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It was story hour at our local library. I was there with my then-four-year-old granddaughter, Kylie, listening as intently as she was to the librarian read “Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late!” by Mo Willems.


It had been my favorite to read to the preschoolers I worked with years ago. Afterwards, the children put their mats away and went to a long table covered with newspaper and full of little paint palettes to paint a wooden birdhouse.

I stood behind Kylie and let her do her interpretation of Picasso on her birdhouse. There was no planning on her part, no discussion of, “Uh…what should I paint?” She grabbed her brushes and layered her paint colors one on top of the other until every bare spot was covered with this murky bluish grey hue. There were no dots or flowers or suns or space rockets or butterflies like the other children had painted.

“Beautiful,” I said admiring her handiwork and taking a picture on my cell phone for her mom – my daughter – to see.

“Thanks,” Kylie said, dabbing still at her birdhouse with more dripping color.

And then I heard the voice of one of the mother’s next to me whose daughter was sitting across from her.

“What a great job, sweetheart! Those are beautiful colors that you used. I’m so proud of you. Those are the most perfect stripes. You deserve an ice cream cone for that. Wait until Daddy sees it.”

A stream of honey-dipped praise spilled out of her mouth with each brush stroke her daughter made. I smiled and thought to myself that her daughter must be the most self-assured little person in her class, probably in her neighborhood.

“It is beautiful,” I said to both mother and daughter.

Neither looked at Kylie’s birdhouse and said the same. Not even a nod of approval.

I shrugged my shoulders and sighed.

“I know some little birdie will love your birdhouse,” I told Kylie.  She didn’t seem to hear me, she was in her own zone. I let her be and took a seat off to the side

It didn’t matter to me if she didn’t become a child prodigy in art. I just wanted her to enjoy painting a birdhouse and the thrill of putting it outside in our backyard to see if a bird was charmed enough to visit it. This was not a competition. She and the other wide-eyed children were not taking an entrance exam to get into New York City’s prestigious Pratt Institute.

Soon though, this mother’s compliments filled the room. One parent pursed her lips in a frown as she wiped smears of paint off her little ones hands.

Sitting on the sidelines in those uncomfortably hard library chairs, I started wondering: when does praise become overpraise? Is there ever a time when we praise our children too darn much.

Even though she had basically ignored my granddaughter and me, I decided I was on this mother’s side. Scenarios started running through my head. Maybe her daughter had a teacher who crushed her six-year-old spirit in school the day before when she colored the sky purple instead of blue and her mom was trying to build her confidence up. (Yes, those teachers exist. My own son had one in kindergarten.)

Or maybe this mother had never been told she could be great at anything growing up and she wanted to ensure her daughter didn’t grow up carrying the weight of self doubt. Who knew, but I was willing to bet that if her daughter had painted her birdhouse a murky grey, or all black (as Kylie used to do because black was and is her favorite color), her praise would be equally enthusiastic.

Growing up my parents didn’t heap a lot of praise on me. I knew they loved me to the moon and back, as this mother I’m sure loved her daughter, but it was difficult for them to say certain words when it came to adoration.

They were from a generation of hard-working parents whose deeds spoke louder than their words. Providing a roof over their children’s heads, food, and clothing were praise enough. If I got a good report card, my mother would make my favorite meal of meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Or she’d call my grandmother and aunts to let them know how well I did right in front of me.

And if I failed at something, like when I froze at my piano recital and ran off crying, my mother would tell me about the time she got scared doing something, letting me know it wasn’t earth shattering, that I’d survive it.

In my tweens, though, I have to admit I longed for more. I wanted to hear that I was pretty, smart, creative, etc. I needed to hear them say it especially when I was teased about my thick glasses, my knocked knees, or my kinky hair. I thought hearing those words would have anchored me, stopped the flow of tears, stopped the late-night eating binges and free-fall of despairing words in my journal.

But not hearing how great I was all the time in a sense gave me wings. It pushed me to find that intrinsic button in myself that would keep me buoyant, that didn’t rely on others to fill a void. Still, I wish I hadn’t had to develop such a thick skin so fast; that all those porous crevices in my mind and body could have been overloaded with words that filled me with promise and power and beauty and worth so that the verbal sticks and stones would just bounce off of me.

I was determined to be different when I had my own children, and I was – to a certain extent. It took a while to be comfortable doing something I’d rarely seen or heard as a kid. But it paid off, and now my children are the ones cheering and applauding and saying, “You did a great job!” 101 ways so that their kids can have a positive concept of themselves.

Even though some statistics say that too much praise is detrimental, if anyone took a poll, I would loudly scream from the top of Mount Everest, “I DISAGREEEEEEE!!” Praise that’s genuine and hones in on a child’s gifts is never too much. That type of praise will stick to a child’s heart. That type of praise is an essential component of growing a child. That type of praise infuses them from the top of their heads to the soles of their feet with confidence.

And if we can keep that in mind when we dole it out, even as others roll their eyes, then Amen to overpraising.

Kylie’s murky bluish grey birdhouse still sits on my deck. It’s weather-beaten and has been glued back together after it was used as a throw toy by one of her younger cousins, but each time she looks at it she has that confident look of, “I painted that.”

“You know, it really is beautiful Kylie,” I tell her often when we are outside watching for a bird to come visit.

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Unstructured play is play without predetermined rules of the game. There are no organized teams, uniforms, coaches or trainers. It is spontaneous, often made-up on the spot, and changeable as the day goes on. It is the kind of play you see when puppies chase each other around a yard in endless circles or a group of kids play for hours in a fort they created out of old packing boxes.

Unstructured play is fun—no question about it—but research also tells us that it is critically important for the development of children's bodies and brains.

One of the best ways to encourage unstructured play in young children is by providing open-ended toys, or toys that can be used multiple ways. People Toy Company knows all about that. Since 1977, they've created toys and products designed to naturally encourage developmental milestones—but to kids, it all just feels like play.

Here are five reasons why unstructured play is crucial for your children—

1. It changes brain structure in important ways

In a recent interview on NPR's Morning Edition, Sergio Pellis, Ph.D., an expert on the neuroscience of play noted that play actually changes the structure of the developing brain in important ways, strengthening the connections of the neurons (nerve cells) in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain considered to be the executive control center responsible for solving problems, making plans and regulating emotions.

Because unstructured play involves trying out different strategies without particular goals or serious consequences, children and other animals get to practice different activities during play and see what happens. When Dr. Pellis compared rats who played as pups with rats that did not, he found that although the play-deprived rats could perform the same actions, the play-experienced rats were able to react to their circumstances in a more flexible, fluid and swift fashion.

Their brains seemed more "plastic" and better able to rewire as they encountered new experiences.

Hod Lipson, a computer scientist at Cornell sums it up by saying the gift of play is that it teaches us how to deal with the unexpected—a critically important skill in today's uncertain world.

2. Play activates the entire neocortex

We now know that gene expression (whether a gene is active or not) is affected by many different things in our lives, including our environment and the activities we participate in. Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D., a Professor at the University of Washington studied play in rats earning him the nickname of the "rat tickler."

He found that even a half hour of play affected the activity of many different genes and activated the outer part of the rats' brains known as the neocortex, the area of the brain used in higher functions such as thinking, language and spatial reasoning. We don't know for sure that this happens in humans, but some researchers believe that it probably does.

3. It teaches children to have positive interaction with others

It used to be thought that animal play was simply practice so that they could become more effective hunters. However, Dr. Panksepp's study of play in rats led him to the conclusion that play served an entirely different function: teaching young animals how to interact with others in positive ways. He believed that play helps build pro-social brains.

4. Children who play are often better students

The social skills acquired through play may help children become better students. Research has found that the best predictor of academic performance in the eighth grade was a child's social skills in the third grade. Dr. Pellis notes that "countries where they actually have more recess tend to have higher academic performance than countries where recess is less."

5. Unstructured play gets kids moving

We all worry that our kids are getting too little physical activity as they spend large chunks of their time glued to their electronic devices with only their thumbs getting any exercise. Unstructured play, whether running around in the yard, climbing trees or playing on commercial play structures in schools or public parks, means moving the whole body around.

Physical activity helps children maintain a healthy weight and combats the development of Type 2 diabetes—a condition all too common in American children—by increasing the body's sensitivity to the hormone insulin.

It is tempting in today's busy world for parents and kids to fill every minute of their day with structured activities—ranging from Spanish classes before school to soccer and basketball practice after and a full range of special classes and camps on the weekends and summer vacation. We don't remember to carve out time for unstructured play, time for kids to get together with absolutely nothing planned and no particular goals in mind except having fun.

The growing body of research on the benefits of unstructured play suggests that perhaps we should rethink our priorities.

Not sure where to get started? Here are four People Toy Company products that encourage hours of unstructured play.

1. People Blocks Zoo Animals

These colorful, magnetic building blocks are perfect for encouraging unstructured play in children one year and beyond. The small pieces fit easily in the hands of smaller children, and older children will love creating their own shapes and designs with the magnetic pieces.

People Blocks Zoo Animals 17 Piece Set, People Toy Company, $34.99

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This article was sponsored by People Toy Company. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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For many families, getting out the door in the morning is one of the biggest hurdles in our day, whether you've got one kiddo or multiples. Mama needs to get ready, children need to find that missing sock, and everyone needs to find something to eat—all while making it to the car before the entire day is running behind.

So we asked Chairman Mom members for their best tips and tricks to getting out the door faster in the mornings. Here's what they shared:

1. Get your kids to help prep the night before

"The simplest thing you can do to streamline the morning is prep everything that can be prepped the night before. Often easier said than done. But once your kids are old enough, they can own a lot of this."—Amy

2. Set an alarm using your kid's favorite song 

"Something small that saves us a few minutes: I put on an alarm with my 3 three year old's favorite song at 7:42, he knows it signals it's time to get his shoes and coat on."—Nogo

3. Use smart technology 

"We use Google Home (I'm sure Alexa would do this too) to read kids a story. So much easier to stop after the story is over then telling her to shut off the tv from watching a show!"—Maven

4. Try wearing a mom uniform 

"I don't wear make up, and my hair is an inch long, so I do not spend any time styling anything. I have an Office Casual Uniform arrangement of clothing, shoes, and jewelry, so there is no real choice involved. I have a coffee maker that is programmable, so I set it up the night before to brew at 6:15am."—Melinite

5. Simplify your beauty routine

"I do mascara and tinted sunscreen. Lipstick that I can put on without a mirror."—Julie

6. ...and your kid's beauty routine

"I brush and braid my daughter's hair the night before so that we don't have to deal with tangles in the morning. This saves the morning from going off the rails..."—Crystal

7. Hire extra help just for the mornings 

"I have a nanny for 45 minutes every morning that comes to help us. That's the best hack my husband and I have found to have happy and stress free mornings and be working or at work by 8 or 8:30 am."—Maria

8. Make breakfast super easy 

"Keep breakfast food at my office (instant oatmeal, nuts + dry fruit) that I eat at my desk while doing the first round of email."—Petya

9. Find those lost socks

"Whenever I have a MOMENT I prep lunches, fix sandwiches, put them in Tupperware, chop fruit, etc. (Oh! I even let the kids earn extra spending money by chopping the week's fruit for me on Sunday with butter knives) And get uniforms and SOCKS ready. Finding socks can eat up a good 10 minutes of my morning routine."—Sarah

10.  Take the guesswork out of what your kid will wear

"I have a toddler who hates changing out of her PJs so we just dress her in her day clothes the night before—one less battle to fight in the morning."—Jess

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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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Mamas have a hard time carving out time for themselves. Our families almost always take priority, meaning things like skincare can easily fall by the wayside. Even though studies have shown the benefits of caring for ourselves also benefit our babies benefit our babies, it often feels just one more task to add to our to-do list.

Fortunately, it's possible to skip extensive routines and start small. If you have just five minutes (or more!) to spare for yourself this week, try these self-care products you can sneak during nap time or after you finally get the little ones down for the night.

If you only have 5 minutes: Remove your makeup

One of the most important ways to care for your skin at the end of the day is removing your makeup. Start with a cleansing towelette to easily wipe away even stubborn mascara and eyeliner so you can go to bed with a clean slate.

Neutrogena Makeup Remover Cleansing Towelettes, Amazon, 2-pk $8.97

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If you have 10 minutes (or more): Use a jade facial roller

After cleansing, use this jade roller to gently massage your face to boost collagen, flush out toxins and improve circulation in your skin.

Jade Facial Roller, Amazon, $11.99

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Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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Chrissy Teigen has been very open about the ways pregnancy has changed her body. Mom to 2-year-old Luna and 4-month-old Miles, Teigen—a former swimsuit model—has famously embraced her postpartum body (stretchies and all), while noting that she's still, at times, insecure about it, but she's not ashamed.

That's why, when a man on Twitter commented on a photo of Teigen's red carpet look for the Emmy's to ask the whole wide world (and Teigen herself, he tagged her) if she was pregnant again, Teigen was quick to shut down the shamer.

"I'm asking this with the utmost respectful [sic], but is @chrissyteigen pregnant again?" The man wrote.

"I just had a baby but thank you for being soooo respectful," Teigen replied (from the Emmys).


Fellow moms were quick to jump to Teigen's defense. Many pointed out that Teigen actually looks incredible for any human, let alone one who is four months postpartum. Other mamas were quick to chime in with stories about their own lingering baby bumps.

For a lot of women, our bodies are different after having a baby. Sometimes that means we're a little rounder in the middle than we used to be. It happens to almost everyone, even red carpet-walking A-listers, like Teigen and actress Jennifer Garner, who once told Ellen Degeneres that she would have a bump forever.

"I am not pregnant, but I have had three kids and there is a bump," Garner explained in 2014, after paparazzi photographs fueled speculation that she and Ben Affleck were expecting a fourth child. "Forever and ever, not another baby. Just a bump like a camel. But just in reverse," Garner jokes.

Like Garner, Teigen dealt with the pregnancy question with a sense of humor, but she shouldn't have had to defend her body from the Emmys. As many, many Twitter users pointed out to the man who asked, it's never cool to ask a woman if she is pregnant.

It's not polite to ask, and it's no one's business whether a woman's bump is a pregnancy, some fabric, a burrito, a weird shadow or (as in Teigen's case) basically a figment of someone's imagination.

A lot of mamas online last night chimed in to say that while Teigen's stomach doesn't look like it did in her Sports Illustrated days, it still looks pretty freaking amazing.

Yes, after two kids, Chrissy Teigen doesn't look like a swimsuit model. But she shouldn't have to. She's not a swimsuit model anymore. She is a cookbook author with her own Target line and she hosts a hilarious TV show. She's also a mother. She is so much more than her midsection.

"Honestly, I don't ever have to be in a swimsuit again," she recently told Women's Health. "Since I was 20 years old, I had this weight in my mind that I am, or that I'm supposed to be. I've been so used to that number for 10 years now. And then I started realizing it was a swimsuit-model weight. There's a very big difference between wanting to be that kind of fit and wanting to be happy-fit."

Teigen is happy with her body, and we're happy she spent Emmy night educating the internet about respecting women.

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