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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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Babywearing allows newborns to be held close to your body and mama to snuggle with their new bundle of joy—but that's just where the benefits begin. When you're toting your baby with the help of a specially-designed carrier, you're also given back the two hands normally reserved for rocking, cuddling and soothing your little one. That opens up a whole new world when it comes to getting things done—particularly for #mombosses who are masters of multitasking.

We asked four of our favorites about the biggest benefits of their productivity hack of choice (babywearing) and how they got it all done using their carrier of choice, BABYBJÖRN Baby Carrier Free.

It helps soothe babies more easily

Daphne Oz wearing BABYBJ\u00d6RN Baby Carrier Free

BABYBJÖRN

Babies benefit from being in a carrier not only because worn babies cry less but also because a soothed baby means they're more likely to catch a much-needed nap. Rachel Zeilic, VP of Influencer Marketing at Who What Wear and Creative Director for fashion line Marjoelle, wore her son, August, in his early days for that reason. "It was a GREAT method to help him get to sleep," she says.

Sleep aside, decreased crying makes a huge difference in your busy days, even if your baby is super easygoing and loves carrier time, like that of Emmy-winning TV host, author and mama of four, Daphne Oz, whose youngest, Giovanna Ines (Gigi), is 4-months-old. "Gigi has always loved to be held. She's a very big baby, so babywearing is essential to give my arms a break. She loves to be snuggled as much as possible, and you can tell [being in her carrier] immediately soothes her. Sometimes she'll drift off or just rest her head on my chest and gaze around."

Mobilizing is a snap

Rachel Zeilic wearing BABYBJ\u00d6RN Baby Carrier Free

BABYBJÖRN

Like so many mamas, Zeilic needed to get out of the house frequently in those first few weeks for doctor appointments, but she found the sheer magnitude of getting out and getting the hang of a stroller pretty intimidating. Instead, she relied on her Baby Carrier Free and was out and about quickly after delivery. "We left the house from day one and we made a point every day of walking around the neighborhood," she says. "It was much more feasible [for me] than putting him in the stroller and going for a long walk."

Ariel Kaye, the CEO and founder of Parachute, was a big fan of babywearing with her now 11-month-old daughter Lou for the same reason. "Especially as I started to get more comfortable getting out of the house, what started as really short walks and gradually got longer," she says.

Carriers are especially friendly for city-dwelling mamas

Ranji Jacques wearing BABYBJ\u00d6RN Baby Carrier Free

BABYBJÖRN

Having a baby while living in a big city can be a challenge, but babywearing makes going about your day so much more simple. That's how Ranji Jacques, Fashion Director at Condé Nast, gets around New York City. "Everyone can agree that a baby carrier is a must-have, especially if you're in an urban area," says the mom of two to 3-year-old Diego and 1-year-old Lucienne. Why? Because steep curbs and storefront steps no longer pose a deterrent, and (bonus!) you can keep germ-covered surfaces out of baby's reach.

Take meetings with baby in tow

Rachel Zeilic wearing BABYBJ\u00d6RN Baby Carrier Free

BABYBJÖRN

If you need to phone into the office or are a permanent part of the growing work-from-home mama population, strapping on baby allows you to talk shop and spend time with your little one. "I've honestly gotten so many conference calls and deals done with August in the carrier," says Zeilic.

So did Kaye, who would tote her daughter Lou in her BABYBJÖRN Baby Carrier Free on walks to Parachute's nearby brick-and-mortar store as not only a way of getting outside, but also checking in with work, too.

Tackle housework + make  errands easier (and feasible)

Daphne Oz wearing BABYBJ\u00d6RN Baby Carrier Free

BABYBJÖRN

When you've got a new baby at home, getting the dishes done or folding a basket of (clean!) laundry is a huge accomplishment. But using the carrier can help you tick off your to-do list while spending time with your newborn. "Babywearing really helped me—like it made all of my everyday [tasks] so much easier," says Kaye, because it gave her back her much-needed set of hands.

Oz agrees that wearing her daughter has been a boon to her productivity. "I try to bring Gigi along whenever I can, since my time at home can be limited and [I'm] often stretched thin trying to get everything in order. She comes along to the market and for coffee and on other errands—and I love to use a carrier in the house so I can keep her with me while I'm heading from room to room putting things in order."

It can provide for everyday teaching moments

Ariel Kaye wearing BABYBJ\u00d6RN Baby Carrier Free

BABYBJÖRN

When you're going about your daily tasks, babywearing provides a front row seat to turn it into an educational experience for the two of you. "It's a special way to be able to communicate with her—I can show her things, touch things," says Kaye. From folding laundry to self-care, opportunities to engage baby can happen anywhere. Just ask Lou, who loves watching mama Ariel do her makeup while happily hanging out in her BABYBJÖRN, a task enjoyed by Gigi and Daphne as well.

Plus, allotting some of your attention to quickie tasks feels more guilt-free when babywearing. "Even though I'm doing other stuff, I can talk to him and narrate what I'm doing," explains Zeilic. "I just feel like it's playing and bonding, versus feeling like I'm sacrificing time with him."

Hello, old favorite activities

Ariel Kaye wearing BABYBJ\u00d6RN Baby Carrier Free

BABYBJÖRN

Zeilic and her husband love to use their Baby Carrier Free for hikes—anything under an hour and she'll strap on the carrier, over an hour and Dad's on the job (good thing it's easily adjustable for parents of all sizes). Even if hiking isn't your hobby of choice, resuming your pre-baby favorite activities and feeling more like yourself post-baby is a welcome change to which most mamas can relate, Oz included.

She fondly remembers the sense of confidence and familiarity that accompanied a babywearing outing when her eldest children were a bit younger. "My first, Philomena, was only 20 months old when John was born and still such a baby herself. I remember going out to the beach on a calm day with Philomena to collect shells, and John was strapped next to my chest, snuggly and content. It was one of the first times I really felt confident as a new mother of 2."

You can travel light

Ranji Jacques wearing BABYBJ\u00d6RN Baby Carrier Free

BABYBJÖRN

Working in fashion, Jacques has a tendency to be flanked with a host of accessories or at least a go-to purse, but babywearing has helped her limit the amount she has in tow when out and about. "I strap on baby, grab a bottle of water and my wallet and I'm ready to go," she says. Minimalist multitasking has never been so chic.

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

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Motherhood is a juggling act. Whether you have one child or many, work outside the home or don't, have a partner or are doing this whole thing solo, you are always juggling something. So how on earth do we keep up the act? How do we ensure no ball gets dropped?

We don't.

All of us, every single one, lets something slip through our fingers on some occasion or another. And that's totally okay.

A friend from college recently commented on Instagram how peaceful and sweet my children seemed. I laughed out loud, and not an endearing chuckle, a wholehearted cackle. What a glorious and erroneous idea that my children are peaceful and sweet. I have three of these beautiful monsters, ages 12, 5 and 4 months. Our house sounds more like a child run circus than a zen meditation retreat.

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It is true that my children are sweet at times. And I will admit I try very hard to create a peaceful life and home, but those are not the two words I would ever use to describe our family. I might choose words like rambunctious, spirited, passionate and intense.

What I realized as I simultaneously smiled and snorted in laughter, was that I put a lot of work into creating a life on social media that looks just like that. Peaceful and sweet. I choose my words carefully, I edit my photos and of course choose only the best ones, the ones where everyone is smiling and we appear to love each other. The pictures of my children pulling each other's hair, stealing snacks and shouting that they hate each other don't get quite as many likes.

Don't get me wrong—my children often smile and we do love each other very much. But by carefully curating the life I post on social media I have unintentionally created something laughable. What a jolt to realize the very thing I'm striving for makes me laugh out loud when someone names it. Is there anything more inauthentic than that?

I am working to strive for authenticity and perfect imperfection.

I make mistakes, hurt those I love, burn dinner and that is what makes me human.

I drop the ball every single day in some large or small way—and that's okay. It is to be expected really.

It's what can give us the gift of connection. We can connect with one another via our faults and our vulnerabilities. We starve ourselves of this by pretending to be perfect.

As I write this I'm sitting in the front seat of my car in the parking lot of our local skate park, my youngest is napping in his car seat, my oldest is wearing a helmet and pads and is driving his new BMX bike as fast as he can up and down hills and ramps set at odd angles with weird curves among them.

This moment feels ideal t. The breeze blows through my open windows as my oldest is getting a great workout and my youngest slowly wakes up cooing.

We can only enjoy the moment if we are present within it. When I live my life constantly in a state of distraction, constantly keeping my eyes on all the balls I'm juggling, I'm not enjoying any of it.

I am not a master juggler at this moment in life. I don't think what I'm doing even looks like juggling. I do not have my eyes on all the balls, I am not even attempting to catch or toss them all in that perfect arc that looks so magical.

I prefer to relish these kinds of moments, soak up their joy, their peace, their sweetness and to do that I have to let go of the charade, I have to accept imperfection in the form of letting some balls drop.

I want to live a life full of authenticity and joy in the simple moments.

I want to live without the pressure of doing it all.

I want to give myself the gift of not doing everything the way it should be done by the imagined deadlines that cannot be met.

I want to enjoy my rambunctious, passionate children.

So I let the ball drop—and I'm okay with that.

Life

Feeding your new baby can be a beautiful experience, but it can also be really hard. We at Motherly have talked about it. Amy Schumer has talked about it. And now Kate Upton is talking about it, too.

Upton and her husband Justin Verlander became parents when their daughter Genevieve was born in November 2018, and in a new interview with Editorialist, Upton explains that while she loves motherhood she didn't always love breastfeeding.

"Having VeVe has changed my life in such a wonderful way," she explains, adding that in the early days of motherhood she felt "so much pressure"..."to be doing all these things, like breastfeeding on the go—when the reality, for me, was that breastfeeding was sucking the energy away from me. I realized I needed to calm down, to allow my body to recover."

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Breastfeeding can take up a lot of a mama's time and energy in those early weeks and months, and while Upton doesn't explicitly say whether she switched to formula, combo fed, pumped or what, it's clear that she did give herself some grace when it came to breastfeeding and found the right parenting pace by taking the pressure off of herself.

Upton took the pressure off herself when it came to her demanding breastfeeding schedule, and she's also resisting the pressure to keep up with a social media posting schedule.

"I want to be enjoying my life, enjoying my family, not constantly trying to take the perfect picture," she says. "I think my husband wants me to throw my phone away. We talk about it in the house all the time: 'Let's have a phone-free dinner.' We don't want [our daughter] thinking being on the phone is all that life is."

Whether the pressure to be perfect is coming from your phone or from society's conflicting exceptions of mothers it's a force worth rejecting. Upton is loving life at her own pace, imperfect as reallife can be.

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After the treat-filled sugar rush of holidays and birthdays, it can be hard to get back on track with eating healthy as a family. (What can I say, I love cake—and my kids do, too.) It's totally okay to hold your boundary for sugar in your kid's diet, no matter what that boundary is. And you can do it without being the bad guy.

Putting a positive spin on "the sugar issue" (letting kids know that they can have treats sometimes, but not all. the. time.) will help prevent sugar becoming an ongoing power struggle, which nobody wants.

Here are a few phrases that can help your kids eat less sugar, without creating a power struggle over treats:

1. "Holiday and birthday treats are so fun, but they're not for every day."

Acknowledge that all of the extra treats were fun (they were!). You can talk about how some foods are for special occasions and others are the ones we eat every day to have strong bodies and feel good.

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2. "I feel so much better when I eat lots of fruits and vegetables."

Instead of putting the emphasis on why sugar is bad, try focusing on all the good reasons to eat healthy foods. You can talk about how eating carrots gives us strong eyes, eating oranges keeps us from getting sniffles, or eating kale helps us feel good and have lots of energy for playing.

3. "Which fruit would you like to have with your lunch?"

Keep it fun by letting your child choose which healthy foods to eat. Two or three choices are fine. You can let them help pick at the grocery store or let them pick from the options you've selected—the important thing is to offer choice.

4. "Let's see if we can make a rainbow on your plate!"

Who doesn't love rainbows, especially among the under-six crowd? Use their universal appeal to your advantage and encourage kiddos to make their own edible rainbows.

Make it extra fun by writing a checklist with colored pencils, one checkbox for every rainbow color, and bringing it with you to the grocery store. Let your child choose one item from the produce section for every color.

5. "You can choose one treat with dinner, but candy isn't a choice for snack today."

Make sure kids know that they will still be able to enjoy treats sometimes. Instead of saying "candy makes you crazy," or "sugar rots your teeth," just let them know when you're okay with them having a treat. It may be every night after dinner, only on Friday nights, or it may not be until Valentine's Day, but having a clear boundary will help reduce the constant pleas for sweet treats.

6. "I think treats feel more special when we don't have them every day."

Talk to your child about how part of the fun of holiday treats is that they're out of the ordinary. They are special traditions we get to enjoy each year and they help make the holidays feel magical. Just as it wouldn't be as fun if we had a Christmas tree up all year or wore a Halloween costume every day, treats aren't as fun if we eat them nonstop.

7. "I hear that you really want candy. I can't let you have it right now, but it's okay to be disappointed."

Let your child know that you empathize with their feelings about not being able to eat what they want all of the time.

Sometimes children just need to be heard. It might be more important to them to know that you understand their feelings about treats than to actually get a treat.

8. "Let's think of a healthy treat we could get at the grocery store next week."

Brainstorm with your child and come up with a list of healthy treats you could bring home from your next grocery shopping trip. This might be a kind of fruit they haven't had in a while, a granola bar you don't usually buy, or the makings of a fun trail mix.

Part of the fun of treats is the ritual—you can still enjoy the sweetness without the extra sugar.

9. "Would you like to bake with me?"

Carry those fond memories of making Christmas cookies together into the new year to help wean kids off the holiday high of constant treats. Just find something you're okay with your child eating regularly, like a healthy muffin recipe, baked oatmeal, or energy bites—whatever meets your own nutritional guidelines for your family!

10. "I noticed you didn't sleep well when you ate those treats before nap time. Let's think of a better time for treats together."

You can explain the effects of sugar on the body without vilifying it. Sometimes just saying sugar is bad makes it all the more desirable or pits you against your child. But that doesn't mean you can't give them the facts. Just tell them plainly that sugar makes it harder for them to sleep well, makes it harder for them to concentrate, or whatever other effects you've seen.

Here's to a healthy 2020—you've got this, mama!

Learn + Play

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has been warning parents not to use inclined sleepers for months now, after a series of infant deaths and an investigation by Consumer Reports led to a recall of the very popular inclined sleeper, the Fisher-Price Rock n' Play.

The Rock n' Play recall led to other recalls, and eventually to the CPSC developing public service messaging asking parents to avoid all inclined sleeping products.

This week the CPSC issued a warning about a specific product, Summer Infant, Inc.'s SwaddleMe By Your Bed Sleeper.

In a statement, the commission explained: "Based on CPSC staff's evaluation of the product, how it is used, and outside expert analysis, CPSC staff believes that the Summer Infant SwaddleMe By Your Bed Sleeper puts infants at risk of suffocation. Although CPSC is not aware of any incidents or deaths involving the Summer Infant SwaddleMe By Your Bed Sleeper, CPSC urges consumers to stop using the product immediately."

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This comes after the Manning report, conducted independently by expert Erin Mannen, Ph.D., a mechanical engineer specializing in biomechanics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. She tested and evaluated the design of inclined sleep products for infants and found that "products with inclines 10 degrees or less, with flat and rigid surfaces, are likely safe for infant sleep [and that] soft and plush-like sleep surfaces pose dangers to infants," the CPSC states.

In a statement to Motherly, a spokesperson for SUMR Brands explained the company has already stopped making and selling this product.

"No caregiver has ever reported an injury or death in the SwaddleMe By Your BedSleeper," they explain.

The statement continues: "The company hasn't produced the By Your Bed Sleeper in more than a year, and has no plans to make more. The product is no longer being sold by any major retailers. The By Your Bed Sleeper has significant design differences from other inclined sleepers. The CPSC is developing new rules for this category. We fully support that process, along with any new rules, once they have been set."

It's important to note that the CPSC announcement is a warning, not a recall, but the CPSC still wants a recall. It just has not yet reached an agreement with Summer Infant for a voluntary recall. (Almost all recalls are voluntary, it's rare that the CPSC has to issue a mandatory recall—that only happens when a company can't or won't take part).

Bottom line: The CPSC wants parents to avoid all inclined sleepers.

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