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Parents of young children tend to worry a lot about whether or not their kids are making adequate gains as they launch into their academic careers.


"Can Johnny read the list of 100 high-frequency words?"

"Does Betty know how to count to 500?"

"Is Tom doing quantum physics yet?"

While early education creates an important foundation for academic skills, many parents would be surprised to know that social skills are actually far more predictive of outcomes into adulthood than early academics.

For example, a study published in 2015 showed that even while controlling for family demographics and early academic ability, the social skills observed in kindergarten showed significant correlation with well-being at age 25.

That's a lot of staying power!

Regardless of how advanced of a reader they were or how much money their parents made, kindergarteners who demonstrated social competence were more likely to graduate from high school, go to college, get a job, and stay out of jail than those who showed a lower level of social competence.

So while many parents and schools may be feeling the pressure to cut back on play and social interaction in order to get more "hard skill" instruction time in, it's actually those "soft skills" that are most predictive of long-term success.

Here are five important social competencies you can foster in your child.

1. How to play well with others

Play is a powerful catalyst for development in the early years. By playing with others, children learn to negotiate, problem solve, take turns, share and experiment. You can help your child build these skills by making time for free play with other children.

While dance class, soccer practice and choreographed play dates may have their own value, children need plenty of time engaging in unstructured play with other children, where they may be supervised—but not instructed—by the adults around them.

2. How to problem-solve

It is tempting to swoop in at the first disgruntled squawk and make everything right again. We confiscate the object of the argument, set timers, or send children to play in different areas. We're good at problem-solving because we get SO MUCH practice as parents! And while some of this may be necessary for survival, our kids need some of that practice too.

So the next time your child has a problem, invite them to take part in that problem-solving process. Ask your child to describe what's going on, brainstorm solutions and try one out. You're still an active player, supporting your child through the process, but rather than doing all the solving yourself, let your child own the problem by asking, "What do you think you could do about that?"

Teaching a child to be a problem solver also means that we teach them how to fail and try again, which is another critical "soft skill." When we ask children how their solution is working out, we give them an opportunity to evaluate their experience and make improvements when necessary. We're teaching them that mistakes help us learn and move forward.

3. How to label and recognize feelings

Children who are perceptive to the emotions around them are also better able to get along well with others. You can foster this skill by calling attention to emotional cues and naming emotions. You can do this not only in your home ("I'm looking at your brother's face right now, and I don't think he's having fun." "You looked so happy when you won, your smile was like a laser beam!") but by also talking about the emotions in stories as well. ("How do you think he felt when that happened?")

Storybooks are FULL of conflict and emotion—it's often what drives the plot. These conversations about observed emotions are often easier because your child isn't tied up in the turbulent emotions themselves. From this comfortable vantage point, they're able to be more thoughtful about the emotions on the page and then apply their understanding in real life.

Another thing to keep in mind is that research has shown that excessive screen use may interfere with a child's ability to recognize emotions in others. So make sure that your kids get plenty of time playing and interacting face to face with other humans, rather than with pixels and lights on a screen.

4. How to be helpful

Being helpful to others requires children to look beyond themselves and recognize the needs of others. By noticing and complimenting your child when you notice helpful behaviors, you encourage them to continue.

Give your child simple opportunities to help within your family—putting away groceries, getting the baby's fresh diaper ready, or helping a sibling to get dressed—and then be generous with your gratitude afterward.

Point out the helpers around you and show gratitude together to instill a value of service. This may be as simple as thanking the bagger at the grocery store or taking cookies to the fire station. It can also take a fanciful twist. For my own superhero-obsessed boys, I found that equating heroes to helpers made them feel like Batman just by helping with simple tasks around our home.

5. How to control their impulses

Impulse control is a part of the executive functions directed by the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This area doesn't completely develop until well into early adulthood, but some of the most rapid development happens in the early childhood years. That's why children need opportunities to practice this growing skill.

That may look like the infamous marshmallow study, where a child must delay gratification and wait before consuming a treat, but it can also look like play time! Movement games that require a child to stop and go like Red Light/Green Light, Dance and Freeze, and Simon Says give kids practice quickly shifting gears and controlling their impulses to move.

Pretend play is also a great way to build these skills. By taking on a new character and an imaginative storyline, children have to plan before acting, take turns and make rules to follow. They also practice thinking outside of their own perspective and act as they think another would, rather than simply following their own impulses.

Our fast-paced society may give you the impression that your child needs to learn more academic skills—and sooner than ever before. However, the reality is that the "soft" social skills they gain in early childhood—through the slow, simple processes of playing and interacting, engaging with their families, and paying attention to the world around them—will serve them much better and for much longer.

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We spend a lot of time prepping for the arrival of a baby. But when it comes to the arrival of our breast milk (and all the massive adjustments that come with it), it's easy to be caught off guard. Stocking up on a few breastfeeding essentials can make the transition to breastfeeding a lot less stressful, which means more time and energy focusing on what's most important: Your recovery and your brand new baby.

Here are the essential breastfeeding tools you'll need, mama:

1. For covering up: A cute nursing cover

First and foremost, please know that all 50 states in the United States have laws that allow women to breastfeed in public. You do not have to cover yourself if you don't want to—and many mamas choose not to—and we are all for it.

That said, if you do anticipate wanting to take a more modest approach to breastfeeding, a nursing cover is a must. You will find an array of styles to choose from, but we love an infinity scarf, like the LK Baby Infinity Nursing Scarf Nursing Cover. You'll be able to wear the nursing cover instead of stuffing it in your already brimming diaper bag—and it's nice to have it right there when the baby is ready to eat.

Also, in the inevitable event that your baby spits-up on you or you leak some milk through your shirt, having a quick and stylish way to cover up is a total #momwin.

2. For getting comfortable: A cozy glider

Having a comfy spot to nurse can make a huge difference. Bonus points if that comfy place totally brings a room together, like the Delta Children Paris Upholstered Glider!

Get your cozy space ready to go, and when your baby is here, you can retreat from the world and just nurse, bond, and love.

3. For unmatched support: A wire-free nursing bra

It may take trying on several brands to find the perfect match, but finding a nursing bra that you love is 100% worth the effort. Your breasts will be changing and working in ways that are hard to imagine. An excellent supportive bra will make this so much more comfortable.

It is crucial to choose a wireless bra for the first weeks of nursing since underwire can increase the risk of clogged ducts (ouch).The Playtex Maternity Shaping Foam Wirefree Nursing Bra is an awesome pick for this reason, and because it is designed to flex and fit your breasts as they go through all those changes.

4. For maximum hydration: A large reusable water bottle

Nothing can prepare you for the intense thirst that hits when breastfeeding. Quench that thirst (and help keep your milk supply up in the process) by always having a water bottle with a straw nearby, like this Exquis Large Outdoor Water Bottle.

5. For feeding convenience: A supportive nursing tank

Experts recommend that during the first weeks of your baby's life, you breastfeed on-demand, meaning that any time your tiny boss demands milk, you feed them. This will help establish your milk supply and get everything off to a good start.

What does this mean for your life? You will be breastfeeding A LOT. Nursing tanks, like the Loving Moments by Leading Lady, make this so much easier. They have built-in support to keep you comfy, and you can totally wear them around the house, or even out and about. When your baby wants to eat, you'll be able to quickly "pop out" a breast and feed them.

6. For pain prevention: A quality nipple ointment

Breastfeeding shouldn't hurt, but the truth is those first days can be uncomfortable. Your nipples will likely feel raw as they adjust to their new job. This will get better! But until it does, nipple ointment is amazing.

My favorite is the Earth Mama Organic Nipple Butter. We love that it's organic, and it is oh-so-soothing on your hard-at-work nipples.

Psst: If it actually hurts when your baby latches on, something may be up, so call your provider or a lactation consultant for help.

7. For uncomfortable moments: A dual breast therapy pack

As your breasts adjust to their new role, you may experience a few discomforts—applying warmth or cold can help make them feel so much better. The Lansinoh TheraPearl 3-in-1 Breast Therapy Pack is awesome because you can microwave the pads or put them in the freezer, giving you a lot of options when your breasts need some TLC.

Again, if you have any concerns about something being wrong (pain, a bump that may be red or hot, fever, or anything else), call a professional right away.

8. For inevitable leaks: An absorbing breast pad

In today's episode of, "Oh come on, really?" you are going to leak breastmilk. Now, this is entirely natural and you are certainly not required to do anything about this. Still, many moms choose to wear breast pads in their bras to avoid leaking through to their shirts.

You can go the convenient and disposable route with Lansinoh Disposable Stay Dry Nursing Pads, or for a more environmentally friendly option, you can choose washable pads, like these Organic Bamboo Nursing Breast Pads.

9. For flexibility: A breast pump

Many women find that a breast pump becomes one of their most essential mom-tools. The ability to provide breast milk when you are away from your baby (and relieve uncomfortable engorged breasts) will add so much flexibility into your new-mom life.

For quick trips out and super-easy in-your-bag transport, opt for a manual pump like the Lansinoh Manual Breast Pump .

If you will be away from your baby for longer periods of time (traveling or working outside the home, for example) an electric pump is your most efficient bet. The Medela Pump In Style Advanced Double Electric Breast Pump is a classic go-to that will absolutely get the job done, and then some.

10. For quality storage: Breast milk bags

Once you pump your liquid gold, aka breast milk, you'll need a place to store it. The Kiinde Twist Pouches allow you to pump directly into the bags which means one less step (and way less to clean).

11. For keeping cool: A freezer bag

Transport your pumped milk back home to your baby safely in a cooler like the Mommy Knows Best Breast Milk Baby Bottle Cooler Bag. Remember to put the milk in a fridge or freezer as soon as you can to optimize how long it stays usable for.

12. For continued nourishment: Bottles

Nothing beats the peace of mind you get when you know that your baby is being well-taken of care—and well fed—until you can be together again. The Philips Avent Natural Baby Bottle Newborn Starter Gift Set is a fan favorite (mama and baby fans alike).

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

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We are almost into Pumpkin Spice season—this summer, this month and this week have flown by! But don't worry, we've been taking note of the good news stories you need to read when you have a moment to slow down.

Grab a coffee and get comfortable, mama, because these are the headlines that made us smile this week:

This kindergarten father is total #dadgoals

As Today reports, dad Jamie DeSpain is going viral for making his kindergarten daughter's day by taking her stuffed cat, Sophia, to work with him and putting her to work.

DeSpain's oldest daughter, Hadley, had been taking Sophia the cat with her to school as she made the big leap into kindergarten this month, but last week her dad realized she'd forgotten Sophia in the van when he'd dropped her off at school. DeSpain didn't want to cause an interruption at school, so he just brought Sophia into work with him and began texting his wife, Erica, photos of Sophia doing work around the office.

"I kind of have a goofy streak and Hadley really appreciates goofiness," Jamie DeSpain, who lives in Madison, Alabama, told Today Parents. "Combine that with her love for stuffed animals...[it] made for the perfect dad setup."

He took pics of Sophia taking phone calls, doing emails, having coffee and even having a pensive look out the window, which DeSpain captioned: "wondering what Hadley is doing."

When dad got home, his daughter was thrilled with her stuffed animal's big day out and was happy to be reunited with both her father and Sophia. Hadley was so thrilled with the experience that she asked her dad to repeat the mission the next day with her stuffed dog, Mocha. The cotton-filled canine was spotted doing various office tasks and, of course, drinking some coffee. 😂

Hadley's mama says her husband's antics were a welcome bit of fun and helped the family remember that while kindergarten is a big step, Hadley's still a little kid (and it seems her dad is too, at least at heart).

"Sending Hadley off to kindergarten has been a big transition for us as a family, but this activity reminded us that she's still little," Erica DeSpain said."We want to soak up that childlike wonder as much as we can, and this activity was a great way to do just that."

We think office buildings are about to see an infestation of stuffed animals!

This father's viral Instagram video is total #dadgoals

Father Jimmy Howell has gone viral for giving his 9-month-old daughter Kensley an adorable pedicure.

"She got a little crazy with me today due to the fact that I was filing her nails a little too rough, y'all see why I can't do anything for free, I'm charging her next week, just watch," he captioned the video he posted to Instagram.

"Kensey, this is free," He jokes in the video after Kensley seems to protest the spa service for moment. 😂

With the power of dad humor, Howell not only got the baby's toes clipped (which is hard to do!) but got her laughing, too. He says he has weekly "spa talks" with his daughter, so it's no wonder his baby nail skills are so on point.

Viral kindness: "Please ask me if I have sunscreen" 

We have all been there—sometimes you're the one who needs an extra diaper and sometimes you're the one who has one to give. The point is, every parent needs help sometimes and most are happy to pay it forward when it is their turn to give a diaper to a stranger in need.

Wisconsin mom Shelby Beck captured this perfectly in a Facebook post this week after she went to the park with her daughter and a fellow mama had to ask her for a favor.

When the stranger approached Beck, she could tell she was uncomfortable. "She shrugged her shoulders and quietly said 'I'm embarrassed to even ask, but do you happen to have sunscreen we can use?' As if she was somehow ashamed that she forgot to pack sunscreen today." Beck wrote.

She continued her Facebook post with an open letter to parents who find themselves in the same situation as the sheepish stranger.

"Dear fellow mamas,

Please ask me if I have sunscreen. Ask if I have baby wipes, diapers or even extra snacks.

Ask me if your toddler can sit down and play with us while you find a shady bench to nurse your newborn.

Hand me your phone and ask me to take a picture of you with your sweet babies - we all know mamas aren't in enough photos.

Ask for help. Ask for love. Ask for anything.

Even though we are strangers, please ask me.

It's not easy being responsible for little humans but it's easier if we help each other out.
We're all in this together.❤️"

We could not agree with Shelby more. Mamas helping mamas is a beautiful thing (and asking for sunscreen could even lead to making a mom friend!).

Oh, and one last thing...

Oh, and if you need a good cry this weekend, check out this viral Michael Bublé video that has parents everywhere crying about our kids growing up. Team Motherly could not get through it without sobbing! Just like summer, their childhoods will be over before we know it so take some time to connect with your babies this weekend. They're off to kindergarten today—off to college tomorrow! 😭


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Discovering the best foods for lunches and snacks is an important step in back to school preparation. But with new routines and packed schedules on the horizon, finding time to think about what to pack for back to school lunches can be a challenge. Some kids are super picky and won't eat anything but grilled cheese. Others could eat endless amounts of nutritious snacks all day, everyday. Regardless of where your child falls on the food spectrum, we're here to help you find what works best for your family.

We asked #TeamMotherly to share their favorite go-to lunches and snacks for the back to school season. Mix it up and add some variety in there and you'll be good to go! Here's what they had to say:

1. "Cubed ham, cheese, cut grapes, yogurt covered raisins."—Tiffany S.

2. "Granola bars, carrots or cucumbers and ranch, peanut butter crackers, fresh fruit."—Melissa B.

3. "For me? Wine."—Nicole N.

4. "My little one loves to take tuna or chicken salad with grapes and crackers, yogurt and ice water with fresh cucumbers and garden tomatoes or chicken Alfredo with toast and veggies or peanut butter celery tomatoes cucumbers chips and water."—Jackie P.

5. "The cafeteria!"—Toni H.


6. "Once a week, it's usually ham and cheese sandwich with raw baby carrots and grape tomatoes. And for dessert, I do yogurt or fruit. It doesn't really matter if it's always the healthiest or the best lunch, what I find really good is alternating and rotating and trying to get creative."—Erica W.

7. "Bananas, string cheese, blueberries, apple sauce, raspberries."—Melina S.

8. "Cut strawberries or cut apples & peanut butter for snacks! & Sandwich with ham or turkey, tomato, lettuce, & mayo separately! And yogurt."—Melodi B.

9. "I roll a hotdog in a flour tortilla and toast it in a skillet until crispy. Like a hot dog burrito."—Elda E.

10. "Sandwiches (meat or sunbutter and jelly), quesadillas, hummusdillas (hummus in tortilla), leftover pizza, bean salad with tortilla chips, boiled eggs/cheese, pesto pasta salad, yogurt and granola, bagel with cream cheese, empanadas (bean and cheese or meat). And always fruit/veggies as sides."—Tran L.


11. "I make a sandwich with hummus then pack carrots, applesauce, Z-Bar and some crackers."—Suzanne W.

12. "Vary it between ham sandwiches, dairylea dunkers, breadsticks and then healthy snacks and juice box. [I also include] water in a sports bottle for during the day."—Danielle B.

13. "Gluten-free pretzels and peanut butter, ham and cream cheese rolls, GF tortillas with PB & J."—Heather T.

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Learn + Play

If Amazon is a large, impersonal department store filled with endless inventory and unlimited choices, Hullabaloo Book Company is a sweet, curated boutique where you know you'll find something that's just a little bit more special and a little more meaningful.

It's a new children's book gifting site you need to know about, mama.

Hullabaloo treats books as the ultimate experience gift. Each book you buy comes packaged up in a beautifully designed canvas bag with a personalized letterpress bookplate. It honestly makes my bookworm heart soar seeing how thoughtful the experience is for both the gift giver and receiver.

The only thing I never feel guilty buying too much of for my 3-year-old son is books, and books are also one of my favorite things to gift. But as he gets older, I find myself turning to books not just to entertain him, but to also open up his mind, explore new feelings and understand that we have shared experiences as people.

My favorite part of this site is the way they categorize their books by "Amazing Attributes." Parents (or aunts or grandparents or friends) can shop for books curated by these qualities. For example, "Kind Hearts" is a collection of books that "teach the importance of understanding and caring for family, other children, and our communities" and "Big Feels" is a collection of books that "focus on helping kiddos learn emotional intelligence."

If you're shopping on price alone, they also offer a tiered set of gift collections starting at $29. It's such an easy and brilliant way to find a special birthday or baby shower gift.

SHOP

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When you're a mama on the move, safe car seats are a necessity but can be a budget buster, especially if you're looking to upgrade or have to furnish multiple cars. Luckily, Target is here to fix that.

Target is bringing back their popular car seat trade-in program from Tuesday, September 3 – Friday, September 13.

Just bring your old car seat to the recycling bin near Guest Services and a Target team member will give you a coupon for 20% off a new a new car seat, booster seat, car seat base, travel system or stroller. And the coupon can also be applied to select baby gear, such as high chairs, swings, rockers and bouncers. 👏

The coupon is eligible through Saturday, Sept.14, 2019, so if you don't see the seat of your dreams in store when you drop off your old one, you'll want to check out the online selection and act pretty fast.

With the exception of the small format stores, all Targets will be taking car seats between September 3 and 13. (You can find a participating store near you here.)

Target has held several of these car seat trade-in events since 2016 in an effort to help parents recycle the seats, which are not eligible for curbside recycling and take up a lot of space when sent to landfills. The retailer hands over all the old car seats to Waste Management, and the materials are recycled to make grocery carts, plastic buckets and construction materials like steel beams.

The event is really a win-win—we get to keep our kids safe while giving the car seats that protected them a second life. Just another reason to love Target.

[A version of this post was originally published April 18, 2018. It has been updated.]

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