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Managing perfectionism: 8 surprising tips for helping your child

You know the pain. You, whose daughter is nauseated, hunched over the toilet. She’s worried sick that she won’t recall each of the facts she memorized for her history test today, a subject in which she currently has an A.


And you. You, too, know the pain. Your son doesn’t sleep at night, and you stand outside his door listening to him cry because of a mistake almost a week ago.

You know the frustration. You, whose daughter doesn’t swing the bat for fear that she’ll miss the ball. It’s better for her to not try than to try and fail.

And you, whose son corrects everything his younger siblings say or do, trying to prove his intelligence, belittling everyone else in the process.

And you know the anger. You, whose kid did not complete his science project for school. He worked on it every night, but started over each time, because his rocket “never looked like” a rocket.

And you, whose daughter makes you late for everything, because it takes so long for her to get her hair “perfect.”

Perfectionists.

What do you think of when you hear the word? Chances are it’s something negative, especially if you relate to the scenarios above. But, please know there can be healthy behaviors associated with perfectionism.

As Jill Adelson Ph.D. and Hope Wilson Ph.D. illustrate, it can lead to high levels of achievement, personal satisfaction, happiness and productivity. If you have a child with perfectionist tendencies, or if you’re a perfectionist yourself, those powers can be used for good.

Still, there’s no getting around the unhealthy, negative effects perfectionists often suffer: fear of failure; general anxiety; procrastination; anger; depression. These symptoms of unhealthy perfectionism can surface at very young ages, and research suggests that they become more severe with time.

That makes it important for parents to have a positive influence on their children’s unhealthy tendencies at a very young age. There are things we can do to move our kids away from those unhealthy behaviors and channel their energy, their drive, into something really exciting.

Here is a list of things you can start doing to help right now. Some of them might surprise you.

1. Let them do their homework wrong

Surprised? Hear me out. There are lots of parents who check their kids’ homework for total accuracy. If they find a math problem with an incorrect solution, they send the child back to do it right.

How do I know this happens? I do it myself. But I’m learning to not. Will you join me? Making homework perfect reinforces perfectionist instincts when it might not be warranted.

Our intentions are good, but some teachers use homework for the students’ practice and reserve graded work for in-class exams. If you correct the practice, the teacher isn’t getting accurate feedback on the lesson, and the student can’t get professional feedback from the teacher.

Still not convinced? Why not ask the teacher directly? Find out what he or she wants to see out of the homework. Then, if you feel you have an opportunity, let the kids return to class with some incorrect solutions.

It’s a great way to prove to them that perfect isn’t everything. As long as they are trying, it’s the effort that counts. If you still feel you must check for accuracy, try adopting the phrase “not yet” instead of “wrong.”

2. Discuss flawed characters

Look for the flaws in the characters of shows, movies, or books that your child consumes. Ask he or she to identify the mistakes that characters make and what they learn from them.

Want some examples? PBS’s Curious George is a perfect place to start with younger kids: that monkey can’t get through an episode without making an innocent, but often huge, mistake, and in the end, he always learns from it.

Read the Harry Potter series and discuss both the flawed and perfectionist qualities of Hermione Granger (note, the books are thought to have more value in this regard than the films). And, speaking of imperfect heroes, do they get any more compelling than Anakin Skywalker? From being the galaxies most “perfect” Jedi, to one of its most flawed, then back again. Not enough? Here are some more flawed characters.

3. Stop telling your kids they’re smart

Surprised again? Here are the facts: studies show that praising kids for being smart or talented ingrains in their minds the idea that their gifts are natural, and not the result of work. This makes effort less attractive to them, and it also makes them afraid to appear anything but smart. They stop challenging themselves due to a fear of failure. “What if I don’t look smart?”

Kids praised for being smart are more likely to perform simple tasks repetitively, knowing full well they’ll achieve success and continue “being perfect.” Kids praised for their effort, persistence, and methods are more likely to challenge themselves with increasingly difficult tasks, looking to demonstrate their ability to think through more difficult problems.

Next time you want to tell your child that he or she is smart, tell them instead that you love their effort, and you appreciate how hard they work at solving problems.

4. Be direct (discreetly)

Sometimes a simple conversation can go a long way. Does your child really understand what perfectionism is? Perhaps start by defining the term along with them. Ask them what they think it means. Tell them what you think it means. Talk about situations and behaviors that might be considered healthy. Then talk about some generic situations where being a perfectionist is unhealthy. Throw in some examples from your life.

This conversation will be the foundation for future conversations more directly related to your child’s behavior. Just remember tact! A perfectionist will have an especially hard time understanding that they’ve been doing something “wrong.”

Be constructive and encouraging. Avoid judgment at all costs, and if the conversation takes a wrong turn one day, take a break and revisit the topic at another time, and in another way.

5. Get them in a yoga loop

Yoga is endless. There is no goal to achieve, no perfection to attain. Every instance of a yoga class is referred to as a “practice,” during which the only goal is to challenge your body in that single moment. It’s practice for the sake of practice. Instructors encourage students to not compare their abilities to their neighbors’, or even to their own performance during their previous practices.

The only concern is the “now,” and to focus on what the body and mind need in that single moment. That brand of mindfulness is largely absent in the minds of perfectionists, and yoga is a marvelous tool for teaching them to think otherwise.

I encourage formal child yoga classes, but if that’s not an option and you already know some yoga poses, practice in your home. Just remember to emphasize the goal: effort without the possibility of perfection.

6. Do brain-muscle exercises

Dr. Carol Dweck, a psychologist responsible for a swath of research in this area, developed a concept she calls “mindset.” The idea is simple: one can have either a fixed mindset, or a growth mindset. Of course there are different degrees, but the point is that the brain, like the muscles in your body, can be worked hard, grow, and get stronger. Why is this important to teach and practice?

Perfectionists often have a fixed mindset. They believe their brain, their level of intelligence, is fixed, so they’re always looking to demonstrate and prove its strength. A failure means they’re not smart. However, an individual with a growth mindset understands that every failure is still great exercise, and that on their next attempt, they’ll have that much more brain-strength! Talk to your kids about the brain muscle, and find activities to give it a workout.

7. Play games about process, not winning

Yes, such games exist! Check out board games like “Hoot Owl Hoot” or “Race to the Treasure” in which players cooperate with one another to achieve a goal, rather than compete against one another for superiority. Families might also enjoy “The Ungame,” which groups of adults might also enjoy when the kids aren’t around.

Dr. Carol Dweck, who I mentioned earlier, collaborated to create an addictive video game, Refraction, to move the focus from achievement to trial and error. A current favorite video game at my house is “Minecraft” in creative mode, which allows players to build and create freely and without threat; there’s nothing permanent or highly visible about their building projects, which gives great license to experiment, fail, and repeat.

8. Make beautiful art, then throw it away

Ish is a lovely picture book by Peter H. Reynolds about a boy who learns the beauty of making perfectly imperfect art: a wonderful story for kids who just can’t seem to “get it right.” For older kids, try having them make art with the intention of throwing it away. In other words, create for the sake of the creative process, not for the sake of a “piece of art.” Don’t cheat it. Spend time on it, then let it go.

Years past, I was told the best way to practice my writing was to create like a child, the idea being that young children are capable of spending hours coloring, then walking away from the work without any concern for it. They don’t treat the end product like a perfect treasure. The treasure was in their process, and their process teaches them to be more creative.

Originally posted on GoZen!

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Anyone who has had a baby with colic knows: It's not easy. But despite how common colic is, the causes have stumped researchers (and parents) for generations. Yet, the fact remains that some 5 to 19% of newborns suffer from colic, or excessive but largely inexplicable crying spurts.

Parents of colicky newborns are often eager for something, anything, that will give their baby comfort. The good news is that while we don't have complete confirmation on what causes colic, we do have generations worth of evidence on how to best manage and treat colic.

1. Use bottles with an anti-colic internal vent system that creates a natural flow

One of the most commonly cited culprits in causing colic is tummy discomfort from air bubbles taken in while bottle-feeding—which is proof that not all bottles are created equally. Designed with an anti-colic internal vent system that keeps air away from baby's milk during feeding, Dr. Brown's® bottles are clinically proven to reduce colic and are the #1 pediatrician recommended baby bottle in the US

Distractions and a supine position while feeding can cause your baby to take in additional air, leading to those bubbles that can bother their tummies. If you notice an uptick in crying after feeding, experiment with giving your baby milk in a more upright position and then keeping them upright for a while afterwards for burping and digestion.

2. Offer a pacifier

If your baby is calm while eating, it may be that they are actually calmed by the ability to suck on something—a common instinct among newborns. Offering a pacifier not only can help soothe colicky babies, but is also proven to reduce the rate of SIDS in newborns, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Some babies have strong opinions about their pacifiers, which is why staying with the Dr. Brown's brand can help you avoid the guessing game: Designed to mimic the shape of the bottle nipples, Dr. Brown's HappyPaci pacifier makes for easy (read: calming) transitions from bottle to pacifier.

3. Practice babywearing

Beyond tummy troubles, another leading theory is that colic is the result of newborns' immature nervous systems and the overstimulation of life outside the womb. By keeping them close to you through babywearing, you are helping ease their transition to the outside world as they come to terms with their new environment.

During pregnancy, they were also used to lots of motion throughout the day. By walking (even around the house) while babywearing, you can help give them that familiar movement they may crave.

4. Get some fresh air

Along with the motion from walking around, studies show that colicky babies may benefit simply from being outside. This is one thing for parents of spring and summer newborns. But for those who are battling colic during cold, dark months, it can help to take your stroller into the mall for some laps.

5. Swaddle to calm their nervous system

Unlike the warm, cozy confinement of the womb, the outside world babies are contending with during the fourth trimester can be overwhelming—especially after a full day of sensory stimulation. As a result, many parents report their baby's colic is worse at night, which is why a tight, comforting swaddle can help soothe them to sleep.

For many parents coping with a colicky baby, it's simply a process of experimenting about what can best provide relief. Thankfully, it doesn't have to be as much of a guessing game now, due to products like those in the Dr. Brown's line that are specifically tailored to helping babies with colic.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

The temperatures are dropping and that can only mean one thing. Whether we like it or not, winter's cold chilly months are upon us. As a born-and-raised Alaskan, and mama of three, I've got a lot of cold weather experience under my belt, and staying inside half the year just isn't an option for us. As my husband likes to say, "There's no bad weather, just bad gear."

Here are some of my favorite picks to keep your family toasty warm this winter.


1. Bear bunting

This sherpa bear bunting wins winter wear MVP for being a comfy snowsuit for your littlest babe, or base-layer under another snowsuit for the chilliest of winter outings. Bonus: your baby bear will never look cuter!

Sherpa Hooded Bunting, Carter's, $15.20

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2. Patagonia Capilene base-layers

Speaking of base-layers, for any prolonged winter activity outside in the cold, it's best to layer up to create air pockets of warmth. These moisture wicking base-layers are a family favorite.

Baby Capilene Bottoms, Back Country, $29.00

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3. Arctix Kids limitless overall bib

These adjustable snow pants keep kids warm and the bib style keeps snow from going down the back of their pants. Bonus: the price is excellent for the quality and they can grow with your child. The Velcro strap also makes bathroom breaks for kids so much easier.

Arctix Kids Limitless Overall Bib, Amazon, $14.99-$49.99

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4. Hooded frost-free long jacket

Keep your little one warm and stylish in this long puffer jacket. Great for everyday outings.

Hooded Frost-Free Long Jacket, Old Navy, $35.00

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5. Patagonia reversible jacket

This jacket is windproof, waterproof and the built-in hood means one less piece of gear to worry about (or one more layer for your little one's head). It's a best buy if you live with cold winter temperatures for many months of the year and still love to get outside to play. It also stays in great condition for hand-me-downs to your next kid.

Reversible Down Sweater Hoodie, Nordstrom, $119.00

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6. Under Armour Decatur water repellent jacket

Made of waterproof fabric and lined with great insulation, kids will no doubt stay warm—and dry—in this. It features plenty of pockets, too, so mama doesn't always have to hold onto their items. We love that the UGrow system allows sleeves to grow a couple inches.

UA Decatur Water Repellent Jacket, Nordstrom, $155.00

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7. Stonz mittens

Ever tried to keep gloves on a 1-year-old? It's a tough task, but these gloves make it a breeze with a wide opening and two adjustable toggles for a snug fit they can't pull off! Warm and waterproof, and come in sizes from infant to big kids.

Stonz Mittz, Amazon, $39.99

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8. Sorel toot pack boot

Keep their little toes warm with these cozy boots from Sorel. With insulated uppers and waterproof bottoms their feet are sure to stay warm. They're well constructed and hold up over time, making them a great hand-me-down option for your family.

Sorel Kids' Yoot Boot, Amazon, $48.73-$175.63

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9. Stonz baby boots

These Stonz stay-on-baby booties do just as their name says and stay on their feet. No more searching for one boot in the grocery store parking lot!

Stonz Three Season Stay-On Baby Booties, Amazon, $29.99-$50.29

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We make a lot of things this time of year. Gingerbread houses. Christmas cards. New traditions. Babies.

Yes, December is peak baby making season. It's a month filled with togetherness and all the love felt in December is what makes September the most statistically popular month for American birthdays.

According to data journalist Matt Stiles, mid-September is the most popular time to give birth in America. He did a deep dive into the birth stats from the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics and the U.S. Social Security Administration collected between 1994 and 2014 and found that the most common American birthdays fall on September 9, 19 and 12. In fact, 9 of the 10 most popular days to give birth fall in September.

If we turn the calendar back, we're looking at Christmas time conceptions. Stiles illustrated his findings via a heat map, which presents the data in a visual form. The darker the square, the more common the birthday.

The square for August 30 is pretty dark as it is the 34th most common birthday in America. It's also 40 weeks after November 23, and the unofficial beginning of the United States' seasonal baby boom.


And while the Christmas holidays are common times to conceive, they're not common days to give birth, for obvious reasons. Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Day and the fourth of July are all represented by light squares on Stiles's data map, meaning they're among the least popular days to welcome a little one into the world (Boxing Day is just a smidge darker, still a pretty rare birthday).

OB-GYNs are not likely to schedule C-sections on major holidays, so that might point to the low birth rates on these special days.

As for the September baby boom, it probably has less to do with the magic of the holiday season and more to do with the fact that many Americans take time off work during the holiday season. It's not that mistletoe is some magic aphrodisiac, but just that making babies takes time, and at this time of year we have some to spare.

This Christmas be thankful for the time you have with your loved ones and your partner. That time could give you a gift come September.

[A version of this article was originally posted November 21, 2018]

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When I gave birth the first time, I had two doulas—one for me, and one for my husband. (I wasn't messing around!) They worked hard to support me in what ended up being a long labor. About 20 hours in, I remember hearing my doulas whisper to my exhausted, hard-working husband, “Go lie down. We can take care of her."

This was absolutely true. They were more than capable of helping me through contractions, which up to this point I'd been handling really well. So upon their urging, my husband walked about three feet away and lay down on the daybed in the labor and delivery room. And then the strangest thing happened—

I completely lost my rhythm and my ability to breathe through contractions. It was as though I'd lost my way. The next handful of contractions were unbearable and caused me to cry out in anguish. My husband hurried to my side and held my hand once more.

And then, just as quickly, I found my rhythm, my breathing returned, and I was able to to handle my contractions until I gave birth several hours later.

In a recent study published in Nature, it was discovered that when a partner held the hand of a woman during labor, the couple would begin to synchronize their breathing and heart rate patterns, otherwise known as physiological coupling.

In addition, the women reported that their pain lessened while holding hands with their partners. If they were just sitting next to one another, but not holding hands, their pain levels weren't affected.

This study has obvious implications for the families I teach in my Childbirth Preparation classes, and it's important to share this news far and wide:

Everything you do for your partner while she's in labor makes a difference. Even if all you do is hold her hand.

Labor is not just something that a birthing woman experiences. Her partner experiences labor too, just in a very different way. For far too long, we've either diminished or ignored the partner's experience of labor—to everyone's detriment.

I realize that it makes sense to pay close attention to how a woman moves through her pregnancy, labor and birth. But if we're not paying equal attention to her partner's experience, we're not setting this new family up for success. In fact, we might be doing the exact opposite.

If partners don't realize the importance their words, actions and touch can have on the laboring woman's experience, many may freeze up and feel helpless as they witness the power and intensity of labor and birth. They may end up feeling as though all of their efforts and suggestions for comfort measures are without any effect. But this couldn't be further from the truth!

Every little thing a partner does to make the laboring woman more comfortable matters immensely. Every sip of water offered, every new position suggested, every word of encouragement, every reminder to breathe, every single touch, provides comfort to the laboring woman. And partners need to know this and believe in the power that their undivided attention and connection can bring to the laboring woman.

Here's why I think the findings from this latest study are so important—it's that feeling of shared empathy between the laboring woman and her partner that causes the physiological coupling and pain relieving effects that help a woman when she's experiencing pain.

That's why I've always told the partners in my classes that even if they hired an army of the world's greatest labor doulas, their unwavering, focused and empathetic attention during birth, is the reason why she'll tell everyone that she couldn't have made it through labor without her partner! Even if all they did was hold her hand.

It's a conundrum many parents wrestle with: We don't want to lie to our kids, but when it comes to Santa, sometimes we're not exactly giving them the full truth either.

For Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard, lying to daughters Lincoln, 5, and Delta, 3 just isn't an option, so everyone in the Bell-Shepard household knows the truth about Santa.

"This is going to be very controversial," Shepard told Us Weekly earlier this month. "I have a fundamental rule that I will never lie to them, which is challenging at times. Our 5-year-old started asking questions like, 'Well, this doesn't make sense, and that doesn't make sense.' I'm like, 'You know what? This is just a fun thing we pretend while it's Christmas.'"

According to Shepard, this has not diminished the magic of Christmas in their home. "They love watching movies about Santa, they love talking about Santa," Shepard told Us. "They don't think he exists, but they're super happy and everything's fine."

Research indicates that Shepard is right—kids can be totally happy and into Christmas even after figuring out the truth and that most kids do start to untangle the Santa myth on their own, as Lincoln did.

Studies suggest that for many kids, the myth fades around age seven, but for some kids, it's sooner, and that's okay.


Writing for The Conversation, Kristen Dunfield, an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Concordia University, suggests that when kids come to parents with the hard questions about Santa, parents may feel a bit sad, but can take some comfort in "recognizing these challenging questions for what they are—cognitive development in action."

Kids aren't usually the ones who are upset when they figure it out, researchers note. Typically, kids are kind of proud of themselves for being such great detectives. It's the parents who feel sadness.

Some parents may not choose to be as blunt as Shepard, and that's okay, too. According to Dunfield, if you don't want to answer questions about Santa with 100% truth, you can answer a question with a question.

"If instead you want to let your child take the lead, you can simply direct the question back to them, allowing your child to come up with explanations for themselves: "I don't know, how do you think the sleigh flies?" Dunfield writes.

While Dax Shepard acknowledges that telling a 3-year-old that Santa is pretend might be controversial, he's hardly the first parent to present Santa this way. There are plenty of healthy, happy adults whose parents told them the truth.

LeAnne Shepard is one of them. Now a mother herself, LeAnne's parents clued her into the Santa myth early, for religious reasons that were common in her community.

"In the small Texas town where I grew up, I wasn't alone in my disbelief. Many parents, including mine, presented Santa Claus as a game that other families played," she previously wrote. "That approach allowed us to get a picture on Santa's lap, watch the Christmas classics, and enjoy all the holiday festivities so long as we remembered the actual reason for the season. It was much like when I visited Disney World and met Minnie Mouse; I was both over the moon excited and somewhat aware that she was not actually real."

No matter why you want to tell your children the truth about Santa, know that it's okay to let the kids know that he's pretend. Kristen Bell's kids prove that knowing the truth about Santa doesn't have to make Christmas any less exciting. Pretending can be magical, too.

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