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If you have a child that is of walking age, you're probably familiar with this scenario: You are on the playground with your toddler, and she decides that going down the slide is now too mundane and decides to climb UP the slide.

In your head, you know that the unspoken rule of playgrounds is to only go down the slide, but no one else is around. Plus you are secretly proud of your child for the persistence it takes to go up the slide.

What to do? Encourage persistence and thinking outside the box or stick with the "rules" of play etiquette?


While this is a simple scenario, the larger issue at work here is actually quite telling—should we, as parents, encourage play that might be considered "risky" or do we stick to the norms of our "safe" society?

In media commentary right now there does seem to be a clear divide between the free-range parents who allow their children to go to the park alone or ride the subway unattended and the helicopter parents who hover over every action, independent step or playground fall. In reality, however, there is always a happy medium between these two extremes.

One tool we have on our side in this debate is research. With the help of research, we can help understand the difference between unsafe play activities, and those that may seem risky but might actually offer some real benefits. Researchers are beginning to look at the outcomes for kids who engage in more "risky" play, and the results might surprise you.

It's worth noting that in these studies risky play was defined as activities like playing at heights, rough-and-tumble play, and play in risk-supportive environments (e.g., adventure playground).

The developmental benefits of risky play

1. Builds confidence

Imagine how your toddler feels when she actually does make it UP the slide by herself. Most likely she beams with pride. This is the type of confidence researchers say that risky play helps build. It's a confidence built by persistence, but also by an unspoken understanding that you trust her to handle herself in a new arena.

This is a contrast to more typical ways of playing in which the parent is monitoring every action for fear of risk. Scholars point out that this sends a message to the child that maybe they cannot trust their own feelings or judgment about what feels unsafe.

2. Encourages more active play

This was one of the clearest aspects of the research findings. Kids who engage in risky play tend to be more active in their play. Some of this has to do with the fact that these kids are typically allowed more independent mobility than other kids. These are the kids who are allowed to walk alone to a friend's house or play at a neighborhood park alone.

Additionally, the studies showed that kids tend to be more active when playing at adventure playgrounds that involve "risky" elements such as old tires, recycled pieces, etc. compared to playing at traditional playgrounds with play structures.

This is not meant to imply that you should allow your 2-year-old to play at a junkyard with a pile of tools, but it does show that kids really want a challenge. We have all seen middle schoolers climbing on TOP of a playhouse or fence line at a playground. This research has us consider that maybe they are just looking for a more challenging physical outlet.

Kids feel empowered when they are given a little freedom to test their physical limits. It turns out, this physical challenge also probably makes them healthier too by encouraging activity.

3. Establishes internal limits

It's counterintuitive, but risky play actually makes kids safer in the long-term. By experimenting with tolerable risk, kids get a better sense of their internal and physical limits. Climbing to the top of a playscape might frighten some 2-year-olds, but for others it's exhilarating and confidence-building. Each child has to figure out these limits for themselves (at age-appropriate levels of course).

Research studies that followed over 25,000 kids found that there was no link between risky play (i.e., playing at higher heights) and increased risk of injury. The frequency of bone fractures was unrelated to the height of playground equipment.

Some researchers have even argued that by denying kids opportunities to deal with tolerable risk, they are denied the chance to face a fear and overcome it. Without this exposure, some kids may internalize fear more which can lead to anxiety disorders.

4. Promotes social skills

It might seem odd that risky play can improve social skills, but there seems to be a link, at least with certain types of play. Rough-and-tumble play is correlated with better social competence, especially among boys. Furthermore, it was not linked to higher levels of aggression.

You can imagine why this is the case: Generally speaking, rough-and-tumble play is the norm among boys (gender stereotypes notwithstanding), so this activity is linked to social skills because it is one of the primary ways boys play and interact in social settings.

In other words, it seems that this rough-and-tumble play helps kids learn about social boundaries, reading emotions, and regulating their own emotions, especially anger. Although it just seems like fun play to us, kids are subtly learning about social negotiation and how to determine when the play has gone too far.

5. Encourages creativity

Risky play can foster new ways of thinking and creativity as kids are put into situations that are outside the norm of their usual environments. On an ordinary playground, kids have few problems to solve or new situations to manage—most kids have experienced slides, swings and play structures before.

However, in a more "risky" setting such as an adventure playground or lake setting, the inherent dilemmas of nature are present. Kids must use creative thinking and problem solving to determine how many kids can stand on a fallen tree before it gives way. Kids learn through trial-and-error how close they can get to the edge of the lake before they bog down in mud. These seem like simple activities but for young children, they are brain-building.

One study found that kids were more creative in their thinking when playing on playgrounds that included "loose parts" (e.g., old tires, boxes, etc.). Although these items had no obvious play value, kids included them in all types of creative ways in their play narratives.

We all want to keep our kids safe, but as in all things parenting, balance is key. By balancing safety and exploration, our kids can benefit from learning how to manage a bit of risk and build skills that will aid them for the years ahead.

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There are few kids television shows as successful as PAW Patrol. The Spin Masters series has spawned countless toys and clothing deals, a live show and now, a movie.

That's right mama, PAW Patrol is coming to the big screen in 2021.

The big-screen version of PAW Patrol will be made with Nickelodeon Movies and will be distributed by Paramount Pictures.

"We are thrilled to partner with Paramount and Nickelodeon to bring the PAW Patrol franchise, and the characters that children love, to the big screen," Spin Master Entertainment's Executive Vice President, Jennifer Dodge, announced Friday.


"This first foray into the arena of feature film marks a significant strategic expansion for Spin Master Entertainment and our properties. This demonstrates our commitment to harnessing our own internal entertainment production teams to develop and deliver IP in a motion picture format and allows us to connect our characters to fans through shared theatrical experiences," Dodge says.

No word on the plot yet, but we're gonna bet there's a problem, 'round Aventure Bay, and Ryder and his team of pups will come and save the day.

We cannot even imagine how excited little PAW Patrol fans will be when this hits theatres in 2021. It's still too early to buy advance tickets but we would if we could!


In the middle of that postpartum daze, the sleepless nights, the recovery, the adjustment to a new schedule and learning the cues of a new baby, there are those moments when a new mom might think, I don't know how long I can do this.

Fortunately, right around that time, newborns smile their first real smile.

For many mothers, the experience is heart-melting and soul-lifting. It's a crumb of sustenance to help make it through the next challenges, whether that's sleep training, baby's first cold, or teething. Each time that baby smiles, the mother remembers, I can do this, and it's worth it.


Dayna M. Kurtz, LMSW, CPT a NYC-based psychotherapist and author of Mother Matters: A Holistic Guide to Being a Happy, Healthy Mom, says she sees this in her clinical practice.

"One mother I worked with recounted her experience of her baby's first smile. At eight weeks postpartum, exhausted and overwhelmed, she remembered her baby smiling broadly at her just before a nighttime feeding," Kurtz says. "In that moment, she was overcome by tremendous joy and relief, and felt, for the first time, a real connection to her son."

So what is it about a baby's smile that can affect a mother so deeply? Can it all be attributed to those new-mom hormones? Perhaps it stems from the survival instincts that connect an infant with its mother, or the infant learning social cues. Or is there something more going on inside our brains?

In 2008, scientists in Houston, TX published their research on the topic. Their study, "What's in a Smile? Maternal Brain Responses to Infant Facial Cues", takes data from the MRI images of 26 women as they observed images of infants smiling, crying, or with a neutral expression.

The images included the mother's own infant alternated with an unknown infant of similar ethnicity and in similar clothing and position. In each image, the baby displayed a different emotion through one of three facial expressions; happy, neutral, or sad. Researchers monitored the change in the mothers' brain activity through the transitions in images from own-infant to unknown-infant, and from happy to neutral to sad and vice versa.

The results?

"When first-time mothers see their own baby's face, an extensive brain network appears to be activated, wherein affective and cognitive information may be integrated and directed toward motor/behavioral outputs," wrote the study's authors. Seeing her infant smile or cry prompts the areas of the brain that would instigate a mother to act, whether it be to comfort, care for, or caress and play with the baby.

In addition, the authors found that reward-related brain regions are activated specifically in response to happy, but not sad, baby faces. The areas of the brain that lit up in their study are the same areas that release dopamine, the "pleasure chemical." For context, other activities that elicit dopamine surges include eating chocolate, having sex, or doing drugs. So in other words, a baby's smile may be as powerful as those other feel-good experiences.

And this gooey feeling moms may get from seeing their babies smile isn't just a recreational high—it serves a purpose.

This reward system (aka dopaminergic and oxytocinergic neuroendocrine system) exists to motivate the mother to forge a positive connection with the baby, according to Aurélie Athan, PhD, director of the Reproductive & Maternal Psychology Laboratory (a laboratory that created the first graduate courses of their kind in these subjects).

These networks also promote a mother's ability to share her emotional state with her child, which is the root of empathy. "A mother cries when baby cries, smiles when baby smiles," Athan says.

While there's a physiological explanation underlying that warm-and-fuzzy sensation elicited by a smile, there may be other factors at play too, Kurtz says.

"In my clinical practice, I often observe a stunning exchange between a mother and her baby when the latter smiles at her. A mother who is otherwise engaged in conversation with me may be, for that moment, entirely redirected to focus on her little one," Kurtz says. "This kind of attention-capturing on the part of the baby can enable and cultivate maternal attunement—a mother's ability to more deeply connect with her infant. The quality of attunement in early childhood often sets the stage for one's relationship patterns in the future."

Whether a physiological response, a neural activation, simple instinct, or the tightening of emotional connection, the feeling generated by babies' smiles is a buoy in the choppy ocean of new parenthood.

And while the first smile may be the most magical by virtue of its surprise and the necessity of that emotional lift, the fuzzy feeling can continue well into that baby's childhood and beyond. It keeps telling parents, you've got this!

[This was originally published on Apparently]


Chrissy Teigen is one of the most famous moms in the world and definitely one of the most famous moms on social media.

She's the Queen of Twitter and at least the Duchess of Instagram but with a massive following comes a massive dose of mom-shame, and Teigen admits the online comments criticizing her parenting affects her.

"It's pretty much everything," Teigen told Today, noting that the bulk of the criticism falls into three categories: How she feeds her kids, how she uses her car seats and screen time.

"Any time I post a picture of them holding ribs or eating sausage, I get a lot of criticism," she explained. "Vegans and vegetarians are mad and feel that we're forcing meat upon them at a young age. They freak out."


Teigen continues: "If they get a glimpse of the car seat there is a lot of buckle talk. Maybe for one half of a second, the strap slipped down. And TV is another big one. We have TV on a lot in my house. John and I work on television; we love watching television."

Teigen wants the shame to stop, not just for herself but for all the other moms who feel it. (And we agree.)

"Hearing that nine out of 10 moms don't feel like they're doing a good enough job is terrible," she said. "We're all so worried that we're not doing all that we can, when we really are."

The inspiration for Teigen talking publicly about mom-shame may be in part because of her participation in Pampers' "Share the Love" campaign. But even though Teigen's discussion coincides with this campaign, the message remains equally important. Advertising can be a powerful tool for shifting the way society thinks about what's "normal" and we would much rather see companies speaking out against mom-shame than inducing it to sell more stuff.

Calling out mom-shame in our culture is worth doing in our lives, our communities and yes, our diaper commercials. Thank you Chrissy (and thank you, Pampers).


Dear fellow mama,

I was thinking about the past the other day. About the time I had three small boys—a newborn, his 2-year-old brother and his 5-year-old brother.

How I was always drowning.

How I could never catch my breath between the constant requests.

How I always felt guilty no matter how hard I tried.

How hard it was—the constant exhaustion, struggling to keep my home any kind of clean or tidy, how I struggled to feed my kids nutritious meals, to bathe them and clean them and keep them warmly dressed in clean clothing, to love them well or enough or well enough.


Those years were some of the toughest years I have ever encountered.

But mama, I am here to tell you that it doesn't last forever. Slowly, incrementally, without you even noticing, it gets easier. First, one child is toilet trained, then the bigger one can tie his own shoelaces, then finally they are all sleeping through the night.

It's hard to imagine; I really really get it.

It is going to get easier. I swear it. I'm not saying that there won't be new parenting challenges, that it won't be the hardest thing you have ever done in your life. It will be. But it will get easier.

These days, all of my kids get the bus to school and back. Most of them dress themselves. They can all eat independently and use the toilet. Sometimes they play with each other for hours leaving me time to do whatever I need to do that day.

I sleep through the night. I am not constantly in a haze of exhaustion. I am not overwhelmed by three tiny little people needing me to help them with their basic needs, all at the same time.

I can drink a hot cup of coffee. I do not wish with every fiber of my being that I was an octopus, able to help each tiny person at the same time.

I am not tugged in opposite directions. I don't have to disappoint my 3-year-old who desperately wants to play with me while I am helping his first grade bother with his first grade reading homework.

And one day, you will be here too.

It's going to get easier. I promise. And while it may not happen today or even next week or even next month, it will happen. And you will look around in wonder at the magnificent people you helped to create and nurture and sustain.

Until then, you are stronger and more resilient than you can even imagine.

You've got this. Today and always.


A fellow mama

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