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The One Thing Parents Can Do to Make Mornings Smoother, According to Science

My five-year-old daughter and I tend to get into major power struggles in the morning. I make her the “wrong" breakfast. She wails like I'm torturing her as I attempt brush her tangled curls. Fresh snow covers the ground and her party shoes are the only shoes she's willing to wear.


She's on the floor, crying and flailing her arms before I can finish saying “snow boots." We are running late (again) but I take a minute to lock the bathroom door, turn the vent on, and cry. Why is this is hard? What am I doing wrong?

According to experts, my error is obvious. I've forgotten to start the day with connection.

Instead of “making a deposit" in my child's bank – in the form of cuddles, reading to her, or even asking how she slept, I've attempted to make a number of “withdrawals." I've forgotten that my daughter's brain is just not wired to accommodate that.

As Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson explain in their groundbreaking book “The Whole-Brain Child, not only are the structures of a child's brain still forming, so are the pathways connecting them. The connections between the various parts of the brain are what allow adults to function like adults (most of the time, anyway).

You can credit those connections every time you use logic to push through fear, or hold your tongue in a meeting with your boss when you'd rather throw the nearest object at his head. On the other hand, when you're wondering why your kid loses his mind when you cut his carrots into slices instead of matchsticks, much of it has to do with the fact that his brain is still immature.

Though it takes at least twenty years for the brain to fully develop, there are steps parents can take to make life more bearable in the meantime. According to Siegel's concept of interpersonal neurobiology, secure attachments in childhood facilitate the brain's ability to function as an integrated system.

In other words, focusing on the relationship with your child, rather than all of the tasks she must complete, will not only make your mornings easier, but it will also promote your child's optimal brain development in the long run.

One of the key take-aways from “The Whole Brain Child" is that it's crucial to connect with your the child on an emotional level before trying to reason with him. The best way to help a kid through a tantrum is to first hug him or offer some other non-verbal sign of affection, like a loving, concerned look, a gentle pat on the arm, or a squeeze of his hand, and talk to him after.

Only after the child has calmed down enough to engage in conversation or to quietly listen, can he actually absorb anything you're saying, whether you're offering a pep talk, empathizing, or offering alternative solutions to the problem. According to Siegel and Payne Bryson, pausing to establish a connection serves a dual purpose. First, it strengthens the bond between you and your child, connecting you to each other. Second, this connection facilitates the building of connections between the distinct areas of the child's brain.

Parents who struggle with mornings that devolve into a frantic race against the clock in an attempt to drop a cranky kid off at school on time with two matching shoes, often find much of the stress can be circumvented by taking a moment to connect before the storm erupts.

Clinical psychologist and parenting expert Dr. Laura Markham recommends snuggling with your kiddo for five minutes as they wake up as a way to “fill your child's cup before the day starts, and reconnect after the separation of the night, which gives your child motivation to cooperate instead of fight with you."

If five minutes of snuggling feels unreasonable, try two minutes, or even one. If snuggling in bed as your child rouses doesn't fit with your routine, try something that does. It could be reading together, scratching her back, or simply holding her hand and making eye contact as you say good morning. (I've tried all of these).

One friend said that even if she's already up and dressed, she gets back into bed with her son as soon as he's up and spends a minute or two doing a simple gratitude ritual together, where they simply say a couple things they're thankful for.

Whatever way you choose to connect with your child as you start the day, make sure it's part of your morning routine. According to parent educator Kelly Pfeiffer, routines and connection work best when they're used together.

She suggests parents begin the day with some form of connection (i.e. two minutes of snuggle time) and intersperse other forms of connections throughout the morning, such as creating a silly morning song together, giving high fives, or sharing the joke of the day.

In my own quest to make mornings more bearable, I've been pleasantly surprised to find how far even the briefest moments of connection take us, in terms of setting the tone for the day. Some mornings, there's time for my daughter to climb into bed with me for a few minutes.

But when I've accidentally set my alarm for p.m., we're running twenty minutes late, my daughter has to eat breakfast in the car, and every fiber of my being wants to bust into her room and say, “Why are you playing!? You should be dressed by now. We are running so late!", I stop myself. Instead, I take the time to enter her room slowly, greet her with a smile, rest my hand on her shoulder, and look her in the eye while I say “Good morning. How did you sleep?" It turns out, I don't have time not to.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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Toddlers can alternatively be the sweetest and most tyrannical people on the planet. Figuring the world out is tough, but it is possible to teach them how to care for and respect others—and the first steps start with you.

Here are five tips from Clinical Psychologist and Co-Founder of Harmony in Parenting Dr. Azine Graff on teaching empathy through modeling and playtime, with some of our favorite dolls from Manhattan Toy Company.


1. "I wonder if she's sad." 

Think about it: The first step to understanding the emotions of others is being able to recognize them in yourself. Graff recommends looking for opportunities to label emotions throughout the day by helping your child identify sadness, anger, happiness, and fear.

You can do this by pointing to someone smiling in a book or noticing a baby crying in the grocery store. Try saying, "The baby is crying. I wonder if she is sad." Over time, your little one will learn to label emotions on their own.

2. "How can we take care of her?" 

Dramatic play can be a great time to model care and compassion for others. That's one reason why baby dolls make such great toys for toddlers—not only are they great for open-ended play, they also provide the opportunity to teach caretaking.

For example, you can ask your child, "The baby is yawning and seems very tired. How can we take care of her?" We love the award-winning Wee Baby Stella doll from Manhattan Toy Company to turn playtime into a time for empathy teaching.

3. "It is really hard when all the blocks fall and you're trying to build a tower."

You can set the best example of empathy by taking time to notice and validate your child's feelings. Instead of trying to immediately shush crying, react from a place of compassion.

For example, if your child throws a tantrum over a fallen block tower, try saying, "It is really hard when all the blocks fall and you're trying to build a tower." This demonstrates the importance of understanding feelings, even if they are not our own.

4. "Do you want to try with me?"

Once your child is better able to identify their emotions, they're in a better place to find solutions with your help. "When we can help our children through challenging feelings, especially when they are struggling, we are modeling care for others," Graff says.

The next time your child gets upset, you can say, "It is frustrating when something falls apart. It helps me to take a deep breath when I'm frustrated. Do you want to try with me?"

5. Express your own feelings

It can be tempting to hide your feelings from your child, but when modeled appropriately, it can teach them that feelings are a normal part of life. Over time, you will see them use the same strategies of empathy on you, like kissing your "boo-boos" or suggesting you take a deep breath when you're upset.


This article is sponsored by Manhattan Toy Company. Thank you for supporting that brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Dr. Azine Graff is a Clinical Psychologist and Co-Founder of Harmony in Parenting, which is based in Los Angeles and offers groups, classes, therapy and consultation services informed by the latest research on child development.

We've all been there. In a very public place with a child who is melting down. They're in full kicking and screaming mode, can't be reasoned with or even easily moved. It's frustrating, embarrassing and it can make you question yourself as a parent.

We've also all been the mama to watch it happen to someone else, wishing that we could stop a fellow mother's child from freaking out in aisle six. Wishing that we could let that mother know that we get it, that she's doing a good job, that this happens to all of us.

Sometimes, the lessons we've been taught throughout our lives keep us from acting in those moments when our words could be the life preserver another mother needs. And that's why Katie McLaughlin, a writer and mom of two, recently shared her story in a Facebook post that is now going viral.

She hesitated to speak to a fellow mama, but is so glad she listened to her gut, because that mama (and all of us from time to time) needed to hear what McLaughlin had to say: "I know it doesn't feel like it now, but you are rocking this."

McLaughlin was in the middle of a Target run when she noticed a fellow mother who she sensed could use a kind word.

"Behind me at the checkout, this 3-year-old was kicking and screaming and flopping around on the floor like a fish out of water. I tried to catch the mom's eye and give her an empathetic look, but she was too busy wrestling with her daughter to notice me," McLaughlin wrote, noting that the mom behind her was using all the 'right' tantrum taming techniques, but it just wasn't working.

"She remained calm. She spoke to her child in a gentle, reassuring tone. She was as attentive as she could be while also attempting to pay for her assortment of $10 tees and seasonal decor. But despite her best efforts, the meltdown only got bigger and bigger. The mom still stayed calm, but I noticed her cheeks were very flushed as she apologized profusely to the cashier," McLaughlin wrote in the Facebook post that has now been shared more than 12,000 times.

As the child's tantrum continued, so did the conversation McLaughlin was having with herself. She knew what this mother was feeling, and she wanted so badly to let her know that she's not alone.

"Say something kind to her, I thought. She's embarrassed and alone and feels like a terrible mother. Remind her that none of those things are true," McLaughlin wrote. "But then I thought, No, it's none of your business. LEAVE THE POOR STRANGER ALONE."

McLaughlin walked out of Target with her purchase, and so did the mom of the mid-meltdown toddler. She watched as the mama tried to buckle a flailing, frustrated toddler into a car seat, and then summoned the courage to follow her gut and talk to a stranger.

She said: "Sorry to bother you, but I just wanted to say you're doing a great job."

The mom could have told her to mind her own business, but McLaughlin took that risk. The mom looked up at her, blinked twice, and the tears started flowing down her face. "I think I feel as bad as she does," she told McLaughlin, who replied, "I know it doesn't feel like it now, but you are rocking this."

Through more tears the mom of a very upset toddler told McLaughlin: "You have no idea how much I needed to hear that."

McLaughlin says the reason she spoke up was that she does understand how much the mother needed to hear that, and she hopes other parents who read her viral post can take the risk she did.

"Since the post went viral, I've heard from so many moms who say they wish another mom had offered a supportive word or an understanding glance," she tells Motherly. "So often we stay silent because we're not sure what to say or we're afraid to be seen as 'butting in' or not minding our own business. But the chances are much higher than our act of kindness will be appreciated. So if your gut is telling you to reach out and be supportive, don't overthink it; just do it."

So the next time you find yourself at Target hearing frustrated screams of a toddler, don't mind your business. Offer a supportive verbal comment like McLaughlin did, or offer to help her with her other children, like Tiffany Jones-Guillory did when she encountered a mom with a baby and a melting toddler at her local Target.

Jones-Guillory accidentally went viral back in May, after stepping in to help mom-of-two Rebecca Paterson when her 2-year-old and 2-month-old both melted down at Target. Peterson was about to give up on her shopping trip and was putting items back on the shelves when Jones-Guillory offered empathy and a pair of arms.

"She walked with me while I got the essentials needed for the day and kept hold of my toddler while he calmed down," Paterson recalled in a Facebook post. "She saved me today moms!!! I am so sleep deprived and was running on empty. A little kindness and understanding go a long way."

What the world needs are more people like Jones-Guillory and McLaughlin. Unfortunately, we don't have enough of them. If your child melted down in public today and there was no one around to offer you an empathic word, here's a few more from McLaughlin. When asked what she wants mid-Target-tantrum mamas to know, she told Motherly this:

"I know you're embarrassed. I know you're ashamed. I know you feel totally judged. But here's the truth: for every one person who's judging you, there are so many more that are empathizing with you."

Remember that, mama. And don't be afraid to say it to yourself or someone else who needs to hear it.

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It's the news many royal watchers have been waiting for since their history-making wedding. Today, Kensington Palace announced the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, are going to have new titles in Spring 2019: Mom and Dad.



"Their Royal Highnesses have appreciated all of the support they have received from people around the world since their wedding in May and are delighted to be able to share this happy news with the public," a Palace spokesperson wrote in a media release.



Meghan's been planning for kids 

We are thrilled for Harry and Meghan, who have both been open about one day wanting to start a family.

Back in 2015, before rumors of the couple's relationship made their way into British newspapers, Markle told Hello! that she had bought herself a Cartier French Tank watch to celebrate her accomplishment as an actress when her show Suits was picked up for a third season.

"I totally splurged and bought the two-tone version," she said. "I had it engraved on the back, 'To M.M. From M.M.' and I plan to give it to my daughter one day. That's what makes pieces special, the connection you have to them."

Prince Harry's always wanted to be a dad 

Seeing the watch as an heirloom proves that long before the Royal wedding, Markle was already thinking of her future as a parent. And so was Prince Harry.

In 2012, during ABC's coverage of the Queen's Jubilee, Prince Harry told Katie Couric, "I've longed for kids since I was very, very young. And so … I'm waiting to find the right person, someone who's willing to take on the job."

Now that the job has been filled, the Prince's lifelong dream is coming true, and history is being made once again.

The citizenship question

People who are born in the UK after 1983 become British citizens if the mother or father was a British citizen or was settled in the UK at the time of their birth. This royal baby will be British for sure, but will they also be an official American?

It's a complicated question.

Meghan Markle is royalty, but she's not quite a British citizen yet. As Prince Harry's communication's secretary told the BBC before the couple got married, Markle (who is still an American) "intends to become a U.K. citizen and will go through the process of that, which some of you may know takes a number of years."

It's a long process to get British citizenship, but eventually, the Duchess will be an official Brit. When all that red tape has cleared, she'll have a decision to make: Whether or not to keep her American citizenship as well.

Royal expert Marlene Koenig told Town & Country that if Markle "remains a U.S. national, her children will have dual nationality just like Madeleine of Sweden's children."

But other royal watchers say it's more likely that Meghan will renounce her American citizenship when she becomes British to avoid having to divulge royal finances in accordance with U.S. tax laws.

That said, because this baby is likely going to arrive while Markle is still an American, they will probably be a dual citizen. According to the State Department, "a child born in a foreign country to U.S. national parents may be both a U.S. national and a national of the country of birth."

This is truly a unique situation, so we will have to see how it shakes out. No matter if the baby is American, British, or both, we are so happy for the Duke and Duchess.

Here's to another royal baby! 🎉

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It's not unusual for a mother's spouse to be next to her during labor, holding her hand and encouraging her. But in almost all cases, that partner is not also recovering from giving birth themselves less than 48 hours earlier.

But when Anna and Renee McInarnay spoke to Motherly this week, that was their plan. The married couple were getting ready to go to the hospital, planning to spend their weekend supporting each other through the births of their daughters, Avonlea and Emma.

The two women share a love story, a home, a profession, and a due date (although their medical team is hoping to give them at least 36 hours between births).

"We actually we don't really know who's gonna go first, it's kind of whoever's ready to go first, but they're thinking it's Renee," Anna told Motherly the morning before the pair checked into the hospital where they would spend their first weekend as parents.

The McInarnays live in Mississippi, a state where they know their chances of having a child placed with them through adoption are not good. They both have stable jobs as elementary school teachers, and having been together for 17 years they certainly have a stable relationship, but adoption workers were honest with them about their chances of having a child placed in their home through foster care or adoption.

As Anna recalls, one worker was warm but frank, telling her "Mississippi I think would probably go through placing everyone else before they would place a same-sex couple", she recalls. "At that point I just appreciated the honesty."

With adoption off the table, the McInarnays started exploring fertility at the urging of Anna's brother, a medical professional who gently nudged the couple, at 35 and 36 years old, to explore the option sooner rather than later.

And so, the McInarnays found themselves in the waiting room at Audubon Fertility in New Orleans. At first, they just wanted to find out if either of them would be likely to conceive. When they found out that it was possible they both could, they didn't quite know how to answer the next question.

"They asked us, 'Okay so who wants to carry for your family?' And Renee and I, because we had so expected them to say 'neither one of you can conceive' or 'you waited too late,' or 'your eggs are dried up,' we didn't know the answer," Anna recalls.

The fertility clinic suggested both women move forward with the process if neither were opposed, as it typically takes multiple cycles for a patient to conceive. When Renee was diagnosed with PCOS, it seemed like Anna would likely be the one to carry the couple's child, but when both women ovulated at the same time, they continued to move forward.

Renee and Anna remember asking their nurse what the chances would be of them both actually conceiving at the same time. She told them it would be a first for the clinic and a statistical miracle. "'Of course it's possible,' she said" Anna recalls. "But that's not the possibility that you should bank on. What you should hope for is that one of you is gonna be able to carry for your family."

And then a statistical miracle happened.

The McInarnays were in their living room when the clinic called and told Anna she was pregnant. Thrilled and excited, Anna got a jolt when the voice on the other end of the phone asked her to sit down.

"I had this moment where I thought 'Oh my God they're gonna tell me that all three of them took and we are gonna have triplets, and I'm going to die.' That was literally what I thought. And so they said 'Are you sitting down?' We said 'Yeah.' I sat down, and they said 'Anna, you're pregnant. But so is Renee.'"

Tears of joy flowed that day, as they will this weekend when Avonlea and Emma enter the world, but before the girls entered the world, their families got to experience another magical moment.

Renee says both her mom and Anna's mom were thrilled to hear of the pregnancies, but as the couple was open about going through fertility treatments, it wasn't exactly a shock.

"There was not this big moment that you get to do where you give 'em a onesie that says 'you're gonna be a grandparent,'" says Renee, who was instead able to plan another surprise with the help of her twin sister.

That's who took the call from the fertility clinic to learn if Anna and Renee were expecting boys, girls, or one of each. Even Anna and Renee didn't know, so when they drove from Mississippi to Florida and shot off confetti cannons, everyone was surprised and thrilled.

As a lesbian couple, this wasn't a moment Anna and Renee—or their parents—were sure they would get to experience, and it was doubly special. "Our whole families, siblings, nieces and nephews, they all drove in and we all were in the yard together and popped [the cannons]. And then just the pink confetti falling, it was really great," Renee recalls.

Getting here wasn't easy.

When Anna and Renee fell for each other as teenagers, reconciling their attraction and love was difficult. It was the first time either had non-platonic love for another woman. "We were a young couple, we were from really conservative areas, and initially we really struggled with, you know, what is this going to look like in our lives, what does this even mean, does this mean we're gay? You know as young people back then really, you had no context for any of that," Anna recalls.

They stayed together, but briefly broke up a few years later, each wanting to protect the other from the discrimination they knew they would face. "I think we were just really scared to come out. I mean to tell you the truth, when we think about that time that we weren't together, it really wasn't because there was love lost between us, it was just fear, you know?" Anna told Motherly.

When they reunited they decided they would never live in that fear again, and would do what was best for themselves and now, their family.

This has meant correcting folks around Hattiesburg, Mississippi who mislabel them as roommates, sister or "really good friends." In a community where LGBTQ rights are a contentious topic, these two award-winning teachers have won the respect and admiration of many parents, and changed some minds in the process.

"That's not to say that we haven't received hateful comments, that's not to say that explaining this to parents every year is not really, really tricky, and the way that we kind of have to phrase things is not tricky," says Anna. "We have to be very clear and be very direct, and be just very loving, you know. And we also have had to accept that as deeply as we want people to understand us as a couple, and to be loving and supported, for some people it's going to take some time for them to open up their thinking a little bit."

And it's why they're being so open with the story of how they are starting a family. Besides, there's no hiding the fact that the two married, female teachers both have baby bumps.

The McInarnays want to give hope to anyone who is afraid of loving who they love, and they want to give hope to anyone going through the ups and downs of trying to conceive with reproductive assistance.

"In that [fertility clinic] there were gay couples, there were straight couples, there were interracial couples, there were every type of couple that you could imagine. Sitting there, all with the same goal, trying to start families, and some of them had been there for years," she recalls.

"It's not lost on us that we had this really rare experience in fertility where we got pregnant on the first try, and that that's something that the people that kind of became our friends, our family in the [fertility clinic] lobby, that they never got or that they're still waiting for."

The McInarnays are humbled by and so grateful for their double pregnancy. It takes a strong mama to be up and holding her wife's hand 36 hours after giving birth herself, but we've got no doubt that both these women have that strength in them.

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