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Your child’s tantrum isn’t really about the chicken nuggets

It started in the kitchen on a Tuesday night.

I was frantically running around trying to get my son ready as I prepared a quick dinner for the family.


We had approximately 45 minutes from the time I got home from work to when we had to leave again for our next activity.

Things were looking good for an on-time departure.

Even though my son could clearly see me in the kitchen making dinner, he wanted to know if he could have a granola bar, because he said he was simply starving.

I told him no, that is snack food, and we would be eating dinner in 10 minutes.

“Well what are we having for dinner?” he asked.

“Chicken nuggets and corn,” I replied.

“Ok, Mom, that sounds nice, thank you for making me dinner, I love you,” he said.

Oh, wait, that didn’t happen.

What he actually said was, “Whaaaat? No, I hate chicken nuggets! I am not eating that!”

This was news to me, especially since he asked me in the car 30 minutes before if he could have them.

While I tried to think of the best way to respond to him, he proceeded to throw himself on the floor and show me how upset he was about this dinner fiasco.

Then the tears came.

He was crying real tears.

Over chicken nuggets.

This is where I struggle as a parent. How do I possibly respond in this situation? I can’t give in and make him something else because that shows him that all you have to do is act irrationally to get what you want.

But I also can’t totally get mad at him because, truthfully, he has chicken nuggets far more than he should and I would be sick of them, too.

After much contemplation, while tuning out the wailing that was still in full force, I realized that this was where my moment came in: An opportunity to practice all of the positive parenting skills that I read up on and preach about to my husband.

See, as much as I wanted to respond by yelling back or telling him to quit crying or he’ll have no dinner, I knew that the tears were simply a reflection of emotions he doesn’t know how to handle.

While it seemed like the most ridiculous thing in the world that my son was thrashing himself around over something so trivial, I realized what was really going on.

It wasn’t about the chicken nuggets.

Maybe he had a bad day at school and that granola bar was the one thing he had been looking forward to.

Maybe he didn’t want to go to the church activity that night, so he threw a fit to avoid it.

It is possible that he had been told “no” all day and this last “no” is what threw him into meltdown mode.

Or he could be exhausted—he went to bed late the night before and had trouble getting up in the morning.

Whatever the reason, I suddenly felt a deep sense of empathy for him and my initial feeling of wanting to punish him for such “tyrant” behavior subsided.

Wishing everyone a safe and Happy 4th of July. 🎆 #teammotherly 📷 @kenzchase

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I can recall some very specific times in my life that I have wanted to drop to the floor and cry, often for the smallest of things. “First world problems,” as we call it.

In fact, just the other day I felt real feelings of anger and frustration because my husband finished off the creamer and didn’t bother to tell me. When I went to grab it, I learned it was gone and I was ready to throw a fit right then and there.

And just last week I had a meltdown in my car because I couldn’t get my seatbelt locked in and I was hangry and couldn’t control the tears that came flooding in.

Oh, and earlier this month I attempted to make paleo pancakes that crumbled during the flipping stage so I gave up, chucked the pan in the sink and pouted like a child.

I know this feeling of overwhelming emotion all too well. Thankfully, I have learned how to appropriately handle myself in most situations. It’s only taken me about 30 years to get to this point, but I still have my moments.

And I think most of us that have had those days when we are pushed over the edge because of something that seems really small. But we know deep down that isn’t the case at all. (OK, that sounded like Dr. Seuss but you get my point.)

Our children, in those moments, they need us more than ever.

They need us to teach them that it’s OK to feel emotion, no matter what it is and no matter what it is about.

That there are more effective ways to express themselves that feel better and make the people around us feel safe.

They need us to recognize that they are sad or mad over chicken nuggets or something else and ask why and what we can do to help them in that moment.

They need us to put our own expectations of how we think they should act aside and face the reality that there is a child in front of us that is still developing and learning and that it is our job to teach them how to handle those big scary feelings.

They need us to embrace the tantrum!

The messy part, the ugly part, the beautiful part, the part that makes us want to get down on the floor and cry with them.

Because if we don’t, who will?

This is our opportunity to pause and love them when we are triggered ourselves and reactive.

In my case: I knelt down on the floor and wrapped my arms around my son. I told him I love him and that I knew how he felt. I told him that if he wants to talk I would be there and I would listen. Or, if he needed more time, I would give him space.

I pulled the chicken nuggets out of the oven and placed them on a plate along with the corn. I set them down next to him on the kitchen floor, walked into the other room and watched from the couch as he wiped away the tears and ate every last one of those chicken nuggets.

Sigh.

And, you know what? We still had five minutes to spare.

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The temperatures are dropping and that can only mean one thing. Whether we like it or not, winter's cold chilly months are upon us. As a born-and-raised Alaskan, and mama of three, I've got a lot of cold weather experience under my belt, and staying inside half the year just isn't an option for us. As my husband likes to say, "There's no bad weather, just bad gear."

Here are some of my favorite picks to keep your family toasty warm this winter.


1. Bear bunting

This sherpa bear bunting wins winter wear MVP for being a comfy snowsuit for your littlest babe, or base-layer under another snowsuit for the chilliest of winter outings. Bonus: your baby bear will never look cuter!

Sherpa Hooded Bunting, Carter's, $15.20

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2. Patagonia Capilene base-layers

Speaking of base-layers, for any prolonged winter activity outside in the cold, it's best to layer up to create air pockets of warmth. These moisture wicking base-layers are a family favorite.

Baby Capilene Bottoms, Back Country, $29.00

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3. Arctix Kids limitless overall bib

These adjustable snow pants keep kids warm and the bib style keeps snow from going down the back of their pants. Bonus: the price is excellent for the quality and they can grow with your child. The Velcro strap also makes bathroom breaks for kids so much easier.

Arctix Kids Limitless Overall Bib, Amazon, $14.99-$49.99

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4. Hooded frost-free long jacket

Keep your little one warm and stylish in this long puffer jacket. Great for everyday outings.

Hooded Frost-Free Long Jacket, Old Navy, $35.00

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5. Patagonia reversible jacket

This jacket is windproof, waterproof and the built-in hood means one less piece of gear to worry about (or one more layer for your little one's head). It's a best buy if you live with cold winter temperatures for many months of the year and still love to get outside to play. It also stays in great condition for hand-me-downs to your next kid.

Reversible Down Sweater Hoodie, Nordstrom, $119.00

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6. Under Armour Decatur water repellent jacket

Made of waterproof fabric and lined with great insulation, kids will no doubt stay warm—and dry—in this. It features plenty of pockets, too, so mama doesn't always have to hold onto their items. We love that the UGrow system allows sleeves to grow a couple inches.

UA Decatur Water Repellent Jacket, Nordstrom, $155.00

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7. Stonz mittens

Ever tried to keep gloves on a 1-year-old? It's a tough task, but these gloves make it a breeze with a wide opening and two adjustable toggles for a snug fit they can't pull off! Warm and waterproof, and come in sizes from infant to big kids.

Stonz Mittz, Amazon, $39.99

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8. Sorel toot pack boot

Keep their little toes warm with these cozy boots from Sorel. With insulated uppers and waterproof bottoms their feet are sure to stay warm. They're well constructed and hold up over time, making them a great hand-me-down option for your family.

Sorel Kids' Yoot Boot, Amazon, $48.73-$175.63

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9. Stonz baby boots

These Stonz stay-on-baby booties do just as their name says and stay on their feet. No more searching for one boot in the grocery store parking lot!

Stonz Three Season Stay-On Baby Booties, Amazon, $29.99-$50.29

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Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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We make a lot of things this time of year. Gingerbread houses. Christmas cards. New traditions. Babies.

Yes, December is peak baby making season. It's a month filled with togetherness and all the love felt in December is what makes September the most statistically popular month for American birthdays.

According to data journalist Matt Stiles, mid-September is the most popular time to give birth in America. He did a deep dive into the birth stats from the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics and the U.S. Social Security Administration collected between 1994 and 2014 and found that the most common American birthdays fall on September 9, 19 and 12. In fact, 9 of the 10 most popular days to give birth fall in September.

If we turn the calendar back, we're looking at Christmas time conceptions. Stiles illustrated his findings via a heat map, which presents the data in a visual form. The darker the square, the more common the birthday.

The square for August 30 is pretty dark as it is the 34th most common birthday in America. It's also 40 weeks after November 23, and the unofficial beginning of the United States' seasonal baby boom.


And while the Christmas holidays are common times to conceive, they're not common days to give birth, for obvious reasons. Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Day and the fourth of July are all represented by light squares on Stiles's data map, meaning they're among the least popular days to welcome a little one into the world (Boxing Day is just a smidge darker, still a pretty rare birthday).

OB-GYNs are not likely to schedule C-sections on major holidays, so that might point to the low birth rates on these special days.

As for the September baby boom, it probably has less to do with the magic of the holiday season and more to do with the fact that many Americans take time off work during the holiday season. It's not that mistletoe is some magic aphrodisiac, but just that making babies takes time, and at this time of year we have some to spare.

This Christmas be thankful for the time you have with your loved ones and your partner. That time could give you a gift come September.

[A version of this article was originally posted November 21, 2018]

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When I gave birth the first time, I had two doulas—one for me, and one for my husband. (I wasn't messing around!) They worked hard to support me in what ended up being a long labor. About 20 hours in, I remember hearing my doulas whisper to my exhausted, hard-working husband, “Go lie down. We can take care of her."

This was absolutely true. They were more than capable of helping me through contractions, which up to this point I'd been handling really well. So upon their urging, my husband walked about three feet away and lay down on the daybed in the labor and delivery room. And then the strangest thing happened—

I completely lost my rhythm and my ability to breathe through contractions. It was as though I'd lost my way. The next handful of contractions were unbearable and caused me to cry out in anguish. My husband hurried to my side and held my hand once more.

And then, just as quickly, I found my rhythm, my breathing returned, and I was able to to handle my contractions until I gave birth several hours later.

In a recent study published in Nature, it was discovered that when a partner held the hand of a woman during labor, the couple would begin to synchronize their breathing and heart rate patterns, otherwise known as physiological coupling.

In addition, the women reported that their pain lessened while holding hands with their partners. If they were just sitting next to one another, but not holding hands, their pain levels weren't affected.

This study has obvious implications for the families I teach in my Childbirth Preparation classes, and it's important to share this news far and wide:

Everything you do for your partner while she's in labor makes a difference. Even if all you do is hold her hand.

Labor is not just something that a birthing woman experiences. Her partner experiences labor too, just in a very different way. For far too long, we've either diminished or ignored the partner's experience of labor—to everyone's detriment.

I realize that it makes sense to pay close attention to how a woman moves through her pregnancy, labor and birth. But if we're not paying equal attention to her partner's experience, we're not setting this new family up for success. In fact, we might be doing the exact opposite.

If partners don't realize the importance their words, actions and touch can have on the laboring woman's experience, many may freeze up and feel helpless as they witness the power and intensity of labor and birth. They may end up feeling as though all of their efforts and suggestions for comfort measures are without any effect. But this couldn't be further from the truth!

Every little thing a partner does to make the laboring woman more comfortable matters immensely. Every sip of water offered, every new position suggested, every word of encouragement, every reminder to breathe, every single touch, provides comfort to the laboring woman. And partners need to know this and believe in the power that their undivided attention and connection can bring to the laboring woman.

Here's why I think the findings from this latest study are so important—it's that feeling of shared empathy between the laboring woman and her partner that causes the physiological coupling and pain relieving effects that help a woman when she's experiencing pain.

That's why I've always told the partners in my classes that even if they hired an army of the world's greatest labor doulas, their unwavering, focused and empathetic attention during birth, is the reason why she'll tell everyone that she couldn't have made it through labor without her partner! Even if all they did was hold her hand.

It's a conundrum many parents wrestle with: We don't want to lie to our kids, but when it comes to Santa, sometimes we're not exactly giving them the full truth either.

For Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard, lying to daughters Lincoln, 5, and Delta, 3 just isn't an option, so everyone in the Bell-Shepard household knows the truth about Santa.

"This is going to be very controversial," Shepard told Us Weekly earlier this month. "I have a fundamental rule that I will never lie to them, which is challenging at times. Our 5-year-old started asking questions like, 'Well, this doesn't make sense, and that doesn't make sense.' I'm like, 'You know what? This is just a fun thing we pretend while it's Christmas.'"

According to Shepard, this has not diminished the magic of Christmas in their home. "They love watching movies about Santa, they love talking about Santa," Shepard told Us. "They don't think he exists, but they're super happy and everything's fine."

Research indicates that Shepard is right—kids can be totally happy and into Christmas even after figuring out the truth and that most kids do start to untangle the Santa myth on their own, as Lincoln did.

Studies suggest that for many kids, the myth fades around age seven, but for some kids, it's sooner, and that's okay.


Writing for The Conversation, Kristen Dunfield, an Assistant Professor of Psychology at Concordia University, suggests that when kids come to parents with the hard questions about Santa, parents may feel a bit sad, but can take some comfort in "recognizing these challenging questions for what they are—cognitive development in action."

Kids aren't usually the ones who are upset when they figure it out, researchers note. Typically, kids are kind of proud of themselves for being such great detectives. It's the parents who feel sadness.

Some parents may not choose to be as blunt as Shepard, and that's okay, too. According to Dunfield, if you don't want to answer questions about Santa with 100% truth, you can answer a question with a question.

"If instead you want to let your child take the lead, you can simply direct the question back to them, allowing your child to come up with explanations for themselves: "I don't know, how do you think the sleigh flies?" Dunfield writes.

While Dax Shepard acknowledges that telling a 3-year-old that Santa is pretend might be controversial, he's hardly the first parent to present Santa this way. There are plenty of healthy, happy adults whose parents told them the truth.

LeAnne Shepard is one of them. Now a mother herself, LeAnne's parents clued her into the Santa myth early, for religious reasons that were common in her community.

"In the small Texas town where I grew up, I wasn't alone in my disbelief. Many parents, including mine, presented Santa Claus as a game that other families played," she previously wrote. "That approach allowed us to get a picture on Santa's lap, watch the Christmas classics, and enjoy all the holiday festivities so long as we remembered the actual reason for the season. It was much like when I visited Disney World and met Minnie Mouse; I was both over the moon excited and somewhat aware that she was not actually real."

No matter why you want to tell your children the truth about Santa, know that it's okay to let the kids know that he's pretend. Kristen Bell's kids prove that knowing the truth about Santa doesn't have to make Christmas any less exciting. Pretending can be magical, too.

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