Jennifer A. Gardner, MD
Dr. Gardner is a mom of a three-year-old son, a pediatrician, and the founder of an online child wellness and weight management company, HealthyKidsCompany.com, in Washington, DC.
What’s your favorite parenting tip? Form a deep and meaningful bond with your child while young that will last a lifetime. You’ll need this during the teenage years! Don’t wait until you have more in “common” with them. Get on the ground and play with them; they might not remember this, but it will stay with them forever.
Remember children are not “little adults” so don’t expect them to “reason” or “act” like an adult! Always be aware of your child’s developmental stage so you do not expect too much (or conversely, too little). And remember, a teenager’s brain is not yet fully developed and is therefore not always capable of always making the best decisions.
What has surprised you most about parenting? This is a cliché, but I have to say how much your life changes and how fast it goes. It’s a perpetual roller coaster ride that you get used to, but you must take time to enjoy the ride that is parenting.
How do you get your kids to eat healthy food? This is easy; by setting a good example, eating a wide variety of foods, never making a food “forbidden” (though I do limit access to less healthy foods) and having well established dinner rules.
I use the Division of Responsibility by Ellyn Satter, MS, RD: Parent decides the “what, when and where” surrounding meals and snacks. Children then decide if they want to eat and how much of what is offered. In other words, parents decide what food is appropriate and gets it to the table on a predictable schedule. But this is where the parent’s job ends. The child, not the parent, has the responsibility to decide what to eat.
How do you work exercise into your family’s life? We try to take a walk after dinner and on weekends, but this is easier admittedly when the days are longer and warmer! I never talk about “exercise” requirements, but my son knows even at a young age (3) that he should be active each and every day! He knows that if he wants to watch Sprout or play a DVD before bed, he must be active during the day. But as the parent it is also up to me to set an active example by being active daily and by choosing to take steps whenever possible, not “complaining” when I can find a close parking spot, etc.
How do you recharge your batteries? It’s hard for me to find time to recharge my batteries. I like to take a long bath, sing loudly in the car, or watch a movie, but because this rarely happens I also look for ways to recharge that involves my family. This includes taking walks, playing hide and seek, singing and dancing with my son, or quietly reading him a story. But every once in a while I absolutely must make time to have lunch with my closest friends, and I always leave feeling positively giddy!
Dr. Gardner’s Q&As: