Friday, January 5, 2018

5 Parenting Lessons Research Taught Us in 2017

Well, the year 2017 is officially in the history books. Along with it, shelves full of parenting research become part of history too. Fortunately for us, a few gems of research made it out of the universities and into our lives this year.

As I did last year, I spent the last few days of 2017 going through the major themes in parenting research to see what new pearls of wisdom we learned this year.

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1. Minimalism is not just a buzz word; its benefits are backed up by research. We heard a lot of talk about minimalism this year in the media. On the heels of the popular book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, more parents were cutting the clutter, scaling back toys and limiting junk around their homes. Their efforts are not in vain, according to research. Studies this year pointed out that having fewer toys actually helps encourage creativity in kids. Similarly, we saw more evidence that simple, classic toys are more beneficial for youngsters than those fancy electronic ones.


Want to learn more about research-based parenting? Download this FREE cheat sheet--5 Common Child Development Myths. It delves into the research behind common myths surrounding attachment, spanking, spoiling kids and more. 

2. Kids' intense interests are awesome. Bring on the little paleontologists and toddler train lovers! Most of us who have been parents for a few years, know that our kids can go through phases where they are intensely interested in one topic--whether it be dinosaurs, trains or butterflies. I've always been fascinated by this and why it happens. 

Well, this year research answered our questions and informed us that our kids' intense interests are a great sign. It turns out that those intense interests are a great learning tool for kids. It's often their first experience with delving deep into a topic, finding answers and developing mastery of a topic (e.g., they know ALL the dinosaur names). Research tells us that kids who have intense interests tend to have higher cognitive and information-processing skills as well as executive functioning skills like attention span. You can get on board with your kids' interests by visiting museums that feature their favorite topic or find books that discuss it. It's a beautiful sight to see a child so engaged in their own learning.

Why Kids Love Dinosaurs

Looking for resources/products that relate directly to these 5 lessons? Check out my Shop to see resources that can help common parenting challenges like self-care and managing technology.

3. Self-care needs to be on our priority list. We all know that self-care is important but it often gets pushed aside amide our long to-do lists. This year research showed us just us the consequences of lack of self-care for our parenting. Symptoms of insufficient self-care, like inadequate sleep, actually mimic some symptoms of depression making us less able to be patient with our kids. The result is often short temper and possibly yelling at our kids (and we all know that is not effective with our kids).

Similarly, research this year pointed out the mental load that moms carry (and yes, it is mostly moms). Although dads have increased their responsibilities for child care and household duties, it is still moms who carry the mental load. What is mental load? Things like remembering who is at what activity at what time, keeping up the grocery list and remembering who will run out of clothes if we don't do laundry today. We all know mental load and feel it. Just another reason that self-care needs to be part of our lives. Need some realistic ideas for self-care that offer some mental space: check out this post.


4. Managing technology is one of the biggest parenting challenges of our era. This year was full of research and media on how parents and kids are dealing with technology--together. Numerous reports emerged on how tech leaders are not giving their kids smartphones or iPads until they are almost adults. This, along with the Wait Until 8th movement, has opened parents' eyes to the dangers of too much technology too soon for our kids. The challenge, according to research, is that we parents love our smartphones too.

New studies showed that parents who are hooked on their devices are more likely to experience "technoference" in the relationship with their kids. In other words, the device interrupts the parent-child interaction or relationship in some way. Device-distracted parenting is the new challenge facing our generation. This technoference seems to impact our kids as well. Early research indicates a link between technoference in parent-child relationships and negative behavior among kids.

kids and technology

Need ideas for keeping technology reigned in? Check out our mantra called In Our Home (bottom of the post) that can help keep priorities in perspective.
Last year's research roundup: 4 Parenting Lessons Research Taught Us in 2016. 

5. This year's revolution in gender relations affects parenting too. The end of 2017 saw a seismic shift in how we discuss gender relations and sexual harassment with the development of the #MeToo movement. Although those of us with young children may feel a little out of the loop with current events (when do we have time to watch the news!), this movement will no doubt affect our parenting. Compelling articles and research pointed us to look at how we raise the next generation to deal better with gender relations in schools, workplaces, and families.

The most compelling work I think focuses on how to raise children (especially boys) with a full emotional toolbox so they can be prepared to deal with people of all genders, races, beliefs, etc. In past generations, children were often taught to stuff their emotions down. However, our generation of parents is focusing on raising girls that are strong enough to speak up and boys who are strong enough to be vulnerable and emotionally available. This takes work, patience and a change of mindset for many of us. Fortunately, research can help us. Studies showed us this year that how we speak to our children about emotions matter. Discussing how others feel really does help children develop a strong sense of empathy. Empathy, of course, is one key to helping kids look beyond their own self-interest and become adults who do the same.

emotional intelligence

Related article: The Hidden Way that Kids Learn Empathy (and how parents can help)

Well, that is a quick summary of parenting research for 2017. Based on this, I think my parenting goals for 2018 are clear: focus on empathy, managing technology, fostering interests, and simplify.

What are your parenting goals for 2018? I'd love to hear about them in the comments!

Thank you for reading The Thoughtful Parent in 2017! I look forward to sharing the parenting journey with you in 2018.

Perfect for pinning:

Thursday, December 28, 2017

A Day in the Life of a Child Under 4: New Guidelines for Kids' Sleep, Movement and Screen Time

Let's face it--there are many demands on our time and the time of our children. For us, it's work, chores and daily care of our kids. For our kids, it's school, playtime, sports, and screentime all vying for their attention.

With all these competing demands, it's difficult to manage sleep, movement and screen time guidelines for our kids. New guidelines from Canada just helped parents get a full picture of how all these guidelines fit together. As parents know, how kids spend their time sleeping, moving and using screens are all related. A tired kid is more likely to gravitate towards a screen than go outside to play. Similarly, an active child is more likely to sleep better.

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Finally, an organization has combined all the guidelines together into one comprehensive guide for parents. This guide offers recommendations for what a healthy 24-hours looks like for a child under the age of 4.

Personally, I was excited to see such a comprehensive guide. Before this, all the guidelines were separate and not related to one another. Now, with one look, parents can see how all these recommendations relate.

This type of guide is not meant to make parents feel guilty, but rather to help us all understand the needs of our kids. Most of us instinctively know when our kids get too little sleep, just based on their grumpy behavior, but keeping these guidelines in mind can still help. There are always days when these plans go array, but understanding what type of routine help meets kids' needs best is always helpful. One of the authors described it this way,
"There's no need to fret over these exceptions, Tremblay says. But what we do need to do is think more fully and clearly about everything in our children's lives that make up a healthy day. That's what the new guidelines are there for."

I was so excited about this that I made a helpful PRINTABLE GUIDE that parents can post on their fridge to remind ourselves of these guidelines. It might even help our kids to see it too!

Grab your helpful guide by clicking below:

More resources for limiting screen time and keeping kids active:

Hands-On Activities for Toddlers

hands-on activities for toddlers

A Day in the Life of a Child Under 4: New Guidelines for Kids' Sleep, Movement and Screen Time

Monday, December 18, 2017

One Simple Activity that Will Focus Your Kids on Gratitude this Season {plus a FREE printable to help}

It's the holiday season! While it's full of lots of joy and fond memories, it can also be full of a lot of "gimme" and "I want" from our kids too. This year, I have really tried to focus more on encouraging my kids to think more about giving and kindness. It is a BIG challenge at times, I admit. My 8-year-old comes home almost every day with stories of what his friends at school are supposedly getting for Christmas. Then the "I want" begins all over again.

The One Simple Activity that Will Focus Your Kids on Gratitude this Season {plus a FREE printable to help}
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I earn a small commission from these purchases at no added cost to you.

In such a culture, consumption has become a lifestyle. I feel this type of lifestyle breeds ungratefulness and that is one thing I do not want my kids to absorb from culture. As this author points out, "If your brain is focused on what you don't have, then you'll be unhappy." At some basic level, we all want our kids to be happy. I'm hoping that focusing on gratitude instead of consumption will help them develop a sense of deeper happiness that is long-lasting and meaningful.

So I'm determined not to give up. And the research supports my endeavors--studies show that acts of compassion actually do spark elements of brain chemistry that support good feelings. Furthermore, in one fascinating study, kids as young as 2 were rated as being happier when they chose to give one of their treats away to a puppet friend.

Related post: Gift Guide for Raising Kids Who Care  
I was reflecting on this when I came across a great article that mentioned a reverse bucket list. The idea is to list activities that we did in the past that brought us joy and contentment. I'm hoping just the conversation itself will inspire a sense of gratitude. Then, of course, if we feel like doing these things again, that's great.

The whole idea is helping kids focus on the idea that the toys, experiences, family that they have is ENOUGH. This is a lesson I need to learn too, of course.

Related post: We Want Our Kids to be Kind...But How Do We Foster It

Many holiday posts are filled with ideas for new and exciting places to see or things to do. All these things that we "must" do before winter break is over. This year, in lieu of the winter "bucket list" I've decided to put together the Reverse Winter Bucket List. Here are a few ideas my boys came up with of things that they have loved doing in years past:

1. Watch Rudolf the Red Nose Reindeer (the old-fashioned version of course)
2. Go for a drive to look at Christmas lights

The One Simple Activity that Will Focus Your Kids on Gratitude this Season {plus a FREE printable to help}

3. Go to our favorite pond and go ice skating (if it actually gets cold enough to freeze)

The One Simple Activity that Will Focus Your Kids on Gratitude this Season {plus a FREE printable to help}

4. Decorate gingerbread people
5. Go see a living nativity scene
6. Go to a children's Christmas music concert
7. Make little presents for friends (my 8-year-old is WAY into origami)
8. Sledding on our neighborhood hill (if we ever get snow!)

It's amazing what happens when we focus on what we have (and help our kids to the same), instead of what we want. Gratitude and contentment abound!

Are you ready to make your own Reverse Winter Bucket List? Grab this cute FREE printable template to get started.

Enjoy a lovely season with your kids!

One Simple Activity that Will Focus Your Kids on Gratitude this Season {plus a FREE printable to help}

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Gift Guide for Raising Kids Who Care

My four-year-old was at it again.

He, his big brother and I were doing our usual Target run and they had convinced me to go to the toy aisle. What was I thinking?

The whining and begging from the little guy began pretty much as soon as we entered the first aisle that contained Hot Wheels or Nerf guns.

"Mom, can we get this?" he asked-whined (parents, you know that's a real phrase)

"No, sweetie," I say in my trying-to-not-get-upset voice. "You know I said we are just looking, not buying today."

"But Mooooooom, it sooooo cool," he says in that dramatic voice.

You parents know how this goes and it hardly ever ends well. Many times, we leave the store with someone crying (hopefully not me).

I get it. He's only four. Only recently has he gained any mental capacity for thinking of anyone outside himself. He's emotionally immature; he's still learning to regulate his emotions. And those toys are SO tempting. Luckily, my eight-year-old has matured to the point where he can handle the toy aisle without fits of whining.

Unfortunately, as the holiday season approaches this focus on toys, rather than gratitude or giving tends to only increase in our kids. So this year, in thinking about how to approach the holiday season, I decided I will focus on helping parents find gift ideas that will actually help kids grow in the emotional and social skills that we want to encourage.

In other words, gifts that will help them grow more towards gratitude than "gimme." The core of this mindset is a set of social and emotional skills that take years to build. However, parents can be key guides in this development process. Through interaction, connection and modeling your kids' social-emotional skills can blossom. Unlike the "hot" toy of the moment, the gift that these social-emotional skills bring is happiness and contentment that is much deeper than one season.

{**This post contains affiliate links. Purchasing through these links helps support this blog at no added cost to you}

So without further ado, here is this year's holiday gift guide for raising kids who care:


These games may just seem like family fun (which they are) but they all involve trying to perceive another person's thoughts or feelings--key emotional skills that our kids can develop.

Gift Guide for Raising Kids Who Care

What's It?
A family game that focuses on cooperation, instead of competition. Players try to think like other players--now that takes some emotional skills.

Gift Guide for Raising Kids Who Care

I didn't realize this was an actual game! We have played versions of this classic alphabetical listing game for years. Good for practicing the skill of working together (plus you get to review the alphabet for younger kids).

Gift Guide for Raising Kids Who Care

Q's Race to the Top
I'm really excited about this one because it involves both active play and social skills. Kids have to advise the characters on what to do in certain social situations. Plus there are cards to perform physical skills involving balance and coordination.

Modeling Kindness

In addition to learning about sharing and kindness, we also have to act on these values too. There are many fun and meaningful options for doing kind or charitable acts together with our kids.

I have just heard about this subscription box but I'm so excited to try it with my kids. Most kids love doing crafts, but parents, you know the drawback--tons of crafts just laying around your house collecting dust. This solves that problems in a charitable way! Kids make the crafts but then they are shipped off to charities that can use them. Awesome idea!


The Doll Kind
A doll that actually teaches kids about the value of kindness...and then models that very lesson. Each doll comes with kindness tokens that kids can give to others to "pay it forward" when someone has been kind to them. Bonus--for each doll purchased, another one is donated to a child in need (like hospitals or shelters). Brilliant!

Building Connection

Of course, the best way for kids to learn crucial social-emotional skills is through a warm, responsive relationship with parents. Parents modeling empathy and kindness with their kids is the best way for kids to see emotional regulation in action and learn it themselves.

In our busy world, however, it is often hard to find those moments to really build connections with our kids. Between school, extracurricular activities and job responsibilities, finding time to really connect with our kids can be tricky. These gift ideas help make finding that connection time easier and still fun.


storieChild Books
I have only recently heard about these beautiful books. We are all used to those generic books that you can have your own child's picture or name included. These are SO much better than that. You get to choose your child's pictures, but also their story. You can include details about their birth, their interests, their dreams. Each story is unique to your child with your text embedded in a beautiful storyline. This is such a great idea! What a better way to bond with your child than to sit down and read their story together.
Right now (through 11/30/17) get a FREE Christmas e-book of your child's story. Use code +EBOOKFREE95 at checkout. (Be sure to select the "buy now, make later" option).

Gift Guide for Raising Kids Who Care

The Read-Aloud Family
If you are not familiar with Sarah Mackenzie and her blog, The Read-Aloud Revival, you should be! I love all her writing and book suggestions, but I am really excited about this new book. It illustrates how reading aloud with your kids, even after they can read on their own, can help strengthen relationships and build their emotional skills. She understands how the stories that we read can give us strength and teach us all foundational emotional lessons. This one is even on MY Christmas list.

Podcasts are another why I find time to connect with my kids. It may sound silly but all that time riding in the car can quickly turn into wonderful conversation or fun bonding time just by the addition of a podcast topic.

Here are a few of our favorites:

My new absolute favorite venue for listening to kid-friendly podcasts. This app provides a huge selection of podcasts--stories, interviews, music shows and yes, even games. My boys are HUGE fans of ExtraBlurt, a podcast quiz show. We have had tons of fun listening and answering back while driving in the car. They have even picked up some new vocabulary words just from listening.

Leela Kids
If your kids are like many I know and have a Kindle Fire Kids Edition, then it may be tempting for them to be glued to games all the time. This podcast app offers an endless variety of listening choices for kids--stories and shows centered on their favorite topics like space, science, animals, and music. It helps pull their minds off games and enlightens their imaginations and understanding of feelings and characters. IOS version Android version

Dream Big Podcast
This great show is hosted by 8-year-old Eva (with a little help from her mom). She interviews ordinary people who have "dreamed big" and are now living out those dreams in cool jobs like astronaut, neuroscientist, or gymnast. The show is inspiring to kids and entertaining for adults.

Circle Round
If you love getting caught up in a story, this is the podcast for you (and your kids). These short stories are engaging, legendary and sometimes even teach a good lesson. Great listening for helping kids understand feelings, characters, and develop a wonderful imagination.

Short and Curly
If you kids are like mine, they ask questions all the time. The other day, my 4-year-old actually asked why the sky is blue. Now, I may have a higher education, but even that one stumped me! This is the podcast to help answer all those questions (and ones even 4-year-olds haven't thought of). Great bonding time while listening.

Books With Emotional Lessons

Books are the best way to share a variety of important lessons--friendship, traditions, being brave, etc. Books also have the wonderful ability to help kids learn how to put themselves in another's shoes and understand feelings. Plus, spending time together reading is a time of connection that you and your child will cherish forever. 

The message focuses on the idea that although we are all different, we are each lovely in our own way.  (ages 4-8)

Pass It On
A book with a simple message of passing on kindness and good cheer to those around you. (ages 3-7)

We Are All Wonders
Most of you are probably aware of the book Wonder. Well, this is just the shorter, picture book version for younger kids. I got this a few months ago and have read it with my 4-year-old about 100 times! He loved it and it sparked a lot of good conversations about why people are different.

The Invisible Boy
A lovely book for all kids, but especially the quieter types who may feel "invisible" at times. A story of friendship and learning that we all have talents--even if we're quiet.

Myra Makes
This book falls more under the category of a workbook, but it still focuses on promoting empathy in kids. The workbook itself tells a story and with each activity, the kids try to help Myra get to Cloud City. The lessons focus on care for the earth, healthy living, and cooperation. Great to keep little minds busy on those long road trips or plane rides.

Pretend Play

As I've written on many occasions, play is really the engine of learning for young kids. There is no better way to gain social skills than through pretend play. It allows kids to gain insight into another's perspective (the basis for empathy), test role and boundaries. Of course, there are tons of pretend play toys out there. I tend to gravitate towards ones that are simple and represent roles that kids see commonly in daily life.

Police costume
I've written before about the developmental benefits of dress-up play and it doesn't have to be Halloween for this to be the case. Kids love dressing up and taking on all the details of a different role or personality. Perspective-taking skills at their best!

Pretend cleaning set
Okay parents, you will love this one. A toy that encourages cooperative skills and reinforces the need for chores! My boys always loved helping me clean when they were about 2-3 years old. Encourage that love of cleaning with real, hands-on toys that look and function just like the adult version.

Dollhouses are not just for girls anymore! Now that there are these nice gender-neutral ones on the market, any kid will want to try it out. Role-playing "mom," "dad," or "baby" is one of the best ways for kids to learn empathy and perspective-taking.

Puppets are really underrated in today's world of high-tech toys. We have only had a few in our house, but the kids always come up with such creative ways to use them--reenact stories, battle each other, or take on all sorts of silly voices. Believe it or not, this all helps build emotional and cooperation, and language skills.

Okay parents, I hope these ideas give you a little jumpstart on holiday gifts. Focusing on items that build social-emotional skills will result in many meaningful benefits for your kids for years to come. Best wishes this holiday season from The Thoughtful Parent!