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Letting Kids Relish the Magic of Childhood

There is something so magical about being a child.


The world is new, everything is an adventure, there are unlimited things to explore, and your imagination is free to create whatever possibilities it chooses.

Then you become an adult. Hopefully, you still have some of that magic, but more often than not, you will become cynical, jaded, or at least less imaginative and creative. Your spirit seems broken and you realize the world is exactly as it seems – there are no unicorns hiding in the woods behind your house, no Evil Queen threatening to ruin your kingdom, no werewolves lurking in the creek, and certainly no Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, or Easter Bunny.

Instead, there are taxes, bills, jobs, appointments, disappointments, and responsibility. I personally believe this is why adults are allowed to drink alcohol, but that is neither a necessary nor pertinent point in this article.

I feel as if sometimes adults try to make their children grow up too quickly. While I am not the one who will tell somebody how they should parent – because, quite frankly, that’s none of my damn business so long as your child isn’t in danger – I do feel strongly that we need to nurture our children’s imaginations, creativity, and sense of wonder.

 

 

I struggle between wanting to prepare my children for the real world – being a realist – and letting them believe the world is a fairy tale and a place to explore. It crushes me to think about how heart-broken my children will be when they realize so much of what they grew up to believe to be true is a lie, a fabrication, most of which was perpetuated by me.

My son is currently outside and I am watching him through the window, listening to him play by himself. He is pointing in different directions, while still in his pajamas and wearing rain boots, and explaining to whichever imaginary creature is listening to him where different monsters live. Because he decided that he is a hero today – one who has a fort that he needs to protect. He has battened down the playhouse, shielding entrances with his pogo stick, baseball bats, and light sabers. There are Nerf guns and bullets strewn all over the yard from when he and his sister were shooting these pretend monsters with their invisible army.

He is experiencing magic right now. All I can think about it how all of those toys need to be picked up so I can cut the grass while the weather is still nice.

When does this change occur? When do we, as children, lose our innocence? Is there one defining moment, or is it a slow progression of events that gradually nudge us towards the experienced, realist, cynical side?

I can remember being a care-free little girl. If I had to describe my childhood or illustrate it in one picture, that picture would surely be on some Hallmark card or calendar. My childhood was filled with fireflies, princess dresses, dandelions, running barefoot, playing sports, catching frogs, and swimming in creeks. It was pure magic. I lived in a fairy tale.

The older I grew, though, I realized how limited my perspective was. I viewed the world through the lens of rose-colored glasses. It was hard for me to begin to learn about the evil in the world, that fairy tales and celebratory figures like Santa weren’t real, and it was especially devastating to realize that my parents were not, in fact, a perfectly coupled hero and heroine with capes.

I can recall certain instances where I realized the hardness and unfairness of life. I cannot say for certain if it was any one single or all of these events combined that led to my perspective and outlook on life becoming less magical. I don’t know when that happened.

I do know one thing for certain.

I will let my children relish this magic. I will shield them from the danger and harm, perpetuate their make-believe ideas, and allow them to grow up thinking they have every single chance to actually become a king, a unicorn, a fairy, or even a werewolf. While they are little, I will not break their spirits with the harsh truths of the world.

I want them to grow up and transition into adulthood with any and every ounce of magic, imagination, and creativity that they can hold on to. Our world, especially in the state it currently is, needs some of that magic, that hope, that imagination.

I also know that in addition to encouraging their imaginations and wonder, I will share in that magic. I will be a fundamental figure in their fairytale, playing whatever part I need to on any given occasion. Just the other day I was a Waffle Lady. I’m still not sure how Waffle Lady was incorporated into their play, but Waffle Lady I was.

Today I have also been a part of the fort guard, protecting my son and daughter’s playhouse from monsters (which, really, was a huge mosquito, in addition to werewolves, mean gnomes, and vampires). I know that adult life, parent life, wife life can be hard. Sometimes you feel hopeless, defeated, and disheartened. So in between the tragedies and unfair events – globally and inside my own house – I will let my children charge through their childhood on whatever magical creature or quest they choose.

Kids are only little once. In order for them to be successful and navigate this world, they will be better prepared with a tool belt filled with imagination and creativity. So many of these aspects of childhood can serve them as adults. While they’re still able to, I’ll let them run wild, be ruled by their spirits, and explore with their imagination. If you find yourself especially defeated, run barefoot outside while capturing evil trolls. It might just lift your spirits and bring back a little of that child within you.

Help them keep that magic.

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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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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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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!

My Instagram feed has been full of pictures of friends that their kids to the beach. I get it, I like the beach a lot. But the forest and the mountains are my real loves.

The way the damp leaves smell in the morning. The peace of walking underneath a canopy of trees. The sound of firewood crackling at night. Sigh, heaven.

I also grew up camping with my family and have done some intense hiking, backpacking and search and rescue. So it's kind of in my blood—I wear my frostbite scars with honor.

So I couldn't wait to get my future kids out into nature (minus the frostbite). I had visions of us hiking to a stream, swimming and splashing all day, then cooking a big meal over a campfire as we sing songs and laugh.

Then, I actually became a parent. Of three kids, actually, all of whom are still very young… and a dog… and a husband who doesn't really like camping.

Despite the realization that it wouldn't be exactly as I planned, this summer we finally decided to take our first camping trip as a family.

Here is what I learned:

1. Set the bar low

I had to remind myself over and over again that this trip would not live up to my expectations. I know this sounds like a bummer way to start a trip, but it really helped. I have the tendency to over-plan and get really (really) excited about things. This is not a bad quality, but it can lend itself to disappointment when things don't go as hoped. I didn't want us to leave the trip feeling like it was a failure in any way.

This trip was a success, and a big moment for our family, no matter how it turned out.

Instead of forcing activities or memories, I forced myself to just… be. Not expecting the trip to be magical opened us up to appreciate the unexpected moments of magic as they occurred naturally, without being forced.

This got harder, of course, when our car got stuck in the mud (true story), and we had to wait three hours for AAA to arrive. But when our kids talk about the camping trip now they still squeal with delight as they recount the story of the tow truck coming. You're welcome (I guess)?

2. We made it really easy

I put my camping ego aside, and we took a lot of shortcuts on this first trip. We didn't stay in a tent but rented a barebones cabin instead. For dinner, we ordered a pizza. And we let the kids play on our phones for a little bit in the evening.

Those things didn't make for a truly authentic experience, but goodness, they really helped. I have started to realize that there is no shame in making things easy, especially when you have little kids. And they didn't know any different. As far as they are concerned, we hiked the Appalachian Trail and gathered all our own food from the earth.

This was a lazy camping trip, for sure—and that was exactly what we needed.

3. I over-prepped for safety so I could calm down

I have hiked and camped in the White Mountains of New Hampshire in February—this was not that. At any given moment on our trip, an ambulance could have easily reached us, and we were only a few minutes away from a hospital at any point. But it made me feel much better to know that we were safe and ready for anything that should happen.

We bought a first aid kit, a survival kit, too many flashlights and bottled water. I was really big on everyone wearing good footwear and teaching them how to walk carefully on uneven terrain.

We also used the opportunity to teach about other areas, like water safety. Rita Goldberg of the British Swim School recommends "[teaching kids] to avoid water hazards and to not approach a fountain, river, pool or lake without an adult's supervision and permission."

We also incorporated their "Water Watcher" program, which assigns a "badge of responsibility" to one adult at all times, who maintains a constant watch over the kids while they are near water.

These easy steps, that we decided on ahead of time, made me feel much more relaxed, and therefore better able to enjoy our time.

This trip took some emotional adjustments on my part. It wasn't glamorous, or particularly exciting. But that was exactly what it needed to be. Emily Glover wrote that "by getting away from the distractions of home and focusing on each other...we're reminded of what really matters."

We found that in the woods—together.

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