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Here I am four years in as a parent, with more than a decade of professional training under my belt, and I am still amazed by the impact that play has on the parent-child relationship. In addition to providing a safe and loving environment for children, I have not discovered any method, behavioral technique or parenting hack that is more effective in strengthening the bond between parents and their children than play.

In a culture that places such emphasis on the importance of IQ and test scores, play is often thought of as a luxury or something that can be reserved for weekends and special occasions. And yet research collected by The American Academy of Pediatrics states that play prepares children for life in different and equally valuable ways.

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When it comes to play, it can be as simple or as complicated as we make it. Children don't need adults to swoop in and change what they are doing. Play provides a beautiful avenue for relating, learning, and just having fun in and of itself. Though independent play is incredibly valuable for young children, this article is centered on play between parents and their children.

Here are seven insights about play that I have gained from my experience as an occupational therapist and mother of two.

1. Adults tend to think too much.

When it comes to playing with a child, often the best way to start is to simply observe. Watch to see what the child enjoys doing—maybe notice how they are playing with a toy or object or how they are using their environment. Once you figure this out, try not to judge or correct what they are doing unless it is unsafe or inappropriate. You could also try commenting on what they are doing ("oh, you like the way the wheels bounce over the sidewalk") or imitate them the way another young child might do.

From there, the child will likely show you what to do next. Richard Solomon, MD, founder of The PLAY Project, a play-based early intervention for children with autism, says: "when you do what your child loves, he will love being with you." This is really what play is all about!

2. Resist the urge to take over.

It can be difficult to let go of your own agenda and follow your child's ideas. Once you know what your child is interested in, you might notice patterns in their play and anticipate what they want to do next. Instead of jumping to conclusions, try to be patient, and wait to see how their ideas evolve. Allowing a child to lead shows them that you respect their ideas and that they don't need to perform for you.

We do not want to unintentionally train children to play in a way that pleases adults. Instead, we want children to play in a way that honors their curiosities, and by being patient and respectful players, we can show them that it is safe and fun when we join in. And don't lose heart if your child's idea is to play with the same toy or the same game that they have been curious about (obsessed with) for weeks.

Playing with children is about the relationship, not the toy.

3. Be fully present during play.

Children know when you are distracted, rushed, or when you are multi-tasking. They know when you are engaged versus just going through the motions. They certainly don't want to compete with a screen for your attention—hint, turn off the TV and leave your phone in the other room.

Even the littlest of children (two years and under) are aware of this and may act out if they feel like they are being ignored. They need your full presence, your eyes, and your energy. Of course, you can't give children your full attention all day long, but when you can, it will be more enjoyable for both of you.

4. Play helps children cope with stress.

Often parents are first alerted to stress in children through behavioral issues, disruptions in sleep, clinginess, or physiological symptoms. Studies have shown that there is a strong link between play and decreased levels of the hormone cortisol, which triggers your body's fight or flight response.

Play also gives parents opportunities to support children in regulating their emotions, communicating their ideas, problem-solving, strengthening fine and gross motor skills, developing empathy, and so much more. Children may give clues into current stressors (i.e., fears, fascinations, etc.) through pretend play, thus allowing parents or professionals to better understand the child's perspective.

5. It's hard to make time for play, but every minute matters.

This is something I didn't fully understand until I became a parent. I used to stare blankly at parents who complained that it was difficult to find an hour to play with their child each day.

I get it now.

With so many other responsibilities, sometimes play seems less important. Not to mention that play is often physically demanding, and young children do not understand why it needs to begin and end at a certain time.

Under the best of circumstances, it is difficult to make time for play. Add in family stress, single parent homes, children with special needs, etc. and making time for play may feel impossible. Here's a suggestion: instead of waiting to see how much time is left over at the end of the day, try to schedule blocks of time for play (even 5-15 minutes at a time) and stick to them like you would anything else on your calendar.

This shows your child that they are a priority, and you might be surprised by how much time you put in. But don't beat yourself up if you have days when the only playtime you could find was squeezed in between your child's bath and bedtime. That time you spent playing with your child will likely be their favorite part of the day—and yours too.

6. Your child thinks you're fun, even if you don't.

As an Occupational Therapist working with families, I divided my time between coaching and modeling and guess which part was easier? The coaching, of course! It is always easier to be on the sidelines, so don't feel bad if you and your child occasionally struggle to connect.

Sometimes play feels fun and easy, and sometimes it feels awkward and frustrating. If your parents didn't play with you, you might not feel comfortable playing with your children. You might not know what to do, or you might feel embarrassed joining a child in something silly. Maybe you were raised to believe that children should simply play alone.

If you do need some guidance, know that you are not alone, and there is no shame in asking for help. Also, remember that although a therapist may have more experience playing with children; you are the expert on your child, and you will always be your child's preferred play partner.

7. You will NEVER regret the time you spend playing with your child.

Hands-down, my favorite memories with my boys are not captured in photos or videos. They are not even the big milestone—first steps, first words, and first birthdays. They are the moments of pure engagement and delight when we were completely in-the-moment during play. My favorite memories are of my oldest pretending to be the fire chief and barking orders about where to go and how long to spray the pretend fire. They were endless games of hide-and-seek when I knew exactly where my youngest was hiding. They are races through the house and around it, pretend picnics, and Lego set-ups, and so many more.

Our relationship is grounded in love, but built through little moments of engagement and play and as "hard" as it can be to make the time for it, those are the moments that I cherish the most. After all, a day will come when our children will spend more time playing with the little kid down the street or friends from school.

We won't always be our child's go-to play partner, and we won't always need to be a horsey, a tickle monster, or a fort builder, but they will remember when we were.

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As a former beauty editor, I pride myself in housing the best skincare products in my bathroom. Walk in and you're sure to be greeted with purifying masks, micellar water, retinol ceramide capsules and Vitamin C serums. What can I say? Old habits die hard. But when I had my son, I was hesitant to use products on him. I wanted to keep his baby-soft skin for as long as possible, without tainting it with harsh chemicals.

Eventually, I acquiesced and began using leading brands on his sensitive skin. I immediately regretted it. His skin became dry and itchy and regardless of what I used on him, it never seemed to get better. I found myself asking, "Why don't beauty brands care about baby skin as much as they care about adult skin?"

When I had my daughter in May, I knew I had to take a different approach for her skin. Instead of using popular brands that are loaded with petroleum and parabens, I opted for cleaner products. These days I'm all about skincare that contains super-fruits (like pomegranate sterols, which are brimming with antioxidants) and sulfate-free cleansers that contain glycolipids that won't over-dry her skin. And, so far, Pipette gets it right.

What's in it

At first glance, the collection of shampoo, wipes, balm, oil and lotion looks like your typical baby line—I swear cute colors and a clean look gets me everytime—but there's one major difference: All products are environmentally friendly and cruelty-free, with ingredients derived from plants or nontoxic synthetic sources. Also, at the core of Pipette's formula is squalane, which is basically a powerhouse moisturizing ingredient that babies make in utero that helps protect their skin for the first few hours after birth. And, thanks to research, we know that squalane isn't an irritant, and is best for those with sensitive skin. Finally, a brand really considered my baby's dry skin.

Off the bat, I was most interested in the baby balm because let's be honest, can you ever have too much protection down there? After applying, I noticed it quickly absorbed into her delicate skin. No rash. No irritation. No annoyed baby. Mama was happy. It's also worth noting there wasn't any white residue left on her bottom that usually requires several wipes to remove.


Why it's different

I love that Pipette doesn't smell like an artificial baby—you, know that powdery, musky note that never actually smells like a newborn. It's fragrance free, which means I can continue to smell my daughter's natural scent that's seriously out of this world. I also enjoy that the products are lightweight, making her skin (and my fingers) feel super smooth and soft even hours after application.

The bottom line

Caring for a baby's sensitive skin isn't easy. There's so much to think about, but Pipette makes it easier for mamas who don't want to compromise on safety or sustainability. I'm obsessed, and I plan to start using the entire collection on my toddler as well. What can I say, old habits indeed die hard.

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

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Military families give up so much for their country, particularly when they have small children at home. Those of us who have never witnessed this kind of sacrifice first-hand could use a reminder of it once in a while, which is just one of the reasons we're so happy to see the beautiful photoshoot Mary Chevalier arranged for her husband's return home from Afghanistan.

The photoshoot was extra special because while James Chevalier was serving a nine-month deployment, Mary gave birth to their second son, Caspian.

Getting ready to meet Dad

"During the laboring and birthing process of Caspian, I was surrounded by family, but that did not fill the void of not having my husband by my side," Mary told InsideEdition.com. "He was able to video chat during the labor and birth, but for both of us, it was not enough."

While James had yet to meet Caspian, their 3-year-old son, Gage, missed his dad a whole lot, so this homecoming was going to be a big deal for him too. That's why Mary arranged for her wedding photographer, Brittany Watson, to be with them for their reunion in Atlanta.

Gage was so happy to see his Dad 

"[He] had no idea he was going to be getting to see his daddy that day," Watson wrote on Facebook. "The family met at the Southeastern Railway Museum for Gage to go on a special train ride... little did he know, he'd be doing it with daddy!"

Watson did a beautiful job capturing the high emotions of every single family member, from Gage's surprise, to the delight on baby Caspian's face. It's no wonder her Facebook post went viral last week.

"Caspian is natural, a very happy baby, but both James and I felt like Caspian knew who his father was almost immediately," Mary told Inside Edition. "He was easily comforted by me husband right off the bat and seemed to have an instant connection. It was very emotional."

The moment this dad had been waiting for 

If we're sobbing just looking at the photos, we can't even imagine what it was like in real life.

"We are all so blessed and take so much for granted," Watson wrote. "I cannot contain the joy I feel in my heart when I look at these images, and I hope you feel it too!"


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During both of my pregnancies, I was under the care of an amazing midwife. Every time I went to her office for check-ups, I was mesmerized by the wall of photos participating in what may be the most painfully magical moment of a woman's life: giving birth. But there was a painting that always drew my attention: a woman dressed in orange, holding her newborn baby with a face that could be described as clueless. The line above the canvas read, "Now what?"

I felt like the woman in the painting as I kissed my mother goodbye when my daughter was born. She came from my native Colombia to stay with us for three months. When she left, I realized that my husband had been working as usual during those first 90 days of our new life. My baby was born on a Friday and on Monday he was back at the office. (No parental leave policy for him.)

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Now what? I thought. The quote "It takes a village to raise a child" suddenly started to hit home, literally.

After a few years in Miami, I had some friends, but it truly didn't feel like I had a village. Some were not mothers yet, most of them worked full-time and others didn't live close by. My nomad life left my best friends spread out in different places in the world. I found myself signing up for "mommy and me" classes in search of new mothers, immigrants like me, alone like me.

It seemed like a utopian dream to think about when my grandmothers became mothers. Both of them had 6 and 10 children and they were able to stay sane (or maybe not? I don't know). But at least they had family around—people cooking, offering help. There was a sense of community.

My mother and father grew up in "the village." Big families with so many children that the older siblings ended up taking care of the little ones; aunts were like second mothers and neighbors became family.

When I was about to give birth to my second baby, my sister had just had her baby girl back in Colombia. Once, she called me crying because her maternity leave was almost over. My parents live close to her, so that was a bonus. Hiring a nanny back there is more affordable. But even seeing the positive aspects of it, I wished I could have been there for her, to be each other's village.

The younger me didn't realize that when I took a plane to leave my country in search of new experiences 19 years ago, I was giving up the chance to have my loved ones close by when I became a mother. And when I say close by, I mean as in no planes involved.

It hasn't been easy, but after two kids and plenty of mommy and me classes and random conversations that became true connections, I can say I have a mini-village, a small collection of solitudes coming together to lean on each other. But for some reason, it doesn't truly feel like one of those described in the old books where women gathered to knit while breastfeeding and all the children become like siblings.

Life gets in the way, and everyone gets sucked into their own worlds. In the absence of a true village, we feel the pressure to be and do everything that once was done by a group of people. We often lose perspective of priorities because we are taking care of everything at the same time. Starting to feel sick causes anxiety and even fear because it means so many things need to happen in order for mom—especially if single—to lay down and recover while the children are taken care of. And when the children get sick, that could mean losing money for a working mother or father, because the truth is that most corporations are not designed to nurture families.

In the absence of that model of a village I long for, we tend to rely on social media to have a sense of community and feel supported. We may feel that since we are capable of doing so much—working and stay at home moms equally—perhaps we don't need help. Or quite the opposite: mom guilt kicks in and feelings of not being enough torment our night sleep. Depression and anxiety can enter the picture and just thinking about the amount of energy and time that takes to create true connections, we may often curl up in our little cocoon with our children and partners—if they are present—when they come home.

Now what? was my thought this week while driving back and forth to the pediatrician with my sick son. I can't get the virus, I have to be strong, my daughter can't get ill, my husband needs to be healthy for his work trip next week, we all need to be well for my son's fifth birthday. And so, it goes on. I texted one of my mom friends just to rant. She rants back because her son is also sick. She sent me a heart and an "I'm here if you need to talk."

I am grateful to have talked to her at that random postpartum circle when I first became a mother. She's a Latina immigrant like me and feels exactly like me. I will do it more, get out of my comfort zone and have—sometimes—awkward conversations so I can keep growing my own little village.

It may not look like the one I'd imagined, but still may allow me to be vulnerable even through a text message.

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Halloween is around the corner, but if you are like me you are still trying to figure out what to dress your family (especially the little ones), so here are some cute ideas inspired by famous characters. There's something for everyone—from cartoon lovers to ideas for the entire family!

Here are some adorable character costumes for your family:

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