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Did you ever think your parents didn't love you growing up? If so, you're not alone. Of course, we all love our children beyond words, but sometimes our love gets buried under feelings of overwhelm, exhaustion, loneliness and worry. Deep down we want nothing more than our child to feel cherished and good no matter what their struggles are in life. It's not lack of love that stops our children from feeling appreciated. It's that parents have to work hard with little support, creating many barriers that can stop our love from landing in our children's hearts.

At the attachment theory based Circle of Security Project, run by respected clinical therapists, they see "delight" as the critical quality parents need. More than anything our children need us to feel joy when we are with them, it makes them feel deeply appreciated and accepted just as they are.

But parent's lives are full. It can be hard to find pleasure in raising children given the many pressures in our lives. On top of the vitally important work we do caring for our kids, we have to juggle earning a living, putting meals on the table, washing clothes, etc. It can be tricky to remember to stop and simply delight in our kids.

Here's a practice you can adopt to help you shine your love in a way that makes it land right in your child's heart. It's unbelievably powerful. Busy parents can fit it into their lives. And if you do this regularly you'll see big shifts in your relationship with your child. They'll become more cooperative, more affectionate, and more relaxed. And you'll likely feel closer to them, more aware of their inner world and more delighted by who they are.

It's called Special Time.

Here's what you do

  • Let your child know that in Special Time you're going to do whatever they want. You're handing the reigns of the relationship over to your child. So much of their day is spent doing what other people want them to do. Reversing the roles brings relief to a child and opens up possibilities for them to show you things they don't normally have space to reveal.
  • Let your child know ahead of time when you're going to have Special Time e.g. after lunch, or on Saturday. This gives them a chance to figure out how they'll use your attention.
  • You decide how long it's going to be e.g. "After lunch, we'll have 20 minutes of Special Time" and you make sure there are no interruptions to this time. Phones are silent and tidying up will wait. Your full and complete attention is focused on your child.
  • Set a timer. It might seem a bit odd at first but it's interesting to notice how much better it goes with a timer. Part of the power of Special Time comes from your child being in charge. If you say it's over, you're keeping some of the power around the time. The timer keeps the child in the upper hand and you keep playing until it goes off.
  • Do whatever your child wants to do. Really, anything. The only exceptions being that it's important to gently set limits if they want to do something that would hurt someone or something. Try being enthusiastic about what they choose to do, even if it makes you groan inwardly.
  • Shine all your love and warmth at your child. Delight in them no matter what they show you. This is the magic ingredient. Shining your utmost love at your child whilst they lead the play, makes a child feel fully accepted and appreciated for who they are. When you approach Special Time with an air of interest and expectation they'll show you new things with the safety of knowing that you'll be pleased with them, no matter what.
  • Follow the laughter. If anything makes your kid laugh, keep doing it. Laughter is such a powerful tonic it helps shed light fears and embarrassment and makes us feel close: it's "…the shortest distance between two friends" And, you get to slipstream in on all those good feelings: you become hardwired into your child's brain alongside the feelings of laughter and the love you're offering up.

Why children love special time

I recently asked some kids what they thought about it:

"It's special and it's only me and no-one else. I like it," Arlo, 3 years old

"I like it. It feels nice," Lucy, 4 years old

"I like Special Time 'cos I get one-on-one time with Mama and we don't get to hang out together much just the two of us. It feels good. I think other kids would like it," Alfie, 8 years old

Hand in Hand Instructor, Leigh Jamison, a mum in Sweden has a gorgeous story about how important Special Time is, no matter how humdrum it may seem from the outside:

"This summer we had planned a visit to the equivalent of Disneyland in Sweden. The boys, 5 and 7, had never been there and had been looking forward to the visit for many months. The theme park was a long drive away and very pricey so we planned a full day there, getting there early and staying until they closed which was past the boys' bedtime.

Knowing how cranky they got without a full night's sleep, we prepared them to get in their pajamas and go straight to bed as soon as we got home, which meant no Special Time or toothbrushing. The boys looked at each other with startled eyes when I said this and asked to discuss it by themselves in another room.

They returned saying they would rather leave the theme park a couple of hours early so they could get home in time to have Special Time! And they get Special Time every day so it would have meant missing just one of 365 days in the year!"

As you try out special time in your family, you might find:

It feels hard to actually do it. On the face of it Special Time is such a simple thing yet it can be surprisingly hard for parents to do. It's not our fault. The lack of support we have as parents means it can be difficult to find the energy to do Special Time. And it's unlikely you were given such attention when you were a kid. You might also find yourself getting distracted and wanting to tidy up, quickly look at your phone or daydreaming about something else. If you're finding it hard to actually do Special Time or get sidetracked easily, it's a sign that you might need some support. Finding someone to listen to you whilst you explore the resistance you have can be very helpful.

You need to be clever introducing it to teenagers and some pre-teens. It's likely to go down like a lead balloon suggesting to your teenager they could have Special Time. You'll have to be a little crafty. A mum in one of my Starter Classes said to her 12-year-old in whisper, "Hey, I reckon you and me could sneak off and have an hour together when I finish work and no one would notice – I'll do whatever you want – what do you reckon?" The "let's be a bit naughty" tone totally appealed to her son and they plotted how they'd head to the beach for a quick surf together.

A child brings up past difficulties. Things that you thought had passed might resurface. Regular Special Time helps a child feel very safe and they will use that to bring up issues they haven't fully processed. For example they may become clingier to you. This is actually progress: they trust you to be there for them, so they want to work through buried difficulties.

A child shows you some old hurts. As you begin to have Special Time, your child will start to feel safe enough to show you their upsets. It's not uncommon for a child to get upset over something small during, at the end of, or soon after, Special Time. They are using the safety of your attention to offload some old hurts and just need you to be with them as their emotional storm passes. You'll likely notice they feel lighter and more affectionate after they've cleared out a load hard feelings.

Originally posted on Hand in Hand Parenting.

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Unstructured play is play without predetermined rules of the game. There are no organized teams, uniforms, coaches or trainers. It is spontaneous, often made-up on the spot, and changeable as the day goes on. It is the kind of play you see when puppies chase each other around a yard in endless circles or a group of kids play for hours in a fort they created out of old packing boxes.

Unstructured play is fun—no question about it—but research also tells us that it is critically important for the development of children's bodies and brains.

One of the best ways to encourage unstructured play in young children is by providing open-ended toys, or toys that can be used multiple ways. People Toy Company knows all about that. Since 1977, they've created toys and products designed to naturally encourage developmental milestones—but to kids, it all just feels like play.

Here are five reasons why unstructured play is crucial for your children—

1. It changes brain structure in important ways

In a recent interview on NPR's Morning Edition, Sergio Pellis, Ph.D., an expert on the neuroscience of play noted that play actually changes the structure of the developing brain in important ways, strengthening the connections of the neurons (nerve cells) in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain considered to be the executive control center responsible for solving problems, making plans and regulating emotions.

Because unstructured play involves trying out different strategies without particular goals or serious consequences, children and other animals get to practice different activities during play and see what happens. When Dr. Pellis compared rats who played as pups with rats that did not, he found that although the play-deprived rats could perform the same actions, the play-experienced rats were able to react to their circumstances in a more flexible, fluid and swift fashion.

Their brains seemed more "plastic" and better able to rewire as they encountered new experiences.

Hod Lipson, a computer scientist at Cornell sums it up by saying the gift of play is that it teaches us how to deal with the unexpected—a critically important skill in today's uncertain world.

2. Play activates the entire neocortex

We now know that gene expression (whether a gene is active or not) is affected by many different things in our lives, including our environment and the activities we participate in. Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D., a Professor at the University of Washington studied play in rats earning him the nickname of the "rat tickler."

He found that even a half hour of play affected the activity of many different genes and activated the outer part of the rats' brains known as the neocortex, the area of the brain used in higher functions such as thinking, language and spatial reasoning. We don't know for sure that this happens in humans, but some researchers believe that it probably does.

3. It teaches children to have positive interaction with others

It used to be thought that animal play was simply practice so that they could become more effective hunters. However, Dr. Panksepp's study of play in rats led him to the conclusion that play served an entirely different function: teaching young animals how to interact with others in positive ways. He believed that play helps build pro-social brains.

4. Children who play are often better students

The social skills acquired through play may help children become better students. Research has found that the best predictor of academic performance in the eighth grade was a child's social skills in the third grade. Dr. Pellis notes that "countries where they actually have more recess tend to have higher academic performance than countries where recess is less."

5. Unstructured play gets kids moving

We all worry that our kids are getting too little physical activity as they spend large chunks of their time glued to their electronic devices with only their thumbs getting any exercise. Unstructured play, whether running around in the yard, climbing trees or playing on commercial play structures in schools or public parks, means moving the whole body around.

Physical activity helps children maintain a healthy weight and combats the development of Type 2 diabetes—a condition all too common in American children—by increasing the body's sensitivity to the hormone insulin.

It is tempting in today's busy world for parents and kids to fill every minute of their day with structured activities—ranging from Spanish classes before school to soccer and basketball practice after and a full range of special classes and camps on the weekends and summer vacation. We don't remember to carve out time for unstructured play, time for kids to get together with absolutely nothing planned and no particular goals in mind except having fun.

The growing body of research on the benefits of unstructured play suggests that perhaps we should rethink our priorities.

Not sure where to get started? Here are four People Toy Company products that encourage hours of unstructured play.

1. People Blocks Zoo Animals

These colorful, magnetic building blocks are perfect for encouraging unstructured play in children one year and beyond. The small pieces fit easily in the hands of smaller children, and older children will love creating their own shapes and designs with the magnetic pieces.

People Blocks Zoo Animals 17 Piece Set, People Toy Company, $34.99

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This article was sponsored by People Toy Company. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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As we head into cold and flu season, parents are once again looking down at their little ones and wondering, Is this symptom serious?

One British mom, blogger and broadcaster Charlie O'Brien, has accidentally ensured that many parents can now identify a very serious symptom after a video of her daughter Luna (shot last year) went viral.

In the video Luna (then four weeks old) is breathing in a funny way. "Her breathing was quite fast and her nostrils were flaring," O'Brien explains in a statement to Motherly. With her onesie open, you can see that her ribs seem to be sucking in further than they should be. O'Brien says she now knows that Luna was showing signs of serious respiratory distress.

Experts who've viewed the video for Motherly agree.

"The breathing pattern shown in the video is known as retractions. This occurs when a baby has to use muscles between the ribs or in the neck to breathe and is a sign that a baby is having to work harder than normal to breathe," Dr. Kristin Dean, Associate Medical Director at Doctor On Demand tells Motherly.

O'Brien didn't know exactly what was going on with her daughter when she shot the video, but she knew something wasn't right. Two days earlier O'Brien had noticed Luna wasn't feeling well during a newborn photo shoot and had taken her to the hospital.

She was "concerned about Bronchiolitis as our son had previously had it," she says, adding that the medical staff "kept us in for a few hours but then discharged Luna without treatment as she was much better."

Two days later, the day the video was taken, O'Brien noticed that Luna had been uncharacteristically quiet all day. When she unbuttoned her outfit she saw the sucking in at the ribs, and knew it wasn't right. "I was watching her sleep next to me and realized it didn't look right. I unbuttoned her [outfit] and this is what i saw," she wrote in the caption for the video.

In her statement to Motherly, O'Brien explains why she took the video in the first place. "I called 111 [a telephone service provided by Britain's National Health Service to help people with medical issues] and awaited a call back and during that time I took the short video clip, to show the doctors in the hospital if necessary. In hindsight we perhaps should have called 999 [similar to 911 in the United States] or gone straight to A&E [the accident and emergency department, or ER] without waiting for a call back," she explains.

Because of her mother's call Luna was given priority admission to the pediatric department, where she spent the night on oxygen. She made a full recovery and is now a healthy 1-year-old.

Courtesy Charlie O'Brien



Experts say O'Brien was right to keep a cool head when she noticed her baby's strange breathing. "Although retractions should be taken seriously, it is best for parents not to panic if this is noticed. Instead, parents should take their child to see a doctor immediately. Retractions can occur between the ribs, below the sternum or in the area surrounding the collar bone and appear as a sucking in of the skin as seen in this video," says Dr. Dean.

Diana Spalding is a pediatric nurse and Motherly's Digital Education Editor. She agrees that parents should not panic, and suggests that "for serious respiratory concerns, like severe retractions or wheezing, gasping, or color changes, call 911."

Spalding notes that O'Brien didn't just keep calm and listen to the medical professionals she called, she also listened to herself, which is so important. "The mom trusted her gut," says Spalding. "Parents have a deep and trustworthy sense about when things are off with their children, and I always encourage them to act on that intuition."

Since posting the video, which has now been viewed more than 2.6 million times, O'Brien has heard from parents who have noticed similar symptoms in their own children, and trusted their gut as she did, seeking medical help quickly because they remembered O'Brien's video.

"I'm so pleased I shared the clip - if it means just one baby or family is helped," she says.


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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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If you've got hamburger in your freezer you might want to check it before making dinner.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, Cargill Meat Solutions is recalling approximately 132,606 pounds of ground beef products for possible Escherichia coli O26 (aka E.coli).

The beef was sold at various retailers, including Target, Meijer, Safeway and Sam's Club, as well as Save Mart in California. This comes after a previous recall involving ground beef sold at Publix.

The USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service notes the recalls are the result of an investigation into 17 illnesses and one death in recent months, and that children under 5, older adults and people with weakened immune systems are the most at risk for a type of kidney failure common in people with E.coli infections.

"It is marked by easy bruising, pallor and decreased urine output. Persons who experience these symptoms should seek emergency medical care immediately," the agency notes.


Cargill has issued a statement on its website that reads, in part: "We were distressed to learn a fatality may be related to an E.coli contamination of one of our products. Our hearts go out to the families and individuals affected by this issue."

The recalled beef products were produced and packaged on June 21, 2018. They have a use or freeze by date of July 11.


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To my firstborn baby,
We were overjoyed when we found out we were pregnant with your brother. We were so excited to give you a sibling to play with; someone to love and grow up with. Someone who will be your buddy for life.

But our excitement quickly turned to worry as we thought about how this would affect you. You were the only grandchild, on both sides. The only nephew, on both sides. Basically, the king of the castle. And you relished in that title.

We took special care to wait as long as possible to tell you. We waited until 20 weeks when we knew you were going to be getting a brother. We felt it would be easier for you to wrap your head around and also shorter for you to wait for his arrival.

I still watch the video of you cutting into the gender reveal cake. You were SO excited to see blue—because that meant you were getting a brother. You were overjoyed with telling everyone the news because you were the first to know.

From there your love for him grew every day. YOU too had a baby in your belly. I was carrying YOUR baby. You told everyone who would listen that you were going to be a big brother. We wondered if your love for him would quickly fade when he was actually here. When you realized that you would have to share time and attention...

But we were wrong. Your heart grew a million times bigger the day your brother arrived.

You came to visit me in the hospital wearing your doctor uniform, to check on both of us. You made friends with the nurses. You wanted to make sure I was okay. You wanted to take care of me and were so proud to wear your "Big Brother" shirt your aunt made you.

You were such a trooper during his two-week stay in the NICU. You were too young to go in to visit him. So, for you, it meant you had this mysterious brother you could only see in pictures and videos.

You drew him cards and colored pictures for his isolette (which you so playfully called his aquarium). You told everyone at school you had a new brother and that he would be home soon—even though you didn't know when exactly. Your heart ached as much as ours did. You wanted him home as much, if not more, than we did. You wanted your new family of four.

Sometimes I feel like you are wise beyond your years. A little old man trapped in a pint-sized body.

You were the best helper for Mom and Dad in those first days and months of welcoming your baby brother into our family. You would tell everyone to use hand sanitizer, and check to see if anyone was sick before they walked through the door to our house.

You would tell everyone how to hold your baby. And then them the proper way. You would tell everyone to line up their shoes at the door. You just wanted to keep your brother healthy and safe, ever the protector.

I worried the honeymoon period would wear off, that you would wonder how long he was staying here.

But, I was wrong. It's almost a year later and you are still so in love with your brother. Truly in love. On your obligatory "first day of school sign" you listed your favorite things as: Star Wars, basketball and my brother.

You tell everyone that you love him more than anyone. The way you both laugh hysterically together during peek-a-boo in the back seat of the car literally makes my heart explode into a million pieces, in the best way possible. It is a joy and an admiration I never knew possible as I watch my two precious boys interact and love each other.

My wish is that you will always be best friends. That you always look out for each other. Continue to be each other's biggest fans. Root each other on, even when it's hard, or you don't want to. Because, my sweet, sweet boy, I want you to remember—your brother looks up to you. You are his role model for life. And I thank you for taking that role so seriously.

Love,
Your Mommy

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