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Noel Janis-Norton explains healthy eating, playing up at bedtime and homework

PUBLISHED: 13:20 28 March 2013 | UPDATED: 13:20 28 March 2013

Children being taught using an iPad.

Children being taught using an iPad.

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Child behaviour specialist Noel Janis-Norton answers questions from north London parents about how to minimise day-to-day problems

Q: My daughter keeps coming downstairs after bedtime. How can I get her to stay in bed?

A: Most children need more sleep than parents realise. Don’t make the mistake of putting children to bed too late, as they’ll get a second wind and will not be feeling tired. Be brave – put them to bed earlier.

Food is fuel for action. In order for children to feel tired by bedtime, they usually need to have eaten all their food for the day, including snacks, several hours before. That gives them time to use up all that energy before bedtime.

Routines reduce resistance. Having the same bedtime routine, doing the same things in the same order, helps children relax into sleep.

One reason children play up at bedtime is for attention. Children do need our attention so it’s a good idea to schedule some one-on-one time with each child earlier in the day, so that they will not be so tempted to misbehave at bedtime.

Paradoxically, telling children to try to sleep actually keeps them awake longer. The effort of trying makes them tense and keeps them from falling asleep. It’s better to tell your child that all she needs to do is lie still with her eyes closed and think about something nice. This will help her to relax, and she will drift off to sleep.

Q: How can I convince my children to eat healthy foods?

A: Food preferences are a matter of habit. If we allow children to regularly eat foods that are not very good for them, they will soon come to want and expect those foods.

To prepare for success, only have healthy foods in the house.

Make sure your child hasn’t had a snack for several hours before a meal.

They’ll be hungrier and therefore more likely to eat what you serve without whingeing.

Some children have a contrary streak and they want to do the opposite of what we want them to do. So don’t urge them to eat certain foods. Instead, give them lots of positive attention when they are eating the foods you know are good for them.

When we make dessert a reward for eating healthy food, it feels to children like they have a mountain to climb to get to the sweet treat. It makes the healthy food taste like sawdust.

Instead, start each meal with a tiny portion of some food you think your child might make a fuss about. Your child’s natural hunger will probably lead them to eat. Over time they will get used to the taste.

Don’t let a meal drag on while your child sits mutinously staring at the vegetables. Instead, set a timer for about 20 minutes. When the timer goes “ding” the meal is over and the kitchen is closed until the next meal or scheduled snack.

If you’re consistent with these suggestions and don’t nag, your children will soon start eating what you put in front of them.

Q: My son is tired when he comes home from school and just wants to play. How can I motivate him to sit down and do his homework?

A: Children need an active break between school and homework. Otherwise it will feel to them like all they ever do is work. Once children have let off steam, they are usually much more willing to sit down and tackle their homework and chores.

Children may believe that the only way they can relax is in front of a TV or computer. But screen time demotivates children. Make sure that electronics are a reward that comes after homework has been completed to your satisfaction. This is highly motivating for most children.

Manufacturers know how to make foods appealing to children, loading them with sugar, salt and fat. Avoid these non-nutritious snacks. A healthy snack makes it much more likely that your child will be willing and able to concentrate.

n Noël Janis-Norton is a learning and behaviour specialist and the director of the Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting Centre in West Hampstead. Her new book, Calmer, Easier, Happier Homework is published by Hodder & Stoughton and costs £14.99.

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