Buffet training

Something we try to remember as parents is not to expect our children to do anything while out that they do not do at home. For example, if my toddlers are unable to sit at the table for any length of time after a meal, I wouldn’t ask them to do so in a restaurant. We think it is unfair to expect something from them that we have not trained them to be able to do in the first place.

Asher in his highchair

With long-term goals in mind, we include highchair time as a regular part of our daily routine and our little ones are used to happily staying in their highchairs after meals with a couple of small activities to play with for a reasonable amount of time. We can then go to a restaurant or meeting and set them up with something to do and know that they will be happy to sit for quite a while without expecting to get straight down. At home, it means that I have time to finish cleaning up the table and kitchen and leave the area without having a trail of mess that I need to come back to later.

A sitting up on the mat

There are times when we visit others or find ourselves in a situation where there are just too many tempting items for the baby to get into. A young child will only stay in your arms for so long! Mat time training can help here. See introducing mat time and mat time on the go for ideas and explanations. Using a partacot (portable crib) as a playpen can also work well for those china filled houses. (See also starting late.)

Take a look around your table during a meal. If visitors were present, would you be embarrassed? Table etiquette and manners are something we need to go over and over (sigh..) but one strategy that has really helped us is the “3 warning” system.

all in salad 1

We occasionally hold “buffet training” evenings. They are great for a family night activity and really very simple. All we do is put out a whole array of food on the kitchen bench in lots of bowls and have the children move along and serve themselves in the same way they would do at a buffet. We discuss etiquette at the same time and add our own rules to make it work for a home dinner. (For example, “You may skip over no more than 3 of the dishes” to ensure that the tomato haters are satisfied but the vegetable phobic children still end up with a few specimens of the veggie kind on their plate.) The children need to know how to take an appropriate amount, avoid wastage, to think of others coming behind them, use the tongs, general manners and so on.

waitressing

Hosting high teas and other special events in our home and having the older children act as greeters, seaters, waiters and waitresses is also something they love and helps them to learn how to show hospitality and serve others by making people feel welcome and comfortable.

backyard boundaries

Have you ever had a visitor’s child waltz through your house as if they owned it, helping themselves to whatever they like? If children are used to having complete freedom in their own home to go wherever they like, touch what they like and do what they like, then don’t be surprised if they do the same while they are out.

As well as having a routine in place, limiting inappropriate choices and providing verbal, physical or visual barriers in our own home, when we arrive at someone’s house or a play area, one of the first things we do is identify the physical boundaries for the children.

We also spend a little time on the way there discussing the kinds of situations they may face and have the older children remind the younger ones of the manners they need to remember (a good review for them as well!)

A with teddy

To avoid having young children who will only sleep in their own cots at home, we occasionally put them to sleep in a variety of situations; in the portacot in another room, in the pram, on a sibling’s bed, in our big bed, at Grandparentss house for an overnight etc. While they never sleep as well when we are out, at least they will have part of a nap.

While far from perfect, the children are slowly growing and developing into young adults that we hope will be a blessing to us and to others.

Fussy eaters and 2 plate dinners


Do you have picky eaters who have somehow come under the delusion that your kitchen operates like a restaurant and dinners are made to order? Perhaps mealtimes are a chore and constant battle is being waged with a child who feels that the meal you have served fails to fit within their stated parameters of acceptable food preferences. Take heart, today’s training tool is for you.

The pervading advice around the traps seems to be along the lines of “Keep meal times positive” and “offer a variety of healthy choices and children will be sure to eat some of them” etc etc. Now I know my own children and their response to these methods would have been very positive – “I positively will not be eating these vegetables” or perhaps, “Thank you Mother dear for this wonderful array of spring vegetables, but tonight I will be having the sausage and bread with a side of sauce and perhaps a dash of mayo.

As a Mother, my aims for our children regarding meals are fairly straight forward. I would like my children to:

  • eat what is set before them
  • do so with a positive attitude
  • keep negative opinions to themselves
  • be able to eat what someone else serves them in a social situation regardless of whether they like it or not
  • be willing to try new things
  • finish within a reasonable timeframe

There are obviously exceptions to the rules. Sick children will not eat well, babies (especially those without all their teeth!) are not expected to plough through a plate of carrot and celery sticks and I do not serve mind blowingly hot and spicy meals etc. But within reason, I expect my children to eat what I serve.

They all have food preferences, in fact so do I. I often do work around these, but only once the children are characterised by eating what they are given. Every now and again, my tomato hating daughter is served a slice of tomato in her sandwich and is expected to choke it down. The mushroom hating son is occasionally expected to slide one of those little suckers down his throat without gagging. I do not serve him a bowl of mushrooms or her a heavily laden tomato bruschetta. I do teach them to quietly put the offending morsels on the side of their plate without comment. (Our rule here is that if they complain aloud about said offending item, they will eat every bite. If it silently appears on the side of the plate it can stay there, unless previously stated that they will be eating it this time.)

If you have ever been at someone else’s house and had one of your children loudly and rudely state that they do NOT like this food and refuse to take even a bite, you will know why I have chosen to occasionally deliberately give them something they prefer not to eat.

So now for the 2 plate dinner tool. It is very simple. Place a small amount of whatever food it is that your picky eater will likely be reluctant to eat on one plate and the rest of the meal on the other. The plates are both set in front of the child at meal times, however the least liked plate is directly in front of them and the rest of the meal is a little out of their reach, but where they can still see it.

With a positive tone and pleasant attitude, explain that you will happily pass them the second plate once they have finished everything on the first plate. Inform the child calmly that when the rest of the family is finished their meals (or at a time set by you) both plates will be removed and dinner will be over. That’s it! No nagging, force feeding, threatening or anything else.

Ensure that you do not give any snacks before the meal that would take away from their appetite and do not allow the child to have a glass of water or anything else before the first plate is finished. Keep the serving very small to begin with and you may even like to have dessert on the table for a meal or two as an added incentive while the initial training is taking place. I always start with other foods that I know they love to eat, as well as a tiny amount of the veggies or whatever else we are battling over.

You may find that they do choose to go without the first couple of times. But if you stick to your guns, give no other food until breakfast, ensure they are hungry at dinner time and not full of snacks, milkshakes or drinks, this will envariably do the trick.

We will face battles with our children at some time or other. For some, eating is never an issue but the challenges arrive in other behavioural areas. With others, the battle is fought and won during meal times and spills over into positive progress across many other areas.

Out of the five children who eat solid food we now have 4 very good eaters. This has not always been the case. The fifth child is in a league of their own and is improving, but I won’t shock you with how we are dealing with those issues just yet!! (Let’s just say that they are becoming intimately aquainted with the laundry.)

The “if…then” chart

From around the age of three it is important that children begin to understand the principles behind the behaviour we expect from them – the moral reason “why” of any given situation. This allows them to apply the principles to any and every situation they are facing, including those that are entirely new to them. As Christians, this moral reason should be based on the authority of scripture.

It was somewhat of a surprise to me to realise that while I know the right thing to do, I didn’t actually know the biblical reason why in some situations. Everything came back to obedience and respect. While these are important, there has to be a little more to it as our children grow. “Because Mummy said so” is a legitimate response, especially for the very young child, however children need more than that as they mature. Similarly, “because the bible says so” does not cut it for ever. Where does it say so and exactly what does it say?

I also find myself easily falling into the habit of nagging, reminding and scolding the children while not actually doing anything about the behaviours in the form of applying suitable consequences. Many times in the past when I have sat down and thought through what our problem areas are and applied consistent consequences (explaining clearly the moral or practical reasons why behind the rules) it has been a matter of days before those behaviours are no longer a problem. With a plan and consistent reinforcement it takes only days to eliminate behaviours that at times have been driving me nuts for months! Ideally my husband and I will sit down once a week to take stock, plan and work on our children’s moral development, character and behaviour together.

One tool we find helpful is the “If…then” chart. (Available from here or make your own.) Ours has space for a bible verse explaining the moral reason (or practical reason) behind the rule, a description of the behaviour we are working to eliminate and the consequence that will be given if the behaviour occurs. At the same time we work on the positive side of the character trait. It is no good telling children what not to do if they do not clearly understand what it is they should do.

I am also transferring each behaviour onto an A4 page and each child will illustrate the ones particularly applicable to themselves for display. This will help the non-readers to remember what we are working on. I used the book “Proverbs for Parenting”  to find a verse to back up each rule. The book has proverbs sorted into categories/topic areas relevant to parenting which makes it easy to find bible verses relating to a particular kind of behaviour.

We will focus on 2 or 3 behaviours per child that are problem areas for each of the eldest children (consequences will apply to all though) and add more once those problem areas have been significantly reduced. I am hoping to see some very positive changes across the next few days and weeks and I know I will be less frustrated because I have a plan of how to deal with the situations. I will be proactively parenting in these areas, rather than reactively parenting, which is always a better way to go!

Mealtime madness – conversation skills, table etiquette and manners

Meals are a time for sitting face to face around the table and sharing our thoughts, feelings and experiences together. A time of bonding and growing with worthwhile discussions across a broad range of topics, inclusive of all those at the table. While using your cutlery correctly and displaying beautiful manners of course. Well, in my ideal world they are!

The reality at the moment is that meal times are often full of foolish talk, semi foolish behaviour and questionable manners. The latest spanner in the works is a newborn who’s feeds often coincide with everyone else’s meal time, requiring me to leave the children eating together without supervision during lunch. What to do? Here are a few ideas that we have used in the past to combat the lunch time sillies and to try to redeem this time.

  • Reading aloud. I either eat before or after the children and use the meal time itself to read aloud from excellent literature. Quality conversations can often be had relating to the themes and ideas we are reading about. Reading aloud is such a valuable activity and all children should have the opportunity to be exposed to good literature even before they develop the ability to read it for themselves. There are times that I do manage to insert lengthy read aloud sessions into our day and then there are times that it is much more difficult. A couple of chapters a day is better than nothing.
  • Audio Books. When reading aloud is not practical I substitute audio books instead. Not as nice as a “live” voice but they are still being exposed to great literature. There are thousands of classic stories available online for free download at librivox.org. Some of the volunteers who have recorded the stories are more polished and easier to listen to than others but the children don’t seem to mind.
  • Discussion starters. I trawled the net a while back for discussion starter ideas and printed out hundreds of them onto coloured paper before cutting them into strips. When conversation isn’t going well, one of the children lucky-dips a conversation starter and we all take turns to answer the usually thought-provoking question. Some of the sites with lists of ideas are here, here, here, herehere, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.
  • Etiquette posters. I purchased a set of etiquette posters from above rubies and have those on display. (The “etiquette posters” link above is the American site but you can order from the Australian site; “above rubies” link.) We occasionally read through them and discuss different scenarios, situations and occasions where a variety of manners and behaviours are expected and considered polite and respectful. We play “What would you do if…?” where we set up a  story situation for the children to respond to by using good etiquette or manners.
  • 3 marbles. When we were running our manners marble jar reward system I was putting 3 marbles in front of each child at the beginning of a meal. If poor manners were used, I didn’t lecture, I simply removed one marble. Any marbles that were left at the end of the meal were added to the marble jar.
  • 3 warnings. Assuming your children already know what is expected, the time for nagging is over. When fingers go in food or other behaviours that we have been repeatedly working on, I hold up one finger without a word. That is the signal for one warning. A second warning is given in the same way and the meal is placed in the centre of the table for a couple of minutes. If the same behaviours are used again, the meal is over for that child. (For those who use this as a convenient excuse to get out of eating the food they don’t like, we ask them to go and finish their meal in the laundry.)

Please and thank you

Manners at times are becoming a lost art it seems. I am constantly amazed whenever we are around a large group of children how many of them simply do not think to say “please” and “thank you.” It horrifies me on rare occasions to catch my children amongst them!! Time for a clamp down and some re-training in our household!

As with most child training and behaviours, the failure of my children to use manners when it does occur can usually be traced back to my consistency in enforcing their use. When I let the standard drop, the children do too.

We begin training our children to say “please” and “thank you” as babies using baby signing. From the time they are starting solids we are saying the words for them and signing them at the same time. As they get older, we gently move their hands, helping them to copy the correct sign. At anywhere from around 8 months to 12 months we usually see the first signs being independently used by the children and from that point on will require them to do it before meeting their request.

Once they are able to sign independently, manners are always expected. If an older child forgets to say please or thank you, we may simply hold on to the requested item and make eye contact with the child. After a moment’s pause while they are wondering why we are not letting go, they realise what they need to say and say it, without us having to give a verbal reminder.

We also use a timer. After explaining once or twice what the timer is for and how we will use it, we no longer say anything at all. When a request is made without a “please” we simply grab the timer and turn it over in front of the child who immediately realises what they have forgotten to do. They may not make the same request again until the timer has run out and then it obviously must include the “please” that they forgot in the first place.

Once we consider that the training is complete and an older child is characterised by remembering their manners there may be rare occasions when they forget. For the once-off event, we may simply give them a verbal reminder. If it appears that they are slipping back into a habit of “forgetting” then we will simply tell them that they will miss out completely without the opportunity to try again. We find it interesting to note that our children NEVER forget their manners when there is chocolate involved!

Other posts you may like:

Circle Time Planning

Circle time is next on the planning agenda. I’ve missed starting the day off together each morning and am looking forward to beginning our day with circle time again once we start our homeschooling programme.

We’ve used a lot of wonderful resources already. Here is our list of materials we have already worked through, plus the ones we will continue on with or start fresh this year. I have been very happy with those we have used so far and expect the new ones to be just as good as they are all based on the highest recommendations of homeschooling friends with similar philosophies to mine.

Click on these titles to see my reviews from previous posts and where to get them.

Our resources for 2011:
How God Used a Drought and an Umbrella: and Other Devotional StoriesHow God Stopped the Pirates: and Other Devotional StoriesHow God Used a Thunderstorm: and Other Devotional Stories
  •  Building On The Rock Series by Joel Beeke (These 5 books of short stories contain a very strong gospel and biblical message. Stories of great faith, conversions, answers to prayer and miraculous happenings will help you to explain the great truths of the Christian faith, challenge you and your children in their own Christian walk and inspire you to serve God with renewed vigour.)

  • Go To The Ant Check-list (Another great chart to work through with children and then put on display as a reference. In the publisher’s words: “Use the Go To The Ant Chart to help your children examine themselves and replace laziness with habits of godly diligence.”

The Answer Book for Kids, Volume 1: 22 Questions from Kids on Creation and the Fall  The Answers Book for Kids, Volume 3: 22 Questions from Kids on God and the Bible  The Answer Book for Kids, Volume 2: 22 Questions on Dinosaurs and the Flood of Noah

Parables from Nature

  • Parables from Nature by Mrs Alfred Gatty. (Great literature; Fictional stories that illustrate character qualities and Godly principles using nature as the setting. Very rich language of excellent quality but may be a little difficult for the very young to fully grasp.)

365 Manners Kids Should Know: Games, Activities, and Other Fun Ways to Help Children and Teens Learn Etiquette

  • 365 Manners Kids Should Know by Sheryl Eberly (More to be used to read yourself and springboard ideas off – not so much to read aloud to the children. Contains explanations of what manners to teach, how to teach them and when to teach them. Not perfect for me for circle time as I prefer materials I can just pick up and read directly from then discuss what we have read with the children.)
Resources that I am planning to use this year that are new to me:
Leading Little Ones to God: A Child's Book of Bible Teachings

Choices

Why do we need to teach our children to obey? The first reason for me to do so as a Christian is that God’s word tells me to:

Ephesians 6:1-3 Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right. Honour your Father and your Mother, this is the first commandment with a promise.

Also, I believe that children who are taught to obey their parents are more likely to obey God as well. If a child cannot submit to the authority of their parent, how will they learn to submit to God’s authority in their lives as they grow?

If you are noticing many occasions during the day where you are having problems with a child who is reluctant to obey, whinges and whines while they obey or flat-out tantrums when they don’t get their own way, you may have a child who is becoming “wise in their own eyes.”

A child who is given too many choice begins to imagine that they are in charge and will question your authority in unpleasant ways during the day.

Have a think back over one of your typical days. Keep a look out for every single choice you are allowing your child. Who chose:

  • when to get up?
  • what to do when they did get up?
  • which clothes and shoes?
  • which cup and plate?
  • what food for breakfast?
  • what activity after breakfast?
  • which book for story time?
  • where to sit for story time?
  • when to go outside?
  • what to do outside?
  • when to come inside?
  • what to watch on TV?
  • which toys to have in the bath?
  • where to sit for dinner……
The list is endless and these are just a few examples. Are you making these seemingly small choices for your child or are they making them for you? Choices are closely linked with freedoms. The freedoms and choices a child is given should be in harmony with their age and moral and intellectual ability. A toddler is not able to handle the same freedoms as a preschooler, who is in turn not equipped to handle the freedoms and choice an older child can cope with.
Freedom and choices should be granted as the child ages and shows that they have the maturity and responsibility to make good choices and to use their freedom well. As moral responsibility is demonstrated,  more and more freedoms are granted until they reach young adulthood and are making almost all of their own choices and decisions.
As a rough guide, it is around the age of 3 that children are ready to make some choices (e.g. jam or peanut butter?) with freedoms gradually increasing from there. A 5 or 6 year old is ready to make more choices in their day and should be able to make appropriate choices because of the modelling you have been giving them over the previous years which shows them what good decision-making looks like.
This is not to say that a younger toddler can never have a choice, it just should not be a day-to-day, all day pattern of behaviour.
How do you know if your child is “addicted to choice?” Simply take away all choices for a day and observe what happens. If the child graciously accepts your decision-making then they are probably ready to handle those decisions themselves.
Be aware though, that a toddler who has had a lot of freedom with too many choices will initially have a very bad reaction to this loss of choice and behaviour will most likely be quite difficult for a couple of days. If you are calm and consistent and continue to make all the choices for your child they will actually be much happier and calmer in the long run too.
The concept of being “wise in your own eyes” comes from “On Becoming Childwise”  which is an excellent resources for parenting your 3 to 7 year old. It includes information on choices, freedoms, routines,  and many other parenting issues:
On Becoming Childwise: Parenting Your Child from 3 to 7 Years
Mel Hayde in her book “Terrific Toddlers” covers choices and gives extensive information on how to set up a toddler’s day. My favourite book for 18 month to 3 year olds.

5 minute warning

Picture it: You are sailing in the ocean on your pirate ship, catching huge child-sized marlin as you go, just about to reach the treasure chest that is buried on the abandoned island and…Mum calls out “Bath time, come inside please.” Imagine the battle raging in a child’s heart between the desire to continue on with the game, to just find that treasure first, to whine, complain, tantrum and otherwise fail to display obedience in this situation and the moral requirement to obey.  When we put our children into this kind of siuation we set them up for failure.

Think about what it’s like as an adult to be in the middle of a project, or just about finished with something you are working on and to be called away. Frustrating!!

There are times when a child just needs to obey without a warning; first time, straight away, when Mum gives the instruction. Much of the time however, we can prepare their hearts to obey with a simple warning of the instruction about to come. Once the instruction is given, obedience is expected: immediately, first time, without complaining.

It may sound something like this:

Mum: “Pirates.”

Pirates: “Yes Mum?”

Mum: “In 5 minutes I’ll be asking you to put your ship away and come inside for a shower.”

Pirates: “Yes Mum.”

Mum (5 minutes later): “Pirates, put your ship away now and come inside please.”

Pirates: “Yes Mum”

The pirates have had time to find their treasure and prepare themselves to obey and the struggle that may otherwise have taken place inside the children has been much reduced. When a child hears themselves agree to obey, they are much more likely to follow through and actually obey.

Counting after an instruction has been given and ignored simply trains your child that obedience is not expected until the third or fourth repeat of the instruction or at “3” which is when Mum or Dad now actually require obedience. If your child can obey at “3” why not train them to obey when the instruction is given for the first time. It may even save their life one day.

The idea of giving a 5 minute warning comes from the book “On becoming Childwise”, available here.

On Becoming Childwise: Parenting Your Child from 3 to 7 Years

Routines: Highchair time

Do you want your baby or toddler to be able to sit and focus for an extended length of time? Do you want them to be able to sit and wait patiently during an unexpected delay in a public situation? Do you want time to tidy up the kitchen after meals, clear and wipe down the table and move to the next activity of the day without leaving a trail of devastation that needs to be cleaned up later?

Like all behaviours and character traits, we must actively work to build patience and concentration in our children. Highchair time is a practical way to achieve this goal with our little ones. It is easy to consistently implement and work into the daily routine without having to change much at all.

After each meal is finished, simply wipe up your child and hand them a book to read or small toy to play with. Around 20 minutes is a good time to aim for and if put into place after breakfast, lunch and dinner, gives you three daily training periods to work on these skills.

Initially, your little one may not be thrilled with Mum’s new plan and a common response will be to cry, complain, whine, throw the books and toys down and other such behaviours. If you ignore this kind of behaviour and simply go about cleaning up the kitchen, you will find that over the next few days, your child will be showing great strides towards happily sitting and concentrating on whatever it is you have chosen to give them.

If you pick up toys that are thrown down, then a very amusing game of fetch will be instigated. You may leave a child for 5 minutes and then return a dropped toy, instructing them that they need to stay in the highchair until Mummy is ready to get them down. If it is dropped again, leave it there. They will soon come to the conclusion that it is better to have something to do than nothing at all and keep what they have been given.

You may need 3 or 4 little toys or books and change them over every 5 minutes or so to keep their interest,  however this should be in Mum’s timing, not the child’s.

If you have heard about the 4 personality types, you will know that a choleric child loves to be in charge. A lot of the battles you have throughout the day and at bedtime with any child, particularly the choleric child, will be eliminated by instigating a parent led routine throughout the day, rather than allowing your young child to plan their own day or giving them large blocks of free time to fill.

An excellent resource for routine planning is Terrific Toddlers by Mel Hayde. It is my “must have” toddler and young child training book and I have gone back to it over and over. It is an easy read but is full of wisdom and excellent advice that will enable you to love the toddler years and eliminate the “terrible two” syndrome that everyone talks about. I will be posting ideas of activities to give your little one during highchair time over the next couple of days.

The marble jar is full!

342 regular marbles and 36 tom-bowlers have been earned and the marble jar is finally full. Our marble jar has been going for about 3 months (it’s bigger than it looks!) and has helped to change the unkind tone that had been developing around here. We put it in place as a reward system for kind and unselfish behaviour. Whenever a child displayed the kind of behaviour we wanted to promote and was noticed by a parent or sibling doing so, the behaviour was rewarded with a marble in the marble jar. Particularly outstanding acts of kindness received tom-bowlers. When the marble jar was full, a whole family reward is given.

Before I continue; a quick aside. There is a difference between bribes, rewards and goal incentives. A bribe is offered BEFORE a BEHAVIOUR is demonstrated and is used to “buy” the child’s cooperation and display of the behaviour you are bribing them to get. A reward is given AFTER a BEHAVIOUR is displayed and is not previously discussed – it comes as a pleasant surprise to the child after the fact. A goal incentive is offered BEFORE a SKILL is mastered (not for behaviours) and is received by the child after they have mastered the particular skill.

Here is an example of each:

“If you are good in the shops today, Mummy will buy you a lollipop.” (Bribe)

“You showed such diligence earlier today when you helped Mummy clean out the pantry; let’s go and have a treat.” (Reward)

“When you learn all of your catechism questions, Mummy and Daddy are going to buy you a new bible.” (Goal incentive.)

Obviously bribing our children to get the behaviour we want from them is not a helpful parenting strategy and will not improve a child’s character. It does in fact promote a selfish attitude and teaches the child that it is only worth displaying good character when the bribe is big enough. Practically speaking, they are difficult to maintain because the bribe the child expects will generally need to get bigger and bigger to keep their cooperation.

Now, back to marble jars. These operate as a reward for kind behaviour that has already been displayed. The child who is acting in a kind way is not allowed to report their own good behaviour, it must be noticed by others. Obviously to begin with, while the marbles are very fresh in their mind, there is a lot of kind behaviour that is happening only for the promised reward. Because of that, it does in some ways operate as a bribe for a couple of days. It isn’t long however before the initial interest wears off and the marbles are forgotten about. It is then that the true reward part of the system kicks in as behaviours that are naturally being shown without thought of reward are reinforced with the nice surprise of a marble.

One of the biggest challenges when trying to change the “tone” of sibling interaction is to get it lifted out of the negative and niggling mode it has sunk into and into a positive and building-up tone where we want it. Once the positive tone is reached, it is a lot easier to keep it there. The marble jar gives a quick method of changing the tone (yes, in a “fake” sort of way for the first little while) but once lifted, it can be kept there and become a more natural expression of “how we treat each other in this family.”

Oh, in case you were wondering, the reward was a trip to Sizzlers for dinner. It was thoroughly enjoyed and the children have now been introduced to the joys of the ‘all you can eat’ dessert bar and never ending drink refills!

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