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How to set limits during quarantine

The parent-child connection is critical, but there also needs to be rules.

positive discipline during quarantine

A couple of days ago, when I refused to let my 6-year-old play more video games, he declared that he was having the "worst day ever." He didn't just say it, though. He shrieked the words before he stormed away and slammed his bedroom door. Yesterday, after I told my 4-year-old that he couldn't have another snack before lunch time, he squinted in my direction and told me—slowly and deliberately—that I am "a mean, mean mommy."

How we set limits during this strange and stressful time is a theme that's coming up over and over during my virtual workshops and sessions with parents.


In the past week alone, I've gotten the following questions:

"How do I make my daughter understand that her behavior is not okay?"

"We usually take away screen time as a consequence, but we can't do that right now due to remote learning, not to mention our own busy jobs; what can we do instead?"

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"What do we do when it's so obvious that we have no leverage?"

It's not about leverage. I promise.

In pre-pandemic life, I spoke a lot about the importance of parenting with both love and limits, the two L's. I cited decades of research suggesting that children thrive when parents are loving and warm, while also structured and boundaried. It's a myth, I would say, that when either love or limits go up, the other must come down.

All of this still holds during the pandemic. I've stressed the importance in my practice of the primacy of the parent-child connection during this time. I've given less attention to setting limits, in part because I'd rather parents double-up on love right now than double-down on "discipline." That said, no matter how much I don't like the word (hence, the quotation marks), it's a concept that has been coming up again and again, and one that's important.

I like to think about limits as a container of sorts, or a fence, inside which our children feel safe. It's their job to push up against the outside of the container, and ours to ensure the walls don't fall down as a result—even if they do sometimes need to bend a bit. Right now, that metaphor is more important than ever; during this time of uncertainty and instability, our children need to feel that we, their parents and caregivers, can hold and contain them. The love, I like to say, is the way we say to our kids, "I get you." The limits are how we say, simultaneously, "I've got you."

So how do we show our children we've got them during this stressful time? Here is a 4-step guide.

1. Take our cues from preschool and elementary school classrooms.

When you walk into a classroom for young children, some of the first things you see are visual prompts that remind children of desired expectations and behavior. Pictures of children with their fingers to their mouths remind kids to speak in their inside voices. Posters about kindness and friendship abound—they are part of the culture.

There's a schedule for the day and a calendar for the month. You will notice teachers using phrases like "listening ears" and "thinking caps," along with songs like "the clean-up song," to reinforce important messages. Young children are constantly reminded of what's expected of them in bright, colorful, fun ways. They are "in the soup" of the values and expectations that are most important.

No one has the bandwidth to turn their home into a classroom right now, but investing a small amount of time and energy in creating some of these prompts (and learning or making up some accompanying rhymes and songs) is well worth your time.

2. Get to the root of the behavior, the why.

Trite as it may be, now is the time to think about the iceberg analogy more than ever. Your children's negative behaviors—defiance, whining, explosive outbursts—are the tip of the iceberg, the part that's visible. What's hiding underneath the water's surface? All of the thoughts and feelings that underlie those behaviors. Given everything going on right now, I can guarantee you that those include uncertainty, instability, worry, confusion, overwhelm.

Your child may not be able to put these feelings into words, or even have them in conscious awareness, but just as we are in the middle of a collective trauma, so are they. That is taking its toll on them, just as it is on us.

3. Put yourself in your child's shoes.

This is perhaps the greatest tool we have at our disposal as parents; it builds on the point above and embodies the very essence of empathy. It also helps us understand why, for example, typical behavioral approaches likely won't be effective right now.

The exercise itself is quite simple; let's say you were, consciously or not, feeling stressed, uncertain, or unstable. As a result, you snapped at someone you love, such as your partner or a close friend. What would you need in that moment? What would feel containing, that is, help you feel safe and secure? Because that's what your children are going to need. They need quiet tones, understanding, acceptance, nurturing. What they don't need, what will likely even make things worse, is your coming down hard on them.

"But then what if they think it's okay to act that way? That anything goes? Don't I need to take something away from them, to show that this behavior is unacceptable?"

Go back to you snapping at your loved one and remember what was at the root of it. Did you snap because you knew it would be okay? Because you thought to yourself, "Hey, it's totally acceptable for me to call my partner an idiot, so I think that's what I'm gonna go ahead and do"? Of course not. Right now, our children are acting out because they are stressed, not because they are learning that it's okay to do. The more we can re-regulate their nervous systems, foster their feelings of calm and safety, the more likely those behaviors will decrease over time. To the extent there is a time and place for behavioral tools, now is not it.

4. Reiterate the limit in a moment of calm.

OK, so you snapped at your loved one, and maybe they snapped back, or maybe they were able to contain you by maintaining their state of calm. Either way, they might come back to you later, when you're eating dinner or sitting together on the couch. "I really didn't like it when you spoke to me that way earlier," they might say. And you'll be able to hear it. You won't get more dysregulated (read: angry, anxious) because you'll feel safe and connected. And then your loved one will remind you of the posters around the house about kindness, and the "Importance of Not Snapping" song. Oh wait, you're not five. But you get the idea.

Which is to say: circle back to step one. Wash, rinse, repeat.

This post was originally published on Psychology Today.

14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

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There is rightfully a lot of emphasis on preparing for the arrival of a new baby. The clothes! The nursery furniture! The gear! But, the thing about a baby registry is, well, your kids will keep on growing. Before you know it, they'll have new needs—and you'll probably have to foot the bill for the products yourself.

Thankfully, you don't have to break the bank when shopping for toddler products. Here are our favorite high-quality, budget-friendly finds to help with everything from meal time to bath time for the toddler set.

Comforts Fruit Crisps Variety Pack

Comforts fruit snacks

If there is one thing to know about toddlers, it is this: They love snacks. Keeping a variety on hand is easy when the pack already comes that way! Plus, we sure do appreciate that freeze-dried fruit is a healthier alternative to fruit snacks.

Comforts Electrolyte Drink

Comforts electrolyte drink

Between running (or toddling!) around all day and potentially developing a pickier palate, many toddlers can use a bit of extra help with replenishing their electrolytes—especially after they've experienced a tummy bug. We suggest keeping an electrolyte drink on hand.

Comforts Training Pants

Comforts training pants

When the time comes to start potty training, it sure helps to have some training pants on hand. If they didn't make it to the potty in time, these can help them learn their body's cues.

Comforts Nite Pants

comforts nite pants

Even when your toddler gets the hang of using the toilet during the day, nighttime training typically takes several months longer than day-time training. In the meantime, nite pants will still help them feel like the growing, big kid they are.

Comforts Baby Lotion

comforts baby lotion

Running, jumping, playing in sand, splashing in water—the daily life of a toddler can definitely irritate their skin! Help put a protective barrier between their delicate skin and the things they come into contact with every day with nourishing lotion.

Another great tip? Shopping the Comforts line on Comfortsforbaby.com to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices—and follow along on social media to see product releases and news at @comfortsforbaby.

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

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The American Academy of Pediatrics says that newborns, especially, do not need a bath every day. While parents should make sure the diaper region of a baby is clean, until a baby learns how to crawl around and truly get messy, a daily bath is unnecessary.

So, why do we feel like kids should bathe every day?

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