers are working and we are thankful!  Please keep them coming and I promise to post another update in a few months!

Big, big hugs!

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Disney’s Meet The Robinsons

Meet the Robinsons

Have you seen Meet The Robinsons?

We love this movie. We recently watched it again during a snowy day and it’s adorable. Lewis could not be a sweeter character and Ben loves that Lewis is an inventor.  The movie always inspires Ben’s own inventions for weeks to come after a viewing.  We love that the Robinson family is perfectly imperfect and that they support and celebrate each others interests, differences and most importantly…they celebrate when someone in their life fails.  Sounds a little crazy, right?  It’s actually so well done your heart can’t help but smile.  

When one of Lewis’s inventions malfunctions, they start celebrating and congratulating him for the opportunity to learn and tell Lewis, ”In failure we learn. In success, not so much!” and then raise their glasses to him saying, “I toast to Lewis and his brilliant failure, may it lead to success in the future.” As if that wasn’t wonderful and positive enough, the family’s motto is “keep moving forward!”  In keeping this positive attitude, things work out well for little Lewis by the end of the film.  All that cuteness plus Disney throws in singing frogs, robots, flying space ships, dinosaurs, giant trains, science fairs…it’s fun!

Love, love, love!  This movie is absolutely a family favorite, but of course there is another reason that I am writing about the film on the blog.  In one of the scenes at the beginning, Lewis creates a machine that makes what else…peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  

Unfortunately, the machine malfunctions and sprays peanut butter on someone with a peanut allergy.  It’s a very quick scene, but the character gets hives, starts to swell and then struggles to breathe.  The first time I saw the movie, I gasped, but I was happy to see that an epipen is given and immediately you can see the character with the peanut allergy getting better.  As much as the scene scared my son, I was glad he saw the character get an epipen and that it made him safe.

Ben still wants and enjoys the movie very much and even though he tells me, “the peanut part scares me mom,” he will still choose it during movie nights or snow days.  Sometimes he wants to watch the peanut part and sometimes he wants me to fast forward it.  I’m all about child-lead learning and I follow what he’s comfortable with, because after all he is learning how to deal with his feelings about his allergy.

Peanuts are in SO many movies and cartoons.  I don’t like that my son feels scared when they show up.  As a mother of a young child with a peanut allergy, I find myself constantly explaining over and over again that peanuts are safe for some people as I simultaneously reinforce that they are very dangerous for Ben.  It’s a hard concept for a tiny person to get a hold of and I am so proud of our son every day for the way he takes his allergy in stride. Before this was part of our life, I never noticed how much peanut industry marketing is passively sent our way and sprinkled into our lives through the media and even though it’s been four years…I still get surprised.

Still, we don’t get discouraged.  We don’t let the allergy stop us or slow us down, like the Robinsons, we just “keep moving forward.”

Have you noticed peanuts in children’s books, cartoons and movies?  You’ll be surprised if you start to pay close attention!

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Happy New Year!

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Hello and Happy New Year!

I am so incredibly grateful to everyone following the blog and am amazed at how many people we’ve reached this year.  It makes my heart smile, so I want to thank each of you for your part in making my year so awesome and wish you all a wonderful NEW YEAR! Thank you, thank you for reaching out with questions and for spreading awareness about speech, language, pediatric feeding and of course the topic that our family was thrown into and tackles with a positive attitude every day – food allergies!

I am beyond excited to be given another year to love this sweet little family of mine.  This year we started a few new traditions for our family’s New Years Eve and they were so exciting for the Cub that they will most definitely be sticking around.  Understanding the concept of a New Year is a challenging task for little ones, so I got to work figuring out how I could place both a language learning and feeding spin on things.

We started our morning looking through family photos and talking about all the things that we had done over the past year.  Then we talked about some things that we’d like to do with our “New” year.  Once we had finished our photo gazing and New Year planning, both boys, Ben (age 4) and Henry (age 1), giggled watching me blow up and string 12 balloons.  And of course, I blew up one extra balloon for playing volley ball with Ben!

Our New Years Eve excitement started off strong by popping the first balloon in our countdown to the new year at 8 AM! I set our kitchen timer to go off every hour on the hour and each time it went off our son, Ben, was a flurry of excitement who practically vibrated across the floor, “MOMMY, it’s time TO POP ANOTHER BALLOON!” And pop them we did!  One by one, each hour, for twelve hours until we reached the Cub’s New Year at 8 PM.

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Inside each balloon was a slip of paper listing a fun “new” thing to do together.  ”What new thing does it say to do now, Mommy?!”

8 AM – Have a silly dance contest!

9 AM – Bear Crawl Races!

10 AM – Game of hide and seek!

11 AM – Read NEW BOOKS!  I have two favorite New Years Eve books for the preschool age.  The first is P. Bear’s New Years Eve Party by Owen Paul Lewis.  It’s an adorable counting book to help count down to the New Year.  Each hour, new animal guests arrive to P.Bears Party and my little boys love animals so this was a hit!  Click on the book photos below for more details and reviews of each book!

My next favorite book is Shante Keys and the New Year’s Peas by Marion Eldridge.  This book has wonderful rhyming text and what I love most about it is that there is a focus on food!  Shante Key’s family has a New Years Eve tradition to eat black-eyed peas for good luck in the New Year.  When her Grandmother realizes she forgot to make them, they send Shante out to the neighbors to find some.  What Shante finds instead are all different types of New Years traditions — including different types of foods!

12 PM – Eat lunch in a new place and try a new food!  We ate lunch picnic style on the floor.  Lots of smiles and giggles happened in the new place and it was TOTALLY fun to try NEW foods on NEW years eve.

1 PM – Create NEW galloping paths in the house and oh yes, mommy and baby brother will follow you where ever you lead.  More giggling.

2 PM – Make a new craft!  There  are so many fun ideas on Pinterest.  We didn’t make our craft themed to New Years Eve, we just focused on making something “new” to display.

3 PM –  Play Just Dance 2014 with mom.  So I know we already danced up above, but this time we danced with the wii.  What can I say…I we really love Just Dance 2014 and who can really resist dancing with a giant panda bear?  Right?  Not us for sure!

4 PM – Watch a new movie!  This didn’t exactly end in an hour, but that is the beauty of this age.  The timer cooperated with the length of the movie.

5 PM-ish – Dinner time.  Eat in a new place and try a new food!  This time we moved dinner into the dining room!

6 PM – Bath time with BUBBLE BLOWING and ocean water! (we used our imagination for the ocean water). Blowing bubbles during bath time is one of my favorite, fun things to do for the boys. What better place to blow soapy bubbles in the air than right over the soapy tub, right?

7 PM – Family room in pajamas for a family dance party. Pandora Toddler Radio.  Lights out.  Pulled out my FAVORITE color light disco ball (which honestly happens several times throughout the year)…and let me just tell you, we most definitely shook and stomped our sillies out, clapped our crazies out and jumped our jiggles out!

8 PM – This part could not have worked out more perfectly!  We watched last year’s ball drop in Times Square on You Tube.  It was just over one minute long. Our Cub loved watching the footage of all the different countries that rang in the new year before us and gave us giggles of excitement over it all, “Daddy, look at all the fireworks!” Finally, we counted down excitedly and as loud as we could, “10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 – HAPPY NEW YEAR!  Hugs and kisses around the room!

Bringing my family’s tradition forward, we bundled up and went out on the deck to bang on pots and pans and yell out to the world, Happy New Year!  The Cub was just elated to be going outside “at night!” and “in my pajamas!”  We made lots of noise and then came back inside for a milk and cookie toast!

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We made our own peanut safe version of these, because m&ms are not safe for the Cub’s peanut allergy.

The evening ended with a re-read of the “new” book and my sweet little boy exclaiming, “Mommy, I love you, New Years Eve is the BEST DAY EVER!

Lights out by 8:30 PM and our little ones seriously did not miss a thing!  We had a pretty amazing day with them too.

I know there are families whose little ones are extremely flexible and can hang out until the wee hours, but these little Cubs of mine love their sleep and start to unravel and crank out after 8 o’clock (in fact the baby (age 1) doesn’t even last that long!).  This years activities were planned as a way to give them the best of both worlds and it was a glowing success.  Seriously, high fives all around!

I’ve had pretty awesome New Years Eves in my past, including black tie, Mercury Society balls in New York City and watching fireworks explode over my head in St. Marks Square in Venice, Italy…but watching my little boys excitement and holding them close completely tops them all.

I am so excited about all to come this year.  May it be a year filled with good health, family fun and peaceful hearts.

Happy New Year, Friends!

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