ASK A MOM: Fidgety students, healthy eating, and Thanksgiving etiquette

WBTV's Molly Grantham tackles your parenting questions in this ongoing series
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Q: My son’s teacher is always sending home a report that he can’t sit still and stay focused. I talk to him about being respectful of his teacher and classroom, and have tried to offer him some breathing strategies when he feels antsy. But ultimately, he’s 7! What testosterone-filled young boy is able to sit at a desk and listen for stretches at a time?! He needs to get up and run around but I can’t tell the teacher how to structure the break schedule.—Lucy 

A: This is one of those questions I feel like you could ask 100 people and get 100 different answers. I took your question to two different experts who work in elementary schools and got some great, specific, advice.

First up, Susan Campbell, a school counselor within Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, with 20 years of experience:

“I would want to know how the structure of the classroom is set up,” she says. “What is the schedule? Does the schedule allow for breaks? Does this happen all day, later in the day, or a certain time of day during certain subjects? I would suggest she talk to the school counselor to observe him to see if this is a problem with her son, or a core issue.”

In other words, is the whole class getting antsy?

Campbell says you can also ask the school counselor for recommendations to put into place in the classroom. Alternative seating, the ability to stand at his desk when doing independent work, run errands for the teacher to get him up, and moving for a brain break, etc.

Susan Hooper, a literacy facilitator who has been teaching elementary-school level for 23 years, also posed some questions for the parent to evaluate:

“How are his grades?” she says. “Many students are fidgety and cannot sit still and learn better when they are moving. If his grades/assessment reports show he’s at-or-above grade level, then let him continue to move. But I’d also ask if he’s disturbing other students? Typically, the answer is, ‘No.’ Young students are able to focus even if another student is antsy. It can just be the teacher who’s bothered.”

But Hooper said if it IS affecting his ability to learn, discuss it with the child’s pediatrician. If it does seem to be an ADHD issue, there are alternatives to medication.

“We can put bands on the legs of his chair so he can bounce his feet as he sits at his desk,” she says. “We can move his desk so he can stand when doing his work. We can give him a weighted lap mat that can help students calm down as they work. I even had one student who had a ‘calming jar’ (a jar with colored water and oil with glitter in it) that he’d turn when he got antsy and watch the glitter fall. There are many options to help him move and complete his work at the same time. But it will take talking to his teacher and school counselor. Keep communication open and really listen to the teachers concerns to make a plan together.”

Q: When I took my 10-year-old son for his annual well check, the pediatrician told me that his weight is increasing faster than his height and I should dial back the sugar and processed foods and watch his portion sizes. I’ve noticed his weight creeping up in the last year, too, but I don’t want to make a big deal of it or give him an eating disorder. My 9-year-old daughter is the opposite—skinny with a fast metabolism but eats the same (if not more) than my son. How do I get him to eat healthier when his sister can seemingly eat whatever she wants?—Name withheld 

 A: This can be hard. Totally feel you with this question.

Dr. Sameena Hassan, a local pediatrician, says the question comes up often in her practice.

“We are well aware people are born with different body types and there is a RANGE of ideal body weight at any size/height,” she says. “However, if your pediatrician is bringing it up (hopefully in a delicate way) it’s worth contemplating a change in the family diet.”
Dr. Hassan tries to emphasize the importance of the entire family eating healthy, and that the most important influencer of your kid’s nutrition are your choices as parents. Also, she says, no one child should ever be singled out as needing ‘different’ nutrition from others.

“Try to model best behavior for everyone in the family, regardless of their weight/size,” she says. “Five servings of fruits and veggies daily is a good rule, and a great way to feel full at meals. That generally starts with shopping at the grocery store and having healthy options for everyone. And, the ideal is still to sit as a family and eat a great meal together, nightly, though I know that’s a logistical challenge for many.”

Dr. Hassan said she could talk about this forever, but here are a few fast tips:

  • Exercise daily
  • Don’t eat with screens
  • Wait 15 minutes before second portions
  • Emphasize “health,” not size or weight
  • Pack healthy lunches
  • Less processed food, more whole foods

“I usually refer people to as well,” she says. “It’s a great website with nutrition guides run by American Association of Pediatrics.”

Because so many people wonder about nutrition for kids in this hectic world where time to feed them can be tough, I also sent your question to wellness expert, Julianne Guzik, a certified health educator in Charlotte.

“This can be tricky and you’re smart to think of potential pitfalls, along with benefits,” she says. “Try to avoid singling out your son as the only one who should make changes. Remember, reducing sugar and processed foods is a change that can benefit the whole family. Approach it as something the entire family is doing together to be healthier, as opposed to a way to manage your son’s weight. Think cheese sticks, yogurt and berries, hummus and veggies, or apples and peanut butter.”

Guzik also says to think about adding activity. Not necessarily structured exercise, but simply getting outside to play rather than screen time. Again, make it a family affair. Play tag, take an after-dinner walk, or go to the park together.

“And your son is still growing,” she adds. “His weight may even out naturally over time. Learning healthy habits now will help him—and everyone in the family—in the future.”

Many paragraphs ago I said, “I feel you.” I do. I read these answers from Dr. Hassan and Julianne Guzik with great interest on how to handle my three kids… and then realized… I wrote this whole thing while mindlessly picking “fun” sized chocolate bars from the bucket of leftover Halloween candy. Like, lots of them. I don’t say that to be funny, but transparent. If it starts at home and our kids mimic us, we have to be conscious of our actions as well.

Q: Hi Molly! Need some help with Thanksgiving dinner. I have super picky eaters and a mother-in-law who has no patience for it. She’ll be hosting this year. Should I just offend her and give my kids PB&Js if it keeps the tantrums to a minimum?—Abby 

A: I also went to two people for this one—an etiquette expert and my sister-in-law. She’s lived this. She had to bring her kids to my mom’s house for meals often, and my mom, who was a caterer when she was alive and self-proclaimed “chef who wanted to try new food!” always had quite a unique spread.

Let’s start with Elizabeth Jones, Executive Director of Promenade of Charlotte, a non-profit organization that “teaches etiquette, life skills, and dance to children from 5th grade to high school.”

She suggests talking to both parties: The grandmother who is hosting, and the children who you think won’t eat what’s being prepared.

“Tell your children you realize the Thanksgiving foods might not be their favorites, but the polite thing to do is to take three bites of each food,” she says. “After three bites, if it’s something they don’t care for, they can stop eating. (And bites don’t have to be huge!) Depending on the age of the children, they can also be told their grandmother is hosting a nice dinner, and they need to do this without display at the table. If they are still hungry afterwards, they can have something different later. Let them know your expectations for their behavior, but that also gives them some tools to handle a situation they think is hard.”

As for what to tell your mother-in-law?

“Tell Grandmother that you know the children are picky eaters, and you are working on teaching the children manners on how to handle this,” Jones says. “Then tell her you have a plan in place and have discussed it with the children, and ask her to please help in this learning process by letting you handle it.”

Oooooooo… parenting the kids, but also telling Grandmother you’ve got this handled. That’s good stuff. (Learn more about Promenade here, and contact Elizabeth directly through that site.)

My sister-in-law, Amy Grantham, has three kids under age 12. When my mom used to cook elaborate meals for our family, Amy would have to bring her older two, as would I, to eat some never-before-seen takes on various dishes. I sent Amy this question, knowing she’d been in this position before.

“Let’s be honest, Molly,” she says. “Holidays with family already have stress. Not having your kids eat the food grandma puts in front of them or the kids go hungry, are stresses not worth adding. Maybe the Grammy in this case could approve food that is appropriate for the Thanksgiving table—applesauce, turkey nuggets shaped like turkeys, etc. Or, if Grandma is really going to be difficult, I would feed them in advance and you eat the food off their plates.”

And this, my friends, is why Amy is awesome.

Thanksgiving is about family and spending fun time with those that we care about. Let the little arguments go, avoid talk about politics, and plan time to do nothing.

And with that, we’re into the holidays and the beautiful chaos of the weeks ahead. Until next month, see you tonight at 5 p.m., 6 p.m., and 11 p.m.


MOLLY GRANTHAM is an anchor, author, and mom of three. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram, or catch her on WBTV News at 5 p.m., 6 p.m., and 11 p.m.