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“Mum, can I watch a mooooooovie?” These words used to fill me with dread.


I didn’t want to say no as I try really hard to be a yes parent. But I also didn’t want to impair my children’s long-term cognitive function or, you know, alter the thickness of their cerebral cortex. So instead I managed every moment, directing them from playdoh to tree climbing to sensory play. I’d encourage them to relax every so often with a biscuit and a Fireman Sam audiotape.

There was not a spare minute for brain damage! For the kids, that is. Personally, I felt like I was going bonkers.

The Fireman Sam theme tune became the soundtrack to my parenting crisis.

I felt like I was hounded in one direction by research that seemed to show that screen time was immensely bad for children and hounded in another by my daughter’s clear wishes to watch movies and play on the iPad.

A turning point.

The turning point for me came when I realized I was being hypocritical. Here I was, making a living from screens! My blog, ebooks and Youtube channel had been providing the only income for my family for over two years. And I loved my job! I counted it a true privilege to open up my laptop and get paid to write and connect with people.

While I nearly always head to another location for the main grunt, I still Instagram and tweet from home. (Specifically from the windowsill at home, the only place we actually get the internet.)

One evening my daughter said “I don’t CARE if I get brain damage mum! And why do you get to play on the iPad?”

I decided that if I was going to pursue a path that didn’t feel good to me I had to be absolutely certain that the research was golden.

The jury is out.

Turns out, that for every article suggesting screen time makes kids moody, crazy and lazy there is another claiming that it makes them better students, with less psychological problems.

Faced with this ambiguous science, I did what I always do when confused – I ate a biscuit and rocked back and forth to the Fireman Sam theme tune.

Just kidding. I ignored it.

I simply said “Well, the research is no help. Let me do what feels right.”

And then a whole world of connection and joy was opened to me.

Screentime can provide connection and joy.

My oldest child, Ramona, just loves movies. Adores them. My youngest couldn’t care less; she would rather take her clothes off and roll in the mud. But Ramona loves them.

I decided I would always say yes to her requests to “watch somepin” or “play somepin.” I now sit down and watch with her (until the 96th replay and then I sit and deliciously read a novel) and we take turns playing her favourite games.

She began to open up to me and tell me things that had happened to her that she found hard. Playing the iPad with her somehow unlocked a door that I didn’t know had been so firmly closed.

Now that I was valuing the things she valued, she felt valued.

These days when she asks “Mum, can I watch a mooooovie?” I simply feel pleasure that I can help her do something she loves simply by flicking a switch for her.

Sometimes she asks to watch while she eats her dinner (is there anything better than combining pleasures in this way?) and sometimes she asks to watch a movie late at night and she will gently drift to sleep in front of the laptop. Sometimes the request drips off her lips first thing in the morning, and I stay in bed with our youngest while she welcomes the dawn with Rockstar Barbie.

I can shrug off society’s belief that these things equal neglectful parenting because when I look at my daughter, I see that she is happy, healthy, loved and deeply connected to us.

Limits or no limits?

We embrace screens and don’t impose limits, although we have some fairly natural boundaries around them. We are off grid and barely get internet, so our movies are dvd’s from the library rather than the bottomless resource that is youtube. We get our electricity from our solar panels, so some days we run out and there is not much we can do about it.

I am clearly a complete hippy, a total tree hugger. But I am convinced that screens are vilified as the enemy of nature, and our kid’s health, at the cost of parent – child connection. 


We are trying to get the internet to our farm, and perhaps we will have to have a conversation about how to use the endlessness of the internet wisely. But I hope to do it in a way that remembers the lessons I have learnt so far.

A trusting, open-minded relationship with my children is far, far more important to me than inconclusive research and societal expectations.

And I haven’t listened to Fireman Sam in a year.

Tips for wise no-limits screen time:

– Put effort into their screen time. Make sure they are warm, comfortable and well fed! Those post screen time blues are often simply because your child hasn’t had their physical needs met whilst watching/playing.
– Make a joyous, connecting occasion of it. Make popcorn. Dress up as the characters! Follow up a movie with themed food and crafts and imagination games. The iPad apps or movies they love can be a brilliant jumping off point for loads of activities to do together.

–  Make an occasion of other activities too! Learn how to knot a rope swing and go on hunts for the perfect tree to hang it from. Plan mud slides and lantern walks and picnics on the trampoline. If your lives are full of play and connection screens, simply become one of the many brilliant things your kids can choose from.

– Model what you believe in! If nature is important to you, make an effort to get out there and enjoy it. Kids will see value in the things you make time for.
Finally, if you do feel the need for limits, do it in a way that respects your child’s wishes and ideas, rather than imposing a rule. Hold a family meeting where everyone can come up with ways to limit screens in a way that feels good to everyone. (And stick to it yourself!)

 

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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