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1 | They are both students so they are always broke, never pay rent, and refuse to put their names on any utility bills.


2 | One of them walks around the house naked most of the day leaving a trail of cracker crumbs behind him.

3 | They borrow my things without asking. I found my iPad on the floor with a battery charge of 7%.

4 | The older one hasn’t washed his hair in six weeks.

5 | The other barges in on me in the bathroom, gets into the shower, and leaves MY towel in a heap on his bedroom floor.

6 | They rummage through my drawers and the boxes on my dresser, they take the cards out of my wallet, and even sometimes steal my dollar bills and taunt me about it.

7 | They fight with each other every day. Sometimes they even get violent. Then they expect me to referee.

8 | Neither of them has ever given me a ride anywhere, or picked up the tab for dinner. Yet they expect me to drive them around and pay for everything.

9 | Every single time I make toast they seem to sniff it out and show up in the kitchen STARVING.

10 | Their music stinks.

It’s a good thing they’re cute, or they would probably be out on the street by now.

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"My son seems like he's in the midst of a contest every moment. He needs to be first to get to the car, first to choose his seat, first to finish his dinner. He also needs to be best. What can I do to help him not be one of those super-competitive children and just live his life, rather than try to prove over and over again how good he is?"

There's not a quick fix for your son's fixation on being first and best. If there were, we would have a much more peaceful world. This "need to be best" mentality is actually endemic in our society. We are trained to be competitive from early in our lives. Some of us can see that there are many attributes that each person, each city, and each country has that can be appreciated, and that there's always going to be something a person, city or country can learn from another. But many of us have grown to need to be on the "winning" side of every issue, in order to feel okay.

The root of the strong need to win

Often, the root of a child's competitive behavior that shows up time and time again is some early difficult time in his life. Something like a hospitalization, a severe illness, a separation from a parent, or some other grinding tension at home can leave a child feeling alone. That feeling sticks with a child. It is kept under wraps in the child's emotional memory, but the effect of it shows up in how they interact with others.

With that early emotional ache still held fast inside him, a child sets out to try hard to make himself feel better. When he feels like he is in control—he's first, or best, or the boss—the ache doesn't seem so bad. He carries the emotional memory of desperately needing attention, the attention he couldn't feel when he was ill, threatened, or when his family was under stress.

So, under the guise of proving himself every 15 minutes, a child will make repeated bids for the attention he didn't get, way back then. There's no crisis now, but the feeling of needing attention immediately is insatiable. No matter how much attention a child gets for being first or best or the boss, it never feels like enough. He needs more, ever more!

Super-competitive children will often sign for your help

Super-competitive children need attention, but not in the way they are seeking it. They need their parents to come close, to show them affection, to show their love. But they don't need to win all the time! And they don't need to be first, or the boss, all the time.

What they do need is a chance to offload the emotional hurt that's left over from early helpless times, so that they can feel closer to those around them, and more open to the give and take of life. A parent is in the very best position to relieve the sting of early hard times that's at the root of the super-competitive behavior. You don't really need to know what makes your child so competitive—you might have a guess, but no analysis of the root of the problem is necessary. What is helpful is the use of two very powerful listening tools: Playlistening and Staylistening.

These tools help your child secure laughter (that's not forced by tickling, but is encouraged by nuzzling, wrestling, and affection) and great big hearty cries, with your support. These emotional release valves let the tension out, and let your child feel you are caring. They help heal the hurt, as long as you are there to pour in your love and your confidence that your child's life is good.

Playlisten to reassure your child that they're loved and to secure laughter

Playlistening is playing to evoke laughter, but without forcing it—in other words, no tickling allowed. With a super competitive child, two kinds of Playlistening are helpful. In one, you lose again and again and allow them to win. You playfully keep trying, you playfully never give up hope, but your child is the victor. You watch for what makes your child laugh, and you keep doing that, and variations on that theme.

The older and more capable a child is, the more of a contest you have to set up with them, but don't try to be skilled at a sport. Set up contests that let you show affection. "I've got 100 kisses for you" is a good one, where you chase him and catch him and try to land a kiss, and your child gets away Scot free often, but not all of the time. You keep trying. "Come on, feel the love!" is what I tell my grandson when we're playing this kind of affection game. You can complain that your kisses need a place to land, a lovely place to land.

Or, when your child arrives first at the kitchen table at lunch on Saturday and announces it to make his sister feel bad, just say, "Okay, I get to hug the guy who got here first! Yes, I do!" and chase him all through the house, giving him a good contest. Matter of fact, you can do that for many of the "wins" he announces.

You can vary your affectionate response. "The prize for First is a noogie on the head. Come here, you handsome Champ, you!" or "Yay, you came in first at the car door! The guy who comes first gets to be lifted into the car upside down! And the girl who comes in second gets lifted into the car right side up!" Or, "Hey, look who's first again. You know what I do with the one who's first? He gets a great big snuggle from me!" followed by a really big squeeze. You give an affectionate squeeze to the child who's second, too.

This kind of response will get laughter going around being first and will help you bring your super-competitor your affection and energy many times a day, warming up your relationship with him, and beginning to fill that aching need for reassurance that lies underneath his drive to be first. As laughter rolls, he's receiving your attention and affection. It reaches his emotional center. It helps heal the hurt.

When several children are playing together, and your super-competitor is loudly announcing that he's first, again and again, join the game. Come in last, and let the children all laugh at your last-place finish. "Hey, Joey is first! Helen is second! Ray-Ray is third, and, oh no, not again! I'm last??!! Yikes, last again!" will help them play together without feeling less than.

When your child loses, or when you set limits on their bossiness, staylisten

As you get laughter going in your household, and pursue affectionate contests and playful responses to your child's hunger for winning, his sense of emotional safety will build. You'll notice that he becomes more explosive when little things disappoint him. This is a sign of progress! When he is upset, you have a golden opportunity to move closer, and to pour in the love and reassurance he so badly needed earlier in his life.

The disappointment over a sandwich cut wrong, or a video game he is not allowed to finish because its bedtime will be enormous. And all that emotion is there, not because he's lost his mind, but because that was the size of the emotional hurt he sustained when he was much smaller, much more vulnerable, and deeply in need of someone to listen to him.
So, listen. Stay close. Don't give in to a sensible limit you have set. "I know it's hard to let your sister have her turn at that game. She doesn't do it the way you would," is what you say while your child fights and kicks to get away from you, wanting to run and grab the game away from her. You stay. You keep her safe from his intrusion. He cries and fights, safe but very unhappy, in your arms, while you say now and then, "I know you don't want her to touch it. But it's her turn, and you'll get another turn in a while."

Allow him to feel desperate. To feel like his world is so unfair. To feel like nothing is right. To feel like everything is ruined for him. These are feelings erupting from the past, splashing onto the present in a big, messy way. This is what heals the hurt that makes it hard for him to accept others and to play with others, rather than against them.

As you stay with your upset child, he may become panicky. "I need to get out! Don't hold me here! I need to breathe! I can't breathe!" or "I'm burning up!" or "I'm thirsty, you have to get me some water! I need water now!" This panic is a key part of releasing fear. He needs you to guide him through his panic, without trying to fix it. He may indeed be hot, but he's not going to die. He may indeed feel thirsty, but another few minutes without a drink will be OK. What he most needs is your confidence that he's going to make it, that his life will be good, and that you're not going to leave him stranded.

Don't get too busy trying to fix anything. Just lift his shirt and blow on his tummy if he is hot. Or offer to carry him in your arms to get water, if he's thirsty. Usually, a child who is panicked will refuse to let you carry him to get a drink. Being carried continues the closeness you provide, and it's no escape from facing and feeling how frightened he once was. He knows he doesn't need a drink that badly. If he does, he'll let you carry him there.

When you have listened enough, and his mind is finally free of the grip of stale-dated emotions, he'll be glad to be close to you. He may cry some, but not while fighting you. He'll lean in for support and love. And whatever the issue was that set him off will resolve in his mind, usually without rancor toward anyone. He'll be able to let it go. And you will most likely see some changes in his behavior that signal that he's gained a little flexibility.

He showed you how bad it felt once. You received his feelings, listened, and stayed through the storm. His need to prove himself goes down a notch, though he may have to show you his feelings a number of times before he can become a truly less-than-super-competitive child.

A listening partner will help you listen and play well

Things will progress even faster if you can create a Listening Partnership for yourself, so you can talk to a non-judgmental parent about your feelings about your super-competitor. You may feel like he's "bad," or feel like he's ruining your family's peace and serenity, or worry that he's never going to learn to play well with others. These feelings need to be heard by someone who will just let you have your say.

It will help to talk about your pregnancy and the birth of your child, and how things went during his first year or two. If you find things to be angry about or to cry about there, go ahead! Or if you're tempted to yell at or lecture your super-competitor, a Listening Partner is the ideal person to do that with. Letting off your own emotional steam will make it easier to play affectionately so that laughter ensues, and to listen to your child when he feels the chips are down so that he is ever surer of your love.

Originally posted on Hand in Hand Parenting.

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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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It brings a smile to their faces and ours, while lowering stress and building little brains. Play is such an important part of childhood, but opportunities for play in modern life are shrinking, and the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests they need to grow so our kids can grow, too.

On Monday, the AAP published a clinical report stressing the importance of play in child development and urging parents to play with their children every day.

The report suggests pediatricians should offer a prescription for play to new parents, advising moms and dads to make time for playtime, and suggesting schools do the same. "I think we're continuously learning that play is really essential for kids — it's not just an afterthought or an accessory," says Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a professor in the psychology department at Temple University and one of the report's lead authors.

A growing body of research on the subject shows that play—and the bonds we build when we play with our kids—helps kids learn important skills, leads to changes in neuronal connectivity, encourages prosocial behavior and protects kids from toxic stress.

"Collaboration, negotiation, conflict resolution, self-advocacy, decision-making, a sense of agency, creativity, leadership, and increased physical activity are just some of the skills and benefits children gain through play," the report's authors explain, noting that the science suggests play also leads to brain changes at the molecular and cellular levels.

"Play is really brain-building, and we tried to give examples of how play enhances the structure and function of the brain," says Dr. Michael W. Yogman, M.D., FAAP, a lead author of the report and chair of the Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health.

Yogman and the report's other authors point to animal studies as well as real-world studies of children's behavior in the report. One of the studies referenced involved 3 and 4-year-olds who were nervous about starting preschool. Half the kids were assigned a 15 minute play session while the other half listened to an adult read a story. The group that got to play showed a two-fold decrease in anxiety.

Another study of preschoolers exhibiting disruptive behavior found that when they were assigned one on one playtime with an adult (who allowed them to take the lead in play while narrating the children's behavior out loud and discussing emotions as they played) the kids' salivary cortisol stress levels went down and their behavior improved.

Early play with parents builds baby's brain architecture

The pediatricians are advocating for more playtime in schools, but they also want parents to include more playtime at home, and this should start way before school does.

"This evolution begins in the first three months of life, when parents (both mothers and fathers) interact reciprocally with their infants by reading their nonverbal cues in a responsive, contingent manner. Caregiver–infant interaction is the earliest form of play, known as attunement, but it is quickly followed by other activities that also involve the taking of turns," the report's authors write.

As Harvard University's Center on The Developing Child has previously pointed out, this kind of parental play known as "serve and return" builds the foundation of baby's brain architecture. It starts so simply with babies pointing at something or looking at something, serving up us parents and opportunity to engage with them by returning their interest. Games like peek-a-boo or point-and-name can happen any time, anywhere, giving little brains an opportunity to grow while bonding with mom or dad.

From peek-a-boo to problem solving

The authors of the AAP's new report note that in the second year of a child's life, play becomes more complex. As our kids grow, we move on from those serve-and-return interactions into a whole host of interactive games and activities.

"Fantasy play, dress up, and fort building now join the emotional and social repertoire of older children just as playground activities, tag, and hide and seek develop motor skills. In play, children are also solving problems and learning to focus attention, all of which promote the growth of executive functioning skills," they explain.

Some parents love getting down on the floor to play pretend with their kids, but for some it can be hard to prioritize play when you've also got a huge to-do list to tackle.

Dr. Yogman suggests that parents should see playtime not as a thief of time, but as a chance to "re-experience the joy of their own experiences in childhood play...and to notice the kind of nonverbal cues that their kids display during those … experiences, which are really critical to improving their interactions and their relationships with their children."

Basically, making a fort or playing dress up is good for both of you.

You don't have to get fancy

The AAP's experts aren't suggesting parents blow the budget on toys—in fact, it's just the opposite. Dr. Yogman suggests the stuff you've already got around the house—wooden spoons, blocks, balls, puzzles, crayons and cardboard boxes—is enough to enhance playtime. "Sometimes simple objects with the least accoutrements allow kids to really be creative about how they're using them," Yogman explains.

Get outside with your kids

The report notes that while "outdoor play provides the opportunity to improve sensory integration skills," a lot of families don't get enough time outside these days.

"A national survey of 8,950 preschool children and parents found that only 51% of children went outside to walk or play once per day with either parent," the AAP's experts note. Concerns over the safety of outdoor spaces was one reason parents did not engage in outdoor play with their children, but if you've got access to a safe neighborhood playground or a backyard space, getting outside and playing with your child invites all kids of opportunities for sensory development and bonding.

A cultural shift

The AAP's prescription for play is actually a prescription for a cultural shift. The report's authors note that demanding parental work schedules, fewer safe places for outdoor play, more screen-based media and a shrinking opportunities for play at school are having a negative impact on a generation of kids.

"These factors may negatively affect school readiness, children's healthy adjustment, and the development of important executive functioning skills," the report's authors note.

There is a silver lining though, and we are it. Parents can make a huge difference, even if we don't have as much time for play as we would like. We can make play a priority every day, and even bring play into everyday activities to make the most of the time we do have with our kids.

Dr. Yogman says even a trip to the grocery store can be a playful bonding experience that builds little brains. "Giving kids the opportunity to, say, count the apples in the supermarket. Those are the kinds of joyful experiences [that are good] for kids as opposed to just sitting tacitly in their shopping cart," says Yogman.

Those are also the kinds of joyful experiences that make memories.

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Summer heat has a way of making the house feel smaller, more congested, with less room for the air to circulate. And there's nothing like the heat to make me want to strip down, cool off and lighten my load. So, motivation in three digits, now that school is back in, it's time to do a purge.

Forget the spring clean—who has time for that? Those last few months of the school year are busier than the first. And summer's warm weather entices our family outdoors on the weekends, which doesn't leave much time for re-organizing.

So, I seize the opportunity when my kids are back in school to enter my zone.

I love throwing open every closet and cupboard door, pulling out anything and everything that doesn't fit our bodies or our lives. Each joyless item purged peels off another oppressive layer of "not me" or "not us."

Stuff can obscure what really makes us feel light, capable and competent.

Stuff can stem the flow of what makes our lives work.

With my kids back in school, I am energized, motivated by the thought that I have the space to be in my head with no interruptions. No refereeing. No snacks. No naps… I am tossing. I am folding. I am stacking. I am organizing. I don't worry about having to stop. The neat-freak in me is having a field day.

Passing bedroom doors, ajar and flashing their naughty bits of chaos at me, it's more than I can handle in terms of temptation. I have to be careful, though, because I can get on a roll. Taking to my kids' rooms I tread carefully, always aware that what I think is junk can actually be their treasure.

But I usually have a good sense for what has been abandoned or invisible in plain sight for the lack of movement or the accumulation of dust. Anything that fits the description gets relegated to a box in the garage where it is on standby—in case its absence is noticed and a meltdown has ensued. Crisis averted. Either way, it's a victory.

Oh, it's quiet. So, so quiet. And I can think it all through…

Do we really need all this stuff?

Will my son really notice if I toss all this stuff?

Will my daughter be heartbroken if I donate all this stuff?

Will I really miss this dress I wore three years ago that barely fit my waist then and had me holding in my tummy all night, and that I for sure cannot zip today?

Can we live without it all? All. This. Stuff?

The fall purge always gets me wondering, where in the world does all this stuff come from? So with the beginning of the school year upon us, I vow to create a new mindset to evaluate everything that enters my home from now on, so that there will be so much less stuff.

I vow to really think about objects before they enter my home…

…to evaluate what is really useful,

...to consider when it would be useful,

...to imagine where it would be useful,

...to remember why it may be useful,

…to decide how to use it in more than one way,

... so that all this stuff won't get in the way of what really matters—time and attention for my kids and our lives as a new year reveals more layers of the real stuff—what my kids are made of.

Bring it on.

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