At age 4, my son A.J. was completely potty trained. Not that he went to the bathroom willingly, however. He would dance, shuffle, cross his legs, and wait until the last possible second. One Saturday afternoon, we were getting ready to run errands and A.J. was in full procrastination mode, bobbing up and down like a mad cork. I launched into my usual "Time to go to the potty, honey" speech, with no success. Then my husband looked A.J. straight in the eye and said, "I'll give you a dollar if you go to the bathroom right now." A.J. stopped cold. He eyeballed Tony to see if he was for real. My husband started to draw a crisp bill out of his pocket, and A.J. took off.
I was appalled. "You're going to teach him to expect money every time he pees," I said. "Do you know what sort of precedent you're setting here?" Tony just shrugged and said, "Let's see what happens." What happened was this: That dollar was the best money we ever spent. From that day on, A.J. had a new attitude about the bathroom: Why avoid it? You never know what fun you might have! I'm not actually sure I'd use the same tactic again, but I did learn this: Sometimes the ever-evolving process of parenting requires us to toss out the handbook and get creative. Experiment -- sometimes it really pays off!
Kemi Chavez used to get frustrated when her toddler, Olivia, refused to try healthy foods. "She wouldn't eat broccoli, peaches, beef, or anything with an unusual smell," says Chavez. The Denver mom happened on her solution almost by chance. "One day I just gave up and let her pick her food from my plate. It seemed ridiculous, but it worked." So Olivia was "served" every meal from Mom's plate for months and became a much more adventurous eater. "She even likes Thai food now," says Chavez.
In the preschool years, the dinner table can turn into an absolute war zone -- unnecessarily so. I used to fight epic battles with A.J. about our "no sugary cereal" rule. He had sampled Lucky Charms and Froot Loops at various social events and relentlessly pestered me for them at the grocery store. Finally, I gave in and bought him a box, with one caveat: You can eat it, but only as dessert. (With the added vitamins and minerals, I figured the cereal would be healthier than candy.) In a similar burst of "Why not?" thinking, a friend of mine enticed her preschool-age twins to eat brussels sprouts by bringing the hamster cage over to the table and feeding the vegetable to the furry creature. Fascinated, the kids decided to try what their pet was eating. (It turns out that one of them, now 10, is still a brussels sprouts fan.)
Too many dinnertime rules can also lead to frustration for everyone, and some loosening up rarely hurts. (Face it: Your kids probably won't be dining at a White House state dinner anytime soon, so if their eating habits are a bit eccentric, so be it.) Tammy Burk of Charlottesville, Virginia, got tired of telling her children to sit properly in their seats during dinner. "I made a new rule," she says. "If they don't want to sit down, that's okay. But they have to stand at the table and eat instead of running around." Likewise, Abby Carr of New York City grew increasingly frustrated with her 3-year-old's demands at the table. "Stephen used to bark out orders like 'More juice!'" she says. "So we told him we'd listen only if he used good manners and spoke in a French accent. Now he says, 'Sir, may I puh-leeze have more joooce?'"