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Our world is facing a lot of challenges, with even more coming. We need citizens and leaders who question things that are presented as “fact," who ask critical and thoughtful questions of their leaders, and who think carefully about how they make decisions that impact their own and other's lives. In short, this world is in desperate need of strong critical thinkers.

As a doctoral student, I spent four years studying college student and adult development, with a focus on whether innovative teaching and learning strategies were helping to foster critical thinking skills. I came to passionately believe that critical thinking skills are some of the most important skills we can emphasize in higher education. But as a parent, I became passionate about starting well before college.

Learning to think critically and to make decisions based on those thinking skills is a lifelong pursuit; even traditional-age 18- 24-year-old college students do not always possess the complex analytical skills that allow them to balance their own needs with the needs of others or to analyze the extent to which an “expert's" perspectives are well-informed. We can't expect our young kids to achieve these skills right away either, but we can plant the seeds that will help them to be prepared for complex thinking as they grow older.

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In my studies, I found that critical thinking skills are developed when four conditions are in place.

  1. The individual needs to feel that his/her contribution to knowledge development is welcomed within an environment of trust.
  2. Learning experiences need to offer both challenge and support.
  3. Development often emerges from unexpected or new experiences (in which a person needs supported time to reflect and process).
  4. Educational experiences need to support both intellectual and emotional growth of the individual.

So how can we translate these conditions to our role as parents?

Create an environment of trust in which your kids' feel that their opinions are welcome.

By asking your children to contribute to family decisions, you're helping them learn how to ask respectful questions of those in authority (like their doctors or teachers), and encouraging them to ask questions even if they worry that their questions are silly. We can listen closely to their questions, stop what we are doing to engage in the conversation, compliment them on their curiosity, and let them know that we appreciate how hard they are thinking.

Instead of simply telling our children that their conclusions are wrong, we can ask them if they have considered alternative interpretations or we can tell them what we think about when we make conclusions.

Offer challenge and support as your children navigate complicated concepts.

One way to do this is by selectively utilizing the Socratic method. While sometimes our children just want an answer from us, there are other times when they benefit from answering a question with a question. When my six-year old asks, “Why don't you let me use toy guns?" I could launch into a complicated political discussion about my feelings on gun control or I could ask him to speculate on why he thinks I have that rule.

His speculation, in turn, helps me understand how complex his thinking is on the topic before I choose my own words. I challenge him to answer his own question, but also support him to figure it out as the conversation continues. Thus I am also helping him learn that he has the right and responsibility to try to answer his own questions and formulate his own opinions. If he later wants to argue a different perspective, I can respectfully enter into that conversation, even though I will sometimes have the last word.

Expose your children to unexpected and new experiences.

Bring your children into the world with you at whatever level is appropriate. I take my child with me to vote and talk to him about why I am choosing certain candidates without getting into confusing (or even scary) conversations about terrorism or healthcare debates. In order to help him learn how to process these experiences, I try to model critical thinking by walking him through some of my own decision-making, without overcomplicating things or talking so long that he gets distracted and stops listening.

We can also expose our children to new experiences by going out of our way to ensure that they are engaged with diverse perspectives in our communities and our daily lives. Living in a predominantly white community means that my child is not often exposed to children or families of color, thus I spend time thinking about diversity as it is represented in other sources of “input," like books and media.

When my child has questions about people who are different from him I do not aspire to the “color blind" perspective. If my child notices that there is a person of color or a person with a disability or a transgender person and is unsure how to talk about it, I try to help him explore his questions and choose respectful language. I don't say, “Shh... don't talk about it."

Support the intellectual and emotional growth of your children in the critical thinking sense.

Realize that engaging in critical thinking and the discussions that go along with it can be emotionally draining. While it's important to ask our children good questions and to challenge them to come up with their own answers, there are times when they are going to be too tired or overwhelmed to do so. We can observe our children and be sensitive to their emotions and sometimes simply help them to find a resolution that works for the time being.

Likewise, when a topic arises that is intellectually complex but also emotionally challenging, we can help them to name the emotions that are coming up for them: “Are you feeling confused, honey? It's okay if you want to take a break from this conversation and come back to it later."

We can also model observation and acknowledgement of our feelings: “Isn't it hard to understand this idea? I sometimes can't make up my mind how I feel about it. That can be frustrating, but I know I don't have to make this decision right away so that helps me."

And lastly, we can help them to develop the ability to understand others' emotions—a highly important component of critical thinking—by engaging with them in discussions about putting themselves in someone else's shoes: “ I know it seems like it doesn't cause much harm to pick an apple from someone else's tree, but how would you feel if you looked out our window and saw someone picking from our tree?"As my children grow older I hope to translate these lessons into more complex situations. I want to teach them things like “the danger of a single story" or the ways that politicians or media can twist statistics to serve their own purposes. I want dinner table conversations to equip them with the skills to engage in respectful dialogue with others, even when we disagree.

When they go to college (if they so choose), I want them to be the students who are already equipped to make the most of their classroom and real-world learning—the ones who ask questions that even the professor can't answer and who come up with new ways of interpreting even the most accepted theoretical concepts.

If we can succeed in raising these kinds of children, just think about the potential for innovation and leadership for generations to come.

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I honestly can't remember how I used to organize and share baby photos before I started using FamilyAlbum. (What am I saying? I could never keep all those pictures organized!) Like most mamas, I often found myself with a smartphone full of photos and videos I didn't know what to do with. My husband and I live states away from our respective families, and we worried about the safety of posting our children's photos on other platforms.

Then we found FamilyAlbum.

FamilyAlbum is the only family-first photo sharing app that safely files photos and videos by date taken in easy-to-navigate digital albums. From documenting a pregnancy to capturing the magical moments of childhood, the app makes sharing memories with your family simple and safe. And it provides free, unlimited storage—meaning you can snap and snap and snap to your heart's delight without ever being forced to choose which close-up of your newborn's tiny little nose you want to keep.

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And, truly, the app is a much-needed solution for mamas with out-of-state family. Parents can share all their favorite memories with friends and relatives safely within the app without worrying about spamming acquaintances with every adorable baby yawn the way you might on a social network or a long text thread. (Did I mention I have a thing for baby yawn videos? I regret nothing 😍) It's safe because your album is only visible to the people you share it with. The app will even notify album members when new photos have been posted so they can comment on their favorite moments and we can preserve their reactions forever. It's also easy for my husband and I to share our photos and videos. All of our memories are organized in one place, and we never have to miss out on seeing each other's best shots.

And because #mombrain is real, I especially appreciate how much work FamilyAlbum takes off my plate. From automatically organizing photos and videos by month and labeling them by age (so I can skip doing the math in my head to figure out if my daughter was five or six months when she started sitting up) to remembering what I upload and preventing me from uploading the same photo four times, the app makes it easy to keep all my memories tidy—even when life feels anything but.

FamilyAlbum will quickly become your family's solution for sharing moments, like when you're sending a video to the grandma across the country. Grandparents need only tap open the app to get a peek into what is going on with our girls every day. When my sister sends her nieces a present, the app has become where I can share photos and video of the girls opening their gifts so she never feels like she's missing a thing. The app will even automatically create paper photo books of your favorite shots that you can purchase every month so you can hold on to the memories forever (or to share with the great-grandma who has trouble with her smartphone 😉). Plus, you can update the books with favorite photos or create your own from scratch. No matter what, the app keeps your photos and videos safe, even if your phone is lost or damaged.

But what I love most about FamilyAlbum is that it's family-first. Unlike other photo sharing platforms, it was designed with mamas (and their relatives!) in mind, creating a safe, simple space to share our favorite moments with our favorite people. And that not only helps us keep in touch—it helps us all feel a little bit closer.

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This year marks FamilyAlbum's 4th anniversary! Click here to celebrate and learn more about their "Share your #FamilyAlbumTime" special promotion running until March 31, 2019.

For some celebrities, pregnancy is a time to retreat from the public eye and be more strategic about what they share online. They guard their personal lives a little closer, and their social media presence gets a little more curated.

But when Amy Schumer announced her pregnancy in October, she didn't stop sharing. We saw—and heard, in some of her more graphic Insta stories—just how hard this pregnancy and the resulting hyperemesis (an extreme form of morning sickness) have been on Schumer.

Schumer's humor has always been real, and her new Netflix special, Growing, is one of the realest descriptions of pregnancy I've ever seen on my TV.

As a mom who didn't glow as much as I groaned through my pregnancy, I laughed so hard I cried. And as a mom of a child diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, I cried tears of relief.

In one hour Amy Schumer simultaneously made me feel seen and helped me see a happy future for my son, and I can't thank her enough.

[Warning, light spoilers ahead]

Amy Schumer: Growing | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix www.youtube.com


The Netflix description for this special describes it as "both raunchy and sincere" and that's totally accurate. If you've seen Schumer's previous Netflix special, you know you can't watch this until the kids are in bed.

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In Growing Schumer proves that pregnancy didn't make her a different person or take the curse words out of her vocabulary. She is who she is, she just happens to be becoming a mom, too.

And becoming a mom has not been easy. Schumer's description of yeast infections, and vomiting and hemorrhoids and all the parts of pregnancy that nobody puts on a felt letter board gave me flashbacks and validation.

In Growing, Schumer is saying that it's okay not to love being pregnant and that it doesn't mean you don't love that baby growing inside you. It's a message more women need to hear because it's hard to see photo after photo of smiling mamas sporting cute bumps and wonder if you're the only woman who doesn't love feeling someone sit on your bladder.

That feeling (the emotional one, not the bladder one) made me feel alone in my pregnancy, but it's been three years since I wondered if there was something wrong with me. These days, I'm more worried about whether my son, who is now a preschooler, will grow up to think there's something wrong with him.

As the mother of a kid on the spectrum, I gasped when Schumer explained that her husband, Chris Fischer, is too. I sobbed when she described some of her husband's quirks, because I see them everyday in my son.

I don't want to spoil the special too much, but let me tell you this: In revealing that her husband, the father of her future child, is on the spectrum, Schumer gave me so much hope.

I'm so grateful that Schumer (and Fischer, who must be on board with this) shared that bit of info because sitting there in front of my TV all the versions of my son's future that got erased when we got our ASD diagnosis came flooding back.

I could see him as a grown man, and he wasn't alone. He was falling in love with a partner like Schumer. He was becoming a father like Fischer. He was happy (and different, in the way Schumer describes her husband) but he wasn't alone.

Schumer's trademark raunch isn't for everybody, but her authenticity and vulnerability sure is for me. For 60 minutes I watched a woman stand alone on a stage and I felt less alone.

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Over the years, switching to nontoxic products has become a popular trend. But, as moms ourselves, we understand how overwhelming it can be to consider a lifestyle change. We founded Branch Basics with the idea that simple swaps in your cleaning closet could be the jumpstart to living chemical-free.

For many people, the swap has been influenced by various headlines. One study compared cleaning your home with conventional products to smoking an entire pack of cigarettes every day. Additionally, the EPA has reported that indoor air quality is actually worse than outdoor air quality.

With every reason to make the swap, here is a beginner's guide to non-toxic home cleaning. We call this process our Clean Sweep with just three simple steps.

1. Review

Pull out all of the cleaners (and pesticides) you currently have in your home. Yes, even the dusty ones deep in the back of the cabinet! Once you have these out, review them for red flag words, like "caution, warning or danger."

Cleaning companies are not required by law to list their ingredients, so any cleaners that are not transparent about their ingredients should be taken out of your home. Remove anything with parfum or fragrance, as the word fragrance represents a fragrance recipe that may have never been tested for safety. (Pro tip: You can use essential oils to make scents you like.)

Other common ingredients to avoid are:

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  • Perchloroethylene or "PERC"
  • Quarternary Ammonium Compounds, or "QUATS"
  • 2-Butoxyethanol
  • EPA registered pesticides like Chlorine
  • Methylisothiazolinone "MIT"
  • Benzisothiazolinone "BIT"
  • Any of the Isothiazolinone family
  • Ethoxylated Alcohols

Finally, toss your dryer sheets and fabric softeners if they're loaded with carcinogens such as dichlorobenzene and benzyl acetate, respiratory irritants such as chloroform and benzyl alcohol, neurotoxins like linalool and ethanol, and endocrine disruptors such as phenoxyethanol and phthalates.

For any ingredient you are unsure of or don't recognize, the internet has great resources like the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) Guide to Healthy Cleaning, where you can look up health ratings from 1-10 (1 being the safest to 10 being the most toxic).

Another excellent tool is the Think Dirty® app, an easy way to evaluate ingredients in your beauty, personal care and household products. Just scan the product barcode and it will give you easy-to-understand info on the product and its ingredients. We recommend that household products have ingredients rated A on EWG's Guide to Healthy Cleaning or a zero on Think Dirty.

2. Remove

If you find products that have toxic chemicals in them, remove them from your home. If you aren't ready to part with some of your products, put them in an airtight Sterilite container in your garage or backyard. This simple act of removal will improve your air quality immediately.

3. Replace

Now it's time to streamline. Do some research and find items that are plant-based or otherwise naturally-based. Branch Basics offers a variety of nontoxic alternatives to popular household products, like laundry detergent and bathroom cleaner. The Honest Company created safe baby and beauty products. And Beautycounter provides safer skin care and cosmetics. You can even scour the internet for resources for homemade alternatives, too. If it feels overwhelming, start with your most-used products and work your way down the list.

Switching to nontoxic cleaning supplies is one of the easiest ways to start creating a healthier home and there's so much information out there that can walk you through what should and shouldn't be in your products. Simple swaps can make a big difference for your family.

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You know that you want to raise your children differently than how you were raised—with compassion and connection, instead of punishment and reward. Except the only thing is, friends and extended family just don't seem to get your parenting choices.

You can feel their spoken and unspoken judgments, and it's really putting you on edge, but you don't want to have uncomfortable conversations or tension. So what do you do, mama?

Here are 10 positive phrases you can say to family and friends who just don't seem to get your parenting.

1. "I appreciate how much you care about our kids, but I'm really happy with how we're doing it."

This response finds the common ground. Both of you care deeply about your children, and that's the main thing to acknowledge. It sets a limit and lets the other person know you are not looking for help and advice, but appreciate their intention.

2. "I've thought and read a lot about parenting and I'm really happy with what I've learned."

Parenting nowadays can look pretty different from how it was in previous generations, and there are so many resources giving contradictory advice. A friend or relative may make the mistaken assumption that you are doing it all wrong simply because it's not how they did it, or are doing it. This response lets them know you have made a thoughtful choice.

Gently pointing out that you have read and thought about their parenting style may surprise them. Perhaps your confident response may even make them curious about what you have read, and why you decided it's the right way for you to parent.

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3. "We've tried different methods, and this is what works best for us."

Let your friend or relative know that you aren't looking for advice, you've tried different styles of parenting and are content with what you're doing.

4. "We find that they're more responsive when we set limits gently."

If you are taking the more peaceful route, then you'll find that it's pretty common for parents to mistake gentle parenting with permissive parenting. Pointing out that you are setting limits, even if they look a little different, can be reassuring to a relative who thinks you are not in control.

5. "I've noticed that if we listen to the crying rather than distracting or ignoring them, then they let out their feelings and are less likely to be upset later."

A lot of people have a huge misunderstanding about crying. They think of it as a negative that needs to be stopped instead of as a healthy and healing way to express emotions. This is a simple way to tell them that there is a purpose in allowing feelings, and it's actually better in the long run for your family.

6. "Every family is different, but this is what works best for us."

Parenting differences can often bring up strong feelings between friends because one person may assume you are judging them and think that what they're doing is wrong. Acknowledging that every family is different is a peacemaker. It shows that choosing a different path doesn't mean you are judging or critical of others, and you get that everyone makes different choices.

7. "Kids are so different. This is how my child responds best."

Everyone is the best expert on their family and what their children need. Nobody on the outside looking in can tell you how to parent. This phrase lets the other person know that what you are doing is based on what your understanding of what your child needs and ensures they won't need an explanation.

8. "Don't worry, I can handle this!"

If a friend or family member wants to step in and parent for you, this is a polite way of saying "no thanks."' A lot of people aren't comfortable around big emotions so perhaps they see your child crying and want to give them a lollipop to cheer them up.

This phrase gently lets them know they don't need to fix or solve the situation. It can be reassuring to them that despite the wild emotions of your child (or their challenging behavior), that you are feeling calm and under control.

9. "Thanks for your advice. I'll give it some thought."

This is a conversation closer. It lets the person know they've been heard and you aren't just dismissing what they say. But it also ends the debate, so it's perfect to use with someone you know will never understand what you're doing.

10. "I guess this must look a little different to how you were parented?"

This might not always be appropriate, but if the timing seems right it can open up a discussion about the roots of why the other person might feel the way they do about parenting. Sharing stories about how you were parented can help both come to an understanding that everyone chooses their own parenting path based on their own complex histories, and personal choices.

It also gives the other person a chance to express how they feel about their own childhood, which can help them feel heard, and more relaxed and flexible in their attitude to how you are parenting.

Plus one more that isn't a phrase: Just listen.

Sometimes, no response is needed. Often when people give advice or have strong feelings towards other people's parenting, it's because they feel a sense of responsibility. Perhaps your children's big emotions triggered memories from their childhood, and how they would have been treated if they acted out or expressed themselves.

In those moments, their unheard feelings get ignited and they respond from their own sense of hurt. It can be helpful just to listen to them, to accept that their reaction has nothing to do with you and your parenting, but is about their own history.

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Motherhood is a journey with highs so high so you'll remember them forever, and lows so low you'll curse the day away. I'm still navigating these uncharted waters and just when I feel like the sea has steadied, the water turns choppy again.

My days are filled with uncertainty as we discover more about what's beneath this sweet boy of mine. I know he is smart, strong, passionately curious, compassionate and spirited. What I'm still learning, though, are the differences that make him unique. It's difficult to describe what it's like to be a parent of a spirited child. The answer depends on the day, the task, the weather—the answer is always changing.

Our days ebb and flow, like waves of the ocean. They swell with enjoyment and eagerness and then naturally fade through periodic episodes of misunderstanding and confusion. Attachment and connection, followed by detachment and disconnection. Up and down, back and forth, give and take, push and pull.

My strong-willed child keeps me on my toes, but when I'm able to lift the hood, I can really see what's going on in with his engine. His spirited nature has brought brightness to my life. He is a child of high standards, but is an absolute delight. He is sweet and generous, creative and bright.

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Here are the joys I've learned from parenting a spirited child:

1. His curiosity is a good thing and it reminds me to slow down.

He's always interested in how things work and asks a lot of questions—oftentimes, he tries to figure it out on his own. His senses are keen, and his observations are imaginative and rich. Our five-minute walk to school quickly stretches to 15.

On our way, he'll notice the grasshopper sitting alone on a single branch and the intricate spiderweb laced in the bush nearby. He notices the beautiful colors of the flowers and the leaves changing in the fall.

He'll look up at the sky and see a heart-shaped cloud and hear the distant sound of a siren. He'll notice when one of my shirt buttons is unbuttoned and the single strand of hair on my sleeve. His mind never stops because he is always seeking out knowledge and gathering the data in his mind.

2. His compassion for others and empathy for his friends is admirable.

When he feels, he feels hard. When he expresses love for his baby brother, I'll catch him gently patting his back and giving him a soft embrace, followed up with a kiss and a whisper saying, "I love you."

He once saw his friend fall off her tricycle on the playground and quickly jumped off his and rushed over to make sure she was okay. Every ounce of his body and soul is poured out in those moments. The intense, passionate emotions add depth to my life and make me want to be a better person.

3. He never gives up.

He is determined, tenacious, and will not take "no" for an answer. And if we do say "no," he'll find another way to get a "yes." He's not intimidated by adults or peers and is confident in who he is and what he can do.

At soccer practice, he is the first in line to practice short drills and will run himself ragged until he scores a goal. During our morning school routine, he is the master of negotiation and can somehow convince me he's too full to eat the banana on his plate but not too full to finish off the glass of orange juice.

He is strong-willed and headstrong, qualities I know will serve him well in the future. He wants to learn on his own and test his own limits.

Parenting a spirited child is hard, but it's also rewarding. While it may be a frustrating and exhausting endeavor, I take comfort in knowing that he will grow up to be a leader.

He will be resilient and passionate, focused and unafraid to speak his mind. I don't want him to blend, I want him to shine. I want him to march through life, and not just add to the noise. I want him to love his spirit always, in all ways.

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