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We know life is busy, and parents want what's best for their growing toddlers. What they might not realize is that 85% of brain growth occurs in the first three years. Many things contribute to development during this time period, so it's important to talk to your child to get them on board with growing big and strong. In order to develop emotionally and physically healthy children, we need to communicate positivity in everything we say.

There are many ways to offer positive reinforcement to help your toddler's development. Here are seven to try:

1. "Let's turn off the iPad and read a book together. Will you turn the pages?"

Reading to your toddler builds language and literacy skills long before they can read on their own. Early vocabulary and listening skills help predict later success in reading and other school subjects. And your toddler can't have enough good books.

Books that are best bets at this age have engaging, imaginative illustrations and help develop basic language and number concepts. If your toddler shows an interest in a special topic, like animals or cars and trucks, look for books that feature them. Caring and sharing messages and cultural diversity are all a plus; scary plots aren't.

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2. "Let's have some milk instead of juice."

When transitioning off formula or breast milk, it's important to ensure that your toddler is still getting all of the nutrients they need to grow strong. Since toddlers can sometimes be selective in which foods they eat, it can be a challenge to get all of their nutrition via food. Often parents incorporate milk into their little one's diet because it is fortified with vitamin D.

3. "Let's go outside and practice riding your big kid bike!"

Toddlers love to move. Anything they can ride on, push, pull, or otherwise move with helps them practice motor skills and coordination—and burns off some of their boundless energy. Consider wagons, pedal-free bikes, doll strollers, play grocery carts, pull toys, plastic bowling sets, hammering toys, and large and small balls.

4. "Let's try a tiny taste of that broccoli, one more time."

Toddlers often change their food preferences on what can seem like a daily basis. This can be frustrating for parents, who can feel like they have succeeded in getting their little one to eat a certain vegetable or other food, to then find that their toddler turns their nose up at it the next time it is offered.

Research shows that persistence is key. It takes about 15 exposures to a food before a child can learn to accept the taste and like it. Never force your child to eat a food, or scold them for not trying it, but do your best to make eating fun and remind them that the foods they put in their body will help them grow big and strong.

Try cutting the food into different sizes, offering a "sauce" to dip it into (like a bit of ketchup), or turn mealtime into a game and count the pieces that disappear into your toddler's belly.

5. "Let's figure out this puzzle together.

"Toddlers practice skills over and over through play. Toys that give them a chance to figure things out on their own help build creative and logical thinking skills. Such activities also help kids work on fine motor skills, spatial relations skills (how things fit and work together), and hand-eye coordination.

Open-ended toys for creative play are also great since that can be used in many different ways. These kinds of toys include puzzles with large pieces, shape sorters, nesting blocks or cups, art materials (play clay, paint, thick crayons), and wood blocks.

6. "Let's go outside and work in our garden.

"Research has shown that children who spend time outdoors are more physically active, more creative in their play, less physically aggressive, and show better concentration. Exposure to nature also plants the seeds early for becoming more eco-sensitive later in life.

Try a big net for catching bugs or minnows, toys for outdoor play (such as balls), a sandbox and sand toys (shovels, dump trucks), and gardening tools (like a child-size rake and watering can).

7. "Let's ask Grandma for tickets to the zoo for your birthday"

When it comes to birthdays and holidays, everyone loves to shower your little one with gifts. But remember that not every gift has to come in a package.

Research has shown that life experiences make people happier, and your toddler will be no exception. Encourage friends and family to celebrate by bringing your toddler somewhere special and new.

Suggest a day at the zoo, a farm, or a garden; a backyard tea party; a visit to a different playground; or a performance for young children (of music, dance, or puppets, for example). Be sure to take photos, too, so you and your toddler can revisit the experience for years to come.

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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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Life

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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Life
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