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It's a scenario many of us are all too familiar with. We spend weeks, if not months, carefully thinking about and selecting what will be the perfect, age-appropriate, intellectually stimulating, exciting-surprising-thrilling-you-name-it presents for our kids, anticipating their heart's desires—and our's.

Then days and money are spent shopping for them. We think we're done, and then one more inspiration, request or trendy must-have sends us back to the mall or laptop to satisfy one more impulse. And then one more, because, why not, it's Christmas and we are in the mood and our kids are so cute and we just want to see them happy.

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Christmas morning arrives and the weeks of anticipation are finally fulfilled amidst a flurry of ribbons, paper and excitement. There are squeals and smiles and sometimes tears. And all is well... for awhile.

But novelty wears off the shiniest of gifts, and soon many are forgotten with so many others to play with if something turns out to be not as fun or engaging as advertised. Our kids wind up bored… in a house full of toys.

All of us feel a little emptier in the aftermath, and we wonder, was it worth it?

One measure of happy kids on Christmas morning is a fully loaded Christmas tree. But there's a lot of evidence that suggests that giving your child lots of toys has the opposite desired effect—kids actually are less happy.

Kids need lots of quality play to develop fully.

Research says that through play, children learn to interpret the world around them, enhancing the development of their cognitive, emotional, social, and physical skills, and their subsequent health and well-being along the way. Additionally, play-based learning prepares children for academic readiness and success, so it is important to optimize the environment in which children play (Schaaf & Burke).

In a recent study at the University of Toledo, Ohio, researchers hypothesized that “an abundance of toys reduced the quality of toddlers' play, and that fewer toys will actually benefit children in the long-term."

In the study, 36 toddlers played for half an hour with either four or 16 toys. Toddlers playing with 16 toys spent less time playing with each toy, moving from toy to toy more frequently.

“During toddlerhood, children develop, but may not have mastered, higher level control over attention. Their attention, and therefore their play, may be disrupted by factors in their environments that present distraction. The results of the present study suggest that an abundance of toys may create such a distraction," says lead author, Dr. Carly Dauch, in the journal, Infant Behaviour and Development.

When given only four toys to play with, the toddlers “played with each for twice as long, thinking up more uses for each toy and lengthening and expanding their games, allowing for better focus to explore and play more creatively—qualities that benefit children in the long term."

But there's more to the story than that.

Research has shown that “children who expect many and expensive gifts can suffer negative social and emotional ramifications that extend well beyond their childhood," according to a study from the University of Missouri, Columbia. As adults, these children are “more prone to credit-card debt, gambling and compulsive shopping, feeding an insatiable hunger for more," predisposing them to addictive behaviors.

In the project, "Der Spielzeugfreie Kindergarten," or, The Toy-Free Nursery, German researchers conducted an experiment where toys were taken away from a Munich nursery for three months. The project was founded by Rainer Strick and Elke Schubert, public health officers who worked with adults who suffered from various forms of addiction.

Concerned about addictive habits that can start early in childhood, they wanted to show that children can play happily and creatively when they are not drowning in all their toys.

One of the nurseries that has participated in this project for the several years is Munich's Friedrich-Engels-Bogen nursery. There, teacher Gisela Marti, says, "In these three months, we offer the children space and time to get to know themselves, and because they are not being directed by teachers or toys, the children have to find new ways to master their day in their own individual way."

In a manner that has many elements of Montessori, the children's days are deliberately unstructured.

Left to their own devices, the children invent their own games and decide for themselves what to do. Marti found that once the children adjusted, their play became far more creative and social. "They loved acting and putting on a show, or pretending to be in a circus or on a train, but most importantly, all the time they were playing, they were learning to socialize," surmised Marti.

Additionally, Marti discovered, the concentration skills of the children improved greatly, especially when drawing and painting. "Before the pens and paper were taken away from them, the children used to do one little squiggle on a piece of paper and then throw it away," she says. "But when paper was given back to them they drew or painted all over it until there was not a patch of white paper left."

A study by Claire Lerner, a childhood development researcher with Zero to Three—a nation-wide US government funded and run pre-school educational program—underscores the theory that children are not playing and developing properly because they are being given too many toys and games. "Our studies show that giving children too many toys, or toys of the wrong types, can actually be doing them harm. They get overwhelmed and cannot concentrate on any one thing long enough to learn from it," says Lerner.

Her conclusions are reinforced by Michael Malone, Professor of Early Childhood Education at the University of Cincinnati, who found that parents should carefully manage their children's access to toys. "More is not necessarily better. This is a myth that needs to be extinguished from western suburban culture. Our work shows that having fewer toys is associated with less solitary play and increased sharing. Conversely, too many toys can cause a sense of overload," said Malone.

Not only can too many toys be distracting, they are a poor substitute for spending time with your kids.

Kathy Sylva, a professor of educational psychology at Oxford University, studied 3,000 children from the ages of three to five and concluded that, "There is a complex relationship between children's progress, the type of toys they are given and the time parents spend on them."

Sylva's research, underwritten by the Economic and Social Research Council, was inspired by concerns that childhood is being permanently altered by parents substituting toys and screens for spending time with their children. She's found that those children with fewer toys, whose parents spend more time interacting with them, surpass kids with greater means for laptops. etc., in several areas of emotional and social development. The implication is that a parent's direct engagement seems to beat any toy or screen.

So, how many toys are too many?

Experts hesitate to put a figure on the number of toys children should have, but a study by marketing researchers Bjorklund and Bjorklund indicates fewer toys are still best. In their study, 24 toddlers engaged in free play with three, 12, or 21 toys for 10 minutes. They found that the toddlers played longer with three toys than they did with 12 or 21 toys, implying that, “The value of providing a great number of toys is highly questionable."

In his book, ClutterFree with Kids, author Joshua Becker supports the concept that fewer toys are better for children. Becker echoes the belief that playrooms with fewer toys promote creativity, help develop attention spans and teach kids about taking care of their possessions. “A child will rarely learn to fully appreciate the toy in front of them when there are countless options still remaining on the shelf behind them," he said.

Becker notes other benefits to having fewer toys:

  • Kids have better social skills. Kids learn to develop their relationships, and studies have linked childhood friendships to greater academic and social success during adulthood.

  • Kids learn to take better care of things. When kids have too many toys, they tend to take care of and value them less since there is always another in the toy bin.

  • Kids spend more time reading, writing, and creating art. Fewer toys gives kids the space to love books and generally discover and develop their talents.

  • Kids become more resourceful. With only the materials at hand, kids learn to solve problems—a skill with unlimited potential.

  • Kids argue with each other less. A new toy in a relationship is another reason to establish territory between kids. But kids with fewer toys are compelled to share more, collaborate, and cooperate.

  • Kids learn to persevere. Kids with too many toys give up too quickly on a toy that challenges them, replacing it instead with another, easier one. In the process, they lose the opportunity to learn patience and determination.

  • Kids become less selfish. Kids who get everything they want believe they can have everything they want, setting the tone for developing a more unhappy and unhealthy lifestyle.

  • Kids go outside more. Kids with fewer toys look to the outdoors for entertainment and learn to appreciate nature, so are more likely to exercise, resulting in healthier and happier bodies.


Children throughout history and across cultures have had a great time playing with whatever materials were available to them—and the fewer the materials, the more creative kids have to be.

According to the Toy Hall of Fame, the best toy of all-time is… the stick, followed by the box, then string, cardboard tubes and dirt.

The Toy Association states that the global toy market exceeded $90 billion in sales in the last year. According to a recent study they conducted, the average parent will spend $6,500 on toys per child before they reach their teens. And at any given age, the average American child has between 70 and 100 toys—and some as many as 200.

Spending so much money on so many toys each year seems to benefit only the toy industry.

What can you do instead?

Give experiences, not toys. Researchers from Cornell University found that, “People are more grateful, and even more generous, when they enjoy experiences rather than material gifts." Psychology Professor Thomas Gilovich conducted several studies on the subject over decades and came to the conclusion that, “Happiness is derived from experiences, not things."

Gilovich explains, "One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation. We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them. We soon become used to our possessions."

Experiences can enhance kids' lives more than toys can. Use the money you would have spent on extra toys for a trip to Disneyland or the zoo instead. Research has shown that memories of the experiences children have last far longer than the excitement of the toys they receive on Christmas morning.

Giving your child too many toys can lower their self-esteem if they define themselves by what they have, and not who they are.

In fact, studies show that children who have fewer material possessions, but positive relationships with parents and peers, score higher on self-esteem assessment tests. They also have fewer behavior problems and demonstrate more resilience in the face of obstacles than kids with overindulging parents.

Additionally, researchers publishing in Harvard Business School's Journal of Happiness Studies found that, “People valued gifts they purchased for others more than gifts they bought for themselves. And when those “givers" completed a personal satisfaction scale, they consistently scored higher than those who purchased gifts only for themselves."

But none of this matters to a 5-year-old on Christmas morning, when all the anticipation and presents are gathered beneath the tree, awaiting the big reveal.

To make sure this experience is joyful, start by laying the groundwork:

  • Be intentional. Be proactive. Start early and keep it simple. Begin to build your traditions. Really think about it. Decide what Christmas will mean in your home, and chose toys and number accordingly.
  • Choose only a few, special items that you know your child will really enjoy, now and later. Make sure the toys you choose have value beyond just novelty and trend—that way you know they won't be forgotten soon after the novelty has worn off.
  • Stay the course! As time goes on and your kids get older and are exposed to other families and their practices, resist the urge to give-in to pressure to deviate from your vision of Christmas and gift giving.
  • Embrace your differences so you can be strong for your kids. Be prepared to answer your kids' questions about why they don't get as many or the same kind of gifts as their friends. Explain that it isn't a measure of your love or Santa's favor, but really one of choice. Assure them that every family has their own values and their own way of doing things, and that's OK.
  • Teach your children early that Christmas is about giving as much as it is about getting. Foster your child's generosity by giving them the chance to know what it feels like to give—seek out opportunities in your community to give to families who have less, and let your kids choose and wrap the gifts. Or, take your kids to the store and have them help shop for food to donate to a local food drive or family shelter.

It's not too early nor too late to decide what Christmas will look like for your family.

The thrill of a new toy doesn't last, but the joy of experiences can last a lifetime. Fewer, better gifts is better giving—but time is the best gift of all, and best given to those who mean the most to us.

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As a mid-Spring holiday, we never knew exactly what to expect from the weather on Easter when I was growing up in Michigan: Would we get to wear our new Sunday dresses without coats? Or would we be hunting for eggs while wearing snowsuits?

Although what the temperature had in store was really anyone's guess, there were a few special traditions my sister and I could always depend on—and it won't come as a surprise to anyone who knows me that my favorite memories revolved around food. After all, experts say memories are strongest when they tie senses together, which certainly seems to be true when it comes to holiday meals that involve the sounds of laughter and the taste of amazing food.

Now that I'm a parent, I'm experiencing Easter anew as my children discover the small delights of chocolate, pre-church brunch and a multi-generational dinner. While I still look forward to the treats and feasting, I'm realizing now that the sweetest thing of all is how these traditions bring our family together around one table.

For us, the build-up to Easter eats is an extended event. Last year's prep work began weeks in advance when my 3-year-old and I sat down to plan the brunch menu, which involved the interesting suggestion of "green eggs and ham." When the big morning rolled around, his eyes grew to the size of Easter eggs out of pure joy when the dish was placed on the table.

This year, rather than letting the day come and go in a flash, we are creating traditions that span weeks and allow even the littlest members of the family to feel involved.

Still, as much as I love enlisting my children's help, I also relish the opportunity to create some magic of my own with their Easter baskets—even if the Easter Bunny gets the credit. This year, I'm excited to really personalize the baskets by getting an "adoptable" plush unicorn for my daughter and the Kinder Chocolate Mini Eggs that my son hasn't stopped talking about since seeing at the store. (You can bet this mama is stocking up on some for herself, too.)

At the same time, Easter as a parent has opened my eyes to how much effort can be required...

There is the selection of the right Easter outfits for picture-perfect moments.

There is the styling of custom Easter baskets.

There is the filling of plastic eggs and strategic placement of them throughout the yard.

But when the cameras are put away and we all join together around the table for the family dinner at the end of the day, I can finally take a deep breath and really enjoy—especially with the knowledge that doing the dishes is my husband's job.

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


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On Friday President Trump announced that the Centers for Disease Control is now advising people to wear a cloth mask if they need to go out in public. It's not a rule, he says, but a recommendation.

"It's really going to be a voluntary thing," President Trump told reporters. "I'm not choosing to do it."

First Lady Melania Trump is urging others to do it, tweeting, "As the weekend approaches I ask that everyone take social distancing & wearing a mask/face covering seriously. #COVID19 is a virus that can spread to anyone—we can stop this together."

What the CDC says about cloth face masks:

The CDC says it's recommending cloth face masks because recent studies show that people can have COVID-19 while asymptomatic, meaning they feel fine and because they don't know they are sick they might still be going about their daily routine in their community.

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Basically, masks don't protect the wearer as much as they protect people from the wearer (who might not know they are sick) by blocking respiratory droplets

"So it's not going to protect you, but it is going to protect your neighbor," Dr. Daniel Griffin at Columbia University, an expert on infectious diseases, tells NPR.

CDC experts are "advising the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others. Cloth face coverings fashioned from household items or made at home from common materials at low cost can be used as an additional, voluntary public health measure."

They say if you're going somewhere where it's hard to maintain the proper social distance of six feet, like a grocery store or a pharmacy, then it's a good idea to wear a simple cloth mask.

"The cloth face coverings recommended are not surgical masks or N-95 respirators. Those are critical supplies that must continue to be reserved for healthcare workers and other medical first responders, as recommended by current CDC guidance," the CDC states.

"You may need to improvise a cloth face covering using a scarf or bandana," the agency notes on its website.

A DIY cloth mask is an extra layer of protection:

The CDC still says that staying home and practicing good hand hygiene is the best protection against COVID-19, but a cloth mask would be an extra layer of protection if you must go out to get food or unavoidable medical care.

According to Dr. Scott Segal, chair of anesthesiology at Wake Forest Baptist Health in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, certain types of fabric are better than others when it comes to making a mask. While he CDC says improvised bandanas or scarfs are better than nothing, Segal says DIY mask makers should aim a little higher for the masks to be effective.

"You have to use relatively high-quality cloth," Dr.Segal, who is researching this topic, tells NBC News.

According to Segal you don't want to use a knit fabric (like an old T-shirt) but rather a woven fabric. He suggests a double layer of heavyweight cotton with a thread count of at least 180 (like quilters cotton). If you don't have a cotton with that high of a thread count, line it with flannel.

For more tips on how to sew a fabric face mask, check out these instructions from Kaiser Permanente.

No-sew methods:

If you're not a sewer you can still fashion a mask, and there are plenty of no-sew tutorials online showing you how. Use heavyweight woven fabric like Segal suggests and make one of these without a sewing machine.

How To Make a Pleated Face Mask // Washable, Reusable, No-Sewing Required youtu.be

Should kids wear masks? Talk to your doctor.

The CDC is not recommending masks if you're just going for a walk around the block or playing in the backyard (which is the extent of most kids' outings these days). The masks are more for grocery runs, which many parents are opting to do alone these days.

But solo parents and those with partners who are in the military know that leaving the kids behind isn't always an option if you're the only adult in the home. If that's your circumstance, choose delivery options when possible to avoid taking your children to public places like grocery stores and pharmacies (the kinds of places the CDC recommends masks for).

If you are concerned that you may need to take your child somewhere where a mask would be required, call your pediatrician for advice on whether a mask is appropriate for your child's age and circumstances. Babies' faces should not be covered.

If you have no one to watch your children while you get groceries and cannot get them delivered try contacting your local government, community groups and churches for leads on grocery delivery help. They may be able to put you in touch with someone who can fetch groceries for you so that you don't have to take your children to the store with you.

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Lizzie climbed up the playground stairs on all fours, walked across the small suspension bridge and slid down the big red slide at our neighborhood park. I followed just inches behind my 4-year-old daughter ready to catch her.

I had become her shadow by necessity. Her actions were often unpredictable and sometimes dangerous so my arms became her safety net. Her big brown eyes and unruly curly brown hair encapsulated her carefree spirit, and I adored her with a love I never thought myself capable of.

She walked over to the swings and stood there, stiff, her eyes glazed over. She didn't look to me for help. She didn't point, raise her arms up or ask me to place her in the swing. But I knew what she wanted—I sensed it.

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"Do you want to swing, Lizzie?" I asked in a gentle voice. She remained silent.

I didn't expect an answer, but I always asked in hopes today was the day she would choose to use her voice to form a word for the sake of communicating with me. I placed her in the swing anyway and pushed her to the exact height I knew she preferred.

A look of contentment came across her face and a giant smile curled her lips. She was in her happy place. This place was a place I wasn't allowed in—not yet anyway. She lived in an alternative universe inside her head, and after the park, we would spend the rest of the day inside using therapy techniques to pull her from this place into the real world. I missed my daughter and the connection we once had.

There were so many quirks I thought were hers alone, when in fact they were symptoms of autism spectrum disorder.

Here are five possible signs of autism parents should know about. If you notice something that concerns you, please reach out to your pediatrician.

1. Change in language

As a baby, Lizzie's language gradually changed from babbling to gibberish. "With typically developing language skills, infants will babble often as early as two to three months indicating first instances of intentional and social communication," says licensed clinical speech language pathologist Julie Liberman. "An early sign of autism may be seen in infants creating nonsense syllables without added social-communicative behaviors."

Lizzie lost her social-communicative sounds and began to mimic noises from her environment such as screeching sounds or sirens. She also developed a few sounds such as "diddle diddle" that she would repeat all day long. The transition was subtle and slow—enough that at first I didn't recognize that it was happening. .

2. Sensory processing issues

"Sensory processing is how our brain and body organize and respond to sensory information. Issues develop when we are over or under-responsive to sensory information which impacts the body's ability to organize it, or modulate it and so responses range outside of typical parameters and dysregulation is observed," writes licensed occupational therapist Rachel Wolverton.

Lizzie walked on her tiptoes, flapped her arms when she was excited and ran full speed into the couch cushions over and over again. Many toddlers do similar behaviors, and we thought she was just being quirky and adorable. As part of her diagnosis, though, we came to understand that these repeated behaviors were signals that her processing was under-stimulated. She needed these movements to help her body and brain function. This also works the opposite way, too. Many kids are over-sensitive to lights, sounds and/or touch, so they become easily overstimulated. They might cover their ears, melt down when clothes are put on their bodies or withdraw from crowds.

3. Lack of response to name

Lizzie displayed what I call "selective hearing." I would stand in front of her, saying her name with a raised voice and she wouldn't respond or look up. She appeared to be deaf, but as soon as the theme song from her favorite Dora the Explorer TV show came on, she would run from the other room to watch.

As autistic teen advocate Matteo Musso explains, "Because we hear your voice so much, we don't usually respond to our name. It's that you say our name the same way all the time. A TV is more auditorily complex. One-word, same voice, can get lost in our thoughts and in our brain."

4. Repetitive behavior

My daughter began lining up her toys by color and her green peas at the dinner table. We thought she was brilliant! She is brilliant, but as it turns out, not because of her repetitive behavior.

While many children love repetition—as any parent who's got their child's favorite bedtime story memorized knows—what I learned is that the kind of repetitive behavior we saw in Lizzie is one of the core symptoms of autism.

"Individuals with autism typically find much comfort in repetitive behaviors, giving them a sense of control over their environment in a quite unruly world," says Dr. Caroline W. Ford, clinical psychologist and director of the Fairhill School and Diagnostic Assessment Center in Dallas. As she explains, autistic children experience real difficulty when their repetitive behaviors are interrupted: "When asked to change or alter the repetitive behavior, many autistic children become overly anxious."

5. Loss of connection

One of the most beautiful moments between mother and child is the first time her baby looks into her mom's eyes. It was in that moment with Lizzie, the connection formed was so strong I knew I would be willing to do anything for her.

Slowly over the course of months, she became more and more distant. She wandered around the house aimlessly and didn't seem to need me at all. As long as there was food and drink available, she was content to be all alone. It was hard to measure because it was a feeling, a distancing, a loss of connection. I second-guessed my feelings regularly. Mothers have a built-in intuition with their children, which should never be underestimated.

After my daughter's diagnosis with autism at the age of two, we researched and implemented a 30-hours-a-week home therapy program (although it's important to know that early intervention supports can also be found through community organizations and school systems—you don't have to do this alone). Now, I'm happy to say, Lizzie has made good progress, and I've found (and offered) support in the generous community of parents of autistic children like mine. I even started a non-profit, United in Autism, which partners with local charities to bring community-building, emotional-support events to special needs moms all over the country.

My daughter continues to be a source of joy and amazement. Most importantly, I know now that my daughter and I are not alone—and we never were.

Learn + Play

Starting this weekend Target and Walmart will be limiting the number of people allowed in its stores to give shoppers and staff more space to spread out and adhere to social distancing recommendations during the coronavirus pandemic.

"Beginning April 4, Target will actively monitor and, when needed, limit the total number of people inside based on the store's specific square footage," Target notes in a news release.

Walmart's corporate message is similar: "Starting Saturday, we will limit the number of customers who can be in a store at once. Stores will now allow no more than five customers for each 1,000 square feet at a given time, roughly 20 percent of a store's capacity."

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At Target you will also notice staff wearing gloves and masks over the next two weeks as the company steps up its coronavirus protection measures.

Many people are choosing to stay home and order groceries online, but that's not an option for everyone as long lines at some Target's prove.

"We're incredibly proud of the commitment our more than 350,000 frontline team members have demonstrated to ensure millions of guests can count on Target, and we'll continue to focus our efforts on supporting them," says Target's Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, John Mulligan.

Target is open this weekend but—along with Costco, Aldi, Publix and Trader Joe's—Target stores will be closed on Easter Sunday to give the essential employees in these stores a much-deserved break.

News

I was blissfully asleep on the couch while my little one was occupied elsewhere with toys, books and my partner. She got bored with what they were doing, escaped from his watch and, sensing my absence, set about looking for me. Finding me on the couch, nose-level, she peeled back my one available eyelid, singing, "Mama? Mama? ...You there? Wake UP!"

Sound familiar? Nothing limits sleep more than parenthood. And nothing is more sought after as a parent than a nap, if not a good night's rest.

But Mother Nature practically guarantees that you are likely to be woken up by a toddler—they're hardwired to find you (and get your attention) when you're "away."

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According to attachment theory, when you respond to the needs of your child, a strong bond is formed and woven into their personality, serving as a basis for all future emotional ties. So your kids love and depend on you. And they can feel anxious when involuntarily separated from you, like when you are asleep.

Child psychologist Esther Cohen suggests that it is fairly universal that infants and toddlers try to open the eyes of their sleeping parents. Her theory is that when you are present, but with your eyes shut, you are not responsive, and on some level this causes your child a form of "emotional distress." So the best and easiest way for them to feel better is to wake you up.

Cohen believes that reestablishing eye contact bridges the gap between your physical presence and your emotional presence, making the situation feel normal again. Your kids are relieved that you are alert and there to interact with them—and that you are available to protect them.

Kids are hardwired to seek our attention all the time.

At birth, your brain is only about 25% of its adult volume. Born particularly vulnerable, you depend on years of loving care. This prolonged helplessness has resulted in the evolution of certain behaviors—like baby coos, smiles and crying—that increase your odds of survival within your family.

By the time you are a toddler, you've developed a sense of who you are and what you can do in relation to people and things. You also know that you are a separate person from your parents. Toddlers also have the sense of what's called object permanence—the ability to understand who or what is, or is not, present. That means you can search for objects and people. (And wake them up when you find them.)

Bottom line: When you sneak off for a nap and your toddler looks for you, know that this is a natural instinct for them, and they will grow out of it. But for now, when you are asleep, you are not there, so your kids must. wake. you. up.

And for an extra fun fact: Research indicates that this also could be why it's so hard for you to ignore your partner when working from home. They are there, but technically not available, so you

continually find reasons to interact with them—just like waking them up from a nap. 😉
Life
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