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"Good job!"

"You are SO smart."


"What a pretty little girl you are!"

Sounds good, right? Familiar, perhaps, as you praise your child all through the day? Of course, you are doing this from a loving and well-intentioned place. However, praise of this kind can sometimes displace just what our children need the most.

Yes, displace. Stay with me here. I know praise for all they do seems like the way to grow those strong-from-the-inside-out kids. But as we give what feels like encouragement to our children in just the above way, we can undermine their ability to be intrinsically motivated—firing from inside themselves as they tap into their strengths and abilities to, on their own, pursue all things in life. We can undermine their growth as a strong inner-directed person.

Think about this: If we tell a child "Good job!" when they willingly get dressed in the morning, what does this communicate when they have a hard time getting dressed the next morning? That they are doing a 'bad job?' This is what a child 'hears,' and it does little to help them decide, on their own, to want to get dressed in the morning.

If we tell a child "You are so smart!" when they bring home an assignment they got 100% on, how do they feel when they come home with one marked with 75%? Or when they find themselves struggling with homework? If we've told them they are so smart, then they may feel like they are failing when they struggle. "I'm supposed to be so smart. Why can't I DO this??"

If we tell our daughter how pretty she looks as she prances out in her frilly red dress, what are we communicating is important? How she looks? How could this influence her over the years...as a teen...if how she looks becomes the go-to response she gets from us?

What CAN we do? Oh so much.

Describing what you see rather than praising is essential for our children to grow intrinsically motivated and to feel authentically affirmed. Here's how that can look:

  1. "You chose the red frilly dress! And you buttoned all those buttons by yourself. That took a lot of work."
  2. "Wow. That took a lot of brain work to come home with 100% on your assignment. I bet you feel really good about how your hard work paid off."
  3. "I see blue, green, black and yellow in your picture. You chose to use a LOT of the yellow! And look how you went round and round with your marker to make so many circle shapes."
  4. "Look how strong your muscles can be! What effort it takes to carry the bag all the way up the stairs. I appreciate your help."
  5. "What a commitment you've had to your training. I can see how happy you are to make the team at school!"
  6. "Math can be hard! Look at all the problems you've accomplished. You've concentrated on this for a long time."
  7. "Your friend is happy you shared your toy! What a kind thing to do."
  8. "It takes a lot of courage to climb up so high. When you are ready, you can give it a go."

What is different? Now you are focusing on their abilities, strengths, qualities—things you want to encourage as they help our children become more confident, feel more capable, able to take risks, to rally from mistakes, to move through struggle.

To know "I can really use my brain" sets a child up to work through a tough homework problem in an empowering way. Hearing "You are so smart!" can leave a child at a loss when they don't do well on a test, or when they can't figure out a problem. Using "You CAN be" instead of "You ARE..." gives a child the chance to be something else.

Take time today to pause as your child shows you the work they've done. Describe what you see, including the feelings of your child. Notice the L-O-N-G brush strokes across their painting and say something. Notice the colors they chose and tell them that's what you see. Pay attention to what they called upon to get through a tough moment and name it for them. Ask them questions about what it took to accomplish what they are grinning from ear to ear about.

Use struggles as a time to name and affirm their feelings, rather than find something to praise in order to 'make them feel better.' Use struggles as a time to identify the inner strengths they are trying to tap into to succeed. For example:

  1. "That puzzle is really difficult. It is frustrating for you! I can see you are working really hard to figure it out."
  2. "When your friend says those things it hurts your feelings and I can tell you feel sad. What might help you right now?"

This is important. Growing children who feel empowered, authentically affirmed and intrinsically motivated is key for living well all through life. It makes your job as a parent easier as your child can now move through struggles more successfully, can call upon their own selves to solve something, can make healthier choices with peers, and feel truly competent and capable.

Give it a try and notice what is different as you focus on your child's abilities, their process and the qualities you want the most. I believe you'll see just how your child is growing in amazing ways...and they'll "see" it, too.

Now when you find yourself throwing out the inevitable "good job!" or "you look so pretty!" now and again? No worries, for you've tipped the balance towards emphasizing just what you want the most—children feeling strong from the inside out.

What a gift to your child and to your relationships!

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Summer heat has a way of making the house feel smaller, more congested, with less room for the air to circulate. And there's nothing like the heat to make me want to strip down, cool off and lighten my load. So, motivation in three digits, now that school is back in, it's time to do a purge.

Forget the spring clean—who has time for that? Those last few months of the school year are busier than the first. And summer's warm weather entices our family outdoors on the weekends, which doesn't leave much time for re-organizing.

So, I seize the opportunity when my kids are back in school to enter my zone.

I love throwing open every closet and cupboard door, pulling out anything and everything that doesn't fit our bodies or our lives. Each joyless item purged peels off another oppressive layer of "not me" or "not us."

Stuff can obscure what really makes us feel light, capable and competent.

Stuff can stem the flow of what makes our lives work.

With my kids back in school, I am energized, motivated by the thought that I have the space to be in my head with no interruptions. No refereeing. No snacks. No naps… I am tossing. I am folding. I am stacking. I am organizing. I don't worry about having to stop. The neat-freak in me is having a field day.

Passing bedroom doors, ajar and flashing their naughty bits of chaos at me, it's more than I can handle in terms of temptation. I have to be careful, though, because I can get on a roll. Taking to my kids' rooms I tread carefully, always aware that what I think is junk can actually be their treasure.

But I usually have a good sense for what has been abandoned or invisible in plain sight for the lack of movement or the accumulation of dust. Anything that fits the description gets relegated to a box in the garage where it is on standby—in case its absence is noticed and a meltdown has ensued. Crisis averted. Either way, it's a victory.

Oh, it's quiet. So, so quiet. And I can think it all through…

Do we really need all this stuff?

Will my son really notice if I toss all this stuff?

Will my daughter be heartbroken if I donate all this stuff?

Will I really miss this dress I wore three years ago that barely fit my waist then and had me holding in my tummy all night, and that I for sure cannot zip today?

Can we live without it all? All. This. Stuff?

The fall purge always gets me wondering, where in the world does all this stuff come from? So with the beginning of the school year upon us, I vow to create a new mindset to evaluate everything that enters my home from now on, so that there will be so much less stuff.

I vow to really think about objects before they enter my home…

…to evaluate what is really useful,

...to consider when it would be useful,

...to imagine where it would be useful,

...to remember why it may be useful,

…to decide how to use it in more than one way,

... so that all this stuff won't get in the way of what really matters—time and attention for my kids and our lives as a new year reveals more layers of the real stuff—what my kids are made of.

Bring it on.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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For many years, Serena Williams seemed as perfect as a person could be. But now, Serena is a mom. She's imperfect and she's being honest about that and we're so grateful.

On the cover of TIME, Williams owns her imperfection, and in doing so, she gives mothers around the world permission to be as real as she is being.

"Nothing about me right now is perfect," she told TIME. "But I'm perfectly Serena."

The interview sheds light on Williams' recovery from her traumatic birth experience, and how her mental health has been impacted by the challenges she's faced in going from a medical emergency to new motherhood and back to the tennis court all within one year.

"Some days, I cry. I'm really sad. I've had meltdowns. It's been a really tough 11 months," she said.

It would have been easy for Williams to keep her struggles to herself over the last year. She didn't have to tell the world about her life-threatening birth experience, her decision to stop breastfeeding, her maternal mental health, how she missed her daughter's first steps, or any of it. But she did share these experiences, and in doing so she started incredibly powerful conversations on a national stage.

After Serena lost at Wimbledon this summer, she told the mothers watching around the world that she was playing for them. "And I tried," she said through tears. "I look forward to continuing to be back out here and doing what I do best."

In the TIME cover story, what happened before that match, where Williams lost to Angelique Kerber was revealed. TIME reports that Williams checked her phone about 10 minutes before the match, and learned, via Instagram, that the man convicted of fatally shooting her sister Yetunde Price, in 2003 is out on parole.

"I couldn't shake it out of my mind," Serena says. "It was hard because all I think about is her kids," she says. She was playing for all the mothers out there, but she had a specific mother on her mind during that historic match.

Williams' performance at Wimbledon wasn't perfect, and neither is she, as she clearly states on the cover of time. But motherhood isn't perfect either. It's okay to admit that. Thanks, Serena, for showing us how.

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There are some mornings where I wake up and I'm ready for the day. My alarm goes off and I pop out of bed and hum along as I make breakfast before my son wakes up. But then there are days where I just want 10 more minutes to sleep in. Or breakfast feels impossible to make because all our time has run out. Or I just feel overwhelmed and unprepared.

Those are the mornings I stare at the fridge and think, Can someone else just make breakfast, please?

Enter: make-ahead breakfasts. We spoke to the geniuses at Pinterest and they shared their top 10 pins all around this beautiful, planned-ahead treat. Here they are.

(You're welcome, future self.)

1. Make-ahead breakfast enchiladas

www.pinterest.com

Created by Bellyful

I'd make these for dinner, too.

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