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There is quite a bit of advice out there encouraging parents to promote unstructured play for their children. Free time allows children to feel what it's like to be bored, gives them a chance to work out their differences with siblings and lets them solve their own problems without an adult. Free time also encourages independence, increases social skills and builds resilience.

While this is true for children who are ready to be independent, already have a solid understanding of their social world and can trust that they are not in danger when something goes wrong, free time can be challenging for children with less developed executive functioning and social skills or anxiety.

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Two reasons children may have difficulty with unstructured play may be that they tend to be blissfully solo players, or never leave you alone players. Your child may not fall exclusively into one of these categories, but most children have moments that their parents can relate to these ideas.

The blissful solo player

Some children prefer to play alone. Perhaps this is just their temperament. Additionally, many children identified with an autism spectrum disorder or with a diagnosis of dyspraxia (trouble with movement), solo play often feels like the safest kind of play. No one enters their space, no one throws off their plan, and if allowed to, they never have to transition away from this blissful play to do such boring things as use the bathroom or eat a snack.

Also, many children on the autism spectrum have superb memories of television shows they may act out in play as well as heightened interests and an ability to hyper-focus that allows them to enjoy their solo play.

While parents of the blissful solo player might be grateful for this time to make dinner or talk on the phone, at the same time they often have a gut feeling that too much of this play may limit their child's social opportunities and language development.

The never leaves you alone player

If your child falls into this category, you're already nodding your head. These are the children who are either too anxious to play alone, too distractible to settle into play or tell us they are too bored to play on their own. Therefore, they persistently seek attention from parents who feel they need to be in the same room or constantly entertain the child.

These play patterns come from several different reasons. Children experiencing anxiety may follow you around the house and need support to play away from you. Children who are developing their executive functioning often struggle to plan and begin their play and sustain their attention long enough to stick with their play. Experts state that executive functioning skills really start to develop between age three and five, but that it is a skill that children and adolescents are always working on.

This might look like a child who complains of being bored when you see lots of things for them to do or the child who loses interest quickly and doesn't have the skills to come up with a new idea. If forced not to bother their parents, these children may wander around and never settle into an activity. While it is a strength that these children often ask for help and engage with parents, relying on parents too much can limit their independent opportunities for problem-solving that can grow resilience.

Support your child's free time by making a routine when there is no routine

The most important strategy when teaching free time is to schedule it like you would any other activity. I often recommend framing free time as "free-choice" time rather than an open-ended free for all—this can prevent "the blissful solo player" from becoming withdrawn and "the never leaves you alone player" from clinging to you or wandering around aimlessly.

Having a general daily schedule can be helpful. Make sure the schedule is not too detailed—if too complicated, and something doesn't go as planned, this could lead to an additional problem of inflexibility when the plan changes.

Usually, something like the following, written on a whiteboard in your kitchen, does the trick:

  • Morning List (e.g., dressed, brush teeth, feed the cat)
  • Breakfast
  • Morning Activity
  • Snack
  • Free-Choice time
  • Lunch
  • Afternoon Activity
  • Snack
  • Free-Choice time
  • Dinner
  • Night time list (I.e. bath/shower, brush teeth, stories, etc.)

The trick is to make this routine consistent and then follow through with morning and afternoon activities—which are chosen by the parent—and free-choice time—which is selected by the child.

Sit down with your child and create a free-choice menu where they can practice brainstorming things they like to do alone knowing that they will be expected to play alone for a certain amount of time.

How this helps the blissful solo player

The blissful solo player will benefit from a written routine with a few tweaks. This child will love free-choice time, so this is where we must help them expand it by adding options to their list.

The goal for the blissful solo player is to transition away from free time play successfully. The trick here is to join them just before the transition. Engage with them, play with them and then help them transition by moving on together, being as encouraging as possible. This is where a visual STOP sign or PAUSE "button" is great to put on the play area so that kids know it's time to move on and they can come back to it later.

How this helps the never leaves you alone player

As the expert on your child, you will need to decide what an appropriate time and location will be for the free-choice time. Start with what you think your child can do and expand the time frame or distance from there.

Some children will need you to get them started on an activity or be reassured when something is a small problem they can solve on their own and when it's okay to come get you for help.

Use a timer to let them know when they are done with their play. Remember, you are teaching them how to be independent, so encourage and praise their successes. Let them know how helpful it was that you were able to call a friend, check your email or feed the baby.

Just remember, for many children more structure is better, visuals are helpful even when a child is highly verbal, and consistent schedules are often magical.

A word about activity time:

Activity time on the schedule may be something mandatory, like a doctor's appointment, or it could be an errand, like the grocery store. It could also be a playdate to encourage those who would not pick peer play for free-choice time, or it could be pretend play time for those who need practice in symbolic thinking.

Either way, setting up the expectation that the adult is in charge of that time can be a helpful way to set boundaries and create a balance of work and play within a summer day.

More than anything, have fun!

This article originally appeared on www.dremilyking.com.

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So far 2020 has been a year of big changes for Meghan Markle and her husband, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex. Earlier this month the royal couple announced plans step back and senior members of the royal family. Initially, the plan was for the couples to retain their royal tiles and raise their "son with an appreciation for the royal tradition into which he was born" while also give themselves the space to work and live in North America.

But sometimes, young parents have to make tough choices to do what's best for their new family and that can mean making changes that impact your family of origin.

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This weekend the Queen announced that her family has found a way for Harry and Meghan to move forward, and it means they're not only not senior royals anymore, they do not have HRH titles (His Royal Highness or Her Royal Highness) anymore and "are no longer working members of the Royal Family."

The statement from the Queen reads, in part: "Following many months of conversations and more recent discussions, I am pleased that together we have found a constructive and supportive way forward for my grandson and his family.

"Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved members of my family.

"I recognise the challenges they have experienced as a result of intense scrutiny over the last two years and support their wish for a more independent life.

"I want to thank them for all their dedicated work across this country, the Commonwealth and beyond, and am particularly proud of how Meghan has so quickly become one of the family.

"It is my whole family's hope that today's agreement allows them to start building a happy and peaceful new life."

The Queen's statement explains that Harry and Meghan have "shared their wish to repay Sovereign Grant expenditure for the refurbishment of Frogmore Cottage, which will remain their UK family home."

Basically, they're serious about being financially independent and they're going to pay rent on the cottage.

Untangling family issues can be hard, and it is hard for anyone to imagine what it must be like to live this out on the world's stage. In her statement, the Queen said she understands the role the intense press scrutiny has played in the couple's decision to forge a new path, and that they will always be her family.

Whether you're leaving the royal family to move to Canada, or just trying to explain to your parents that your own family needs to move to another state, this stuff is hard.

Here's to a new chapter in 2020, for Harry and Meghan and all the other new parents who are writing their own stories.

News

Motherhood is a juggling act. Whether you have one child or many, work outside the home or don't, have a partner or are doing this whole thing solo, you are always juggling something. So how on earth do we keep up the act? How do we ensure no ball gets dropped?

We don't.

All of us, every single one, lets something slip through our fingers on some occasion or another. And that's totally okay.

A friend from college recently commented on Instagram how peaceful and sweet my children seemed. I laughed out loud, and not an endearing chuckle, a wholehearted cackle. What a glorious and erroneous idea that my children are peaceful and sweet. I have three of these beautiful monsters, ages 12, 5 and 4 months. Our house sounds more like a child run circus than a zen meditation retreat.

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It is true that my children are sweet at times. And I will admit I try very hard to create a peaceful life and home, but those are not the two words I would ever use to describe our family. I might choose words like rambunctious, spirited, passionate and intense.

What I realized as I simultaneously smiled and snorted in laughter, was that I put a lot of work into creating a life on social media that looks just like that. Peaceful and sweet. I choose my words carefully, I edit my photos and of course choose only the best ones, the ones where everyone is smiling and we appear to love each other. The pictures of my children pulling each other's hair, stealing snacks and shouting that they hate each other don't get quite as many likes.

Don't get me wrong—my children often smile and we do love each other very much. But by carefully curating the life I post on social media I have unintentionally created something laughable. What a jolt to realize the very thing I'm striving for makes me laugh out loud when someone names it. Is there anything more inauthentic than that?

I am working to strive for authenticity and perfect imperfection.

I make mistakes, hurt those I love, burn dinner and that is what makes me human.

I drop the ball every single day in some large or small way—and that's okay. It is to be expected really.

It's what can give us the gift of connection. We can connect with one another via our faults and our vulnerabilities. We starve ourselves of this by pretending to be perfect.

As I write this I'm sitting in the front seat of my car in the parking lot of our local skate park, my youngest is napping in his car seat, my oldest is wearing a helmet and pads and is driving his new BMX bike as fast as he can up and down hills and ramps set at odd angles with weird curves among them.

This moment feels ideal t. The breeze blows through my open windows as my oldest is getting a great workout and my youngest slowly wakes up cooing.

We can only enjoy the moment if we are present within it. When I live my life constantly in a state of distraction, constantly keeping my eyes on all the balls I'm juggling, I'm not enjoying any of it.

I am not a master juggler at this moment in life. I don't think what I'm doing even looks like juggling. I do not have my eyes on all the balls, I am not even attempting to catch or toss them all in that perfect arc that looks so magical.

I prefer to relish these kinds of moments, soak up their joy, their peace, their sweetness and to do that I have to let go of the charade, I have to accept imperfection in the form of letting some balls drop.

I want to live a life full of authenticity and joy in the simple moments.

I want to live without the pressure of doing it all.

I want to give myself the gift of not doing everything the way it should be done by the imagined deadlines that cannot be met.

I want to enjoy my rambunctious, passionate children.

So I let the ball drop—and I'm okay with that.

Life

Feeding your new baby can be a beautiful experience, but it can also be really hard. We at Motherly have talked about it. Amy Schumer has talked about it. And now Kate Upton is talking about it, too.

Upton and her husband Justin Verlander became parents when their daughter Genevieve was born in November 2018, and in a new interview with Editorialist, Upton explains that while she loves motherhood she didn't always love breastfeeding.

"Having VeVe has changed my life in such a wonderful way," she explains, adding that in the early days of motherhood she felt "so much pressure"..."to be doing all these things, like breastfeeding on the go—when the reality, for me, was that breastfeeding was sucking the energy away from me. I realized I needed to calm down, to allow my body to recover."

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Breastfeeding can take up a lot of a mama's time and energy in those early weeks and months, and while Upton doesn't explicitly say whether she switched to formula, combo fed, pumped or what, it's clear that she did give herself some grace when it came to breastfeeding and found the right parenting pace by taking the pressure off of herself.

Upton took the pressure off herself when it came to her demanding breastfeeding schedule, and she's also resisting the pressure to keep up with a social media posting schedule.

"I want to be enjoying my life, enjoying my family, not constantly trying to take the perfect picture," she says. "I think my husband wants me to throw my phone away. We talk about it in the house all the time: 'Let's have a phone-free dinner.' We don't want [our daughter] thinking being on the phone is all that life is."

Whether the pressure to be perfect is coming from your phone or from society's conflicting exceptions of mothers it's a force worth rejecting. Upton is loving life at her own pace, imperfect as reallife can be.

News

After the treat-filled sugar rush of holidays and birthdays, it can be hard to get back on track with eating healthy as a family. (What can I say, I love cake—and my kids do, too.) It's totally okay to hold your boundary for sugar in your kid's diet, no matter what that boundary is. And you can do it without being the bad guy.

Putting a positive spin on "the sugar issue" (letting kids know that they can have treats sometimes, but not all. the. time.) will help prevent sugar becoming an ongoing power struggle, which nobody wants.

Here are a few phrases that can help your kids eat less sugar, without creating a power struggle over treats:

1. "Holiday and birthday treats are so fun, but they're not for every day."

Acknowledge that all of the extra treats were fun (they were!). You can talk about how some foods are for special occasions and others are the ones we eat every day to have strong bodies and feel good.

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2. "I feel so much better when I eat lots of fruits and vegetables."

Instead of putting the emphasis on why sugar is bad, try focusing on all the good reasons to eat healthy foods. You can talk about how eating carrots gives us strong eyes, eating oranges keeps us from getting sniffles, or eating kale helps us feel good and have lots of energy for playing.

3. "Which fruit would you like to have with your lunch?"

Keep it fun by letting your child choose which healthy foods to eat. Two or three choices are fine. You can let them help pick at the grocery store or let them pick from the options you've selected—the important thing is to offer choice.

4. "Let's see if we can make a rainbow on your plate!"

Who doesn't love rainbows, especially among the under-six crowd? Use their universal appeal to your advantage and encourage kiddos to make their own edible rainbows.

Make it extra fun by writing a checklist with colored pencils, one checkbox for every rainbow color, and bringing it with you to the grocery store. Let your child choose one item from the produce section for every color.

5. "You can choose one treat with dinner, but candy isn't a choice for snack today."

Make sure kids know that they will still be able to enjoy treats sometimes. Instead of saying "candy makes you crazy," or "sugar rots your teeth," just let them know when you're okay with them having a treat. It may be every night after dinner, only on Friday nights, or it may not be until Valentine's Day, but having a clear boundary will help reduce the constant pleas for sweet treats.

6. "I think treats feel more special when we don't have them every day."

Talk to your child about how part of the fun of holiday treats is that they're out of the ordinary. They are special traditions we get to enjoy each year and they help make the holidays feel magical. Just as it wouldn't be as fun if we had a Christmas tree up all year or wore a Halloween costume every day, treats aren't as fun if we eat them nonstop.

7. "I hear that you really want candy. I can't let you have it right now, but it's okay to be disappointed."

Let your child know that you empathize with their feelings about not being able to eat what they want all of the time.

Sometimes children just need to be heard. It might be more important to them to know that you understand their feelings about treats than to actually get a treat.

8. "Let's think of a healthy treat we could get at the grocery store next week."

Brainstorm with your child and come up with a list of healthy treats you could bring home from your next grocery shopping trip. This might be a kind of fruit they haven't had in a while, a granola bar you don't usually buy, or the makings of a fun trail mix.

Part of the fun of treats is the ritual—you can still enjoy the sweetness without the extra sugar.

9. "Would you like to bake with me?"

Carry those fond memories of making Christmas cookies together into the new year to help wean kids off the holiday high of constant treats. Just find something you're okay with your child eating regularly, like a healthy muffin recipe, baked oatmeal, or energy bites—whatever meets your own nutritional guidelines for your family!

10. "I noticed you didn't sleep well when you ate those treats before nap time. Let's think of a better time for treats together."

You can explain the effects of sugar on the body without vilifying it. Sometimes just saying sugar is bad makes it all the more desirable or pits you against your child. But that doesn't mean you can't give them the facts. Just tell them plainly that sugar makes it harder for them to sleep well, makes it harder for them to concentrate, or whatever other effects you've seen.

Here's to a healthy 2020—you've got this, mama!

Learn + Play
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