Pediatricians say play is the medicine our kids need

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It brings a smile to their faces and ours, while lowering stress and building little brains. Play is such an important part of childhood, but opportunities for play in modern life are shrinking, and the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests they need to grow so our kids can grow, too.

In 2018 the AAP published a clinical report stressing the importance of play in child development and urging parents to play with their children every day.

The report suggests pediatricians should offer a prescription for play to new parents, advising moms and dads to make time for playtime, and suggesting schools do the same. "I think we're continuously learning that play is really essential for kids — it's not just an afterthought or an accessory," Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a professor in the psychology department at Temple University and one of the report's lead authors told AAP News.

A growing body of research on the subject shows that play—and the bonds we build when we play with our kids—helps kids learn important skills, leads to changes in neuronal connectivity, encourages prosocial behavior and protects kids from toxic stress.

"Collaboration, negotiation, conflict resolution, self-advocacy, decision-making, a sense of agency, creativity, leadership, and increased physical activity are just some of the skills and benefits children gain through play," the report's authors explain, noting that the science suggests play also leads to brain changes at the molecular and cellular levels.

"Play is really brain-building, and we tried to give examples of how play enhances the structure and function of the brain," says Dr. Michael W. Yogman, M.D., FAAP, a lead author of the report and chair of the Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health, according to AAP News.

Yogman and the report's other authors point to animal studies as well as real-world studies of children's behavior in the report. One of the studies referenced involved 3 and 4-year-olds who were nervous about starting preschool. Half the kids were assigned a 15 minute play session while the other half listened to an adult read a story. The group that got to play showed a two-fold decrease in anxiety.

Another study of preschoolers exhibiting disruptive behavior found that when they were assigned one on one playtime with an adult (who allowed them to take the lead in play while narrating the children's behavior out loud and discussing emotions as they played) the kids' salivary cortisol stress levels went down and their behavior improved.

Early play with parents builds baby's brain architecture

The pediatricians are advocating for more playtime in schools, but they also want parents to include more playtime at home, and this should start way before school does.

"This evolution begins in the first three months of life, when parents (both mothers and fathers) interact reciprocally with their infants by reading their nonverbal cues in a responsive, contingent manner. Caregiver–infant interaction is the earliest form of play, known as attunement, but it is quickly followed by other activities that also involve the taking of turns," the report's authors write.

As Harvard University's Center on The Developing Child has previously pointed out, this kind of parental play known as "serve and return" builds the foundation of baby's brain architecture. It starts so simply with babies pointing at something or looking at something, serving up us parents and opportunity to engage with them by returning their interest. Games like peek-a-boo or point-and-name can happen any time, anywhere, giving little brains an opportunity to grow while bonding with mom or dad.

From peek-a-boo to problem solving

The authors of the AAP's report note that in the second year of a child's life, play becomes more complex. As our kids grow, we move on from those serve-and-return interactions into a whole host of interactive games and activities.

"Fantasy play, dress up, and fort building now join the emotional and social repertoire of older children just as playground activities, tag, and hide and seek develop motor skills. In play, children are also solving problems and learning to focus attention, all of which promote the growth of executive functioning skills," they explain.

Some parents love getting down on the floor to play pretend with their kids, but for some it can be hard to prioritize play when you've also got a huge to-do list to tackle.

Dr. Yogman suggests parents should see playtime not as a thief of time, but as a chance to "re-experience the joy of their own experiences in childhood play...and to notice the kind of nonverbal cues that their kids display during those … experiences, which are really critical to improving their interactions and their relationships with their children," he told AAP News.

Basically, making a fort or playing dress up is good for both of you.

You don't have to get fancy

The AAP's experts aren't suggesting parents blow the budget on toys—in fact, it's just the opposite. Dr. Yogman suggests the stuff you've already got around the house—wooden spoons, blocks, balls, puzzles, crayons and cardboard boxes—is enough to enhance playtime. "Sometimes simple objects with the least accoutrements allow kids to really be creative about how they're using them," Yogman explains via AAP News.

Get outside with your kids

The report notes that while "outdoor play provides the opportunity to improve sensory integration skills," a lot of families don't get enough time outside these days.

"A national survey of 8,950 preschool children and parents found that only 51% of children went outside to walk or play once per day with either parent," the AAP's experts note. Concerns over the safety of outdoor spaces was one reason parents did not engage in outdoor play with their children, but if you've got access to a safe neighborhood playground or a backyard space, getting outside and playing with your child invites all kids of opportunities for sensory development and bonding.

A cultural shift

The AAP's prescription for play is actually a prescription for a cultural shift. The report's authors note that demanding parental work schedules, fewer safe places for outdoor play, more screen-based media and a shrinking opportunities for play at school are having a negative impact on a generation of kids.

"These factors may negatively affect school readiness, children's healthy adjustment, and the development of important executive functioning skills," the report's authors note.

There is a silver lining though, and we are it. Parents can make a huge difference, even if we don't have as much time for play as we would like. We can make play a priority every day, and even bring play into everyday activities to make the most of the time we do have with our kids.

Dr. Yogman says even a trip to the grocery store can be a playful bonding experience that builds little brains. "Giving kids the opportunity to, say, count the apples in the supermarket. Those are the kinds of joyful experiences [that are good] for kids as opposed to just sitting tacitly in their shopping cart," Yogman tells AAP News.

Those are also the kinds of joyful experiences that make memories.

[Correction: August 21, 2018: Clarified attribution of quotes to AAP News.]

[A version of this post was originally published August 20 2018. It has been updated.]

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When it comes to holiday gifts, we know what you really want, mama. A full night's sleep. Privacy in the bathroom. The opportunity to eat your dinner while it's still hot. Time to wash—and dry!—your hair. A complete wardrobe refresh.


While we can't help with everything on your list (we're still trying to figure out how to get some extra zzz's ourselves), here are 14 gift ideas that'll make you look, if not feel, like a whole new woman. Even when you're sleep deprived.

Gap Cable-Knit Turtleneck Sweater

When winter hits, one of our go-to outfits will be this tunic-length sweater and a pair of leggings. Warm and everyday-friendly, we can get behind that.

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Gap Cigarette Jeans

These high-waisted straight-leg jeans have secret smoothing panels to hide any lumps and bumps (because really, we've all got 'em).

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Tiny Tags Gold Skinny Bar Necklace

Whether engraved with a child's name or date of birth, this personalized necklace will become your go-to piece of everyday jewelry.

$135.00

Gap Brushed Pointelle Crew

This wear-with-anything soft pink sweater with delicate eyelet details can be dressed up for work or dressed down for weekend time with the family. Versatility for the win!

$79.95

Gap Flannel Pajama Set

For mamas who sleep warm, this PJ set offers the best of both worlds: cozy flannel and comfy shorts. Plus, it comes with a coordinating eye mask for a blissed-out slumber.

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Spafinder Gift Card

You can't give the gift of relaxation, per say, but you can give a gift certificate for a massage or spa service, and that's close enough!

$50.00

Gap Stripe Long Sleeve Crewneck

This featherweight long-sleeve tee is the perfect layering piece under hoodies, cardigans, and blazers.

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Gap Chenille Smartphone Gloves

Gone are the days of removing toasty gloves before accessing our touchscreen devices—thank goodness!

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Ember Temperature Control Smart Mug

Make multiple trips to the microwave a thing of the past with a app-controlled smart mug that'll keep your coffee or tea at the exact temperature you prefer for up to an hour.

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Gap Flannel Shirt

Our new favorite flannel boasts an easy-to-wear drapey fit and a flattering curved shirttail hem.

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Gap Sherpa-Lined Denim Jacket

Stay warm while looking cool in this iconic jean jacket, featuring teddy bear-soft fleece lining and a trendy oversized fit.

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Gap Crazy Stripe Scarf

Practical and stylish, this cozy scarf adds a pop of color—well, colors—to any winter ensemble.

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Nixplay Seed Frame

This digital picture frame is perfect for mamas who stay up late scrolling through their phone's photo album to glimpse their kiddos being adorable. By sending them to this smart frame to view throughout the day, you can get a few extra minutes of sleep at night!

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Gap Crewneck Sweater

Busy mamas will appreciate that this supersoft, super versatile Merino wool sweater is machine washable.

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

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Most of the time, being inclusive isn't that hard. Actually, it's so easy, even 4-year-olds can grasp it. That's the message body acceptance activist and Instagram user Milly Smith wanted to share when she posted a photo of her son, Eli, explaining a very simple thing: "Some men have periods too. If I can get it, so can you."

Theoretically, it is easy to get the fact that non-binary people and some trans men menstruate. Usually, body-affirming hormone treatments stop them from menstruating, but that's not always the case. Sometimes their period will stop for years but make a surprise return for a variety of reasons, such as a medication change. Bodies like to keep us guessing like that.

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And yet, many of us, particularly cisgender people, fall back on our habitual ways of speaking about periods without even thinking about it. We have a hard enough time discussing menses as it is, so this may be one of the last vestiges of non-inclusive talk. When a young kid asks why mama is bleeding, the knee-jerk reaction could be to say, "It's just something that women do," hoping not to have to explain the finer points of sex and reproduction for a few more years.

But Smith is here to remind us not to do the knee-jerk thing.

"Eli has been told about periods since he saw blood on my pants a couple of years ago," Smith wrote on Instagram. "I didn't use the language of women have periods because it's not entirely inclusive. I told him that SOME women, SOME non binary people and SOME men have periods. It was easy for him to accept as he hadn't had to unlearn the engrained [sic] societal norm but if a 4-year-old can grasp it I'm sure most of us can have a crack at unlearning transphobic/misinformed norms and open our minds... ya think?"

Some corporations have begun to do their part to unlearn those gender stereotypes. According to PopSugar, Always announced in October that it was removing the Venus "female" symbol from its packaging. While the website for Thinx period underwear is still Shethinx.com, it has attempted to appeal to trans and nonbinary customers as well, referring to "people with periods." Last year, British period subscription service Pink Parcel launched a campaign that included trans man Kenny Jones as one of its spokespeople.

Sadly, a couple of ads and an Instagram featuring a cute kid have not quite solved the problem of transphobia in this world. Smith has turned off the comments on her post, probably because of negative backlash from the shining citizens of the internet. That's an upsetting reminder of how far we have to go.

But at least we can still enjoy Smith's concluding words, "It's not insulting to women, it's not discrediting women," she said of this change of wording. "It's opening up the community to make it a safe space for those who don't identify as women but still have periods."

The world isn't always black and white and it's time we start recognizing the beauty in accepting the grey areas.

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It's hard to believe, but it's been a whole year since Gabrielle Union announced the birth of her baby girl. Since then, we've all had the pleasure of watching adorable baby Kaavia James grow, as well as seeing Union and husband Dwyane Wade raise her. This year hasn't always been easy for Union, however, as she shared in a beautifully honest post on her daughter's birthday.

"Scared to hold you," Union wrote in her post on Thursday afternoon. "Scared to burp you. Scared to reveal I have no clue what I'm doing. Scared to go to work. Scared to stay home. Scared when you sleep. Scared when you wake up. Scared I'm not living up to some impossible standard of motherhood. Scared I'd lose myself. Scared I'd be exposed as a failure, as less than, not as good as, not as comfortable as, not as... anything."

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Yes, even gorgeous, successful Gabrielle Union experiences the same doubts about motherhood as so many of us. Because it really is hard.

"Now I understand why sometimes you'll see moms at the airport or in Target just in tears," she told People earlier this year. "You try to do what you can in the hours that you can. I may not be hitting it out of the park at work, at home, with her or with my husband, but that's okay."

For this birthday post Union shared a slideshow video of Kaavia's first year, set to Bill Withers' "Lovely Day." She had also posted the lyrics of that song with her birth announcement post last year. We've seen most of those images before, but they're somehow more moving in montage form.

Union went on to write about how her daughter helped her gain confidence in herself, too.

"But there you were, everyday, looking up at me, like 'gurl, you got this!' " Union wrote. "When I let go of my fears of judgment and just did my best and recognized that my best would and could change from day to day and life would magically go on... Man, I finally allowed myself to just enjoy you @kaaviajames and relax into the peace of imperfection."

We certainly couldn't have described that first year of parenting better ourselves.

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Whether or not you're trying to come up with a name for a baby on the way, you can't deny that baby name conversations are always fascinating. Why are all of your friends named Emily and Sarah? How many boys named Miles are in your kid's school right now? And of course, which baby name will be on every mama's lips next year?

Nameberry may know, as it has released its predictions for 2020's top baby names. The site analyzed its traffic to calculate which names had the biggest increases in interest this year.

"These include newly minted names, rediscovered antiques, plus names imported from around the world," Nameberry cofounder Pamela Redmond writes.

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If you are in fact pondering names for your own child, this could either be a good place to start or a list of names to avoid, depending on how you feel about being one of many or the outlier in a group.

Here are Nameberry's predictions for the top baby names in 2020.

Girls' names

1. Adah

2. Reese

3. Mika

4. Paisley

5. Amina

6. Teagan

7. Nova

8. Aura

9. Pearl

10. Billie

Boys' names

1. Austin

2. Alva

3. Acacius

4. Tate

5. Diego

6. Easton

7. Lucius

8. Cash

9. Ash

10. Luca

There's quite a mix of rationale for choosing each of these names. Some, like Reese, Mika, and Billie, are likely inspired by the famous women with those names (Witherspoon, Brzezinski, and Eilish, respectively). Some are continuations of current trends. The biblical name Adah extends the trend for "Ad" girl names, and Lucius is likely to follow the popularity of Lucy, Lucia, and Lucian, Nameberry says.

We're surprised by a couple of the names on this list. Alva is the number two boys' name, for instance. "Every American schoolchild knows this as the middle name of the great inventor Thomas Edison, whose surname has also become popular," Redmond writes. "With Alma and Alba now stylish for girls, Alva could gain visibility for boys."

They're also going out on a limb with the girls' number eight, Aura, which was used only 120 times in 2018. The rationale here is that it's similar to current fave Aria/Arya. We'd also add that all things witchy and supernatural are trendy again.

We won't know if this list is right until the Social Security list for 2020 comes out in May 2021, but as soon as the data comes in we'll let you know which names really topped 2020. Only time will tell if Adah and Austin are the next Liam and Emma.

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Shawn Johnson East and her husband Andrew recently welcomed their little girl into the world. It's a dream come true for the couple who had previously suffered a pregnancy loss, but Shawn says she didn't get the birth of her dreams.

"22 hours of labor to end in a c section," she wrote on Instagram. "I went in with such a stubborn mindset of thinking the only way I could bring our baby into the world was naturally. No meds no intervention. At 14 hours when I chose to get an epidural I felt guilty. At 22 hours when we were told I had to get a c section I felt like I had failed."

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We get how hard it is when your birth plan doesn't go as planned. What Shawn feels is actually pretty common, say mental health experts. The combination of unexpected surgery and feelings of loss of power and guilt when a birth doesn't go as plan, can be traumatic.

An emergency C-section is not a personal failure. It's a medical emergency and it's common.

"The emergency nature of C-sections leads [some mothers] to feel out of control, as well as fear that there will be harm to the baby or themselves," Dr. Sarah Allen, a Chicago psychologist and director of the Postpartum Depression Alliance of Illinois, told the Chicago Tribune.

In Shawn's case, everything went well, and that changed how she was feeling. "But after holding our sweet girl in my arms and being told everything went well and she had made it to us safely I could have cared less [about the C-section]."

Shawn no longer feels guilty and we are so glad she doesn't.

It is important for pregnant people to know that there is no wrong way to give birth, and according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, C-sections are very common, representing about 32% of all births in the United States.

Shawn did not fail, and neither did you, mama. C-section mamas are strong + brave.

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