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Monday, October 31, 2016

Kids' Birthday and Christmas Gift Guide

Christmas is only weeks away! And if you're like me, you have birthdays coming up just before Christmas!

Finding the appropriate gift can be time-consuming, and a bit stressful- whether it's coming directly from you or from your child to their pal. I created a gift guide so you can focus on enjoying time with loved ones (and getting on with your day!) rather than hemming and hawing at all of the options. The gifts are organized by age group from toddler to teen, and all of them are under $40. Happy gifting!

For giftees ages 3 to 5

Geometric Building Set tegu Tegu Blocks combine fun colors, geometric shapes, and a magnetic snap to create a playtime experience that's fitting for the living room or the classroom. Parents (and littles!) love this toy because its production has positive environmental and social impact. get-it-now-200x60

   Make a Match Game mama_may_i_make_a_match_dino1_large_9117 This game helps children grow memory skills with adorable dinosaur chips! The beautiful design is a treat for parents and kids alike. Perfect for picnics, play dates, and rainy games, this game is small enough to carry in your pocket and hip enough for the coolest of pre-k birthday parties. get-it-now-200x60  

For giftees ages 6 to 8

Animal Charades Game mama_may_i_mamamayianimalaction5_fd5e Get kids on their feet and brimming with ideas! This high-quality wooden game is a perfect gift for outgoing children and to create an atmosphere of fun and creativity. get-it-now-200x60

   Pirate Adventure Board Game grouchy-dog-llc_box3drm3_c2be This board game is cleverly disguised. Kids will be having so much fun that they won't even know that they were learning math from an award-winning program. get-it-now-200x60

  Squishy Science Experiment ss-worldwide_screen_shot_20160616_at_43240_pm_5e55 The Slimy Squishy Polymer Bucket is the perfect gift for budding scientists who aren't afraid to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty in the name of...scientific learning! But they'll too be busy having fun to realize they're learning the basics of chemistry. get-it-now-200x60

  Garden Flowers Coloring Book garden-flowers-coloring-book-9781632205247-1459709691.3733.3088 One great idea for a gift is coloring books. These garden flower coloring books are perfect for child and parent, and can make a great group activity. get-it-now-200x60

For giftees 9 to 10

Food Fighter 2-Player Game kids-table_fdf_box_top_jan_5daa Food Fighter is a board game that has two children face off in a kitchen-themed battle. Children will have fun while developing higher-order thinking skills, mathematics, literacy, and executive functioning skills. get-it-now-200x60

  Dream Catcher Kit the_happy_trunk_dreamcatcher2_f343 Building dreamcatchers is a classic crafting activity - this colorful kit has everything kids need to make something unique and beautiful! get-it-now-200x60

  Just Add Milk Experiments griddly_games_outofboxjustaddmilk_62e8 I love these experiments - little parental oversight is required, and they're so easy to do right at home! Girls and boys, readers and scientists, alike will love this colorful kit. Not to mention parents! get-it-now-200x60

Gifts for Ages 11 to 13

Pairs in Pears pairs-in-pears-lr1998-1460411317.7972.3088 Whether or not they love this pun as much as some of us, this game gets kids flexing vocabulary muscles while having fun with a little challenge and competition. Players build pairs of connecting words in matching patterns, like Scrabble 2.0. Best of all it's portable - a perfect gift and activity to bring along on sleepovers or for parties. For a little more "pearity," pair with two more pears! get-it-now-200x60   Rainforest Biome rainforest-biome-discovery-kit-lr2993-1460412048.0125.3088 Budding scientists and tweens who like hands-on fun will love this all-in-one Rainforest Biome - they get to start a whole ecosystem right at home! The biome includes cacao beans (a favorite), clay, an apple snail shell, and more to create a full-on biofeedback loop. Super cool! get-it-now-200x60

   Math & Science Mystery Books slack_for_ios_upload-3 Who doesn't love to solve a mystery?! The One Minute Mystery series takes a simple concept and turns it into an awesome book. Kids will read mysteries, then use their powers of deduction and knowledge of math and science to find the solution. Each is as satisfying as the next! get-it-now-200x60

*This post contains affiliate links.

Friday, October 7, 2016

15 Ways to Connect with Your Child in 5 Minutes or Less



Ask any parent how things are going and you’re likely to hear some version of “we are staying busy.” Whether you think busyness is a disease resulting in families being over-stressed and not spending enough time together or you see the productivity as a good thing that is benefiting your brain, few will dispute that we are, in fact, a busy people. The good news is that it appears that quality time with our kids trumps quantity. While I’ll always advocate for slowing down and savoring those precious miracle moments with our loved ones, I understand that some days are just so packed that there are only a few spare minutes with which to connect with our kids. For those days, here are 15 ways to connect in just five minutes or less.

1. Gather your child in your lap and read a short story. Of course, this is much easier to do with little kids who still fit on your lap, but if your child is older, sit beside him and read a chapter of Percy Jackson out loud. By making this a daily ritual, you’ll spark a love for reading and spend some quality time together every single day.

2. Offer a heart-felt hug and be the last to let go. This article by Marcus Falicetti outlines why we need at least eight hugs per day. Lots of good comes from a hug, and it doesn’t even take five minutes!

3. Give full, undivided attention to your child and start with saying, “These next five minutes are all yours.” Ask them about their day, how they’re feeling, or what they’re interested in most right now. Make eye contact and listen attentively. We do that so little these days because everybody is checking their devices or multitasking and only giving partial attention. Five minutes of full attention will go a long way in strengthening your connection.

4. Meet their strong emotion with empathy. Sometimes this is inconvenient or even downright tough, and our first reaction is often to shut it down quickly. When we can sit with our children through their big feelings, they get the message “I matter” or “I’m understood” and that fosters a deeper connection to us.

5. Play a game of Tic Tac Toe, Hangman, or have a drawing contest. Keep a small notepad in your vehicle or purse for on-the-go fun. Make use of the time you’re waiting in line at the grocery store or at the doctor’s office by playing one of these games together and you just might feel less exasperated by your wait and more connected with your child.

6. Have an impromptu dance party. Inject a little fun and spontaneity into your day by turning on a good dance song and sliding around the kitchen in your socks.

7. Tell each other jokes. Laughter equals connection.

8. Stuck in the car? Play a car game like “I Spy” or “Twenty questions.”

9. Special time before bed is a lovely way to end the day. Lie beside your child or sit at the end of the bed and just spend a few minutes talking or giving a back rub.

10. Roughhouse and wrestle around a bit. Give piggy back rides or horsey rides, swing them around, and chase them.

11. Visit their world. Get involved in something that your kid is interested in, like Minecraft for instance. Ask questions. When we show kids that we care about the things they care about, they feel connected.

12. Do a chore together and make it fun. It has to get done anyway, so you may as well use the time wisely and play while you work!

13. Become journal buddies. Whether you just use a composition notebook or buy a journal like Journal Buddies: A Boy’s Journal for Discovering and Sharing Excellence or Just Between Us: Mother & Daughter: A No-Stress, No Rules Journal, writing back and forth is a great way to connect with your child.

14. Spend those 5 minutes outside playing tag, looking for bugs, or collecting leaves. Play hopscotch, blow bubbles, or jump rope. Hula hoop, toss a ball, or walk the dog. You get the idea!

15. Break out the photo albums. Looking back at old memories and cheeky baby smiles is an instant mood booster and a great way to spend quality time with your loved one.

**This article was originally published at Creative Child Magazine.



A Compassionate Response to Tantrums



Time and again, I see and hear advice to ignore children who are in emotional distress. Those who both give and receive this advice do so with the best of intentions. They love children and believe it is in a child’s best interest to “train them out of tantrums” by ignoring because they believe that anything else will reinforce or fuel this “bad behavior.” There are several things at play here that we need to address in order to bring compassion to our responses with our children.

1. We have subscribed to the idea that tantrums are bad behavior.

We believe children have tantrums in a calculative manner with the intent to manipulate us to either give them attention or give them something they want. When we understand how the developing brain of a child works, we can quickly debunk this idea that young children (babies and toddlers) are being deliberately manipulative. Rather, true tantrums occur when the limbic system (the emotional center of the brain) becomes overloaded and alarms trigger the lower brain, sending them into a meltdown. When the lower brain is in charge, children have little control over their actions, and screaming, kicking, and crying are a discharge of the overwhelming feelings.

Many things can overload the limbic system and trigger the lower brain, and to us, those things may seem very insignificant - silly even – and so our initial response is often dismissive. Who really gets that upset over the way a sandwich is cut? This judgment blocks our compassion because when we trivialize the emotional experience of another, we feel validated in not offering our support.

2. Tantrums make us uncomfortable.

There’s another reason we want to ignore a tantrum and that is the emotional response it invokes in our own brains. Because we humans are so interconnected, our mirror neurons are firing when we see our child in distress and it causes us to feel like we are in distress, too. We don’t want to feel uncomfortable, so we push the cause of our discomfort (the child) away. Ignoring is basically like constructing a mental wall that doesn’t allow their pain to become our pain, and here again, trivializing their experience comes in handy because we use that “logic” (thanks to our fully developed frontal lobes) to ease our own discomfort.

3. We are afraid that compassion will reward the tantrum.

Connection is one of our most basic human needs. We all long to feel heard, validated, loved, accepted, and attached, not only when we are our best selves, but also when we are our worst selves. Imagine a spouse, partner, or friend withdrawing their attention and warmth from you because you are crying, upset, and in emotional distress. What would it do for your relationship? How would it affect your emotional state? Now imagine that these people gave you a shoulder to cry on, listened as you communicated your frustration or sadness, and then, even if they couldn’t solve your problem for you, they said “I’m here for you.” Now ask yourself those same two questions.

Compassion is not a reward; it is the heart of relationships.

Psychologist, science writer, and emotional intelligence expert, Daniel Goleman says, “True compassion means not only feeling another’s pain but also being moved to help relieve it.” To extend compassion, we have to be willing to allow ourselves to feel our own discomfort and yet have the emotional stability to not become entangled in their distress but to be the lighthouse that shows them the way through the storm.

Different Kinds of Tantrums:

Thus far, I’ve been talking about the true emotional overwhelm, or what Tina Payne-Bryson calls “downstairs tantrums.” Read Upstairs and Downstairs Tantrums for a complete explanation. Sometimes, particularly in older children beyond the preschooler years, a child will “pitch a fit” in an attempt to get you to give in. Hey, the frontal lobe is maturing! This isn’t true emotional distress, and parents can tell the difference. Even during this type of tantrum, though, you can still show compassion while standing your ground. When he realizes the fit doesn’t get him what he wants, it won’t be a tool he uses, and when you stay compassionate and calm in the face of it, he’ll learn what it looks like to show maturity.

The Bottom Line:

We don’t have to make a new sandwich and cut it the right way, buy them the toy, or let them stay up an hour later nor do we have to send them to their room or ignore them completely. Neither approach is the best for fostering emotional health. Instead, I believe in offering compassionate, loving support while holding our boundaries and then, once the storm has passed, actively teaching children about their emotions and how they can respond when they feel upset. This approach strengthens relationships, resilience, and emotional intelligence.

Children must learn that kicking and screaming on the floor is not the way to deal with upsets, but they don’t learn how to handle those emotions by kicking and screaming alone. They learn by watching how we handle our upsets and by what we teach them before and after an emotional meltdown.

So don’t ignore! Help.

Further Reading:
Tackling Distress Tantrums with Brain Research
Tantrums: Moving Beyond the Black and White of Ignoring or Giving In
Why Your Child Can’t Think Straight During a Tantrum

**This post was originally published at Creative Child Magazine.





Friday, September 16, 2016

The Lessons My Children Taught Me



I’ve taught my children many, many things in my decade of parenting, but the lessons they’ve taught me are far greater and more valuable than I ever expected. In a bizarre twist, it turns out that my children have, indeed, been my greatest teachers in life. I knew it was my honor to raise them, but what I didn’t know was just how much they’d raise me (or at least inspire me to rise).

Lesson One: How to Love Unconditionally
I suppose, like them, I was born knowing how to do this, but somewhere along the way, I learned to love with conditions, or more specifically, to show love with conditions. For me, it took having a child to see what real, unconditional love looks like, and that’s the kind of love I’m now striving to give back to them. The pure love they give to me is not based on my performance as a mother, but on the simple, sweet fact that I am their mother. That’s the love I want to return – a love not based on actions, accomplishments, or attitudes, but given purely because of who they are.

Lesson Two: Grudges are Ridiculous
I’ve been known to hold a grudge. There have been some things that people have done to me that have just been hard for me to let go of. It’s hard to see past the hurt. Not for children, though. My kids can be in an argument at 10 am and by 10:04, the whole thing is forgiven and forgotten. I see the freedom in letting go through watching my children, and I’m working toward being more like them.

Lesson Three: The World is Full of Wonder
This is another one of those beautiful lessons long forgotten until I had children. The amazement of a butterfly fluttering about, the joy of blowing bubbles and watching them being carried away by the wind, the beauty of clouds and their many fascinating shapes – the world is a wonderful place with so much to discover, even in our own backyards. Seeing once more through the eyes of a child is one of the greatest gifts of parenthood.

Lesson Four: Slower is Better
Our adult schedules can get ridiculously hectic. Even when our physical responsibilities are done, our minds rarely stop racing. It often seems to me like the world is whirring by my head and I just can’t keep up, but my children have taught me the value of slowing down. Not only do children live at a slower pace, taking their sweet time to get out the door when we needed to be somewhere 5 minutes ago, but just the fact that I see them growing so quickly has made me purposefully slow down and be present. Plus, when you’re blasting off into outer space on a super important mission with a 7-year-old, tomorrow’s to-do list just has to wait.

Lesson Five: There is Always Joy
Every day brings something to be excited about if we choose to look for the joy. My sons see joy in the rain puddles where my adult eyes see the forthcoming pile of wet laundry. They usually see joy where I see messes, so I’m learning to look for the joy in the messes, too. It’s often found in the piles of Lego bricks or the splattering of paint on the kitchen table that missed the paper. It’s found in riding a scooter into the wind or petting the soft fur of an orange kitten. Most recently for me, it was found in waking up on a summer morning with two long, gangly kids in my bed, one asleep with his arm thrown over his brother, and the gratitude washed over me like a warm wave because I realized that this – every single day I get to spend with them, my greatest teachers – is joy.

**Originally published at Creative Child

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Beyond "Good Job" - 50 Encouraging Phrases for Kids



Have you ever watched the show Brain Games? My kids love it. In season 3, episode 5, which is titled “Stress Test,” players were given a specific amount of time to complete a task while someone was saying critical remarks to them. They almost always failed. Then, they were given the same amount of time to complete the same task while someone said encouraging words to them. The results were dramatic. With a bit of encouragement, the players were able to complete the task much faster and easier. The bottom line? Encouragement matters.

As parents, we spend much of our time giving directives and correction while the good things our children do often get little to no attention beyond “good job.” I believe if we get more intentional and specific in the encouraging words we say, we can have a positive impact on our children; we’ll see not only better behavior, but higher self-confidence as well. I encourage you to make it a point to say more encouraging words per day than criticisms or correction. Then note the change in atmosphere and behavior. Here are 50 encouraging phrases to get you started.

1. That’s so creative!
2. You really stuck with it and got the job done.
3. That was really helpful of you. Thanks!
4. You make me proud.
5. You can do it!
6. I believe in you.
7. That took perseverance! Well done!
8. You gave it your best, and that’s what matters.
9. You are the light of my life.
10. You’re getting better at this!
11. I trust you.
12. Your hard work really paid off!
13. You are a joy to be with.
14. You are really kind.
15. You should be proud!
16. Look, you did it!
17. You handled that really well.
18. I like your determination.
19. I can tell you put a lot of effort into this.
20. Keep practicing, and you’ll get there!
31. You can accomplish anything you set your mind to.
32. Take your time. There’s no rush.
33. You did it all by yourself!
34. You remembered!
35. There’s still plenty of time to learn this.
36. You don’t have to face it alone.
37. You made a wise choice.
38. You’re a caring friend/brother/sister.
39. We are lucky to have you in our family.
40. You’ve come a long way!
41. I love the detail you put into this.
42. I love watching you play.
43. Look how happy you made your friend/brother/sister.
44. That’s a great attitude!
45. Way to stay positive!
46. You are a great listener.
47. Your feelings matter!
48. Your opinion is important to me.
49. You’ve got what it takes!
50. Nothing will ever change my love for you.

This post was originally published for Creative Child Magazine.