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Ever look around and think: there just isn't any. more. room? It seems that as soon as we take a carload of bags to the donation center, whatever space or order we have been able to forge is almost immediately replaced with more stuff.


It's exhausting. It's defeating. It's depressing. And it can all be explained by the way our brain is wired.

Our brain on clutter

Described as anything that is kept, even though not used, needed or wanted, clutter can also be defined as having a disorganized and overwhelming amount of possessions in our living space, cars or storage areas. Clutter creates stress that has three major biological and neurological effects on us—our cortisol levels, our creativity and ability to focus, and our experience of pain.

But clutter isn't just physical. "When you have to-do items constantly floating around in your head, or you hear a ping every few minutes from your phone, your brain doesn't get a chance to fully enter creative flow or process experiences," says Mark Hurst, author of Bit Literacy, a New York Times bestseller on controlling the flow of information in the digital age.

The overconsumption of digital stuff—like social media notifications, news feeds, games and files on our computer—competes for our attention, creating a digital form of clutter that has the same effect on our brain as physical clutter.

Neatness and order support health—and oppose chaos.

So, what is going on? Our brains love order. The human body consists of thousands of integrated and interdependent biological and neurochemical systems, all organized and operating along circadian rhythms, without which our bodies would disintegrate into chaos. It's no wonder that the organization within our very own bodies naturally extends to the desire for order and tidiness in our homes. And, "order feels good, in part, because it's easier for our brains to deal with and not have to work so hard," says psychotherapist and professional organizer Cindy Glovinsky.

The science of cortisol

No matter the ways, reasons and means by which the creep of stuff exceeds our ability to mentally and physically manage it—all of it amounts to stress. Clutter can trigger the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which can increase tension and anxiety and lead to unhealthy habits. Cortisol is a hormone produced in response to stress by the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA).

Chronic clutter can create prolonged stress, throwing us into a state of low-grade, perpetual fight-or-flight—the system designed to help us survive. The fight-or-flight response involves the complex interaction of many body systems and organs that activate needed functions and minimize unnecessary functions during times of stress. These systems must remain in balance to maintain optimum physical and psychological health.

According to a Cornell University study from 2016, stress triggered by clutter may also trigger coping and avoidance strategies, like eating junk food, oversleeping or binge-watching Netflix.

If we are not stressed, we get most of our cortisol in the morning to get us going. Levels taper off the rest of the day if we are relaxed, enabling us to enjoy psychological and physical well being. But a messy home environment can prevent our body's cortisol levels from naturally declining throughout the day. Taxing this system eventually results in higher levels of depression and anxiety, and a lower capacity to think clearly, make decisions, and stay focused.

To supply the body with the energy needed to deal with stress, there are several physiological changes that occur with elevated cortisol levels:

  • Diversion of blood flow to the muscles from other parts of the body
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased blood sugars
  • Increased fats in in the blood

If there is no relief from stress, all of these changes are bad for healthy brain activity and can cause lasting negative changes in brain function and structure. Additionally, when stress raises our body's cortisol levels, our overall health can be adversely affected, including organ damage, the suppression of our immune, endocrine and reproductive systems, the lowering of our metabolism, and the disruption of our sleep cycle, to name a few.

It is difficult to maintain a state of wellness over time when our body energy is channeled into coping with stress.

Just as concerning, when we are in a state of chronic stress and not thinking clearly, we tend to only see that which is negative and reinforces our sour point of view, perceived lack of social support and subsequent poor interrelationships.

Research from a 2009 study out of UCLA's Center on Everyday Lives of Families (CELF) has shown that women who perceive their homes to be cluttered tend to have unhealthy patterns of cortisol levels. A team of professional archaeologists, anthropologists and other social scientists studied the home life of 32 middle-class, dual-income families with 2-3 children of ages 7-12 in Los Angeles. In the study, family members recorded self-directed home tours describing objects and spaces in their homes, during which saliva samples were taken at regular intervals to measure cortisol levels.

The data were collected for three days and compared to and correlated with vast amounts of other data previously collected over the course of four years. According to the CEFL study, the amount of stress women experience at home is directly proportional to the amount of stuff they and their family had accumulated.

We see what is relevant to us.

It's interesting to note in the UCLA study that men did not exhibit the same results, having normal cortisol fluctuations. Presumably they were not as stressed by the amount of stuff in their home. This can be explained possibly by the results of other studies that have shown that the home is traditionally perceived as women's domain and ultimate responsibility, even in households where both partners work.

Other studies also support the finding that if men don't think the responsibility of keeping the house tidy is relevant to them, they may not be inclined to see the clutter and so are not as stressed about it.

This may be explained further in part by research that has indicated that there are distinct differences in vision between men and women, since men have 25% more neurons in their visual cortex, a part of the cerebral cortex that processes visual information. The irony is that even though the visual cortex of a man has more neurons than a woman's, men are impacted more by the things they see that they think have to do with them, and less by the things they think do not.

The science of focus


From our computer desktop, to our car, to our kitchen counter and fridge—clutter is clutter, and it affects us whether we think so or not.

In a study by the Princeton University Neuroscience Institute, researchers monitored task performance when an individual was surrounded by organized versus disorganized environments.

Overall, subjects were more productive, less irritable and distracted in the clutter-free environment versus the disorganized environment where their stress increased.

Researchers concluded that physical clutter in our environment can overload the visual cortex, competing for attention in our brain and interfering with our ability to focus and process information.

So what's happening in our brain?

There are two neural mechanisms at work that interact dynamically when processing information. Stimulus-driven fast reactions and quick visual identification are considered bottom-up processes because they rely primarily on sensory information, whereas context-dependent motor control and directed attention are considered top-down processes because they are goal-directed. These two mechanisms work together to organize in our brain the visual stimuli—aka, clutter—in our home.

There is a reason why we have an urge to straighten up at home before we can sit down to focus on selecting a new healthcare plan.

The brain has a limited capacity to process information. To filter out extra stimuli and focus on what we are trying to achieve at any given moment, the top-down and bottom-up attention mechanisms compete. By mutually suppressing each other, brain power is exhausted, and ultimately we lose focus. Whether we know it or not, a kitchen counter stacked with mail and basket full of unfolded laundry can be as distracting to us as a toddler in the throes of a tantrum.

The science of decluttering

Now that we know what all of our extra stuff is doing to our health and ability to function, it's time to get rid of it, right?

...Oh, but if it were only that easy.

We collect things for many reasons–maybe we think we'll need to use them later, or they have sentimental value, or we spent good money on them so feel we need to keep them, even if we've never used them.

It literally can hurt our brain to get rid of things we probably made a mistake buying in the first place. Most of us can accomplish this with a little dedicated time and some degree of mild discomfort, though there are others who cannot manage to part with one. single. thing.

The American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) states that people with hoarding disorder have a conscious, ongoing compulsive urge to acquire unusually large amounts of possessions and an inability to voluntarily get rid of those possessions, even when they have no practical usefulness or real-world value, such as old magazines, newspapers, notes, outdated clothing, or old mail.

To understand what goes on in our brain when we throw things out, researchers at the Yale School of Medicine recently studied compulsive hoarders using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain-scan technology. While in the scanner, hoarders considered various possessions to determine whether to keep them or not. The items were destroyed in front of them, so they knew their decision was irreversible.

The pain is real.

When people with hoarding tendencies were faced with throwing out something with personal value, two regions of the brain associated with conflict and physical pain showed greater signs of activity, the Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC) a part of the brain involved in decision-making and planning, and the Insula, the same area that produces nicotine cravings. By comparison, people who didn't hoard showed no extra brain activity. These are the same areas of the brain that light up when you feel physical pain from stubbing your toe or burning your mouth with hot coffee.

The brain views the loss of a valued possession the same way it does something that causes physical pain. Although most people don't experience heightened ACC/Insula activity to this degree, we can all identify with the feeling of angst when finally tossing that pile of unread magazines, or those ticket stubs from last summer's trip to New York to see Hamilton.

The scientific benefits of decluttering

The good news is, those who suffer from hoarding respond well to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. For the rest of us... there is decluttering.

In addition to improving our mood and focus, decluttering often acts as a catalyst to taking better care of other aspects of our life. "By purging unneeded items from our homes, it is like deleting files to create disk space on your computer. Suddenly, the whole operating system is more efficient… this decreases stress and increases your effectiveness personally and professionally," says Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, Joyce Marter.

Decluttering promotes:

Better sleep

A study by Pamela Thacher, assistant professor of psychology at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., found that "People who sleep in cluttered rooms… are more likely to have sleeping problems. This includes having trouble falling asleep at night and experiencing rest disturbances." Additionally, people who make their beds every morning experience longer, more restful sleep, especially when they use fresh, clean sheets.

Better diet

Researchers at the University of Minnesota found that people who spent time in an unorganized room were twice as likely to eat a chocolate bar than an apple. And researchers at Florida State University reveal a link between hoarding and obesity, noting that "people with extremely cluttered homes are 77% more likely to be overweight."

In a more organized home, there is more time to plan and more space to prepare healthier meals, as well to relax and eat more slowly.

Better body

Research scientist and associate professor Nicole R. Keith, Ph.D., at Indiana University found that people with clean houses are healthier than those with messy houses, and tidy homes were even more of a predictor for physical health than neighborhood walkability.

In the study, Keith and her colleagues tracked the physical health of 998 African Americans between the ages of 49 and 65, a demographic known to be at an increased risk for heart disease. Those who kept their homes clean were healthier and more active than those who did not, the process of keeping a home clean constituting exercise.

Our stuff is consuming our energy and robbing us of health and satisfaction.

Since our brain is able to absorb only 1% of the visual information it gets, this suggests that information overload is real. Decluttering our home of things that bring us neither joy nor use can help us create spaces that help us relax, restore and rejuvenate.

So instead of blaming ourselves for noticing too much, or our partners for noticing too little, maybe we can just know that our brains are geared for order, step outside for some fresh air, and then enlist the family in clearing the path for a more peaceful and refreshing home.

Fewer, better, more beautiful. For the brain, less is actually more.

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We're a busy people, this family of mine. And we like it that way. But we're still always looking for simple ways to reconnect.

And most of the time, those moments happen around the dinner table.

I'm not embarrassed to admit we've become homebodies—we vastly prefer nights in watching movies and meals at home to the stress and cost of evenings out. While my husband and I still try to schedule a few legit date nights out now and then, by the end of our busy days, we like relaxing at the table as a family, then putting our daughter to bed to spend time together catching up on our shows or watching a movie. Most of our dates happen on the couch, and we're okay with that.

Dinner itself is a tradition I grew up valuing. As one of five kids, it seemed to be the only time our family was really all together, catching up on our days, making plans, or even just being physically present together. (This reminds me so much of the table we would gather around every night!)

Now that I'm my family's connector, I make sure to prioritize that time (even if most nights it's all I can do to get my wiggly toddler to sit still long enough to get a few bites of her dinner).

Whether we're relishing a home-cooked meal or simply noshing some pizza (because mama is tired, folks), nothing can replace the feeling of reconnecting—or leaving the table with satisfied bellies.

Because something strange happens when you have kids. Suddenly, time seems to enter a warp. One day (usually the days when nap time is short and the tantrums are long), time will drag on endlessly, making each minute feel like an hour until my husband gets home and can help with the kids. But most of the time, when I stop and really think about where we are in this busy season of life, I feel like time is flying by.

I look at my daughter, and I feel like someone has snuck in during the night and replaced her with this big-little girl because I swear she was just born a few months ago. I hug my son, unsure where the time has possibly gone because didn't I just take that positive pregnancy test yesterday? And I marvel at this rapidly growing family my husband and I have built because, really, wasn't he just asking me to be his girlfriend a year or two ago? (Try 10, self. That was 10 years ago.)

As fast as time races by, I don't have any answers for how to slow it down. If anything, the pendulum seems to swing quicker and quicker as our days fill with new activities. With jobs and responsibilities, with more and more activities and play dates for the kids.

But at the dinner table, I feel like time slows down enough for me to pause and look at this little family. I imagine us two, five, 10 years down the road (gathering around a table just like one of these). More little (and then not so little) faces peering at me over the table, asking for another piece of bread or more milk as my husband makes them giggle with a silly face or story.

I imagine them as teenagers, telling me about an upcoming test or asking if they can borrow the car after dinner. I even see them as adults, coming back to visit with their own kids for the occasional family dinner. (Hey, a mom can dream, right?)


No matter where life takes us—or how quickly—I'm grateful for this time and this place where we can always come back together.

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A barking cough echoed over the baby monitor at 5:00 am. My eyes hadn't even opened and in a hoarse morning voice I asked my husband, "You heard that too, right?" Maybe it wasn't as bad as I thought. But he agreed, and I groaned, knowing what my day—already planned to the hour—would now look like.

My husband is a teacher with a hefty commute and not always a lot of flexibility, so things like sick kids, vet appointments and oil changes usually fall to me. While I'm thankful for a job that essentially allows me to work anywhere—like car dealership waiting areas, my kitchen table or even waiting in line at the grocery store (thanks, email app!)—I still flinch at any disruption from my usual schedule.

I knew the barking baby seal probably meant Croup and because my older kiddo had also been battling a nasty cough and cold, I made plans to take both kids to the doctor. Four hours of meetings scheduled? No problem. I'd make the kids appointments, change my in-person meetings to conference calls, get the kids comfortable with some PBS and pillows and get on with my day working from home.

Two doctors appointments, a breathing treatment (due to unforeseen wheezing) and a trip to the pharmacy later, the girls and I were back home. I had 10 minutes to spare before a call with my manager. Barely breaking a sweat, I thought. Oh, the smug confidence.

I texted a quick update to my mom who'd asked how the girls were. Exasperated, my 3-year-old began pacing in circles in the kitchen. She might have been sick, but somehow her energy never faltered. She gestured with frustration— her palms up and little fingers spread wide, "It's not time for texting, Mommy. It's time for lunch!"

Some people have the type of kids who get colds and melt into the couch for days. They sleep more than usual, they're quieter and they are more than happy to zone out to a movie. I do not have such children.

But she was right. I apologized and sloppily slathered some peanut butter and honey on stale bread ends. Then added bread to the running grocery list.

Five minutes to spare.

As I served up a gourmet lunch, of PB&H and a juice box, I fumbled around to find the conference code when I heard the splat of baby barf hitting the floor (it's possible there is no worse sound.)

"Mommy! Ew! She barfed!"

I made a mental note to talk to the toddler about using the word, 'barf.'

My confident attitude about taking the day head on was now in a swift downward spiral. Sure, I could still join my meeting. I could half listen on mute and soothe the coughing baby with some gentle hip bouncing. But I'd likely have to answer a question and unmute myself, no doubt as the baby started crying again or the dog barked at a UPS truck.

I could make it happen and later face my oldest asking why I'm always on the phone or always texting and never playing. Basically, I could make it work, but not work well.

So, here's what I did.

I sent one final text to my manager that said, "Thought I could make today work but can't. Two sick kids. Need to reschedule."

I then breathed a huge sigh of relief for making one decision and not trying to squeeze in 50 things. I was able to refocus my attention to the little people who actually needed me. My manager sympathetically—and genuinely—responded, "Mom job comes first."

Because let's face it—my 3-year-old doesn't care that my inbox is full and my calendar is back-to-back. All she knows is this: When I'm home she wants to play.

And just because I can work anywhere, doesn't mean I should. I have to learn to stop "making it work." Some days it just doesn't work. I need the reminder to put the phone down. Close the laptop. Focus on what's in front of me. Find a way to shut off the part of my brain that's yelling and anxious about everything I need to do.

Sometimes I need to just s l o w d o w n.

My career isn't going to come to a screeching halt because I spent a few hours or even a few days with sick kids. But I'd like to think my kids will remember the times I spent snuggling and relaxing with them when they were sick. I'd rather they hold on to those memories than ones of me texting and scheduling and over-scheduling and trying to make ALL of it work.

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Motherhood is likely to be the most demanding gig you'll ever have, which is why having the right tools for the job is essential. Of course, even first-time mamas know they'll need a place to sleep, feed and change their newborn—but, there some key ways to set up the baby's room that will make each of those activities less stressful.

Here they are:

1. Re-think lighting

Youthful Nest

An average room has a single ceiling light centered in the middle of the room. Since that isn't where you'll place a changing table to change diapers, rethink how to shed some light on this and other essential caregiver tasks.

First, install a dimmer on the main overhead lighting so you can control the brightness for stealthy middle-of-the-night responsibilities, like feedings and diaper changes. You don't want be attempting these to-dos fumbling around in the darkness nor under bright lights that completely waken you and baby to the point that makes going back to sleep impossible.

Then, add in strategic task lighting. Key spots are near the changing table and next to the glider. If possible, even near the crib. This can be done with floor or table task lamps, preferably with adjustable brightness control, battery-powered motion sensor lights or baby nightlights.

2. Make one space to do multiple tasks

Youthful Nest

Motherhood brings a whole new meaning to the term multitasking. You might be nursing, snacking and emailing all at the same time. Even if you are handling one task at a time, you'll want to have the proper workstation to do your thing.

Wherever you place your glider, be sure to have a decent surface space within arm's reach where you can access items without having to get up from that comfy spot or move baby.

Think about setting up your glider area like you might a work desk. Have baby and mom necessities just a swivel away, including your feeding supplies, books, throws, drink cups, cell phone charger set on a side table or shelf system.

This same principle goes for the changing table area. For safety reasons, you don't want to leave your baby unattended so make sure you can grab the essentials with one hand. (Especially for those moments when the other hand is covered in poo. 💩)

Ensure the changing table area can hold the essential wipes and diapers and a couple sets of clean clothing, rash cream, nasal aspirator, nail clippers, boogie wipes and any other must-have baby toiletries.

3. Create comfort + support for you, mama

Youthful Nest

You deserve to put your feet up, mama. That means you'll want to include a pouf, ottoman or other type of footrest in your nursery. Using one will allow you to elevate your feet during feedings, naps and everything in between.

Your body will go through enough physical wear and tear during pregnancy and postpartum so help your body by using a footrest to improve blood circulation in your legs. Since you'll be sitting for extended periods of time in the glider, putting your feet up will keep those unwanted varicose veins away and could even prevent blood clots.

Like a pouf, a décor pillow isn't just good to bring into the nursery because it looks super stylish. It will actually work hard to support your back during all those feedings and occasional naps you accidentally take in the glider.

Pick one you love the look of, but also be sure that it is big enough and comfortable to lean back on evenly. Longer lumbar pillows are great because they fit nicely in the glider, giving you optimal support.

I would also suggest having a second décor pillow, one that you can tuck under your arm to get the height just right especially while feeding or reading. Too often gliders' armrests are not quite at the perfect height for everyone so a smaller throw pillow can be just enough support.

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It's on the walls of OB-GYN offices and maternity wards, and on the lips of friends, family and sometimes even strangers in the formula aisle. At times it's all a new mama can hear, even when she's sitting in silence with her thoughts.

When it comes to infant feeding, there is no phrase mothers hear more often than "breast is best" but new research, experts and moms who've lived a different truth say that while this message is amplified with the best intentions, new mamas need a lot more than those three words.

A recently published study, "The best of intentions: Prenatal breastfeeding intentions and infant health," suggests that there is a high societal cost to simplifying the the cultural conversation around infant feeding into a three-word slogan.

The study found that moms who intended to exclusively breastfeed but ended up using formula had children with health outcomes similar to exclusively breastfed infants. They also, in many cases, have a lot of undue guilt.

A mom's perspective

When Nicole Rivet-Barton welcomed her first child nearly four years ago she fully intended to breastfeed, but it was a struggle from the start.

"My expectation for myself was that my body would provide what it needed for my baby and when that didn't happen and I had to accept that and transition [to supplementing with formula] I felt like I was failing somehow," Rivet-Barton tells Motherly.

"I felt like less of a person," she explains, adding that whenever she had to have an encounter with a medical professional that wasn't her regular family doctor, she felt judged. On more than one occasion nurses chided her for bottle feeding, telling her "breast is best" without knowing those words were already never far from her thoughts.

"It wasn't the 'best' that I could give her. She was still hungry. My breast milk didn't have what she needed to grow properly," she says.

With the help of a breastfeeding support group and a lactation consultant, Rivet-Barton was eventually able to shift her mindset from "breast is best" to "you do you" and says she felt lighter for it.

"We went to a lactation consultant to help get my milk up and she basically said to me one day, 'You're going to pick your path and you're going to do what's right for your baby. Don't feel guilty.' And I guess I heard her that day, and I let it go," she recalls.

A lactation consultant who doesn't say "breast is best"

Leigh Anne O'Connor is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant in private practice. She's not the lactation consultant Rivet-Barton turned to, but she certainly shares the same views when it comes to acknowledging that infant feeding can't be boiled down to three-word slogans.

"I've never embraced that phase, 'breast is best' or 'fed is best.' They're both divisive terms. It creates a division in parenting and it creates conflict," she says. In place of catchphrases, O'Connor advocates for a more nuanced, thoughtful conversation on the topic.

She believes we can have individual and cultural discussions that both normalize breastfeeding and encourage parents to get their baby fed in the way that works for them, whether it's through nursing, pumping, using donor milk or formula.

"It's complicated. It's not one size fits all," she says. "Breastfeeding isn't always all or nothing, and there's a place for supplementation."

When "you do you" is best

For Rivet-Barton, supplementing allowed her to keep breastfeeding as much as she could for six months after both of her daughters were born.

She says that by the time her second daughter came along, she felt more confident in her parenting choices, and gave herself a lot more grace when it came to her infant feeding choices.

"I got into my stride and got confident enough to listen to my gut and not other people," she tells Motherly, adding that she wishes medical professionals and society would use more than three words when trying to educate new parents about infant feeding. "Give them options without putting expectations on them," she suggests.

More research and more support needed 

There is a massive body of research suggesting that breastfeeding is great for babies. That's not in dispute at all. But the researchers behind that recently published study suggest that the link just isn't as simple as "breast is best."

"Our results suggest that formula offers similar health benefits for our relatively advantaged sample of infants, once we take prenatal intentions into account," the study's authors note.

The research suggests that moms like Rivet-Barton really have nothing to feel guilty about.

The authors—Kerri M. Raissian, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Public Policy at the University of Connecticut and Jessica Su, an assistant professor in University at Buffalo Department of Sociology—explain that it's not actually the intention to breastfeed that makes the health difference, but rather the fact that mothers who intended to breastfeed often have a certain kind of privilege: They're the mothers who have more access to medical care and therefore more access to information about infant health.

Raissian and Su suggest that instead of amplifying the phrase "breast is best" and potentially overstating the benefits of breastfeeding, society would do better to give mothers the support they need during pregnancy and beyond.

This means making sure that everyone has access to perinatal care, and the kind of parental leave that makes it possible to breastfeed in the first place.

"The U.S. is the only developed country with no federal paid parental leave, and only about 12 percent of mothers in the private sector have access to paid leave," Su explains. "Paid maternity leave likely increases breastfeeding success, and also seems to have additional health benefits for mothers and infants. If we have concerns about disparities in infant health we need social policies that support these recommendations and also go beyond simply encouraging breastfeeding over formula."

Breastfeeding is great, but maybe "support for mothers" would be a better three-word slogan.

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I sometimes wonder how many times in a day small children hear "good job." It is so ingrained in the way we talk to kids, but in the Montessori classroom, you will not hear that phrase.

This is not to say that we don't offer positive reinforcement and encouragement, but our language is different. Montessori teachers try to use phrases of encouragement that protect the child's intrinsic motivation, and that focus on the child's process rather than the end product of his efforts.

"Good job" implies that we are the ones who judge our children's work and behavior, rather than empowering them to reflect upon their own efforts.

There are many ways to offer positive reinforcement that help your child evaluate themself. Here are 10 to try!

1. “You worked for a long time on that.”

When your child brings you a picture or shows you an elaborate block creation, try focusing your comments on their process, rather than the final product.

Let them know you saw how long it took them to make the creation and how hard they worked. This emphasizes to the child that creative process, concentration and their willingness to try new things are what matters, not how their final work looks.

2. “What was the most fun part of making that?”

Asking your child questions about their work shows them that they are the one who should be judging what they create, not you. It keeps their process from becoming adult-driven. The goal is for them to make and create things for the joy of it and to challenge themself, not to please you, or anyone else for that matter.

3. “What do you like best about your work?”

Prompt your child to be their own critic. Ask what they like best about their creation. Help them build the habit of reflecting on their own progress and skills, rather than always looking to others for praise.

4. “Tell me about your picture.”

Often when children bring us a piece of art they've made, they just want to share it with us and talk about it. They don't necessarily need or crave any real feedback from us. Simply asking your child to tell you about what they've made will show you're interested and give them a chance to tell you about what they've been working on.

5. “How did you choose what colors to use?”

If your child is a bit older, ask more specific questions about their process. Ask how they decided what colors to use in their picture, or what type of blocks they used for their structure. Show that you're genuinely interested in their process, and help them think through it on their own.

6. “You used so much detail!”

If your child isn't satisfied without some sort of feedback from you, find something specific to praise, rather than a general "good job." Comment on how they painted the whole page, covering every inch in color. Notice how they used so much detail that you really can tell it's your house they painted.

This type of comment lets them know you really see what they've done and helps them appreciate their own work in a deeper way.

7. “That was so helpful.”

Good behavior is another time when it's so tempting, even automatic, to say "good job." Try saying something more meaningful and commenting on what exactly you liked about your child's behavior.

"That was so helpful," or, "Thank you for helping" are good phrases to use when your child cleans up, opens the door for you, or helps you with household tasks like folding laundry or putting away dishes.

Children love to be part of the community and to feel like they are helping in a real way, so let them know!

8. “You got dressed right away today and we had extra play time, that was fun!”

Commenting on the positive results of your child's good behavior can be a powerful way to cement in their minds what a positive experience it was to make good choices. Help your child notice all of the positive effects of their actions.

9. “Your sister looked so happy when you read her that book.”

When your child is kind to someone, help them notice how it makes the other person feel. Let them know that their hug or kind words made your day. Tell them how happy their friend looked when they gave him a turn with his bike or how proud their little sister looked when they showed her how to water the plants all by herself.

We often comment on how our children's negative behavior makes people feel, but it's just as important to help them notice how their positive actions impact others.

10. “You put all of your toys away, everything looks so nice and neat.”

Comment on the specific thing your child did that you appreciated, and how it was helpful. This is a much more meaningful way to show your appreciation for your child's efforts than a blanket "good job."

There are so many meaningful, sincere ways to show our children that we appreciate what they do. The hardest part of branching out beyond "good job" is breaking the habit.

We are simply used to telling children "good job" for every little thing they do. While this is certainly meant to be kind and supportive, it can, in reality, take away from their sense of accomplishment and over time, can encourage them to seek out adult approval.

Try noticing when you say "good job" and start thinking about something more specific, or less adult-driven, you could have said instead. With practice, you will form new habits and ways of encouraging your child. It will feel more and more natural each time you try it.

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