Kindness pays: 8 ways to teach your little ones to play nice

Walk—or crawl—in another tot’s shoes.

Kindness pays: 8 ways to teach your little ones to play nice

I’m sure your tiny tot has one: a book they want to read 10 times a day, even after you’ve both memorized it. My 15-month-old son loves The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle. This book portrays a disgruntled ladybug with an inferiority complex who feels the need to pick on other animals to the point of exhaustion. At the end of the day, he is hungry and tired, and has missed out on sharing the bulk of yummy treats with his foil, the friendly ladybug.

Moral of the story? Ladybugs (and little kids!) who engage in friendly, “prosocial” behaviors are more likely to experience fruitful lives.


As it turns out, research confirms this idea. Despite the notion that intelligence drives success, prosocial behaviors may be just as important as smarts! But what are some examples of “prosocial” behaviors?

  • Cooperating with peers without being prompted
  • Helping others in need
  • Attempting to understand the feelings of others
  • Resolving conflicts without intervention

Recent research indicates that when kindergartners play nice, they are more likely to have successful educational and employment outcomes, such as graduating from high school, completing college, and even maintaining full-time employment! These children are also less likely to need public assistance or have a criminal record later in life. Among a plethora of other outcomes, these behaviors even predict less alcohol and marijuana use in young adulthood.

Lucky for us mamas, research shows that it is definitely possible to elicit these behaviors from our children given the right teaching environment. Most interventions to promote prosocial behaviors begin between 5 and 18 years of age, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start teaching your little one about the importance of playing nice long before they are off to school.

So, how can you put your child on the path to kindness (and success)? We have 8 steps to help you get started:

1. Sharing is caring. Even if it is too early to expect your little one to share their belongings with peers, you can set a good example by modeling sharing behaviors yourself. So, the next time you share a bite of your favorite boutique cupcake with your tot, feel free to point out your generosity. Mommy loves sharing her treat with you because she knows it makes you happy! Sharing is fun because it makes both of us feel good! Just remember, when it comes to sharing, you can’t expect your child to do anything you wouldn’t. Their belongings are precious to them, just like your belongings are precious to you. You wouldn’t be thrilled about sharing your favorite Kate Spade tote with your flaky BFF, so you shouldn’t expect child to offer up their favorite lovey to their drooly playmate. Forcing baby to share their prized possessions when they are not willing can devalue baby’s self-worth by demonstrating that other children’s desires are more important. So encourage sharing, but don’t force it!

2. Snaps for baby. As often as you can, call attention to your tot’s generous behaviors.

If your little one does something nice for a friend, let baby know how that behavior will positively affect their friend’s emotional state. Wow! That is so nice of you to let little Aidan read your favorite book. I am sure sharing your book made him very happy. In addition to praising good behavior, this technique offers a chance for your child to engage in perspective taking, which can help them to relate to other children more effectively.

3. Walk—or crawl—in another tot’s shoes. Try to help little one understand peers’ feelings by asking them how they might feel if they were in their friend’s shoes.

For instance, if you see a peer being excluded from the play group, ask your child how they would feel if they were the one left out. If it wouldn’t feel good, it probably isn’t very nice to make someone else feel that way either. Typically, even the basic ability to take another person’s perspective doesn’t develop until at least 24 months, but you are the best judge of when your child will respond meaningfully to this type of conversation.

4. Bring on those warm and fuzzy feelings. Rewarding positive social behaviors is an effective way to show your tot how important it is to cooperate and help out in their peer group. Rewards for good behavior, such as a trip to the playground or a new box of crayons, are more effective than punishment for a lack of good behavior.

When a good behavior is rewarded, it is a clear message to your child to engage in that behavior again in the future. In contrast, when a less-than-stellar behavior is punished, it doesn’t give your child any idea of what to do instead the next time they are faced with a similar situation. The key to effectively rewarding behavior is to walk the fine line between providing extrinsic motivation while not hampering intrinsic motivation. If your child seems to truly enjoy sharing toys with buddies, this behavior does not need any rewarding, as a reward may actually undermine their intrinsic love of sharing. (If you were offered a treat every time you shared your Diet Coke stash with a co-worker, would you continue doing it for free? Me either.)

5. Flex those self-control muscles. Most babies are given plenty of opportunities to practice self-regulation every day. For example, children engage in self-regulation when they squeeze their snack pouch slowly to avoid a goopy mess all over their face.

Having your tot practice these self-regulation skills is a great way to teach your little one to inhibit their impulsive behaviors (like pilfering a peer’s new toy). This kind of practice can also teach your child how to engage in goal-directed activity. If I listen to Mama when she asks me to wait and hold her hand before running down the sidewalk, she will grant me the independence I so desperately crave. Okay, so maybe baby’s thought process isn’t quite that sophisticated, but you get the idea! Self-regulation is just like any other muscle. The best way to bulk up is to use it! If you want your child to get in a few extra “reps,” try playing games like “Simon Says” or “Red Light, Green Light”. Another famous self-regulation activity is to offer your little one a small treat (historically, a marshmallow) and tell them that if they can wait 15 minutes to eat it, they can have two instead of one. Having your little one delay instant gratification for a greater long-term reward is a fun way to show your child the value of working hard for what they want in life.

6. Practice conflict resolution. The ability to diffuse interpersonal conflicts will be invaluable to your child now and in adulthood. If you want your child to gain experience with resolving conflicts, try demonstrations using puppet characters, or invest in a few storybooks that focus on friends who “work out” their differences.

If your child is old enough, organize a cooperative project or game that can only be completed by engaging in teamwork with peers. One easy activity is to have a small group of children work on coloring a large mural (and by mural, I mean the back of a sheet of wrapping paper you snagged from the clearance bin after last Christmas…*wink*) With this activity, children can learn to work side-by-side, communicate about what spaces still need to be colored, share materials, and teach coloring techniques to peers who need a few pointers.

7. Give your child the opportunity to give back. Nothing feels better than donating some of your precious time to a worthy cause. Whether it is a community bake sale, food drive, or story time at your local retirement home, your child may be able to give back to the community, too!

Finding opportunities for your child to contribute to the world can give them a sense of satisfaction, belongingness, self-worth, and citizenship. Plus, that warm and fuzzy feeling that comes from doing something altruistic can promote intrinsic motivation to give back in the future. When a child gives back to the community, they begin to see themselves as a part of the community, decreasing their likelihood of engaging in negative behaviors toward other community members.

8. Let your actions speak louder. The most effective way to promote positive social behaviors is to engage in these behaviors with your child at home. By providing a warm and supportive environment for your child, you are giving them the good example they need to be warm and supportive with others. If you do not want your child to display punitive, coercive, or verbally aggressive social behaviors, your best bet is to try embracing polar opposite parenting strategies at home. When your tot decides to flush your (hopefully backed-up) iPhone, try your darndest to keep your cool. Instead of yelling, guilting, or spanking, try a brief time-out (one minute per year of age) and explaining to your child why your phone is so important to you and why you are upset.

It may seem daunting to teach your child these values. (Heck, some days just dressing and feeding my kid is daunting!) Just remember that you have many years to instill these principles into your child’s heart and mind. If you attempt to incorporate little chances to teach, model, practice, and apply these ideas on an everyday basis, your tot will have the best chance of adopting them in childhood and carrying them into adulthood. The positive outcomes of these prosocial behaviors will be evident in every aspect of your child’s life, and there is nothing sweeter than thinking your child might actually pass on some of this wisdom when the student becomes the teacher.

14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.


Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!


Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.


Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.


Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.


Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.


Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.


Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.


Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.


Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.


Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.


Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.


Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.


Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.


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Time-saving formula tips our editors swear by

Less time making bottles, more time snuggling.

As a new parent, it can feel like feeding your baby is a full-time job—with a very demanding nightshift. Add in the additional steps it takes to prepare a bottle of formula and, well… we don't blame you if you're eager to save some time when you can. After all, that means more time for snuggling your baby or practicing your own well-deserved self-care.

Here's the upside: Many, many formula-feeding mamas before you have experienced the same thing, and they've developed some excellent tricks that can help you mix up a bottle in record time. Here are the best time-saving formula tips from editors here at Motherly.

1. Use room temperature water

The top suggestion that came up time and time again was to introduce bottles with room temperature water from the beginning. That way, you can make a bottle whenever you need it without worrying about warming up water—which is a total lifesaver when you have to make a bottle on the go or in the middle of the night.

2. Buy online to save shopping time

You'll need a lot of formula throughout the first year and beyond—so finding a brand like Comforts, which offers high-quality infant formula at lower prices, will help you save a substantial amount of money. Not to mention, you can order online or find the formula on shelves during your standard shopping trip—and that'll save you so much time and effort as well.

3. Pre-measure nighttime bottles

The middle of the night is the last time you'll want to spend precious minutes mixing up a bottle. Instead, our editors suggest measuring out the correct amount of powder formula into a bottle and putting the necessary portion of water on your bedside table. That way, all you have to do is roll over and combine the water and formula in the bottle before feeding your baby. Sounds so much better than hiking all the way to the kitchen and back at 3 am, right?

4. Divide serving sizes for outings

Before leaving the house with your baby, divvy up any portions of formula and water that you may need during your outing. Then, when your baby is hungry, just combine the pre-measured water and powder serving in the bottle. Our editors confirm this is much easier than trying to portion out the right amount of water or formula while riding in the car.

5. Memorize the mental math

Soon enough, you'll be able to prepare a bottle in your sleep. But, especially in the beginning or when increasing your baby's serving, the mental math can take a bit of time. If #mombrain makes it tough to commit the measurements to memory, write up a cheat sheet for yourself or anyone else who will prepare your baby's bottle.

6. Warm up chilled formula with water

If you're the savvy kind of mom who prepares and refrigerates bottles for the day in advance, you'll probably want to bring it up to room temperature before serving. Rather than purchase a bottle warmer, our editors say the old-fashioned method works incredibly well: Just plunge the sealed bottle in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes and—voila!—it's ready to serve.

Another great tip? Shop the Comforts line on to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices. Or, follow @comfortsforbaby for more information!

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Errands and showers are not self-care for moms

Thinking they are is what's burning moms out.

A friend and I bump into each other at Target nearly every time we go. We don't pre-plan this; we must just be on the same paper towel use cycle or something. Really, I think there was a stretch where I saw her at Target five times in a row.

We've turned it into a bit of a running joke. "Yeah," I say sarcastically, "We needed paper towels so you know, I had to come to Target… for two hours of alone time."

She'll laugh and reply, "Oh yes, we were out of… um… paper clips. So here I am, shopping without the kids. Heaven!"

Now don't get me wrong. I adore my trips to Target (and based on the fullness of my cart when I leave, I am pretty sure Target adores my trips there, too).

But my little running joke with my friend is actually a big problem. Because why is the absence of paper towels the thing that prompts me to get a break? And why on earth is buying paper towels considered a break for moms?

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