Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Developmental Benefits of Dress-Up Play {plus a Great Costume Deal!}

Fall is in the air. Crisp mornings and leaves changing colors have all begun here in Colorado. Now, I'm not usually one to jump to the next season or holiday before it's time, but I have to admit I get excited about Halloween (and my kids too). We all love dressing up and there is something about the holiday that just takes you back to your childhood.

Costumes are Not Just for Halloween

Playing dress-up is not just for Halloween, though. Kids love to dress-up in costumes and pretend to be different characters all year long. I fondly remember when my oldest son was about 4 years old, he went through a phase where he wanted to dress up in costumes pretty much all day. He would change outfits 8-10 times a day!

I loved it! Sure, I got tired of helping him in and out of costumes but I really appreciated his imagination. At age 4, he was at an age of make-believe and flexible gender roles. One minute he was a superhero, the next a policeman, and once in awhile even a princess (which had to be improvised out of my shirts because we had no princess outfits!).

The point is that this phase of development in which kids' brains and ideas are so flexible is amazing. We should enjoy it and foster this type of play while this phase lasts. 

The Developmental Benefits of Dress-Up Play

What are Kids Learning Through Dress-Up?

You may wonder if kids are actually learning anything through dress-up play. The answer is a resounding YES!

Mental flexibility: we think it's just kid's fun to take on another person's identity but consider the amount of mental flexibility it takes to take on a role. For a 3-5-year-old child, it is a fairly complex skill to role-play a different person and actually stay in character.

- Self-regulation: preschool age kids are not known for having a lot of self-regulation skills but dress-up play can help with this skill. Role play encourages kids to take on the words and actions of another character. These types of skills require kids to self-regulate enough to limit their actions to those of the character, not their own (at least briefly).

- Role identity and relationships: in the 3-5-year-old range, kids are still figuring out their place in the world. This means negotiating good vs evil, male and female, teacher and student, etc. Dress-up play helps kids work through this understanding of role identity. They can take on different roles for a short time to help understand the feelings of another person. What a great way to learn empathy!

The Developmental Benefits of Dress-Up Play

To encourage dress-up play all year round, not just at Halloween, you can stock up on costumes while they are on sale. Through SEPT. 30 ONLY Target is offering 20% off their costumes. A great time to explore all the different roles your kids enjoy.

The Developmental Benefits of Dress-Up Play

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The New Research that Convinced Me to be a Soccer Mom Dropout

My oldest son is 8 and is one of the few in his class that is not involved in soccer...and never has been. GASP!

It hasn't really been an intentional choice on our part. He has never really shown an interest (for more than 1 day). Plus, I'm not ready to commit our precious free time after school and especially on weekends to sitting in the hot or cold or rain to watch him practice.

Am I a horrible mother? The society-driven guilt part of me says, "yes" but the authentic me says, "heck no!"

Truth be told, I kind of like being a soccer mom rebel. I don't really like always doing the expected motherhood thing and my son isn't one to just "go with flow" on activities like that. He has done certain activities from time to time--summer baseball (we missed half the season traveling), "ninja" gymnastics (right up his alley), and chess club. Overall, however, I find that he does best just hanging out with his friends after school (the few that also have eschewed soccer).

The New Research that Convinced Me to be a Soccer Mom Dropout

What We Do Instead

The other day I found him and two friends making an "arcade" out of a bunch of huge cardboard boxes and some Nerf guns. I couldn't have been more proud. They were using their best salesmen techniques to try to convince some younger boys at the park to play for a fee (ha!). They didn't make much money, but they had a blast and you could tell they felt empowered by their experiment with entrepreneurship. 

I'm not against all organized activities. They have their place. But seeing the pride on my son's face at his planning and accomplishing his arcade idea made me think that there really is something to allowing kids to do their own thing.

The other thing I've noticed is that when he has plenty of time to play with friends without an agenda, his behavior and mood is WAY better.

Here's why: during free play kids get the chance to release their emotions, pent up anger or stress. You know how you feel when you've been stressed and then you go for a long walk or a strenuous workout. You feel de-stressed and cleansed, right? 

This is what play does for kids. Without it, we parents often see our kids' emotions and stress spill out as misbehavior, whining, and overall crankiness.

Here's the perfect example: this past weekend we were pretty busy. We were invited to an amusement park with some friends, my son was selling popcorn for Cub Scouts and we had church and a party to attend. We are not usually that busy on weekends, but it just ended up that way. By Sunday night, I felt a little spent but I thought my 8-year-old was doing okay (surprisingly).

Guess what? Monday after school he lost it. Meltdown, fighting with his brother, etc. etc. He needed downtime and had not gotten enough over the weekend. Going to school all day had just been too much and he needed an emotional release. So we stayed at home, he whined and cried off and on and then we talked for quite awhile about what's been going on at school, on the playground, etc. 

The New Research that Convinced Me to be a Soccer Mom Dropout

After eating a big dinner and relaxing at home he was a totally different kid the next morning. If anything speaks to the need for downtime for kids, this does. The night before, you would have thought everything in his life was a disaster. The next morning, he was eager for school and ready to move on with the day. Amazing!

Related Post: The Surprising Way to Actually Enjoy Playtime with Your Kids

What Does the Research Say?

Until recently, the one voice you haven’t heard on the topic of overscheduled kids was the one of science. Child development researchers are now trying to delve into this topic and understand the relationship between structured activities and children’s development.

In one of the first studies of this kind, researchers at The University of Colorado looked at the connection between how kids spend their time (structured vs. unstructured activities) and the development of executive function. As you may know, executive function is one of the key regulatory skills that develop during childhood and is crucial to children’s success and well-being later in life. 

Executive function includes things like 

* planning ahead, 
 * goal-oriented behavior, 
* suppression of unwanted thoughts or behaviors, and 
* delaying gratification. 

Do these sound familiar? They are typically all the skills that break down when kids are overtired or stressed (like my son was).

These skills have been shown to predict children’s academic and social outcomes years down the road. Based on this, you can see why researchers (and parents) are interested in understanding anything related to how executive function develops.

The New Research that Convinced Me to be a Soccer Mom Dropout

The researchers then analyzed the relationship between children’s activities and their level of executive function. The results showed that were was, indeed, a correlation between these factors. 
The more time children spent in structured activities, the lower their scores on the assessment of executive function. In contrast, the more time children spent in less structured activities, the higher their assessment of executive function.

So what does this all mean? Well, we shouldn't all go and unenroll our kids from every activity turn to "unschooling" just yet. This study was small scale (70 children) and was only correlational, meaning we do not know if structured vs. unstructured activities cause a change in executive function or if there is something else going on here. 

What this study does show is that there is some relationship between these factors that deserves further study. What is it about unstructured time that might enforce executive function skills? Is there something about structured activities that limit executive function?

In our lives as parents, I think a study like this makes us reassess the cultural norms and expectations we might be adopting. Are we involved in activities because our kids like them or you see some benefit from them? Or are we just doing what "soccer moms" do? Activities can be great, but don't feel like you must enroll your kid to keep him busy because that's what our society dictates. 

**This post contains affiliate links. Purchasing through these links supports this blog (thanks!) at no added cost to you.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Realistic Way to Stop Mom Shaming in its Tracks {plus Printable}

At my moms' group last year, somehow the topic of "unwanted" parenting advice came up in discussion. I was shocked to hear so many other moms with stories of mothers-in-law, aunts or even strangers offering judgments on their parenting decisions.

It might be the food they feed their kids, how long they breastfeed, or even the choice to cut (or not) their toddler's newly grown-out hair. While many of the moms just sloughed off these comments with a sense of humor, many felt judged or even disrespected by this intrusion.

I am fortunate that the most judgment I've ever really faced is a few sideways glances at my misbehaving kids at Target or maybe a glare at a restaurant.

You're Not the Only One

Turns out, I may be in the minority when it comes to receiving a lot of parenting "advice" from family members. Many moms, in fact, feel "shamed" by family members and others in regards to their parenting decisions.

In a recent study, two-thirds of moms of young children said they had felt criticized about parenting decisions. We see this all the time with celebrities--if it's not Mila Kunis being shamed for breastfeeding in public, it's Reese Witherspoon being criticized for her son's meal choices.

But what about the rest of us? Who is doing the "mom shaming" among ordinary non-celebrity moms? The answer may not surprise you--our families.

The Realistic Way to Stop Mom Shaming in its Tracks
Courtesy of C.S. Mott Children's Hospital

Among moms who reported feeling criticized about parenting decisions, the most common shamers where their own parents (or in-laws) and the other parent of their child (of course, frequently that is their own spouse!).

The Real Effects of Mom Shaming

What is the real problem with mom-shaming? Didn't our moms experience this from their moms too? Well, perhaps that is true. We do not have good data on the amount of parenting criticism faced in past generations. I think one key here is to understand the effects mom shaming can have on mother's mental health and state of mind. Raising young children is stressful enough. On a daily basis, you face a multitude of decisions about health, safety, nutrition, etc. As mothers, it only undermines our confidence to have other people standing over our shoulder questioning our decisions. If you are like most mothers I know, you have already questioned those decisions about a thousand times in your head anyway. The anxiety and uncertainty that mom shaming can provoke are real and unhealthy for a newly-developed parent-child relationship.

In what other jobs in the world are you criticized by your boss or co-workers every day? How do you think your job performance would suffer if this was your situation? Although parenting is more than a job, I think the comparison is eye-opening.

The Realistic Way to Stop Mom Shaming in its Tracks {plus Printable}

A Change in Perspective

The real answer to ending mom shaming is to develop a new perspective on the issue. Consider for a moment how mom shaming affects all of us, even if we aren't the immediate perpetrators or victims of the shaming. That mom that was criticized at a store or glared at soccer practice might be:

the future mother-in-law of your son

the mom of your toddler's future best friend

your neighbor that you haven't met yet

your child's teacher

Put in this perspective, we can see how mom shaming undermines the confidence and decision-making of women all around us. If we want the world to be a safer, happier, more meaningful place for all our kids, then all moms deserve the opportunity to face parenting decisions with thoughtfulness and confidence, not shame or anxiety.

Moms are usually just trying to do the best they can in a given situation. When stress, sleep-deprivation, frazzled nerves and screaming toddlers get the best of us, we are all prone to making mistakes. This does NOT make you a bad mom; it makes you human.

If we truly want to raise empathetic kids, the example has to start with us. Our kind words to a fellow mom speak volumes to our children. They see what empathy looks like in a real-life example. Those words might just make the difference between that mom blaming herself or having the strength to carry on with dignity.

So the next time you see a mom struggling through a tantrum at Target, let's all try to offer a word of support (or at least a smile) instead of a judgmental stare. Who knows...it might just give her the strength to react in a calm way instead of losing her patience.

We are all in this motherhood thing together.

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Not sure what to say to encourage another mom? Here are 8 great suggestions from Red Tricycle!

Other posts you might enjoy:

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Resources That Will Change Your Parenting Game for the Better

Here at our house, this is the last full week of summer! All you parents out there probably know that bittersweet feeling that comes along this time of year. You are just a teensy bit glad (or perhaps not so teensy) to see the kids off to school again and your life gets back to some semblance of a regular routine.

But then, you realize that one more summer just ended and we only get 18 summers with our kids. So there is a bit of sadness too. If you have little ones starting school for the first time, this bittersweet is even more profound.

If you are a little bit type A like me, I have found a group of resources that might just raise your spirits on this back-to-school journey. What I love about these resources is that they fit right in with most of the topics I write about here on the blog--parenthood, kindness, outdoor play, and connecting with your kids. 

Plus most of these resources come at just the right time for back-to-school. There are tons of useful tools in this bundle that will help you get prepared and organized instead of feeling frantic and rushed.

Okay, here's the lowdown on my favorites:


This year I've written not only about parenting research, but some of the challenges we face as parents too--yelling, social media, and tantrums.

These resources go even further to help you find ways to keep your "chin up" when parenting gets hard:

Raising Positive Kids in a Negative World by Zig Ziglar

If Only They'd Told Me: All The Things You Wish You'd Been Told About Pregnancy, Parenting, and Relationships by Natalie Cutler-Welsh

Encouraging Kindness

Another goal I've had this year is really focusing on encouraging kindness and empathy in my kids. Luckily, many folks agree with me on this and there are a lot of fun tools, books and research to back this up.

Here are a few more wonderful resources for promoting kindness in your home:

Random Acts of Kindness Cards for Kids by Lauren Tamm & Rachel Norman

Hero Training! Kid's Character Challenge by Liz Millay


If you've been reading this blog for long, you know that play is a hot topic for me. Play is the real work of childhood and cannot be replaced by worksheets or schedules. These resources will enliven your sense of adventure and help you encourage free, outdoor play.


With a new school year comes new opportunities, new challenges and new questions for ourselves and our kids. One way to help everyone get off to the right start is with good organization and these resources are perfect for that:

Back to School Planner 2017-18 by Laura Rizer

Student Planner by Jolanthe Erb

Now, we are parents; we don't have time to go to multiple online shops or wait for these to be shipped to us. The best news about these resources (besides the low price) is that they are all put together into one simple bundle that is delivered digitally. That's right, you can read all these resources on your mobile device (perhaps while waiting in the car line at school?)

It's the Parenting Super Bundle and it only comes around once a year. All these resources plus hundreds more: 35 eBooks, 23 printables, 10 eCourses, 9 workbooks, 2 audios, and 1 membership site--all designed to help you (for a tiny price).

Don't miss your chance! This bundle is only available until Aug. 14th!