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Remember when you read to your baby for the first time? Maybe she was so little she couldn't even hold her head up. You knew he wouldn't understand much of what you were reading but you knew reading to your baby was important. Plus, he loved the sound of your voice.

What book did you read? I honestly do not remember what I first read to my boys. We had a children's book-themed baby shower for my oldest son so we ended up with TONS of classic books like Goodnight Moon and Pat the Bunny. I loved all of them and I loved reading to him.



Once they were old enough to be more aware of what I was reading, I was naturally attracted to "labeling" books. You know those board books for babies that label all the animals, cars, and shapes. Like most parents, I wanted my kids to be able to learn words early and labeling books seemed the obvious choice to help them. My boys did seem to enjoy these books, especially once they were old enough to name the objects themselves.

New research, however, shows us that another type of book might be even better for babies' brain development. A recent study of 6-9 month-old infants considered how babies learning was influenced by being read books that had either category labels (e.g., dog, cat, rabbit) versus individual-level labels (e.g., Jack, Pat, Cindy).

Now this distinction between category and individual labels may seem unimportant to us adults but to babies that are just at the cusp of learning language and understanding how words work, these categories represent different types of learning.
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Want more information on common child development myths? Download this free cheat sheet: 5 Common Child Development Myths...Debunked. It addresses frequent questions about attachment, "spoiling" your baby and more.
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You may wonder how scientists study babies learning since they cannot yet talk or even identify objects. Well, thanks to modern technology, researchers can use fancy eye scanning cameras to track how the babies' eyes move. For researchers, eye movements indicate what the babies are attending to and interested in. Similarly, researchers also use those cool caps with sensors to measure the babies' brain activity. This was another part of this study.

Which Books Help Babies LearnIf you are a science nerd like me the results of this study are pretty fascinating, but they have real-life implications for all of us parents too. The study showed that babies who were read books with individual-level labels (e.g., Jack, Pat, Cindy) spent more time attending to the images. Secondly, looking at the brain activity showed that these babies were more likely to be able to differentiate between the images after being read the story.

In other words, babies learned more from the books with individual labels than category labels. They could tell the difference between the images better. Pretty amazing for 6-9 month-old babies!

Related post: More Evidence that "Difficult" Babies are Most Influenced by Parents

This post contains affiliate links. Purchasing through these links helps support this blog at no added cost to you.
What Talking and Reading Does for Babies' BrainsWe all know that reading to children, even babies, is important. This research further delineates what the reading actually does for the babies' brains. In general, it helps them learn to put together an image and a word. Furthermore, any reading (not just individual-level labeling) helps babies by exposing them to lots and lots of words.

Have you heard of the "word gap?" Studies have shown that one of the primary reasons for the disparity in academic achievement between low-income and higher-income students is due to the amount of time parents spend talking to their young children. In a 1995 study, researchers found that low-income children heard about 600 words per hour, compared to 2,100 words per hour in a higher-income family. It became clear to researchers that exposure to language was one of the key factors to help close the achievement gap they were seeing in these children years later.

It turns out that besides reading, one of the best things we can do for babies is just talk...a lot! Many parents do this naturally--we talk to our babies all day long about what we are doing, what we are seeing, etc. Some researchers have called this "dialogic living." In other words, we narrate our day to our child. 

This too, is why studies indicate that babies vocalize less when playing with electronic toys compared to books. With books, parents are prompted to read and discuss the pictures. With electronic toys, parents tend to let the toy do all the "work" and they don't talk as much. Now that's food for thought!

Imagine, however, if you are under a lot of stress, your mind is racing with how to get to your job or how to pay the bills. Do you think narrating your day (or your stresses) to your baby is on the top of your priority list? Maybe not. This is just one example of how the stress of poverty impacts children, even the littlest babies. Fortunately, many programs have begun across the country to help low-income families learn more about talking to their babies in this playful, narrative way. Hopefully, these, along with equitable access to preschool with help alleviate these economic disparities. 

Related post: The Power of Words
Brain-Boosting Baby BooksI've done (some) of the work for you by searching through lists of baby books for ones that use individual-level labels (rather than category-level). These are just a few examples, but also be aware that any reading with your baby is beneficial. These books might just help add to the variety of your growing library. Enjoy reading with your kids!


Pat the Bunny--the classic tale loved by many babies. It has all those cool "touchable" pages with different textures.


Is Your Mama a Llama?--Lloyd the llama is on a search to figure out if other animals have a llama for their mama. Nice rhyming and a lovely story.


Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear--like all little ones, Jesse Bear has some trouble figuring out what to wear (and how to put it on). Great for toddlers who want to do all the dressing themselves.


Corduroy--who doesn't love this book! A sweet story of a bear's search for his missing button and a home. (Plus it's super-cute to hear your toddler try to say "Corduroy!")


My Very First Mother Goose--these may seem "old-fashioned" but there is a reason they have stood the test of time. Babies love the rhythmic sounds and fun characters. Still a must-have in any children's library.



Gossie--kids can help Gossie the gosling find her bright red boots.



The Snowy Day--a simple, beautiful book about young Peter exploring the snow. Plus it's one of the first children's books featuring an African-American lead character in an urban environment.



Blueberries for Sal--another classic that maybe you read as a child. Kids love the "kerplunck" sound as the berries fall into the bucket.


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Well, the year 2017 is officially in the history books. Along with it, shelves full of parenting research become part of history too. Fortunately for us, a few gems of research made it out of the universities and into our lives this year.

As I did last year, I spent the last few days of 2017 going through the major themes in parenting research to see what new pearls of wisdom we learned this year.



1. Minimalism is not just a buzz word; its benefits are backed up by research. We heard a lot of talk about minimalism this year in the media. On the heels of the popular book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, more parents were cutting the clutter, scaling back toys and limiting junk around their homes. Their efforts are not in vain, according to research. Studies this year pointed out that having fewer toys actually helps encourage creativity in kids. Similarly, we saw more evidence that simple, classic toys are more beneficial for youngsters than those fancy electronic ones.


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Want to learn more about research-based parenting? Download this FREE cheat sheet--5 Common Child Development Myths. It delves into the research behind common myths surrounding attachment, spanking, spoiling kids and more. 
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2. Kids' intense interests are awesome. Bring on the little paleontologists and toddler train lovers! Most of us who have been parents for a few years, know that our kids can go through phases where they are intensely interested in one topic--whether it be dinosaurs, trains or butterflies. I've always been fascinated by this and why it happens. 

Well, this year research answered our questions and informed us that our kids' intense interests are a great sign. It turns out that those intense interests are a great learning tool for kids. It's often their first experience with delving deep into a topic, finding answers and developing mastery of a topic (e.g., they know ALL the dinosaur names). Research tells us that kids who have intense interests tend to have higher cognitive and information-processing skills as well as executive functioning skills like attention span. You can get on board with your kids' interests by visiting museums that feature their favorite topic or find books that discuss it. It's a beautiful sight to see a child so engaged in their own learning.


3. Self-care needs to be on our priority list. We all know that self-care is important but it often gets pushed aside amide our long to-do lists. This year research showed us just us the consequences of lack of self-care for our parenting. Symptoms of insufficient self-care, like inadequate sleep, actually mimic some symptoms of depression making us less able to be patient with our kids. The result is often short temper and possibly yelling at our kids (and we all know that is not effective with our kids).

Similarly, research this year pointed out the mental load that moms carry (and yes, it is mostly moms). Although dads have increased their responsibilities for child care and household duties, it is still moms who carry the mental load. What is mental load? Things like remembering who is at what activity at what time, keeping up the grocery list and remembering who will run out of clothes if we don't do laundry today. We all know mental load and feel it. Just another reason that self-care needs to be part of our lives. Need some realistic ideas for self-care that offer some mental space: check out this post.



4. Managing technology is one of the biggest parenting challenges of our era. This year was full of research and media on how parents and kids are dealing with technology--together. Numerous reports emerged on how tech leaders are not giving their kids smartphones or iPads until they are almost adults. This, along with the Wait Until 8th movement, has opened parents' eyes to the dangers of too much technology too soon for our kids. The challenge, according to research, is that we parents love our smartphones too.

New studies showed that parents who are hooked on their devices are more likely to experience "technoference" in the relationship with their kids. In other words, the device interrupts the parent-child interaction or relationship in some way. Device-distracted parenting is the new challenge facing our generation. This technoference seems to impact our kids as well. Early research indicates a link between technoference in parent-child relationships and negative behavior among kids.




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Need ideas for keeping technology reigned in? Check out our mantra called In Our Home (bottom of the post) that can help keep priorities in perspective.
Last year's research roundup: 4 Parenting Lessons Research Taught Us in 2016. 
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5. This year's revolution in gender relations affects parenting too. The end of 2017 saw a seismic shift in how we discuss gender relations and sexual harassment with the development of the #MeToo movement. Although those of us with young children may feel a little out of the loop with current events (when do we have time to watch the news!), this movement will no doubt affect our parenting. Compelling articles and research pointed us to look at how we raise the next generation to deal better with gender relations in schools, workplaces, and families.

The most compelling work I think focuses on how to raise children (especially boys) with a full emotional toolbox so they can be prepared to deal with people of all genders, races, beliefs, etc. In past generations, children were often taught to stuff their emotions down. However, our generation of parents is focusing on raising girls that are strong enough to speak up and boys who are strong enough to be vulnerable and emotionally available. This takes work, patience and a change of mindset for many of us. Fortunately, research can help us. Studies showed us this year that how we speak to our children about emotions matter. Discussing how others feel really does help children develop a strong sense of empathy. Empathy, of course, is one key to helping kids look beyond their own self-interest and become adults who do the same.



Related article: The Hidden Way that Kids Learn Empathy (and how parents can help)

Well, that is a quick summary of parenting research for 2017. Based on this, I think my parenting goals for 2018 are clear: focus on empathy, managing technology, fostering interests, and simplify.

What are your parenting goals for 2018? I'd love to hear about them in the comments!

Thank you for reading The Thoughtful Parent in 2017! I look forward to sharing the parenting journey with you in 2018.


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Let's face it--there are many demands on our time and the time of our children. For us, it's work, chores and daily care of our kids. For our kids, it's school, playtime, sports, and screentime all vying for their attention.

With all these competing demands, it's difficult to manage sleep, movement and screen time guidelines for our kids. New guidelines from Canada just helped parents get a full picture of how all these guidelines fit together. As parents know, how kids spend their time sleeping, moving and using screens are all related. A tired kid is more likely to gravitate towards a screen than go outside to play. Similarly, an active child is more likely to sleep better.



Finally, an organization has combined all the guidelines together into one comprehensive guide for parents. This guide offers recommendations for what a healthy 24-hours looks like for a child under the age of 4.

Personally, I was excited to see such a comprehensive guide. Before this, all the guidelines were separate and not related to one another. Now, with one look, parents can see how all these recommendations relate.



This type of guide is not meant to make parents feel guilty, but rather to help us all understand the needs of our kids. Most of us instinctively know when our kids get too little sleep, just based on their grumpy behavior, but keeping these guidelines in mind can still help. There are always days when these plans go array, but understanding what type of routine help meets kids' needs best is always helpful. One of the authors described it this way,
"There's no need to fret over these exceptions, Tremblay says. But what we do need to do is think more fully and clearly about everything in our children's lives that make up a healthy day. That's what the new guidelines are there for."

I was so excited about this that I made a helpful PRINTABLE GUIDE that parents can post on their fridge to remind ourselves of these guidelines. It might even help our kids to see it too!

Grab your helpful guide by clicking below:



Send the FREE Guide



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It's the holiday season! While it's full of lots of joy and fond memories, it can also be full of a lot of "gimme" and "I want" from our kids too. This year, I have really tried to focus more on encouraging my kids to think more about giving and kindness. It is a BIG challenge at times, I admit. My 8-year-old comes home almost every day with stories of what his friends at school are supposedly getting for Christmas. Then the "I want" begins all over again.

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I earn a small commission from these purchases at no added cost to you.


In such a culture, consumption has become a lifestyle. I feel this type of lifestyle breeds ungratefulness and that is one thing I do not want my kids to absorb from culture. As this author points out, "If your brain is focused on what you don't have, then you'll be unhappy." At some basic level, we all want our kids to be happy. I'm hoping that focusing on gratitude instead of consumption will help them develop a sense of deeper happiness that is long-lasting and meaningful.

So I'm determined not to give up. And the research supports my endeavors--studies show that acts of compassion actually do spark elements of brain chemistry that support good feelings. Furthermore, in one fascinating study, kids as young as 2 were rated as being happier when they chose to give one of their treats away to a puppet friend.

Related post: Gift Guide for Raising Kids Who Care  
I was reflecting on this when I came across a great article that mentioned a reverse bucket list. The idea is to list activities that we did in the past that brought us joy and contentment. I'm hoping just the conversation itself will inspire a sense of gratitude. Then, of course, if we feel like doing these things again, that's great.

The whole idea is helping kids focus on the idea that the toys, experiences, family that they have is ENOUGH. This is a lesson I need to learn too, of course.

Related post: We Want Our Kids to be Kind...But How Do We Foster It

Many holiday posts are filled with ideas for new and exciting places to see or things to do. All these things that we "must" do before winter break is over. This year, in lieu of the winter "bucket list" I've decided to put together the Reverse Winter Bucket List. Here are a few ideas my boys came up with of things that they have loved doing in years past:

1. Watch Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer (the old-fashioned version of course)
2. Go for a drive to look at Christmas lights


3. Go to our favorite pond and go ice skating (if it actually gets cold enough to freeze)


4. Decorate gingerbread people
5. Go see a living nativity scene
6. Go to a children's Christmas music concert
7. Make little presents for friends (my 8-year-old is WAY into origami)
8. Sledding on our neighborhood hill (if we ever get snow!)

It's amazing what happens when we focus on what we have (and help our kids to the same), instead of what we want. Gratitude and contentment abound!

Are you ready to make your own Reverse Winter Bucket List? Grab this cute FREE printable template to get started.


Click to grab the Reverse Winter Bucket List


Enjoy a lovely holiday season with your kids!


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My four-year-old was at it again.

He, his big brother and I were doing our usual Target run and they had convinced me to go to the toy aisle. What was I thinking?

The whining and begging from the little guy began pretty much as soon as we entered the first aisle that contained Hot Wheels or Nerf guns.

"Mom, can we get this?" he asked-whined (parents, you know that's a real phrase)

"No, sweetie," I say in my trying-to-not-get-upset voice. "You know I said we are just looking, not buying today."

"But Mooooooom, it sooooo cool," he says in that dramatic voice.

You parents know how this goes and it hardly ever ends well. Many times, we leave the store with someone crying (hopefully not me).

I get it. He's only four. Only recently has he gained any mental capacity for thinking of anyone outside himself. He's emotionally immature; he's still learning to regulate his emotions. And those toys are SO tempting. Luckily, my eight-year-old has matured to the point where he can handle the toy aisle without fits of whining.

Unfortunately, as the holiday season approaches this focus on toys, rather than gratitude or giving tends to only increase in our kids. So this year, in thinking about how to approach the holiday season, I decided I will focus on helping parents find gift ideas that will actually help kids grow in the emotional and social skills that we want to encourage.



In other words, gifts that will help them grow more towards gratitude than "gimme." The core of this mindset is a set of social and emotional skills that take years to build. However, parents can be key guides in this development process. Through interaction, connection and modeling your kids' social-emotional skills can blossom. Unlike the "hot" toy of the moment, the gift that these social-emotional skills bring is happiness and contentment that is much deeper than one season.

{**This post contains affiliate links. Purchasing through these links helps support this blog at no added cost to you}

So without further ado, here is this year's holiday gift guide for raising kids who care:

Games
These games may just seem like family fun (which they are) but they all involve trying to perceive another person's thoughts or feelings--key emotional skills that our kids can develop.


What's It?
A family game that focuses on cooperation, instead of competition. Players try to think like other players--now that takes some emotional skills.



Listmania
I didn't realize this was an actual game! We have played versions of this classic alphabetical listing game for years. Good for practicing the skill of working together (plus you get to review the alphabet for younger kids).




Q's Race to the Top
I'm really excited about this one because it involves both active play and social skills. Kids have to advise the characters on what to do in certain social situations. Plus there are cards to perform physical skills involving balance and coordination.

Modeling Kindness
In addition to learning about sharing and kindness, we also have to act on these values too. There are many fun and meaningful options for doing kind or charitable acts together with our kids.





I have just heard about this subscription box but I'm so excited to try it with my kids. Most kids love doing crafts, but parents, you know the drawback--tons of crafts just laying around your house collecting dust. This solves that problems in a charitable way! Kids make the crafts but then they are shipped off to charities that can use them. Awesome idea!


 


The Doll Kind
A doll that actually teaches kids about the value of kindness...and then models that very lesson. Each doll comes with kindness tokens that kids can give to others to "pay it forward" when someone has been kind to them. Bonus--for each doll purchased, another one is donated to a child in need (like hospitals or shelters). Brilliant!

Building Connection
Of course, the best way for kids to learn crucial social-emotional skills is through a warm, responsive relationship with parents. Parents modeling empathy and kindness with their kids is the best way for kids to see emotional regulation in action and learn it themselves.

In our busy world, however, it is often hard to find those moments to really build connections with our kids. Between school, extracurricular activities and job responsibilities, finding time to really connect with our kids can be tricky. These gift ideas help make finding that connection time easier and still fun.

    


storieChild Books
I have only recently heard about these beautiful books. We are all used to those generic books that you can have your own child's picture or name included. These are SO much better than that. You get to choose your child's pictures, but also their story. You can include details about their birth, their interests, their dreams. Each story is unique to your child with your text embedded in a beautiful storyline. This is such a great idea! What a better way to bond with your child than to sit down and read their story together.
Right now (through 11/30/17) get a FREE Christmas e-book of your child's story. Use code +EBOOKFREE95 at checkout. (Be sure to select the "buy now, make later" option).



The Read-Aloud Family
If you are not familiar with Sarah Mackenzie and her blog, The Read-Aloud Revival, you should be! I love all her writing and book suggestions, but I am really excited about this new book. It illustrates how reading aloud with your kids, even after they can read on their own, can help strengthen relationships and build their emotional skills. She understands how the stories that we read can give us strength and teach us all foundational emotional lessons. This one is even on MY Christmas list.

Podcasts are another why I find time to connect with my kids. It may sound silly but all that time riding in the car can quickly turn into wonderful conversation or fun bonding time just by the addition of a podcast topic.

Here are a few of our favorites:



Pinna
My new absolute favorite venue for listening to kid-friendly podcasts. This app provides a huge selection of podcasts--stories, interviews, music shows and yes, even games. My boys are HUGE fans of ExtraBlurt, an podcast quiz show. We have had tons of fun listening and answering back while driving in the car. They have even picked up some new vocabulary words just from listening.



Leela Kids
If your kids are like many I know and have a Kindle Fire Kids Edition, then it may be tempting for them to be glued to games all the time. This podcast app (similar to Pinna) offers an endless variety of listening choices for kids--stories and shows centered on their favorite topics like space, science, animals, and music. It helps pull their minds off games and enlightens their imaginations and understanding of feelings and characters. 






Dream Big Podcast
This great show is hosted by 8-year-old Eva (with a little help from her mom). She interviews ordinary people who have "dreamed big" and are now living out those dreams in cool jobs like astronaut, neuroscientist, or gymnast. The show is inspiring to kids and entertaining for adults.




Circle Round
If you love getting caught up in a story, this is the podcast for you (and your kids). These short stories are engaging, legendary and sometimes even teach a good lesson. Great listening for helping kids understand feelings, characters, and develop a wonderful imagination.



Short and Curly
If you kids are like mine, they ask questions all the time. The other day, my 4-year-old actually asked why the sky is blue. Now, I may have a higher education, but even that one stumped me! This is the podcast to help answer all those questions (and ones even 4-year-olds haven't thought of). Great bonding time while listening.


Books With Emotional Lessons
Books are the best way to share a variety of important lessons--friendship, traditions, being brave, etc. Books also have the wonderful ability to help kids learn how to put themselves in another's shoes and understand feelings. Plus, spending time together reading is a time of connection that you and your child will cherish forever. 



Lovely
The message focuses on the idea that although we are all different, we are each lovely in our own way.  (ages 4-8)




Pass It On
A book with a simple message of passing on kindness and good cheer to those around you. (ages 3-7)




We Are All Wonders
Most of you are probably aware of the book Wonder. Well, this is just the shorter, picture book version for younger kids. I got this a few months ago and have read it with my 4-year-old about 100 times! He loved it and it sparked a lot of good conversations about why people are different.




The Invisible Boy
A lovely book for all kids, but especially the quieter types who may feel "invisible" at times. A story of friendship and learning that we all have talents--even if we're quiet.


Myra Makes
This book falls more under the category of a workbook, but it still focuses on promoting empathy in kids. The workbook itself tells a story and with each activity, the kids try to help Myra get to Cloud City. The lessons focus on care for the earth, healthy living, and cooperation. Great to keep little minds busy on those long road trips or plane rides.

Pretend Play
As I've written on many occasions, play is really the engine of learning for young kids. There is no better way to gain social skills than through pretend play. It allows kids to gain insight into another's perspective (the basis for empathy), test role and boundaries. Of course, there are tons of pretend play toys out there. I tend to gravitate towards ones that are simple and represent roles that kids see commonly in daily life.


Police costume
I've written before about the developmental benefits of dress-up play and it doesn't have to be Halloween for this to be the case. Kids love dressing up and taking on all the details of a different role or personality. Perspective-taking skills at their best!



Pretend cleaning set
Okay parents, you will love this one. A toy that encourages cooperative skills and reinforces the need for chores! My boys always loved helping me clean when they were about 2-3 years old. Encourage that love of cleaning with real, hands-on toys that look and function just like the adult version.


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Today is World Kindness Day! Who knew such a celebration existed? Really, though, shouldn't every day be kindness day?

As parents, I think one of our main goals is to raise kids who care for others. But, guess what? Our kids don't always get that message. Several surveys have now shown us that despite our words, kids think we value other things over kindness. Results from this year's Highlights State of the Kid report illustrate this:

- almost half of kids surveyed (44%) said they think their parents' top priority is their happiness

- 33% of kids thought doing well in school was their parent's top priority for them

- only 23% of kids said that they thought being kind was their parent's top priority for them

In other words, it seems like there is a gap in what we think we are communicating to our kids and what they are hearing.
Kids are hearing that we want them to be happy and achieve more than we want them to be kind.


Kindness Builds True HappinessOf course, we parents know that being kind and being happy are not mutually exclusive. They go hand in hand. As study author Christine French Cully points out,
“Maybe part of the message we aren’t always sending to our kids is that yes, we want you to be happy, but part of being happy means thinking about the needs of others sometimes.” 
We know from experience that being kind actually makes us feel happier. Now research is backing this up too. New studies show that compassionate or kind acts do spark connections in the brain that promote feelings of pleasure and happiness.


Fostering Kindness

The holiday season is just about upon us. This is a perfect time to help our kids see, in a lovely hands-on way, how kindness builds on itself. The Kindness Elves are a wonderful way to do this with our kids.

Let's face it, The Elf on the Shelf is a popular holiday tradition, but what does it really teach? I don't want to get too serious here, but really this tradition focuses on encouraging good behavior as a way of avoiding negative outcomes (no toys!). In other words, fear becomes the motivating force here. Kids want to do good for fear of getting no presents at Christmas. Deep down, we know (and research backs it up) that fear is not really an effective long-term strategy for teaching moral lessons. As this great article points out, we want to "raise a good person, not just one who's afraid of being bad." 

The Kindness Elves focus on the opposite--kindness for kindness sake. They offer wonderful ideas for everyday acts of kindness that kids can do. With this approach, kids learn quickly that kindness is it's own best reward. The feelings of happiness and joy you feel when you do something helpful for another person is the best type of positive reinforcement.

The Kindness Elves bundle


The holiday season is the perfect time to introduce your kids to the Kindness Elves. You might want to get yours soon so you'll be sure to have it before the holiday season really gets underway. They come in several different varieties (e.g., skin tone, hair color, etc.). The best part for parents is that the kindness ideas and cute cards are already done for you. No scouring Pinterest to find ideas each day.

We started introducing the Kindness Elves a couple of years ago in my house. The boys love it! In fact, my 8-year-old asks when "Elfie" is coming back each year. The acts of kindness are simple but meaningful. We also have a lot of fun figuring out where in the house Elfie hid each night while we were sleeping.

The Kindness Elves


Curious about how kids develop empathy (the basis for kindness) over the course of their development? Check out this post:


Related posts:


**This post contains affiliate links. Purchasing from these links helps support this blog at no added cost to you.



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Before I get into this week's post, I wanted to share a wonderful podcast I found just this week. It's called Dream Big and it's actually hosted by 8-year-old Eva (with a little help from her mom). My kids and I just started listening to it in the car and it is really inspiring and entertaining. In each episode, Eva interviews a person who dreamed big and is now living their dreams with a cool job like neuroscientist, astronaut or entrepreneur. If you're looking for non-screen time entertainment that actually inspires your kids and sparks conversation, check out Dream Big!


Now on to this week's post...
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You walk into a pre-K classroom and you see several groups of 4-year-olds playing at different areas in the room. One group of students is playing at a pretend grocery store. They are deeply immersed in "buying" and "selling" toy fruits and vegetables. A teacher stands nearby and asks them open-ended questions like, "what does the cashier do?" or "how much does a banana cost?" 
Another group of students is building with blocks on the floor. They are working together to build a tall tower. Another teacher is asking probing questions like, "how many blocks do you have stacked so far?" and "what will happen if we stack another block?"

As a naive bystander, you wonder if the kids here are really learning anything? I mean, aren't they just playing? What are the teachers doing just playing with them? You start to wonder if pre-K is really worth the money you are paying for it.

As a parent, you may have had an encounter similar to this one. Maybe you were touring preschools in search of the right one for your child. Perhaps you saw this as you watched your child at preschool prior to pick-up time.

As adults, we often have preconceived notions about what "schooling" should look like and include. Doesn't preschool mean a teacher in front of a group of kids instructing them in the ways of ABC's and 123's? What is often missed is the subtlety of how children learn and the beauty of children's development. Research and real-life experience tell us that all people learn best when they are actively engaged with whatever it is they are learning. This is especially the case for young children. And what engaged kids more than anything else? Play! Although kids can learn through worksheets and flashcards, the lessons that benefit them the most and that they will keep in their little brains for years to come are those learned through hands-on engagement, which usually happens through play.

In her new book, The Most Important Year: Pre-Kindergarten and the Future of Our Children, author Susan Bouffard brings to light these issues of learning, play, and child development. As I mentioned on my Facebook Live last week, this book is must-read information if you have a child approaching pre-K age...here's why:

** Packed with research, but still approachable. It takes real skill to pack lots of research into a book and it not sound like a textbook. However, Susan Bouffard does it! She uses a wonderful storytelling style and incorporates the top research in the field in such a way that it's enjoyable to read. You feel like you are just following along with a few families as they visit preschools.

** Explains play-based education. For me, this was one of the big highlights of the book--a detailed explanation (with examples!) of play-based education and WHY it is the preferred method for teaching young children. As a parent, this is what you want to know--how is my kid learning through play and what does it look like in real life. This book delivers on this point.

** Why education policy matters. I think many parents struggle with understanding how national education policy and funding affects their local schools. This book explains in real-life examples how national policies towards early education and K-12 education impacts preschools in our country. If you want insight into how schools in lower SES neighborhoods struggle or why staffing in preschools is so difficult, this opens the door to all those issues.

All these points are wonderful, but perhaps the best lesson I learned from the book was one that may not be so easy to see. Her discussion of how preschoolers learn and examples of play-based learning gave me more confidence as a parent that I can help my child learn through play at home. Many of us send our kids to preschool (myself included) but the other 5 or 6 hours of the day I sometimes struggle to know how to engage him in play and not allow him to zone out in front of a screen. This book really offers insight into the use of open-ended questions, open-ended toys and an understanding of how preschoolers learn to help parents incorporate guided play at home. After reading this, I realized all the little things I do with my 4-year-old at home or while running errands really do help him learn important lessons. Singing songs, asking him questions, teaching him about how things work in the world, are not just wasted words...this is actually the best way for him to learn.

This video explains the benefits of play for learning:

Play in childhood supports the same skills that underlie scientific reasoning - YouTube


Hopefully, you will find this aspect of the book helpful as well and gain confidence in your ability to parent your preschooler in such a way that incorporates a bit of playful learning.

Are you searching for a preschool or pre-K program for your child soon? Not sure what to look for?

Sign up and download this FREE Parent's Guide to Pre-K. Take it with you on your preschool tour!


Get The Parent's Guide to Pre-K
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Click below to see related posts:The Hidden Effects of Early Childhood Programs

Why Preschoolers Don't Follow Instructions (and ways to help)

The Subtle Beauty of Child Development: What is Lost When We Push Too Hard





The Most Important Year


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Remember how you felt when your kids were babies and they would cry? Other people might be bothered by crying, but we moms are undone by our babies' crying. I remember being shocked by my physiological reaction to my son's crying--I would become so distressed I could hardly carry on a conversation and my blood pressure would rise. It was like nails on a chalkboard.

I would do anything to help him stop crying.

We now know that this reaction is not just new mom craziness. It's actually a physiological reaction that all moms experience due to an interesting mix of hormones and brain chemistry.



Fast forward a few years and we learn that not every cry from our child is as pressing as the next. By the time they are toddlers we learn that sometimes they cry out of frustration or boredom. We start to realize that we can't always make them "happy." We can't make the tears stop by simply feeding or changing a diaper. They now have bigger emotions that they need help managing.

It was at this point in my parenting journey that I realized that maybe my child's "happiness" shouldn't even be my goal in parenting. I slowly started to realize that there were some bigger emotional goals I had for my children than just happiness.

The Lesson of the Old BootsThis idea has stuck with me and came in handy the other day with my 8-year-old son. He was getting ready for school on the first snowy day of the season. It came a bit early this year and I was not prepared with new snow boots, gloves, etc. He started putting on last year's boots and they were a bit worse for wear if you know what I mean. Some parts were torn and the strap didn't tighten as well as it should. He was getting more and more frustrated, complaining about how he needed new boots. I explained that I was planning to get new ones, but I just hadn't gotten to it yet. He was about to start to "lose it" when another thought popped into my mind.

Before even thinking about it much, I blurted out, "you know, some kids in the world don't even have boots. They have to walk to school in the snow with just regular shoes on."



Okay, I realize I just sounded like my mother (or grandmother). The words just came pouring out of me before I even could consider them.

But...it worked! He settled down, put his boots on and went to school quite nicely.

Looking Beyond Happiness"Why was this helpful to him?" I wondered. Then it hit me. He didn't need for me to "fix" the situation of the boots. He was old enough and capable enough to deal with torn boots for one day. He needed me to hear his feelings and most importantly, he needed me to provide a context of meaning. By giving him some meaning for his frustrations, I gave him an emotional coping strategy for his situation.

This is ultimately what parent do--we are the meaning-makers for our kids until they find ways to make meaning for themselves.

Now this situation was minor and almost insignificant, but consider all the other situations that he might face in the future that I will not be able to "fix": the first time a girlfriend breaks his heart, that time he bombs a test in college or that first job that he doesn't land. Even if I had all the resources or connections in the world, I would not be able to take away these struggles or moments of suffering.



Unlike when he was a baby, I can't "make" him happy by stopping the source of his discomfort. The discomfort I feel because of his suffering is not easily pushed away either. This is why I quit making his happiness my main goal. I started looking beyond happiness at some deeper emotional skills that will serve him better.

A Hand to HoldThis reminds me of all those research articles I read while working on my dissertation (I knew those would come in handy someday). I was working on a project that studied how moms coped with divorce, so I read a lot of research on stress coping and meaning.

What we see is that one key way people cope with stressful events is by making some sort of meaning from it. 

Most of this research focuses on very stressful life events like divorce, death, or being the victim of a violent crime. But the lesson here for smaller stressful events is the same--finding meaning in our suffering is perhaps one of the best coping strategies we can employ.

For parents what this means I think is that we can't always take away our children's suffering, but we can help them find some meaning in it. In other words, we can't stuff down their emotions--but we can hold their hands and walk beside them while they walk through those difficult emotions to find some peace on the other side.

Ultimately, meaning, not happiness, is the best gift we can give our children.





Related Posts:
What is the Goal of Childrearing?

We Want Our Kids to be Kind...But How Do We Foster It?

4 Parenting Lessons Research Taught Us in 2016

Related Resources:



How to Talk so Kids Will Listen



Coping Skills for Kids Workbook: Over 75 Coping Strategies to Help Kids Deal with Stress, Anxiety and Anger

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When I was in graduate school I worked as a teaching assistant for various professors in the department. This job entailed the usual responsibilities—grading papers, helping students with assignments, etc.

One particular semester I was an assistant for one of the senior members of the faculty in a child development class. Most of the students that semester were sophomores in our department and so they had limited experience with academic journal articles which they were expected to read and analyze.

As I helped guide discussion during class, I noticed this one particular student. She seemed as though she actually read the articles and was fairly eager to participate in the discussion. Having her in class was a nice change from my past experience with students who were often apathetic and did not read the material.

As I sat down to grade the first round of student essays I was not surprised to find that her paper was one of the better-written ones. Analyzing and interpreting scholarly research was not an easy task for these students and many were at a complete loss. She, however, seemed to have a good understanding of the assignment.

When the next assignment came around I again saw that her paper was well written. Then I read closer and I realized that some of the text seemed familiar. I went back to our journal articles and compared the text. I realized then that she had plagiarized whole paragraphs of the journal text in her article. No wonder I thought it was so well-written! Even worse was the fact that the article which she had plagiarized was written by our own professor of the class!




What’s Going On?
I went on to work as a teaching assistant for several years and caught other incidents of plagiarism. There’s nothing like some cheating college students to question the future of the well-being of our country! This particular student’s story stuck with me, however.
Why would a student who seemed so intelligent and engaged bother to cheat? She seemed to have strong skills and be reading at least portions of the texts, why not take the time to do the assignment correctly?

What the Research Says
A recent study of young children actually may help inform our understanding of this situation and children’s behavior in general.

This study considered how the type of praise that kids receive might influence whether or not they cheat. We don’t often think of this, but sometimes we praise kids for their intelligence (e.g., “you’re so smart) and other times we raise them for their performance or effort on the task (e.g., “you worked so hard on that project”). The results showed that kids who are praised for intelligence are more likely to cheat on a later task, compared to those praised for performance.



Why Would the Type of Praise Matter?
Well, it seems that praising intelligence sets up a mindset in which kids feel that this is some innate part of their personality—“you are smart.” Whereas praising effort sets up a mindset in which effort is always possible so changing the outcome is probable. As many of you probably know, this distinction is known as a “fixed” versus a “growth” mindset.

Much research has already considered the difference between fixed and growth mindsets, but few other studies have looked particularly at cheating. In this case, it seems that kids who think that are innately “smart” feel they have a reputation to protect so they are more inclined to cheat to maintain this. In contrast, kids who are praised for effort, understand that their hard work is what produces the good grade or high score and thus do not feel this same pressure to maintain a reputation of intelligence.


So was the girl in my class a case of too much “intelligence” praise? Well, we will never know for sure, but it does make you wonder if the pressure to seem “smart” overwhelmed her in a new situation where the expectations were higher than she was accustomed to in high school. The lesson it seems is that no matter how brilliant we think are children are, it’s perhaps better to praise them for their hard work and effort. 



Tips and Resources:
1. For younger kids, try to promote positive self-talk. Kids will often say things like, "I'm just dumb, I will never learn this." Offer them language or little mantras to replace this negative talk with positive self-talk. In our house we say, "everything takes practice." Another good option is focusing on the word "yet." As in, "I haven't mastered this skill yet."

2. For older kids, discuss famous failures who had to keep persisting over and over again until they were successful--Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison. Here's a good list.

3. Bring in examples from your own life. Did you experience a time when you thought you'd never succeed at something but kept persisting. Recall a time when your hard work really paid off. Your kids will probably love these stories and it's great bonding time too.

Books that Promote a Growth Mindset








Check out my Pinterest board all about Growth Mindset  

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Parenting means...continually learning about yourself and your children

Parenting means...recognizing that you don't know all the answers

Parenting means...not giving up on your kids (even when it's a struggle)

Parenting means...you are still your own person with dreams, ideas, and feelings

Because parenting is all these things and much more I hope you take a moment to read about the Mom Conference

It begins Tuesday, Oct. 17th. Yes, it has TONS of great parenting advice like these awesome speakers:

Amanda Morgan on the Power of Play (she is one of my all time favs!)



Amy McCready on Raising Kids who are Motivated and Grateful (her stuff is always wonderful)


But it also has wonderful information about being a real mom and finding time to do everything you want to do:

Sadie Jane Sabin on Weight Loss and Fitness (healthy, strong moms!)


Kelly Jensen on Finding Joy in Motherhood (self-care and joy time)



I hope you will check it out and sign up TODAY. The best part is that the  Mom Conference is all FREE! This is one of the few big online events that I really look forward to each year.

Participate ONLINE and be inspired October 17, 18 and 19th!

Register for FREE today so you can watch TOMORROW:
Click HERE

Wishing you a wonderful week ahead!
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