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It can be scary to think about, but the truth is we have no idea what the world will look like when our children grow up. But that doesn’t mean we can’t prepare them.


We can help them develop life skills that will serve them no matter what the future holds. One of the best skills you can work with your child on is problem solving.

Children encounter tons of “little” problems each day—each of them a possible moment for exploration and creativity! Remember that though the problems seem little to us, they can be big deals for kids. A puzzle that can’t be solved often elicits that “I CAN’T DO IT!” frustrated cry that we all know well.

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Here are seven things to try when your little one encounters a problem:

1. Name the problem

As a teacher of young children, I’ve often seen children get so upset that they’re in tears, but they can’t tell you why. Sometimes we need to help a child identify the problem before she can see a solution.

For example, a little girl was working with water in the classroom and had a big spill. She burst into tears and threw her scrub brush across the room. In a situation like this, I might say, “You seem upset about that big spill. That’s a lot of water to clean up. What should we do first?”

Naming the specific problem makes it seem smaller and asking a leading question helps her figure out what to do next.

Try this at home next time you hear the familiar refrain of “I can’t do it!” For example, if your child is struggling with his shoes, try, “You can’t get your shoe on because the Velcro is closed. What could we do to make it easier?”

2. Answer with a question

Sometimes it seems like a child asks a thousand questions in a single day. Curiosity is a beautiful thing, but you don’t always have to give the answer. Try throwing a question back at him sometimes instead.

In the classroom, if a child asks why he has to wear shoes on the playground, I might ask him how his bare feet would feel in the gravel. If he asks why he has to stop playing and eat lunch, I might ask how he would feel that afternoon if he didn’t eat anything.

This strategy can work for bigger questions too. If your child comes home upset and asks how to get her best friend to stop being mad at her, help her brainstorm some ideas herself. Ask leading questions and write her answers down to show their importance.

3. Provide resources before answers

More than ever before, we have the answers to many of children’s questions at our fingertips. Why is the sky blue? No problem, let me Google that for you.

But in answering these questions so easily, we may be forgetting to show children how to find their own answers.

If a child at school asked me what lions eat, I would help him find a book about lions rather than just telling him. If you don’t have the necessary resource at home, you could visit the library, or simply involve your child in the research process on the computer.

Instead of quickly Googling on your phone, sit down together and talk to him about what you’re searching for and how you’re choosing a reliable site to read.

4. Set the right level of challenge

At school, we are constantly introducing children to things that are just out of their reach. We want the work to be challenging, but not impossible.

If I give a counting lesson to a child who is ready for addition, she would be bored, but if I give her a lesson on multiplication, she would likely get frustrated and discouraged.

Watch your child and give her opportunities for challenging tasks at home. That might be a puzzle with a few more pieces than she’s used to or buttoning her own jacket. Be there for support, but let her struggle with it too.

5. Embrace open-ended play

In a Montessori classroom, there is a full array of materials designed to allow a child to explore, hypothesize and test his theories, and figure out how the world works.

The truth is, though, you don’t need any special materials at home. All you need is to encourage open-ended play.

Playing with blocks or playing in the backyard offers all of the problem-solving opportunities your child will need. If he wants to build a tower taller than he is and runs out of blocks, what can he use instead? Let him figure it out. If he’s playing super heroes in the backyard and needs a shield, what can he use? Let him figure it out.

This is problem solving in action and the skills he learns in play will transfer over to academic skills.

6. Focus on effort

As a teacher, I would never say, “You got the right answer in all of your equations!” But I might say, “You concentrated on your math for a long time and finished three equations.” Focusing on the child’s effort, rather than results, encourages him to try challenging things.

Try this at home by offering encouragement after your child struggles. If he tries to build a new Lego set and can’t quite do it, you could say something like, “That’s a really tricky one. You worked really hard on that. Maybe we can try again tomorrow.”

7. Slow down and step back

One comment I’ve heard many times as a teacher is, “I didn’t know he could do that, he never does that at home!” This could be referring to putting on his own shoes, packing up his own lunch, or cleaning up spilled juice.

Children do things independently at school because they’re expected to, but also because we don’t jump in to help right away.

I might get a towel and ask a child if he’d like help with a spill, but I would not swoop in and do the whole thing for him, even if he’s upset—that would be robbing him of the sense of accomplishment he’ll feel when he helps solve the problem.

Next time your child is struggling at home, try starting with the minimum amount of support and increase as necessary. The goal is to walk the line between doing everything for a child and letting him get so frustrated he doesn’t want to try.

Try these tricks at home to help your child build his identity as a problem solver. Confidence and the willingness to try go a long way.

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When it comes to holiday gifts, we know what you really want, mama. A full night's sleep. Privacy in the bathroom. The opportunity to eat your dinner while it's still hot. Time to wash—and dry!—your hair. A complete wardrobe refresh.


While we can't help with everything on your list (we're still trying to figure out how to get some extra zzz's ourselves), here are 14 gift ideas that'll make you look, if not feel, like a whole new woman. Even when you're sleep deprived.

Gap Cable-Knit Turtleneck Sweater

When winter hits, one of our go-to outfits will be this tunic-length sweater and a pair of leggings. Warm and everyday-friendly, we can get behind that.

$69.95

Gap Cigarette Jeans

These high-waisted straight-leg jeans have secret smoothing panels to hide any lumps and bumps (because really, we've all got 'em).

$79.95

Tiny Tags Gold Skinny Bar Necklace

Whether engraved with a child's name or date of birth, this personalized necklace will become your go-to piece of everyday jewelry.

$135.00

Gap Brushed Pointelle Crew

This wear-with-anything soft pink sweater with delicate eyelet details can be dressed up for work or dressed down for weekend time with the family. Versatility for the win!

$79.95

Gap Flannel Pajama Set

For mamas who sleep warm, this PJ set offers the best of both worlds: cozy flannel and comfy shorts. Plus, it comes with a coordinating eye mask for a blissed-out slumber.

$69.95

Spafinder Gift Card

You can't give the gift of relaxation, per say, but you can give a gift certificate for a massage or spa service, and that's close enough!

$50.00

Gap Stripe Long Sleeve Crewneck

This featherweight long-sleeve tee is the perfect layering piece under hoodies, cardigans, and blazers.

$29.95

Gap Chenille Smartphone Gloves

Gone are the days of removing toasty gloves before accessing our touchscreen devices—thank goodness!

$9.95

Ember Temperature Control Smart Mug

Make multiple trips to the microwave a thing of the past with a app-controlled smart mug that'll keep your coffee or tea at the exact temperature you prefer for up to an hour.

$99.95

Gap Flannel Shirt

Our new favorite flannel boasts an easy-to-wear drapey fit and a flattering curved shirttail hem.

$59.95

Gap Sherpa-Lined Denim Jacket

Stay warm while looking cool in this iconic jean jacket, featuring teddy bear-soft fleece lining and a trendy oversized fit.

$98.00

Gap Crazy Stripe Scarf

Practical and stylish, this cozy scarf adds a pop of color—well, colors—to any winter ensemble.

$39.95

Nixplay Seed Frame

This digital picture frame is perfect for mamas who stay up late scrolling through their phone's photo album to glimpse their kiddos being adorable. By sending them to this smart frame to view throughout the day, you can get a few extra minutes of sleep at night!

$165.00

Gap Crewneck Sweater

Busy mamas will appreciate that this supersoft, super versatile Merino wool sweater is machine washable.

$59.95

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

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Almost all parents agree that reading is one of the most important skills to encourage in young children, but did you know that reading to your child can directly impact their brain development? Reading to your children is one of the most important things you can do, but there are also many other quite simple literacy activities that not only help kids learn to read, but show them that it's fun and encourage a lifelong reading habit.

Winter is the perfect time to get cozy and spend some extra time reading. Try one of these literacy activities next time you're in need of some indoor fun this winter.

1. Create a listening station

In Montessori classrooms for young children, the classroom environment is considered critical to learning. Part of a successful classroom environment that meets preschool-aged children's needs is including cozy spaces.

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Especially in a group setting, but even at home, children need quiet little nooks where they can escape and feel safe and enclosed. A listening station makes for a perfect quiet space.

Provide a selection of a few different audio books for your child to choose from. If you don't have any at home, public libraries often offer many great choices. If you feel like splurging, there are other child-specific listening devices perfect for a listening station as well. The Chameleon Reader takes this a step further and lets you turn any book your child loves into an audio book. This offers such a great alternative to screen time, especially during tricky times like long days of airplane or car travel.

2. Make a story bag

A story bag has a collection of small objects with which a child can recreate a story. You can make or buy story bags for any book your child enjoys.

Choose a book they are familiar with and love. Show them the story bag and model how to recreate the story with the objects. Then let them take the lead. Don't worry about it if they get creative with the plot, that's all part of the learning!

3. Introduce sequence cards

Similarly, try providing your child with a series of images from a beloved book and inviting them to put them in order. It's fine if they use the book to help them, it's not a test!

This is super easy to do yourself. You can just take photos of the illustrations with your phone and print them, or order the photos from a site like Shutterfly if you don't have a printer. Laminating will of course make them last longer.

4. Act it out

Many children learn best when they are moving and physically engaged, so try putting your child's favorite story into action, pretending alongside your child as you move through the plot.

Stories with lots of action, such as We're Going on a Bear Hunt or Where the Wild Things Are, are a good place to start, but you can really act out almost any children's book with your child.

5. Do an author study

Next time you read a book your child really likes, ask if they'd like to hear about the person who wrote it. Read them the little author's bio at the end of the book and say something like, "Hmm, I wonder if they've written anything else we might like."

Go to the library and search together for more books by the author you've chosen. If it's a less well known author, you may want to reserve some books from the library ahead of time as well.

6. Use a story-telling inspiration basket

This is super simple and easily tailored to whatever your particular child is interested in. Choose a small box or basket and fill it with a few little items to inspire a story. For example, for winter, you may include a toy snowman, scarf, sled and cookie. Show your child you can use these objects to make up your own story.

When you model the activity, you can write down the story you create, but if your child just wants to tell you the story, that's great too. Write it down for them and invite them to illustrate it if they're interested.

7. Share oral stories

Oral storytelling is becoming a bit of a lost art, but it plays a valuable role in helping young children develop rich vocabulary and a true love for storytelling and reading.

Try doing this as an after dinner activity, turning off all of the lights and lighting a candle to make it special. Don't worry if you don't consider yourself creative, children are sucked in by oral storytelling even if you tell them the simplest story about your day.

In time, you can invite them to join in on the storytelling fun as well.

8. Write the words for their pictures.

Long before children learn to write, they tell stories through their artwork. Invite your child to tell you the story behind a picture they've made and write it down for them.

Not only does this make your child feel super special and valued, it helps them make the connection between written words and stories, which is a key literacy skill.

9. Play reading games

There are so many easy reading games you can play with young children. One of my favorites which we use a lot in Montessori is "I Spy". I love this game because it can be done anywhere, and because children love it!

This is a great one to play if you're stuck waiting at the doctor's office or stuck in traffic. Simply say, "I spy something that starts with 'c'" using the phonetic letter sound. Take turns finding things around you that start with that sounds. For older children, you can play "I Spy" with rhymes instead, saying "I spy something that rhymes with bat".

To play at home, you can also use a basket of objects starting with various sounds.

10. Letter boxes

This is directly based on one of the key Montessori language materials.

In the classroom, children use "sandpaper letters," which are exactly what they sound like, letters made of sandpaper so that the child can really feel the shape of the letter as they trace it. A child is given a box of 3-5 letters which they have been practicing and a box of small objects. The child matches the object to its beginning sound. So if there is a little cat, the child will place it by "c".

In Montessori, children learn the phonetic sounds of the alphabet, rather than the letter names, so this comes fairly naturally. There is no need to buy sandpaper letters for your home, but if you have been working on the phonetic letter sounds with your child, it can be fun to play a similar matching game with objects. You can simply write the letters on card stock and find little objects around your house, or in the dollhouse section of a craft store. Young children love tiny objects and are often very drawn to this work.

Nothing will ever replace reading aloud to your child, but these literacy activities can be really fun ways to incorporate additional language practice into your home and to encourage a true love of reading.

Learn + Play

"I'm Dave, Olli's dad."

This is the way I introduce myself to people I meet now. It's different from the way I used to introduce myself. "I'm Dave," used to be followed by, "I'm a designer." Or, "I work in startups." And, "I work for X." For the last 15 years my career was a large part of who I was, a peg I hung my hat on. After my son was born, that identity stayed intact for a while. I usually mentioned, "I'm a dad" secondarily, after some casual conversation.

Then, when my son turned about a year-and-a-half old, my wife and I switched places. She went back to work full-time and I became the primary caregiver. I was now a stay-at-home dad.

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I was excited to spend more time with my son because I felt like I was missing big moments in his life while I was at work. Up until that point, weekday time together was relegated to an hour or so before bed. Most of our time spent together was on the weekends and I'd notice the difference in his affection towards me after extended time together.

For the first few months of full-time dad-ing, the sudden influx of quality time felt like a novelty. After a while, things started to feel normal in this new role and we found our groove together. This intensive routine of being with him almost non-stop developed into a relationship that was closer and more complex than before. I became more intertwined with his rhythms, and my parental instincts grew with it.

While I'm happy with the way my relationship has blossomed with my son, this life change has shaken up my identity in ways I never expected.

I still do design work, now on a freelance basis, but "designer" is no longer the linchpin of my identity. In fact, it's shifted a lot of my interests to a second tier, which leaves me struggling to say exactly who I am at the moment.

I know I'm not alone in this reevaluation of self because I overhear bits and pieces of these conversations about identity, worth, and self-perception discussed by groups of moms at playgrounds, parks, and indoor play spaces.

These groups of people form along lines of likeness — moms gravitate towards each other, nannies tend to cluster in groups. Mostly my conversations in these places are brief encounters that hover in the safe zone of children's milestones, small talk like: How old? Potty trained? Preschool? Daycare?

I've yet to come across a dad cohort.

I recognize the difference between my conversations and those that start to veer towards breastfeeding issues or the pains of childbirth. But it can feel alienating.

I don't have it any harder than any other stay-at-home mom, I just don't seem to have the same support network they do.

And when I talk to fathers who work full-time, I sometimes encounter an unrealistic portrayal of what it means to be with a child every day. Like I'm scamming the system and making out like a bandit.

The other day a friend commented that "it must be so nice to be off for the summer." He quickly clarified that he made this statement in reference to not having to go into an office every day. It was an honest slip of the tongue, but it's not an uncommon sentiment.

Looking after a child is hard work, and watching after them full-time invades every part of your focus, brain, and time. A summer day doesn't dissolve the monotony that can accompany watching a child for hours or the anxiety caused by tantrums.

When I was working full-time, I had a solid sense of who I was, who I should be and where I should be. As a stay-at-home dad, I live on uncertain ground. Somewhere between the moms in the park and the working dads I know.

I'm happier now than I was before, but decisions aren't so cut and dry, and the direction doesn't seem as sure. There's not a well-defined path ahead of me.

While the relationships I had have grown more distant with my new focus, the relationship I have with my son is way more fulfilling than I imagined it could be. He's gone from a standard love to an extension of my heart outside my body.

I beam when he's happy and I hurt when he hurts. The goods are tethered to the bads but the bads create opportunities to learn and grow, and that growth means a more developed and engaged human. That is much more satisfying than the work I used to do.

Yes, being a full-time caregiver is hard. And yes, I'm still figuring out what it means to be "Olli's Dad" and a stay-at-home dad in a sea of stay-at-home-moms. But the reward is so much greater than the wins I used to score when I was simply "Dave, a designer."

This story originally appeared on Apparently.

Life

For at least the past month (well, probably longer, but who's keeping track when there's no such thing as a good night's sleep between an almost two-year-old and a 3-month-old), every morning starts with the familiar refrain of my son's tiny voice repeating the same phrase relentlessly like only a toddler can, "Time to wake up mama! Wake up! Time to wake up!" And while I'm sure tomorrow morning will start off no different, I'll close my eyes tonight and know that everything will change. Because tomorrow morning, we'll wake up and he'll be a two-year-old.

Two years since all 8lbs, 7oz of him entered the world after 16 miserable hours of labor. Two years since we met our handsome boy with his full head of hair, fell head over heels in love and decided our lives 'pre-baby' weren't so great after all. Two whole years since I became a mama.

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And what a wild ride it's been. At two, he's a running, jumping, talking, tantrum-throwing, truck-loving, perfectly chaotic mess of a kid—a far cry from the helpless newborn we cluelessly brought home just two short years ago.

I'm sure sometime in the next week (okay, maybe more like the next year), I'll be madly scribbling down all the things I don't want to forget about him at this age in his baby book, but perhaps one of the things I want to remember most is what he's taught me in the last two years. Being the personal assistant to a demanding toddler (and now his little brother) is the hardest job I've ever had, but thankfully he's also the best teacher I never thought I'd have.

Strangely, the longer I'm a mother, the less I seem to know, but I'm certain the last two years have taught me five valuable lessons that I'll keep with me long after my babies are grown:

  1. It's okay to say no. I was a people-pleaser before I became a mom, but becoming a mom kicked my people-pleasing tendencies into overdrive. Thanks to my over-confident toddler who says "no" more times than I can count on any given morning, I've truly learned the power of this simple, two-letter word. Now, when an over-eager relative asks to hold my 3-month-old when I want to be the one to hold him? You guessed it: N-O.
  2. Always ask for what you want. My toddler does it all day and he makes no apologies for it either. If I've learned anything since becoming a mother, it's that I can't do everything on my own and do it well. But I can't expect my husband (or anyone else, for that matter) to read my mind and offer to take things off my plate if I don't ask for it. There's absolutely no shame in asking for help—or for that extra glass of wine—because mom-ing is freakin' hard.
  3. It's okay to make mistakes. We wouldn't be human if we didn't. I'm convinced that one of the best things I can teach my children is not to fear failure but to learn from it, get up and try again. As a people-pleaser (see point #1), the pressure to get things right all the time and to make sure everyone is taken care of is REAL. But as a work-at-home mom of two, things slip through the cracks more often than not and the fact that my toddler STILL can't drink from an open cup without spilling half of it all over himself reminds that it's okay to not get things right the first, fifth, or even thirty-sixth time.
  4. Love and forgive with your whole heart. There's nothing purer than a toddler's love. Trucks, snacks, Paw Patrol, making messes, me. I can't count how many times I've snapped and lost my cool with my 2-year-old only to have him look up at me with his big, brown eyes still filled with complete forgiveness, adoration and love. And each time I'm humbled and reminded of the grace I should give myself whenever I feel like I'm failing (and trust me, it's a lot).
  5. These are the days. Really, they are. The 3-month-old no-sleep nights and 8-month-old separation anxiety "only mom will do" moments? Those were the days. The 2-year-old tantrum after tantrum filled mornings and never-ending messes? These are the days. The 13-year-old "don't embarrass me mom" phase and the 17-year-old too cool for school (literally) period of time? Those will be the days. Yes, right now a walk to the grocery store that's five blocks away easily takes half an hour, usually more, but how else would we pick every flower, notice every spider or feed every squirrel if it didn't? I definitely don't do this with patience 100% of the time but perfect or not, these are our moments and our days. They are a part of our story and will become our memories.

So, on the eve of my 2-year-old's birthday, my mama heart is full. Full of lessons learned, full of memories past, and full of anticipation for the moments to come in year three and beyond. And as I look forward to celebrating my sweet baby tomorrow, there's one more thing that I know is true: Mamas, no matter what age or stage you're at (I see you, sleep-deprived mamas with newborns), hang on to every precious moment a little longer than you think you should because I promise that the minute you blink, you'll miss them.

Life

While I was pregnant I remember declaring (oh-so righteously) that I would never "lose myself" in motherhood. I would never forget about me because I had been me for the past 30-odd years. The idea that the addition of one little life to this vast world would change who I was didn't make sense to me. It didn't make sense in the way that motherhood doesn't make sense to someone who's never been a mother.

We just can't know.

What I did know was that I had been "me" for so long that I wasn't just going to let that go. I couldn't let that go. But whenever anyone starts walking in a brand new direction with no map or guidebook it's inevitable that we will somehow get lost.

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In my early days of motherhood, I remember writing, I've never felt more unlike myself than ever before. Translation: I don't know what I'm doing. This is really hard. How did this become my life?

I thought becoming a "mom" meant that you automatically gained access to information you didn't have access to before. Moms have all the answers. They fix the boo-boos. They help the world spin more smoothly. They know what they're doing, and in that knowing, they know — and feel comfortable with — who they are.

Yes and no.

I think that's why it feels like such a loss. You lose how things were before. How easy and straightforward it was before. How free you were before. How alone you were before.

Once you become a mom, you will never be alone again. It's no longer possible to make choices for you and you alone. Because any choice you make from here on out reverberates to your children — to their lives, and their futures.

In creating life, we alter our own forever. Losing actually means gaining. Becoming intertwined with a life that will be with you until you're no longer.

And the way the rest of the world sees us becomes forever altered as well.

As much as mothers are still adjusting to our new skin and figuring out our new identities, society has already decided who we are. We are mothers. And for some reason, once we're filed away as "mom", that one label changes the expectations and assumptions people make — wrong or right. And it's added to everything we do — working mother, mompreneur, mommy blogger.

Yes, I am a mother. Yes, I work as a full-time employee. But why must I be labeled a "working mother"? Why is that distinction so important to make to the wider world?

There has never been a "working father" in all of history, even though many fathers are also full-time employees. They enjoy the singular label of "CEO," "VP of Human Resources," "dentist" or "math teacher."

And beyond just slapping the "mother" label on all of our other titles, we are generally expected to pick one side of the motherhood spectrum or the other.

Motherhood is largely defined as an either/or proposition.

You are either a stay-at-home mom or a working mom.

You are either a breastfeeding mom or a formula mom.

You are either a cry-it-out mom or a no-cry sleep-training mom.

Society determines your value, your worthiness, through these choices and the labels that come with them. But this reductive way of thinking creates a binary that doesn't exist in reality. The black-and-white picture reality paints is actually large swaths of gray — with shades so light they look white and shades so dark they look black.

I, for instance, was an exclusively pumping, breastfeeding, formula supplementing mom.

When my son was an infant, I was a stay-at-home mom who was a freelance employee and consultant who sometimes worked full-time in an office.

I was a gentle-sleep-training cry-it out-mom, who believed in room sharing and letting my son sleep in his own crib, but would bed-share when I just needed sleep.

These choices don't define me as a mother, just as being a mother doesn't fully define me as a person.

I am wholly myself and wholly a mother but I am neither just a mom nor just myself any longer.

I didn't lose myself in motherhood, after all. I found a new version of me. A hybrid mom/wife/sister/best friend self — who is clumsy-footed, type-A, empathetic, assertive, kind-hearted, and honest in both my superpowers and weaknesses.

No one human can be boiled down to one label, mothers least of all.

We are some of the most complex, intricate, contradictory personalities that exist. We hold multiple roles simultaneously, context-switching quickly from boo-boo-soothing to boardroom presentations to date night to acts of self-care.

We are the and.

We are women and mothers and daughters and lovers and teachers and friends and CEOs and toddler-wranglers and and and and…

So, no, there's no such thing as being just a mom.

This story originally appeared on Apparently.

Life
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