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).

$79.95

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.

$69.95

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.

$29.95

Gap Chenille Smartphone Gloves

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

$9.95

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.

$79.95

Gap Flannel Shirt

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

$59.95

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.

$98.00

Gap Crazy Stripe Scarf

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

$39.95

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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As a business person, Aston Kutcher did better than anyone ever expected the kid from That 70's Show to do, and his wife and former co-star, Mila Kunis has also made a ton of money—she's among the highest-paid actresses of her generation. These two are wildly successful and they recognize how privileged their kids are because of it, but they have a plan to teach their children work ethic. Kutcher explained the plan last year on an episode of Dax Shepard's podcast Armchair Expert.

"My kids are living a really privileged life, and they don't even know it," he told Shepard. "And they'll never know it, because this is the only one that they'll know."

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He goes on to explain how he and Kunis don't plan to create trust funds for the kids and want to put their wealth into philanthropic efforts instead. "I'm not setting up a trust for them. We'll end up giving our money away to charity and to various things," he said.

According to Kutcher, the only way his two kids are getting money from him is if they come to dad with a good business plan. If they do that, he'll be happy to invest in their vision. "I want them to be really resourceful. Hopefully they'll be motivated to have what they had, or some version of what they had," he explained.

We all want our kids to be successful, but sometimes too much help can stunt their growth. It's good to hear Kutcher and Kunis are so dedicated to making sure their children understand the value of money and can stand on their own two feet.


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An experiment at Microsoft's Japan headquarters over the summer has given new proof to advocates of the shorter work week. With the office closed on Fridays, productivity actually rose by 40%, NPR reports.

If Microsoft is finding success with a 4-day workweek, could it work for other companies? And would it work for working parents?

In 2018, a company that does will and trust management in New Zealand conducted a similar experiment, paying employees for 40 hours while requiring them to work only 32. They found that productivity stayed the same, but employees reported being more satisfied with their job, feeling less stressed and having a better work-life balance. Again and again, social scientists and economists are making the case that more isn't more when it comes to time spent at work. Reducing hours even has benefits to the environment, resulting in less commuting, and it can lower energy costs for businesses that don't have to maintain lights and climate control in an empty office.

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For working parents, cutting a day off the week could reduce the cost of childcare, not to mention increase the amount of time we could spend with our kids. Throw in the possibility of an alternating schedule with a spouse or partner and you might only have to pay for three days of care.

Some experts are hopeful the 4-day workweek will spread. "Hopefully, it gains traction," Eddy Ng, a professor of management at Bucknell University in Pennslyvania told Global News. "I think it's good for productivity, it's good for mental health and it forces us to rethink how we do work."

However, a 4-day week might not be the best solution for parents of school-age kids as employees would be working longer hours each day, which could interfere with after-school pick up and childcare.

It's not a one-size-fits-all solution, but this has the potential to be a part of a change in work culture. Work-life balance reforms need to happen, and we need companies to be flexible and innovative to make life easier for working parents. A 4-day work week is one great idea, but parents also need increased flexibility, and more understanding from coworkers and bosses, no matter how many days per week we're spending in the office.

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For parents of babies and toddlers, diapers are a big expense that can represent a substantial portion of a family's monthly grocery budget, but when families fall on hard times and get support paying for groceries, diapers aren't covered. Programs like the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) are meant to fill families nutritional needs, not hygiene needs, so you can't buy diapers with a SNAP card (also known as food stamps).

This week San Fransisco county became the first county in America to offer free diapers to families who use SNAP, (known at the state level as CalFresh). Starting this month, parents in San Fransisco who use CalFresh qualify for a free monthly supply of diapers thanks to the San Francisco Diaper Bank, a partnership between the Human Services Agency (HSA) and Help a Mother Out (HAMO). This is made possible by a $2.5 million grant from the California Department of Social Services.

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It's good to see communities recognizing that diapers are as necessary as food. Studies indicate that when mothers don't have the diapers they need for their babies their mental health suffers, but that an "an adequate supply of diapers may prove a tangible way of reducing parenting stress, a critical factor influencing child health and development"

"It costs like $25 for one box of diapers. I remember the time when I had to decide between buying milk and buying diapers. No parent should have to go through that. You have no idea what this program has meant for me," San Francisco Diaper Bank participant Hanen Bouzidi explains.

Without the extra help, parents like Hanen end up at the mercy of convenience stores that separate the large boxes of diapers to sell them individually. It's one of those times when being poor means you have to spend more money: You can't afford a $25 box containing 96 diapers, so you have to spend $1 on one individual diaper at the corner store just to get your baby through the day.

And while many people are quick to suggest low-income parents take up cloth diapering, it is not practical for every family. If the only laundry machines you have access to are coin-operated and outside your home, you may not have the money or the time to launder them. Plus, most laundromats won't let you wash them and some childcare providers will only take kids who are wearing disposables. In short, cloth diapers are a wonderful solution for many families, but they are not a practical solution many families using SNAP cards. That's why San Fransisco's move to provide free diapers is so important.

Some lawmakers in other parts of the country are trying to introduce legislation to provide free diapers to families who need them, so we could see other areas following San Fransisco's lead in the coming years. This is important because no child should be at risk for the physical problems that can happen when parents feel they have no choice but to reuse or overuse diapers, and no mother should be forced to carry the weight of the guilt of diaper need.

Providing diapers to families who desperately need them improves the health of moms and babies, and removes a barrier that keeps moms from accessing childcare and early childhood education programs.

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This week marked World Kindness Day, but in Pittsburgh, PA the hometown of the late Mr. Rogers, it was also Cardigan Day—a chance to celebrate an icon of kindness and his iconic knitwear.

That's what staff at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital were doing when they dressed all the babies like Mr. Rogers in hand-crocheted cardigans and sneaker-style booties made by nurse Caitlin Pechin.

Pechin says crocheting is something she does for fun and while making all the little outfits took several hours, she "really enjoy[s] making things for all the babies because they look so cute in them."

They absolutely do!

😍😍😍

The sweetest little neighbors

The babies looked so cozy and cute and they even got a visit from the woman who was closest to Mr. Rogers, his widow, Joanne Rogers. "She was so sweet and so sincere and just wished us the best of luck as new parents," Kristen Lewandowski, whose first child, Mary Rose, was among the cardigan-wearing newborns, told Good Morning America.

"She told us to support one another and we thought that was great advice," Lewandowski explained.

Mr. Rogers died in 2003 but his legacy lives on

The new movie about Mr. Rogers—A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks—hits theaters on November 22. Mr. Rogers has been gone for 16 years, but the new film and the way we talk about kindness today proves that his legacy lives on in 2019.

"When I was little, I watched Mister Rogers' Neighborhood with my grandmother, my grandma Mary, who we named our [daughter] Mary after," Lewandowski's partner, Michael, explains.

Mrs. Rogers reportedly loved getting to meet little Mary Rose and the other babies and told their parents she was sure her husband would have loved to meet them, too.

A Mr. Rogers sweater for Mrs. Rogers

The babies weren't the only ones donning cardigans at the event. Mrs. Rogers wore a cardigan that belonged to Mr. Rogers, and the nursing staff wore t-shirts designed to mimic the tie-and-cardigan look Mr. Rogers was known for.

The whole event was absolutely adorable and has us thinking a lot about the lessons Mr. Rogers taught us (and looking forward to seeing another beloved icon, Tom Hanks, play him.)

The movie hits theaters this Thanksgiving 

The reason why people are dressing babies up as Mr. Rogers 16 years after his passing is the same reason why Tom Hanks wanted to play him: He was the personification of kindness in a world that needs more of it. He brought love and empathy to a medium that is usually used to sell breakfast cereals and plastic toys. But Mr. Rogers wasn't pushing artificial ingredients and consumerism: He just wanted us kids to love each other and ourselves.

"I think that, when Fred Rogers first saw children's programming, he saw something that was cynical," Hanks said at the Toronto Film Festival, explaining why he wanted to take on this role.

"And why in the world would you put a pipeline of cynicism into the minds of a 2 or 3-year-old-kid? That you are not cool because you don't have this toy, that it's funny to see somebody being bopped on the head, that hey, kids be the first in line in order to get blah, blah, blah. That's a cynical treatment of an audience, and we have become so inured to that that when we are met with as simple a message as hey, you know what, it's a beautiful day in the neighborhood, [it's a reminder] that we are allowed...to start off feeling good," Hanks shared.

Mr. Rogers was a pioneer in using screen time to raise empathetic and kind kids and he made an impact on a generation.

Let's all take a look at these little neighbors and feel good today

There is something so pure about Mrs. Rogers visiting these babies, who are dressed like her husband because of the kindness of a maternity ward nurse. In a world where there is so much bad, let's look at all this good—and all these adorable babies who could become the next icon of kindness.

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