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Maximize Your Kids’ Executive Function to Help Get to School on Time

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You made lunches the night before. The kids picked their outfits and laid them out before lights out. Backpacks are ready and waiting by the front door. Your younger kids have a picture schedule. Your older kids are capable of telling time. Everyone knows what they need to do and when they need to do it in order to get to school on time.


It should be simple, but somehow it’s not. Despite your best planning, you’re rushing, maybe even yelling, as you herd people toward the door. You are stressed, and your kids are late. Again.

If this sounds familiar, it might be time to focus less on what’s going on in your house every morning and more on what’s going on in your kids’ brains at any given moment.

The brain’s frontal lobe is responsible for executive function, which includes time management, impulse control, planning, organizing, shifting attention, and multitasking. Executive function may be the difference between a stressful morning and a tardy slip versus a pleasant morning and a punctual arrival at school.

Strong executive functioning also means getting homework done on time, remembering to wear sneakers on phys ed. days, and starting a project long before it’s due. While some of these skills develop naturally as kids mature, there are things parents can provide to help maximize their kids’ executive function at any age.

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Healthy food

A 2016 study from the British Journal of Nutrition proved what we’ve known for generations: You are what you eat. Or at least, your diet plays a large role in the way you think and act. Researchers found a strong correlation between a healthy diet and cognitive function in children and adolescents.

According to experts, filling your child’s plate with foods found along the grocery store’s perimeter and avoiding items from the center aisles, like sugary beverages and processed snack foods, is best. They cited fish and foods high in fiber (whole grains, fruits, and vegetables) as particularly beneficial.

On the other hand, foods high in saturated fat, like red meat and dairy products, were found to be negatively associated with cognitive function.

Limits on screen time

A 2011 study published in Pediatrics found that watching as little as nine minutes of fast-paced television impaired preschoolers’ executive function. In this study, subjects spent nine minutes doing one of three activities: watching fast-paced television (“Sponge Bob”), watching an educational cartoon (“Caillou”), or drawing.

The children who watched “Sponge Bob” performed significantly worse on tests of executive functioning after the intervention. (I’m sorry if I am the first to tell you that “Caillou” would be a better choice for your child than “Sponge Bob”. I know which one I’d prefer.)

Meanwhile, MRI’s have confirmed that excessive screen time damages the structure of the brain responsible for executive function. A 2013 study in the European Journal of Radiology compared the brains of healthy adolescents with adolescents diagnosed with online gaming addiction (OGA). Researchers found significant gray matter atrophy in the brain’s frontal lobes of those with OGA, as compared with the brains of the healthy subjects.

Additionally, there was a positive relationship between the degree of atrophy and subjects’ scores on a standardized test of internet addiction. In other words, the more time subjects spent in front of a screen, the more likely they were to experience shrinkage of brain tissue in the frontal lobe – the center for executive function.

Opportunities for exercise

It’s no coincidence that most adults find it easier to sit at their desks after a sweat session at the gym. Science has proven what we know to be true over and over, and it turns out the benefits of exercise apply to children, too.

A 2010 literature review published in Developmental Review concluded that aerobic exercise unequivocally promotes children’s executive function. While any form of exercise helps, researchers found that forms of exercise that engage the mind (e.g. team sports, dance, martial arts) are more beneficial than those that do not. The amount of exercise can also positively impact executive function.

Subjects in a 2011 study were placed in one of three groups: a control group, a group that exercised 20 minutes per day, and a group that exercised 40 minutes per day. Using standardized testing and a functional MRI, researchers found that both groups of exercisers performed better on executive function than the control group, and that those who exercised for 40 minutes did better than those who exercised for 20 minutes.

If you’re worried that your child is so mentally disorganized that he is exercise-proof, fear not. One study found that the children who benefit most from exercise were those with the lowest executive function at baseline. And if the argument for exercise isn’t somehow compelling enough, a kid who plays a sport, dances, or practices Tae Kwon Do is, by definition, not in front of a screen.

If you find yourself scrambling to help find your daughter’s left shoe two minutes before the bus comes, remember your focus might be misplaced. When it comes to getting to school on time, putting your best foot forward might just start with the brain.

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No kid is born a picky eater, but there are plenty who will give you a run for your money come mealtime. Whether it's a selective eating phase or simply a natural resistance to trying something new, getting your little one to try just.one.bite can be easier said than done.

But sometimes your attitude about eating can make the most impact. A 2017 study found a direct correlation between "mealtime emotional climate" (AKA, how positive meals are for parents and children) and a child's consumption of healthy food―meaning the difference between your child trying their green beans or not could depend on how positive you make the experience.

Not sure where to start?

Here are 10 positive parenting techniques that can help overcome picky eating and lead to more peaceful mealtimes for all.

1. Make them feel special.

Sometimes just knowing you have a special place at the table can help kids eat better. Create a special place setting with dishes just for them.

Try this: We love OXO's Stick & Stay plates and bowls for creating less mess at mealtime. Not only will the kids love the fun colors and designs, but the plates also come with a suction cup base that prevents little hands from knocking plates to the floor (or in your lap). Trust us—we've tried it.

2. Take off the pressure.

OXO Tot's Stick & Stay Suction Plate

Think about it: If someone kept telling you to take one more bite during lunch, how likely would you be to go along without bristling?

Try this: Instead, use the Satter Division of Responsibility of feeding, which lets parents be responsible for what, when, and where feeding happens, while the child is left responsible of how much and whether. Besides promoting a more positive environment at mealtime, this method also boosts your child's confidence and helps encourage better self-regulation of food as they get older.

3. Serve a variety.

OXO Tot's Stick & Stay Suction Divided Plate

It could be that your child is bored with the usual rotation. Keep things interesting by regularly introducing new ingredients, or reworking a familiar ingredient in a new way. The familiar setting might make your child more likely to take a bite without a struggle.

Try this: Sub in spaghetti squash with their favorite pasta sauce, or add in a new veggie to a beloved stir-fry. We love OXO's Stick & Stay Divided Plate for creating a "tasting menu" of new flavors for little ones to pick and choose or using the center spot for an appetizing dip.

4. Don't bargain or negotiate.

Many kids resist trying new foods or eating at all because it gives them a sense of control over their lives. By resisting an ingredient―even one they have tried and liked in the past―they are essentially saying, "You're not the boss of me."

Try this: Instead of resorting to bargaining tactics like, "Just take one bite!" or "You can have dessert if you try it!" lower the pressure with a neutral statement like, "This is what we're having for dinner tonight." There's no argument, so you avoid tripping their "Don't tell me what to do!" sensor.

5. Serve meals in courses.

Even adults are more likely to eat something when they're really hungry. When their tummies are rumbling, kids will usually put up less of a fight even when they're uncertain about a new ingredient.

Try this: Serve up vegetables or other new foods as an "appetizer" course. That way, you won't have to stress if they don't fill up because you can follow up with food you know they'll eat.

6. Make it a game.

The fastest way to get a toddler on board with a new idea is to make it more fun. Turn your kitchen into an episode of Top Chef and let your little one play judge.

Try this: Use each compartment of the Stick & Stay Divided Plate for a new ingredient. With each item, ask your child to tell you how the food tastes, smells, and feels, ranking each bite in order of preference. Over time, you just might be surprised to see veggies climb the leaderboard!

7. Get them involved in cooking.

You've probably noticed that toddlers love anything that is theirs―having them help with preparing their own meals gives them a sense of ownership and makes them more likely to try new ingredients.

Try this: Look for ways to get those little hands involved in the kitchen, even if it means meal prep takes a bit longer or gets a bit messier. (We also love letting them help set the table―and OXO's unbreakable plates are a great place to start!) You could even let your toddler pick the veggie course for the meal. And if your child asks to taste a raw fruit or vegetable you planned to cook, go with it! Every bite counts as training that will ultimately broaden their palate.

8. Cut out unstructured snacking.

Not surprisingly, a hungry kid is more likely to try new foods. But if your toddler had a banana and a glass of milk (or a granola bar, or a handful of popcorn, or a glass of juice) an hour before dinner, odds are they aren't feeling truly hungry and will be more likely to resist what you serve at mealtime.

Try this: Stick to a consistent eating schedule. If your child leaves the table without eating as much as you think they should, remind them once that they won't be able to eat again until X time―and make good on that promise even if they start begging for a snack before the scheduled meal.

9. Model good eating habits.

Kids may not always do what you say, but they are much more likely to follow a good example. So if you want a child who eats vegetables regularly, you should do your best to fill your own plate with produce.

Try this: Pick a new food the whole family will try in multiple ways each week. For example, if you're introducing butternut squash, serve it roasted, blended in soup, cut up in pasta, as a mash, etc.―and be sure a healthy serving ends up on your plate too.

10. Don't worry about "fixing" picky eating.

OXO Tot's Stick & Stay Suction Bowl

In most cases, children go through relatively consistent eating phases. At age two (when parents tend to notice selectiveness ramping up), growth rates have slowed and most children don't need as much food as parents might think.

Try this: Focus on keeping mealtime positive by providing children with a variety of foods in a no-pressure environment. And remember: This too shall pass. The less stress you put on eating now, the more likely they are to naturally broaden their palates as they get older.


This article was sponsored by OXO Tot. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Learn + Play

We grew up together, were in each other's weddings, and dreamed about the day we would raise our children in unison. Then, BOOM. Kids arrive, and it doesn't take long to realize that, whoa, my best friend and I have very different approaches to this parenting gig.

The odds of her letting her babies “cry it out" are about as high as me co-sleeping with mine, and by that I mean not a chance. That's not the only thing that makes us very different in terms of parenting.

I enforce strict bedtimes, while her kids are catching a 7 p.m. movie at the theater. My little ones eat most meals from a box or the freezer, and hers have palates more developed than most adults.

We're both teachers. She cries when August rolls around at the thought of leaving her kids to go back to work. Me? I'm itching for “me time" and aching for conversation with someone above the age of five.

Sure, we're both trying our best to raise happy, respectful, and kind children, but when I'm faced with a grumpy 4-year-old whose mood rivals a teenager, I choose to send her to her room for quiet time. My best friend tickles the grouchies away.

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She has endless patience while I'm nearing the end of my fraying rope by noon.

I'll never forget one day when my daughter was having an epic tantrum, and I said to my friend, exasperated, “Ugh, sometimes I just want to scream 'Shut up!'"

Her response was one of shock, her eyes wide with horror. “Jennifer!" she said, appalled.

“Of course I would never actually say that," I quickly clarified. “But c'mon, you mean to tell me you've never thought that before?"

“Never!" she replied.

Then we chuckled about how different our mindsets are.

That's the thing – it's not a secret that we're raising our kids using opposing methodologies. We know that about each other and we respect that about each other. Here's the key: there's no judging.

My friend's children are being raised with religion in the household—praying at meals and before bed, talking about God, and falling on faith to help explain many of the mysteries of the human experience. My husband and I rest pretty low on the spirituality ladder and while we have no problem explaining religious beliefs to our kids, we have no plan to incorporate religion into our family.

“Johnny included you in his bedtime prayer last night," she recently told me.

“Aww, tell him thanks," I said, “and I love him."

We don't hide things from each other or pretend to be similar in ways that we're clearly not. With such different approaches to most aspects of parenting, you'd think that it would be difficult to be friends, but the opposite is true. Honesty, empathy, and support go far in maintaining a lasting friendship.

In a culture that likes to pit moms against each other simply because of differing choices, our story proves that it doesn't have to be that way.

Many of our conversations start with: “I know you think I'm crazy, but…" Sometimes when one of us (usually me) needs to vent about an issue with our child, the other one just listens and does her best to offer advice even if it's not something that we would do personally.

In the end, it comes down to this: There's no right way to be a mom. No one hands out gold star stickers to the moms who are doing things “this" way, rather than “that" way.

So, is it possible to be best friends with a mom who has polar opposite parenting styles as me? The answer is yes. She may be the June Cleaver to my Rosanne Barr, but what can I say? It just works.

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Love + Village

Sure being a mom of three totally rocks, but it comes with its fair share of demands, too. Singer-turned-lifestyle-entrepreneur, Jessica Simpson is learning this first hand, as she recently admitted to People that mothering three children can be difficult.

"Three is challenging," says Simpson. "We are trying to get into the groove and make sure all three kids are getting equal attention … it's more than a full-time job right now."

Simpson is a mom to daughter 6-year-old Maxwell Drew, 5-year-old son Ace Knut and little Birdie Mae who is just 5 weeks old. Birdie was born via C-section on March 19, and Simpson admitted on Instagram that "recovering from a C-section is no joke!"

While in the recovery period, the new mom of three is determined to live in the moment and enjoy hugging her new baby. "We are trying our best to be as present as possible and enjoy every part of having a newborn," she says. "We know how fast the time goes and how precious it is."

But being a mom to multiples can often be overwhelming. A recent survey found that motherhood isn't just equivalent to a full-time job, but actually equivalent to working 2.5 jobs. And we know three kids is one of the hardest ratios for moms: A survey found moms of four or more are less stressed than moms with fewer kids, but moms of three are way more stressed than moms of two.

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Simspon is totally feeling this.

She tells People: "The other night, all three kids were crying at the same time, so I just joined in!" She's joking about it, but feelings of sadness after a new baby are not a laughing matter. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), postpartum depression impacts 15 to 20% of pregnant and postpartum mothers. (If you're feeling overwhelmed, seek help, mama)

No matter how many kids you have, the fact is that statistically, parents are more stressed than people who don't have kids. It makes sense. We have less free time and more responsibilities, but it is so worth it. And it won't feel like a full-time job forever.

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News

I've always felt a weird kinship with Prince Harry. We are two different races (he's white, and I'm an African American), so we're definitely not related, and technically, I've never met him, but because my mother was pregnant with me at the same time Princess Diana was pregnant with him, I feel strangely connected to Harry.

It's almost like we're distant cousins in some bizarre way. So, imagine my delight when I discovered he was dating, and later married, an American actress of African-American heritage?

"Finally, there's some color in the royal family!" I texted to a few close friends on Prince Harry's wedding day, who later joined in my delight with smiling emojis. She's a beautiful 37-year-old American divorcee with a relaxed California girl sense of style. Naturally, I want her to win.

But as much as I'm team Meghan Markel and pro black women in general, I understand that having a black woman in the monarchy doesn't change much. Let's reflect back for a moment: Shortly after the world learned Meghan was dating Prince Harry, the tabloids were loaded with racist comments. "Duchess Difficult" is a mainstay in the news that particularly stands out to me. "Oh, great another black woman deemed aggressive, ill-tempered and hostile," I remember mumbling to myself.

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The trope of the "angry black woman" has once again re-emerged and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, isn't excluded from it. According to NBC News, some British journalists say Meghan has been treated differently from other members of the House of Windsor, citing a difference in attitude towards Kate, the wife of Harry's elder brother Prince William.

Realizing this reminded me how former First Lady Michelle Obama was treated shortly after taking on the title. Michelle has spoken about the racism she faced as the first lady, noting that when a West Virginia county employee called her an "ape in heels" it cut deep.

And speaking of cutting deep, it pains me when society labels Meghan as "our black hero" because it's damaging to other black women who don't have straight, long hair, light skin, and a narrow nose. Does this mean that if you don't look like Meghan, an "acceptable" version of a black woman, then you don't quite matter? Is her version of black the only type that counts?

But even with the racism and wanted (or unwanted) labels surrounding Meghan being in the royal family, I'm thrilled to learn that her baby (whether a boy or girl) will be seventh-in-line to the throne and the first baby of African ancestry to have such a title in the history of British royalty.

I love birthing stories, and this one is extra special. This, to me, is more magical than Meghan being in the office because it means a new breed of royalty is here. It's a symbol of change, new beginnings and it disrupts white British bloodlines. I couldn't be more excited.

If I'm being honest with myself, I know the baby won't be excluded from racist remarks, but their mere presence will acknowledge that mixed families are breaking age-old boundaries of white people dominating the royal family, and creates new histories. And, that gives me a beacon of hope for not only the Brits but Americans, too.

Just like Meghan, I too am expecting a child any day. Just like Meghan, this baby won't be granted the title of Princess (unless it's a girl, who by default will be seen as such through her daddy's eyes). And, just like Meghan, I'm hopeful yet unsure of the world my little one will live in. But, I'm positive they will break their own boundaries while standing on the shoulders of black women who have come before them.

And that, strangely enough, makes me feel even more connected to the Harry and the rest of the British Royal Family.

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News

We think about them all the time as new moms, but what our milk ducts actually look like is a bit of a mystery. That's why a tweet showing the female muscle system is going viral.

Almost 50,000 people are talking about this image which shows milk ducts in their unskinned form. The clusters of milk ducts look like flowers, and Twitter is freaking out.

"At first I thought someone put flowers over boobs because art. Now, it looks like a weird alien creature lives inside my body and I'm terrified," wrote one woman whose tweet has been liked more than 23,000 times.

Here's the thing though, this isn't terrifying. It's beautiful.

Those petal-like structures aren't actually the ducts, those are lobes, which contain the alveoli. That's where the body makes the milk, which then travels down those little tubes (those are the ducts) to the nipple.

There's nothing scary about it, in fact, it's kind of magical. The female body really is a work of art.

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