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The Parenting Regret That Caught Me by Surprise

I took away my son’s pacifier when he was four years old, and I still regret it.

It seemed like the perfect time. We’d just watched “Toy Story 3,” in which Andy sorts through his childhood belongings before heading to college. He decides to store the important ones, including Buzz Lightyear, in the attic.

My son James, who has autism, took an interest in our attic. What was up there? What could we put up there?

I jumped at the chance. From his toddler years, I’d done my best to restrict the pacifier to his bed. I was a child psychologist and the very thought of running into one of my patients around town, pacifier-sucking behemoth in tow, made me want to hide my head.

Plus, everything I’d read cautioned about pacifier use once kids started getting their permanent teeth.

The pacifier was a sign of weakness, of immaturity, of difference. I knew James had some developmental delays, but when he was four, the idea that he had autism was relatively new. James was attending a regular pre-Kindergarten, and I thought he needed to look like a regular pre-Kindergartner. Even in bed.

So James and I packed his few remaining pacifiers into a Ziploc bag and made a trip up to the attic. “Where do we put them?” he asked, looking around at the vast, dusty, hot, mostly empty space.

I suggested a ledge near the attic entrance, “so we can visit.” He set them down, gave them a little pat, and said, “Bye, pacis.” He climbed down the attic stairs and headed to the playroom, seeming none the worse for wear.

James never asked for his pacifier again, but that didn’t mean he didn’t miss it. Like lots of kids with autism, he had uneven language development. At that point, he’d still never told me he was hungry, never told me he was thirsty, but he could give the proper technical name for any construction truck he might spot around town.

When he had a strong need he’d have a tantrum, and I’d have to figure it out.

I have a family history of premature pacifier disposal. My older brother loved his pacifier, but my mother decided he needed to give it up very soon after he turned two. A friend suggested she take my brother to the zoo and feed it to the baby raccoons, reasoning that they needed it more than he did. My brother had nightmares about the baby raccoons for months afterward.

I knew all about the raccoons. Letting James use a pacifier for two extra years was my way of learning from my mother’s mistake. If I’d known then what I know now, I’d have let him keep it as long as he wanted and use it whenever and wherever he wanted.

The pacifier wasn’t a problem, but a solution.

Looking back through home movies recently, I confirmed something: James’ younger sister started sucking her fingers before she was an hour old.

“Wow, look at her,” I say in the video. “So strong.” Seeing the video reminded me of how competent infants can be.

I saw an infant at a Mardi Gras parade, which is not at all unusual or frowned upon here in New Orleans. The baby girl rubbed her forehead against her mother’s chest in the Baby Bjorn, soothing herself to sleep as the marching bands blared. It was 1 p.m., after all. Naptime.

That kind of self-regulation is so hard for people with autism. So hard for James. He used the pacifier in his bed, to help him cope with the stress of being tired and of being alone in his room. With all that was going wrong with James – everything that led to his autism diagnosis – his self-soothing with the pacifier was something right.

What’s two extra years? If James had done as his sister did with her fingers, kept sucking his pacifier for comfort until age six, then given it up on his own, the whole thing would’ve been a success story for James. I shouldn’t have butted in.

I’ve developed a rule of thumb. It started with my acceptance of James’ autism and my own limitations in coping with it, even though autism was my specialty for 10 years before his birth.

My first choice is always to find what James is doing right, and bolster that. Tackling a problem – which might exist only in my mind – is always the last resort.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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I had big plans to be a "good mom" this summer. There were going to be chore charts, reading goals, daily letter writing practice, and cursive classes. There would be no screen time until the beds were made, and planned activities for each day of the week.

Today was the first day of summer vacation and our scheduled beach day. But here's what we did instead: Lounged in our pj's until 11 am, baked the girl's pick, chocolate chip cookie brownies, started an art project we never finished, then moved to the pool.

It's so easy to be pressured by things we see on social. Ways to challenge our kids and enrich their summer. But let's be real—we're all tired. Tired of chores, tired of schedules and places to be, tired of pressure, and tired of unrealistic expectations.

So instead of a schedule, we're doing nothing this summer. Literally NOTHING.

No camps. No classes, and no curriculums.

Instead, we're going to see where each day takes us. I've dubbed this the "Summer of Me," so workouts and clean eating are a priority for me. And also giving our girls the freedom to pick what they want to do.

We may go to a local pool and check out the swimming programs. And we join the local YMCA. But whatever we do—it will be low key.

It will include family time, too much TV, a few trips, lots of sunshine, some new roller skates, water balloons, plenty of boredom, rest, relaxation, and reading. (Because mama likes to read!)

So if you haven't figured out what you're doing this summer, you're not alone. And guess what? It's OKAY! Your kids will be fine and so will you.

Originally posted on Kristen Hewitt's blog. Check out her post on 30 ways to have fun doing almost nothing this summer.

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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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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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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!

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