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Having a toddler means new ways to communicate, now that she has developed quite the vocabulary.


Mama, all that talking can make you tired, but also excited and relieved that you have a little person to communicate with.

And at the top of your toddler’s growing vocabulary list is the word “no,” at times even accompanied by a yell, a stomp, or a wicked shake of the head.

So what makes your joyful toddler the apple of your eye one minute, and your stark adversary the next? Your toddler’s joy and the delight are still there, just temporarily set aside for a more important job—mastering her universe. Up till now, your little one navigated through life almost exclusively at your guidance. You taught her what things were, where things were, and how to communicate in order to get what she needs.

The difference now is that she has recognized that she has some control over her world and how she makes her way through it.

What does mastering her universe really mean for your tot? It means taking action to effect some change or result, which affords a sense of control. It means integrating prior knowledge with new explorations and beginning to link isolated behaviors together in meaningful sequences. So, a doll is no longer just for labeling "baby" and carrying around as some sort of transitional object. That doll may very well be held, rocked, fed, and put to bed by your toddler, who is learning to act out real-life and complex sequences.

Having said that, at this age, she is not entirely able to distinguish reality from fantasy, and her worldview is pretty much limited to what she experiences in the here-and-now. This egocentric stage where your toddler is on her own agenda and with only enough energy reserves to tackle these pursuits, combined with limited resources for reasoning, is what brings about your little "Mary Mary, quite contrary."

So, while it seems perfectly reasonable to suggest to your toddler, who is engrossed in smothering his toy car with playdoh to see if it will still roll down his homemade ramp, that it is time to wash his hands for dinner, he likely experiences that as a fatal disruption to his life's work with no possibility of return. Drastic, right?

It is the true nature of toddlerhood to experience much turmoil with the mere suggestion of a transition.

Luckily, there are some strategies you can try that allow you to see life through your toddler’s eyes and facilitate transitions, while minimizing battle wounds for both of you:

1. Understand

First and foremost, take a step back to make sense of your toddler’s experiences, considering both what brings her joy and under what circumstances you are seeing the most resistance. Specifically, seek to understand:

  • What your child is going through developmentally. It may seem as though toddlers are a bottomless pit of energy, but managing transitions, changes, and demands, while also exercising autonomy actually requires significant effort and can be exhausting for the little one who is hard at work mastering his universe.
  • What the function of the resistance behavior is. Is it to gain or prolong access to a preferred activity, or is your request unfamiliar and possibly anxiety-provoking
  • What the child is feeling in the moment and why. Even if the reaction seems excessive for the situation, the underlying emotional experience is valid.
  • How your child’s resistance affects you. Know that you are not alone. Lean on your other mama friends to exchange the good, the bad, and the ugly. It can be both insightful and replenishing.

2. Model

Never underestimate just how important you are in teaching your child how to cope with challenges, by how you do it yourself. Try modeling:

  • Narrate your own struggles with things not moving along in the way you hoped or planned. For example, “I feel so frustrated that we ran out of pasta sauce. I’m going to need to come up with a new plan for dinner. I think I can do that!”
  • Resist the urge to meet your child’s resistance with resistance. If we want to shape our children into being flexible problem solvers, we can model this when faced with the problem of a little defiant one. Take a deep breath and use validation and problem solving (see tips below) to proceed with both reason and compassion.
  • Use alternatives phrases. “I don’t think so,” “Maybe not,” or even simply “No, thank you,” can help minimize the sting of an outright “No.”

3. Anticipate

Chances are, you’ve have started to see clearly what makes your toddler tick, so anticipating some challenges with getting your toddler to shift gears can help you navigate those trying moments with greater ease. Pay particular attention to what tends to set off your tot the most, and take some preventative action by using one or more of these tips:

  • Offer choices so that she retains her sense of control. “Do you want to use a spoon or a fork to eat your peas?” and, “Should we wear the tiger jammies or the princess ones?”or, “Is mommy or daddy going to be toothbrush helper tonight?” all provide options for her to consider and choose.
  • Deliver your expectations in a fun, creative, or easy manner. For example, “I’ll race you to the bathroom!” or, “I wonder if you got any new teeth, we better count each one we brush to be sure!”
  • Offer something preferred to accompany her less preferred transition. Statements, like, “Monkey wants to hear the bedtime story tonight—quick, take him to find the best spot on the bed for him!” serve to provide her with perceived control over the process.

4. Validate

When your toddler starts to crumble, recognize the tragedy that he is experiencing in a genuine, interested, and compassionate way. There is always some rational sense underlying the extreme reaction. A little empathy can often be just what is needed to move your toddler from “No” to go. Use these important tips for validating:

  • Empathize with how your child feels. Phrases like, “You’re mad because you have to stop playing to get ready for bed,” and, “It’s sad to break a favorite toy,” or, “It’s hard to be away from blankie, and blankie will be so happy to feel clean again!” are infinitely better than ignoring their emotions.
  • Never validate the invalid. You don’t want to find yourself saying, “You’re right, mommy is bad,” but you can say, “I understand, you’re upset with mommy because I can’t stay and play trains with you.”

Remember that reasoning with them is not the same as validating them. Toddlers are notoriously deficient in their reasoning abilities, but moreover, a pull towards logic and rationality when someone is stuck in an emotion mindset can further polarize the experience. Joining your child by understanding his experience allows you to walk gently with him towards a balanced view that incorporates both logic and emotions.

5. Problem Solve

Lastly, carefully crafting a concoction of a few of these skills can often be just the right dose of flexibility to get your toddler moving and not resisting. Problem solving can happen when we:

  • Validate the feeling and the experience, model communication about it, present choices, and add in a creative twist to make it enticing. For example, “You really like that puzzle and we are just looking today. I can see you feel pretty sad about that. What can we do to feel better? Should we take a picture of you with the puzzle or have a puzzle play-day at home?”
  • Anticipate a tough transition, model getting through it with calm communication and empathy. Restating what you see and what your child may feel, like, “I know you love the toy store. Sometimes we go there and buy things for home, and sometimes we get to buy special surprises for other kids. Today, we are picking out a toy for your cousin. Do you want to help choose the wrapping paper or the bow? Your cousin will feel so special and so happy if you are the helper!” have a better chance of being heard and absorbed than simply reacting to your child in the midst of a situation.

Your toddler is undergoing quite the transformation and the likely truth is that you are both experiencing the growing pains from this phase. As your little one immerses himself in his new world in which he is becoming master, take pride in his achievements and in your own, because, Mama, you have created this secure universe for him.

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Unstructured play is play without predetermined rules of the game. There are no organized teams, uniforms, coaches or trainers. It is spontaneous, often made-up on the spot, and changeable as the day goes on. It is the kind of play you see when puppies chase each other around a yard in endless circles or a group of kids play for hours in a fort they created out of old packing boxes.

Unstructured play is fun—no question about it—but research also tells us that it is critically important for the development of children's bodies and brains.

One of the best ways to encourage unstructured play in young children is by providing open-ended toys, or toys that can be used multiple ways. People Toy Company knows all about that. Since 1977, they've created toys and products designed to naturally encourage developmental milestones—but to kids, it all just feels like play.

Here are five reasons why unstructured play is crucial for your children—

1. It changes brain structure in important ways

In a recent interview on NPR's Morning Edition, Sergio Pellis, Ph.D., an expert on the neuroscience of play noted that play actually changes the structure of the developing brain in important ways, strengthening the connections of the neurons (nerve cells) in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain considered to be the executive control center responsible for solving problems, making plans and regulating emotions.

Because unstructured play involves trying out different strategies without particular goals or serious consequences, children and other animals get to practice different activities during play and see what happens. When Dr. Pellis compared rats who played as pups with rats that did not, he found that although the play-deprived rats could perform the same actions, the play-experienced rats were able to react to their circumstances in a more flexible, fluid and swift fashion.

Their brains seemed more "plastic" and better able to rewire as they encountered new experiences.

Hod Lipson, a computer scientist at Cornell sums it up by saying the gift of play is that it teaches us how to deal with the unexpected—a critically important skill in today's uncertain world.

2. Play activates the entire neocortex

We now know that gene expression (whether a gene is active or not) is affected by many different things in our lives, including our environment and the activities we participate in. Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D., a Professor at the University of Washington studied play in rats earning him the nickname of the "rat tickler."

He found that even a half hour of play affected the activity of many different genes and activated the outer part of the rats' brains known as the neocortex, the area of the brain used in higher functions such as thinking, language and spatial reasoning. We don't know for sure that this happens in humans, but some researchers believe that it probably does.

3. It teaches children to have positive interaction with others

It used to be thought that animal play was simply practice so that they could become more effective hunters. However, Dr. Panksepp's study of play in rats led him to the conclusion that play served an entirely different function: teaching young animals how to interact with others in positive ways. He believed that play helps build pro-social brains.

4. Children who play are often better students

The social skills acquired through play may help children become better students. Research has found that the best predictor of academic performance in the eighth grade was a child's social skills in the third grade. Dr. Pellis notes that "countries where they actually have more recess tend to have higher academic performance than countries where recess is less."

5. Unstructured play gets kids moving

We all worry that our kids are getting too little physical activity as they spend large chunks of their time glued to their electronic devices with only their thumbs getting any exercise. Unstructured play, whether running around in the yard, climbing trees or playing on commercial play structures in schools or public parks, means moving the whole body around.

Physical activity helps children maintain a healthy weight and combats the development of Type 2 diabetes—a condition all too common in American children—by increasing the body's sensitivity to the hormone insulin.

It is tempting in today's busy world for parents and kids to fill every minute of their day with structured activities—ranging from Spanish classes before school to soccer and basketball practice after and a full range of special classes and camps on the weekends and summer vacation. We don't remember to carve out time for unstructured play, time for kids to get together with absolutely nothing planned and no particular goals in mind except having fun.

The growing body of research on the benefits of unstructured play suggests that perhaps we should rethink our priorities.

Not sure where to get started? Here are four People Toy Company products that encourage hours of unstructured play.

1. People Blocks Zoo Animals

These colorful, magnetic building blocks are perfect for encouraging unstructured play in children one year and beyond. The small pieces fit easily in the hands of smaller children, and older children will love creating their own shapes and designs with the magnetic pieces.

People Blocks Zoo Animals 17 Piece Set, People Toy Company, $34.99

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This article was sponsored by People Toy Company. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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If you've got hamburger in your freezer you might want to check it before making dinner.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Cargill Meat Solutions is recalling approximately 132,606 pounds of ground beef products for possible Escherichia coli O26 (aka E.coli).

The beef was sold at various retailers, including Target, Meijer, Safeway and Sam's Club, as well as Save Mart in California. This comes after a previous recall involving ground beef sold at Publix.

The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service notes the recalls are the result of an investigation into 17 illnesses and one death in recent months, and that children under 5, older adults and people with weakened immune systems are the most at risk for a type of kidney failure common in people with E.coli infections.

"It is marked by easy bruising, pallor and decreased urine output. Persons who experience these symptoms should seek emergency medical care immediately," the agency notes.


Cargill has issued a statement on its website that reads, in part: "We were distressed to learn a fatality may be related to an E.coli contamination of one of our products. Our hearts go out to the families and individuals affected by this issue."

The recalled beef products were produced and packaged on June 21, 2018. They have a use or freeze by date of July 11.


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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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To my firstborn baby,
We were overjoyed when we found out we were pregnant with your brother. We were so excited to give you a sibling to play with; someone to love and grow up with. Someone who will be your buddy for life.

But our excitement quickly turned to worry as we thought about how this would affect you. You were the only grandchild, on both sides. The only nephew, on both sides. Basically, the king of the castle. And you relished in that title.

We took special care to wait as long as possible to tell you. We waited until 20 weeks when we knew you were going to be getting a brother. We felt it would be easier for you to wrap your head around and also shorter for you to wait for his arrival.

I still watch the video of you cutting into the gender reveal cake. You were SO excited to see blue—because that meant you were getting a brother. You were overjoyed with telling everyone the news because you were the first to know.

From there your love for him grew every day. YOU too had a baby in your belly. I was carrying YOUR baby. You told everyone who would listen that you were going to be a big brother. We wondered if your love for him would quickly fade when he was actually here. When you realized that you would have to share time and attention...

But we were wrong. Your heart grew a million times bigger the day your brother arrived.

You came to visit me in the hospital wearing your doctor uniform, to check on both of us. You made friends with the nurses. You wanted to make sure I was okay. You wanted to take care of me and were so proud to wear your "Big Brother" shirt your aunt made you.

You were such a trooper during his two-week stay in the NICU. You were too young to go in to visit him. So, for you, it meant you had this mysterious brother you could only see in pictures and videos.

You drew him cards and colored pictures for his isolette (which you so playfully called his aquarium). You told everyone at school you had a new brother and that he would be home soon—even though you didn't know when exactly. Your heart ached as much as ours did. You wanted him home as much, if not more, than we did. You wanted your new family of four.

Sometimes I feel like you are wise beyond your years. A little old man trapped in a pint-sized body.

You were the best helper for Mom and Dad in those first days and months of welcoming your baby brother into our family. You would tell everyone to use hand sanitizer, and check to see if anyone was sick before they walked through the door to our house.

You would tell everyone how to hold your baby. And then them the proper way. You would tell everyone to line up their shoes at the door. You just wanted to keep your brother healthy and safe, ever the protector.

I worried the honeymoon period would wear off, that you would wonder how long he was staying here.

But, I was wrong. It's almost a year later and you are still so in love with your brother. Truly in love. On your obligatory "first day of school sign" you listed your favorite things as: Star Wars, basketball and my brother.

You tell everyone that you love him more than anyone. The way you both laugh hysterically together during peek-a-boo in the back seat of the car literally makes my heart explode into a million pieces, in the best way possible. It is a joy and an admiration I never knew possible as I watch my two precious boys interact and love each other.

My wish is that you will always be best friends. That you always look out for each other. Continue to be each other's biggest fans. Root each other on, even when it's hard, or you don't want to. Because, my sweet, sweet boy, I want you to remember—your brother looks up to you. You are his role model for life. And I thank you for taking that role so seriously.

Love,
Your Mommy

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If there's anyone who needs a nice spa day, it's parents. But booking a day at the spa isn't so easy when you also have to find and pay a babysitter.

A business owner in Los Angeles came up with a solution: Trina Renea, the founder of Spa Lé La, added free childcare (by a CPR-certified nanny) to her spa's menu, offering the service to any parent who needs a massage or a facial, or any of the spa's other stress-busting services.

If you've got more than one child at home, the first child is free, and each one after is just $6 for the whole duration of mom or dad's spa visit, HuffPo reports.

Renea recognized that for a lot of parents, a quick 15 or 30 minute appointment for a wax or a manicure just wouldn't be worth all the effort it would take to get the kids ready and then into and out of the car, so she added 30 minutes of "lounge time" that parents can take before or after their appointment, so mama can just chill for a bit.

If lounge time isn't relaxing enough for you, you can also spend an extra $40 for another 25 minutes in a totally comfortable nap room.

This kind of parent paradise could only have been thought up by a fellow parent. Renea is a mother herself, and she understands that a lot of parents feel guilty about prioritizing their own self-care. That's why she added cool classes to the childcare component: Kids can participate in art, music or yoga sessions while mom or dad is away. There's nothing to feel guilty about at all. "If they feel like their child is getting a class, then it makes them feel more comfortable," she told HuffPo.

The spa also offers services for expecting parents, like prenatal massage, belly facials, and even labor stimulating massage for those 40-week mamas-to-be who are understandably over being pregnant and just want to meet their little one.

Whether you have a child on the way or a couple of them keeping you up at night, this spa's menu sounds like the perfect way for mama to enjoy some me time.

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