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There's a natural momentum to a new year that spurs people to hop on their treadmills clean their closets, or finally stop chain-surfing the web until way past their bedtimes. But while the new year naturally helps you think about what you want to add to your life, implementing changes works better if you first close certain experiences and clear space by letting go of the parts of your life that are dragging you down, are sapping your energy, or are no longer needed.

It is not just an act of getting rid of things, it's an intentional practice of brightening energy by making room for the new.

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This is a great time for strategically removing from your life all the things that are not working or not flowing. Reflect on the parts of your life that are weighing you down—bad habits, stressful activities, addictions, negative thought patterns, old resentments or things that puts you in a sour mood every day. When you declutter your life, you create an invigorating, inviting space for passion, action and creativity to take hold.

Here are a few practices that help parents clear the old to make room for the new:

1. Create closure with gratitude

One of the best ways to achieve closure on the year is by expressing gratitude. Reflect on the few people you've been most grateful for during the year and creatively thank them.

One man was grateful to his chiropractor for helping cure his chronic migraine headaches, so he sent her a thank you card stating what her care meant to him. A mom was thankful for the friendly crossing guard who not only helped her kids cross the street every day, but who also greeted them with warm smiles or compliments—sweet and simple gestures that made them feel welcomed onto the school grounds. She thanked the crossing guard with a snuggly scarf for winter, hot chocolate and a card that her kids helped make. One couple was grateful for their reliable, patient and fun-loving babysitter who made it possible for them to enjoy date nights without guilt. They wrote her a letter detailing the positive things they appreciated about her.

Closing with gratitude lets you reflect on the year and sets you up for continued positive experiences in the year to come. As a bonus, research suggests that when you thank others, it creates an enormous increase in your own happiness as well.

Action step:

Think of one person to whom you're especially grateful toward this past year—such as a friend for listening, a grandparent who helped with child care, a teacher for helping your child, a mentor who gave you new ideas, or a boss who treats you great—and write them a detailed thank you card (or bake them cookies).

2. Declutter your to-do list

Decluttering your to-do list—especially the tricky stuff—frees up energy for creativity and playfulness. There are to-dos that all of us get stuck procrastinating on, whether due to an unconscious or conscious "block," an underlying fear, or a timing issue. Create a tiny bit of movement in your most-stuck tasks.

Action step:

Think of at least one thing hanging over your head or causing you stress—that complex medical bill that's hard to sort out, the enormous pile of socks without matches that stares you down every weekend, an old friend you've always been meaning to call—and take a small step toward taking care of it.

3. Declutter your space

Clearing your environment encompasses throwing out expired food from cabinets, decluttering closets, giving away toys or clothes, or going through old papers. Research suggests that managing a huge volume of possessions is a "crushing problem" in many homes, which often increases mothers' stress levels.

One study by Princeton researchers found that physical clutter in your surroundings competes for your attention, resulting in decreased performance and increased stress. Decluttering "stuff" may help kids too. For example, a recent study showed that too many toys actually reduced the quality of toddlers' play, whereas fewer toys helped toddlers play more creatively and in a more focused way.

Action steps:

  • Get rid of 10 toys
  • Get rid of 10 pieces of mail
  • Get rid of Tupperware without matching lids
  • Get rid of 10 things from your garage
  • Empty 1 drawer
  • Get rid of 10 food items from your kitchen and donate them to a food pantry
  • Get rid of 10 pieces of clothing from your closet and donate them
  • Clean the papers off your fridge
  • Delete 10 old voicemails

4. Declutter your schedule

There is increasing pressure to sign kids up for structured activities such as karate lessons, gymnastics, painting classes, chess clubs, and the like. A Pew Research Center survey showed that a full 31% of parents say they always feel rushed. Constantly running from here to there increases stress levels in both parents and kids. Kim John Payne, author of Simplicity Parenting, argues that children experience a "cumulative stress reaction" from too much enrichment, activity, and choice.

Decluttering your schedule helps rebuild time for free play, time for connection, and cozy time (also known as hygge). Reclaiming children's unstructured time is especially important, as research consistently finds that children absolutely love free time, especially outside. One survey of mothers in 16 countries found considerable agreement that free time—especially playing outside, at playgrounds, or at parks—was their children's most enjoyable activity. Backing off a busy schedule also allows children to spend time nurturing natural friendships through imaginative, kid-directed play.

Action steps:

  • Remove at least one structured activity from your schedule.
  • Take your kids outside for free play over the holiday break, even if it's cold.
  • Remember something you or your kids used to like to do for fun (like snowshoeing, knitting, having dance parties, doing puzzles, or watching animated films) that got edged out of your schedule due to busyness, and make a plan to reintroduce it into your life.

5. Clear a bad habit

Think of one aspect of your parenting you don't like, are exhausted by, or are tired of, and identify one way to clear it by "doing something different."

One mom hated the way she nagged her daughter to get her socks and shoes on before they went somewhere. She "did something different" by putting a bin of her daughter's socks and shoes by the door and, if her daughter had them on by the time they left, she played her daughter's favorite song as soon as they got in the car.

A dad got tired of yelling at his sons to go to bed, so he "did something different" by adding a few extra rituals into the bedtime routine—some time for playfulness, some time to talk about their day—and giving them 10 minutes to read or look at books before turning off the lights.

Action step:

Identify one thing you dislike that you do as a parent and get specific about how you'll "clear it" by handling things differently. The more you clear and work toward closure, the more you make space for all the good waiting for you around the corner in the new year.

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Most nights as I put my daughter to bed, rocking her to sleep in the darkness, I find my mind wandering to all the things I need to accomplish once she's asleep. I can't forget to throw that load of laundry in the dryer. I need to make sure I finish that lesson plan. I really should mop the kitchen tonight if I have time. As a busy working parent, the mental to-do list is never-ending, and my mind is always taking inventory of all that I've accomplished, and all I've yet to get done.

But tonight as I rocked her, I looked down at my daughter's legs, which now stick out past my arms when I cradle her in the rocking chair. I recalled how my arms used to wrap completely around her tiny little body. She used to lie in my arms, swaddled tightly like a little burrito, and her entire body would fit perfectly in my arms. It feels like this was only yesterday.

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I blinked, and somehow my tiny, sleepy newborn became a sweet, but strong-willed toddler.

I stared down at her little face in the darkness, forgetting the list of things I wanted to accomplish once I put her to bed. I watched her eyelids flutter as she fought sleep, and I recalled all the sleepless nights we spent in this rocking chair.

I remembered rocking her back to sleep on that very first night home from the hospital, so overwhelmed with love and joy, but also plagued with exhaustion.

I thought of all the nights between then and now. The tough, sleepless nights—through growth spurts, teething, and colds—and those sweet, easy nights where she drifted to sleep effortlessly and slept the whole night through.

I watched her eyelids become heavy as she drifted off to sleep, and I snuggled her a little tighter and rocked her a little longer. The days have flown by since we brought this tiny little blessing home, and I know that time is never going to slow down.

I know that there will come a day in the not-too-distant future where my precious little girl won't want her mama to rock her to sleep anymore. She won't want to hear Goodnight Moon for the one-millionth time. She won't want me to kiss her forehead and wish her sweet dreams before tucking her into bed.

So tonight, I made sure to be present in the moment rather than letting my mind wander to the next item on my to-do list. I watched my precious girl fall asleep and I savored every moment of it. I rocked her and rocked her and then rocked her some more.

I stared at her sweet face, wishing I could freeze this moment and keep her my baby forever. But I know that the future will bring new and exciting things as well.

For the time being, I'm going to enjoy where we are right now and do my best to just be in the moment. Because the laundry will still be there in an hour or two, and if the floors don't get mopped until tomorrow, nothing is going to happen.

Right now, just being here in this rocking chair with my baby is the most important thing in the world.

Life

With American officials now cautioning that Coronavirus outbreaks are highly likely within the 50 states, experts are also urging schools and businesses to prepare for disruptions. If it comes to this, the United States can follow Hong Kong's model—where protests through the fall shut down schools and then the threat of Coronavirus led classrooms to shutter again through the majority of winter.

With schools closed and the city effectively on lockdown as the threat of Coronavirus touched all aspects of public life, students around Hong Kong have been forced to adjust to virtual schooling, and that means mothers have been forced to adjust, too.

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"Extending the class suspension has been a difficult decision. Yet as the WHO [World Health Organization] predicted, the epidemic will last for a while and the Bureau thinks it is the safest decision to ensure the physical well-being of students," said Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung in a press statement this week, announcing the decision to push back opening schools until April 20.

For American mom Arcadia Kim and her family, this effectively put their lives in Hong Kong on standstill even though they were all healthy. Rather than wait it out in Hong Kong, the family decided to "self-quarantine" in Hawaii earlier at the beginning of February which they were able to do as American citizens. As the family hastily packed up their lives with just one hour of notice, they included their digital tablets and laptops—which have since become not only their lifelines to home, but also the children's method for schooling.

"Online classes and virtual school look like 'ready player one,'" says Kim, who runs Infinite Screentime, which helps families strike a better balance with screens. "[It's like] some dystopian future where you are plugged into the matrix."

Although screen time is a stressful topic among many modern parents, Kim had a unique vantage point on the perks and pitfalls: A former chief operating officer for Electronic Arts, Los Angeles, she was closely involved in the development of some of the most popular video games in the world—and understands exactly how they were created to be addictive.

After being conscious of her children's screen time throughout their lives, it felt strange for her to encourage them to log hours upon hours on their computers in the name of school. "They are in front of their computers for nearly six hours a day," she says of her children's virtual schooling. "It looks crazy, but this is crazy."

Still, for being pushed into this new way of schooling that they didn't request, Kim was impressed by the way her children quickly adjusted. Whereas they could have lost one year of education, the Kim children now wake up across the ocean from their school, log on by 8 a.m. to receive their assignments and then get to work for the day—which looks like anything from the 13-year-old Skyping with a tutor who is a PhD candidate in microbiology, the 7-year-old assessing the symmetry of objects using a tablet, or the 10-year-old learning scratch programming.

To provide a counterbalance at the end of the screen time-rich school day, the family makes a point of getting out and exploring their new surroundings.

While the circumstances in Hong Kong may be unique, students, parents and educators from around the world are embracing online classrooms for a variety of reasons. According to a 2019 report from the National Education Policy Center (NEPC), nearly 300,000 K-12 students in the United States were enrolled in full-time virtual schools.

However, experts from NEPC, a research organization based out of the University of Colorado at Boulder, expressed concern about the effectiveness of virtual schooling—which is still somewhat of an unregulated, "wild west" approach to education. Notably, the graduation rate from virtual schools is approximately 50 percent while the national average for public schools is 85%.

"Given the lack of understanding of what is actually happening in virtual education, policymakers should require that any virtual school operating in their jurisdiction be required to provide the necessary information to examine the effectiveness of the virtual education that is actually being provided," the authors suggested in the report.

Kim agrees the downsides to virtual schooling remain clear, especially because educators in Hong Kong had to scramble to offer this option on such short notice. "There are some things that seem better and more conducive to learning online than other things," she says. "Can a 7-year-old really understand the significance of the Day of Death by watching YouTube videos only? It would have been much cooler if they could have done the dress-up festival like the school had planned."

Yet Kim says her eyes truly have been opened to the possibilities that virtual schooling presents through this experience—even as she's looking forward to her children having the chance to go back to their normal classrooms. "This is going to be the future," she says. "[Online school] will force kids to be more self-reliant and motivated. Parents will need to be more flexible about what is to come."

News

Pregnancy is a naturally beautiful thing in a woman's life and the same should be true of the skincare products we use. But, that's not always the case. Did you know that just because a label says "gentle" or "all-natural" it doesn't mean it's non-toxic and pregnancy-safe? There can be a lot of sneaky ingredients that aren't so great for you, mama. In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists warns that prenatal exposure to toxic environmental agents can be linked to cancer and reproductive issues later in life. The good news is that you can reduce exposure to toxic chemicals by carefully reading labels.

The Cosmetics Database has a list of good-for-you ingredients if you're ever unsure. And, to get you started, these are our favorite all-natural, pregnancy-safe beauty products:

Acure prickly pear + fig extract shampoo

Acure shampoo

Free of parabens, sulfates, phthalates, mineral oil, petrolatum, silicone, and just about anything that could threaten you or your baby, this is one of the most accessible shampoos on the market that actually works wonders for pregnancy and postpartum hair loss. It increases hair's elasticity and aids in preventing breakage after a few uses. Their masks also make great self-care treatments both before and after your little one makes their arrival. Trust us, you'll have earned a little pampering!

$8.27

Amareta brightening gel cleanser

Moon Light Brightening Gel Cleanser

Wouldn't it be great if a skincare line had products for every stage of pregnancy and new mom life? Wish = granted.

This lightweight daily face wash cleanses, balances and brightens your skin throughout your hormonal cycle. Plus, you won't find chemicals, synthetic preservatives or harsh acne treatment ingredients, but you will find lots of vitamin C to brighten and hydrate even the dullest skin.

$48

Beautycounter hydrating foundation

Beautycounter hydrating foundation

Beautycounter is a mom-founded company that has been making waves by pushing the FDA to enact stricter rules about what is allowed into cosmetic products in the U.S. They hold themselves to a high standard, banning 1,500 questionable or harmful chemicals from all of their products—without sacrificing on quality.

Our favorite product includes the hydrating foundation that's perfect for light to medium coverage, and it includes sodium hyaluronate, a natural moisture magnet, to promote smoother-looking skin and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

$42

Belli anti-blemish facial wash

Belli anti-blemish facial wash

Sometimes pregnancy can do not-so-beautiful things to your skin. Since most anti-blemish treatments contain chemicals not recommended for pregnancy, we love Belli Skincare as a safer alternative. While all their products are free of parabens, gluten, artificial dyes and fragrances, their anti-blemish spot treatment and acne wash is great for pregnant or nursing mamas battling problem skin. Plus, it feels and smells super luxurious.

$22

Erbavia stretch mark cream

Erbavia stretch mark cream

No one deserves a little spa treatment more than pregnant mamas. But in case you don't have time for an afternoon away, we recommend Erbaviva's line of organic and chemical-free beauty treatments.

For a little nightly belly pampering, we loved combining the stretch mark cream (non-greasy so you can dress right away!), stretch mark oil, and belly butter. All three products feature the same earthy, spa-like scent and pair beautifully for a deep hydration—take that, third-trimester itchiness.

$30

evanhealy sea algae serum

evanhealy sea algae serum

When searching for pregnancy-safe products, you can't go wrong by starting with nature. Evan Healy's line of skincare products are all-organic and plant-based, leaving out synthetics or other toxic ingredients. We're super into the sea algae serum that's made up of sea buckthorn oil, seaweed, algae, hyaluronic acid and CO Q-10 to tone and beautify skin your entire pregnancy.

$45.95

Naked Truth Beauty lip + cheek stick

Naked Truth Beauty Lip & Cheek stick.

Naked Truth Beauty is a beauty company firmly rooted in safe products and ingredient education. Even their packaging is made from recycled ingredients and can be recycled or composted after use.

While they carry an assortment of bath and beauty items, our favorite is the Lip + Cheek stick. It's easy to apply, the color blends perfectly and they have a fair variety of shades for different skin tones. Plus, who doesn't love a product that pulls double duty—just like you, mama.

$26

W3LL People nudist lip butter

W3LL People nudist lip butter

What happens when an elite makeup artist, a cosmetic dermatologist and a tree-hugging entrepreneur team up to create a beauty line? Safe product magic.

That's the story behind W3ll People, a company firmly rooted in non-toxic formulas and minimalist makeup looks. Every product contains premium natural ingredients and skips fillers, propylene glycol, petrochemicals, and petroleum by-products, meaning you'll look as good as they make you feel.

We loved the lip butter for natural shades that work on any skin tone (plus a slight tingly that plumps your lips). This powerful lip butter also provides SPF 15 broad-spectrum protection for mamas who love the sun.

$13.99

Ilia limitless lash mascara

Ilia Limitless Lash Mascara

Infused with a hint of organic shea butter and keratin to help boost and enhance lash condition, this lightweight and nourishing formula is just what the doctor ordered for a classic, black finish. You'll also find a blend of organic bee and carnauba waxes to weightlessly condition each lash, while still keeping them lifted throughout the day.

$28

Pleni Naturals cleansing oil and exfoliating mask

A little goes a long way with this face oil. While the price might seem initially steep, when you're using only a few pumps a day this bottle can last longer than you might expect. Plus, it's two products in one.

We love this certified non-toxic and vegan formula for being super gentle on your skin and pregnancy safe. You can use this in your everyday cleansing routine—leaving your face feeling clean but not tight or squeaky—or you can leave it on for up to 10 minutes as a mask to get the exfoliating benefits from the papaya enzymes to help you gently dissolve dead skin cells. It's so great, you might want to consider keeping it in your routine beyond pregnancy, too, mama.

$48

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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As a dentist and a parent, I know getting kids pumped about dental care is not always easy. Especially when quality time with the toothbrush means an inevitable tantrum, as it does for some toddlers.

While the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends a visit to the dentist when the first tooth appears, or no later than your child's first birthday, establishing a few simple habits before your toddler's first dental appointment could be your best bet for an easier first time in the dentist chair.

Here are five easy ways parents can prepare their toddler prepare for the first dental visit.

Start brushing early

I know how important (but tough) it is to get kids into any sort of routine—let alone a dental one. We began our children's dental routine as infants by cleaning their mouths and gums regularly with a soft infant toothbrush or cloth and water. Between 12-18 months, we started a brushing routine with non-fluoridated toothpaste.

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The earlier children fit toothbrushing into their daily routine, the easier their first dental visit will be. Just like adults, children should brush their teeth twice daily for 2-3 minutes, ideally early in the morning and before going to bed.

Schedule your child's nighttime brushing before they get too tired. For example, if your child usually nods off at 8 pm, have them do their nightly brushing and flossing at 7:15 pm. We're all a bit more cooperative before the Sandman comes knocking.

Make it tasty

Finding a gently-flavored children's toothpaste your child likes to brush with can make brushing a lot more enjoyable—and may make that first dental visit go more smoothly, too. While mint flavored is a good go-to for adults, bubble gum or chocolate-flavored toothpaste may be more appealing for the little ones.

Parents can begin brushing their children's teeth with a tiny pea-sized amount of non-fluoridated toothpaste as early as 18 months. Once your child learns how to spit (around 2 years old), switch to fluoride toothpaste to protect against dental decay.

Avoid surprises

Most kids don't particularly enjoy bad surprises—and who can blame them? Showing up to a strange, sterile place like a dentist's office, with loud, scary noises and "a big person" putting their hands in your mouth? No, thank you!

The best way to prepare a child for the dentist is to tell, show and do:

Tell: Start by spending some time telling your child about the dentist and why it's important to visit.

Show: Demonstrate for your child what the dentist does by reading a children's book (and explain why it's not scary!).

Do: Bring your child on a quick field trip to the dentist and let them see, touch and experience the office before their first visit.

Play pretend

Before the first visit, try play-acting "trip to the dentist" with a stuffed animal. Encourage your child to count and brush teeth, floss between their chompers and have fun taking turns in a pretend dentist chair.

Use praise + positive reinforcement

Visiting the dentist is a new and sometimes scary experience for children. While starting and prioritizing a brushing routine helps in the long run, no amount of prep can guarantee a perfect first time dental visit.

Praise and positive reinforcement helps kids become excited to care for their teeth. Rewarding healthy habits and your first dental visit with a trip to the park, smiley stickers and big hugs makes the process less frightening for kids—and less troublesome for parents.
Learn + Play
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