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Anxiety is not always easy to spot in children, and since children are often still learning how to identify their emotions, they are not always able to verbalize what they are experiencing. What can make it even more challenging is that a child’s anxiety can overlap with symptoms of ADD/ADHD, as children with anxiety may also fidget, be forgetful or have difficulty concentrating. It is not uncommon for children with some form of anxiety to be misdiagnosed with ADD/ADHD.


Anxiety can also be disguised as irritability or defiance, which makes it all the more confusing for adults to spot.

Most of us have long forgotten the pressures that children face and the various scenarios that can spark worries—starting a new sport, taking a test, making a new friend, and answering the teacher’s question when called upon, to name a few. With a variety of factors coming into play, when a child does not know how to manage their emotions, they will likely exhibit their feeling through a behavior. They may act out and they may withdraw. They may look like they are angry, and even make harsh statements.

Children with anxiety may make statements that are code for something else. Here are eight common examples:

1. “I don’t want to go to bed” may mean “I am afraid of being alone in my bed.”

2. “I hate you” may mean “I need you to help me feel safe,” or “I need a way out of this classroom.”

3. “I don’t know” may mean “I feel unsure of myself and don’t want to answer.”

4. “Don’t leave me” may mean “I don’t think I can do this on my own.”

5. “I am stupid” may mean “I am worried I might fail if I try.”

6. “Leave me alone” may mean “I will reject you before you reject me, even though I don’t really want to be apart from you.”

7. “I don’t want to go to Jesse’s birthday party” may mean “I am afraid of being in a new place,” or “I don’t think anyone wants to be my friend.”

8. “I don’t want to do my homework” may mean “I don’t think I can do it right.”

Of course, a child may simply say they are “scared,” but it is not typically that easy. The statements listed above are not exclusive to feelings of anxiety and don’t necessarily translate as listed but are instead examples.

The child’s statements and behaviors can also be due to feelings of sadness, disconnection or even challenges with learning. And although we may want to help our children get on track and change their behaviors so they can do better at school, with peers, and with following rules, we may not make much headway until we understand what is going on underneath all of the behaviors and words.

There is a common saying in the field of psychology that one’s “behavior is the tip of the iceberg,” meaning that there is so much hidden far below this behavior that we cannot easily see. We need to dive deep.

As a parent, it can be helpful to take a deep breath with your child and see the world through their eyes to see if you can pick out what might be triggering them or what might be a barrier for them. Some children are responsive when we ask them questions about what might be bothering them or what is it they “don’t like,” but it will not always be so simple.

It is important to honor that our children are struggling by acknowledging the challenge. Then we can offer them our calm presence and partnership in working through the hurt, the worry or the negative thoughts. They will likely be reassured by our presence and willingness to support them.

If parents continue to struggle with pinpointing or addressing the issue, or if the problems for the child persist/worsen, then it can be helpful to reach out to a therapist sooner rather than later. There are many factors to consider before rushing to address the behavior, and it is important to seek out a professional that specializes in working with children within your child’s age group.

Watching our children struggle can be hard. We might take it personally and feel that we did something wrong, but it is important to note that we do not cause every situation, feeling, or behavior that comes up for our children. But when a challenge arises, we can be a part of the solution by providing them with our reassuring presence.

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Toddlers can alternatively be the sweetest and most tyrannical people on the planet. Figuring the world out is tough, but it is possible to teach them how to care for and respect others—and the first steps start with you.

Here are five tips from Clinical Psychologist and Co-Founder of Harmony in Parenting Dr. Azine Graff on teaching empathy through modeling and playtime, with some of our favorite dolls from Manhattan Toy Company.


1. "I wonder if she's sad." 

Think about it: The first step to understanding the emotions of others is being able to recognize them in yourself. Graff recommends looking for opportunities to label emotions throughout the day by helping your child identify sadness, anger, happiness, and fear.

You can do this by pointing to someone smiling in a book or noticing a baby crying in the grocery store. Try saying, "The baby is crying. I wonder if she is sad." Over time, your little one will learn to label emotions on their own.

2. "How can we take care of her?" 

Dramatic play can be a great time to model care and compassion for others. That's one reason why baby dolls make such great toys for toddlers—not only are they great for open-ended play, they also provide the opportunity to teach caretaking.

For example, you can ask your child, "The baby is yawning and seems very tired. How can we take care of her?" We love the award-winning Wee Baby Stella doll from Manhattan Toy Company to turn playtime into a time for empathy teaching.

3. "It is really hard when all the blocks fall and you're trying to build a tower."

You can set the best example of empathy by taking time to notice and validate your child's feelings. Instead of trying to immediately shush crying, react from a place of compassion.

For example, if your child throws a tantrum over a fallen block tower, try saying, "It is really hard when all the blocks fall and you're trying to build a tower." This demonstrates the importance of understanding feelings, even if they are not our own.

4. "Do you want to try with me?"

Once your child is better able to identify their emotions, they're in a better place to find solutions with your help. "When we can help our children through challenging feelings, especially when they are struggling, we are modeling care for others," Graff says.

The next time your child gets upset, you can say, "It is frustrating when something falls apart. It helps me to take a deep breath when I'm frustrated. Do you want to try with me?"

5. Express your own feelings

It can be tempting to hide your feelings from your child, but when modeled appropriately, it can teach them that feelings are a normal part of life. Over time, you will see them use the same strategies of empathy on you, like kissing your "boo-boos" or suggesting you take a deep breath when you're upset.


This article is sponsored by Manhattan Toy Company. Thank you for supporting that brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Dr. Azine Graff is a Clinical Psychologist and Co-Founder of Harmony in Parenting, which is based in Los Angeles and offers groups, classes, therapy and consultation services informed by the latest research on child development.

To be born close in age to your siblings is a special experience. You have a built-in playmate and BFF for life, but being born after an age gap certainly has its benefits, too.

Parents who are expecting again when their older children are already into double digits may wonder what the sibling bond will look like when the kids have more than a decade between them. Well, look no further, because Kate Hudson's oldest son, 14-year-old Ryder Robinson took to Instagram to show the world that while he and baby Rani Rose may not be playmates they have an equally powerful sibling bond.

The teen posted a series of photos in which he's holding his new baby sister, making silly faces and showing her lots of love.

Ryder and Rani's mom commented on the post. "Aw sweeties. Love you so much," Hudson wrote.

The bond and benefits for age-gap siblings

It's pretty clear that little Rani is benefiting from the big age gap in Hudson's family, getting lots of love from Ryder and her other brother 7-year-old Bingham Hawn, but research suggests Ryder and Bingham are also benefiting from the gaps. They may not be close enough in age to do matching outfits and bunk beds, but they're getting something else out of it: Mama's time.

According to a 2011 study out of the University of Notre Dame, a gap of at least two years between children is linked to better academic outcomes for the older siblings. According to the experts, having another child when your older children are already in school means the older child benefits from additional one-on-one time with their parents as a toddler and preschooler.

And having a big brother or sister who is taking their SATs while you're learning the ABCs can be great for the younger child, too. A study out of the University of Essex found that when older siblings do well in school, there's a "spillover effect" and the younger siblings emulate the older ones. The effect is stronger when the siblings get along, experts note.

Other age-gap families 

Hudson's kids are hardly the only celebrity siblings with a large age gap.

Kourtney Kardashian was 18 when Kylie Jenner was born and Kim was 17, but the sisters are famously close friends in adulthood. Anecdotal evidence suggests large age gaps are more common in blended families like Hudson's or the Kardashian-Jenners' but they certainly occur in non-blended families as well.

Case in point: Chip and Joanna Gaines recently welcomed their youngest Crew, just about eight years after their former youngest, Emmie Kay was born. Of course, Emmie Kay and her older siblings, Drake, 12, Ella, 11, Duke, 9 are as in love with Crew as Hudson's sons are with Rani.

Having a big age gap between siblings doesn't mean they won't bond. It just means they will bond in a special way. A teenage boy is posting sweet pics of his baby sister on his Instagram. That's pretty compelling evidence in itself.

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Emily Glover

With last year's brutal flu season still fresh on many minds, and headlines about a fatal case in Florida popping up in our feeds, doctors across the country are urging parents to get proactive by having their child get a flu shot as soon as possible, before the end of the month if you can.

"This year's flu shot might be more important than ever before," Dr. Frank Belmonte, the chief medical officer of Advocate Children's Hospital told WGN News.

Dr. Belmonte is part of a coalition of doctors urging parents to be "flu free by Halloween", the Chicago Tribune reports.

He says the immunization takes a couple of weeks to take reach full effectiveness, and that by getting our children immunized now, parents can ensure they're protected when flu season ramps up in November. Belmonte's recommendations echo those made by the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) earlier this season, and by the Centers for Disease Control. It reports about 80% of the children who died last flu season had not received a flu vaccine.

"The flu virus is common—and unpredictable. It can cause serious complications even in healthy children," said Flor M. Munoz, MD, FAAP, member of the AAP Committee on Infectious Diseases, in a recently released policy statement. "Being immunized reduces the risk of a child being hospitalized due to flu."

The AAP recommends pediatricians offer the injectable form of the influenza vaccine to all children 6 months or older before the end of October. They also support the option of the nasal flu vaccine, but note it was less effective in past years than the shot, "therefore, AAP recommends the flu shot as the first choice for children."

In a recent statement, Henry Bernstein, MD, MHCM, FAAP, a member of the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and an Ex-Officio member of the AAP Committee on Infectious Diseases, said the effectiveness of the flu vaccine varies annually and is affected by factor's such as the child's health and the strain in the community.

But even though the flu shot does not ensure immunity, experts from the AAP say it's the best way to protect kids from the flu. Bernstein added, "We urge parents to talk with their pediatricians now to avoid any delay in getting their children vaccinated."

In addition to children getting the vaccine as soon as it's available, the AAP also recommends pregnant women receive the vaccine, which passes immunity onto the baby. For children between the ages of 6 months and 8 years who are getting the flu shot for the first time this year, two doses are recommended.

According to the AAP and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the 2017-2018 flu season was one of the most severe on record with 179 children dying from influenza complications as of August 18.

"Unfortunately, you can spread influenza without realizing it because some infected people begin to spread the virus a day or two before they have symptoms," said Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBA, FAAP, a pediatrician in Seattle and an AAP spokesperson. "Get the shot. It just makes sense."

[Updated, October 17, 2018: added comments made by Dr. Frank Belmonte]

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It's not always easy to get in and out of Target quickly (yes, the Target effect is a very real thing) and it can be even harder with little ones in tow.

That's why we're giving you this heads up now, mama: You might want to plan some solo Target runs in November, because the toy section is expanding in a big way. Pretty soon mom won't be the only member of the family obsessed with Target.

This week Target announced it will be re-allocating space in hundreds of stores to make room to show off cool kid-magnets like electric Power Wheels cars, outdoor playsets and playhouses and many (many) toys.

The revamped toy sections will include some interactive play experiences, so if you are making a Target run with the kids, you better add some extra time for that. Or, you may want to just plan to bring the kids and make a day of it during one of Target's family events—they're planning in-store experiences where kids can test toys and meet characters from kid favorites like PAW Patrol, Minecraft.

Of course, all this is going to make Christmas shopping a lot easier for a lot of us, and fill that big Toys 'R' Us shaped hole in our shopping lists. Target is doubling down on Christmas, mama, and quite literally doubling the number of "new and exclusive" toys on its shelves.

It sounds like a Christmas shopper's dream come true. Another dream come true? Target's new Christmas catalog, which is arriving in homes next week and in stores on the 28. If you have fond memories of circling toys in a certain Christmas catalog (RIP, Sears Wish Book) as a not-so-subtle hint to your parents, you can now pass that tradition down to your kids, but with a way easier way to actually order the presents.

When your kids circle stuff in the Target catalog you can just use an app to scan the page and add products to your cart.

Or, you can plan that solo Target run and sip a Starbucks while playing Santa for your kids (and yourself).

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As parents, we are all familiar with separation anxiety and know how tricky it can sometimes be to navigate our lives with a baby or toddler's strong feelings about us leaving. Although it gets easier as they grow, separations can still be challenging in older children.

But what happens when a parent's own separation fears get added into the mix? Our close bonds with our children can sometimes make it hard to meet our own needs for freedom, adventure and following our dreams.

Last year, I had an opportunity to study therapeutic writing—something I'd always been passionate about. The course involved traveling away from home for one weekend a month. My first thought was that it was too much time to spend away from my daughter. Then I thought about it again. Two days? Was it really that much?

I asked my 6-year-old daughter if she would mind me going away and she was fine with the idea. I also asked some parent friends if they felt that being away once a month would be too much. They all thought it was absolutely fine too.

So what was the problem?

I became aware that I was terrified being away from her too much would "break" our connection. I'd always prided myself on being a connected parent, and even my decision to train as a Hand in Hand Parenting instructor was partly motivated by separation anxiety—the thought that if I didn't parent well enough then my daughter would want to have nothing to do with me as an adult.

Adults get separation anxiety too and when we are dealing with our child's separation it can be helpful to look at how our own feelings come into play. If we are nervous and anxious about a separation, then it can make it harder for our child to feel safe to say goodbye.

Here are three ways parents can deal with their own separation anxiety:

1. Address your fears

In my role at Hand in Hand Parenting, we teach parents of young children the importance of having a ''long goodbye.'' Rather than rushing off and leaving a child with another caregiver, or at daycare, we approach things differently. We recommend that parents stay with their children, as long as they are upset so they can work through their fears and express them while you listen and stay close.

Adults also need this kind of support to work through feelings, not with the child themselves, but with another adult. This could be a partner, friend or trained counselor or listener.

What are you most afraid of? The first step to letting go of fear is to shine a light on them, to become aware of what your fears are telling you.

Write them down, or talk to an understanding friend. No matter how silly or irrational they may be, giving space to talk them through can help you to let them go.

2. Create a listening partnership

A "listening partnership" scheme is where parents learn how to listen to each other, and this is a powerful way to let go of worries and fears so they don't cloud your thinking.

Listening partnerships are an exchange that goes much deeper than everyday conversation. They allow you space to fully explore your feelings without being interrupted or given advice. This powerful practice allows you to follow where your mind takes you, and often your mind has a way of figuring things out and solving problems when you have the emotional support of another person to help guide you along the way.

You might find yourself having a good laugh or cry, and this physical release of feelings is key to lightening your emotional load and seeing things more clearly.

3. Focus on being present + address past experiences

One mother I spoke to found it hard to separate from her daughter because she'd had three miscarriages before her birth and was always anxious that something might happen to her. Another mother had a parent who worked overseas when she was young and the loss she had felt made her extremely conscious to emphasize connection with her own son.

Of course, we want to do the best for our children and learn by what didn't work so well for us when we were young. However, many of us find ourselves overcompensating for hurts we experienced in our own childhood.

Our parenting becomes an unconscious attempt to fill the own gaps, and holes in our own past experiences. We project our past pain onto the present and may lose perspective on what's really going on.

Healing our past hurts is vital to see the present for what it really is, and make decisions on when to separate from our child that make sense for what's really going on in the here and now.

If you find yourself feeling overly anxious about separating from your child it's worth asking yourself where did these feelings come from? Are they related to childhood experiences of not having enough close connection? Or are they related to early experience in your child's life, that have left you with anxiety?

Our anxiety can be affected by things that happened many years ago or something that happened just the other week. Giving these feelings attention, with the support of a listener or therapist can help you let go of them.

I did go and take the writing course, and I found that somehow my daughter and I actually became more closely connected through the experience. My daughter was taken care of by our village while I was away, and I got to follow my dreams.

Perhaps it was that we both spread our wings and faced our anxiety about the separation that allowed us to find a deeper sense of connection that lay beyond our fears.

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