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11 powerful ways to build a growth mindset in your kids

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There's something that every child needs to believe with every cell in their bodies. When they do, they will thrive. There is a powerful way that we, as the adults in their lives, can nurture this belief and set them up to learn, grow and flourish.

They need to know that their brains can grow stronger—measurably stronger—with time and effort. It sounds simple, but the effects of believing this are profound. Some children will have been born believing this, but others will be certain that they are as they are and that nothing will change that.

There is no doubt that encouragement and praise are vital for kids of all ages, helping to lift them to great heights, but not all praise is good praise. The research around this is robust, leaving little doubt that different types of praise, though given with the most loving intent, can potentially be harmful to our kids and teens.

Children generally tend towards one of two types of mindsets: a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. Praise that focusses on intelligence promotes a fixed mindset, which is the belief that intelligence cannot be changed in any meaningful way. Children with a fixed mindset believe they are born with certain character traits and a fixed amount of intelligence and creativity, and that nothing they do will change that in any meaningful way.

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In contrast, praise that focuses on effort ('You've worked really hard on that!) promotes a growth mindset, which is the belief that intelligence can grow and be strengthened with effort. Children with a growth mindset believe that they are capable of achieving what they want if they put in the time and effort to get there.

Fixed mindset vs. growth mindset

The effects of mindset are remarkable. Here are some of the big differences between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.

Giving Up (Fixed) vs. Persistence (Growth)

  • A growth mindset fosters motivation, resilience and persistence. A fixed mindset kills it. Children who believe that intelligence lies with the genetically blessed are quicker to give up, believing that if they can't do something, it's because they aren't smart enough, creative enough, good enough, whatever enough. Children who have a growth mindset on the other hand, are more likely to keep working hard towards a goal, believing that all that stands between them and success is the right amount of effort.

Lack of Confidence (Fixed) vs. Confidence (Growth)

  • Children with a fixed mindset are more likely to interpret difficulty as confirmation that they don't have what it takes. If success means they are clever ('You did it! You're so clever!'), then a lack of success means they aren't. Once children believe this, their lack of confidence spills into other tasks, eventually wearing down their motivation and their love of learning.Praising children for effort will lift them above the times they don't do as well as they would like—which, let's be honest, happens to all of us. They will interpret a lack of success as a sign that they need to work a little harder or differently, rather than as evidence of a personal deficiency.

Avoid Challenge (Fixed) vs. Embrace Challenge (Growth)

  • When given the choice between a challenging task or an easy task, children with a fixed mindset will be more likely to choose the easy task. If children believe their intelligence is fixed and impossible to change, it is understandable that they will choose easy tasks to prove themselves. This leaves very limited scope for the vulnerability needed to learn and grow. Learning is all about starting at the edge of our capabilities and pushing beyond them. That will mean sometimes failing, sometimes falling, and sometimes admitting that, for the moment, we haven't got a clue. Children with a growth mindset will embrace challenge, seeing it as an opportunity to learn and grow.

Failure: Personal Deficiency (Fixed) vs. Opportunity to Learn (Growth)

  • Children with a fixed mindset will be more likely to interpret failure as evidence of their lack of intelligence or capability.Failure isn't so bleak for kids with a growth mindset. They have a healthy attitude to failure, seeing it as an opportunity to learn. Even when they are disappointed, they are able to keep their confidence intact and bounce back from the stumbles, believing they have it in them to succeed if they keep working at it.

Hiding the Struggle (Fixed) vs. Seeking Help (Growth)

  • Children who believe their performance will be attributed to intelligence, or to something about themselves that can't be changed, will be more likely to hide their struggles and lie about their mistakes. In Dweck's research, almost 40% of children who had been praised for intelligence, compared to 10% of children who had been praised for effort lied when they were asked to anonymously disclose the number of mistakes they made. When children believe that intelligence is fixed they will identify themselves as 'smart' or 'not smart'. Rather than seeing mistakes as a sign that they may need to work a little harder, they will see mistakes as evidence of a lack of inherent capability and will work harder to stop the world from seeing them as 'stupid' or incapable.On the other hand, children with a growth mindset will be more likely to seek help when something gets in their way, believing the capability is in them, but they just need a hand to find it.

Nurturing a growth mindset

A growth mindset will supercharge their capacity to learn and grow. We know that for certain. Parents, teachers and any important adult in the life of a child or adolescent has enormous power to steer them towards the happy headspace of a growth mindset. Here's how:

1. Tell them, over and over and over that 'brains can get stronger'

As if being a brain wasn't impressive enough, they've proven to be all the more remarkable by showing how much they can change. 'Brains can get stronger.' Say this over and over to the kids in your life until they're reciting you or telling you to stop—and then keep going. The more they can believe this, the more empowered they'll be to keep doing what they need to do to strengthen that powerhouse in their heads. Here is one way to explain it to them.

'Imagine that in your brain are billions of tiny lightbulbs. There is a lightbulb for everything you could ever do. There's a dancing lightbulb, a maths lightbulb, a soccer lightbulb, an imagination lightbulb, a science lightbulb, a cooking lightbulb, a flying a plane lightbulb... You get the idea. The thing is, they only turn on when you do what they are there for, so not all of your light bulbs will glow all the time. Some of them will never glow at all. That's exactly as it should be. Nobody is great at absolutely everything!

The really cool thing about these lightbulbs is that the more you turn them on (by practicing whatever it is they're there for), the brighter they glow, and the brighter they glow, the stronger your brain. The first time you try something, its lightbulb will only glow a little bit but the more you practice and learn that thing, the brighter that lightbulb will glow. Remember, not all of these lightbulbs are glowing all the time—only the ones that have been turned on.

If you never ride a bike, for example, the riding-a-bike lightbulb won't glow at all. The first time you ride a bike, that lightbulb will glow just a little bit. The more you ride your bike, the brighter the riding-a-bike lightbulb will glow. It might take a lot of practice before your riding-a-bike lightbulb is as bright as your teeth-brushing lightbulb but when it is as bright, you'll be just as good at riding a bike as you are at brushing your teeth.

Of course, your teeth-brushing lightbulb is very bright because you brush your teeth every morning and every night! When it comes to riding bikes though, you might fall off a few times but that doesn't mean that you can't be great at riding bikes. It just means that you're not good at riding them yet. You're still charging up that lightbulb.

Every time you learn something or practice something, you're turning on a lightbulb and strengthening your brain. In the same way exercise makes your body strong by strengthening your muscles, learning and practicing makes your brain strong. You're very capable of learning things and strengthening your brain, but no brain is going to build itself. All brains can all be strong, smart and capable of amazing things, but they need you to work and make the lightbulbs glow... and you can do that brilliantly.

2. Pay attention to effort over results

A grade that has been earned with hard work, whatever that grade is, should always be rewarded before something that was achieved without effort.

You studied hard for that exam and your marks show that.

It was a hard assignment but you didn't give up. You kept going and working hard and you did it! I loved the way you kept trying different things under you found something that worked.

3. Catch them being persistent

​Any time you see them putting in effort, working hard towards a goal or being persistent, acknowledge it. It doesn't mean you have to gush with praise every time they apply themselves, but it will mean a lot to them that you notice. 'You're working hard at that aren't you.'

4. Be specific with praise

Attach your praise to something specific. Rather than 'You're really smart,' try 'It was really clever the way you experimented with a few different ways to solve that problem. Nice work!'

5. Encourage a healthy attitude to failure and challenge

Speak of failure and challenge in terms of them being an opportunity to learn and grow.

6. Use the word 'yet', and use it often

When they say 'I don't know how to do it,' encourage them to replace this with, 'I don't know how to do it yet.' Keep doing this and soon they will learn to do this for themselves. Self-talk is a powerful thing.

7. Show them they don't always have to be successful to be okay

Kids don't learn what they're told, they learn what they see. Let them see when you hit a snag (when it's appropriate of course) and let them see you being okay with that. Talk about the things you learn when something doesn't quite go as planned.

If you take a wrong turn, for example, point out the interesting things you notice now that you're on a different road. Failure is part of learning and has absolutely nothing at all to do with how clever or capable they are. It's an opportunity to learn, in disguise.

8. Encourage them to keep the big picture in mind

It's where they end up that matters. The stumbles on the way are just part of the learning and the way there. Learning takes time and the path won't be straight – it will be crooked and interesting and full of great opportunities, exactly as it was meant to be.

9. When they do well without effort

For a student who does really well without putting in any effort, it's still important to hold back from making it all about how clever or capable they are. Instead, Dweck suggests trying, 'Ok. That was too easy for you. Let's see if there's something more challenging that you can learn from.'

10. And when they put in the effort, but don't do so well...

If they've worked hard but haven't achieved what they wanted, notice the effort. This will nurture their confidence, resilience and motivation to keep learning and working hard. 'I loved seeing the effort you put into that assignment. Let's see what you can learn from for next time.'

11. Give permission to fail

Take the anxiety out of learning and put back the love. Giving kids permission to get it wrong sometimes will broaden their willingness to take risks and experiment with better ways of doing things. This will expand their creativity, problem solving and readiness to embrace challenge.

And finally...

Intelligence is not fixed and can be flourished with time and effort. Nurturing this belief in children is one of the greatest things we, as the adults in their lives, can do to help lift them so they can reach their full potential. The effort will come from them, but it's important that we do what we can to have them believe that the effort will be worth it.

Originally posted on Hey Sigmund.

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No kid is born a picky eater, but there are plenty who will give you a run for your money come mealtime. Whether it's a selective eating phase or simply a natural resistance to trying something new, getting your little one to try just.one.bite can be easier said than done.

But sometimes your attitude about eating can make the most impact. A 2017 study found a direct correlation between "mealtime emotional climate" (AKA, how positive meals are for parents and children) and a child's consumption of healthy food―meaning the difference between your child trying their green beans or not could depend on how positive you make the experience.

Not sure where to start?

Here are 10 positive parenting techniques that can help overcome picky eating and lead to more peaceful mealtimes for all.

1. Make them feel special.

Sometimes just knowing you have a special place at the table can help kids eat better. Create a special place setting with dishes just for them.

Try this: We love OXO's Stick & Stay plates and bowls for creating less mess at mealtime. Not only will the kids love the fun colors and designs, but the plates also come with a suction cup base that prevents little hands from knocking plates to the floor (or in your lap). Trust us—we've tried it.

2. Take off the pressure.

OXO Tot's Stick & Stay Suction Plate

Think about it: If someone kept telling you to take one more bite during lunch, how likely would you be to go along without bristling?

Try this: Instead, use the Satter Division of Responsibility of feeding, which lets parents be responsible for what, when, and where feeding happens, while the child is left responsible of how much and whether. Besides promoting a more positive environment at mealtime, this method also boosts your child's confidence and helps encourage better self-regulation of food as they get older.

3. Serve a variety.

OXO Tot's Stick & Stay Suction Divided Plate

It could be that your child is bored with the usual rotation. Keep things interesting by regularly introducing new ingredients, or reworking a familiar ingredient in a new way. The familiar setting might make your child more likely to take a bite without a struggle.

Try this: Sub in spaghetti squash with their favorite pasta sauce, or add in a new veggie to a beloved stir-fry. We love OXO's Stick & Stay Divided Plate for creating a "tasting menu" of new flavors for little ones to pick and choose or using the center spot for an appetizing dip.

4. Don't bargain or negotiate.

Many kids resist trying new foods or eating at all because it gives them a sense of control over their lives. By resisting an ingredient―even one they have tried and liked in the past―they are essentially saying, "You're not the boss of me."

Try this: Instead of resorting to bargaining tactics like, "Just take one bite!" or "You can have dessert if you try it!" lower the pressure with a neutral statement like, "This is what we're having for dinner tonight." There's no argument, so you avoid tripping their "Don't tell me what to do!" sensor.

5. Serve meals in courses.

Even adults are more likely to eat something when they're really hungry. When their tummies are rumbling, kids will usually put up less of a fight even when they're uncertain about a new ingredient.

Try this: Serve up vegetables or other new foods as an "appetizer" course. That way, you won't have to stress if they don't fill up because you can follow up with food you know they'll eat.

6. Make it a game.

The fastest way to get a toddler on board with a new idea is to make it more fun. Turn your kitchen into an episode of Top Chef and let your little one play judge.

Try this: Use each compartment of the Stick & Stay Divided Plate for a new ingredient. With each item, ask your child to tell you how the food tastes, smells, and feels, ranking each bite in order of preference. Over time, you just might be surprised to see veggies climb the leaderboard!

7. Get them involved in cooking.

You've probably noticed that toddlers love anything that is theirs―having them help with preparing their own meals gives them a sense of ownership and makes them more likely to try new ingredients.

Try this: Look for ways to get those little hands involved in the kitchen, even if it means meal prep takes a bit longer or gets a bit messier. (We also love letting them help set the table―and OXO's unbreakable plates are a great place to start!) You could even let your toddler pick the veggie course for the meal. And if your child asks to taste a raw fruit or vegetable you planned to cook, go with it! Every bite counts as training that will ultimately broaden their palate.

8. Cut out unstructured snacking.

Not surprisingly, a hungry kid is more likely to try new foods. But if your toddler had a banana and a glass of milk (or a granola bar, or a handful of popcorn, or a glass of juice) an hour before dinner, odds are they aren't feeling truly hungry and will be more likely to resist what you serve at mealtime.

Try this: Stick to a consistent eating schedule. If your child leaves the table without eating as much as you think they should, remind them once that they won't be able to eat again until X time―and make good on that promise even if they start begging for a snack before the scheduled meal.

9. Model good eating habits.

Kids may not always do what you say, but they are much more likely to follow a good example. So if you want a child who eats vegetables regularly, you should do your best to fill your own plate with produce.

Try this: Pick a new food the whole family will try in multiple ways each week. For example, if you're introducing butternut squash, serve it roasted, blended in soup, cut up in pasta, as a mash, etc.―and be sure a healthy serving ends up on your plate too.

10. Don't worry about "fixing" picky eating.

OXO Tot's Stick & Stay Suction Bowl

In most cases, children go through relatively consistent eating phases. At age two (when parents tend to notice selectiveness ramping up), growth rates have slowed and most children don't need as much food as parents might think.

Try this: Focus on keeping mealtime positive by providing children with a variety of foods in a no-pressure environment. And remember: This too shall pass. The less stress you put on eating now, the more likely they are to naturally broaden their palates as they get older.


This article was sponsored by OXO Tot. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Learn + Play

Every time Amy Schumer posts something to Instagram we're expecting a birth announcement, but in her latest Instagram post, Schumer let the world know she's still pregnant, and unfortunately, still throwing up.

Schumer made her "still pregnant" announcement in a funny Instagram caption, noting, "Amy is still pregnant and puking because money rarely goes to medical studies for women," suggesting that hyperemesis gravidarum, the extreme form of morning sickness that's seen her hospitalized multiple times during her pregnancy doesn't get as much attention as conditions that impact men.

She's made a joke out of it, but she's not wrong. Gender bias in medical research is very real, and something that the medical community has just recently begun to address.

And while more people suffer from erectile dysfunction than hyperemesis gravidarum, let's consider that five times as many studies are done on erectile dysfunction than premenstrual syndrome (PMS) when about 19% of men are impacted by erectile dysfunction but 90% of women experience symptoms related to PMS.

Schumer's point is important not just for women suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum, but for women and vulnerable pregnant people with all sorts of under-studied and under-diagnosed conditions. The United States has the highest rate of maternal deaths in the developed world, and bias in medicine is part of the problem.

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News

“Brrrr… I guess winter's back!" I awkwardly joked with a mom at preschool pick up today. We'd had a few warm days this week, but March in Wisconsin means that's short-lived, and it was only a matter of time before our 19 degree mornings returned.

She and I were the first ones to arrive, so I saw it as a golden friend-making opportunity for me. Before the other moms came and distracted her with chatter about grabbing coffee and going to yoga and getting their boys together to play. I thought this was my chance to make a bridge.

As the new mom whose family just moved to town, I am not in that circle. My preschool son has no boys to play with, nor do I have a coffee dates lined up, or invites to yoga or to go for a run on warm days.

And that circle—as all women know—can feel like it's impenetrable. Like once it's formed, no one else is allowed in. Being the new mom has me feeling like I'm back in 6th grade. But instead, I'm a grown woman in my 30s.

I don't necessarily think it's intentional, either. Having just left a circle of mom friends back home whom I stood and chatted with and did this very thing with every day for years, I ask myself—did I isolate any new moms? Did I brush off someone who tried to make small talk with me, hoping to make a friend? And I honestly don't know.

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So I don't begrudge the mom circle that stands tightly knit, content with their foursome.

But they hadn't arrived yet today, and I saw my chance. The weather—an easy topic, right? I wasn't coming at her with politics or organic vs. processed foods or vaccines. I chose something easy and non-controversial. Something that wouldn't get me judged. Or get my kids judged as having “that mom."

But, unfortunately, she didn't bite. The one other mom standing with me at preschool pickup at my son's new school just smiled meekly at my generic weather comment, and then turned away.

Okay. I guess that's that, I said to myself.

So, I'm 38 years old. I've done the clique-y girl thing before. I know the game. I know the difference between “Yeah! I know! Brrrr! So you're new, right? Where are you from?" and a fake smile followed by the back of your head. Not interested. I get it.

Up until recently, I didn't really care that I didn't have friends yet. We've been in our new town, new state, new school, and new house for a few months. But honestly, it's only been the past week or two that the feeling of loneliness has hit me a bit. I've been too busy being Mommy.

All of my energy—every waking moment—went to helping my kids adjust. Helping them learn their new school routines. Ensuring they were happy and making new friends. Enrolling them in activities. Learning the bus schedule and memorizing the lunch menu. Figuring out which folder is the reading folder and which is the math folder. Where are the Boy Scouts meetings? Where should my daughter take gymnastics? What baseball team is best for my boys? We needed a pediatrician. And dentist. And eye doctor. And allergist.

On top of focusing on my kids, the last few months were spent researching electricians and plumbers and painters. When does the garbage get picked up and how do we dispose of our Christmas tree? Where can we get good Chinese takeout and get my car washed? Which grocery store has the best deals and where is Costco?

But now, all of a sudden, I feel like my children are all doing okay. The house is organized and we know how things work around here.

And now I've remembered that there is one more person who needs to learn her new world—me. I haven't had a hair cut in months. I don't have a doctor yet. Or a dentist. But most of all, I desperately need some girlfriends.

Maybe not the one who brushed me off at preschool pickup. And that's okay. I've met some friendly moms who've mentioned getting together in passing. I am now navigating that awkward “when is too soon to text and/or friend you on social media so you know I want to be friends but I don't seem stalker-ish" territory.

I guess it never gets easier, this making new friends gig. The one good part, however, of this experience—is that it's given me a glimpse into my children's world. I have gotten a taste of what their first few days were like back in December when we first arrived.

I was so busy unpacking and learning their school schedules and setting up their bedrooms that I didn't take the time to sit in that experience with them. To see it from their perspective.

Now I wonder, was my daughter brushed off by a girl she tried to befriend? Was my son kept out of the circle? I now know, what that must have felt like. And I'm so proud of them for standing tall, walking into their new world, and facing that challenge head on.

We are all going to be okay, though. This is our family adventure—the good and the bad—and we will come out stronger on the other side. We will be better at facing new challenges. We will be experienced at making new friends. And next time there is a new family in town, and the mom asks me how I feel about the weather, I will be ready to give her the response I was hoping for—not the one I got.

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Love + Village

I remember being in a conversation about working moms with a few people I know—comprised of both men and women—shortly after I had had my first child. I remember it so clearly because one of the men said, "If she's working so much, what's the point of even having children?" I was so taken aback. To me his comment screamed: Why would a busy working woman even bother procreating if she's not going to dedicate herself wholly and completely to motherhood in every way, shape and form?

Like, if you're going to be a mother, then just BE a mother. Be one with motherhood. Be all in. Forget about the other things. Right?

Wrong.

You know what I've realized in my five years of motherhood? When you throw yourself mind, body and soul into every. single. thing. motherhood, you're likely going to lose sight of the uniqueness that makes you you.

Your "pre-mom" self is in the past along with sleeping in on Saturdays and spontaneous date nights. And the woman you thought you were now—this mom version of yourself—is buried so deep under diapers and goldfish and stuffed animals and to-dos and errands and responsibilities that she is struggling to stay afloat. Struggling to really see herself.

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Being fully immersed in the deep, sometimes treacherous waters of raising tiny humans is wondrous, yes. But it can also be overwhelming and all-consuming. It can be exhausting and challenging.

Then, one day, your head will pop up above the surface and you'll breathe fresh air and you'll say, "Wow, it's really beautiful up here, too."And you'll remember: Something will remind you that you're a person, not just someone's mother. It could be anything—maybe it'll be the way your partner looks at you in that dress or maybe it'll be what the yoga teacher said that struck a chord with you. Maybe it'll be the writing class you sign up for or a new job or a new community or a new lease on life. Whatever it is for you—you'll notice it.

And it'll wake you up in a way that nothing else has since becoming a mother.

I find myself on a mission now. My mission is to discover who I am exactly. I'm not my pre-mom self anymore and I'm not just this exhausted, harried, overwhelmed mom-of-three. I don't have to only be that. I can be a mother and… other things.

That being said, because I am a mother and… doesn't mean you have to label me that way.

I have a job, but you don't have to call me a "working mom." I'm simply a human who works who also happens to be a mother.

I like to workout, but saying I'm a #fitmom seems unnecessary to me. I am a human striving to be healthier.

I have dreams and goals for myself that both relate to motherhood and have nothing to do with motherhood at all, but you don't have to label me a "mom boss." I'm just a human who wants to achieve certain things in life.

I am a Beyoncé devotee, but we can all agree it would be silly to label me a "mom-Beyoncé fan," right?

Bottom line: I am more than the caregiver of my tiny humans. My worth is greater than the number of pickups and drop-offs I do in a week. I am deeper than the mountain of dirty laundry in the hamper. I am better than my meltdowns when I lose my patience and I'm worthy of cultivating hobbies, interests and passions outside of my role of "mom." We all are. Attaching the word "mom" to everything we do contradicts all of this.

What I think I am finally starting to understand is that becoming a mother is a complete transformation that happens over and over throughout the course of our motherhood journeys.

We'll figure out the mom we need to be at each stage of our children's lives and we'll figure out who we are exactly, eventually. Spoiler alert: It's going to take time. And it's going to keep changing. And we'll be growing and learning and unearthing the truest versions of ourselves over the course of our lives—right alongside our babies.

The role of mother is of utmost importance to me. I am so proud to be raising my three children. I do get an immeasurable amount of fulfillment and joy from this hat I wear. But the other hats I wear? They're so much a part of me, too, and a lot of them don't have much to do with motherhood at all. It's time our society starts valuing the other roles mothers have independent from motherhood because that's where validation happens, and that's how society proves motherhood is worthy. That's how we feel seen. That's how we get a seat at the table.

So, what was the point of having kids for that woman who works a lot?

To create another human being who she could help mold into an upstanding citizen of our future. To expand her family and lineage. To open her heart to the love that is caring for another person. To give her life meaning in a way nothing else had yet. Because, I suspect, she felt called to.

And what's the point of her working so much?

To make money for her family. To feel validated outside of her home. To continue to learn and grow in her profession. To set goals, reach them and start all over again. To interact with other adults on a regular basis. To continue this part of her life that is so ingrained in her identity. To show her children that just like men, women can have successful careers, too. To give her life meaning in a way nothing else does. Because, I suspect, she feels called to.

But the even bigger point that stayed with me from that conversation about working mothers is this: Women, just like men and non-binary individuals—just like any other human on this planet—can make their own decisions. They can decide to be a mother or not be a mother. They can decide to be the primary caregiver for their children or they could decide to work a full-time job outside their home. They can decide to sign up for yoga teacher training, join a gym, learn how to paint, go back to school or whatever.

From looking around me at all the amazing moms in my life, I believe this to be true: Mothers can, and will, decide what is best for them and their families by themselves or with their partner. What we won't do is wait around for a man, or anyone else for that matter, to tell us how we should be living our lives or to pass judgment on our choices.

We are mothers, yes. But we are also so much more.

And it's time for society to start seeing us that way.

Originally posted on Medium.

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Life

The bestseller Born To Run changed the way we think about traditional running shoes and how they interfere with the body's natural wisdom. Nearly ten years later, despite the popularity of barefoot running and minimalist running shoes, we still haven't heard much about the negative effects of shoes on children, despite the fact that research supported barefoot-style shoes for children as early as 1991.

According to that landmark study, optimum foot development occurs in the absence of shoes. Additionally, stiff and compressive shoes may cause deformities, weakness and restricted mobility. That study went so far as to say that the term “corrective shoe" is a misnomer and that such a shoe is “harmful to the child, expensive for the family and a discredit to the medical profession."

Subsequent research reinforced those findings.

  • A 1992 Bone and Joint Journal study found shoe-wearing in early childhood to be detrimental to the development of a normal arch. Specifically, the authors found a positive relationship between wearing shoes in early childhood and the subsequent development of flat-footedness.
  • A 2008 Gait and Posture study found that slimmer and more flexible shoes interfered with children's natural foot motion far less than conventional shoes did. Based on detailed analyses of children's movement patterns in barefoot-style shoes versus traditional shoes, the authors recommended all children wear barefoot-style shoes.
  • In 2008, Foot and Ankle Surgery published a review recommending small children wear a sports shoe, which is as flexible as their own foot. It stated that the impact forces affecting a child's foot during sports are small enough that extra cushioning is unnecessary. The authors argue that although the hard indoor surfaces on which children play increase the need for cushioning, as the child's foot grows there is an increasing need for sufficient mechanical stimuli to facilitate healthy development of the bones and muscles. Because cushioned shoes interfere with the foot's natural movement, they can cause poor positioning in the flex zone, thereby causing harmful stress on the foot.
  • A 2011, Journal of Foot and Ankle Research found shoes alter children's gait patterns. One notable finding was that wearing shoes decreased the movement of the intrinsic muscles of the foot, possibly contributing to weakness in those muscles. In fact, eight of the nine range of motion variables measuring foot motion were decreased in subjects who wore shoes versus the control group.

There's no doubt about it, the foot is complex and amazing. Each foot has 200,000 nerve endings in the sole alone. Additionally, the foot and ankle are home to 26 bones, 33 joints, and over 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments. It's not hard to imagine that altering the movement of this complex web of structures would create a ripple of changes.

Jessi Stensland, founder of FeetFreex and a self-proclaimed “natural mover." She puts it in no uncertain terms, “From the moment kids are putting on shoes, they're walking wrong." Stensland explains that the foot is designed to process an immense amount of sensory input and that it's designed to move in varied, complex ways. When you put a child as young as 18 months in a supportive shoe, you're depriving them of the chance to use their feet properly, potentially for life.

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“We are meant to have a raging river of information coming to [our brains and spinal cords] through our feet to help us move our bodies through space and we have slowed it to a trickle… the moment we put [on] shoes." In contrast, when we walk barefoot on a variety of surfaces, our feet adapt by developing musculature and fatty padding to protect our feet and to fully support healthy movement in all planes. It is a classic case of “use it or lose it," Stensland says.

There is no shortage of research to indicate the many specific ways in which shoes interfere with the foot's ability to do its job, potentially triggering a variety of negative long-term effects. For example, a shoe with even a slight heel lift (e.g., almost any athletic shoe) shortens the Achilles tendon and the plantar fascia, limiting ankle range of motion. This affects the angle of pelvic tilt, which can then lead to low back pain and posture issues.

That's just the tip of the iceberg. A 2002 paper published in Podiatry Management details the many ways in which typical shoes interfere with children's gait and development.

  • Despite their flexible soles, the natural flex point of a sneaker (toward the middle) is not aligned with the natural flex point of the foot (the ball). This problem is exaggerated further if, like most parents, you buy them with a little room to grow. Therefore, any flexibility the sole allows a child's foot is rendered moot. (To understand what I mean, just bend one of your kid's shoes in half.)
  • Lace-up shoes commonly worn by children are constrictive. When kids lace their shoes tightly, the excessive pressure limits the dorsalis pedis artery's ability to allow normal blood flow through the foot.
  • Sneakers have a high traction plastic or rubber outsole that causes the foot to forcefully “brake" with every step. Note that an active child takes 20,000 steps per day. This unnatural braking forces the foot to slide forward, jamming the toes against the shoe's front edge with every step. This is the equivalent of wearing shoes one has long outgrown.

Even if you're not ready to home school or move to a tropical, casual, shoe-optional locale, there are plenty of opportunities to foster your kids' healthy foot development.

Nutritious movement

Stensland likens healthy movement to a healthy diet – a variety of all kinds of foods, including fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, protein, and some Cheetos or Pop Tarts every now and then. Just as with our diets, the effects of any junk food are mitigated by nutrient dense foods. Similarly, while there will inevitably be times when your kid needs to wear shoes, including structured shoes with a heel (e.g. tap shoes or soccer cleats), you can offset the ill-effects of such shoes by adding in a healthy dose of “nutritious movement," a term coined by movement educator/author Katy Bowman. She recommends offering kids a chance to walk on natural surfaces like sand, gravel, rocks, or wood for at least 20 minutes a day. Even if you can't do this every single day, you can at least have them play barefoot inside.

Conscious shoe selection

Dr. Gangemi, chiropractor, elite triathlete, dad and barefoot enthusiast, recommends looking for these qualities in kids' shoes:

  • Low heel height
  • Minimal cushioning
  • Flexible throughout
  • Very lightweight

Stensland has compiled a list of approved shoes for nutritious movement here, including guidelines for DIY'ers wishing to make their own.

Lead by example

For better or for worse, our kids learn more from what we do than from what we say. We can encourage them to kick their shoes off when we do the same. While it might not make sense to walk into your office barefoot, you can set an example by taking your shoes off when you enter the house, while relaxing in your backyard, at the park, or on neighborhood walks in nice weather.

Check your fear

After researching the foot and how shoes impact its structure and functioning, I realized I was scared of all the wrong things when I insisted my kids leave their shoes on at the park. I was afraid they'd step on something sharp or that they'd contract a disease, both of which are, in fact, highly unlikely scenarios. (However, I do think I'm justified in my fear of letting them take their shoes off because it would make it even harder to get them to leave the park.)

On the other hand, the prospect of depriving my kids of healthy movement, potentially for life, is far scarier than anything a barefoot adventure could throw at me, including a tearful, forcible departure from the playground.

We all want to give our children a solid foundation. It turns out, we don't necessarily need to do anything fancy or complicated to do it—at least in the literal sense. While you might need a lot of therapy and soul searching to give your kids the best emotional foundation, creating a solid physical foundation is as simple as letting them be barefoot.

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