Category Archives: Toddler/Kid Discpline

Motivation and our kids

A colleague e-mailed me a link to this video a couple weeks ago. It is all about how we are really motivated. After watching this though, I started to think about how it relates to how we motivate our kids, particularly when it comes to encouraging good behaviour and discouraging bad behaviour. Take a look at the video and then let’s chat.

This video brought up a couple questions for me.

1) Is adult motivation and child motivation different?

From the perspective of someone who works in human resources and career services, I totally get this. I do believe that we are most motivated to do things when we feel a purpose and have the autonomy to make our own choices. We feel good when we are good at something and can demonstrate mastery over a skill.

Are our children motivated in the same way? I tend to think they are. I have seen the pride in Audrey’s eyes when she masters a new skill. That pride is totally internal, it doesn’t come from the expectation that she will be rewarded. Anyone who has a toddler probably is very familiar with the phrase “I do it”. They want autonomy and they want it now. They want to make their own choices, assert their will and have control over their world. I believe sometimes kids ‘get’ purpose more then adults do. We get lost in all the day to day figuring out our lives making ends meet stuff. Toddlers in particular, seem to see life for what it really is; get basic needs met, connect with the world, learn, love and have fun. So I can see these three basic principles of motivation at work.

2) How does this related to how we parent?

One of the idea’s this video challenges is the notion that if we reward good behaviour you will get more good behaviour. This is a key parenting principle that many, many of us are operating on. We are told to ignore the bad behaviour and focus on rewarding the good behaviour. We praise our children a lot. I am not saying that approach is wrong, but does it work?

This video suggests that rewards work when they are exercising a ‘mechanical skill’ but as soon as they cross over into ‘rudimentary cognitive skill’ then a larger reward only leads to poorer performance. And really, for a toddler for example, doesn’t everything require cognitive skill? I mean, they are learning everything from scratch… you can see in their efforts them puzzling through what in 2 weeks will then become a ‘mechanical skill.’

At the same time, the video does suggest that for things where we want someone to “follow along and get the right answer” and for “following rules” the reward system does work. This suggests to me that there are times and in some circumstances where it make sense to reward good behaviour. However, I think the implication is that it has to be very clear, straight forward and linear. When we are asking our child, for example, to make decisions based on more complex set of information and circumstances, it crosses over into the cognitive skill piece and rewards may not work. It is better then, in those circumstances, to support them to instead have the autonomy, mastery and purpose to make better decisions? Encouraging independence, providing choice and supporting learning of values is going to have a greater impact then just rewards.

Perhaps the idea in this video about adults and pay at work, the concept that you need to pay enough to take the issue of money off the table, could also be applied to kids. Perhaps we need to praise enough to get the issue of praise off the table. What I mean by that is that every parent wants their kid to know that they are loved, appreciated, and that we are proud of them. I just can’t help but blurt out a praise when Audrey does something new and really wonderful. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. I know there has been a lot of criticism lately about over-praising. And I do think it is true that praising constantly for every little thing can cause a child to be dependent on praise for validation and then make life pretty hard when, as they grow up, that praise fades away. (Many millennial site that lack of praise at work is a major cause of dissatisfaction.) Internal motivation is where it is at. But I do think we also all deeply want to feel recognized and valued. It is all about balance.

I also find it interesting that what motivates adults is also what many of us strive to support our children in developing. “Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose”. I believe many of us feel that if we can encourage our children to be able to take leadership over their lives, master a certain number of skills and interests and then have purpose in their life, then our child will be successful. Looking at it from a point of those being the key factors that motivate adults seems to back that goal up as being a good one to strive for.

Really, this is all well and good in theory. But we all know that it isn’t so easy in practice. When you are trying to motivate your screaming kid to go to bed or get out of the house in the morning, I am not sure how much this theoretical stuff will help. You do what you have to do and what seems to work best. I don’t know how much you can get a toddler to understand the purpose when it comes to leaving the house in the morning. And sure they might be proud of themselves over having some autonomy and mastery over the process, but if that means you are a hour late for work because they are trying to do it their way… well… that just isn’t going to work either. So grain of salt and all….

I don’t really have any clear conclusions about this. It’s not like watching this video is going to change how I parent… but it is interesting to think about and do I think it brings up some good points to consider.

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ControverSunday: When bad kids happen to good parents

Okay team, lets get this party started! This weeks topic: When Bad Kids happen to good parents is brought to you by @breebop– if you are a twitterite go and say hello. Also, pick up your all important badge from Accidents and then write up your own post with thoughts on the topic at hand. And then come back here for the link up. (Notice how I didn’t make it sound like it was optional?)

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Tortured Potato

Friends, lets be honest, this is essentially a question of nature versus nurture. And what do I say to any question of nature versus nurture? Yes. Column A and Column B. Both.

First off, as I said in my intro to this topic, I don’t believe in the concept of a ‘bad’ kid. Yes, some children have more socially appropriate behavior, better coping mechanisms for anger or stress, or a more well rounded approach to life. But I do not believe any child is ‘bad’. Actually, I have a hard time believing that any person is ‘bad’. There are people out there that do horrific, inhumane, down right evil things, don’t get me wrong. But I believe they do so for deep, painful psychological reasons born of horrible, inhumane, and down right evil things that happened to them. Does this excuse or make okay the horrible things some people do? No. But I do think every person is born with the capacity to be incredibly kind, compassionate and good and to be incredibly cruel, hurtful and hateful. And some of us may have a greater capacity for one way or an other. (AKA Nature) But if and how and what we become? That is because of the collection of all our experiences. (AKA Nurture). So, when it comes to kids, I think they all have the capacity to be amazingly confident, intelligent, kind and compassionate human beings. They also have the capacity to be little rotters; disrespectful, unkind, engaging in dangerous behaviour.

BUT. Before I get into to the parents in the equation, let me also just say that I fully believe that we (the royal we, as in North American Society) have an unrealistic understanding of what is ‘bad behaviour’ on a part of our children and what is 100% normal developmental challenges, AKA kids being kids. We forget (or don’t realize) that the business of going from newborn to our early twenties is one of the most complex, face paced, disorientating series of physical, psychological, emotional and cognitive changes one could ever imagine. With all the change and all that to accomplish, we have to expect that our kids are not going to be able to handle it all with 100% composure. Heck, I can’t handle one stressful month with 100% composure! Babies and toddlers rarely sleep through the night 100% of the time. Toddlers challenge, throw tantrums and act out. Kids and Teenagers? Well I am sure do stuff too (I just don’t have the experience yet to know exactly what it is, but I am sure I am in for a ride). Growing up is hard to do, yo. So I think we need to be very aware of this when we discuss the concept of a ‘misbehaved’ kid. Are they really misbehaved or are they just going through the roller coaster ride we call childhood and need more of our support? ( also, even if they are really misbehaved the answer is still more support in my opinion.)

I think most patterns of misbehaviour are a normal part of growing up. You know, ‘it’s a stage, they’ll grow out of it.’ That being said, I do wholeheartedly believe that parents have an impact, and a big one at that.

Let me explain it this way. My daughter is working her way up to what we call ‘the terrible twos’. Which are called such because toddlers are notorious for challenging and trying to establish control. As Janet says she’s “doing her job.” That is a stage where kids exhibit some fairly ‘bad’ behaviour. But as her parent, I can have an impact, both in making the behaviour worse and in making the behaviour better. Clear consistent boundaries, really being present and giving her attention, a regular routine that helps her to feel safe; these are all things I can do to make the situation better. Getting frustrated, ignoring her because she is driving me nuts, letting her see me get really stressed out; these are all things that I can do to make the situation worse.

Here is the thing. I don’t know about you, but I am human. Which means by definition I make mistakes. Which also means by definition that in some way, some how, it is likely that I will ‘screw up my kid’. I don’t believe in the perfect parent.

What I do believe in is trying our best to recognize when things are going down a not so good behaviour path with our kids. Then trying our very best to be better parents so that we mitigate the potential negative behaviour in our kids. To do this we need to be honest with ourselves that sometimes, even things we do that are well meaning, may be having a negative impact. So we need to be the adult and do whatever we can to turn things around. Especially when our kids are young, because by the time they get to be teenagers I think our impact lessens somewhat.

And sure, there are bad parents out there. I don’t believe in bad people but I do believe in bad parents. Parenting is a skill and we all have the potential to be bad at a skill. Particularly if we don’t care and try and make the effort. And chances are that kids with parents who really truly aren’t engaged, reflective, caring, nurturing and loving… well those kids probably are going to struggle in terms of their behaviour. They don’t have someone helping them to learn the skills we need to lead happy lives. And that sucks.

But I do believe that most people are good parents. And as good parents we make mistakes and sometimes our kids suffer behaviour-wise for it. But we always have the opportunity to make things better. To learn a few new skills for that parenting tool kit and help our kids be better behaved as a result. We are all going to screw up along this journey, but so long as we are trying our best and being really honest with ourselves about our role in our kids behaviour, then chances are they will be just fine. Might still need therapy for when we wouldn’t let them become a synchronized swimmer (just kidding Mom!), but other then that, they will be just fine.

ControverSunday: the mistake of the double topic

So yeah, I have already written a ControverSunday post on Discipline. And yet I suggested it as a possible topic. The lovely Megan over at Now Your In the World, is hosting this week and she wanted to go with this topic. I blame the fact that our kids are both driving us nuts lately as reason why we totally forgot that we had already addressed this in our ControverSunday topic list.

But, you know, we did it way back in May. It was so long ago. When our toddlers weren’t as toddlerish as they are now. Ha. I can just imagine how I will feel in an other 6 months and then in a couple years. Oye, this toddler discipline thing is getting harder by the day.

Anyway, house keeping first. SO. We really want this ControverSunday thing to keep going. But we need some hosts. Perpetua, who got this whole thing going, would really appreciate some help. I will certainly be on the list for the rotating hosting, but we would also love it if some of you would like to play. Here is the funnest thing about hosting: you get to pick the topic!! So please head over to Perpetua and volunteer for some week in the future and tell her what topic you would like to do. There is a current list here. Oh, and add your topics, we love ideas! (So we don’t have to mistakenly re-use ideas because we have vacation/toddler brain and we suggest ideas even through we have totally written about them before. Ha!). Oh, and Megan’s feeling lonely this week, so please write up a post and get your badge from Accidents to join the conversation by getting the link up over at Megan’s.

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So I re-read my post about discipline. Not much has changed in my opinion. But I have certainly had to flex my discipline muscle considerably more then when I wrote that post. I find myself questioning if I am picking my battles well and not pushing things that are not realistic expectations. I question if Audrey can understand the nuisances of discipline. Like how come she is allowed to go up big fat long stairs (with nice soft wood chips 1 foot down) at the park by herself but not up steep, scary, little stairs with concrete floors at the bottom at my parents place without asking please and taking someone with her. I ask myself, after 30 minute of tantrum where I have not backed down and let her play for 2 more minutes, “Was that really necessary? How fair was it for me to pull her away without much warning communicated?” I am finding myself very stubborn at not giving in, even if I realize that maybe I should have done something different. Essentially, I am working hard to stick to my beliefs about discipline and making mistakes along the way. Saying it, knowing it and doing it are three different things. Ya know?

And this is just the beginning.

(Okay, that’s all I got. Now go visit Megan.)

ControverSunday: Discipline

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Discipline: Way to bring out the controversy! Okay- go see Perpetua, our lovely host, and thank her for stirin’ up all kinda trouble. Then go see Accidents and applaud her badge.

Hold on to your hats all… here we go!

Yeah, I have some pretty strong opinions on the subject. So, before we go any further I want to make sure we cover the basic disclaimer. You know your kid(s). I know my kid. I have my opinions about what approach might be a good one for likely more then just my kid, but since I don’t know your kid and your particular circumstances please don’t take my opinion to mean that I am judging your parenting if you don’t do/think what I do/think. If it works for you, it works for you. Go to town. If what your doing isn’t working, then… well, as Dr. Phil would say “How’s that working for you?” (I am not a big Dr. Phil fan, but the man has a point with that particular phrase.)

Obligatory acceptance of others statement complete- let’s get right into it, shall we?

I think kids need discipline, and from a young age. They need supportive structure and direction. They don’t need to be yelled at, spanked, talked down to, etc. But they do need someone to say no.”They” say you can’t spoil a baby under 1 years old. I disagree. By the time most babies are 9 months or so they know how to communicate what they want. And what they want is not always what they need. And if they want to hit you, or bite, or eat 15 cookies, there is nothing wrong with saying no. Meet their needs- yes. Meet their every want- no.

So here it is our strategy. We aren’t perfect, it doesn’t always work. We get frustrated sometimes and it is flexible to deal with changes and circumstances. But here it is.

We either ignore temper-tantrums or we simply acknowledge why she is upset, and then ignore. “I understand you want a cookie, but you have already had a cookie today.” We stay close and provide comfort if she wants it, but we let her work out her feelings on her own.

We say no. When she hits, or throws food, or whatever. We say “No, you do not hit/throw food/ etc.” Then we re-direct. If she does it again, then we change the situation to indicate that she shouldn’t do that. For example, if she looks me in the eye and hits again then I put her down somewhere safe and walk away. If she drops food again (as she often does with a smirk) then meal time is over. Even if that means we need a ‘snack’ an hour later.

We try to be consistent. And we try to stay calm. I was reading Janet Lansbury’s blog the other day and she suggests to remain calm, like a CEO. I loved this way of explaining it (actually, I loved her whole post about discipline).

I really agree with Janet that the key is a consistent, loving environment, clear communication and boundaries and reasonable expectations given the age of the child. I don’t think you can expect a toddler to behave if they are hungry, over tired, over stimulated or way off their normal routine.

Furthermore, I think you have to pick your battles. I try to ask myself- is this annoying or is it dangerous or disrespectful? I find it annoying that A likes to shake her sippy cup, thus spilling little bits of milk or water on the floor. Is it dangerous of disrespectful? No. Therefore I don’t waste my parental “no” clout on it. Although I should note that as Accidents recently pointed out on twitter, something that may seem innocent, even funny, the first time your toddler does it can become a problem later, so sometimes I end up eating my words and using the all powerful no once it appears it is a problem.

Obviously we are still in very early toddler stages. And the approach we take will have to change as she changes developmentally. But for now, the things I mentioned pretty much cover our discipline needs.

But I do want to talk about the big picture philosophy. I think that many parents struggle with the idea of setting boundaries, especially with young kids. So they don’t. And they just let stuff happen. Or they are inconsistent. Then, as the kid gets older and the behaviours get more and more undesirable then the parents get stricter and stricter. Let’s face it, a 9 month old can get away with hitting in most circles but a 9 year old that punches an other kid in the face is looked at totally differently. It seems there are a lot of parents who operate on laying down more boundaries as the child ages, rather then the other way around. As I see it, if you set up boundaries and limitations early, then you can give the kid more and more freedom as they get older. For example, I don’t understand letting your 5 year old get away with anything and then not trusting them to go out to a party when they are 15. If you did your job when they are 5, then you should be able to trust they have enough good sense (because you taught them boundaries and self control) to call you if they get into trouble when they are 15.

But that is just my rant. And I don’t have a 15 year old, I have a toddler. So admittedly, what the hell do I know. Except that I want to do the best I can parenting my kid so that when she is 15 I trust her to do the right thing, without having to keep her locked up in her room. Or at least trust her that when she does make mistakes she will call me for help, rather then trying to hid it from me and thereby putting herself at greater risk. I want the process to be about her learning to take care of herself, trust herself and be able to make good judgment calls. To me, that is the long term goal of discipline.

Just in case I didn’t ruffle your feathers enough, here is a quick run down of what I agree and disagree with when it comes to discipline:

Agree:

-Communicating respectfully and giving a child fair warning (“we are going to leave the park in 5 minutes)

-Using positive reinforcement (“thank you for sharing that toy with me”)

-Providing choice, when the child is old enough (“do you want to go to bed in 5 minutes or 10 minutes”)

-Explain why you have a rule (“you can not play in the kitchen because it is not safe”)

-Give the kid control over some things (can’t think of a good example)

Disagree:

-Never saying no. I am sorry, but positive reinforcement can’t cover it all in my opinion. If she is doing something that could be dangerous, I need to communicate that it is not okay as clearly as possible. No works.

-Always giving a choice. Choices can be an effective tool, but not everything is a choice. And I want my child to understand that sometimes she will be given a choice and sometimes she won’t. The parents or caregivers ultimately call the shots.

-Trying to reason or debate with them. You can’t argue with crazy or children. You just can’t. It is not up for debate. I will explain and then the conversation is over. At least in the moment. I think once a child is old enough it is good to have a “how do we avoid that argument next time” conversation once everyone has calmed down, but don’t try to reason with them in the moment when they won’t be able to reason.

-Lastly, spanking, yelling or getting frustrated. That being said though, while I hope I never spank my child, I certainly have yelled and gotten frustrated. I try to be the best parent I can, but I am human. I can tell you what my philosophy of discipline is, but in the moment I don’t always do what I should. And in that case, I believe strongly in apologizing to your kids. When I get frustrated at A, I always apologize once I calm down. She deserves that respect. And she deserves to know that I am human and I make mistakes, just like she is human and makes mistakes.

So, there you have it. Feel free to share your thoughts. I am still new to this discipline thing and I am sure I still have a lot to learn.

Oh, but I will share one great thing I learned from leading daycamps when I was in highschool, which works great with 8-12 year olds. Child does something bad, multiple times after being asked not to. I say “How many times do I have to ask you to not do that?” Child, being smart and trying to call my bluff says “a million”. I say “okay- do not …….. that’s one, do not …….., that’s two, do not ……., that’s three… you just let me know when you have heard it enough so you understand…” and you keep going until the kid says stop. Essentially, you bore them into behaviour. Worked great.

ControverSundays: Other people’s children

So here is this weeks topic: (quoted from Perpetua’s blog)

“Hypatia proposed a great topic this week: disciplining other people’s children.  I’m going to expand that a bit and call this week’s topic “Other People’s Children” to incorporate those grounds on which one might find it appropriate or necessary to intervene in someone else’s parenting.”


As this is a HUGE topic, I am going to narrow it down a bit for the sake of my sanity. And so this post doesn’t end up being a 10000 word essay- because you all know I can get a bit long winded at times. So here is the way I am going to narrow it down. Take all the parents in the world and put them on a scale from ‘good’ to ‘bad’ (assuming this is possible.) Now draw a line at the point, under which is the subset of parents that shouldn’t be parenting. What defines this line and where it is- I am not going to go there. It is not black and white and it is way too complicated. Suffice to say there are some times where I believe the government should step in when a child is in danger. Define danger however you feel comfortable- I am not going to go there. But wherever danger is, I don’t think individuals should be stepping in at that point- I believe it should be the government.

Okay- now take all the parents above this line. That’s who I am going to talk about. The parents that are really trying to be the best parents they can. Some are better then others, but they love their kids.

Now that we have that cleared up, I am of two minds about this whole thing. Do I think there are some not-so-great parents out there? Yes. But let me just say that part of the point I have tried to make (a number of times in a number of posts) is that I don’t think the individual choices you make as a parent determine if you are a good parent or not. I believe there are crappy ‘attachment’ parents, good ‘helicopter’ parents, crappy ‘co-sleeping’ parents, good ‘cry-it-out’ parents, crappy ‘baby-wearing’ parents, good ‘push your kid a bit to hard’ parents, bad ‘all organic’ parents, good ‘fed their kids too much junk food’ parents…. ect. You get my drift. This is why I think it is so important not to judge each other on our ‘choices.’

I also believe that every parent makes mistakes. And every parent (within the definition above) loves their kids and wants the best for them. We are all good parents at times and crappy parents at times. That being said, there are some messed up kids out there and in most cases, I think it is the parents to blame. I do think it is valid to sometimes judge each other on the end result of the combination of all our parenting choices and HOW those decisions were carried out.  But I wouldn’t judge those parents to be bad people or unintelligent. I would judge them to be misguided, unfortunate and ill-equipped. Or maybe I am being too judgmental. I don’t know. I mean, we are all at least a little bit messed up, aren’t we? We all have our issues. But I believe that most of us turn out okay. And I have seen great parents have some pretty challenging issues with their kids. Kids are more then just their parents influence. But I believe that how parents react to those issues can have a huge impact on the adult that child becomes.

So back to the point- what do you do about other people’s children? The short answer- I don’t know. Would I step in if my daughter and an other child were having a disagreement in the playground. No. Not right away. (I think parents step in too much and it is important for developing social skills for kids to be given the opportunity to resolve their own conflicts) Would I step in if a kid was hurting my kid on the playground and their parents were not doing anything about it? Yes. Would I take that kid over to their parents and politely ask them to ensure their child understood it was not appropriate to behave that way? Yes. Would I step in a discipline that kid if they continued to harm my child and their parents still didn’t do anything about it? I don’t know. We might just leave the playground. I am not one to cause a scene.

Would I provide what I believed to be appropriate consequences to my daughters friends if over at our house without their parents? Yes. And if there parents had a problem with that? Then that child would not be invited over again. (When I say appropriate consequences, I am talking pretty middle of the road stuff- like time outs or loss of a privilege. Nothing extreme.) And by the way, that would go both ways. If someone disciplined my kid in a way I felt was in conflict with my parenting style? Then my daughter would not be going to that house again.

Would I step in if I saw a parent struggling with their kid throwing a tantrum at the mall? Probably not. I would think about offering help. Because I know it is hard and because I know next week it will be me. But I would likely not step in because I know I wouldn’t appreciate it. I don’t do well when people offer me help, beyond opening the door for me. When my kid is freaking out at the mall I always feel embarrassed. When I feel embarrassed I don’t respond well to offers of help from family, let alone strangers at the mall.

Would I step in if I saw a parent hitting their kid and telling them they were worthless. I don’t know. Part of me screams YES and part of me says… it is really not my place. But hasn’t this parent probably crossed the line that I spoke of above? So that is my out on this one.

What if I say a parenting talking a bit to harshly? Not abusive, but harshly? Again, probably not. We all get frustrated sometimes and do something we regret. It is no excuse. But we are human and we do screw up.

Would I say anything if a parent was feeding their baby french fries? No. I would cringe, but I wouldn’t say anything.

I think I would only ever step in under 2 circumstances:

1) As I mentioned above- if their kid was harming my kid.

2) If I felt I could help in a gentle and subtle way that would be appreciated. I remember when I was in university and I worked in the kids section of a big book store. There was an older grandma with her granddaughter who was probably 5. The granddaughter was throwing a fit because grandma said she wouldn’t buy the girl a book. I am going to hazard a guess that every time that kid goes with Mom or Dad- she gets a book. And grandma obviously did not agree with this. But after 10 minutes of struggle, grandma was at a loss. So I approached the girl and told her that grandma said she couldn’t have the book today, but that it would be here next time and she could look at it then. The girl, being smart, called me on this claim “what if you sell it?” So I put the book in a secret cupboard and told her I wouldn’t sell it. The girl calmed down, grandma thanked me. I helped. I felt great. I would do that again.

There have also been times I have wanted to tell a parent how impressed I am with them. I remember when I was about 6 months pregnant my husband and I were at a store. There was a father with his 3 or 4 year old standing just inside the door, to the side. The girl was throwing a total tantrum. The Dad was doing amazingly. He was calm and kind. He told her that he understood that she was upset but that her behaviour was not appropriate. He stood there with her until she stopped her tantrum. He didn’t give in. He didn’t yell. He was in control while still letting her express herself. I wanted to give him a medal.

So overall? There is not many times I would actually step in. We all make mistakes and seeing a parent make one mistake doesn’t mean they are bad parents. If they are anything like me, they will realize their mistake later, feel horrible and learn from it. I can’t judge someones parenting skills by one interaction, nor is it my place to. And as such, I would tend to give them the benefit of the doubt that I am likely seeing them at their worst and believe it is none of my business.

This begs the question- what if it is someone I know? Someone that I see has a pattern of parenting behaviors that I feel is detrimental to their kid. Honestly- I know I would want to say something. Something kind and supportive. But something to jolt them into realizing what they were doing wasn’t working. You know, Dr. Phil style “Is that working for you?” But I really don’t know what I would do. It would probably depend. It would depend on who they were, how well I knew them, how I would think they would take my suggestions.

So, in conclusion, other peoples kids: it depends. And, I don’t know. Ask me in a about 5 years. Then ask me again in 15. How’s that for controversy?

Here are the other posts so far:

Our Lady of Perpetual Bread Crumbs

I Know Why You’re Single

Now You’re in the World

The Mothering Life

Fearless Formula Feeder

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