The Case for Boredom to Ignite Our Minds

The demands of careers and parenting mean we’ve lost time to let our minds wander. There are always tasks that need to be handled, and then there’s the other obvious way we “cure” boredom should it have a chance to strike: technology.
Smartphones give us the opportunity to constantly engage with social media, games, or news. All of these serve as distractions that keep our minds from dealing with boredom for even a minute.
Since hearing from our kids that they are bored tends to be annoying, we may assume that curing boredom is a good thing for all of us. We’re not bored, the kids aren’t bored, and everyone can grab their smartphones or tablets should boredom arise.
However, researchers fear that the problem with boredom is that we aren’t experiencing it enough.

Why we need boredom

Being bored may seem like a pointless task, and research shows that people will go to extremes to avoid sitting alone with their thoughts. Studies found that boredom can cause excessive drinking, gambling, and eating when we’re not hungry.
Fortunately, most of us don’t have to engage in these harmful activities to stave off boredom. Unfortunately, we see smartphones as the safe option when they are not.
According to studies used in author Manoush Zomorodi’s TED Talk, we now shift our attention every 45 seconds when working because technology makes it easy to do. We also spend time checking our phones when we don’t even know what we’re looking for. Notifications constantly pop up, and we become Pavlovian in our responses to them, searching for them when they’re not even there just because the phone is readily accessible. A recent study showed that even having our smartphones in the room with us lowers our cognitive function.
Smartphones and the way we use them keep us from allowing ourselves to get bored, and that means we’re missing out. When bored, the brain goes into default mode, and it’s in this mindset that we can reflect on our past and plan problem solving for our future.
We daydream, we create ideas, and we stick with a train of thought that can lead us to create when bored. A study even found that participants who were asked to perform a boring task before being asked to solve a problem using creativity did a better job than those whose brains weren’t first prepared by boredom.

How do we do bored in the technology age?

Journalist Manoush Zomorodi launched a podcast in 2015 that challenged users to engage with technology responsibly and to put some bored back in their lives. It wasn’t a cold-turkey technology detox. Most of us have to use some form of technology for jobs or communication with others, and Zomorodi launched her challenge to help people learn to do it responsibly. She wanted participants to give themselves time during the day to free their minds from simply staring at a screen for no reason.
Her challenge led to a book that came out this year titled “Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self.” It gives even more detail on how to engage responsibly with our phones while giving our brains the sacred time they need to be utterly bored. Challenges include deleting our favorite apps from our phones or walking without a phone in our hands for an entire day. None of these challenges seem that hard until participants are forced to perform them.
That’s when many who signed up for the challenge on Manoush’s podcast realized they were addicted to their phones, though some had inklings of that before. It’s why they signed up in the first place. Most of us know we are missing time we used to have, time where our minds roamed and we created in order to cure our boredom. Our brains had room and time to develop ideas.
Children born into the smartphone age need to be trained to use technology responsibly because they will not remember having all that tech-free time. That longing we have to unplug will be foreign to kids who live electronically plugged in at all times.
Parents can set the example by using self-control and making technology work for their lives, and not take them over. In the process, they teach their kids the sacred practice of boredom.
Simple guidelines are a good start:

1 | Keep the phone out of the bedroom

Let those boring moments before sleep get the creative juices flowing and preserve rest. Phones in the bedroom are blamed for sleep problems.

2 | Go hands-free

When walking or driving, don’t hold a phone like it’s an extension of the body. Instead of focusing brain power on looking at the phone or wondering when it’s going to offer a notification, go hands-free and let the brain go into default mode.

3 | Set times for engagement

Those in the technology development industry have no problem admitting they are creating a product, and they want it to be as addictive as possible. Manoush believes that it’s so hard to be bored because our technology is designed to draw us in.
To combat this, set up rules and times for engagement. Don’t let tech designers decide how and when you use technology.

The long-term payoff

Creativity was cited as a leadership competency that CEOs look for in employees. Creative people may be hard to find if we now live in a society that doesn’t value boredom. We are also living in a society full of people who feel guilty about the unhealthy relationships they have with their phones.
We can change the course, though, and raise a generation that benefits from technology while still using their minds to create and problem solve without distractions. We can have the conveniences that smartphones have to offer without the addiction or the brain drain they cause. It’s as simple, and as difficult, as embracing boredom.

How Focused Attention Can Help Our Kids Battle Stress and Anxiety

With focused attention we can actually change the physical structure of our brain.

In the midst of my worst moments of anxiety and panic, I would focus incessantly on the physical sensation and fear that it was something serious and harmful. But, as I learned over time from several experts, my attention was directed on the wrong thing. What if I could shift my focus to something else – something more interesting and positive?

As it turns out, scientists have discovered over the past several years the incredible power we have within ourselves to transform our brain, and therefore, our thoughts. In “The Whole-Brain Child,” author Daniel J. Siegel M.D. explains how the brain physically changes in response to new experiences. “With intention and effort, we can acquire new mental skills. …when we direct our attention in a new way, we are actually creating a new experience that can change both the activity and ultimately the structure of the brain itself.”

How does this work? Our new thoughts activate neurons in our brain, a process referred to as neural firing. This leads to the production of proteins that create new connections between neurons. Therefore with focused attention we can actually change the physical structure of our brain.

This entire process is called neuroplasticity, a very exciting new realm of science that experts are trying to learn more about every day. Because our brain can change based on what we experience and focus on, we can alter the way we respond to and interact with the world around us. We can even reduce negative patterns and form new, healthier ones.

How we can change our brain

A collection of scientific evidence shows how focused attention can reshape our brain, as Daniel J. Siegel points out. Brain scans of violinists, for example, show dramatic growth and expansion in regions of the cortex that represent the left hand, which is the main finger used to play the violin strings. Another study showed that the hippocampus, which is critical for spatial memory, is enlarged in taxi drivers.

The magic of focused attention is that we can use it to help get over negative emotions like fear. We can redirect our attention towards something that relaxes us.

“By directing our attention, we can go from being influenced by factors within and around us to influencing them. When we become aware of the multitude of changing emotions and forces at work around us and within us, we can acknowledge them and even embrace them as parts of ourselves – but we don’t have to allow them to bully us or define us. We can shift our focus to other areas of awareness, so that we are no longer victims of forces seemingly beyond our control, but active participants in the process of deciding and affecting how we think and feel,” Siegel writes in his book.

Fortunately, we have many effective tools to use to achieve more focus and create deep connections in our brain. We can use mindfulness meditation, yoga, Qi gong, breathing techniques, guided imagery, cognitive behavioral therapy, and even brain exercises to develop our focused attention. All of these approaches involve directing our attention to a specific object, image, sound, mantra, or even our own breath.

In addition, Siegel developed a whole new technique called “Mindsight” to become mindful of all our mental activities, reorganize them, and then re-wire our brain. It goes a step further than mindfulness because it’s not just about being present in the moment, but about having the ability to monitor what’s going on and then to make a conscious change. This can have huge implications for those suffering from stress and anxiety.

Ways for kids to practice focused attention

Teaching our children this special trick of focused attention can help them in so many ways throughout their lives. By being aware of their emotions and learning how to shift their concentration, they will be empowered and feel in control of their thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. From an early age, we can start to introduce some fun ways for kids to build up their focused attention muscle.

  • Point out the positive. When faced with setbacks or unwelcome news, ask your children to find the positive in those situations. Paying attention to the positive rewires our brain for happiness and increases our awareness.
  • Play listening and conversation games. Because of all their technology use, our children are missing out on really important skills like listening and how to hold an in-person conversation. Play games like “whisper down the lane” or verbal memory so that your kids can improve their ability to listen carefully.
  • Creative arts. When our children are immersed in art – whether it be music, painting, writing, or drawing – they reach a state of flow, the sense of being completely engaged in an activity to the point of being in a near meditative state. When we are in a state of flow, we forgot about all our thoughts and lose track of time. Sign your kids up for an art class or music lesson, encourage them to spend time journaling, and bring out the karaoke machine to get them focused through creativity.
  • Mindful play. Choose toys and games that require your children’s full attention, such as spinning tops, dominoes, building a house of cards, brain teasers, or board games like Operation and Memory.
  • Breathing exercises. One of the most basic and commonly used meditation approaches is deep breathing, which has been found to help return our breathing back to normal and alleviate unsettling feelings of stress and anxiety. Practice breathing exercises with your children so they can learn how to do it on their own when they are stressed.
  • Yoga practice. Yoga offers so many incredible benefits to our children, including a time for inner focus and to connect to their bodies. Enjoy doing poses together as a family and showing your kids that they can tap into the skills learned during yoga throughout their day to address the pressures and stress they endure.
  • Enjoy nature scenes. Focusing on awe-inspiring scenes of nature – whether in person or through pictures and videos – can engage our children’s attention. Schedule some outdoor time, sit down and watch a nature show, or enjoy gorgeous photographs of our natural environment. Teach your children that just sitting quietly and staring at these images is relaxing and a helpful focus exercise.

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Does Your Kid Have Constant Heel Pain? It Could be Severs Disease

Sever’s disease, also known as Calcaneal apophysitis, is the most common cause of heel pain in children.

I felt like the world’s worst mom. My sixth-grade son had been complaining about pain in his heel since starting soccer a month earlier. We were new to the area. He was shy and not overly interested in athletics. I thought he was just trying to get out of it, so I pushed him on.

It took his tears and a coach’s concern to wake me up.

That was the beginning of his battle with Sever’s disease, a condition that took him out of sports and out of gym classes for more than three years. His case was acute, far worse than most. Many kids can continue with athletics after therapy and treatment, but not him. He had to wait for the disease to run its course.

Along with the physical pain, he fought ignorance and the social repercussions of invisible illness. A substitute gym teacher accused him of faking it. His peers were too young to understand what they could not see. He needlessly suffered through medical boots, casts, and expensive orthotics ordered by a doctor who went by the book instead of treating our son as an individual.

It didn’t have to be so hard. Like many parents, we’d never heard of Sever’s disease. If we had been more educated, his experience might’ve been less painful, physically and socially. The more we learned, the more surprised we were at how common Sever’s disease is and how little most parents and coaches know about treating it.

Sever’s disease, also known as Calcaneal apophysitis, is the most common cause of heel pain in children. It’s not really a disease. It is an overuse condition that usually occurs during the growth spurt of adolescence, about two years before the onset of puberty. For most kids, that’s between the ages of eight and 13 for girls and 10 and 15 for boys.

This is how it happens: Children who are still developing physically have plates made of bone surrounded by cartilage on their heels where their Achilles tendons attach. Picture that piece of bone as an island in a sea of cartilage. The pain occurs when the tendon repeatedly yanks on that growth plate, causing inflammation in the cartilage. The only permanent cure is time.

Eventually, the cartilage turns to bone and the pain is gone for good. The worst pain usually lasts only a few weeks or a few months, but flare-ups can happen any time during the 18 months to three years it takes the cartilage to solidify. Knowing the root cause is essential in deciding how to treat it for the long-term. We didn’t know that.

The most popular articles that popped up in my internet searches addressed only the acute stage, as did our doctor, a sports podiatrist who came highly recommended by friends. We had no reason to doubt the doctor or question his approach to treatment. So when he recommended casting, we did it. When he recommended a boot, we did it. When he encouraged our son to return to sports with a duller version of the pain, we agreed.

Each time it flared up, this doctor prescribed the boot, again and again and again. Nothing seemed to keep the flare-ups at bay. The doctor’s final solution was an expensive pair of orthotics that did nothing.

It was an exercise in frustration and it led to confusion for us, the school, our son’s coaches, and his peers. Our son was becoming depressed, especially after we hit the two-year mark and the pain with activity was no less intense. We found no real relief until we ditched our doctor and found an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Rochester, who was known for thinking out-of-the-box.

What we learned is that not all cases of Sever’s disease respond to the same approach. There are several potential causes of the condition. Overuse in sports, a tight Achilles tendon, and bio-mechanical problems such as flat feet and high arches are common culprits, according to The American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons. Most often, the condition will improve with medication, physical therapy, ice, and a reduction in exercise.

Many kids can continue in sports if they pamper their heels and tendons a bit with stretching, shoe inserts, ice massage, and a reduction in the intensity of their training when the pain returns or becomes more intense. Some never experience that pain again.

Our son was not a typical case. He is tall and his bones grew faster than his muscles, tendons, and ligaments, the doctor said. With such a short Achilles tendon, there wasn’t much he could do to prevent that constant yanking. No amount of casting, booting, medication, or icing was going to make the pain go away. He needed to accept that activities involving repetitive walking or running would be off the table or a while.

His new doctor tossed the orthotics and prescribed simple, comfortable heel lifts to shorten the tendon while he walked, relieving the stress on his growth plates. He recommended physical therapy and daily exercises to stretch the Achilles tendon. Even the slightest gain in length would relieve his pain during daily activities such as walking to classes, he assured our son. He had to keep them up at home long after therapy ended, stretching the tendon three to six times a day.

It was that simple.

The lifts, therapy, and stretches created a new bounce in our son’s step. He knew what to expect and he finally understood that he was playing a waiting game. He knew that a full recovery was around the corner and that he just needed to bide his time until then. So he began lifting weights and working on his abdominal muscles, preparing for the day he could return to gym and sports.

In tenth grade, he joined the cross-country team again. This time, he finished the season pain-free.

Why Turning Your Clocks Back Gives Your Brain A Boost

Getting that spark of natural light first thing in the morning can bring several welcome benefits to our body and mind this time of year.

Are you ready to fall back? It’s that time of year when it gets harder to drag yourself out of bed in the morning because it is so dark outside. Fortunately, daylight savings time ends on the first Sunday in November when clocks are moved back an hour at 2 a.m. for most of the United States (with the exception of Hawaii and Arizona). This clock shift gives us a brighter morning and helps get us moving during the long, cold, dark winter months soon upon us. Getting that spark of natural light first thing in the morning can bring several welcome benefits to our body and mind this time of year.

Keeps Body’s Rhythm On Track

Sunlight influences our natural daily cycle called the circadian rhythm that controls our biological, mental, and behavioral activities over a 24-hour period. Every living thing relies on circadian rhythms to function, and the amount of light and darkness we are exposed to on a daily basis can impact our lives. Exposure to light is so important because it triggers the genes that control our internal clocks, turning them either on or off. Circadian rhythms direct our sleep-wake cycles, hormone releases, body temperature, and other important bodily functions. When our circadian rhythm is disrupted, we can experience a host of health issues like sleep disorders, obesity, diabetes, depression, bipolar disorder, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Improves Sleep

Believe it or not, being exposed to more natural light during the day can actually help you sleep more soundly at night. The light helps to regulate your biological clock and keep it on track and by impacting how much melatonin your brain produces. Melatonin is the chemical that tells our brain when it is time to sleep. When it gets dark, you start producing melatonin so you are ready to sleep in about two hours. Exposure to light throughout the day, particularly in the early morning for at least a half an hour, can help you sleep better at night.

Increases Productivity

Numerous studies have found that exposure to natural light can improve our productivity at both work and in the classroom. One frequently cited study assessed performance data of 21,000 students from three elementary school districts and found a link between higher test scores and daylight in classrooms. Researchers believe this was due to better visibility, mood, alertness, and behavior of the children in classrooms with more natural light. 

In addition, a study by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology found that employees working in natural light experienced higher levels of energy than those working under artificial light.

Enhances Mood

Sunlight is a also natural mood enhancer. Exposure to sunlight increases the brain’s release of a hormone called serotonin, which is associated with making us feel happier and calmer. The light-induced effects of serotonin are triggered by sunlight that goes through our eye. Sunlight signals special areas in the retina, which triggers the release of serotonin. Without enough sunlight exposure, our serotonin levels can dip, causing us to feel gloomy or even depressed. It also makes people more susceptible to suffering from SAD during the winter months. Of course, spending time outside in direct sunlight comes with a whole host of risks like sun damage, so be sure to wear your sun protection. However, you can still reap the benefits even from enjoying the light from indoors. In addition, the classroom studies found that the natural light improved the mood of their students, keeping them calm and improving their alertness and attention spans.

Enjoy this burst of sunlight in the morning while it lasts, because in the spring we have to start all over when we reset our clocks for Daylight Saving Time again and lose an hour of sleep. 

Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby's Plagiocephaly Helmet

Here’s a list of things to expect if you, too, find yourself in the position of being prescribed a plagiocephaly helmet for your bundle of joy.

We knew our son’s head shape was “not quite right” when he was born. He was born at 35 weeks, and he had a moment of performance anxiety during the birth, which resulted in him getting stuck.
That was fun.
The combination of his early arrival (and even softer head than a full-term newborn) and his period of “stuckness” resulted in him being born with a flat head, or if you want to be fancy about it, “Plagiocephaly.” We didn’t know it at the time, but he was also born with “Torticollis” which is a stiff neck muscle. It meant he could only turn his head to one side.
Because we are avid rule abiders in this house, we followed all the safe sleeping guidelines. We put bubs to bed on his back for every sleep and nap. So slowly over the first weeks of his life, his soft little head pressing down on his firm little mattress got progressively flatter and flatter – not only on the back, but on the one side that his head naturally turned to. It now turned this way not only because of his stiff neck (we’d started doing stretches, so that was improving), but also then because of the flat spot. Think of it as cutting a segment out of an orange – the orange is always going to roll towards the flat surface and stay there.
I am a Googler (aren’t all of us new parents?), so I was pretty reassured when I saw that flat spots were pretty common and that “Plagiocephaly” is the most common craniofacial problem today (partly due to the safe sleeping guidelines – though it is infinitely better to have a baby with a flat head than one who can’t breathe, so I am definitely not advocating going against the guidelines). When I started attending a community “Mother’s Group” they covered Plagiocephaly. This was also reassuring, as a few other mums in the group raised their hands with similar concerns to me. So, I was feeling pretty good until the midwife caught side of the side of my son’s head while we were having tea and biscuits after the meeting and said, “that’s actually a really remarkable case,” turning his head this way and that. Remarkable, really? I appreciated her candor, but I definitely started worrying again then.
She gave me a card of an Orthopedist who could assess my son and perhaps prescribe a “Plagiocephaly Helmet.” The helmet’s purpose is to alleviate pressure from the flat spots, allowing the skull to grow into the spaces provided inside the helmet – they make a cast of your baby’s head first, so the spaces in the helmet match the flat spots in your baby’s head. She said she wasn’t supposed to give out the contact information, because some doctors in our area did not agree with the helmets and thought they were a waste of time and money (they thought the problem would fix itself with time). I’ll never know, because my anxious personality propelled me towards this Orthopedist’s office as fast as my legs could take me (not that fast actually, as I was also dragging along a four-month-old).
The Orthopedist certainly did prescribe a helmet. He made the cast right there during the first appointment, and I’ve made a list of things to expect if you, too, find yourself in the position of being prescribed one for your bundle of joy.

1 | They are not super cheap, considering they are mostly foam

Our helmet set us back $500. I guess this is why some doctors will advise against them if they do feel the problem will correct itself in time. I felt it was worth it for us, for the peace of mind of knowing we were doing everything we could at the time. Also, this cost included all follow-up appointments and adjustments to the helmet every month (as his head changed shape) so it is actually pretty reasonable when you look at it like that.

2 | It is not about cosmetics

You may think it is a little over the top for me to have gotten so worked up about the fact that my baby would have a bit of a flat head. My main concerns were not cosmetic (though of course I don’t want him to look funny!) – I was thinking about stuff like him not being able to wear glasses comfortably (both hubby and I do, so it is pretty likely he will need them), or even sunglasses. Or not being able to wear safety helmets or hard hats without having specially made ones. This may not be an issue if the flat spot was just on the back, but because his head was asymmetrical (the flatness was on the back and one side) it would have been.

3 | They are not as uncomfortable as they look

I have to go by observation on this one, because my four-month-old didn’t actually turn around to me and say “hey, this isn’t so bad.” He wore his helmet 23 hours a day. It was only off to clean it and to give him a bath. He slept in it, and his sleep did not change or regress. He was a happy, giggly baby, and didn’t really even seem to have a major adjustment period to it. It was really, truly, so fine. And when he got it off, he adjusted well to that too.

4 | The earlier the better

The earlier the helmet is on, the shorter time period it needs to be on and the more effective it is. My son was in his helmet from four months old until about eight months old. This is around the earliest it can go on. Helmets are believed to work best between approximately the ages of five months and eight months. There was another young boy who came to the office who had gotten his helmet on much later, and it was on for ages longer and didn’t end up working as well. This is apparently to do with how fast our son’s skull bones fuse together and the head being more malleable at an earlier age.

5 | You may get some looks

Everywhere I went during the months of the helmet, I felt like I was being stared at. I tried to give people the benefit of the doubt, and assume they were staring because it looks so damn cute (it really does). They were also probably wondering what it was for, as the helmets aren’t super common where I live. Strangers were nice to me – they offered to let me go first in queues, asked how I was doing, or asked to carry things for me.
Sometimes people would ask what was “wrong” with my son. My usual answer was that “it’s just on to reshape his wonky head.” I would play it cool, but sometimes my feelings were quite hurt when they said that. Some people told me that they thought my son had a mental disability, or a developmental disorder and it was on for protection (for head banging). I’ll admit, it made me feel a bit self-conscious.

6 | You do miss the unrestricted snuggles and nuzzling against your baby’s head

This was the main thing I was excited for when I learned he could take his helmet off – the head nuzzles! Until then, we did lots of head nuzzling at bath-time, and at other times we snuggled him through the sometimes uncomfortable feeling of a hard block of foam on your face. He still felt cozy, warm, and snuggly, I’m sure.  It was just us who were a tad more uncomfortable! Worth it!

7 | If you don’t clean the helmet every day, it will smell

All you have to do is wipe it down using rubbing alcohol and a cotton wool ball once a day (before bath time, so it has that half an hour to dry before he gets back into it). Leave it for a day and suffer the stench!

8 | You will get creative with tummy time

Even though the helmet is on, which relieves the pressure off the flat spots, we are still told to pay attention to positioning. So, stretches to help move his heads both ways, repositioning his  head on their mattresses, and tummy time – lots of tummy time! If the child doesn’t like it (ours didn’t at first) this can be a challenge. We had to think of lots of ways to make it fun – think plastic sandwich bags filled with paint for him to squish, mirrors, music, blow up balls, and lying down with him making funny faces. It is actually quite fun to think of ways to extend the time they spend on their belly. And you get to lie down for a minute too!

9 | You will miss it when it’s gone – a bit

This is similar to when you see someone you are close to without their glasses on. It just doesn’t look like “them” for a while, as you get used to its absence. Sure, we saw the “real him” every night at bath time, but he always looked just a little bit naked (that’s a bad example because he was in the bath, but you get the idea). It probably took a good two weeks for us to not feel like something was “missing.”

10 | It isn’t so bad

It’s just a few months, which pass by in the blink of an eye in infancy. It’s a bit of a cost, but that includes everything. The babies aren’t affected by it physically or emotionally, and it really doesn’t affect their mood or sleep or anything (at least in our experience, and in talking to other helmet parents).
The best part: It worked! My son now has a perfectly asymmetrical, round head. He is none the worse for wear.

Why Your Response to Your Baby's Cries Are Hardwired

A new study found that infant cries activate certain brain regions connected with movement and speech in mothers.

Few things tear up my nerves as much as hearing my baby cry in the car. It doesn’t seem to matter if my infant is fed, freshly diapered, and otherwise content – the second I strap him into his car seat, he falls apart, and sometimes I do, too, because what’s worse than hearing your baby wail but not being able to stop it? After failed attempts to soothe him from the front seat, I end up white-knuckling the steering wheel, with my heart racing fast and my mind made up that I’m never leaving the house again. It goes against every instinct I have not to pick up my poor baby, but of course I can’t hold him in the car (which is why he’s crying in the first place).
Turns out there’s a valid reason for my car-ride stress. In a new study from NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), researchers found that infant cries activate certain brain regions connected with movement and speech in mothers. The study team used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to conduct behavioral and brain-imaging studies on a group of 684 new mothers in the following 11 countries: Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Cameroon, France, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, South Korea, and the United States. In the study:

“…Researchers observed and recorded one hour of interaction between the mothers and their 5-month-old babies at home. The team analyzed whether mothers responded to their baby’s cries by showing affection, distracting, nurturing (like feeding or diapering), picking up and holding, or talking. Regardless of which country they came from, mothers were likely to pick up and hold or talk to their crying infant.”

Moreover, the team discovered through fMRI studies of other groups of women that hearing infant cries activated similar brain regions in both new and experienced mothers. The crying stimulated their supplementary motor area, linked to the intention to move and speak; the inferior frontal regions, related to the production of speech; and the superior temporal regions, associated with sound processing.
According to these findings, my urgent impulse to jump in the backseat of the car, scoop up my baby, and calm him with kisses is a hard-wired response (but also, obviously, a terrible idea). When we’re not in the car, however, this need to console my baby, driven by parts of my brain related to movement and speech, is beneficial, since babies need attentive caregivers for healthy development. This study could thus help professionals better understand, identify, and help people at risk of being inattentive or harmful caregivers to young children.
The consistency of behavior and underlying brain activity in the study sample made up of women from all over the world suggests that mothers have an intrinsic response to their babies’ crying. So I guess I can’t blame the anxiety it causes me (solely) on my high-strung nature, or the intense child-centric society in which I live. I suppose I also can’t blame my husband for putting headphones on in the car when the crying gets to be too much, because what this study has also done is expand upon previous research showing how the brains of males and females respond differently to infant crying.
While I’ll continue to avoid any nonessential car rides with my little man until he grows out of this phase (which he will, right?!), it helps to have a better sense of why it’s so distressing and to comprehend on a cognitive level what’s happening when I listen to him cry.
Now, if only I could find a study that reveals the trick to making babies love (or at least tolerate) the dreaded car seat.

I Don’t Regret My Birth Plan: Notes From the Forever C-Section Mom

We all have the ideal plans for how we’re going to raise our kids and how they will turn out. Then life happens.

The pregnant woman sitting next to me at the park talks jubilantly about her upcoming birth and the way she hopes her labor plays out. I smile and nod, feeling excited on her behalf. I have four children, and the birthing days are solidly behind me.
“Did you write a birth plan?” she asks me.
“Yep. Every time.”
“What happened?”
I hesitate, always hating the answer. “I had three C-sections.”
I am the ultimate cliché, the woman who detailed her plans for birth, going slightly over the recommended limit of one page for a birth plan. My husband and I took a birthing class and watched “The Business of Being Born”, taking notes for later reference. I dreamt of unmedicated birth, immediate skin-to-skin contact, and going home quickly after labor.
Then, for three separate reasons – breech baby, three-weeks-overdue baby with no signs of labor, identical twins with TAPS – I was taken to a sterile OR to be sliced open, my children removed from my body that was numb from the waist down. I baked under the heat of the OR lamp while still shivering and wondered what I had done wrong. I was handed my babies before I promptly puked. Still, I attempted to cradle them in shaking arms, my body wrecked from all the medication.
It wasn’t until I needed a procedure to obtain a sample of my endometrial lining that l learned I have a defective cervix, one that simply will not dilate. It was a painful discovery, both in a physical and emotional way, but I chuckled maniacally thinking of my still-saved birth plan stored on my computer.
How the hell was this little discovery supposed to make me feel?
A friend said I should be grateful. In countries where access to C-sections isn’t promised, I would have likely been dead, an obstructed labor taking my first daughter as well. I tried on gratefulness and truly did feel thankful that all of my births ended well. However, I still felt like a fool, a woman who felt humiliated by my own body and its betrayal of me.
I’ve had a year to absorb the defective cervix news, and in that time, my feelings have changed. Today, my decision to write birth plans makes me proud. I’m glad I did it, that I trotted into my doctor’s office each time with my wishes spelled out in ink. I’m glad I was educated about childbirth, that I went from knowing nothing about having a baby to researching and planning for months for the birth I felt was right for me.
It was my first step towards mindful parenting, the process of weighing all my options and settling on what I believed was the ideal outcome for our family. Of course, the ideal didn’t pan out, but having a plan in the first place gave me a jump-off point to work from. What could we salvage from the plan? How could we adjust? What was best for everyone when the circumstances shifted?
This lesson, it turns out, is one that every parent will have to learn at some point. We all have the ideal plans for how we’re going to raise our kids and how they will turn out. Then life happens. We regroup. We save what we can. We find ways to be thankful along the way and fully grasp that none of this was ever truly in our control. We keep trying.
I also gained experience in standing up for what I believe is best for my kids. When I planned to VBAC with my son, I received a variety of responses. People laughed at me. They expressed shock that I wasn’t signing up for another C-section without a fight. Many questioned if VBACs were even a thing and if I was endangering my son by trying.
I held my ground.
I now do this regularly when people question my decisions to homeschool, to not dress our twins in the same outfits, or to try gentle discipline instead of spanking. I didn’t successfully VBAC, but I knew it was the chance I wanted my son to have, so I tried to give it to him. I wouldn’t take that back.
Writing a birth plan prepared me for looking ahead and making conscious choices. It taught me that I don’t have to follow the crowd or someone else’s way of doing things. I can chart my own course and do everything possible to navigate the experience and land where I want.
I can also live through it when life inevitably has other plans.

How to Test Your Kids’ Vision Before They Can Read

You might be wondering how your three-year-old could possibly sit still for an eye exam, let alone read one. Here’s how.

The US Preventive Services Task Force recently recommended vision screening for all children between the ages of three and five.
If you’ve logged a good amount of time trying to distinguish “C” from “O,” you might be wondering how your three-year-old could possibly sit still for an eye exam, let alone read one.
Childhood vision screening generally takes place in a pediatrician’s office. Here’s what your child’s pediatrician is looking for and what you can expect during the visit.

What your child’s pediatrician is looking for

Unlike your eye exams, which may include testing for glasses, your child’s vision screenings are generally looking for warning signs of future vision problems.
Your child’s pediatrician is specifically screening for evidence of amblyopia, which occurs when one eye is unable to communicate properly with the brain. The risk of amblyopia is low: according to the USPSTF, between one and six percent of kids under age six will have either amblyopia of a risk factor for amblyopia.
In its review, the USPSTF found there to be small but permanent improvements to vision in three- to five-year-olds when amblyopia is identified and treated. Because the tests for amblyopia and its risk factors are non-invasive, the USPSTF has determined that the benefits of vision screening outweigh any harms.

What to expect during the visit

A pediatrician may use many different tools to examine your child’s eye structure, coordination, and acuity. The following three tests are among the most common.

Tool 1: Red Reflex

What it measures: Your child has likely had a red reflex test before, as many kids have them before two months of age. The test helps identify any physical abnormalities in the back of the eye, ranging from cataracts to retinoblastoma.
The red reflex test is named after the color healthy eyes give off when viewed through an ophthalmoscope from about one foot away. That red color is easier to see in the dark, which is why your pediatrician may turn the lights off for this test.
The phenomenon is the same as the “red eye” you try to edit out of photographs. In fact, photographs featuring a single red eye have been used to identify serious eye conditions.

Tool 2: Cover/Uncover Test

What it measures: You’ve probably seen your child’s pediatrician do a fix and follow test, in which your child is instructed to look at the pediatrician’s finger and follow it around the room. That test examined how well your child’s eyes function together.
The cover/uncover test works a similar way. Your child will be asked to focus on an object in the distance, then the pediatrician will cover one of your child’s eyes. While your child is still looking at the object, the tester will uncover the eye and watch for movement.
The test is observing for strabismus (incorrectly aligned eyes), which is one risk factor for amblyopia.

Tool 3: Lea Symbols Chart

What it measures: You may have not spent a lot of time thinking about how the letters at your optometrist office get made. They are optotypes, specially designed tools for testing vision. The letters in an optotype are designed to all blur equally under the same conditions, which give examiners a better understanding of a patient’s visual acuity.
Pre-readers get their own special optotypes. Instead of letters, they’ll likely have four symbols: a square, a circle, a house, and an apple. Those symbols, called the Lea Symbols, have been shown to get more cooperation from kids than other eye tests.
The Lea Symbols test works much like the eye charts you see (or don’t see!) at your optometrist. The test measures kids’ visual acuity, and can determine whether or not your child may need glasses.

How to Encourage Failure With a Cheap At-Home Science Lab

Your kids don’t have to have their own Menlo Park to practice in. You can set up their first scientific failures with just one trip to a big box store.

You thought it would be a parenting moment worthy of Instagram Stories. But after you and your kids bought all the ingredients and mixed them together … nothing.
You didn’t do anything wrong. You’re just not done with your experiment yet.
One of the problems of Pinnable science project “recipes” is that parents and kids have all forgotten that experiments take time and careful repetition. Although there’s no formal record of how many attempts Edison needed to perfect a commercially-viable light bulb, there are plenty of false quotes attributed to him, nearly all of which emphasize the following: every new attempt of an experiment shouldn’t be viewed as a failure, but as one step in the long process of discovery.
Your kids don’t have to have their own Menlo Park to practice in. You can help set up their first scientific failures with just one trip to your preferred big box store. A well-stocked workbench will give you sufficiently large amounts of supplies so that you can test variants of each activity – what explodes, what flops, and what truly surprises you.

Equipping your lab

All conscientious scientists need a clean and organized workspace, so you’ll want to stock up on paper towels and bleach wipes. If you prefer an easier post-experiment clean-up, you may also want to buy disposable plastic cups and plates to use as your lab’s “glassware.”
The baking aisle offers lots of cheap ingredients for experiments, including the classic baking soda and vinegar. But there’s plenty to find in the produce, cleaning, and pharmacy sections, too. Scroll to the bottom for a good starter list.
Many science projects are masquerading as “experiments”: they tell you how much of each ingredient to use and then walk you through how to use them. But to have a true experiment, you need variables. That’s why you’ll only find rough proportions below. It’s your job to experiment and find which amount works best.

1 | Sandwich bombs

Requires:

  • baking soda
  • white vinegar
  • plastic snack bag
  • plastic sandwich bag

Forget volcanos. These sandwich bombs will give your kids a little more agency in designing and testing their own experiments. Pour baking soda into the sandwich bag and leave open. Pour vinegar into the snack bag and seal to close. Place the sealed snack bag inside the sandwich bag and close the sandwich bag. Then hit the snack bag to pop it open. As the baking soda and vinegar mix, the sandwich bag will begin to expand.

Variables

Change the amount of baking soda and/or vinegar to develop your best sandwich bomb recipe. You can also experiment with the size of the bags, using gallon and sandwich bags to make bigger sandwich bombs.

2 | Elephant toothpaste

Requires:

  • an empty plastic bottle
  • hydrogen peroxide
  • liquid dish soap
  • a small paper cup
  • warm water
  • yeast

In the empty plastic bottle, mix the hydrogen peroxide and liquid dish soap. In the small paper cup, mix the warm water and yeast. The next part is a bit easier to do if you have a funnel, but if not you can always pinch your small paper cup to form a spout. Add the yeast solution to the plastic bottle and stand back!

Variables

Change the amount of yeast, soap, and hydrogen peroxide to see what combination will give you the foamiest results. The hydrogen peroxide you can buy at big box stores is likely to be 3 percent, but if you stop at a beauty store you may be able to find 6 percent. Check out Science Bob to see what happens if you get the lab-quality stuff.

3 | Expanding soap

Requires:

  • bars of soap
  • paper or plastic plates

This is the simplest experiment on the list. Unwrap a bar of soap, put it on a plate, put the plate in the microwave, turn on the microwave, and see what happens!

Variables

Although the experiment is simple, it offers a valuable lesson about trusting what you read on the internet. If you google around for this one, you’ll see that Ivory soap is the only acceptable bar for this experiment. A budding young scientist might buy every other brand and publish a thorough review debunking those claims.

4 | Bouncy egg

Requires:

  • egg
  • vinegar
  • mason jar

This experiment is a great lesson in patience, because it takes seconds to set up but days to complete. Add the egg to a mason jar and pour in enough vinegar to cover it. Seal the jar and leave it on the counter. Check in every day to see what happens. After a few days, you’ll note that the egg has increased in size and “lost” its shell (which has been dissolved by the vinegar).

Variables

Make multiple eggs and leave some to sit longer than others. Which bouncy eggs are the hardest to explode? Also add food colorings to the vinegar to change the color of the bouncy eggs. If you’re buying eggs in bulk-store volume, consider hard boiling some and doing this egg-in-a-bottle experiment. Unlike the bouncy eggs, these will still be safe to eat … if you can get them out of the bottle.

5 | Crystals

Requires:

  • pipe cleaner
  • string
  • chopstick
  • mason jar
  • boiling water
  • borax

Kitchen-grown crystals are all over Pinterest, and for good reason: they’re awesome. But they’re also a frequent subject of science fails, because they require even more patience than vinegar eggs. Use your pipe cleaners to create a nest shape. Tie one end of the string around your pipe cleaner nest and the other end around a chopstick. Pour boiling hot water into a heat-safe container. Mix in borax until you can’t dissolve any more without leftover borax sitting at the bottom of the container. Place the chopstick over the container and leave to sit for a while. Some crystals may grow overnight. Others may take over a week. And sometimes no crystals will grow, because your solution isn’t saturated enough.

Variables

Many crystal recipes make it seem as though you need a particular ingredient, but all you need is any household product with a crystalline structure. Your science lab is equipped with crystals already. Many salts (epsom salts, plain old table salt, baking soda, even driveway salt) all have crystalline structures, as does sugar. Experiment by dissolving different salts and sugars in water and trying to grow crystals. Just make sure they’re carefully labeled so you know which ones you can eat (rock candy!). You can also experiment with what to grow the crystals on. Different materials (a hair tie, a piece of yarn, a metal washer, eggshells) will grow crystals at different rates.

6 | Lava lamp

Requires:

  • bottle or vase
  • oil
  • water
  • Alka-Seltzer

The best reason to equip your workbench using a big box membership is that you’ll need large quantities of oil. For this experiment, get a empty bottle or vase and fill it three-quarters of the way full with whatever oil you’ve bought in bulk. Top off the bottle with water. Add Alka-Seltzer and see your lava lamp in action.

Variables

Play around with the proportions of oil, water, and Alka-Seltzer to see which yields the most mesmerizing lava lamp. If you’re not sure what else to do with all that bulk oil, check out these citrus candles.

7 | Invisible Ink

Requires:

  • water
  • baking soda
  • paint brush or cotton swab
  • grape juice

Mix baking soda and water. Use a paintbrush or cotton-swab to write a message and allow to dry. Paint the paper with the grape juice to reveal the message.

Variables

Try painting your invisible message with lemon juice instead of baking soda and see how the grape juice interacts with it. Why is the lemon juice message a different color from the baking soda message? To answer that, check out one last experiment.

8 | pH Tester

Requires:

  • all of your science lab supplies
  • purple cabbage

If you can find a purple cabbage at your favorite big box store, you’re in luck! The cabbage can work as a pH tester. Mix a few cabbage leaves and water in a blender. Strain out the cabbage pulp so that you have a purple liquid. Pour the liquid into small clear cups. Try adding lemon juice to one cup and baking soda to another. Then test the various supplies in your home science lab to see what happens.

Shopping list

The following list will allow you to complete all of the above experiments:

  • Lemons
  • Eggs
  • Purple cabbage
  • White vinegar
  • Canola oil
  • Active dry yeast
  • Baking soda
  • Grape juice
  • Liquid dish soap
  • Borax
  • Sealable plastic bags
  • snack size sealable plastic bags
  • sandwich size paper cups
  • bathroom size plastic drinking cups
  • Plastic plates
  • Bars of soap
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Alka-seltzer

Food coloring is often added to experiments to make it easier to see. Some big box stores don’t sell food coloring, but don’t let that stop you! Many sell products that can act as stains, such as onions, saffron, turmeric, as well as berries and juices that you can use to create your own dyes.

The Art of Essentialism: How to Do Better by Doing Less

Embrace the idea of “less but better” and accept trade-offs as an inherent part of life.

When I left my office job about a year ago to spend more time with my three children, I thought I’d have more time. Time to start a blog, read, write, learn, exercise, practice mindfulness, and do a lot more. Clearly, I was being too ambitious.
And soon enough I became so frazzled and overwhelmed by it all that I realized I was being busy but not productive at all. I’m sure I’m not alone in trying to pack our schedules to the brim, doing everything we think we should be doing (or want to be doing) to improve our lives. But we just have to come to terms with the fact that we can’t do it all. And I don’t know about you, but when my house is full of things that never get used (i.e. clutter) or schedules that are filled with tasks that I cannot complete, I don’t feel any better for it. Quite the opposite, in fact.
So, in the attempt to look for ways to identify my priorities and do things more efficiently, I picked up a copy of “Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit of Less,” by Greg McKeown. Seeing that he coaches companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, Twitter, and LinkedIn, I’ll take any advice he might have!
The first tip is I picked up from this fantastic book is that we should learn to focus on what is absolutely essential to our happiness and well-being. When we do things we “have to do,” rather than things we “choose to do,” we’re surrendering our power to choose. And essentially we give this power to others. McKeown calls this “learned helplessness.” Instead, embrace the idea of “less but better” and accept trade-offs as an inherent part of life. To do this, we need to adopt the principle of essentialism, which focuses on four main points.
1| Do less, but do it better. Identify the things you need to cut out, and do what’s left at a higher standard. Be ruthless in cutting away things that aren’t essential.
2 | Reject the notion that we should accomplish everything. We just can’t do everything. So choose what matters most to you and choose to excel in those specific directions.
3 | Question yourself and update your plans accordingly. Life, people and circumstances change, so keep asking yourself: is this worth my time? Or should I invest my time and energy into a more productive area?
4 | Take action. Nothing changes if we don’t take action. But how exactly do we implement these principles?

Escape

Giving yourself space to escape will help you pick out the vital from the trivial. With modern technologies giving us instant and constant access to entertainment and communication, we’re never bored. But carving out regular periods of time to do nothing can give us an opportunity to think clearly about what needs to be done. Think about your life – what options, problems, or challenges you face, and assess what’s vital and what isn’t. According to McKeown, people like Newton and Einstein used to do this, and many of today’s most successful CEOs do the same. Are we really too busy to do this too?

Keep a journal and focus on the big picture

We get so lost in the small, day-to-day tasks that sometimes we lose track of the reason we are doing certain things in the first place. In order to maintain focus on what’s important, essentialism teaches us to always concentrate on the bigger picture. And one way to do this is to keep a journal. McKeown suggests to force yourself to write as little as possible though. This way you can think through everything you’ve done and sift out only what you consider essential. And when you read it back, you will see the big picture emerge.

Play

Playing is a vital tool for inspiration. It gets our creative juices flowing, helps us develop new connections between ideas that we would have never otherwise considered, it’s a great antidote to stress, and it helps us prioritize and analyze tasks. Unfortunately, some of us (me included) tend to see play as trivial and unproductive. Because it’s pure entertainment, we may feel it’s as a waste of time. But if companies like Twitter, Pixar, and Google, for example, promote play based on the belief that a playful employee is an inspired and productive one, maybe we should take a leaf out of their book too?

Rest and sleep

It sounds counterproductive, doesn’t it? With so much to do and not enough hours in the day, are we really saying that we should sleep more? Indeed. Sleep increases your ability to think, connect ideas, and maximize your productivity during your waking hours. One hour of sleep actually results in several more hours of higher productivity the following day. Studies have shown that going 24 hours without sleep, or getting a weekly average of just four to five hours of sleep per night causes a cognitive impairment equivalent to what you would have with zero point one percent blood alcohol level. That’s enough to get your driver’s license suspended!

Learn to say no

Say no to non-essential tasks. Unfortunately, we are so socially programmed to please others that when other people are involved in our decision-making, we fear saying no. We feel awkward and pressured not to disappoint everyone we care about, fearful that we may damage our relationships. So separate your decisions from the relationship. Know it’s not personal and try and remember that failing to say not to the things which aren’t vital can lead you to miss out on the opportunities that truly are.

Let go of what no longer serves you

Do you ever find yourself doing something that you know is a waste of effort simply because at some point you committed to it? McKeown calls this the sunk-cost-bias – the tendency to continue investing money, time, effort, and energy into something we already know is unlikely to succeed. You can easily avoid this trap by developing the courage to admit your errors and mistakes and to let them go. If it’s clear that something isn’t going to work out, don’t be afraid to cut your losses and abandon ship.

Believe in small wins

Creating success is all about building upon your previous progress with small, incremental steps. Small wins create momentum, which gives you the confidence to further succeed. And they allow you to stay on track by giving you the opportunity to check whether you are heading in the right direction. While it might be frustrating to take small steps, their consequences can be far-reaching.

Create a routine

No matter what your goals are, ensure you stick with them by designing a routine. Routines create a habit, thus making difficult things become easier over time. Create a routine that aligns with your goals, and you’ll be on to a winner.
So, are you ready to lead a more productive and fulfilling life by focusing on your goals and well-being and letting go of the rest? Do you have any more tips to share? Leave tips or suggestions in the comments section below.