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Our children are often the best mirrors. Over time, I have gracefully taken a step back and realized I needed to clean up my communication.

I replaced my judgmental, negative, threatening tone with a neutral, problem solving, empathetic, encouraging one (this took TONS of practice, and I'm still a work in progress) and my little girl's behavior improved dramatically.

The lesson was clear for me. Talk to mini-humans the way you'd like to be talked to and things will go a lot smoother. Easier said than done, so over the years, I've adopted the motto “Progress over perfection."

These 20 positive phrases are a great place to start if you'd like to make a fresh start with your communication:

1. “What do you need to remember?"

Take a break from: "Be careful."

Example: "What do you need to remember when you play at the park?" or "Please move slow like a careful turtle when walking on top of that wall."

Explained: Kids often ignore when we say this same thing again and again. Instead, engage their critical thinking skills and have them re-state the important precaution. Or give them specifics on what you want.

2. “Please talk softly."

Take a break from: "Stop yelling!" or "Be Quiet!"

Example: "Please talk softly or whisper," (said in a whisper voice) or, "I love your singing, AND I need you to outside or in the playroom to sing loud."

Explained: Some kids are naturally louder than others. If they have trouble speaking softly, show them where they can go to be loud and also use the power of the whisper. In combination with a gentle touch and eye contact, whispering is an incredibly effective way to get kids to listen.

3. “Would you like to do it on your own or have me help you?"

Take a break from: "I've asked you three times, do it now!"

Example: "It's time to leave. Would you like to put on your shoes by yourself, or have me help you?" or "Would you like to hop in your car seat by yourself or have me put you in it?"

Explained: Most kids respond incredibly well to being empowered. Give them a choice and their critical thinking skills override their temptation to push back.

4. “What did you learn from this mistake?"

Take a break from: "Shame on you" or "You should know better."

Example: "What did you learn from this mistake?" or "What did you learn and how will you do it differently next time, so you don't get in trouble at school?"

Explained: Focusing on motivation to change behavior for the future will get you much better results than placing shame on past misbehavior.

5. “Please ______________."

Take a break from: "Don't!" or "Stop It!"

Example: "Please pet the dog gently" or "Please put your shoes in the closet."

Explained: Do any of us go through our day telling waitresses, baristas, friends, etc. what we DON'T want? No, right? We wouldn't get the best response if we said "Do NOT give us a whole milk latte" or "I don't want the chicken." That form of negative communication isn't perceived well and puts undue strain on relationships. Instead, try asking for what you do want.

6. “We are on cheetah time today and need to move fast!"

Take a break from: "Hurry Up!" or "We are going to be late!"

Example: "We're on racehorse time today! Let's see how fast we can move!"

Explained: Be sure to let them be on turtle time sometimes! We could all use a healthy dose of slowing down, so provide mornings where everyone is relaxed & kids can move slow.

7. “Do you want to leave now or in ten minutes?"

Take a break from: "Time to go…now!"

Example: "Do you guys wanna leave now or play for ten more minutes, then leave?

Why it works: Kids love to be in charge of their own destiny, especially power kids! This takes a tad bit of proactivity, but it works like a charm! Give them a choice & they'll respond much better when you say "Okay, 10 minutes is up, time to go."

8. “Let's add that toy you want to your birthday list."

Take a break from: "We can't afford that" or "No, I said NO TOYS!"

Example: "I am not willing to buy that, would you like me to put it on your birthday wish list?"

Explained: If we're being honest, we often CAN afford the $5 lego at checkout, we're just not willing to purchase it. But then buy a $5 almond milk latte from Starbucks. Instead of blaming our finances and creating feelings of scarcity, own your limit, then offer ideas to help them learn how to get it (birthday, earning money, etc.).

9. “Stop, breathe, now ask for what you want."

Take a break from: "Stop whining!"

Example: "Let's stop, breathe together, now try again to ask for what you want."

Explained: Be sure to model this too. Keep repeating it calmly while breathing with them, till they can self-calm and change the way they're talking.

10. “Respect yourself and others."

Take a break from: "Be good."

Example: "Remember to respect yourself and others when you're inside the jumpy today."

Explained: Be specific here as kids often don't absorb the general statements we throw at them. Ask for what you want and have them restate what is important to remember.

11. “Use your teamwork skills."

Take a break from: "Don't be bossy!" and "No one will want to play with you if you act like that."

Example: "You're a great leader. Remember to use your teamwork skills today. Ask your friends questions, instead of telling them what to do and let others have a turn leading too."

Explained: Many kids who have a strong desire to lead (or feel powerful) are often told they're bossy or that no one will want to be their friends if they act mean. Instead, become a coach of your child and teach them how good leaders lead with integrity—asking instead of commanding, showing instead of telling, and taking turns, so everyone has a turn to lead AND also rest, etc.

12. “I need you to _____________."

Take a break from: "Stop doing ___," and "It's not ok to ___."

Example: "I need you to pet the dog gently, he loves calming pets and will sit with you longer if you touch him that way.

"I need you to slow down and walk like a turtle right now instead of a racehorse since we're in a dangerous parking lot."

Explained: I statements come across very different than you statements, and kids respond much better when we communicate with them in non-accusatory ways. Also, asking for what you want is huge to guide kids in the direction you want (vs. focusing their brain on what you DON'T want!)

13. “It's okay to cry."

Take a break from: "Don't be a baby," or "Don't Cry."

Example: "It's ok that you feel sad, I'll be over here if you need me. I know you can find a way to take care of yourself."

Explained: It's incredible how well kids respond when we don't pressure them to "get over their feelings" or try to force them to stop freaking out. Empower and teach them they are capable of moving through the feeling on their own and they'll come out of the sadness sooner—and also build their self-esteem.

14. “How will you take care of yourself?"

Take a break from: Always fixing, i.e., "Do __________, and you'll be fine, it's not a big deal," or "Why are you always so emotional? Here, a cookie will make you feel better."

Example: "It's ok to be ____________. What are some things you can do to help yourself feel better?"

Explained: Empowering kids to take care of themselves is an incredible gift! Kids who learn to move through emotions with integrity, and take self-calming action get into trouble less and have higher self-esteem. (Be sure you are learning through positive parenting curriculum like The Foundations Course how to support them in this journey to develop intrinsic care, self-control methods and how to self-calm.)

15. “I'll stop, breathe and wait for you to finish."

Take a break from: "Just let me do it."

Example: "Looks like you need a moment, I'll sit down and wait for two minutes or put the dishes in the dishwasher while I wait."

Explained: Many times, it's us parents that need to chill. Slow down and let them try to tie their shoe themselves or figure out the elevator floor by reading the sign. Kids often do a great job of reminding us to be present. Be ok with a lumpy bed sometimes, or shoes on the wrong foot. The goal here is to let kids try, fail, try again and anchor feelings of capability—so they don't always depend on us to do everything!

16. “I love you no matter what."

Take a break from: "No one wants to be with you when you're bad," or "You're not getting hugs and kisses after acting like that."

Example: "I love you no matter what behavior you have, AND I'd like you to ask your brother for the toy next time, instead of grabbing it."

Explained: Unconditional love is at the core of Positive Parenting and means that our love for our kids does not depend on the level of good behavior they have in the day. We love them with all of our heart no matter what. Feeding this truth into our children pours into their need to belong, which is a key motivating factor that Dr. Rudolph Dreikurs (grandfather of Positive Parenting) helps us understand. When kids' basic needs are met, they misbehave less.

17. “I am not ok with ___________—yet."

Take a break from: "You're not old enough," or "You're too little to do that."

Example: "I'm not ok with you walking on top of that brick wall because I'm scared you'll fall and hurt yourself."

Explained: When we own our fears and worries, our kids respond and respect our limits a lot better. Kids often feel like they are old enough, strong enough, big enough and capable enough to do big things like ride bikes fast, climb high fences and carry big glasses of juice…but it's us that isn't ready to take the risk yet. Communicate this to your kids using the word I, and they will push back less.

18. “You care, so I'd love for you to decide."

Take a break from: "I don't care."

Example: "You know what? I'm flexible on this, so can you choose for us. I'd love your help."

Explained: When we really don't care, this is a great opportunity to empower our kids and let them lead! Good leaders are also good followers so teaching our kids this through letting them make decisions is good practice.

19. “I believe in you and am here to support you."

Take a break from: Rescuing, i.e., "I'll take care of this." or "Why do I have to do everything for you?"

Example: "I can see how this is tough for you and I believe in you to get through this. I am here to support you if you need ideas on how to handle the situation with integrity."

Explained: It's important that as parents we set our kids up for success in the world to take care of themselves, solve their own problems and have confidence that they are capable. Supporting instead of rescuing often takes more patience, but it builds kids' self-esteem and intrinsic motivation in the most beautiful ways!

20. “How are you feeling?"

Take a break from: "Chill out; you don't need to get so upset!"

Example: "I can see you're upset, what are you feeling?"

Explained: Helping kids identify their emotions and communicate them effectively is an important element of positive parenting. When children get comfortable actually feeling an emotion and communicating it to others (instead of denying it and trying to MAKE it go away), behaviors have a tendency to be much cleaner and respectful.


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There are certain moments of parenthood that stay with us forever. The ones that feel a little extra special than the rest. The ones that we always remember, even as time moves forward.

The first day of school will always be one of the most powerful of these experiences.

I love thinking back to my own excitement going through it as a child—the smell of the changing seasons, how excited I was about the new trendy outfit I picked out. And now, I get the joy of watching my children go through the same right of passage.

Keep the memory of this time close with these 10 pictures that you must take on the first day of school so you can remember it forever, mama:

1. Getting on the school bus.

Is there anything more iconic than a school bus when it comes to the first day of school? If your little one is taking the bus, snap a photo of them posed in front of the school bus, walking onto it for the first time, or waving at you through the window as they head off to new adventure.

2. Their feet (and new shoes!)

Getting a new pair of shoes is the quintessential task to prepare for a new school year. These are the shoes that will support them as they learn, play and thrive. Capture the sentimental power of this milestone by taking photos of their shoes. You can get a closeup of your child's feet, or even show them standing next to their previous years of first-day-of-school shoes to show just how much they've grown. If you have multiple children, don't forget to get group shoe photos as well!

3. Posing with their backpack.

Backpacks are a matter of pride for kids so be sure to commemorate the one your child has chosen for the year. Want to get creative? Snap a picture of the backpack leaning against the front door, and then on your child's back as they head out the door.

4. Standing next to a tree or your front door.

Find a place where you can consistently take a photo year after year—a tree, your front door, the school signage—and showcase how much your child is growing by documenting the change each September.

5. Holding a 'first day of school' sign.

Add words to your photo by having your child pose with or next to a sign. Whether it's a creative DIY masterpiece or a simple printout you find online that details their favorites from that year, the beautiful sentiment will be remembered for a lifetime.

6. With their graduating class shirt.

When your child starts school, get a custom-designed shirt with the year your child will graduate high school, or design one yourself with fabric paint (in an 18-year-old size). Have them wear the shirt each year so you can watch them grow into it—and themselves!

Pro tip: Choose a simple color scheme and design that would be easy to recreate if necessary—if your child ends up skipping or repeating a year of school and their graduation date shifts, you can have a new shirt made that can be easily swapped for the original.

7. Post with sidewalk chalk.

Sidewalk chalk never goes out of style and has such a nostalgic quality to it. Let your child draw or write something that represents the start of school, like the date or their teacher, and then have them pose next to (or on top of) their work.

8. In their classroom.

From first letters learned to complicated math concepts mastered, your child's classroom is where the real magic of school happens. Take a few pictures of the space where they'll be spending their time. They will love remembering what everything looked like on the first day, from the decorations on the wall to your child's cubby, locker or desk.

9. With their teacher.

If classrooms are where the magic happens, teachers are the magicians. We wish we remembered every single teach we had, but the truth is that over time, memories fade. Be sure to snap a photo of your child posing with their teacher on the first day of school.

10. With you!

We spend so much time thinking about our children's experience on the first day of school, we forget about the people who have done so much to get them there—us! This is a really big day for you too, mama, so get in that photo! You and your child will treasure it forever.

This article is sponsored by Rack Room Shoes. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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I can still remember bringing my first newborn baby home, even though it has been over a year now. And let me be clear—I don't remember it because it was blissful and euphoric. I actually remember it so vividly because it was close to the most anxiety-ridden, stressful, emotional day of my life.

The two previous days spent in the hospital were everything I hoped they'd be. Sure, I was getting virtually no sleep, and my body ached from all it had just been through, but I had an abundant amount of help at my fingertips. I didn't yet feel overwhelmed or inadequate and I was fully confident that I could handle this whole mama thing. Excitement was my overarching emotion.

And then we got home.

It didn't take long for the crying to start. And once it started, there was no end in sight. My sweet baby boy just kept crying, and crying, and then crying some more, and I longed to have a "call nurse" button to press for a little relief.

My amateur mama skills seemed futile as I rocked, shushed, snuggled and nursed my baby. None of it helped; my sweet son wanted nothing to do with this world and was begging to be put back in the warm and comfortable surroundings he had just emerged from.

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And so those first couple of months were a fog of diaper changes, feedings, nap time, crying (so much crying for both of us) and an endless amount of pleading prayers.

I didn't love my new role of being a mom yet. Although I had been dreaming of this calling my whole life, I decided I clearly wasn't cut out for it and figured the rest of my days were surely going to be full of hardship.

My hope and excitement for the future were at an all-time low, which could partially be thanks to those pesky postpartum hormones. This period of life was hard. All-consuming and so hard.

So I'm here to tell you, brand new mama, if you don't love being a mom yet, that's okay. Because here's what's going to happen.

One day, after weeks and weeks of having a fussy baby, that little bundle of joy is going to crack their first smile, and your heart is going to absolutely burst with happiness as you quickly grab your phone to capture a picture.

And then your sweet little one is going to start cooing and oohing and aahing, and you will feel like they're telling you all about their day, which is going to simply melt your soul. It definitely melted mine.

And then feeding the baby is going to get easier, and their nighttime sleep stretches are going to get longer, and taking them out and about isn't going to feel so overwhelming.

And then, mama, one day you're going to look at yourself in the mirror when you get a spare second. You'll see spit-up on your shirt, dark circles below your eyes that not even the best concealer could cover, unwashed hair tucked under your favorite baseball cap, and you're going to say to yourself, "I love being a mom. This is me now."

And you might no longer grieve the old life you once had. You'll stop wishing you could go back to your carefree youthful days, and you'll instead start looking forward to all the many fun family memories that will soon be made.

One day, you're going to love being a mama. I did.

Hang on tight to any little joys you can find during this in-between time and give yourself grace. A lot of grace. You're doing the best you can, and that's all you need to do for now.

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The summer season is the perfect time to get creative and enjoy fun projects around the house with your little ones. Some of the most memorable family moments can start with a piece of construction paper or end with a table covered in shaving cream.

While you're having fun, just remember that being creative is about the process, not the result. Your kids' artwork may not be museum-worthy, but that's okay! Embrace the fun of the creation and not necessarily the end result.

First thing's first, get organized.

before you can begin any project, it's important to start on a clean surface. A fresh canvas sets the stage for family activities and DIY projects so I always put away clutter and clean the surfaces to prepare for new activities.

I always recommend creating or purchasing organization bins or spaces for each activity or categories of items. For example, a container specifically for crayons, markers and colored pencils. Then when it's time to clean up, everything has a specific place. Make sure to clearly label the bins so everyone can easily determine what each container contains. This is a great way to exercise good organizational habits from an early age. As soon as they are 2-years-old, they can play a part in cleaning up and putting things away. And, if you have systems set up for them from the start, it makes it much easier for them! Kids also love to help clean counters once you've put everything away. Whether it's after you've cooked a meal together or exhausted all of the glitter glue, they love wiping down counters with wipes. Set the expectation that kids who craft are responsible for cleaning up their supplies when they're done. It's crucial to start the healthy habit of tidying up after yourself early on.


Ask your kids for their input.

Imagination runs wild, so take advantage of their creativity. Ask them what type of art project or fun family activities they want to prioritize. If you have multiple kids, create a "suggestion jar" they can continually add and pull from when they are looking for an activity to do.

It's important to embrace collaboration. You know what they say: Teamwork makes the (crafts) work. Encourage your kids to work together and call out ideas for each other's artwork.

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Here are a few of my favorite craft projects:

  • Flipbooks: Have each kid create their own flipbook full of creative crafts, poetry, or other fun moments they want to capture.
  • DIY dollhouse: Make a custom dollhouse filled with handmade mini furniture to decorate it in their own way.
  • Out-of-the-crayon-box crafting: Challenge your kids to craft with creative elements around the house—whether it be clothespin snowmen or sponge sailboats, there are endless possibilities.
Garner even more excitement by making the prep part a project itself! Have your kids help create a fun workspace for food-making, craft-building, or DIY science-slime experimenting. They can pick a color scheme, help find the right organizing bins, or decorate the wall with art projects from this past school year for inspiration.

Try DIY projects.

Kids need to get out their creativity and energy so hands-on projects are a fun way to put their growing brains to work while they do it.

Be sure to practice safe crafting. Store all scissors and other sharp objects in protected, designated places, make sure to read all directions for new craft supplies or projects, and watch out for slippery messes!

Stock up on these essentials:

1. On-the-go park bag: Parents should be ready to go to the park at a moment's notice. Have a bag pre-packed with all the essentials: a mini kite, a picnic blanket, a ball to toss around, sunscreen and more.

2. Chalk: I love bringing crafts outside whenever possible, and something as simple as colorful sidewalk chalk is an easy way to make drawings larger than life!

3. Contact paper: You can use contact paper to add temporary color and character to flower vases, glass jars or really any decorative container with a hard, smooth surface. As a first step, wipe the vases or jars down with a disinfecting wipe to make sure the surface is clean so the paper will stick properly.

4. Felt: Felt is one of my favorite kid-friendly ways to incorporate color into crafts. You can make fun flowers, finger puppets, or whatever your heart desires.

5. Bubbles: They provide instant fun for any age!

6. Instant camera: Capture all of your moments —happy, sticky, and everything in between. Let your kids get in on the action of capturing their favorite family moments and compiling them into an end of the year scrapbook!
Learn + Play

Is it too soon? I ask myself as you toddle in and chat excitedly about the baby in mommy's belly. "Where is she?" you ask. "But I don't see her," you insist when I tell you she's in there.

Will you miss our special time as a trio? I wonder, as we snuggle on your rug at night, you, Daddy and me, under a blanket too small to cover us all. But you don't realize, pulling it up over us anyway, feet popping out, giggling all the while.

Were we selfish? I worry as I rush to comfort you during the night when a fever spikes and you call out our names. "Mama!" "Daddy!" And we're both there in a minute.

How can I possibly love another child as much as I love you? I question myself, as you run into my waiting hug and beg for just a million more.

But I tell myself that we'll learn these new steps together in stride, just as we did when you found your way into the world and became all of mine. Because it was you, my sweet boy, who taught me how to be a mama.

It was you who, in those first weeks, rested your head contently on my chest, just when I thought nursing might be too hard to handle. And it was you who flashed your first smile as the washer broke, amid mounds of spit-up stained laundry.

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You were the one who settled my breathing, as it quickened and tightened during my first panic attack. And it was rocking you at night that saved me when my maternity leave came to an end.

When you brought your very first stomach virus home and we all got sick at the same time, it was the sound of your first laugh that saved us during the eleventh hour, when we were questioning what made us think we were strong enough to care for a family.

We learned together how to navigate pediatrician visits and shots, what rocks and rhythms made nighttime smoother, how to introduce foods and when to wean. After six months, it was you who gave me the signal it was okay to stop nursing. When endless pumping sessions at work had me in tears, you assured me you'd love me just as much if I picked up a bottle of formula, gulping it down with a smile, your hands resting on mine.

When I worried at work each day that you were bonding more with your daycare teachers in those long hours than we ever could at home, you shared your first word, reminding me how special our bond is in that sweet, jumbled "mama."

We did it all, together.

And even now, as I worry about transitioning you into a big boy bed, you excitedly accept the challenge and graciously tell us we can give your crib to your new baby sister–just not your blanket.

At daycare, you rock the baby dolls, and you tell everyone you pass what your baby sister's name will be. You ask to read about Daniel Tiger and Baby Margaret, making sure I know how to navigate what's on your horizon.

Because, baby boy, you've always been quicker to adapt than me. Sometimes I think it's you who is teaching us.

You see, baby boy, it was your encouragement and love all along that guided me into motherhood. And it was your hugs and kisses and "good job mama's" that told me I could do this again.

Life will change as our family grows, but we'll keep learning together.

It'll be you who marches into that Kindergarten class, head held high as you proudly wear the backpack you picked out yourself, reminding us that time stops for no one.

It'll be you who introduces us to practices and clubs, field trips and permission slips–I'm sorry in advance for the ones I'll forget to sign!

It'll be you who turns my grip white, as you tuck your permit into the glovebox and pull onto the street for the first time.

It'll be you we wait up for first, worried that you haven't called. And it'll be you who heads off to college, leaving the house that seems too small feeling much too big.

But before your baby sister comes, and time continues to carry us in its unforgiving pace, I'll soak up every undivided second of attention I can give you. I'll snuggle you close and savor our chats. And we'll follow each other's leads, continuing to figure out this whole thing called life together.

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A recent trip to the movie theater had me brimming with excitement to reunite with Woody, Buzz, and the crew of Andy's (er, Bonnie's?) toys in the Toy Story franchise's new installment. Sure enough, my family laughed at the adventures of the cast, but it was a newcomer to the gang that really stole the show: a plastic spork named Forky.

While his reluctance to accept his place was charming and sweet, Bonnie's creation of Forky, and her subsequent attachment to him as her new favorite toy, points at a bigger picture—what constitutes a toy? Likewise, what does a child really need to be entertained?

The film's inclusion of such a common, utilitarian object as a chosen plaything serves as a reminder that children's imaginations are a powerful thing, and—when left to their own devices—kids are quite capable of having fun with far less than our society typically deems necessary.

Forky is a throwback to a time when less was more, and when families' homes weren't miniature toy stores.

I remember recently being spellbound as I watched my daughter engrossed in play with a handful of rocks. Each pebble had its role—mommy rock, daddy rock, baby rock, etc—and she carried on with a captivating scene encompassing equal parts comedy and tragedy. It was a rock family saga, and frankly, I was mesmerized.

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Despite a house full of flashy, modern, (and sometimes expensive) toys, I've found that some of the most creative play comes from the most unexpected "things" that most adults would consider non-toys. Kids have a unique way of looking at things, and often the items they gravitate toward as their preferred toy may leave parents not only scratching their heads, but also howling in laughter.

Kitchen accessories seem to be a favorite for many little ones, as I remember my own niece insisting on carrying a serving spoon everywhere with her. These inanimate objects function as the perfect plaything for children, as their minds are free to create whatever story or fantasy they desire. The make-believe is endless.

Other favorites for my kiddos include shoelaces, ropes, or yarn, which have infinite aliases—stuffed animal leashes and zip-lines being their go-tos. And who can forget the magic of cardboard boxes and of course bubble wrap. We're talking hours of fun and play.

After watching the film, I looked around my house at the abundant number of toys that my own children possess. Then I turned around and watched as they chose to stack Tupperware containers and throw foam koozies at them in a competitive game of kitchen bowling.

So yeah, we're all probably a little guilty of overindulgence with it comes to our kids. To be honest, it's fun to watch their eyes light up upon receiving a new toy at their birthday or other holiday. And I'm not arguing that those practices need to change completely. Rather, let's not forget the power of minimalism and its place in our lives. Let's encourage resourcefulness and creativity.

Behind the fun and nostalgia of the Toy Story series are important lessons and messages. In today's culture where more is more, Forky is a reminder that parents don't necessarily have to break the bank in purchasing toys for the little ones in our lives. In many cases, a "spork" will do.

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