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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.

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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Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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We've had some struggles, you and me. In my teens, we were just getting to know each other. It was a rocky road at times, like when people referred to you as "big boned." I was learning how to properly fuel you by giving you the right foods. How to be active, to keep you strong and in good shape. I wish I knew then what I do now about you and what a true blessing you are. But that's something that has come with the gift of motherhood.

In my 20's, we became more well-acquainted. I knew how to care for you. After I got engaged, we worked so hard together to get into "wedding shape." And, looking back now, I totally took that six pack—okay, four pack—for granted. (But I have the pictures to prove it.)

Now that I'm in my 30's (how did my 30's happen so fast, btw?) with two kids, I'm coming to terms with my new postpartum body.

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If there are two things a mama is guaranteed to love, it's Target plus adorable and functional baby products. Target's exclusive baby brand Cloud Island has been a favorite destination for cute and affordable baby clothing and décor for nearly two years and because of that success, they're now expanding into baby essentials. 🙌

The new collection features 30 affordable products starting at $0.99 and going up to $21.99 with most items priced under $10—that's about 30-40% less expensive than other products in the market. Mamas can now enjoy adding diapers, wipes, feeding products and toiletries to their cart alongside clothing and accessories from a brand they already know and love.


The best part? The Target team has ensured that the affordability factor doesn't cut down on durability by working with hundreds of parents to create and test the collection. The wipes are ultra-thick and made with 99% water and plant-based ingredients, while the toiletries are dermatologist-approved. With a Tri-Wrap fold, the diapers offer 12-hour leak protection and a snug fit so parents don't have to sacrifice safety or functionality.

So when can you start shopping? Starting on January 20, customers can shop the collection across all stores and online. We can't wait to see how this beloved brand expands in the future.

Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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Many people experience the "winter blues," which are often worst in northern climates from November to March, when people have less access to sunlight, the outdoors and their communities. Another 4% develops Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is a form of clinical depression that often requires formal treatment.

If you have the winter blues, you may feel “blah," sad, tired, anxious or be in a worse mood than usual. You may struggle with overeating, loss of libido, work or sleep issues. But fear not—it is possible to find your joy in the winter, mama.

Here are eight ways to feel better:

1. Take a walk

Research has shown that walking on your lunch break just three times per week can reduce tension, relax you and improve your enthusiasm. If you are working from 9 to 5, the only window you have to access natural sunlight may be your lunch hour, so head outside for a 20 minute brisk but energizing walk!

If you are home, bundle up with your kids midday—when the weather is often warmest—and play in the snow, go for a short walk, play soccer, race each other, or do something else to burn energy and keep you all warm. If you dress for the weather, you'll all feel refreshed after some fresh air.

2. Embrace light

Research suggests that a full-spectrum light box or lamp, which mimics sunlight, can significantly improve the symptoms of the winter blues and has a similar effect to an antidepressant. Bright light at a certain time every day activates a part of the brain that can help restore normal circadian rhythms. While light treatment may not be beneficial for everyone (such as people who have bipolar disorder), it may be a beneficial tool for some.

3. Plan a winter trip

It may be helpful to plan a getaway for January or February. Plan to take it very easy, as one research study found that passive vacation activities, including relaxing, "savoring," and sleeping had greater effects on health and well-being than other activities. Engaging in passive activities on vacation also makes it more likely that your health and well-being will remain improved for a longer duration after you go back to work.

Don't overschedule your trip. Relax at a beach, a pool, or a cabin instead of waiting in long roller coaster lines or visiting packed museums. Consider visiting or traveling with family to help with child care, build quiet time into your vacation routine, and build in a day of rest, recovery, and laundry catch-up when you return.

4. Give in to being cozy

Sometimes people mistake the natural slowness of winter as a problem within themselves. By making a concerted effort to savor the slowness, rest and retreat that complement winter, you can see your reduction in activity as a natural and needed phase.

Research suggests that naps help you release stress. Other research suggests that when your brain has time to rest, be idle, and daydream, you are better able to engage in "active, internally focused psychosocial mental processing," which is important for socioemotional health.

Make a "cozy basket" filled with your favorite DVDs, bubble bath or Epsom salts, lemon balm tea (which is great for “blues,") or chamomile tea (which is calming and comforting), citrus oils (which are good for boosting mood), a blanket or a favorite book or two. If you start to feel the blues, treat yourself.

If your child is napping or having quiet time in the early afternoon, rest for a full 30 minutes instead of racing around doing chores. If you're at work, keep a few mood-boosting items (like lavender spray, tea, lotion, or upbeat music) nearby and work them into your day. If you can't use them at work, claim the first 30 minutes after your kids are asleep to nurture yourself and re-energize before you tackle dishes, laundry, or other chores.

5. See your friends

Because of the complex demands of modern life, it can be hard to see or keep up with friends or family. The winter can make it even harder. While you interact with your kids throughout the day, human interaction with other adults (not just through social media!) can act as a protective layer to keep the winter blues at bay.

Plan a monthly dinner with friends, go on a monthly date night if you have a partner, go to a book club, get a drink after work with a coworker, visit a friend on Sunday nights, or plan get-togethers with extended family. Research suggests that social interactions are significantly related to well-being.

Realize that given most families' packed schedules, you may need to consistently take the lead in bringing people together. Your friends will probably thank you, too.

6. Get (at least) 10 minutes of fresh air

A number of research studies have shown positive effects of nature on well-being, including mental restoration, immune health, and memory. It works wonders for your mood to get outside in winter, even if it's just for 10 minutes 2 to 3 times per week. You might walk, snowshoe, shovel, go sledding or go ice-skating. If you can't get outside, you might try these specific yoga poses for the winter blues.

7. Add a ritual

Adding a ritual to your winter, such as movie night, game night, hot chocolate after playing outside, homemade soup on Sundays, or visiting with a different friend every Saturday morning for breakfast, can add beauty and flow to the seemingly long months of winter. Research has suggested that family rituals and traditions, such as Sunday dinner, provide times for togetherness and strengthening relationships.

8. Talk to a professional

Counseling, which helps you identify the connections between your thoughts, feelings and behaviors, can be extremely helpful for the winter blues (especially when you are also experiencing anxiety or stress). A counselor can assist you with identifying and honoring feelings, replacing negative messages with positive ones, or shifting behaviors. A counselor may also help you indulge into winter as a time of retreat, slowness, planning, and reflecting. You may choose to use the winter to get clear on what you'd like to manifest in spring.

The opposite of the winter blues is not the absence of the winter blues—it's taking great pleasure in the unique contribution of a time of cold, darkness, retreat, planning, reflecting, being cozy and hibernating. Nurturing yourself and your relationships can help you move toward winter joy.

Weary mama,

You are incredibly strong. You are so very capable.

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