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Children’s mental health is something we hear a lot about. We have learned how environments that are rich in free play, down time, and rest are necessary for kids to have a healthy mental and emotional balance. We have heard all about mindfulness and yoga for building children’s ability to stay focused and calm. And everyone knows what a fidget spinner is.

Yet children who experience mental health concerns that include outlandish behaviors or social and emotional difficulties are still highly likely to face negative judgements from their peers and many adults in their lives.

I am talking about stigma. It is quiet but strong, like a current that flows beneath the surface of many diagnoses identified in childhood, such as ADHD, Autism, Depression, Anxiety, and Sensory Integration Disorder.

These “labels” alone are seemingly wrapped in a shroud of negative and unfair beliefs about what they actually are, and why they occur. Even the fear of stigma can prevent amazing parents from seeking out professional help for a child truly struggling with a mental or behavioral health issue. This makes it hard to find help, answers, and the much-needed proverbial light at the end of the tunnel for so many overwhelmed moms and dads.

If you are one of these parents, you are not alone.

Some of the concerns that stigma can bring up for parents worried that their child may be experiencing behavioral or emotional symptoms go like this:

People will assume my child is stupid. People will think we are just making excuses. My kid will use this as an excuse to never to do anything again. Grandparents will think we are doing something wrong. If I put my child on medication, people will think I am a bad parent. We should be able to do this on our own. My kid will think something is wrong with him. Everyone will think something is wrong with him. It is my fault.

I am a therapist who has worked with many remarkable kids and families who have voiced these fears and concerns to me in despair over how to come to terms with what their child is going through. I have thought these things myself for my own son.

Even the most insightful and intuitive parents will grit their teeth, try to work with their child, tirelessly give and bend and hold firm and cry and pray that their child will eventually calm down, figure it out, grow out of it. They avoid talking about a cause, the root of the frustrating and heartbreaking rollercoaster the whole family rides on every day. The fear of others’ judgment, in addition to the very personal ongoing struggle, can be paralyzing.

Before my son was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of six, I knew he had it. He refused to follow directions, he threw a tantrum with any transition: going somewhere, leaving somewhere, anytime he had to get dressed or go to bed. He ignored regular toys, preferring to take objects apart. He broke almost everything he touched. He ran instead of walked. Screamed instead of talked. Cried instead of called. He also laughed with a deep joyful belly laughed, and hugged with his whole little body.

His attention span only lasted one second, but he could do really big things with that second. Like climb the neighborhood trees and jump from extreme heights, strip naked on the driveway and cover himself in blue chalk, dart away from me in Target, and steal my heart with a funny dance and a joke. It is always a wild ride with my remarkable child – a frustrating and terrifying one at times – but overall, one I know I will look back on as being something unique and beautiful. Maybe even epic.

About the time things were the hardest they had been, his emotions the highest, my tolerance the lowest, when I thought I was going to break and things couldn’t get any worse, I realized that I had a choice. I could keep trying to fix him myself by forcing him fit into this idea I had of who he should be (one that looked like all my friends’ children, who knew how to sit still and follow directions), or I could put myself aside, quiet my fears and the societal expectations, and really look deeply into my kid. I could work to see every aspect of who he is and what he needs through a lens of love and acceptance and, yes, imperfection.

I chose the latter, and made an appointment to see a psychologist. I knew it was time to put a name to what my son was going through so we could face it together. I wanted him to know that there was something giving him trouble, and it was not his fault. Maybe I needed to know, too, that it wasn’t mine.

Oddly enough, even as a therapist myself, I still panicked. I sat in the psychologist’s office, on the other side this time – the parent, not the expert – and I worried that she was going to look at me say, “Your son just needs a better mom, that’s all. One who can make him listen to her.” She would laugh at me say, “You need more rules, more boundaries,” or, “Remember that time you let him wear his pajamas for a week and never brushed his hair because he would scream every time you tried? You taught him to act like that!”

But she didn’t. She understood. She validated that he was telling me what he needed all along, soft jammies and messy hair, that it was okay, and that I was a good mom for hearing him.

She diagnosed him with ADHD after all, not with a negligent mother (phew!). While we still talked about some better ways for me and my husband to work with him and strategies as a family to make things work for all of us, she told me something else that I didn’t even know I needed to hear:

“You are doing a great job. And your son is an amazing kid.”

That was two years ago, and I have never looked back. I still worry sometimes that people will hear that my child has ADHD and judge him or treat him differently. But what I’ve found is that the more I tell people, the more I normalize it, and the more others embrace him. The stigma starts to fade away and the real, vibrant, colorful, incredible picture of my boy takes its place.

And let me tell you, it is awesome.

The other remarkable thing that has happened since we have embraced my son’s ADHD is that he has learned to embrace himself. He is eight years old now, and there are some tough days when he hates his ADHD and cries, wishing it would go away. But most days, he is a happy, confident kid. He has found he possesses some incredible talents that may even exist because of his ADHD.

Having the label has helped in ways we never anticipated, like the fact that there are so many genius actors, singers, writers, and artists out there who have ADHD and speak out about their own struggles as kids. Most will tell you their diagnosis has not only benefitted them as adults, but has also contributed to their unique creativity and success.

My son looks for these connections, and when he finds them, like in Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian in the world, and in his favorite author Dav Pilkey, the mastermind behind the “Captain Underpants” series, he feels inspired and dives deeper into his own passions like art and writing, and, yes, video games.

There is no guarding against the judgements of others. We cannot control what people will think of us or our kids. I can tell when someone disagrees with me medicating my child. I don’t care. I can hear the tone when someone doesn’t actually believe in ADHD and feels certain I am feeding my kid a diet of candy and video games. It hurts, but I ignore them.

At the end of the day, what I really care about is that I did everything in my power to set my kid up for success. He deserves to know that he is good, to have confidence in himself and control over his body and his emotions. I believe it is my job as his mom to make sure, in a world that often tells him he isn’t good enough, that he believes he is.

It is also my job to make sure he feels loved and that he is known for all of what makes him who he is, ADHD and all.

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When I became a mom, suddenly it felt like I was working with fewer hours in the day. Whereas previously I could put in a full day at work and still have time to hit the gym, throw in a load of laundry, and cook a full dinner, suddenly my day felt jam-packed from the moment I opened my eyes.

And one of the first things that takes a hit on my to-do list? Mealtime.

While I continued to prioritize whole ingredients and nutritionally backed recipes, I found myself with less and less time to do the shopping, prepping, and cooking required for all the foods we liked to eat. And even when I could find the time, you can bet I would rather be bonding with my child than spending hours at the store or in the kitchen. Which is why Nurture Life has become one of my favorite #momhacks for getting healthy (and delicious) meals in front of my toddler.

And they're giving our readers a $50 value in Nurture Life meals. (Use code MOTHERLY for $25 off your first 2 orders for a limited time.)

Here are five reasons why this was such a game-changer:

1. It’s super convenient.

Once you pick your plan (baby, toddler, or kid), Nurture Life will deliver five or 10 meals per week to your doorstep. Meaning a professional has done all the heavy lifting of planning the dietitian-approved recipes, sourcing the ingredients, and even prepping the dish.

All you have to do is warm up the meal in the microwave and oven-safe food tray. (Yep, no extra dishes to wash. Win-win.)

2. It’s healthy by design.

This is not your typical pre-made dinner. Each Nurture Life meal is designed by a chef and registered pediatric dietitian, with all the ingredients sourced from quality farmers and purveyors—so produce is in season and organic whenever possible—and all meat and seafood is sustainably and naturally raised.

As a result, your child is regularly consuming the produce and protein they need to grow and stay healthy, without worrying about any unnecessary additives.

Ever since I found out I was pregnant, what I put in my body (and therefore my baby's body) has been so important to me. Now that I'm training my child to make her own food choices, it gives me peace of mind knowing that Nurture Life has done the heavy lifting in providing safe, nutritious options—and helping me teach my daughter that healthy should also be delicious.

3. It’s quick.

When I'm home with my daughter, I rarely get more than 15-30 minutes to scrape together a meal before she's asking me to play or hold her or help her find a lost toy—hardly enough time to craft a healthy, delicious meal we both feel good about.

And, truthfully, I'd so much rather be spending my time with her than bent over the stove. Nurture Life helps me get that time back. All I do is heat them up for a few minutes until warm and serve. And then it's back to being where we both really want to be.

4. It’s safe.

Unlike conventional commercial meals and snacks for children, Nurture Life won't feed your child anything their founders wouldn't feed their own families. As a result, they subscribe to a firm never-ever list—they never add preservatives, artificial colors or flavors, trans fats, or high fructose corn syrup in any of their recipes.

Their meals are also free from peanut, tree nut (except coconut), and shellfish. And all ingredients are clearly listed on their site and on meal labels to avoid any potential allergens.

5. It’s delicious… even for picky eaters.

Nurture Life is proof that gourmet-quality meals don't have to be intimidating. When the ingredients are high quality and the flavor is on point, even macaroni and cheese with cauliflower can feel high-end. Whenever I serve a Nurture Life meal, my daughter happily gobbles down everything from tortellini with peas to salmon teriyaki—and I may even sneak in a bite here and there myself! It's the perfect antidote for our picky eaters.

Some of Nurture Life's classic kid favorites are available throughout the year, but they also have amazing seasonal menus to introduce variety.

I'll probably never have as many hours in a day as I truly need. But with Nurture Life, I do get time to savor the moments I really want to enjoy.

Use code MOTHERLY for $25 off your first 2 orders for a limited time—a $50 value.

This article is sponsored by Nurture Life. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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Preparing food for my family is important to me and something that makes me feel good, even if it isn't elaborate. Plus, I never want to stay stagnant in any area of my life. If I suck at cooking then I want to get better, so I am.

But I run a business, have four kids, a house, and extracurricular activities to juggle, so it's more important than ever that I keep this area of my life streamlined.

All of this is enough to be super intimidating for someone who is already not a natural at this area of homemaking, but I've figured out a pretty solid routine (thank the good Lord), and since I get asked about this a lot, I'm sharing my tips with you today!

1. Choose just a few pre-planned meals, then get staple ingredients for the others.

I think a lot of us feel the need to know exactly what we'll be serving for dinner every day of the week. If that works for you, stick with it! But for me, I'm a little too sporadic for that, and whenever I plan my week that way we end up not cooking one or two of the planned dinners and groceries get wasted.

So now, I only choose about three exact dinners, and then get basic ingredients like chicken breast, bacon, sweet potato and other veggies to make a spur-of-the-moment, simple meal the other nights.

I might also make those other nights a repeat meal that we have all the time, like tacos.

2. Get all your planning done in one day each week.

Every Sunday night, I pour myself a glass of wine and sit down with a notebook, my cookbooks, and a pen. I choose my meals, make a shopping list, and map out exactly what I'll be buying for breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and snacks.

I make sure I'm planning all the way through the following Monday (the day I shop) which leads me to….

3. Choose another day for all shopping.

On Mondays, I do my grocery shopping. What isn't being delivered by Amazon Fresh (more on that below) is purchased and ready for the week.

4. Prep immediately after shopping whenever possible.

Instead of bringing in groceries and putting them straight in the fridge, I've started washing and slicing and prepping everything as soon as I'm home from my errands.

I got this handy trick from my new favorite book by Brooke Sailer, (I'm Failing At) This Thing Called Home.

5. Food prep, don’t meal prep.

Meal prepping may totally work for you, but it doesn't for us! We've found that food prepping is much more doable. Food prepping looks like sautéed potatoes, sliced fruit, cooked and shredded chicken, baked sweet potato fries, all stored in the fridge, ready to use. It's pieces of meals that you can grab, reheat, and eat based on what sounds good and how much time you have.

6. Base it on your schedule.

If you know Wednesday nights are super crazy for your family, have that be a Crockpot or take-out night every week.

7. Keep a running list of everything you’re out of.

This one is obvious and overstated, but worth saying one more time! My list is on my fridge and in my phone. I check both on Sunday nights when making my shopping lists.

8. Amazon Subscribe + Save and Amazon Fresh.

Amazon is KILLING IT. They just bought Whole Foods, so more organic goodness is surely coming our way, and they now offer subscriptions for your most-used food and household items. Some things on my Subscribe + Save account include; toilet paper, paper towels, baby wipes, snack bars, shampoo, soap, laundry detergent, and cleaning sprays.

With Amazon Fresh, you can do your grocery shopping from your couch (if it's offered in your city) and get organic fruits, veggies, and pretty much anything. Amazing!

9. Don’t overthink it. Know what works!

Don't over complicate meal planning because it's daunting or you dislike it. Streamline, simplify, cut out the things that aren't working and stick to what is.

10. Stop being afraid of repeating meals.

No shame in repeats, yo. I know a friend who rotates 10 meals, exactly that way, all the time. It's been that way for years and her family has no complaints. It's easier for her, too! Win win. If that works for you, embrace it and count yourself as one of the lucky ones!

11. Other things that work for our family:

  • Prepped food becomes lunch plates we can fix up in less than 10 minutes.
  • Prepped foods that work on-the-go.
    • Fresh sliced fruits
    • Grilled chicken (cold in a Ziplock)
    • Snackable veggies
  • Breakfasts are the same meals rotated.
    • Coffee and a bar (cereal for kids)
    • Smoothies
    • "Big healthy plates" (this is what we call eggs topped with avocado, uncured bacon, grilled tomatoes with salt and pepper, and sweet potato hash).
    • Pancakes + bacon (GF, of course!)
  • Bars instead of lunch for the really busy, on-the-go kind of days (our favorites are Lara and RX).
  • I (try to) always have kid & adult snacks as well as water bottles in my bag or in the car.
  • We always have a couple easy/frozen meals on hand for "emergencies". Like when the babysitter shows up on time and you were so excited for date night that you forgot you have kids….
    • Mac + Cheese
    • Chicken nuggets
    • Frozen pizzas

Phew! That pretty much sums up what I've been doing to keep meal preparation as simple as possible with four kids and a Crossfit hubby. I hope it inspires and helps you!

Originally posted on Allie Casazza.

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When our children spend so much of the day away from us at school, the moments we do have together are precious. But, they don't always feel precious in the whirlwind of getting ready and out the door each day.

Sometimes it seems like no matter how much time we allot, it is never enough. After all, who can predict that last week's favorite train shirt would lead to a full-on toddler meltdown when it's time to get dressed in the morning?

Here are a few things you can do to help your child take ownership of the morning routine and reclaim what should be a time of bonding.

1. Talk it through

Choose a low-stress time, such as while riding in the car or eating a snack together, and talk through the morning routine with your child. Ask them what needs to happen in the morning before they go to school. Prompt with tasks they might forget, like brushing teeth or putting on shoes. Walk through all of the steps a few times so they have a good idea of what is coming.

While your child will inevitably still need reminders, this will give them a solid understanding of what needs to happen each day.

2. Make a picture chart

After you've talked through everything, make a picture chart for your child depicting the sequence of their morning routine. Take a picture representing each step—one of the potty, one of their toothbrush, one of their clothes laid out, etc. Or, have fun drawing the pictures together instead!

A picture chart provides even young children a resource, other than you, to consult when they're unsure of what to do next.

It can also be helpful if your child gets off track. Remind them to check their picture chart to see what comes next. This is more empowering than simply telling them exactly what to do, which is more likely to instigate a power struggle.

If your child is older, help them write a list, or draw their own pictures of what needs to happen in the morning and post it somewhere they will see it each morning, like by the bedside table.

3. Have your child pack their own lunch

Depending on your schedule, it is likely better to do this the night before, but encouraging your child to pack their own lunch helps them take ownership of their school day.

Worried their lunch will consist of nothing but crackers and grapes? Make a simple rule such as one protein, one grain, one fruit, and one vegetable. Help them think of options in each category.

If they're older, brainstorm what they would like in each category before you go to the grocery store. Anything you can do to help them feel like they have a say in the process will help the morning go more smoothly.

4. Offer limited clothing choices

Allowing children to choose their own clothes is wonderful, but it can be quite time-consuming in the morning. Lay out two options for your young child to choose from. Always put them in the same place, such as a small shelf in their closet, so they will know where to look in the morning.

For an older child, encourage them to lay out their own clothes the night before so they won't have to decide when they're still half asleep in the morning.

5. Allow a natural consequence

When the planning and picture charts don't work, try allowing a natural consequence to take place instead of nagging and repeating yourself. It may be a little unpleasant, but it will also be effective, and will likely only need to happen once.

Are they taking too long to get out of bed? There will be no time for eating pancakes together, they'll have to settle for a granola bar in the car.

Are they refusing to get dressed? They will have to bring his clothes with him and arrive at school in jammies.

These are not punishments, they are simply things that logically happen when the routine isn't followed.

6. Build in time for togetherness

One reason that children stall in the morning is that they want you to help them because they need that time together. Build in a few minutes of togetherness before asking your child to get themself ready each morning.

It may seem like you don't have 5-10 minutes to spare, but this will likely save you time as your child will have gotten the bonding time they need and be less likely to resist the rest of the morning.

Try doing something simple, with clear boundaries, such as reading two books before it's time to start the morning routine. If they're ready early, you can spend more time together, which is also a great natural incentive.

7. Make it fun

Help them make a getting ready playlist of favorite songs to listen to while they brush their teeth and get dressed.

Let them pick a muffin or pancake recipe and make a big batch together on the weekend so that you have breakfast ready to go. Take turns telling each other what you dreamed last night over breakfast or in the car.

The morning can often be hectic and stressful, but it's also a significant portion of the time many of us get to spend with our children during the week. These little moments can give us, and our children, the little boost we need to start the day feeling loved.

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