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How to Shield Your Child from Greed and Entitlement During the Holidays

Mid-gift-opening last Christmas with my in-laws, my four-year-old uttered a phrase that sends chills down any well meaning parents spine: “That’s all???”


The kid got a pass because, well, she was four, and impulse control had not been invited to the festivities that day. But her comment was enough to literally make me break out into a sweat and begin thinking about how I could intentionally cultivate generosity and gratitude with my kids during the holidays.

We have discovered a lot about gratitude in recent years, and what we’ve learned is no less than astounding. Studies have consistently shown us that practicing gratitude is effective in increasing well-being, as it improves our psychological, social, and spiritual resources.

Let’s be real for a second. The culture our kids absorb during Christmas is basically beckoning them into a greedy and selfish mindset. Luckily, as parents we can make the culture inside our own homes reflect the true meaning and values of what the holiday season means to us and our family.

Give a lesson on advertising

The holidays are a prime opportunity to give your child a head’s up that toy corporations want to steal a piece of their tiny impressionable soul, lock it up, and throw away the key. Okay, so possibly with different language, but helping your child to see through the gimmicks of holiday advertising will help them be less impressionable to material greed.

We can point out how stores and commercials set out to increase their desire to consume, and also blur the line between what they want and what they actually need.

Watching ads together and reminding them that, even though the smiling perfectly dressed kids with the new toy seem to imply happiness, we know for a fact that money and material items have no correlation to long term happiness.

Explaining to your child that – although toy companies will do their darndest (including using emotionally manipulative measures) to convince us otherwise – toys are not in fact the reason for the season, and that your family celebrates the holidays for reasons much more meaningful and important.

Get your kids in on the giving

Whether it be small scale or large, involving kids in selfless acts of generosity will increase appreciation for what they have.

My husband is a master gift giving guru. Ever since our oldest was three, he began pulling her into the conversation of what to get for mom. Now each year, the kids are expected to brainstorm gift ideas for family members, which automatically shifts their thinking outwards and away from themselves. Kids can also learn the value of a dollar by engaging in gift purchase transactions, and helping to keep track of a gift budget.

We also have an awesome opportunity to build family bonds and increase our child’s worldview during the holidays by choosing a cause outside the family to support. Whether this be giving a financial donation, spending time together at a food bank, or random acts of kindness for those in need, our kids are learning invaluable lessons about how fortunate they really are.

Model gratitude and generosity

If we really want to decrease greed and increase gratitude, incorporating it into a ritual or routine is key. The holidays serve as a perfect opportunity to begin a gratitude circle during dinner, or during holiday festivities. When parents make gratitude a priority, kids will, too. It won’t be long before everyone is feeling all the positive feels, and reaping gratitude’s many benefits.

Along with making new rituals during the holidays, we should model presence. If we are flying around like Martha Stewart on steroids, we will likely have some good cookies as a result, but it’s at the risk of missing what really matters.

Only when we slow down a bit each day and take in our surroundings, can we really get in touch with our own feelings of gratitude. When we genuinely express our gratitude to our children, it teaches a powerful lesson that will likely be woven into your child’s intrinsic view of the holidays.

Role play holiday expectations

With kids five or younger, some of the aforementioned ideas may prove to be a bit too abstract, although it’s certainly never too early to start sowing seeds. For those of you who still want to do what you can to decrease the sweat output during holiday get-togethers, role playing will make the abstract concepts of manners, patience, and gratitude more concrete and easy to remember.

Get right down on the floor with your kids and give them words and guidance that align with your family’s expectations. Then offer up lots of praise when they are able to follow through.

The holidays are not a stress-free time for parents. We are told a million-and-one traditions and activities must be completed for optimal holiday magic. Take a few minutes to reflect on what “holiday magic” really means to you though.

I’m guessing most of us would say it involves a little less time at the store and a little more time giving our kids the gifts you can’t buy, but will value forever.

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I had big plans to be a "good mom" this summer. There were going to be chore charts, reading goals, daily letter writing practice, and cursive classes. There would be no screen time until the beds were made, and planned activities for each day of the week.

Today was the first day of summer vacation and our scheduled beach day. But here's what we did instead: Lounged in our pj's until 11 am, baked the girl's pick, chocolate chip cookie brownies, started an art project we never finished, then moved to the pool.

It's so easy to be pressured by things we see on social. Ways to challenge our kids and enrich their summer. But let's be real—we're all tired. Tired of chores, tired of schedules and places to be, tired of pressure, and tired of unrealistic expectations.

So instead of a schedule, we're doing nothing this summer. Literally NOTHING.

No camps. No classes, and no curriculums.

Instead, we're going to see where each day takes us. I've dubbed this the "Summer of Me," so workouts and clean eating are a priority for me. And also giving our girls the freedom to pick what they want to do.

We may go to a local pool and check out the swimming programs. And we join the local YMCA. But whatever we do—it will be low key.

It will include family time, too much TV, a few trips, lots of sunshine, some new roller skates, water balloons, plenty of boredom, rest, relaxation, and reading. (Because mama likes to read!)

So if you haven't figured out what you're doing this summer, you're not alone. And guess what? It's OKAY! Your kids will be fine and so will you.

Originally posted on Kristen Hewitt's blog. Check out her post on 30 ways to have fun doing almost nothing this summer.

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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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When we consider all the skills our kids will need to succeed in the future, what comes to mind? Perhaps creativity, tech skills, or an excellent understanding of math might be at the top of many parents' lists. Social-emotional skills, like empathy, compassion, or the ability to understand another person's viewpoint may not be the ones you thought of right away, but deep down you know they matter.

We've all had those co-workers who didn't know how to listen to our ideas or friends who couldn't compromise with others. We know that in the work world and in our personal life, emotional skills are key to developing and maintaining healthy relationships.

If you are the parent of a toddler, you know that young children are inherently self-centered. It's not some faulty aspect of their character or a misstep of parenting skills. Young children simply do not have the brain maturity to consider another person's perspective or needs just yet—their brain physically is not ready to handle that kind of mental work.

However, child development research shows us that we can do a few things along the developmental path to help foster social-emotional skills in our kids. With a little help from us, our kids' brains can develop with meaningful connections that tune them into the feelings of others.

Here's how:

1. Treat others how you want your kids to treat others.

How we talk to our kids becomes their internal dialogue. We know from research that this goes for emotional skills as well. A recent study showed that when parents talk to their kids more about how other people might be feeling, the kids had better perspective-taking abilities—the ability to see a situation from another person's point of view.

This, of course, is the basis of many emotional skills, especially empathy. Just by talking about another person's feelings, kids begin to develop those crucial brain connections that help them develop empathy.

It's worth pointing out that very young children under ages 3-4 do not have the brain maturity to really understand another person's perspective. They lack a crucial skill that psychologists call Theory of Mind, meaning they can't understand the mind of another person.

However, our urgings and thoughtful phrasing to point out how another person might be feeling can only help them down this developmental path. Then, once their little brain matures, they will be in the habit of hearing and understanding the feelings of others.

2. Model positive emotional behavior in daily life.

It's probably not surprising to learn that how we react to our kids' feelings influences their emotional development. When your child gets upset, do you get angry or ruffled by their big emotions? We are all human, of course, so sometimes our kids' emotions are the exact triggers that fuel our big feelings, too. However, if we can remain the calm in the emotional storm for our kids, their development will benefit. Through modeling emotional regulation, over time our kids will learn how to self-regulate as well.

One study, in fact, showed that toddlers whose parents exhibited anger or over-reacted to tantrums were likely to have more tantrums and negative emotionality by the end of the study. However, the opposite dynamic can happen, too. Parents who model firm, but calm emotional regulation help their kids learn these skills as well.

3. Don’t be afraid to show your emotions.

Many times, we feel that one of our main jobs as a parent is to protect our children from the big, often overwhelming emotions of adults. For instance, we try not to break down crying or become red-faced with anger in front of our kids. It just feels too big for them to handle and perhaps not developmentally appropriate.

As they mature, however, older kids are able to handle a bit more discussion and expression of honest emotions. Have you noticed that kids usually pick up on the fact that you are upset even if you try to hide it? Kids are naturally curious and, many times, very sensitive to the emotional tenor at home. If they are developmentally ready, this can be a good time to have more discussions about emotions and how to handle them.

For example, my 9-year-old is playing a lot of baseball this summer and always wants me to pitch to him so he can practice batting. Now, I am not a very skilled player so my pitches often go off course or are too weak. He had gotten in the habit of correcting my pitching or (more likely) complaining about it every time we played.

After repeated experiences with this, I was not only annoyed but it also sort of hurt my feelings—so I finally told him how I felt. Guess what? His behavior at practice time changed dramatically! The mere fact of him realizing that his mom has feelings too really made him think about his words more carefully.

These types of interaction can become part of your "emotion coaching." It may sound silly but it can make a big impact for kids, especially as they grow older and are more able to really understand the emotional lesson. On some level, it's nice that our kids think we are superheroes, but it's also crucial that they understand that we are still human, with real feelings.

The magic of helping our kids develop empathy doesn't happen in well-planned lessons or elaborate activities. The real magic happens in the small, simple interactions and discussions we have with our kids each day.

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Sometimes it can feel like you never get a minute to even finish a thought—let alone a to-do list. When your day is packed with caretaking, your own needs get pushed back. So when you finally get to lie down at the end of the day, all those thoughts are waiting for you. While we haven't figured out the secret to keeping you from over-analyzing every.single.thing. (sorry, mama!), we do believe you must carve out time for you. Because that rest is just as important—and you've certainly earned it.

XO,

#TeamMotherly

PS: We spoke to Jessica Alba and she gave us the lowdown on why she stopped breastfeeding, and Nordstrom is having their anniversary sale until August 5th. Here's everything we want!

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