Getting your kids eating better with the “Key Principal”


The Key Principal

Let’s begin with an inexorable principal about children: young children, ages 2-5, are fascinated by keys. That is just the way it is, it’s not taught to children, or suggested to them in anyway. Yet the overwhelming majority of children have a seething fascination in their parent’s key-chain. It’s beautifully human, and perhaps the greatest evidence that we are not living in a computer simulation. Something this peculiar and lovely could only be the truth.

Why do young children love keys? Keys are not intrinsically interesting in any particular way. Children have no use for them, no benefit can be had from them. Keys do not behoove children. Yet the keys must be explored.

I believe children are fascinated by keys because keys belong to adults. It sounds overly analogistic to say, but keys are the keys to another world that children are so innately eager to explore.

This is annoying for adults. Children shouldn’t really be playing with keys, they’re not incredibly safe, and it will be very annoying when the child secretly puts the keys under the couch then forgets about it.

Which brings us to the central dynamic, the perpetual motor: kids want keys, parents hide keys, kids want keys more, parents hide keys more elaborately, kids get better at searching, and so on and so on.

Then the parent goes out and buys something like these:

Image a dad coming home with these. He high fives his wife, “the key battle is over!” He proudly exclaims as he slams these toy keys on the counter. “These toy keys will surely satiate our child’s love of keys.”

But this father’s confidence quickly crumbles. When the child wakes up from their nap the parents proudly present them with their new toy: keys! The child does not appreciate the keys, and immediately drops them on the floor. The child doesn’t want toy keys, the child wants the parent’s keys. And this is why every family has a cheesy set of toy keys that no one ever plays with.

Use curiosity, don’t fight it

What is the Key Principal? Children are fascinated by the adult world and are attracted to what is forbidden to them, hence their fascination with keys.

What is the solution? Get a spare set of keys that is identical to your keys and leave it around. Seriously, go to your hardware store and make a spare set of keys, use the same key rings and other paraphernalia that your key set has. Then casually leave it around your home as you would you own keys.

Problem Solved.

Now is this a little dangerous? Yes, extra caution needs to be had. Keys are not ideal toys. Wall sockets need to be covered. You need to key proof your home and make sure there is nothing dangerous for your child to shove a key into. This is very important. Monitor your child’s key time to make sure they’re not destroying anything or hurting themselves, especially at first.

This is the most important part that most parents miss: do not give your children the ringer set of keys or they will not want them. The fact that the children should not have the keys is the crucial ingredient in the allure of the keys.

Wrapping the ‘ringer’ set of keys in a present and giving it to the child on their birthday defeats the whole purpose. These keys cannot be given, only discovered. These keys cannot belong to the child, if they do, the child will not want them.

This is exactly what my family did and it was beautiful. My daughter has spent hours exploring this ‘ringer’ set of keys while the ‘real’ keys stayed safe in my pocket.

Applying the “Key Principle” to food

How do we get our children to eat better? It’s another perennial parenting battle: parent wants child to eat vegetables, child refuses, parent begs, child physically around in the chair, and so on.

Remember the “Key Principal”: children are fascinated by the grown-up world and what is forbidden to them. This paradigm lies dormant in most children like a volcano waiting to erupt. Use the volcano, don’t fight the volcano.

Here is how I use “The Key Principal” with my daughter in regards to food: last night my daughter quickly ate her whole dinner of chicken nuggets and green beans and declared she wanted even more food. Great! My wife and I were eating sausages with baked squash. My wife tried cutting up some squash, while talking about how yummy it was, and put it on my daughter’s plate. My daughter picked up the squash and put it back on my wife’s plate saying she didn’t want it.

Make the dinner like your keys: I silently cut up some sausage and squash on my plate into bit sized pieces, and moved it to the part of my plate closest to my daughter. Then I said to my wife, “She can’t have any of my dinner, this is Daddy’s dinner, and I’m very hungry.”

My daughter immediately reached for my plate, picked up a piece of sausage, which she’d never tried before, and ate it. I reacted in a playful guffaw, “Oh no! I can’t believe you just ate my dinner!” To which she laughed, chewed, and reached for a slice of squash, and quickly ate that too. She ended up eating a whole sausage and couple pieces of squash.

Magic. But all I did was treat my food like my keys: something grown-up, precious, and not for children. Using these principals made my daughter need to have my food.

What would you say?

Parenting is improvisation. We rarely have time to sit down and think about what we should say to our children. So let’s practice! Let’s begin to think of some scenarios and how we might use the “Key Principle” to use our children’s curiosity, not fight against it.


Your child is sick, and you walk into a doctor’s office with her. Your daughter will need to sit in the intimidating patient’s chair.

What do you say?

Stop asking your kids so many questions

“If my answers frighten you, then you should cease asking scary questions.” -Jules Winnfield, Pulp Fiction

The Sock Dialouge

Picking up my two-year old daughter from daycare is war. My family lives in Brooklyn where everything is crowded: our apartments, the subway, both the popular sandwich franchise, and the mode of public transportation, and our daughter’s daycare. Life in New York is done in close proximity to your fellow man or woman.


The pick-up area at my daughter’s daycare is especially tiny, about the size of two or three phone booths. The space can only accommodate two parents getting two children ready to go home: putting on shoes, hat, scarves, and talking to teachers about their day. If you arrive and see two parents already in the pick up area, you must wait outside until they are finished. You must have battle plan in this pick up area. It is not a place to doddle around or casually socialize. You get in and you get out.


The other day I arrived to pick up my daughter at the same time as another mother. No other parents were there, so the two of us filled up the pick-up area and began getting our daughters ready to go.


A third parent arrived, but since the pickup area was full, they were forced to wait outside. Now this mother and I were on the clock, it would be polite for us to hurry as someone else waiting. We set our respective daughters on a bench and began putting their shoes on.


The mother squatted down, gave her daughter her shoes and socks, and asked her,


“Can I help you put your socks on?”

The child, just under 2 years old, bounced back with a curt, “No.”


The Mom stood up, and was a bit annoyed as she watched her daughter struggle to get the first sock on. She mouthed the words ‘sorry’ to the parent waiting outside, and gestured to her daughter, shrugging her shoulders suggesting, ‘she wants to do it herself, what can you do?”


I would have asked my daughter the same question but she just got new shoes that had laces and zippers. There was no chance of her being able to put them on herself, no matter how much time she had. So I bit the bullet and did it for her.


After 30 precious seconds I had put my daughter’s first shoe on, while the younger girl next to us was still trying to find the opening of the first sock. A fourth parent arrived outside, a line was forming. The Mom realized her daughter had made no progress and squatted back down.


“Are you sure I can’t help you put on your sock?”

“NO!” The child snapped.


The Mom shot back up to the standing position and had a “well ok miss sassy pants, I tried, nothing further can be done here” attitude.


I shoved my daughter’s second shoe on, and we were ready to go. I wished the Mom and her daughter a goodnight as I squeezed past them, and let the next parent in to see their kids.


This mother, the two parents waiting outside, their two children inside, were all waiting on the whim of a little girl. If a 2 year old girl is controlling the life of 5 people,  then something is not right. 

What is happening?


Modern parents have replaced commands with suggestive questions. Can I help you with your sock? Your diaper looks wet, do you think it would be a good idea to change it? You don’t want to watch Moana again do you? It’s very weird when you think about it.


This would be a great parenting strategy if it ever worked, but it never does. Children never want help with their socks. Children never want to change their diaper, and they will always want to watch Moana again. Always. Yet we continue to ask. Why? And what effect is it having on our children?


Are we parents? Are we in change? Then why are we asking our kids so many questions?


”Stop Asking Your Kids So Many Questions” By Tyler Schwartz is schedule to be released in the Fall of 2018.

The Perfect Toddler Toy No One Uses

My toddler is weird. She is 1.5 years old and she is always fascinated by the ‘wrong part’ things. T-Bird was 6 months old on her first Christmas, do you want to know what her favorite present was? The wrapping paper. The paper that wrapped the presents, not any of the actual presents. Let me say this: If you are spending more than $20 on your 6-month-old’s present then you my friend are a damn fool! The best present you can give a 6-month-old is a ball of wrapping paper wrapped in wrapping paper (you can then wrap that paper in yet another layer of wrapping paper if you’re into the whole ‘inception-russian-doll’ school of present giving).Screen Shot 2017-01-28 at 10.29.20 AM

My daughter’s first birthday shall is referred to as the “Great Manufacturer’s Tab Obsession of 2016.” We had a Birthday Party for our daughter, we told everyone not to bring toys, and everyone brought toys anyways. For my next birthday I should have a “don’t bring me $1,000 in unmarked $20 bills” and invite the same people.  My daughter had piles and piles of toys: books, backpacks, age-inappropriate “Frozen” paraphernalia to give you an idea. But what was her favorite? Did unavoidable “Frozen” allure fall upon my daughter at the ungodly age of 1? What about the animal blocks? Maybe the small library of books would win her favor?

The group of presents she liked the most were the presents with manufacturer’s tags. That little white tag on the bottom of the stuffed animals, that is the apple of my daughter’s eye. Think of the man hours that went into conceiving, crafting, and designing, the Mt. Kilimanjaro of toys in our living room. They were all wasted. My daughter preferred to experiment with the government mandated, black and white tag. Sisphyus all of them!

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Daddy’s Hobby Spreads

I go through hobbies like shoes. Some last longer than others. Clash of Clans, that was a long one I played everyday for 2 years then abruptly stopped. Remote Control Helicopters, that hobby lasted about as long as a pair of thong sandals you get while on vacation. I’m on a magic/slight of hand hobby right now. How long before this hobby vanishes? No one can ever know, I just enjoy the wave of interest while it lasts. I’m practicing a card trick that destroys cards as you do the trick several times. So I have random playing cards strewn around my apartment. Waking to the bathroom in the middle of the night will probably get the seven of spades stuck to your foot. When we clean our couch a couple of years from now I’m sure we will collect enough errant cards to build a house of cards taller than our actual apartment.

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It is in the middle of the “Great Card Obsession of 2016” we discovered our daughter’s favorite thing. A deck of cards. My wife and I were trying to find safe objects for our daughter to decorate our Christmas Tree with. 90% of the ornaments were either breakable or sharp or both. That’s when I noticed the queen of hearts stuck to my wife’s slipper. Could our daughter could just decorate our tree with playing cards?

If you think about it, playing cards are the perfect toddler activity. They’re cheap, the opposite of fragile, it’s not end of the world if they put them in their mouth, easily replaceable, widely available,  and cards have lots of distinguishing qualities for toddlers to explore. Taking the cards out of their box requires a lot of acute physical manipulation. When the cards are out of their box it’s fun to spread them out, then try to gather them back in a stack, and even more difficult to put back in their box. Cards are numbered! When children get older they can begin to learn sequencing! Not to mention all the magic you can do with cards to ignite your child’s imagination and stretch their reality.

To the people who think cards are inappropriate for children: I am so sorry your second cousin lost his families mortgage payment on a poker game, I know, I know the river screwed him. I would say your second cousin’s real problem lies in cash management, expected value assessment, and mitigating the volatility of poker through long sessions of mistake free play. It wasn’t the card’s fault it was your cousin’s fault. But if cards are still a trigger for you and send a shiver down your spine, fine. Your kids don’t have to play with cards. But mine will.giphy

Expectations for Child Card Play

Card Pro Tip #1- Just get a normal deck of cards and leave it where your kids can find it. Don’t get cards made for kids (they exist), or make a big ceremony of giving them the cards. Instead leave the deck on the edge of a table, or the arm of your couch. Somewhere where they’ll genuinely discover them. Also don’t use your late Grandfather’s antique bicycles that he carried with him on his tour of north Africa and Italy in 1943, he played gin with Patton with those cards. Just buy a regular deck of cards that you have no problem letting your child(ren) destroy.

Phase #1- Ages 1-1.5 years. Your child discovers the deck of cards, you’ll probably have to show them how to open in and take out the cards. As soon as your child handles the cards they’ll probably just flop over the floor. That’s it! I just sat with my daughter and just picked up different amount of cards. Maybe I would gather some cards and assimilate them back into a uniform pile, just to show her. Let your child explore!

Going in the car or subway? Grab the cards!


Even at this early phase have your child help you clean up even if they can do little to nothing to practically help you. What’s important is your child gets in the habit of cleaning up an activity after they’re done.

Phase #1.5 When you choose the set of cards that you will let your child explore, write your child’s name on one of the cards with your child. That will be your child’s card. As they continue to explore the cards the might come across the unique card with writing on it and bring it to show you. Or maybe you can make an activity out of dumping the cards on the floor and asking your child to find their card.

Phase #2- 2 months after your child’s first interaction cards: Separating the cards into face-up and face-down piles. After playing with the cards for a couple of months I noticed my daughter doing this on her own. She would have a small pile of cards in her hand and place them in the floor all face-down or face-up. The only thing I did say “down” when a card was put face-down, and “up” when face-up. Currently my daughter is shouting “DOWN” when she places cards down.

That’s it for now! This is months of daily activity for a toddler. What are the next steps? I don’t know! Maybe finding all four cards of a certain value when she gets a little older. Maybe separating all the red and black cards? Those seem like the next steps, but I have not reached them yet. I would love to hear other ideas in the comments!

Extra Credit!

If you’re interested in learning some elementary sleight of hand, learning to make a card vanish is fun for your child to see. You can teach them to say “gone” when you make the card disappear into thin air. Another fun trick to work on is the “ninja flip”. Basically you take your dominant hand face up, and put the deck of cards facedown in your palm. You thumb should be on one long side, and your four fingers on the other. Now use your thumb to edge the top card into your other four fingers. Put your pointer and pinky above the card, while your middle and ring finger tucked under. Now if you push down with your pointer and pinky the card will bend. Now release the pressure in your pointer finger and flick out with your middle and ringer finger, this will send the card flying through the air (please practice this without your children around before showing it to them, and gain some control over where the cards will fly when you do this trick. We don’t want any cards hitting your children in the eye). On of my daughter’s favorite activities is sitting on a chair watching me flick cards off the top of the deck and exclaiming “AHH” every time a card pops into the air, like I didn’t know it was going to happen.