To Moms on the First Day of Kindergarten: Don't Worry, You're Still Needed

{The first day of kindergarten may make you feel like you are not needed anymore. Moms take heart, your kindergartners still need you so much}


This school year is THE year for me--my youngest is going off to kindergarten. As a stay-at-home mom, this feels like graduation day. I'm sure work-outside-the-home moms feel the same, however. The bittersweet feeling of this transition is acute.

The last 5 years have been filled with so much parenting intensity. There's been joy, exhaustion, struggle, love, self-doubt and all the roller coaster of emotions that go with the early years of parenting. We've survived sleep deprivation, tried to keep our patience during many a toddler tantrum (which still rear their head once in a while), managing the ups and downs of potty training and now we have a 5-year-old who hardly resembles that little baby we brought home years ago.


First day of kindergarten


Our 5-year-olds are now eager learners, excited by the world around them. They are now able to (mostly) hold a conversation with us for longer than a minute, even if it is about their favorite insect or fictional character. With our help and guidance, they have made amazing developmental leaps and are now ready to take on the new adventures that kindergarten will bring.

They Still Need Us

As a mom in this stage of life, it's easy to feel like our kids don't really need us anymore. Sure, they are still young, but they are so independent in many ways. There's no more changing diapers, hourly feeding (well, unless raiding the pantry counts), rocking, and soothing. However, after sending my 9-year-old off to school a few years ago, I have a little more perspective into what this transition really means for parenting. As you might have guessed, these kids of ours, even with their "big-kid" mentality, still really need us.

They need us to model kindness

With school and more interaction with friends, our kindergartners will inevitably encounter some experience of unkindness. Many of our kids have probably encountered a bit of this already. Kids tease, they "unfriend," and they may even push or shove. This is normal, but it is difficult for us when we realize that the safe bubble we've tried to create for our kids is no longer realistic. They will get their feelings hurt.

What we do know from research, however, is that kids are wired for kindness at some level. In lab experiments, babies as young as 9 months gravitate toward the kind puppet or character. For this kindness instinct to really take hold in older kids, however, it has to be modeled...a lot. Schools who implement kindness programs such as Paths tend to maintain a kind atmosphere even into the middle school years (yes, it's possible!).

To Moms on the First Day of Kindergarten: Don't Worry, You're Still Needed


Modeling at home is crucial too, of course. Our daily interactions with our kids, but also with store clerks, waitresses and yes, even other drivers, all illustrate to our youngest observers what it looks like to be kind in a sometimes harsh world.

They need us to help them find their passions

With kindergarten, comes a whole new world of learning for our kids. Many kids gravitate toward certain topics right away--dinosaurs, trains, cowboys, mermaids. This intense interest in one topic is perfectly normal and actually kind of awesome for kids' developing brains.

While kids don't have to find their lifelong passion in kindergarten, I have found it helpful and fun (for them and us) to offer them opportunities that might spark their interests. School does a lot of this for us by exposing them to many different topics and skills. However, some kids may not find their interest in school. My youngest child, while he loved preschool, didn't find anything that totally peaked his interest. I took it upon myself to find books, videos, etc. that might be something he could really get into. So far, it's been comic books! He loves "reading" them and trying to write his own. You never can tell where a simple interest can take kids' learning.


Related reading: 5 Parenting Lessons Research Taught Us This Year

They need us to help them figure out emotions

Little kids (and even not so little ones) have big emotions. Although our kindergartners may be mostly past the tantrum days, those big emotions sometimes still overtake them. Long days of learning and less quiet time often mean meltdowns come days end.

Many schools are getting on the bandwagon with social-emotional learning, but it often falls on us moms to help our kids cope when big emotions try to take over. Kids often hold their emotional selves together well at school and the teachers may report they are so well-behaved under their watch. Once at home with us, they often break down and let out all the emotional tension that has piled up during the day. We should consider this a good sign! As hard as it is to be the "emotional trash can" for our kids, it means they feel safe and comfortable with us to let their guard down.

Related reading: Toys and Gift for Emotional Development

This struggle has been real for me and my now 9-year-old. Even as a third-grader last year, he often came home an emotional mess after the ups and downs of a busy day. We can become the "emotion coaches" for our kids to help them figure out these emotions, label them and understand that no emotions are "bad." It's also important to realize, however, that we don't have to get our kids "back to happy" too soon and that making them happy all the time may not even be part of our job. We can listen, we can guide, but we usually can't force the emotions we want them to have.

Ultimately, modeling self-regulation is really the best gift we can give them. We don't have to join their emotional turmoil but we can be there to support them as they work through it.


L.R. Knost quote



They need us to help them find meaning in their struggles (but not fix the struggles)

This relates a lot to the issue I just discussed but in a more tangible way. Upon entering school, kids encounter a lot of challenges they haven't experienced before--kids that don't "play nice," teachers they may not enjoy, school work that is hard, etc. These are real challenges and our kids need real guidance. However, in many cases, we cannot "fix" the problem. It's tempting as a parent to try to fix it all--change teachers, separate classmates, call the principal...the list could go on forever.


Meaning in parenting


In some cases, this type of intervention might be needed, but in many cases, we just need to be patient. Many times, kids work their differences with classmates, they learn to love that teacher after all or the little extra explanation you give on that math problem makes the concept "click" in their brain. Patience often pays big dividends in their maturity, growth and in ours.

Many times, our kids don't really need us to fix the problem, they just need us to listen and provide a context of meaning for their struggle. They just need a hand to hold as they face the challenge themselves.

Related reading: Parents Say They Want Happy Kids. Why This is not My Parenting Goal

My son got in trouble at school last year. Let's be honest, this is not one of those parenting moments you love. He had to go see the principal because he hit another boy over a football game at recess. I'll admit it--it was not one of my proudest parenting moments. However, once he faced the consequences of his actions and talked it out, he and that other boy became good friends later in the year. In fact, he played with him much of the summer! Growth and maturity take patience.

They need us to help them make sense of ALL the information they hear and see

How many times have your kids come home from school with a tale from a friend that you know is not true? Or maybe it's a story of something a classmate saw online that you know is fake. As my oldest son has gotten older, this, unfortunately, has happened more frequently. Last year, it was classmates watching videos of ouija boards and convincing others that they were real. Other times, it was classmates watching the news and not getting the story quite straight. My third-grader was convinced once last year that North Korea was going to bomb the U.S. at any moment.

All this is to say--our kids will hear all sorts of things at school and much of it, we will probably not like. It's our job to help them make sense of what is real, what is exaggerated and what they really need to be shielded from. In our age of digital technology, this has become one of our biggest and most important parenting tasks. As kindergartners, this may not be so much of an issue (I hope), but as they grow, this issue becomes more daunting. Numerous times I've had to sit down and explain to my 9-year-old about how his friends may not be seeing the whole story or that everything they see online may be not true or appropriate. Hard lessons for a little brain to comprehend, but nonetheless important.


School buses on first day of kindergarten


Kindergarten moms, I will be with you in spirit as you drop off your little ones. Enjoy the moments and be ready for a whole new parenting job. Best wishes for the first day of kindergarten!


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To Moms on the First Day of Kindergarten: Don't Worry, You're Still Needed


Tools to Help on Your Parenting Path (Prime Day!)

I'll be honest here--I'm not usually a huge bargain shopper like those folks that wait outside stores on Black Friday. I love a good deal (who doesn't) but I usually find it's just not worth the hassle of getting the kids ready, stomping through multiple stores with whining kids, etc.

However...Amazon Prime Day just involves sitting at home and browsing online so that makes bargain shopping a lot more appealing.

Tools to Help on Your Parenting Path (Prime Day!)


So here's the deal--I want to value your time and your readership. I so appreciate that all of you read The Thoughtful Parent. I know you don't want a bunch of deals on junk toys or other items that don't line up with what we talk about here on the blog. I only discuss products and services on this blog that I really use myself and/or fit in line with the parenting values about which I write.

With that in mind, I've organized this post with the four major research themes that we've been focusing on this year: simplify life, fostering kids' interests, self-care, managing technology, and social-emotional learning. These are affiliate links which means I receive a small commission on any purchases (at no added cost to you) to help support the work of this blog so it's a win-win for all of us. Here are the Prime deals I've found that center around these themes:

Simplify Life



iRobot Roomba Vacuum--we don't hire out cleaning services in our house, but a few years ago my husband did get us this. I was skeptical; now I'm not. I can set it to run while I'm at the playground with the boys and we come home to a keep floor (and it's only eaten one Lego!). Simplifies our life in a very practical sense.




6 qt Crock Pot (programmable)-- the same idea here as with the vacuum. Having a crock pot frees up time to spend with the kids or go for a walk. Plus you can cook something way healthier than take-out.

Foster Interests



Magic Science Kit--we know kids learn best through hands-on activities. If your child is into wizards (Harry Potter perhaps?) or just sensory play, this would be a hit. We have also found that sensory activities like these can be calming for overstimulated kids.



Latice Strategy Board Game--if you have a child who loves strategy games like chess or even coding on the computer, I think this would fit right with their interests. Players must use strategy and logic to use all the tiles.



Highlights High Five--who didn't love reading Highlights as a child? Now you can give this old-school gift to your kids at a big discount. Kids love getting their own mail!


Self-Care



Cuisinart Single Serve Coffeemaker--if you're like me, then coffee is a form of self-care. It won't make up for staying up half the night with a colicky baby but it does ease the morning a bit.



Levoit Yoga Exercise Mat--one key aspect of self-care for me is regular exercise. I think most moms find that even a few minutes each day to focus on our health and get some endorphins flowing really helps our mood. I started doing online Pilates classes a few months ago so a good mat really helps.




Magazine Subscriptions--many of us read a lot online now, but once in awhile it feels almost indulgent to sit down and read an actual paper magazine. I enjoy reading recipes or home decorating magazines to relax, but whatever your interests, there is probably a magazine on sale for Prime Day.


Managing Technology


Echo Dot Kids Edition--I was skeptical when this first came out. I thought it was just yet another device amid many. However, since reading more about it and understanding the parental controls, I'm beginning to see the benefits. Parents can turn it off (so there's no sneaky listening at night) and it includes a year of Free Time Unlimited that has all the kid radio shows, audiobooks, etc. As far as technology goes, I think it's a move in the right direction since it's not screen-based and parents have more control. Plus, listening to books and programs does engage a different, more active part of the brain than passive screen time.

Related reading: Gifts that Promote Child Development: Social-Emotional Skills

Social-Emotional Learning



 Guess How Much I Love You--a childhood classic every kid should have. Plus, it really does foster emotional learning by using a lot of emotional language.


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



The Dot--a lot about the creative spirit within all of us; a little about growth mindset. This book is becoming a modern classic.


If you'd like to see more items that I find helpful (that are not all Amazon), check out this page of resources.


The 3-Part Stay-at-Home Mom Routine that Benefits Mom and Baby

{Focusing on 3 aspects of my stay-at-home mom routine have made all the difference in making daily life more engaging for me and my kids}


I still remember vividly that day my husband went back to work after the birth of our first son. It was my first day at home with my newborn son...all alone. I was nervous, sleep-deprived and still getting to know this little bundle whom I loved dearly.

BUT, he cried a lot. Would I be able to calm him without breaking down into tears myself? Would we be able to make it out to the grocery store on our own?

It seems silly to me now, but if you flash back to those moments, you may have felt similar. I knew I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, but how do I do this new role?

Stay-at-Home Mom Routines that Benefit Mom and Baby's Development
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helps support this blog at no added cost to you.


Like many stay-at-home moms, I was used to desks, not diapers. I had spent the past 10 years either working in the non-profit world or in grad school. My schedule was my own, I had meetings, I wrote papers, I did research. How do I now drop that part of my life and focus all my attention on this tiny bundle of need and crying? I loved him dearly, but I was a little lost.

Over time, of course, we found our way. It took much of the first year for both of us to figure out our new world--together. Babies change so frequently in that first year, that just as soon as I thought I had our routine figured out, he would change. With some reading and reflection, I soon began to focus on 3 primary areas in our daily life together and this helped immensely: activities, identity, and self-care.


Activities

In those early months, there aren't many activities you can really do with a newborn. However, my son (and most babies) do find ways to make their preferences known.

Bouncing/Walking
My son loved bouncing! Bouncing in the infant bouncy seat and bouncing while strapped to my chest in an infant carrier. Walking also worked well, as long as he was attached to me; not in a stroller. It was pretty much the only thing that calmed him when he got into fussy periods.





Talking
Most babies love hearing your voice. It doesn't really matter what you talk about, just talking helps their brain come alive. It also helps you and your baby get "in sync." Synchronicity is one of the key emotional skills that are developing in the first few months. The more you are in sync with your baby, the easier it will be for you to respond to his needs.

Reading
Some parents may feel weird reading to a young baby since they can't really respond or even focus on the page. However, research shows that even babies benefit from hearing books read. Check out this post for baby books that boost brain development.


Stay-at-Home Mom Routines that Benefit Mom and Baby's Development



Identity

Figuring out your mom identity often takes time. Becoming a parent is life-altering in more ways than one. Being the research geek I am, before becoming a mom, I had read tons of books on child development, breastfeeding, etc. but nothing really prepares you for how you will feel. I thought I would figure out breastfeeding way sooner than I really did. I swore my baby would never sleep in bed with us. Well, real life has a way of not going according to your plans.


Related reading: The Child Development Bookshelf: Best Books for Parents and Kids

Breastfeeding did not come as easily as I had expected so my identity at those early nursing moms support groups didn't fit as well I had thought. I struggled with breastfeeding while those other moms seemed to do it so easily.

After trying out several different moms groups, I eventually found one that was a good fit for me. Having other moms to talk to with whom you share common beliefs, experiences or life views makes a world of difference. For many moms, this type of group helps solidify your mom identity. For other moms, it might be something else--a fitness group or a baby storytime group. 



Stay-at-Home Mom Routines that Benefit Mom and Baby's Development


Consider what interests you had before you had a baby. This usually helps you figure out a path to find other moms who share your interests. Just because you have a baby doesn't mean you have to give up your personal interests or identity.


Related reading: What Being a Stay-at-Home Mom Taught Me About Child Development (that a Ph.D. didn't!)

I also figured out that it was okay to "mourn" a bit the passing of my pre-baby identity. That's not to say that I lost it completely but it did have to change. I think many moms go through this stage.  Especially if you worked full time before staying at home with kids, the identity shift from the "working world" to the stay-at-home mom world is kind of abrupt. Even in today's world, being a stay-at-home mom is not exactly highly valued. Sometimes people still really wonder what you do all day. 

Developing your mom identity really benefits your baby too. The more you can connect with who you really are, what kind of mom you want to be, the more confident and fulfilled you will feel. The more confident you feel, the happier and more engaged you will be with your baby.

Self-Care

As moms, we have a tendency to give and give and forget to take care of ourselves, especially in early motherhood when the needs of our babies are so immediate. The physical and emotional demands of motherhood are real. Many times moms feel guilty for taking time to take care of themselves. The truth is, however, if we don't we will eventually succumb to the demands and our physical or mental health might suffer. We get run down and we get sick. We don't take a break once in awhile and our patience starts to wear thin (research backs this one up). A lack of self-care ultimately catches up to us.

Related reading: Research Reveals the Real Reason You Lost Your Temper with Your Toddler

After months of nursing every two hours and getting very limited sleep, I learned this lesson myself. My mental health started to suffer. Luckily, I have a very supportive husband who stepped in to give me enough of a break during nights that I could function again. 



Stay-at-Home Mom Routines that Benefit Mom and Baby's Development


Over the years, I've figured out that self-care is not just about pedicures and spa days. It's about figuring out what fills you up, what helps you keep your boundaries in place and your mind clear. Self-care looks different for everyone. Here are just a few ideas but it might look completely different for you:

- reading while the kids nap
- going for a run with the toddler in the stroller
- chatting with friends in real life (or sending a card instead of a text)
- listening to a podcast in the car instead of Wheels on the Bus
- sitting down to eat instead of scraping up the kids’ leftovers

The key is that self-care shouldn't be a source of guilt. It should make you feel stronger knowing that by taking care of yourself, you are inadvertently taking care of your children. Babies, perhaps even more than us, are very in tune with the emotions of their caregivers. Using the "still face" experiment, studies illustrate how upset babies get when their caregivers are unresponsive to their emotions. This speaks volumes to the need for self-care. If we are so fatigued or worn down, that we cannot respond well to our children, over time they will notice.

Whether you're a stay-at-home mom or a mom who reports to an office each day, the idea of focusing on activities, identity, and self-care will hopefully help guide your daily routine. The specifics of each person's daily routine might be different, but I think by focusing on these 3 areas, it helps you keep the big picture in mind. By finding ways to balance your child's needs and your own needs, you will no doubt find yourself feeling more confident in your parenting.


Related Resources:


The Gifts of Imperfection





Rhythms, Routines and Schedules



Perfect for Pinning:

The 3-Part Stay-at-Home Mom Routine that Benefits Mom and Baby


A Conversation About Children's Mental Health

In the past week, 2 major celebrities have passed away as a result of suicide. Yet, in our country, mental illness is still considered a taboo topic in many circles. It's important to be aware and educated about mental illness at all stages of life, starting with our kids.

While the frequency of conversation surrounding mental illness is trending upward, there is still work to be done. It’s vital to ensure that all individuals who are diagnosed with a mental disorder have open lines of communication and resources available. May is Mental Health Awareness month, and children and adolescents are largely impacted by mental health disorders. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 50 percent of all lifetime cases of mental health disorders begin by the age of 14. This startling statistic can lead us to ask, what do we do with this information?

A Conversation About Children's Mental Health



The Unique Face of Mental Illness


First, we must acknowledge that each person diagnosed with a mental illness has their own unique situation. Each individual has their own personal set of circumstances that has lead to a diagnosis. There is not a, “one size fits all” solution when it comes to mental illness and how to help those affected by it. We must continue to facilitate dialogue in various aspects of mental health, and talk about the countless scenarios that our kids may be up against. Mental Health Month raises awareness around trauma, and the impact it can have on the wellbeing of children, families, and the overall community we live in. While mental health disorders can stem from a variety of different causes, we want to spotlight trauma, and how it can influence the state of mental well-being in children.



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

Trauma and Mental Health

Often times, many people don’t consider the state of children’s mental health. This is alarming as children as young as 18 months old can experience a traumatic event and go on to have later behavioral and psychological problems. From being exposed to crime, violence, abuse, or even the loss of a loved one, trauma can stem from a lot of different situations. We’re looking more closely into the impact that trauma can have on the mental state of children and teens.



A Conversation About Children's Mental Health


If you are concerned that your child has been exposed to a traumatic event, specialists have identified specific behaviors to be on the lookout for. If a child you know has recently experienced a traumatic event:

  • Separation anxiety or clinginess toward teachers or caregivers
  • Changes in appetite
  • Decreased interest in and/or withdrawal from friends or family and normal activities
  • Over- or under-reaction to physical contact, sudden movements, and sounds
  • Angry outbursts and/or aggression
  • More frequent complaints of headaches, stomachaches, or fatigue
  • Repeatedly recreating the event through comments, drawings, or activity
  • Emotional “numbing,” or expressing no feelings at all about the event

Although trauma is a common underlying cause of mental health issues in children, it is not the only cause. Even infants have a full mental life and are constantly making sense of their interactions with caregivers. As this wonderful article by Lisa Sunbury describes, experiments with babies have shown that they are careful observers of their caregivers' emotions. Although they don't have the emotional skills to understand adult emotions, they often react when they see withdrawal or sadness in their caregivers.

This video illustrates the classic "still face" experiment done to examine how babies respond to a lack of response from a caregiver. If the relationship is "repaired" as in seen in the video, the bond remains, however, if babies experience repreated withdrawal, impacts on their mental health can be seen.






Get Informed

Identifying a problem and ultimately understanding a diagnosis can be overwhelming. This rings especially true when trying to grasp the diagnosis in a child. Where do you start? This is a frequent question that carries a lot of weight. It can be hard to collect your thoughts and know what to ask. Jumo Health is an online suite of resources to educate and empower those dealing with diagnoses. Available are free discussion guide downloads to help steer conversations with your doctor about diagnosis. Depression and Anxiety are just two examples of topics that have a guide available.


A Conversation About Children's Mental Health

In addition, Jumo Connect offers a series of comics and podcasts that explain different diseases, disorders, and conditions. Some of the most relevant include the “Mental Health: Anxiety and Depression podcast.” This follows Gianna, a high school junior who has lived experience of depression and anxiety. It’s a great resource to help kids and teens connect to someone who may be experiencing the same struggles and difficulties in life.

Related reading: National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day


Resources for Children's Mental Health

Another great organization is ZERO TO THREE. They work to ensure that babies and toddlers benefit from early connections that are critical to their well being and development. Children can be resilient when it comes to trauma, but they typically process events different than adults. ZERO TO THREE has developed a great parenting resource on building resilience. It is designed to teach how you can help infants and toddlers to learn to cope with adversity.

A Conversation about Children's Mental Health


Recognizing resilience at four different levels: the individual, the family, the school and caregiving systems, and the larger community. Parents can build their child’s resilience on a daily basis by teaching self-care, emphasizing the positive, building a strong parent-child bond, reading together, encouraging social skills, maintaining a daily routine, nurturing self-esteem, and practicing reflection.

This post contain affiliate links. Purchasing through these links helps support this blog at no added cost to you.


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