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Sexism hurts boys + girls alike

Today's girl can be anything she wants. But what of the little boys playing house, dressing up, cuddling baby dolls?

Sexism hurts boys + girls alike

Ask my two children what their favorite part of recent trip to Disney World was and you'll get two very different answers. Not only because of their five and a half years age gap, but also because they are remarkably different people. My older child's favorite experience was the Jedi training at Hollywood Studios while my younger loved meeting all the princesses and riding the Frozen attraction. Their souvenirs were a build-your-own lightsaber and a Cinderella doll, respectively. When my mother took them for face painting, the older one opted for a tiger face and the younger, Princess Tiana.

Reading those descriptions, many may assume I have an older boy and younger girl. If I told you that they were the same sex, most people would assume they are girls and the older is a tomboy. Most of you are fine with that. But what if I were to say that they were both boys? Would you be equally fine with a little boy entranced with and identifying as a princess? Would you accept my parenting if I'd let a little boy play princess?

Where is the positive boy equivalent of a 'tomboy'?

Although there are definitely subcultures throughout our country that emphasize femininity and reject the tomboys, that trend has shifted some over the past decade or two. In many circles it's now not only totally acceptable, but even a point of pride to have a tomboy daughter.

Today's girl can be anything she wants. Girls are being pushed into the STEM fields that they've been shunned from for… well forever. Geeky girl culture is booming, with little girls' clothing lines rolling out dresses and tops covered in dinosaurs, computers and video game characters. Girls can play with Legos and trucks and Minecraft and balls.

But what of the little boys playing house, dressing up, cuddling baby dolls? We don't have a name for these boys other than "sissies" or "wusses" or other such derogatory terms; however, many boys choose toys and play styles that are traditionally thought of as feminine, despite being strongly discouraged from doing so. The pressure to change is applied by both society and parents, particularly the fathers.

Why respecting individuality in our kids makes for better adults

Today's parents are encouraging our girls to play with all toys and games to give them a broader perspective of the world. We are revolting against the "pinkification" of every toy and opting for gender neutral colors and toys that cross gender barriers. We are venturing into the unknown lands of the "boy" toy aisle to help our girls become more well-rounded adults. Several years ago this backlash was supported by President Obama and several movements like "Let toys be toys."

But are we doing the same for our boys? In a society in which we increasingly expect our adult male partners to contribute to housework and childcare, why wouldn't we encourage nurturing play behavior with dolls and toy kitchens? If we want our grown men to be able to identify and express emotions and to work with people of all personalities and backgrounds, why wouldn't we encourage imaginative play and dress-up where they get to feel what it is like to be these other kinds of people?

Humans learn through experience. Long-term memories require reiteration. What we practice, we get good at. Our brains are also designed to pay attention to the emotional responses to what we do. When we are encouraged and applauded, we do those things more. When we are yelled at, or shamed or not allowed to do something, particularly by someone we care about, those memories stick. How our parents respond to our choices affects who we become.

While we know that some play is practice for adult behaviors, we also know that play also is important for later stress management and mental health. A recent study of fathers showed their active engagement with their daughters, encouraging emotional growth… and the opposite with their sons. We need to reverse this trend to improve adult mental health outcomes in men.

There is no 'wrong' way for kids to play

My children are both tough and wild, gentle and sweet, thoughtful and intelligent. They are feisty and fierce and stubborn and opinionated. They are both girls. And they're also individuals, and I value their differing choices and encourage their unique selves. My "tomboy" daughter builds her Minecraft world with polished nails and cat-ear headphones perched on her short hair. My "princess" daughter is more comfortable outdoors, pausing in her pursuit of the soccer ball only to investigate the bugs that terrify her sister. As girls, my children are empowered and encouraged to be all these things.

As a society, we need to be doing the same for our boys by encouraging them to expand their play. My nephews love to play dress-up with my girls, and will happily don a frilly dress; just as my girls will happily grab the superhero costumes when at their houses. My youngest brother often got stuffed into dresses as my sister and I played with him, and he'd smile and entertain us with song and dance and play any role, male or female, that our imaginations required of him.

Most of that came from my parents, who modeled atypical gender roles and encouraged each of us children to be our true selves. But I like to think that maybe a little of his later life success comes from his big sister encouraging creative thought at early ages, and that his success as a husband and father are shaped in part by the freedom to play at those roles as a child.

Ultimately, we give our children the best chance by being supportive and encouraging of their interests, whether those interests and toys are traditionally pink or blue.

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I felt lost as a new mother, but babywearing helped me find myself again

I wish someone had told me before how special wearing your baby can be, even when you have no idea how to do it.

My first baby and I were alone in our Brooklyn apartment during a particularly cold spring with yet another day of no plans. My husband was back at work after a mere three weeks of parental leave (what a joke!) and all my friends were busy with their childless lives—which kept them too busy to stop by or check in (making me, at times, feel jealous).

It was another day in which I would wait for baby to fall asleep for nap number one so I could shower and get ready to attempt to get out of the house together to do something, anything really, so I wouldn't feel the walls of the apartment close in on me by the time the second nap rolled around. I would pack all the diapers and toys and pacifiers and pump and bottles into a ginormous stroller that was already too heavy to push without a baby in it .

Then I would spend so much time figuring out where we could go with said stroller, because I wanted to avoid places with steps or narrow doors (I couldn't lift the stroller by myself and I was too embarrassed to ask strangers for help—also hi, New Yorkers, please help new moms when you see them huffing and puffing up the subway stairs, okay?). Then I would obsess about the weather, was it too cold to bring the baby out? And by the time I thought I had our adventure planned, the baby would wake up, I would still be in my PJs and it was time to pump yet again.

Slowly, but surely, and mostly thanks to sleep deprivation and isolation, I began to detest this whole new mom life. I've always been a social butterfly. I moved to New York because I craved that non-stop energy the city has and in the years before having my baby I amassed new friends I made through my daily adventures. I would never stop. I would walk everywhere just to take in the scenery and was always on the move.

Now I had this ball and chain attached to me, I thought, that didn't even allow me to make it out of the door to walk the dog. This sucks, I would think regularly, followed by maybe I'm not meant to be a mom after all.


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14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

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Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

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Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

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Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

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Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

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Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

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The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

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Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

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Baby forest fox ride-on

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Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

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It's science: Why your baby stops crying when you stand up

A fascinating study explains why.

When your baby is crying, it feels nearly instinctual to stand up to rock, sway and soothe them. That's because standing up to calm babies is instinctual—driven by centuries of positive feedback from calmed babies, researchers have found.

"Infants under 6 months of age carried by a walking mother immediately stopped voluntary movement and crying and exhibited a rapid heart rate decrease, compared with holding by a sitting mother," say authors of a 2013 study published in Current Biology.

Even more striking: This coordinated set of actions—the mother standing and the baby calming—is observed in other mammal species, too. Using pharmacologic and genetic interventions with mice, the authors say, "We identified strikingly similar responses in mouse pups as defined by immobility and diminished ultrasonic vocalizations and heart rate."

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