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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8 Ways to Get Your Kids to Eat More Than Just Cheese Puffs

In my efforts to get my kids to eat right, I’ve failed more times than I’ve succeeded, but I have succeeded on occasion.

Interested in having your kids eat nutritious food that hasn’t been processed and pummelled into a dinosaur or star shape? It’s tricky, in this age of happy meals and cookie-flavored cereal, to coax our children into eating actual food.
In my efforts to get my kids to eat right, I’ve failed more times than I’ve succeeded, but I have succeeded on occasion. Below are a few proven methods that have actually worked. I hope that you, too, are blessed with a child who sometimes consumes food that doesn’t fall into the cheese puff family.

1 | Ban “candy”

No, I don’t mean ban actual candy. What with Halloween and birthday party bags and in-laws, removing all traces of candy from your home is impossible. But you can avoid the word “candy.”
The reason this is so important is because once your child is thinking about manufactured sugar, it’s tough to get them to accede to eating a food that only contains naturally occurring sugars (most of them do!). So take care around these two syllables. It’s a word that must never be spoken, kind of like Voldemort.

2 | Feign apathy

Sure. You really want your kids to eat the chicken and sweet potatoes you have lovingly prepared for them. Your heart breaks when they look at the plate and a stricken expression clouds over their features, as if a live goldfish had been placed in front of them.
But here’s the thing about getting your kids to eat well – the more you need for them to eat something, the less likely they are to eat it. It’s a control thing, and since children own their mouths, they will always win this very unhealthy power game.

3 | Obscure the goodness

This one only works if you have time to cook and bake, but hiding spinach in a batch of brownies really does work, as does sneaking carrots into a smoothie and disguising zucchini as a type of muffin.
Kudos to whoever thought of adding a cup of spinach to a cake batter. Also, who on earth thought of adding spinach to batter?

4 | Condiments!

Sauces and dips are a parent’s best friend. Solitary carrot sticks look as sad as they sound. But the same exact thing next to a bowl of hummus? Magic! That’s because anything that’s messy will appeal to your kid. You probably already deduced that by now, because look at the state of your house.

5 | Negotiate at your peril

“If you eat three more cucumber slices, I will let you drive the Lamborghini” is something you should not say under any circumstances, and this isn’t just because you have never owned an luxury Italian sports car.
Bargaining with kids – while tempting – usually backfires. You know this. We all know this. The fact that we all still negotiate with our children sometimes is concrete proof that parenthood addles the brain.

6 | Reimagine pasta

My kids, and most kids, do like some healthy foods. Pasta is one of them. But because my kids enjoy it, I sometimes forget what a good, wholesome food this is. We may never own a Lamborghini, but we’ll always have this awesome Italian export.

7 | Sous chef junior

To let your child help you in the kitchen, or not to let your child help you in the kitchen – that is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler to allow small people to feel as if they are contributing to the housework, or better to just get it done efficiently and neatly while they’re watching “Paw Patrol”.
Honestly, I don’t have the answer to this age-old question, but most kids are more likely to eat something when they’ve had a hand in cooking it. You know what they say: The course of true parenthood is completely chaotic.

8 | The DIY meal

Whether it’s tacos or pitas, kids like to put things in other things. That’s why you once found 23 pennies inside your favorite pair of wedge pumps. Assembling their own meals is fun for kids and, like with the condiments, they will make a mess. Making peace with mess is just part of parenthood. Just like dealing with picky eaters!

Who Has Time to Write?

If you’re the kind of person who needs intellectual stimulation in order to feel satisfied, don’t buy into the myth of “supermom.”

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
When my youngest daughter was a baby, just a few years ago, I used to bundle her and her two-year-old sister up in snowsuits and take them to a Friday morning coffee klatsch called “Globally Minded Moms.” The group of us, all mothers with young children, would watch a TED talk or read an article in preparation for a discussion about something – anything, preferably about something other than parenting. I was at one of these meetings one morning when the topic of writing and motherhood came up in connection to an online lecture we had watched. I mentioned a story I’d been working on when a someone who didn’t usually come to our meetings interrupted me to say, “Who has time to write? I don’t even have time to fold my kids’ laundry!” She went on to tell us about a new app she had bought which kept all of her housekeeping duties organized. It even reminded her to change the tea towels in the kitchen, since, she assured us, this absolutely needed to be done every day, and did we know how many germs were on those things?
Who has time to write? The accusation in that question stung, even if unintentional. How is it possible to defend our writing time when, even when the babies are sleeping, there is always laundry to be folded, tea towels to be changed? And if you slack off a little, even for a day, well, just think of the germs! Your whole family could get salmonella poisoning.
And then there’s that other question lurking there, barely veiled beneath the one asked aloud: how can you be so selfish?
I will admit, quietly, usually muttering to myself while doing the dishes, to being artistically ambitious, although I don’t have much to show for it. Even modest ambition can be seen as a character flaw in women who are also mothers, because the expectation for mothers is selflessness. I have a hard time with that word, selfless. Self-less-ness, the state of being without a self. And yet I feel a pressure coming from absolutely everywhere – from people I love and respect who refer to it as “babysitting” when a father cares for his own children, to my own inner dialogue, critiquing the state of my house and questioning my priorities – to justify my time spent writing with some sort of selfless and practical excuse. But here is the thing: I really do believe that my writing is good for my daughters. I’ll gladly discuss a few reasons why here, in the company of other readers and writers. However, in our day to day lives, I strongly believe that we should not be required to defend our writing as though the imperative to write (and, more importantly, to read and also to think) stems from some sort of selfishness or narcissism or even immaturity. After all, this is 2017. It should go without saying. But it often doesn’t feel that way for writer-mothers.
Having my kids see me work at my writing has helped them to develop their own passion for reading and writing. My six-year-old sometimes sits at the table with me and works on developing storylines and illustrating her own books while I work on a draft. She has a natural sense of structure, and her stories often have several threads which come together at the end. She has written a series of books which end with a family pet making a joke and the family realizing they can understand the pet’s speech.
If, like me, you’re the kind of person who needs the intellectual stimulation of reading and writing in order to feel satisfied, then don’t buy into the myth of the “supermom.” How much more present I am for my kids, more patient and playful, when I’ve had that occasional hour to read and write. It recharges me. But, if the prospect of spending months making hand-embroidered bunnies for all the kids attending your two-year-old’s birthday party appeals to you, then go for it. Just don’t expect to have any time left to write.
Many beginning writers stack the odds against themselves, waiting for the perfect time and space, quiet, and private. If you’re a parent of young children, that’s never going to happen. If writing is really what you want to do, don’t use the lack of quiet time or the myth of the supermom as excuses not to write. In fact, as I write this, I am sitting on the couch with my four-year-old daughter. She’s watching Scooby Doo, I’ve got earplugs in and dirty teatowels dangle from my stove. In the current climate of competitive parenting, this is something you would think I’d feel guilty about. I don’t.
This article was originally published in the Saskatchewan Writer’s Guild publication, Freelance, in the summer of 2017.

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.

What This Magic Ratio Says About Your Relationship

For every negative interaction during conflict, a stable and happy marriage has five (or more) positive interactions.

Whether it’s about not having enough sex, the dirty laundry, or spending too much money, conflict is inevitable in every marriage.
To understand the difference between happy and unhappy couples, Dr. Gottman and Robert Levenson began doing longitudinal studies of couples in the 1970s. They asked couples to solve a conflict in their relationship in 15 minutes, then sat back and watched. After carefully reviewing the tapes and following up with them nine years later, they were able to predict which couples would stay together and which would divorce with over 90 percent accuracy.
Their discovery was simple. The difference between happy and unhappy couples is the balance between positive and negative interactions during conflict. There is a very specific ratio that makes love last.
That “magic ratio” is 5 to 1. This means that for every negative interaction during conflict, a stable and happy marriage has five (or more) positive interactions.
“When the masters of marriage are talking about something important,” Dr. Gottman says, “they may be arguing, but they are also laughing and teasing and there are signs of affection because they have made emotional connections.”
On the other hand, unhappy couples tend to engage in fewer positive interactions to compensate for their escalating negativity. If the positive-to-negative ratio during conflict is 1-to-1 or less, that’s unhealthy, and indicates a couple teetering on the edge of divorce.
So what’s considered a negative interaction?

The one negative interaction

Examples of negative interactions include another predictor of divorce, The Four Horsemen, as well as feelings of loneliness and isolation. While anger is certainly a negative interaction and a natural reaction during conflict, it isn’t necessarily damaging to a marriage. Dr. Gottman explains in “Why Marriages Succeed or Fail” that “anger only has negative effects in marriage if it is expressed along with criticism or contempt, or if it is defensive.”
Negative interactions during conflict include being emotionally dismissive or critical, or becoming defensive. Body language such as eye-rolling can be a powerful negative interaction, and it is important to remember that negativity holds a great deal of emotional power, which is why it takes five positive interactions to overcome any one negative interaction.
Negative interactions happen in healthy marriages, too, but they are quickly repaired and replaced with validation and empathy.

The five positive interactions

Couples who flourish engage in conflict differently than those who eventually break up. Not only do the masters of marriage start conflict more gently, but they also make repairs in both minor and major ways that highlight the positivity in their relationship. Below is a list of interactions that stable couples regularly use to maintain positivity and closeness.

Be interested

When your partner complains about something, do you listen? Are you curious about why he or she is so mad? Displaying interest includes asking open-ended questions, as well as more subtle signals such as nods, making eye contact, and timely “uh-huhs” that show how closely you are listening.

Express affection

Do you hold hands with your partner, offer a romantic kiss, or embrace your partner when greeting them at the end of the day? Expressions of affection can happen in small ways both within and outside of conflict.
Within conflict, displays of physical and verbal affection reduce stress. If you’re having a difficult conversation and your partner takes your hand and says, “Gosh, this is hard to talk about. I really love you and I know we can figure this out together,” you will likely feel better because their display of affection is bound to reduce tension and bring you closer together.

Demonstrate they matter

Our motto for making marriage last is “small things often.” The small acts that demonstrate you care are powerful ways to enhance the positivity in your marriage.
Bringing up something that is important to your partner, even when you disagree, demonstrates that you are putting their interests on par with yours and shows your partner that you care about them. How you treat each other outside of conflict influences how well you’ll handle your inevitable disagreements.
For example, if your partner has a bad day and you stop to pick up dinner on the way home, you’re showing him that he is on your mind. Those small gestures accumulate over time and will provide a buffer of positivity in your marriage so that when you do enter a conflict, it will be easier to engage in positive interactions that outweigh the negative.

Intentional appreciation

How you think about your partner influences how you treat them. By focusing on the positives of your marriage such as the good moments from your past and your partner’s admirable traits, you put positive energy into your relationship.
Negativity is bound to enter your thoughts, especially during conflict. Intentionally focusing on the positive will counterbalance any of the moments when you struggle to find something good about your partner.
Now turn your thoughts into action: every time you express your positive thinking and give your partner a verbal compliment, no matter how small, you are strengthening your marriage.

Find opportunities for agreement

When couples fight, they focus on the negative parts of the conflict and miss the opportunities for what they agree on. When you seek opportunities for agreement and express yourself accordingly, you are showing that you see your spouse’s viewpoint as valid and that you care about them. An alliance in conflict, even minor, can fundamentally shift how couples fight.

Empathize and apologize

Empathy is one of the deepest forms of human connection. When you empathize with your spouse, you show that you understand and feel what your partner is feeling, even if you express empathy nonverbally through a facial expression or a physical gesture.
Saying things like, “It makes sense to me that you feel…” will help your partner see that you are on their team. Empathy is a profound connecting skill that all romantic partners can and should improve, and there is no limit to the amount of empathy you can express.
If your partner is upset with something you said or did, simply apologize. If you can find a moment during conflict to say, “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings. That makes me sad,” you will provide a positive and empathetic interaction that reinforces your bond.

Accept your partner’s perspective

An approach that drastically improves conflict is understanding that each of your perspectives are valid, even if they are opposed to each other.
While you may not agree with your partner’s perspective, letting them know that their perspective makes sense will show them that you respect them. One of the best ways to do this is to summarize your spouse’s experience during a conflict, even if you disagree. Remember that validation doesn’t mean agreement, but it does signal respect.

Make jokes

Playful teasing, silliness, and finding moments to laugh together can ease tension in a heated conflict. Most couples have inside jokes they only share with each other. This highlights the exclusivity a couple has.
However, a word of caution: remember to find a way to joke around that maintains respect and appreciation for your spouse and that serves to bring you both closer together.

Test your ratio

Is your relationship unbalanced? Observe how you and your partner interact. For every negative interaction that happens, are there more positive interactions? If not, take it upon yourself to create more positive interactions in your relationship, and also try to notice the small moments of positivity that currently exist there, and that you may have been missing.
Keep a journal for one week that notes the positive interactions, however small, in your marriage. As Dr. Gottman’s research has revealed, the more positive actions and feelings you can create in your marriage, the happier and more stable your marriage will be.
Remember to maintain the Magic Ratio in your marriage with our 5:1 Tumbler.
This post was originally published on The Gottman Institute blog.

Play This Spooktacular Orchestral Soundtrack for Your Kids This Halloween

There’s a wide selection of symphonic music that is beautiful and powerful as well as spooky for Halloween.

Every Halloween, my Dad would play this spooky piece of music while we were busy carving pumpkins. I never knew the name of this piece until I was older and studying music history at university. Turns out, it’s an orchestral piece called “In the Hall of the Mountain King” composed by Edvard Grieg in 1875. It’s dreamy fantasy music that evokes images of marching goblins and trolls and my sisters and I would dance around in our devil costumes with our jack-o-lanterns.
Years later, I inherited my Dad’s LP record collection and I now play Halloween music for my kids as well as other orchestral pieces found in his extensive collection. There’s a wide selection of symphonic music that is beautiful and powerful as well as spooky for Halloween. Make this Halloween extra fun and spooky by including symphonic music selections as well as the popular Halloween standards when trick-or-treaters arrive on your doorstep. Here is a list of orchestral pieces to get you spooked:

1 | “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” by Paul Dukas

Paul Dukas was a French composer who composed this dazzling orchestral work in 1897. It became popular through its inclusion in the 1940 Walt Disney animated film Fantasia, in which Mickey Mouse plays the role of the apprentice. The music conjures up images of magic spells, wizardry, and dancing brooms. The pizzicato broomstick theme on the clarinets gives the music a marching rhythm. The final bars of the piece finish with a calm and mysterious tempo before the rush to the cadence and the final loud chord. Encourage your kids to draw or paint a picture while they are listening to this imaginative music.

2 | “Danse Macabre, Op. 40” by Camille Saint-Saens

Danse Macabre is a tone poem for orchestra, written in 1874 by the French Romantic composer Camille Saint-Saëns. The composition is based upon a poem about an ancient superstition wherein the Grim Reaper appears at midnight on Halloween night. He calls forth the dead from their graves to dance for him while he plays his fiddle. The skeletons dance until the break of dawn, when they must return to their graves. The piece opens with a harp playing a single note 12 times to signify the clock striking midnight, accompanied by soft chords from the string section. This then leads to the eerie melody played by a solo violin, representing death on his fiddle. The piece is energetic with strong dynamics. The final section, a pianissimo, represents the dawn breaking and the skeletons returning to their graves. The piece makes particular use of the xylophone to imitate the sounds of rattling bones. Lots of fun at a Halloween dance party!

3 | “Carnival of the Animals” by Camille Saint-Saens

Camille Saint-Saens also wrote a humorous orchestral suite, which is wonderful music to play at Halloween for young children. “Carnival of the Animals” is a suite of 14 movements and each movement represents an animal. For example, there is the “Royal March of the Lion,” “The Kangaroo,” “The Elephant,” and “The Swan.” The most famous movement is “The Aquarium,” which is musically rich with a mysterious and ominous melody. Encourage your trick-or-treaters to wear animal costumes and move and dance to the music, pretending to be the animals.

4 | “Totentanz” by Franz Listz

Liszt loved to flirt with death. The great Romantic was obsessed with all things macabre and diabolical, themes he explored in many of his works. Totentanz (Dance of the Dead) is a symphonic piece composed in 1849 for solo piano and orchestra and it is one of his most thrilling pieces. The piece opens with menacing and sweeping chords and the solo pianist must play repeated notes with diabolic and percussive intensity. There are also special sound effects in the orchestra in the “col legno battuto” section where the strings play with the wooden part of the bow and sound like rattling or clanking bones. Give your kids wooden rhythm sticks to tap to the beat at the “col legno” section.
Symphonic music is an enjoyable and wonderful way to spend time with your family at Halloween or at any time of the year. By taking the time to explore symphonic music, you will be expanding your child’s imagination and inner sense of creativity. Happy Halloween!

This Holiday Season, I’m Breaking Tradition

I never want to confine my family to tradition. I want my children to experience it, of course, but I also want to mix it up.

Tradition is and always will be important. But what happens when tradition starts to control your holidays in an unhealthy way?
I will never forget this story, once told to me by a person with much more wisdom than I.
Every Christmas Eve, her mother-in-law would come to the house and enjoy a festive dinner. Once they tucked the kids in tight, they would do something (in my opinion) absolutely insane.
They would put up the Christmas tree, fit with lights and ornaments. While most of us have been enjoying our Christmas tree for a month, they save it all for just one night. The woman was quick to tell me that this was her mother-in-law’s tradition that became engrained into their family.
The children would wake on Christmas morning to find that Santa had been rather busy, and that Mommy and Daddy look rather exhausted. It was the true Christmas miracle of miracles.
“WOW!” the children would shout.
“Where’s the whiskey?” their mom would mumble behind sleepy eyes.
Looking back now, the woman wishes she was brave enough to say, “What a great tradition you had with your family, but no, thank you.” She never did that, so as long as her mother-in-law was alive, they were stuck.
Many of us have experienced, and still do experience, the traditional holiday festivities. On Thanksgiving, we wear pretty fall dresses and eat at 3 p.m. at Grandma’s house. We enjoy turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, casseroles, and top it all off with warm gooey pies. Sounds nice, right?
Now, look in the corner. There you see the kids aimlessly scrolling on their phones, trying to make conversation with Great Grandma, and giving their cousins wet willies.
What if one year – not every year, but every few years – you broke tradition? What if (hear me out) you took a vacation with just your immediate family for Thanksgiving? You and your husband pack up your kids and head to the coast. Instead of turkey, you eat lobster. Instead of watching football, you play frisbee on the beach. Instead of dressing up, you stay in pajamas all day long.
After a vacation like that, you may feel rested and relaxed, which is the point of the holiday season, right?
I never want to confine my family to tradition. I want my children to experience it, of course, but I also want to surprise them with fun outings and activities. Instead of baking sugar cookies on Christmas Eve, go to the movies. Instead of Santa popping down your chimney, he visits you at a ski resort. Instead of ham or roast beef, grill out hamburgers and hot dogs.
You will not only be setting your kids up for fun, but you might also get a break and actually enjoy the holidays for once. My cousin took her kids to Disney World one Christmas. Now that’s cool.
When I was a kid, I was in the car all day on Christmas. We visited all of the grandparents around the state of Georgia. We would open our presents and at 10 a.m. and have to leave. We never had any time to play with our gifts.
What if, one year, we didn’t drive all the way to Grandma’s? Wouldn’t it be amazing if they came to us for once, and we were able to stay in our pajamas?
I am so sad for the woman whose memories of Christmas with her children are laced with a chore she despised. I don’t want to do that to myself. I don’t want to do that to my children.
For Thanksgiving this year, we will travel to see family. Next year, we are going on vacation. One for tradition; one for fun.
 

Recent Study Says These 3 Things Can Raise Kids' IQ

Many factors affect kid’s IQ, including their genetics and environment. But a 2017 analysis identified a number of things that can help raise it.

Most parents think their kids are pretty smart. We watch with delight as our kids learn to engage us with their curious baby eyes and expressions. We marvel in their ability to learn new skills. Sure, other people’s kids learn these skills, too, but we can’t help thinking our baby is the cleverest and maybe the most beautiful to boot.
By school age, though, the differences in children’s abilities begin to show. We get feedback about our child’s abilities when we are exposed to a larger pool of children. Maybe, like me, your little Einstein didn’t get selected for the special enrichment class for gifted children. Or perhaps your child’s class report comes back with grades in the average range and not above average.
There are many factors that affect children’s IQ, including their genetics and environment. A 2017 analysis identified a number of things that can help raise children’s IQ. The analysis was extensive and only included high quality research trials of typically developing children aged from preschool to pre-adolescence. Thirty-six studies met the stringent criteria for the analysis, of which 18 had significant research outcomes.
Studies included in the analysis targeted five potential methods of increasing children’s IQ. These methods were multivitamin supplements, iron supplements, iodine supplements, learning to play a musical instrument, and training. Executive function training helps develop skills such as memory, impulse control, and flexible thinking.
The analysis determined that only three of the methods targeting IQ actually raised children’s IQ. These were:

Multivitamin supplements

The analysis found that multivitamins can help improve IQ, but only when given to children who are vitamin deficient. There were no benefits for children who showed no signs of deficiency.

Iodine supplements

Iodine was also successful in helping raise IQ, but only when given to children deficient in iodine. Again, there was no benefit to children with adequate levels of iodine.

Learning to play a musical instrument

Learning to play musical instruments has been repeatedly shown to develop executive function skills (memory, impulse control, and flexible thinking). The analysis found that learning to play a musical instrument raised children’s IQ.
Iron supplements and executive functioning did not show consistent and reliable results in the analysis. This means they cannot currently be considered to help raise IQ.

What does this mean for parents?

If you are concerned about your child’s IQ or you notice inconsistencies in your child’s academic performance, it’s important to remember that IQ continues to develop over time and can fluctuate due to a variety of factors.
In an interview with the BBC Professor Joan Freeman, a developmental psychologist who specializes in gifted children, said, “Given different environments and opportunities, IQ can develop and grow. Something as simple as a bad cold can make IQ go down temporarily.”
Also, IQ is not the only factor in success or personal earnings. The tests only measure a person’s cognitive ability, and being successful is about much more, says Freeman:
“IQ tests don’t measure other qualities, such as personality, talent, persistence, and application. You might not have a high IQ, but if you have a gung-ho personality, then you may use what you have more effectively than someone with a high IQ…. I regard IQ like a muscle. You may be born with the muscles of an Olympiad, but if you don’t use them, they will diminish.”
If you would like to help your child increase their IQ through supplements, examine your child’s diet as a first option. It can be hard to get children to eat a wide variety of food. If you decide to check you child’s iodine and vitamin levels, consider whether the stress of those tests is worth it.
Iodine can be measured with a urine test, but vitamin levels often require a blood test. Many children find blood tests distressing and even traumatizing. As a parent and a mental health professional, I would prefer to give my child a multivitamin tablet and see if it helps rather than have them undergo a blood test. Always discuss the pros and cons with your doctor.
Learning a musical instrument is a natural option for many families who enjoy music. If music has not been a part of your life, you may not know where to start. There are many ways to immerse your child in music. Schools offer music programs with instrumental lessons. Consider enrolling your child in a school that has a robust music program or, if you can afford it, private lessons.
Children under the age of five can have difficulty learning an instrument due to a range of factors, including their size and developmental capacity for regular practice. Consider instead exposing them through playing different types of music in the home, experimenting playfully with musical instruments, or attending an early learning music group with other young children as an entry point.
Your child has many qualities of which their IQ is only one part. Remember that IQ alone will not determine how successful your child is. Qualities such as persistence, parental support, encouragement, and age-appropriate opportunities will also raise IQ and support future success.
These things also happen to lie at the heart of good parenting.

13 Crafts for Little Artists That Aren’t a Pain to Clean Up

If you’re the one picking up from the latest art explosion, here are 13 crafts that will make your job easier and allow your little artist to be creative.

I think there’s still glitter on my floor. From five years ago. Arts and crafts have a way of sticking around, and while I want to encourage creativity in my kids, I hate cleaning up the aftermath.
Yes, we can make them clean up. I know. But seriously. Do they ever really clean it all up? If you’re going to be the one picking up from the latest craft session, here are 13 crafts that will make your job easier and allow your little artist to be creative.

1 | Melissa & Doug Deluxe Combo Scratch Art Set



I love this. Still. And kids are drawn to it. Scratch through the black surface to reveal amazing colors. Reveal as much or as little as you want. This favorite comes with 16 boards, two stylus tools, and three frames. Kids love the rainbow and metallic backgrounds.

2 | Boogie Board Jot LCD eWriter


A small notebook sized LCD drawing panel, the Boogie Board Jot is perfect for drawing anywhere, even in the car. No mess and endless possibility. Kids love the erase button and the ability to start fresh. Great for keeping in your purse for kids to play with on the go.

3 | Made By Me Build and Paint Your Own Wooden Cars

 

This one does involve paint, but it’s all pretty self-contained. Spread a piece of newspaper and grab a cup of water. Kids put together small wooden cars and then decorate using the stickers and paints provided. This one is great for keeping boys busy and giving them a chance to create.

4 | Fashion Angels Portfolios & American Girl Doll Fashion Design Portfolio Set

 

Kids design outfits and unique looks on the doll like outlines provided. Tons of great activity books with stencils for those who love to create fun fashion looks. Makeup, fashion and even home decorating books give kids great ways to draw and imagine as they get older.

5 | Melissa & Doug Paint with Water

 

Sometimes the little ones just want to paint. A great compromise that just involves water. Watch images and colors appear magically as your little artists swipes a wet brush across a page.

6 | Alex Toys Craft Color a House Children’s Kit

 

Cardboard box play taken to the next level, kids can easily construct a house and then decorate it with crayons. Toddlers love this and it keeps them busy for hours.

7 | Crayola Color Wonder Magic Light Brush & Drawing Pad

 

Half the fun of this amazing toy is the magic! Kids use the special brush to paint on their paper. It lights up with each color they pick and they create a masterpiece. Plus, it doesn’t leave marks on hands, the table or clothes.

8 | Rainbow Wikki Stix


These bendy, twisty sticks quickly become a favorite of kids and adults. You can link them together, twist and create without making a mess to clean up. Another great toy for the traveling creative.

9 | Sidewalk Chalk

 

Let nature take care of the cleanup! Kids love the ability to leave their mark and draw outdoors. A bucket of sidewalk chalk fits the bill, and all you have to do is wash hands when it’s done.

10 | Creative Hands Foam Kit Beads 2 Lace

 

Fun and great for fine motor development, Beads 2 Lace give kids the chance to string chunky foam beads in different shapes and colors to create one of a kind masterpieces. While there are a lot of pieces, this one is easy to clean up. You can even make a game out of tossing the foam pieces in the bucket when you’re done.

11 | Alex Toys Little Hands Mosaics

 

Using the color coded stickers kids place them on the template and create a beautiful picture. These are great for hanging up when they’re complete. Also offers fantastic color and shape matching and fine motor development.

12 | Crayola Model Magic


Softer and airier than the traditional play-doh, Model Magic is a great way to let kids mold and shape with less mess. It also air dries solid, giving little artists the chance to create forever masterpieces.

13 | Crayola Bathtub Finger paint and Crayons


When you can’t avoid the mess, at least make it in the easiest place to clean up. Finger paints and crayons specifically designed for the tub, give kids the chance to make a mess. And cleaning up when they’re done is contained and fun.
What mess free crafts do your kids love?
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18 Tattoos That are Perfect for Your Midlife Crisis

It may be the sign of a crisis, but at least it’s not a misrepresentation of the facts.

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A bottle of sunscreen with an SPF number matching your age

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Midlife crisis tattoo low carb skull and crossbones

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A skull and crossbones with “LOW CARB”

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a wilted rose tattoo mid life crisis tattoo

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A rose that needs watering, but who has the time?

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Midlife crisis tattoo self help on knuckles

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The letters S E L F H E L P across the knuckles

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midlife crisis tattoo anchor and demanding kids

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An anchor with a bunch of kids clinging to it and demanding juice

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Midlife crisis tattoo a damaged butterfly
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A butterfly whose wings could use a little work

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Midlife crisis tattoo, mom do you need glasses

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“Mom? Can you see this or do you need your reading glasses?” in a heart

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mid life tattoo tired tiger
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A tiger who’s fallen asleep at 9 p.m.

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Midlife crisis tattoo dandelion devil

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A dandelion labeled “Suburban devil”

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Midlife crisis tattoo graduate school gamble

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A pair of dice with a scroll that says “Graduate School”

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Midlife crisis tattoo pinup girl with cellulite

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A pinup girl with visible cellulite

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A single drop of urine

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Midlife crisis tattoo live for today but save 401k

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“Live for today; but don’t touch your 401k” on a decorative scroll

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Midlife crisis tattoo dream catcher with ambien

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A dreamcatcher with Ambien dangling from the feathers

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Midlife crisis tattoo large font name

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Your spouse’s name in 100-point Garamond font

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Midlife crisis tattoo get up early but skip gym

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An inspirational quote: “Still I rise at 5 a.m., why don’t I go to the gym?”

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Midlife crisis tattoo high taxes great schools

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A house with the words “High Taxes But Great School”

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Midlife crisis tattoo ship in antacids

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A ship in a bottle of antacids

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middle age mothers with multiple tattoos