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There are two things that I think the TV series The Simpsons got spot on when it comes to communication between parents and kids. One is that kids can truly call their parent on repeat for as long as it takes. Many of my days involve a soundtrack of “Mom" call-outs. (Lately, there has been a space of actual minutes between each “Mom" called out in my home, so maybe it doesn't last forever.)

The other lesson is that parents often don't know how to talk to kids. Parents frequently resort to long lectures in which they completely lose their kids' attention. Like Bart and the other kids in The Simpsons, it can sound like blah, blah, blah. This is unfortunate and frustrating for parents.

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Most parents excel at giving instructions or providing facts to their kids. For example, “Please get ready for school," or, “You need to watch for cars when you cross the road," are things parents generally have down pat. Struggles with communication often happen when big feelings are involved. This might be your child's feelings, your feelings, or both.

Along with getting kids to listen, some parents tell me they struggle to get their child to communicate with them other than in one-word answers. They want to know how better to connect with their child so that their child can share thoughts, feelings, and experiences with them.

When you communicate well with your child, it leads to a strong relationship, greater cooperation, and feelings of worth. When communication is a struggle, it can lead to your child switching off, conflict and feelings of worthlessness.

How can parents talk to kids when kids (or parents) are wrestling with big feelings? How can we talk so kids will listen? How can we encourage our kids to talk to us?

Below are my top tips that I've gleaned from the experts over the years. I use them in my clinic and as a parent.

1. Use “door opener" statements

These statements encourage your child to say more, and to share ideas and feelings. They tell your child that you're really listening and interested. They also communicate that you think her ideas are important, and that you accept her and respect what she's saying.

Examples of “door opener" statements:

  • “Wow"
  • “I see."
  • “Oh."
  • “How about that!"
  • “Really?"
  • “Tell me more."
  • “That's interesting."
  • “Amazing"

When you use these statements, your child will get the sense that you're truly interested. Children are more likely to share when they think you're engaged with what they're saying. It goes without saying that you must also look up from what you're doing and focus on them. The words alone won't count.

2. Use more “dos" than “don'ts"

Some kids hear a lot of “don'ts." Often parents know what they don't want to happen, so they lead in with a “don't" statement. The downside of “don't" statements is that they fail to promote the positive behavior you want to see. If anything, they reinforce the behavior you don't want.

Imagining talking to your child as you talk to your friends can help break the “don't" habit. We would rarely say “don't do this, don't do that" to our friends when they come to visit. We instead use more open and respectful suggestions. Swapping our “don'ts" for “dos" can look like this:

  • “Don't go outside, it's cold," becomes ,“Stay inside please. It's too cold to play outside."
  • “Don't hit your brother," becomes, “Play gently with your brother."
  • “Don't color on the carpet," becomes, “Please do your coloring on the table."

3. Talk with your child, not at your child

Instead of only giving instructions, engage your child in a two-sided conversation. This means both talking and listening to what your child has to say. This can be challenging when your child has a limited vocabulary or interests, but it's important to practice if you want a healthy relationship now and in the future.

This is a good habit to get into because, when your child is more skilled verbally, they'll want to talk with you. When we talk “at" a child, we give the message that their thoughts and feelings are not important or interesting, and that the parenting relationship is about the child doing what you want.

4. Use “I" statements to communicate

Parents often speak to their children with “you" statements: “You're so messy," “You're a pest," or “You're silly." Using “I" statements can help us more clearly communicate how our child's behavior is impacting us. It also gives your child more of an idea of what's expected of him and puts greater responsibility on him to change.

Here are some examples:

  • “You're a pest" becomes “I don't feel like playing because I'm tired."
  • “Your bedroom is a disgrace" becomes “I need you to pick up your things."
  • “You don't make any sense" becomes “I don't understand. Can you explain it again?"

5. Make requests important

Asking if a child would like to do something but being vague in your request is a recipe for your kid ignoring you. In order to make sure your requests are heeded, you must first ensure you have your child's attention. Then speak with firmness to show that you mean what you say, and give the child a reason why he must do this thing at this particular time.

If your child is engaged in play, it can be hard to shift his attention to you, so either pick a different time or know that you'll have to put in the work to engage your child's attention first in order for your request to be successful.

A successful request would look like this: “James, I need you to pack away your toys on the table now please. It's important because there is no space to eat on the table." It will work better than, “Can you pack away your toys? I've already asked you twice!"

6. No unkind words and labels

Some common but unhelpful ways of communicating with kids is to use ridiculing, shaming, and name-calling. This communication styles can lead to problems in the parent-child relationship. Avoid using statements like, “You're acting like a two-year-old," “You're embarrassing me," or, “You're being bad."

Parents sometimes use these types of statements to get their child to behave. These statements only leave your child feeling disliked, and negatively affects her view of herself.

7. Use kind words

Kind words create a good relationship and better communication with your child. Children who are spoken to with appreciation and respect also have better self-worth, which allows them to thrive. Instead of, “You idiot, I told you that would break if you played with it in the bathroom," say “Let's get the dustpan and clean it up. Accidents happen."

Other examples of kind words:

  • “Thank you for helping me with the dishes."
  • “You did a good job of getting your room clean."
  • “That really makes me feel good."
  • “I like seeing you play nicely with your sister."
  • “I love you."

8. Show your child you accept them

When your child knows that you accept her as she is and not how you want her to be, everything changes. It allows your child to change and feel good about herself. When your child feels good about herself, she is more likely to get along with other people. She also feels safe to share her thoughts and feelings.

When you threaten, command or lecture your child, it makes her feel like she is bad, that you don't like her, and that she can't do anything right. For example, if your child says, “I don't like those vegetables," and you respond, “Eat your vegetables. You are always trying to get out of it," your child will be left feeling disconnected from you and believe that you think she is bad.

Instead, try a winning way of talking with your child. Substitute something like this for the previous statement, “It's hard for you to eat food that you're unsure of or didn't like the taste of last time. I'd like you to try to eat at least some so you can see how you find the taste today." This statement acknowledges your child's struggle and provides a suggestion of how she can handle the situation.

Accepting your child does not mean accepting all behaviors, it means communicating in a way that doesn't shame her.

Good communication is the heart of more harmonious homes and is the key to a healthy relationship with your child. It provides a place your child can thrive and grow from. Good communication with you forms the basis of good communication with other people as your child grows into an adult.

Keep working on these communication skills. It can be hard at first, especially if you were parented by an authoritarian parent. Like all skills, practicing helps. When you slip up, repair it with your child and start fresh.

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Caring for young children can be challenging enough on a perfectly normal day, but during an emergency those challenges are magnified. Natural disasters and emergencies—such as earthquakes, storms, fires, power outages, flooding or outbreaks that affect a wide community—obviously present a major operational challenge for childcare programs.

That's why childcare providers need to have preparedness plans for emergencies and natural disasters that are likely to occur in their communities. Be sure to discuss emergency planning with your day care, childcare program or after-school care provider.

Here are a few helpful questions to ask to make sure that your child's day care or childcare is ready for emergencies.

1. Does the parent handbook cover emergency planning? Is it up to date?

The parent handbook should serve as a guide for everything that takes place in a childcare program, from drop-off protocols to nap schedules, and it should also include information about the program's emergency plans, response, and recovery. As situations change or arise, the parent handbook should be updated accordingly.

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2. What is your communication plan for emergencies or disasters?

While 90% of childcare providers have written emergency response plans, only 70% have plans to communicate with family members during an emergency. Your provider should outline its plan of communication in its parent handbook.

3. Do you perform drills for disasters that are likely to occur in our area?

Ask whether your day care or childcare program has practiced its emergency response plans in a calm, safe environment—in other words, before it's necessary.

4. What is your evacuation plan?

In the rare event that an evacuation is necessary, it's important for providers to include up-to-date evacuation drills and protocols in the parent handbook. Caregivers, staff, parents and children should all know the designated meet-up point during a community evacuation.

5. Do you have a safe, designated evacuation spot in the event of a community evacuation?

Once staff and children calmly evacuate the building, there needs to be a safe shelter-in-place spot nearby. This location should be kid-friendly and have plenty of food, water and ways to keep young children occupied. The location should also be able to accommodate children with special needs and those with medical requirements.

6. What is your shelter-in-place plan?

During an emergency where parents are unable to access roads or public transportation, childcare programs need to have a shelter-in-place plan. Whether children stay at the facility or evacuate to a safe spot nearby, providers need to keep at least 72 hours worth of food, water, and medical supplies up to date. The program should also have parents write notes in advance letting children know that everything is okay.

7. Do you have post-disaster plans?

According to FEMA, more than 40% of businesses do not reopen after a disaster. If childcare programs close, parents cannot return to work and recovery cannot begin. Also, young children need a safe, secure, and familiar place to return to after a disaster.

8. How do you discuss emergencies in an age-appropriate manner with children?

A great way for care providers to introduce the concept of emergency plans to children is to have them help create emergency kits. This way children become familiar with emergency response items. Teachers should also let parents know how they plan to talk to children about emergencies in advance.

9. What are your policies for closing?

Childcare providers must give advance warning to parents about closures if there is an impending weather emergency. If roadways near the childcare program are typically out of use during an emergency, both parents and staff need to map out secondary pick-up plans in advance.

10. Are you in touch with local preparedness organizations?

Local emergency organizations can provide advice and tips to prepare for an emergency or natural disaster. Parents, care providers and community organizations should meet regularly and have the most recent copies of the parent handbook.

According to FEMA, in 2019 alone, there were 59 declared disasters in the U.S. These emergencies include earthquakes, tropical storms, fires, floods, severe storms, tornadoes, landslides, mudslides, extreme wind, and snowstorms. But basic advance preparation can go a long way toward helping parents and caregivers feel ready for emergencies and disasters, and can ensure that families and care providers stay safe.

A version of this post was originally published at the Institute for Childhood Preparedness

Learn + Play

The transition to motherhood is tough, and you deserve a little love! Join us March 28th for Motherly's Becoming Mama event in NYC for a day filled with conversations and connections that will leave you feeling inspired. Get advice from expert panels, indulge in a little pampering, and meet other local mamas IRL for a day of empowerment and support.


Register now for early-bird pricing, and access to limited VIP tickets with exclusive gift bags.

Here's what you can expect:

  • A mindful mama meditation to start your day.
  • Interactive panels and workshops focused on the hottest topics for new moms and moms-to-be. Check them out below!
  • A healthy lunch + delicious snacks
  • Pregnancy + postpartum pampering
  • Personalized gifts for you + your baby
  • The chance to test the hottest baby gear on the market
  • A swag bag filled with surprises
  • Amazing giveaways from our brand partners

Sat, March 28, 2020
10 am-2:30 pm
SECOND.
849 6th Ave
New York, NY 10001

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Here's what we'll be talking about on our panels:

Navigating the Fourth Trimester: Self-Care for Mom
While having a baby is a joyous occasion it often involves mom putting her own health on hold and speeding into overdrive to care for baby. Here postpartum experts will discuss the importance of postpartum mental wellness, and the importance of asking for help and finding support.

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The Motherhood Advantage sponsored by Medela
Motherhood brings so many advantages to the workplace, and yet, it's still a topic often talked about in hushed voices. We'll invite Medela to sponsor this very important panel that will evolve this working mom conversation. Together we can work to erase the Motherhood Penalty, support moms with the proper tools and lift each other up in the workplace.

Parenting in Partnership: Learning to Share the Load
There's never been a more equitable time to be a parent, and yet so many mothers still feel like they're carrying more than their fair share. Let's talk about how to create a parenting team from the start, with tips, tricks and expert advice on leveling the playing field between parenting partners.

*While many of Motherly's events are family focused, there will not be specific activities or play spaces for babies or kids. This event is more mom-focused. Babies under 1 are welcome at this event, but a baby carrier is suggested. Please use your discretion.

Thank you to our sponsors buybuy Baby and Medela.

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When I think about Meghan Markle, her effortless style is usually one of the the first things that comes to mind. Whether she's traveling, taking her dogs for a walk, or attending a royal event, her outfits always look timeless and put together. Yet somehow she still manages to wear outfits that feel way more accessible (even when she is donning a gorgeous—but expensive—coat we've had in our cart for much longer than we care to admit).

While I can't quite afford a personal stylist yet or drop a few thousand on a bag, I did do a little digging and found that a few of her wardrobe staples are items that I can add to my closet, with a little investment. And, if you're not in the market to invest this much, don't worry—I found dupes that will do the trick!

Here are our favorite products to achieve Meghan Markle's classic mom style:

Meghan's pick: Rothy's flats

rothys flat

Confession: I own a lot of shoes. But I wear my Rothy's at least once a week and they're the first shoe I toss into my luggage when I'm traveling because they're so comfortable and can be machine-washed. The Point is my (and apparently Meghan Markle's) favorite style because it elongates the legs and goes with literally anything you wear. I love that they're made from recycled plastic water bottles, too. And, they just launched the Mary Jane—it has a bow!—if you prefer a more dainty look with a fun twist.

$145

Our dupe: ASOS ballet flats

asos black pointed toe

This pointed pair will give a similar elongated look at just $23. They come in half sizes and if you're unsure which size is best, ASOS offers a sizing recommendation. The material isn't machine-washable (like our prized Rothy's) but you can wipe these clean with a damp cloth to keep them looking like new.

$23

Meghan's pick: Wool wrap jacket

meghan markle wool coat

There's just something so elegant about this coat. Maybe it's the wrap waist that flatters any body type. Or, it's the way the collared neck drapes (seriously it'll even make wearing pajamas look chic). It's become one of the most recognized pieces from Meghan's wardrobe and we are obsessed.

$750

Our dupe: Tahari wool blend coat

tahari wool blend cape coat

Looking for something more affordable? This coat is marked down to $83 from $360 at Nordstrom Rack. While we haven't personally tried it, at 77% off, we can bet the quality is pretty up to par with a higher-end jacket. Plus, we're obsessed with the pale blue and port wine colorways. The removable waist tie belt and shoulder cape overlay will have you feeling like Meghan Markle in just about anything.

Bonus: We love this Amazon dupe that's just under $80.

$82.48

Meghan's pick: Longchamp bag

longchamp bag

On the quest for a bag that holds just about everything you need (without having to be a diaper bag)? Say hello to the Longchamp 'Le Pliage' tote. It's water-resistant, has durable leather straps and folds up into a square for each storage or packing. I've had mine for more than five years and it's still going strong—and it's schlepped a lot of heavy things over the years. Plus, it just looks nice with everything!

$125

Our dupe: Amazon shoulder bag

longchamp knock off bag

This dupe on Amazon has 59 great reviews and the large size is under $30! With three sizes, you can pick whatever best fits your style. Each bag comes with a zippered main compartment and interior pockets and yes, it even folds up just like the real thing.

$27.99

Meghan's pick: Birdies slippers

birdies slippers

Are they house slippers or the most comfortable flats you've owned? Spoiler alert: They're both. Meghan has been spotted wearing The Heron style (I've been spotted wearing the slides around my apartment all day) many times and we think the velvet detail dresses up just about anything, even leggings. The no-slip rubber sole and 7-layer support means you can run around in these all day long without missing a beat.

$95

Our dupe: Chase & Chloe pointy loafer

pointy toe loafer

While you won't experience the cloud-like softness of Birdies, you can achieve a similar look with this pair from Nordstrom Rack for under $20. Both black and tan pairs come with a padded footbed, grip sole and a flexible construction (so hopefully no blisters even from day one).

$19.97

Meghan's pick: Madewell denim jacket

madewell denim jacket

I didn't own a denim jacket until last year and since then, I've worn it in just about every season. Over summer dresses, paired with a T-shirt, over a blouse, you name it. It add just enough extra warmth without having to put on something bulky and is machine-washable. For an extra-cool and Meghan Markle factor, roughly roll up the sleeves twice.

$118

Our dupe: Old Navy denim jacket

old navy denim jacket

Grab this $30 distressed denim look at Old Navy. I'm not sure how they do it, but their denim jackets are *so* soft. This one is slightly fitted so size up if you're looking for a more oversized look. Just like the Madewell one, this hits right below the waist, making it great to pair with pants or dresses.

$35

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