Nov. 9, 2011 at 11:44 AM ET
You may have fond memories of Soleil Moon Frye from her days as Punky Brewster on TV. She's all grown up now, the mom of two daughters and author of "Happy Chaos," an in-the-trenches guide to parenting the messy way. That is, Moon Frye believes families function best when parents accept that they'll make mistakes and appreciate that life is full messes, tears and skinned knees. Moon Frye stopped by TODAY to chat about family dinner time and creative ways to entice picky eaters. She also answered these questions from TODAY Moms Facebook readers.
For Karine Hoffman, a mom with five kids (ages 8, 7, 4, 3 and 2!), dinner is “less than a relaxing experience.” Her question:
“How can I get my 2-year-old to sit and eat with us at the dinner table? I don’t know what he is surviving on. I never really see him eat!”
Soliel's answer: The most helpful tip I can offer is to get them involved in the process and get on their level. My girls love making the salad when dinner time rolls around so I let their creativity run wild and sometimes end up with some very unconventional salads! Another thing we will do from time to time is lay out a blanket and pillows and have dinner on the floor. Yes, it's very unorthodox, but fun and it definitely gets you down on your kids' level. We also love to have picnics outside. Mixing it up keeps things interesting, . Creativity is key.
Alice Faye worries about her 5 year old son, who was an only child for so long, being too aggressive with her 10-month-old daughter. She says, “He sees us hit her with a pillow and she laughs. Then he goes over and gives her a good whack and she cries.” Her question:
“I just want them to grow up to love and respect each other. What is the best way I can have that outcome?”
Soliel's answer: I always say that kids and siblings often "love hard." We have a lot of pillow fights and wrestling matches that sometimes end in one child getting too rough and the other getting hurt. I'm always encouraging them to spend quality time with one another and to treat each other the way they would like to be treated. I also find that asking my older daughter to help out with my younger daughter works great. Instead of asking her to always be nice to her little sister, I ask her to set an example for her, or help her to sound out a word, or write that new letter she's working on. It gives the older one a sense of responsibility and changes the dynamic of the relationship in a positive way.
Maya Saccuzza wants to know how you can distinguish between a child’s temperament and learned behavior. She asks:
"What is the difference between a "strong willed child" and a brat?"
Soliel's answer: Sometimes I feel like my 3 and 6 year olds are going on 13 and 16. Both girls are very strong willed. The most important thing is to encourage kindness to others and to set boundaries. Really listening and engaging with your kids makes a huge difference. I cannot stress enough how important I think it is to get down on their level. Talk to them as a friend, but maintain boundaries, because being a parent comes first. I feel like getting my kids involved in charity work has really helped with their behavior. We recently had a lemonade and bake sale to help raise money for the people in Haiti. The girls were so involved and felt really good about what they were doing. Doing charity work takes the focus off of them and puts it on helping the less fortunate.
Reagan Graham O'Hare wonders about balancing work – even if it’s from home – and playtime with kids. Her question:
"In your book you state that you work at home and you make play time count with you as you are there 100 percent in the moment and work time is work 100 percent. What's your schedule like and how do you find ways to do 100 percent at one thing at a time?"
Soliel's answer: It's always total chaos here trying to find a balance between work and kids. I have become quite the juggler because right now work is busier than ever. I think the most important thing is to be completely present when you're spending that one on one time with your kids. The quality time you spend with your kids can be just a simple stroll around the neighborhood or a craft project. I just try to remind myself to leave the technology behind. Jagger didn't have school the other day so I took a 45 minute break from work and we put our rain boots on and went out in the rain and jumped in puddles.It was a blast!
P.C. Dinkel is a stay-at-hom Dad with kids ages 1 and 4. He asys the chaos in his life is “trying to have an adult conversation with anyone.” He says:
"My wife works all day and when she comes home she wants to spend time with the kids. Then I go to work at night. So, as you can imagine, conversations about news or politics with my 13 month old daughter are very one sided and are mostly about the happenings on Sesame Street …Any suggestions?"
Soliel's answer: I think making time for your partner is incredibly important but we all struggle with finding time. Even if it is just 30 minutes you two set aside when she gets home, before you go to work, will make all the difference. Find a friend or family member you trust to watch the kids maybe once a month, so the two of you can set some time out for yourselves. Surprise her with a movie, make dinner at home, or even run a bath after her day at work (and don’t forget candles). Most importantly, try and stay connected and communicate.
Erica Craig Gault wants to encourage her children’s passions (for sports, dance, etc.) but wants to know how to balance activities with family time. She asks:
"How do we maintain family time and sanity with all the rushing around town and routines in a day?"
Soliel's answer:I'm still trying to figure this one out myself! One thing I found that really makes the difference is making sure the time we are able to spend together is quality time. Turn the phones off and shut down those computers. Also you can turn what they are learning into family fun. My daughters and I have dance parties where Poet shows us some of the dance moves she is learning in her dance class and Jagger teaches the family some of the Spanish phrases she has been learning at school. We also will pick out one of our favorite board games and have a game night in our house. Candyland is a big hit right now.
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