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Parents have to be parents - not pals!

I've a friend whose daughters will eat only Coco Pops for breakfast. She wishes her girls would tuck into something more nutritious but knows there would be a mutiny if the chocolate cereal was taken off the shopping list.

When she comes on play dates she marvels at how our TV is always off. Hers is on as soon as her kids are out of bed, and it remains on most of the day.

Cartoons play on loop and her daughters can often be found standing inches from the screen transfixed while their visitors play on the floor around them.

She wishes she could limit their viewing, but knows there would be uproar if she removed this entertainment from their lives.

The problem is not that she has trouble disciplining her kids; rather that she has set precedents that are hard to reverse. If you introduce your kids to sugary breakfast cereal with novelty characters on the box then it stands to reason they'll choose it over porridge oats in sombre packaging.

My kids are porridge fanatics because they were never given a chance to be anything else -- they're just not on the menu.

The same goes with TV. Personally I could live quite happily without the box, and I've made sure my children don't see it as an integral part of their day. My boys, aged two and five, will play all day without mention of the television because they're used to entertaining themselves.



unlimited

My friend's girls have always had unlimited access to TV, and are allowed to switch it on and channel surf themselves, so it's unrealistic to expect them to suddenly go without.

Now, I'm not trying to make the point that I'm a great parent and my friend has somehow failed. I'm just pointing out that children are creatures of habit, and thrive on routine. As parents we are in control of that routine, and that lifestyle, and it's up to us to start our kids off as well and as sensibly as we can through good example and good practice.

My eldest son's school doesn't allow junk food yet I'm amazed to hear how many of his classmates are given biscuits and chocolates in their lunch boxes. Cal has asked me why some of the kids have treats, and it's been tricky to answer. No one wants to dis another child's parents, and while we all bend rules occasionally it's hard to explain that to a five-year-old.



baking

Now, I'm a serious chocoholic who loves baking with my kids but treats are carefully controlled in our house. Since they were small they were introduced to the pleasures of fruit via bite-sized grapes, raisins and berries.

Had I been handing out crisps and chocolate at snack time I know full well they'd be looking for these every day.

They're normal kids who love junk as much as the next child, but thankfully they're also fruit mad, which means they'll cruise the fruit bowl when they're peckish rather than request a biscuit.

Now, I'm no Gina Ford or puritan, and am sure my style of discipline will have some of you rolling your eyes in scorn. For all I know they could grow into couch-potato teenagers with sugar addictions, but for now I'm following my instinct to give my kids the best start in life I can.