What You Need to Know After a Sensory Processing Disorder Diagnosis

Welcome to the world of a sensory child.

When you finally receive a diagnosis that your child has a Sensory Processing Disorder, it can seem like a sprint at the end of a marathon. Most parents will tell you that it takes years of questioning doctors and receiving suggestions that didn’t work before you start to get answers.
Once you have that final result it can feel like life becomes a sprint to make up for lost time. My husband and I have discovered a few truths about SPD. Six of them to be exact. Welcome to the world of a sensory child.

Truth # 1

Kids with sensory processing disorder can be very verbal. My daughter scored 40 points above the average child in her age bracket on the verbal tests but is just learning how to communicate things like hunger and bathroom needs. She needs prompting to make eye contact and say hello to peers and adults.
She talks constantly – every waking moment of her day – at home but is just beginning to speak in school and new situations. She is much more comfortable when her brother is with her. So having a huge vocabulary or being able to talk the ear off of someone when she is in a comfortable situation is one of her strengths that we are utilizing on this sensory processing journey.

Truth # 2

Many kids with sensory processing disorder are very anxious beings. My daughter does not like to try anything new until she watches someone she trusts do it first. She does not dive head long into a ball pit or run up to new children to play with them. She stands quietly and observes. If I try to push her, she will freak out.
If she does it on her own terms, she will quietly tiptoe into a new situation. There are many things she is anxious about including getting her hands dirty, going to the bathroom, new clothes, capris, 3/4 length sleeves and foods that are squishy. The list goes on and on.

Truth # 3

Kids with sensory processing disorder can be very quiet. When she was diagnosed, we were told SPD kids fall usually into two categories – fight or flight. My daughter is a flight risk. So when faced with a sensory problem, she is much more apt to melt into the background and disappear than she is to pitch a fit, especially in public, especially when she does not have someone with her who she feels completely comfortable with. She saves her meltdowns for home. If you drove past our house some mornings when it is time to get her dressed (see anxiety over wearing capris), you might get a different view of our world. 

Truth #4

Sensory Processing Disorder can make some children extremely compassionate and caring people. It also makes some kids completely unaware of other people’s needs because the internal distraction is just too much. There is just not one version of a child with sensory needs. Even within the same family, the sensory needs might be different. Just as it is with non-SPD kids, every child with SPD is different. 

Truth # 5

It takes children with Sensory Processing Disorder longer to bounce back from being sick. If you think about your own personal experience with illness, you will find that it takes a few days to get back on your feet after a stomach bug. Now, imagine your whole body is a raw nerve and any slight change is upsetting. Throw a stomach bug on top of that and you can picture the damage it does. It can take sensory children weeks to recover from a stomach bug and finally begin to return to what is normal for them. Post sickness aftershock is worse than the original bug.

Truth #6

This is the most important one. Sensory Processing Disorder is something my daughter will have her whole life. Her internal wiring will not magically realign itself to be like a child without this disability. The work we are doing now will help her to feel better in her own body and help her manage herself in a loud and unpredictable world.
As she grows, her needs will change and we will need to make adjustments. We will teach her new coping skills and give her the support she needs to thrive. At some point, most people will forget that this is something she even has. That is our goal. In all honesty, she will always be a person with this disorder and it will shape who she is in amazing and challenging ways.
 

5 Things I Won’t Skimp on With the Second Baby

First-time-mom-me was way too hard on herself in so many ways.

 
Yes, the thought of having a second child in a few months is terrifying: the lack of sleep, the lack of finances, and… the lack of sleep. I am already feeling the calming effects of having made it through this once, however. I know that at some point our youngest child will sleep more than 1.5 hours in a stretch. I know that when that happens, my real personality will wrestle its way back from the weeping zombie woman I leave in charge during long periods without rest.
I know my family will experience more moments of pure joy together than we can ever count, or remember… because of the sleep deprivation.
That said, I have every intention of making this second infancy as easy on all of us as possible. I plan to do away with all noble notions of “parental instincts” – a misleading term – and, “toughing it out.” First-time-mom-me was way too hard on herself in so many ways.
I wish I could go back in time, force her to take a nap, and convince her that everyone, including the baby, will be much better off if she stops trying to live up to some unattainable standard of mommyhood.
This time, I vow to do just that, and promise myself that I will not skimp on the following:

1 | Maternity Leave

I now realize what a luxury it is to have a job that offers me any time off whatsoever, and I plan to take every single moment of both paid and unpaid leave that I can. With baby number one, I convinced myself that I needed to get back to work a full two weeks early, due to having an unusually demanding boss at the time. Not this time, whatever it takes.

2 | Pumping Bra

Somehow, with baby number one, I could not justify spending over $15 on what is arguably the most important contraption of early motherhood, the hands-free pumping bra. I told myself I would not be using it forever, and that I should get whatever was cheapest. I ended up with this crazy elastic contraption that frustrated me each of the hundreds of times I had to use it. Pumping is bad enough. This time, I’m getting the best.

3 | Physical Therapy

I have a weak hip from long-distance running. With the last delivery my old injury was exacerbated, and I was left with an unusual amount of hip pain anytime I took a walk during my recovery. My family doctor told me it would take at least eight weeks postpartum for things to “feel normal” again. I believed him. My hips did not. My sports doctor then sent me to physical therapy, and my therapist said I should have been in there six weeks after baby. This time, I will listen to my body and get the right help, right away.

4 | Calls to the Pediatrician

I remember having this internal struggle each time I went to call the pediatrician. I felt I shouldn’t have to because I’m the mother and the mother is supposed to know everything. That, I now know, is a huge fallacy. I also remember feeling a sense of relief wash over me each time I spoke to baby number one’s doctor. Most of the time just hearing the words “that’s completely normal” changed the entire course of our day. Get ready doc. With baby number two, I will be calling you a lot.

5 | Alone Time

Even when my amazing family and friends came by to help last time, I felt the need to play hostess. This is a common problem with new moms. I was excited to show off the baby and I wanted to seem like I had things figured out. I’d end up wasting potential guilt-free nap or shower time hanging out with my guests, but they weren’t there to hang with me! They were there to hang with the baby and give me a break. This time, I’ll take it.

The Other PMS: The Lesser Known but Arguably Worse – Perimenopausal Syndrome

Perimenopause is what I like to think of as period purgatory, where your uterine lining isn’t quite passé, but it’s not the hot spot it used to be.

Like every female I know, my menstrual cycle has commanded more than its fair share of my attention over the years. This high maintenance relationship between my reproductive system and the rest of me began with a series of vaguely embarrassing and terrifying conversations with my mother, who thought she was bleeding to death when she got her first period and wanted to spare me that horror. As a result, I learned in graphic detail about the changes my body would undergo in preparation to procreate before I had mastered tying my own shoelaces.
Years later, six to be exact, when I started menstruating for real, I was sure I was adequately prepared for the mechanics of it all. What no one had articulated – not the pamphlets, the books, the sex-ed filmstrip, not even Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret – was that the happenings in and around my uterus were going to dominate my life for a long, long time. I was also not informed that I was not to speak publicly of them.
For decades, symptoms so disruptive they’re classified as a syndrome hit me like cyclical, lunar tides. Bloating, mood swings, headaches, cramps, etc., you know the drill, and then the period itself. Over and over, nature’s design on my body affirmed that I could bear life (!!!), but to me, the sluffing of dead cells was hardly something to celebrate, and I longed for the day when this whole fertility thing was over.
That was before I found out what this whole fertility thing being over meant.
If you think our society is repressed when it comes to talking about menstrual cycles (which we so are), wait till you hit the tail end of your fertile phase and enter a stage of life medically referred to as perimenopause.
Perimenopause is what I like to think of as period purgatory, where your uterine lining isn’t quite passé, but it’s not the hot spot it used to be. You don’t meet the clinical qualifications for menopause, but you’re on your way.
Your ovaries have become sluggish and lazy, and the production of delicately-balanced hormones, specifically estrogen and progesterone, which have kept you PMS-ing on a monthly basis, fluctuates and gradually decreases. This fluctuation is the last hoorah of your reproductive system before official old lady-hood, and it’s a doozy.
Not to paint too bleak a picture of what is inevitably in store for the entire childbearing population, but perimenopause is everything unpleasant about menses combined with everything unpleasant about menopause. It’s essentially the body’s transition from producing and depending upon estrogen and progesterone, to existing and maintaining bodily functions with minimal amounts of either one. Perimenopause is like withdrawal but with the added bonus of irregular and unpredictably gory menstrual periods. As a curse, it’s got it all.
The first time I heard anything about this lovely facet of womanhood was in my early forties when I went several months without having a period and asked my doctor about it. He said I was nearing the perimeters of menses cessation, i.e. I was perimenopausal.
I asked him how long I had (as in, to live, because isn’t menopause the same as death?), and he said with sufficient opacity, I had “a while.” We commiserated about getting older – even though all he had to do was succumb to aging gracefully, whereas I had to clear the hurdle of this new affliction in addition to facing regular menopause – and then I went home to Google myself into a depressed, perimenopausal stupor.
This is an overview of what I learned:

There are three stages to menopause

Beginning with pre-menopause, when women are still fully fertile; perimenopause, when reproductive function gradually declines; and menopause, which marks the end of menstruation. Most of the symptoms occur in the middle stage, as the ovaries are preparing to permanently shut things down, like some condemned amusement park.
There is no set age for the onset of perimenopause, though it seems to be influenced by heredity, environmental factors, and lifestyle. It typically lasts ten years or longer. (You heard me.) Like everything else pertaining to the reproductive system, the timeline is unpredictable and varies greatly.
What makes perimenopause so formidable is the gamut of symptoms women can and will experience, many of which disrupt daily life and are unlike anything else she’s previously encountered. Including: hot flashes, breast tenderness, worsened premenstrual syndrome, decreased libido, fatigue, irregular periods, vaginal dryness, discomfort during sex, urine leakage when coughing or sneezing, urinary urgency, mood swings, insomnia, difficulty falling or staying asleep. Doesn’t that sound like fun?
As I move toward this stage in my own life, I have to confess that I am afraid. I’m vain, I like things the way they are, and I like my body the way it is. I don’t want to get old, and I don’t want to be less than a woman, if that makes sense. I know I’m not alone. My mission is to bring this whole perimenopausal thing into the open and talk about it until it becomes normal and, in time, less scary. We’re in this together, we got this.

10 Habits That Change Boys Into Men

The demise of our culture will result from the demise of its men if something isn’t changed quickly. Far too many men remain directionless, devastated, and scared children.

The male suicide rate increased to three to four times higher than the female suicide rate. Men are twice as likely as women to become alcoholics, and males are far more likely to commit a juvenile crime.

Much has been said and written in recent years about the challenges of men and boys. A sampling of book titles includes:

A common theme is that men and boys have become increasingly confused about their identity and role in society. Kay Hymowitz, author of Manning Up, put it this way:

“It’s been an almost universal rule of civilization that whereas girls became women simply by reaching physical maturity, boys had to pass a test. They needed to demonstrate courage, physical prowess, or mastery of the necessary skills. The goal was to prove their competence as protectors of women and children; this was always their primary social role. Today, however, with women moving ahead in an advanced economy, provider husbands and fathers are now optional, and the character qualities men had needed to play their role — fortitude, stoicism, courage, fidelity — are obsolete and even a little embarrassing.”

Academically, it is reported in the United States that:

  • Girls outperform boys now at every level — from elementary school through graduate school.
  • By eighth grade, only 20 percent of boys are adept in writing and 24 percent adept in reading.
  • Young men’s SAT scores in 2011 were the lowest they’ve been in 40 years.
  • According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), boys are 30 percent more likely than girls to drop out of both high school and college.
  • In 2017, women will earn more than 60 percent of bachelor’s and more than 63 percent of master’s degrees.
  • Boys make up two-thirds of students in special education remedial programs.

Women deserve the increased success they are getting. They’ve been oppressed for far too long. They’re hungrier and more motivated than most men. And hopefully, society will continue to allow them the increased equality they deserve.

However, this article’s focus is on helping the struggling and confused young man. Indeed, many young men have taken the adverse cues of society as an excuse to evade responsibility and never really grow up.

If you are a young man and you’re struggling, you are not alone. This article is intended to challenge you to rethink your entire approach to life. If applied, these habits will radically set you apart from the decaying norm.

1 | Think Beyond Yourself

Kids look to their parents for all the answers. When they become teenagers they know all the answers. Many never mature out of this stage and remain incredibly narcissistic, which is displayed in the following ways:

  • Believing you are better than others
  • Exaggerating your talents or gifts
  • Expecting constant praise and admiration
  • Failure to recognize other people’s emotions or feelings
  • Expressing disdain for those who seem inferior
  • Trouble keeping healthy relationships
  • Acting as if you have nothing to learn

Moving beyond self-consciousness requires an increase in overall consciousness.

By heightening your level of consciousness, you’ll see the brilliance of humanity in general, be able to relate deeper with others, experience greater joy, and have enhanced ability to manifest the destiny of your choosing.

The following are ways to increase your level of consciousness:

  • Allow yourself to experience your feelings, rather than block them out. Meditation is a helpful way to do this. You experience your thoughts and feelings, learn from them, then let them go.
  • Let go of framing your idea of what should be and genuinely accept what is. The journey is the end, not simply a means to an end.
  • Identify the meaningless things to which you’ve assigned meaning. Happiness and security can never be experienced when dependent on the external — they can only be achieved internally.
  • Begin trusting your inner voice. If you feel a prompting to bring an umbrella with you, even when the weather report says the contrary, bring it.
  • Explore the world, experience new cultures, and have your paradigm shaken and reframed.
  • Question your own intentions and motivations.
  • Be humble about your own humanity.
  • Act with love, and become aware when you are not.

2 | Stop Playing Video Games

There are a host of both positive and negative effects of playing video games. However, approximately 15 percent of American youth have an unhealthy addiction to video games. Another study reported that 31 percent of males and 13 percent of females have felt “addicted” to video games.

Naturally, boys have a strong need for accomplishment and challenge. Yet, studies suggest that some of the most popular video games are disengaging boys from real-world pursuits. Boys’ need for accomplishment is satisfied by “leveling up” in the game; so they don’t feel the need to go out into the world and solve real problems. Thus, society is not being served by their efforts.

Gaming often gets in the way of important relationships or meaningful life pursuits. 15 percent of divorces are filed by women because their husbands prefer video games over them.

This point is particularly significant to me. I, myself, spent a large portion of my time in junior high and high school playing World of Warcraft. Literally, thousands of hours logged in and lost.

I see many of my high school friends and family members who are now in their late 20’s and 30’s continuing to play four-plus hours of video games per day – even when married with kids.

Playing video games is being touted as a “healthy” way to escape reality. Yet, one must ask: Is escaping reality (especially for extended periods of time) ever healthy?

The need for achievement and challenge can be accomplished in real life. You can “level-up” the real you while simultaneously solving social problems.

3 | Learn In Healthy Environments And Lay-Off The Meds

The industrial classroom model is killing our boys. It is not a healthy environment for them. Young boys need more physical stimulation.

The result is that many are improperly and lazily diagnosed with ADHD. Their natural characteristics, emotions, passions, and gifts are being curbed by medications.

Although it is not a popular notion, boys and girls are wired differently. Girls are often exclusively motivated by praise. They will perfect their handwriting just to have it noticed.

Boys on the other hand, are often motivated by tangible experiences that relate to real life. Thus, many boys see no point in having good handwriting if one day they will spend their time typing. They don’t care as much what other people think. They just want to be challenged.

4 | Get Intensive Physical Stimulation

Short and intensive learning spurts, followed by rigorous physical stimulation is a powerful and positive way for boys and men to learn. Rough-and-tumble play helps develop the frontal lobe of the brain, which is used to regulate behavior. Sadly, many public schools are removing gym class and recess, further exacerbating problems among boys.

In the recent book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, authors John J. Ratey and Eric Hagerman share some amazing science and stories. For instance, despite many schools removing gym-class from their curriculum, others have put more focus on it and found staggering results. When kids exercise in the morning, they learn far better. In fact, they improve in all areas of their lives. Human beings are holistic. Your brain, your emotions, your relationships, are all tied together.

If you’re living a sedentary life as a man, you’re not getting the needed stimulation you need. Research has found that males thrive in kinesthetic learning environments — learning through moving.

Healthy testosterone levels

Intensive physical activity, like sprinting or heavy weight lifting (followed by extended rest periods) is a good outlet for men’s need of physical stimulation. Moreover, these intensive physical activities can activate healthy levels of testosterone which produce many positive effects — including:

  • Fat loss
  • Muscle gain
  • Healthier bone density
  • Normalized blood pressure
  • Lower likelihood of obesity and heart attacks
  • Increased energy
  • More enjoyment of career and family
  • Feeling younger, stronger, sexier, and healthier
  • Healthy sex drive

Studies have found that healthy testosterone levels affect men’s cognitive performance, and can improve focus, motivation, and memory.

The need for physical pain

Interestingly, boys and girls experience pain differently. For boys, physical pain can be a stimulant fueling mental clarity. On the other hand, physical pain for girls can be a narcotic, making them feel hazy and confused.

I’ve seen this in myself. Some of my greatest insights have come while pushing myself to the extreme while doing yard work or while exercising. This phenomenon is also seen in endurance athletes who push themselves through pain for many hours at a time.

5 | Take Responsibility For Your Life And Set Your Standards High

In his book, Boys Adrift, Dr. Leonard Sax explains that boys need — not want — to be responsible. If they are not needed, they don’t flourish.

Men step down if they’re not needed, and because of society’s message that men are no longer needed, many are staying in their parents’ basements.

Although most men will not go out of their way to take on challenges and responsibility, this is the very thing they should do if they want to thrive. Indeed, it is becoming common knowledge that perception is followed by physical experience in the form of self-fulfilling prophecy. If you believe you will succeed, you often do.

If you set your sights high in life, you will achieve incredible things. In order to do this, you can no longer play the victim to circumstances – blaming the world, your parents, school, or the challenges you’ve faced in life is not going to solve your problems. It’s going to keep you stuck and bitter.

Instead, take the time to imagine and mentally create your ideal life. Mental creation always precedes physical creation.

You have the inner power to create whatever life you want to achieve. All you have to do is spend the time creating that world with intention. Write down exactly what you want in life. Set your standards ridiculously high. Don’t hold anything back.

Read, rewrite, and reread your ambitions often. These will soon consume your subconscious mind creating new patterns in your brain. Eventually, you’ll manifest the world you’ve been creating in your head.

6 | Prayer, Meditation, And Journal Writing

Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and every other religious and spiritual tradition strongly stress the significance of regular prayer. Although the form of practice may be different, the purpose is the same

  • Gratitude
  • Inspiration
  • Self-realization
  • Deepened connection to God/existence
  • The improvement of humanity as a whole

Prayer (and modifications such as meditation and gratitude journals) are regularly found to increase physical and mental well-being.

For me, I often combine prayer with journal writing as a form of meditation. I seek inspiration, direction, heightened perspective, and gratitude.

Scientifically supported benefits of prayer include:

  • Improves self-control
  • Makes you nicer
  • Makes you more forgiving
  • Increases your trust
  • Offsets negative health effects of stress

People are often turned off by prayer, believing it is a strictly “religious” practice. Even if organized religion is not your thing, you can still have a positive and healthy relationship with prayer.

7 | Earn Good Friends

You are who you surround yourself with. There’s no way around it. If you want to evolve past your current state, you need to remove yourself from the negative forces in your life. This will not be easy. Misery loves company.

However, when you decide to remove yourself from negative people – and instead surround yourself with people who uplift and inspire you – your life will dramatically improve.

Take the leap. Invite your friends to come along with you. If they don’t understand your needed evolution, kindly bid them a loving farewell.

8 | Commit Fully To Someone

“We’re supposed to believe that relationships tie people down, that they are the death knell for creativity and ambition. Nonsense.” — Ryan Holiday

With all the productivity and success advice going on in the world today, very little is written about the benefits of finding a spouse who supports you and makes you better.

It is quite rare for people to stay committed to anything or anyone these days. There are countless fatherless children. Many seek easy sexual prey followed by the internal pit of emptiness — too afraid to reveal and confront their true identity.

Research has found that committed relationships can reduce the chance of illness and increase the length of life. Other benefits of long-term commitment in relationships include:

  • Greater sense of life satisfaction
  • Increased happiness
  • A host of practical benefits, such as shared assets and children
  • Less likely to engage substance-abuse
  • Decreased likelihood of depression and neglect of one’s health

“Choose your love, love your choice.” — Thomas Monson

I got married at age 24. I’ve never felt restrained by that decision, only liberated. Now 29, we have three foster children, what most would consider a huge blow to our freedom.

This could not be further from the truth in my experience. Instead, I’m challenged to become a better person every day. I’m challenged to think beyond my own needs and to learn patience, humility, and love.

I would never make such monumental decisions without prayer, fasting, meditation, and journaling. However, when you’re in a state of clarity, you can follow your intuition and consistently make good decisions. As Malcolm Gladwell expounds in “Blink,” snap decisions are often more accurate than well-thought-out ones.

Of course, marriage isn’t easy. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But why choose the easy path? As a man, challenge and responsibility are precisely what is needed to thrive.

9 | Fall In Love With Learning

Ordinary people seek entertainment. Extraordinary people seek education and learning. We now live in a world where you no longer need to go to college (or high school) to become educated. At your fingertips is an unlimited and ever-increasing well of information. You can become an expert at anything.

Many of the world’s most successful people attribute their success to a love of learning. They often read one or more books per week. With a few books, you can learn how to build wealth, healthy relationships, and the life of your dreams.

With more information and education, you will make better lifestyle choices. You’ll be less likely to have destructive addictions and make ignorant decisions.

You’ll be more likely to surround yourself with brilliant people, learn new languages and explore the world, come up with solutions to the world’s problems, and have passion and zest for life.

Stop gaming and start reading. The real world awaits. And it’s amazing.

10 | Take Bigger Risks

“Don’t fail by default.” — Richard Paul Evans

Richard Paul Evans, the famous writer, often tells a story of being a shy high school kid. In one of his classes, he sat next to the girl of his dreams. He spent an entire year wishing he could work up the courage to ask her out. But he never ended up talking to her.

“Why would she be interested in a loser like me?” he would say to himself.

A few years later, at a high school reunion, they met and talked.

“I just have to ask: Why didn’t you ever ask me out?” she asked. “I always liked you and hoped you would talk to me.”

Evans was shocked.

He had been wrong that entire time and missed the opportunity he spent over a year dreaming about. In that moment, he determined to never fail by default again.

“If I’m going to fail, I’m going to fail big,” he has said. “If I fail, I’m going to fail after giving it everything I’ve got.”

Stop playing life small. Date people that seem absurdly out of your league. They’re not — only in your head.

Don’t be conservative in your career until you’re in your 40’s. There is little risk while you’re young, energetic, and motivated. Now is the time to take huge risks. Embrace rejection and failure. In turn, embrace enormous and unimaginable success.

Conclusion

You can have whatever life you choose.

Don’t be afraid to dream big for yourself.

Have the courage to seize that life and truly live, rather than only imagining living.

The world needs you.

Call To Action

Are you proactive? If so, check out my 7-page checklist of the most effective morning activities.

Click here to get the checklist right now. (p.s. – good luck with the cold showers!)

This piece was originally published by the author on Medium

How Reading Impacts Your Kid's Brain

Beyond boosting their learning potential, parent-child reading also has health benefits, says a recent study. Reading changes their brains for the better.

Reading with your child is a fun, bonding experience that offers many benefits – the most obvious being the development of child’s language skills and providing an opportunity for them to learn how to read. Beyond boosting their learning potential, parent-child reading also has health benefits, says a recent study. Reading changes their brains for the better.
The findings, published in the journal Pediatrics, offer hard evidence that reading feeds young brain development. Led by Dr. John S. Hutton at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, the study used functional MRI scans to assess real-time changes in the brains of 19 pre-school children as they listened to stories being read to them.
Parents were asked about “cognitive stimulation,” including their children’s reading habits and how often they were read to at home. Researchers discovered that reading stimulates the side of the brain that helps with mental imagery, understanding, and language processing, and that brain activity, while hearing stories, was higher in the children who were read to at home more often.
“We hope that this work will guide further research on shared reading and the developing brain to help improve interventions and identify children at risk for difficulties as early as possible, increasing the chances that they will be successful in the wonderful world of books,” Dr. Hutton said in an interview.
Studies have also shown that when a mind is consistently stimulated, the progress of mental illness slows. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, about 20 percent of children in the U.S., including pre-school children, suffer from a diagnosable mental illness during a given year. Children are prone to anxiety, ADHD, and other disorders. Reading keeps their brains active and engaged, and can help fend off mental illness.
Further research, conducted by cognitive neuropsychologist David Lewis and colleagues from the University of Sussex in England, showed that reading is also a major form of stress relief. The study followed volunteers as they had their stress levels and heart rates increased, and were then tasked with trying a series of stress-reduction methods – with reading surpassing listening to music and going for a walk as being the most effective method. Reading was shown to reduce stress levels by 68 percent, according to the findings.
Since all children experience stress, sometimes significant amounts of it, reading seems like a natural method for easing their tension and anxiety. Again, preschoolers are not immune. Even very young children have worries and concerns. Separation anxiety, for example, is a major stressor among this age group.
Instilling a love of reading in your child can also increase their life expectancy. Research has shown that avid readers live an average of two years longer than those who do not read. Those who read for up to 3.5 hours a week had a 17 percent lower risk of dying over the next 12 years, and people who read more than that were 23 percent less likely.
The American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents to read to their children every day, starting at birth. Dr. Hutton’s study notes, “Parents are a child’s first and most important teachers. The quality of cognitive stimulation in the home, especially before school entry, strongly influences achievement and health outcomes.”
The first six years of life are the most important for healthy brain development, but a brain needs stimulation and new experiences to grow cells and make connections. You can have a positive influence on your child’s mental growth. Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. Help them flex their brains with a great story – every single day.
What other ways does reading positively impact your child’s health? Share in the comments!

5 Ways Boredom Makes Your Kid More Awesome

Boredom is something we fear, but it’s a major part of our lives. Making our kids handle it head-on just might be one of the best things we can do for them.

Like most aspects of parenting, dealing with boredom is something my wife is better at than I am.
When I’m with my son, I’m a constant entertainer. I don’t dare let him go through a single moment of boredom. I set up activities and, when we’ve run through them all, I play with him until he falls asleep.
On paper, that sounds like top-notch parenting, but it’s a bit less impressive in practice. Sometimes it gets to the point where I’m afraid to step away to clean the dishes, lest he start crying, “But Dada, I want someone to play with me! I’m bored!”
At the end of the day, when he goes to sleep and my wife and I finally climb into bed together, I realize that this is the first time that we’ve really talked all day.
My wife tried to teach me this from the start: It’s okay for a child to be bored. For years, I’ve resisted it. I was convinced that, when it comes to parenting, more means better. I have been slow to accept the dawning truth that I’m actually making things much worse.
Letting your children be bored can be terrifying the first time you do it, but it’s a lot easier than it seems. They’ll complain at first. Just wait a few minutes and they’ll find something to do on their own. That’s more than just okay, it’s an essential skill they’ll need for the rest of their lives.
Boredom is something we fear, but it’s a major part of our lives. And making our kids handle it head-on just might be one of the best things we can do for them.

Boredom improves creativity

The mind doesn’t always go where we want. It likes to wander, especially when we’re trying to get it to keep still. And it’s never more active than when it has nothing to do.
Countless studies have shown that people are more creative when they’re bored – and that’s true for our kids, too. It’s just how the human mind works. When our minds are bored, they start to daydream, and that daydreaming sparks creative thought.
When our kids have nothing to do, they exercise their imaginations and that just might be the most important skill they can develop. The workplace our children are going to enter is changing rapidly, and we don’t have the ability to prepare them for that world. It’s going to take a lot of creativity to adapt.

Boredom improves psychological well-being

Boredom is what gives life meaning. That’s not just a quaint thought. This article from the American Psychological Association shows that when people are bored, they tend to look back on their lives and feel like the things they’ve done are more meaningful. They also start putting more meaning into the next things they see.
It happens because our brains are afraid of inactivity. When we’re not doing anything, to keep us from spending our whole lives staring at the walls, our brains try to make life more interesting. More weight and purpose are given to what we are processing. If we reflect on something when we’re bored, it feels more meaningful, and when we experience something new, it seems more significant.
Being bored is an important part of finding meaning in life. When our kids are bored, it helps them find value in their own experiences and develop their own unique worldview, which makes them psychologically stronger for the future.

Boredom makes kids more motivated

When our children grow up, we won’t be there every moment of every day. We won’t be able to entertain them or to fill their schedules with educational events. At some point, we have to let go and hope for the best.
That’s why kids need to learn how to motivate themselves. Letting them be bored plays a big role in learning that skill. Boredom gives children practice in making their own decisions and finding ways to be interested in what’s going on around them. 

Boredom makes kids more interesting

Only boring people get bored. That’s one of the most important life skills a child can learn. When we spend all of our time entertaining our children, they never have to learn how to entertain themselves.
We may think we may always need to be there for them, but there’s actually no link between the amount of time you spend with your kids and how they turn out. They don’t need us to be there every minute. They need to learn how to handle things themselves.
Giving our kids too much attention can create some major problems. Inadvertently, it can teach them that they’re the focus of the world and that everybody’s here to serve them. It can also cause kids to accept an identity developed by their parents, instead of developing their own.

Boredom is good for parents too

Letting your kids have a little time on their own gives you time with your spouse.  You don’t have to wait around for your child to fall unconscious before you acknowledge one another.
Getting some mommy and daddy time is vital to keeping your relationship alive and to being a good parent. Focusing on parenting 24/7 does the opposite. It cranks up your stress and anxiety, which can actually hurt your kids. Children pick up their parents’ anxiety, which can hurt their performance in school and can create behavioral problems down the road.
You don’t need to kill yourself trying to keep your kids happy. In fact, it may make things worse. If you’re not happy, your kids aren’t either, and if you’re not mentally well, your kids aren’t either.
So put down the juggling balls and let your kids be bored for a while. Take a little time for yourself. Not only is it good for you, but it just might be the best thing you can do for them.

Do You Use a Cart Cover? It’s Full of Bacteria

How much health risk is actually posed by a shopping cart? And can a cart cover minimize that risk?

Parents building registries may notice an unusual item in the ever-growing list of “must have”s for baby: a shopping cart cover.
Cart covers are advertised as a way to protect children from germs coating the average shopping cart, which, according to some recent studies, plays host to more bacteria than a public toilet. But how much health risk is actually posed by a shopping cart? And can a cart cover minimize that risk?

Targeting shopping cart handles

Shopping cart handles began earning a reputation when they made an appearance in a four-year study of environmental surfaces conducted by researchers at the University of Arizona. Bacteria was not the main focus of the study, which mostly tested surfaces in public places (daycare, offices, grocery stores, etc.) for protein and biochemical markers. In other words, the researchers were mainly looking to find bodily substances and viruses that transmit through those substances.
The researchers also took 200 samples from various environmental surfaces and tested them for coliforms, a subgroup of bacteria types generally present in the intestines that are generally good indicators of possible fecal contamination. One of these surfaces was shopping cart handles. The study determined that one handle out of twenty contained coliforms.
That first study, published in 2005, appears to have inspired others. Researchers began testing environmental surfaces for bacteria commonly found in raw meat and surveying the various ways children might be exposed to it. A 2007 survey of parents whose infants had been infected with Campylobacter – the most likely culprit of human diarrheal illnesses – found that children who rode in shopping carts were more likely to be infected with Campylobacter than children who had not.
In another study published in 2010, researchers surveyed parents whose children had tested positive for salmonella. Children who had been riding in the back of the cart were more likely to be infected than children who were riding in the front of the cart. Only 10% of the parents surveyed responded that their children had been directly exposed to raw meat, suggesting that the carts themselves might be the site of infection for many kids infected with salmonella.

“More fecal matter than on the toilet”

After these multi-site contamination studies identified shopping carts as a potential hazard, researchers began devoting entire studies to shopping carts alone. A 2012 study of 85 randomly-sampled grocery carts in California found that 72% of the handles contained coliform bacteria. 18 of those cart handles tested positive for the most well-known coliform bacteria, E. coli.
That finding led to headlines like “E. coli found on 50% of shopping carts,” which is an overstatement of both the finding and its impact. The “50%” refers to 18 out of 35 cart handles that were given additional testing. It’s more reasonable to say that E. coli was found on 50% of carts contaminated with coliforms. The sample size may be too small to know whether or not it is representative of all shopping carts as a whole.
Furthermore, the study’s authors note that one of the types of tests they attempted did not identify E. coli in any of the samples. They explain that one test may not have detected E. coli because the amount of bacteria was too low.  In other words, if one of the tests they conducted found bacteria while another test found none, there might not be sufficient quantities of bacteria to be medically concerning.
The author of that panic-inducing news article actually quotes one of the authors of the California cart-sampling study, Charles Gerba, who explained why shopping cart handles tend to have more bacteria than public restrooms: “That’s because they use disinfecting cleaners in the restrooms. Nobody routinely cleans and disinfects shopping carts.”

What’s on the bottom of the cover is on the whole cover

Many parents, understandably panicked by the fear-inducing reports of so many multi-syllabic bacteria, have opted to purchase fabric shopping cart covers in order to protect their children from all of the bacteria reported in the news.
There are two major problems with this approach.
First, there is the problem of installing the cover in the first place. Imagine you are trying to cover a shopping cart while also carrying a child. You are inevitably going to touch the shopping cart in the process. During the trip through the store, you are probably going to touch your child, say, to give them the snack you promised yourself you wouldn’t open until you got out of the checkout. So, even though the cover is there, from the moment you touched the cart you’ve picked up and transmitted bacteria to the cart cover, to yourself, to the snack, and, therefore, to your child’s mouth.
Second, even if you managed not to touch a single square inch of the cart, the bottom of the cover will touch the cart. If the cart is covered in bacteria, so is the bottom of the shopping cart cover. And if bacteria is on the bottom of the cart cover, it’ll be on the top eventually.
Although there haven’t been any widely-reported studies of bacteria present on cart covers, there have been studies of another object that frequently travels in shopping carts: purses. In 2013, one study of women’s purses led to flurry of news articles about purses carry more bacteria than public toilets.
The medical community uses the word “fomite,” which comes from the Latin for “tinder,” to refer to a non-living object that can carry and readily transmit infectious organisms. Like the shopping cart handles in the previous examples, purses are also fomites that can transport bacteria from bathrooms to shopping carts to cars to kitchen counters.
It’s likely that cart covers are also good fomites, because it’s likely that they, like purses, are infrequently washed.

Fecal matter is everywhere

Before giving into fear of our purses and shopping carts, it’s important to step back and consider the funding sources of these studies. Gerba’s work at the University of Arizona has been funded at least in part by Clorox, a company so tied to the concept of germ-fighting that its name is synonymous with bleach. The study in the UK that launched so many reports about 1 in 5 purses harboring dangerous levels of bacteria? The organization behind it was
The study in the UK that launched so many reports about 1 in 5 purses harboring dangerous levels of bacteria? The organization behind it was Initial Hygiene, a company that sells different sanitation devices, among them bathroom cleaning equipment.
The organizations supporting these studies don’t make the resulting research invalid, but they do suggest that these organizations had something to gain from a public perception that our shopping carts and purses are carrying dangerous levels of bacteria.
Such studies have inspired not just cart covers, but also patents for shopping cart sanitizing machines, shopping cart handles that repel bacteria and countless forms of sanitizing wipes. The questions that these studies do not answer is whether those objects are necessarily more dangerous than any other items.
Yes, that cart has more fecal matter on it than a public toilet. Yes, your diaper bag is harboring burgeoning colonies of bacteria.
But so is everything else.
A recent Huffington Post article summarizes the issue nicely by reminding readers that “there’s fecal matter on practically everything.” The article quotes Kelly Reynolds, a professor of Public Health and the main author of the paper that initiated the concern over bacteria-laden shopping carts. “Given that we all produce and excrete feces,” Reynolds says, “fecal matter in the environment is pretty common.” Reynolds’ advice to those concerned about bacteria is simple: wash your hands and wash your surfaces. That’s it. There’s no mention of protective devices to ward off bacteria.
The average human body has roughly 30 trillion cells, as well as 40 trillion bacteria. Bacteria is everywhere, and we tend to think about it only when its presence is advertised, as when we read a newspaper report about bacteria-coated purses. If you go looking for bacteria, you’re going to find it. But that doesn’t mean you are likely to get sick from it.
Bacteria is present on shopping cart handles, and yes, in quantities larger than you’d expect to find in a public restroom. That’s because public restrooms are regularly cleaned, while shopping carts are not. Using a sanitizing wipe before touching the cart handle can bring your cart to bathroom, or even better-than-bathroom levels. And even if your kid licks a dirty shopping cart handle, most of the resulting bacteria are relatively safe. Remember that E. coli, common fixture of news terror though it may be, already exists in our intestines and is in many cases harmless.
If you’ve bought that shopping cart cover because you want to protect your kid’s adorable clothes from whatever the last kid left behind, it may work as a stain protector. If your cover is full of distractions to help you shop in peace, fine. If you just want a little extra padding so your child will lay back and snooze in the cart, it’s also a fine option. But a piece of infrequently-washed cloth isn’t going to do much in the way of disease prevention.
 

Five Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Weaning

Weaning isn’t merely the cessation of breastfeeding, it’s a major shift in a complicated parent-child relationship.

Ah, the magic of breastfeeding. If you’re a nursing mother, and you’re anything like me, you probably read a whole bunch about breastfeeding before your first kiddo was born. I knew I wanted to breastfeed, and I knew I needed information, support, and encouragement.
I read, I talked with friends, I even grilled my own mother about her breastfeeding experience. All of that, especially talking to fellow breastfeeders, was incredibly helpful. From early issues of difficult latches to oversupply to teething and biting and eventually, the hilarious reality of nursing a giant toddler.
I always felt like I had the info that I needed. But there was one area that my breastfeeding education was sorely lacking: weaning. I mean, I knew that all children do, in fact, stop breastfeeding eventually. But I was incredibly hazy on the details, and I was woefully ill-prepared.
When my son surprised me and weaned himself, at about a year-and-a-half, I suddenly realized that there was this massive gap in my knowledge. I had decided, when he was a little under a year old, that I wasn’t in any rush to be done breastfeeding. I sort of vaguely intended to let him wean whenever he was ready, but I imagined that left to his own devices, that wouldn’t be for ages.
When my toddler quit the boob, I was left remembering the wistful look I had seen in other mothers’ eyes when they said, “oh yeah, my oldest stopped nursing before I was ready.” I naively imagined that they were describing some kind of vague regret, but plunged into the world of weaning, I found it was much much bigger than that. Weaning isn’t merely the cessation of breastfeeding, it’s a major shift in a complicated parent-child relationship. For me, it literally changed everything.
With all of the information out there, discussion of weaning is still surprisingly sparse. Maybe some parents want to keep their experiences private, (fair!). Maybe the folks who think weaning should happen by a certain age, and the folks who think weaning should be up to the child, are too busy promoting their own ideologies to talk about what weaning actually is. Whatever the reason, I think mothers who choose to breastfeed could probably use more information about weaning. I sure would have benefited from it.
Here are five things I wish I had known about weaning:

Weaning can happen really suddenly, even though that isn’t the norm

When my son stopped nursing, I did what any reasonable millennial mother would do, I googled it. Based on the circumstances, it was clear to me that my baby was on what is called a nursing strike. He was sick, and he was temporarily refusing to nurse, but I had every reason to believe he would return to his usual nursing routine very soon. Everything that I read was clear on the subject: weaning almost always happens very gradually, and therefore any time a kid suddenly stops nursing, it’s a strike.

Almost always means something different than always

Not wanting to wean my child before he was ready, I did everything in my power to end the strike, but the longer he went without nursing, the more okay he seemed. Eventually, I realized, if the strike went on forever, it wasn’t exactly a strike anymore, was it?
When he hadn’t nursed in about a week, I noticed that he no longer even seemed sad about it, he just wanted to play with his toy trucks and he didn’t want me and my boobs in his way.
I had imagined that either I would decide to wean him or I would have plenty of warning before he weaned himself. Sudden self-weaning might not be the norm, but just because something isn’t the norm is no guarantee that it won’t happen.

It can be both emotionally and physically hard on the mother

Fortunately, a friend tipped me off that post-weaning depression is a thing that can happen. I knew that I might get seriously down. I also knew that, as a mom who had suffered from postpartum depression, my odds of getting post-weaning depression were higher.
What I didn’t know, however, were the potential physical aspects of weaning. I had imagined that I would likely enter some kind of depressive period around weaning, but I thought it would all take place in my brain.
The cessation of breastfeeding was, for me, a whole-body experience. The hormonal change not only gave me a serious case of the blues, it also caused severe exhaustion, nausea, and even dizziness. Oh, and my boobs tingled and felt like pins and needles.
I felt gross all over. I found myself saying “I just have to lay down for a few minutes” several times a day. When I finally talked to other parents who were weaning, I confirmed that I wasn’t alone. Other people also felt so bad that they wondered if they were getting sick.

Sometimes you might feel rejected, and no amount of logic can help

Idealistically, I believe that the point of parenting is raising children to become happy, healthy, confident adults, and therefore I am thrilled to witness my child become more independent and self-sufficient. That’s what my brain thinks about parenting. What the brain thinks and what the heart thinks are often very different things.
When my son no longer wanted to nurse I felt heartbroken. I felt useless and completely rejected. I worried that my place in my family was suddenly gone. If I wasn’t the nursing mama, who was I?
Logically, I knew that I was still his mom and that we still had a special bond. Just because he was done with this one particular activity didn’t mean he was done with me. Logic couldn’t reach me when he was refusing to hug me.
Logic didn’t help when he pushed me away, shouting, “no no no no!” Logic wasn’t comforting when he only wanted to see his other parent at night and completely freaked out if I so much as walked into his room. Logic was useless to me.
The one thing that did help, though, was a friend who, while I was still clinging to hope that he might nurse again, offered me these somewhat pessimistic words of wisdom: “If it is the end, just think of it as the first time of many that he’ll break your heart.”
That’s the thing. Kids grow up. They stop needing us as much as they did before. It feels like rejection, and it sucks. Sometimes you can’t reason your way out of those feelings, you just have to accept that those feelings are part of the package you signed up for when you took on parenting.

It can be hard to find the support you need, but it’s not impossible

For whatever reason, people just seem to talk about weaning less than they do other aspects of breastfeeding. It was easy to find support as a nursing parent. If I wanted to talk about milk supply, or night feedings, or nursing in public, or pumping, it seemed like there was always a community of like-minded parents ready to share with me.
It was wonderful. The social spaces in which I accessed breastfeeding support were, by definition, pro-breastfeeding. Once I was no longer breastfeeding, I wasn’t sure where to turn. For the first time, I found myself feeling totally and completely alone. I was overwhelmed by the physical and emotional changes taking place, and I thought I had no one to talk to.
I did eventually find support. It just required me being willing to initiate those conversations. People didn’t freely offer up information and stories about weaning the same way they had with their breastfeeding. Once I made a point to put myself out there, however, it got easier.

In some ways,  weaning can feel like getting back to normal

The end of breastfeeding was extremely difficult for me, but there was an unexpected silver lining. After a couple of weeks, I realized I had started to feel… different. The feeling was oddly familiar, and then it hit me, I was starting to feel more like I did before I was pregnant.
I don’t feel exactly like I did pre-pregnancy and baby, becoming a mom has changed me in many ways. The realities of breastfeeding changed my life more than I realized. With its absence, I found myself slipping into older patterns.
In a way, it feels like waking up from a long trance. There’s no denying that the hormonal balance in my body and brain is different now. My days are no longer segmented into breastfeeding sessions. I have more time.
When I was nursing, there was constant physical touch. As an introvert, that was a lot to handle, even though it was also very snuggly and nice. Now that I’m the parent of an independent toddler, I no longer feel constantly “touched-out.” I can enjoy things like holding hands and cuddling again.
The end of the breastfeeding relationship can be bittersweet for many. It certainly was for me. In the end, I wish that I had talked about it more, and more frankly. I’m grateful for the people who were open with me about their own weaning experiences. I hope I can pay a little of that forward, and make it a little easier for someone else.

The Honest Truth About Food Costs in This Country

If we just planned our food budgets better, we could all allegedly spend less money and get better quality food at the same time. But is that really true?

Food costs have long been the subject of many national debates. Americans may not be aware that food has come to occupy an ever smaller part of their budget. As recently as the 1960’s, Americans spent about seventeen percent of their income on food. This was down from more than 40 percent at the turn of the century.
Today,  the average American household spends about ten percent of their income on food. This is a relative pittance compared to some other countries. The French and Japanese spend a lot more than we do.
Food is everywhere in the United States and it is often far less expensive than our forebears might have dared imagine. For many contemporary Americans, the question is not the cost of the food we eat. It is the quality of the food on our tables.
Americans, we are told, eat too much and eat food that is of poor quality. If we just planned our food budgets better, we could all allegedly spend less money and get better quality food at the same time.
One recent meme posted on a popular website takes direct aim at American food spending habits.
Food Price Comparison 3
The top half of the meme has a fried chicken fast food meal. In this scenario, the buyer gets eight pieces of chicken, four biscuits, two small side dishes and that’s about it, all for twenty bucks. In the second half of the meme, the buyer has the same twenty bucks to spend. Only this time, the buyer gets a lot more for the money.
Gone are the fried chicken and side dishes. Instead, the buyer gets all kinds of healthy food. This buyer, we are told, will have two pounds of chicken, ten pounds of potatoes, eight ears of fresh corn, a gallon of skim milk, a pound of lean ground beef, eighteen ounces of oats, two pounds of frozen peas and a pound of dried kidney beans. For dessert, they get a pound of peaches and two pounds of yogurt.
On the surface, this would seem to illustrate the problems with American food consumption in a vivid and accurate way. Most people believe this meme demonstrates just how much Americans need to change their food buying and eating habits. After all, isn’t healthy, cheap food vastly preferable to unhealthy, expensive food? Shouldn’t we all think twice about how better to spend our food dollars and get even more food for less money?
One intrepid Chicago parent saw this meme and was inspired to find out the truth behind the pictures. Was it really possible to buy five or more single, healthy, nutritious meals for the cost of a single takeout meal? Could she buy all this food at her local area supermarket, all for a mere twenty dollars?
Nicole White is a working mother of two with a passion for health care and nutrition. As a nurse in a poverty-stricken neighborhood, she sees clients who struggle with funds for food each day during the course of her practice.
Her Community Nursing project was on obesity in the low-income Black community on the South side of Chicago, giving her a firsthand look at the problems that often result from the food that our poorest citizens consume.
She knows that perhaps her patients could use their food budget in ways that might make their food dollars go further. Yet, she was upset at the prospect of people blithely chiding others for failing to use their food dollars well.
With that end in mind, she looked carefully at the bottom half of the meme and headed to two places. Her first stop was to a Walmart in the same low-income neighborhood where she works. This particular Walmart, unlike full sized Walmarts that are denied permits, was allowed to open specifically because it is in the midst of a food desert. In short, it is no suburban gathering place but rather the store where the powers that be expect poor people to do their grocery shopping.
Her second stop was to the local outlet of her fast food chicken chain.
The net result of her little excursion?
At Walmart the two pounds of chicken ran her over thirteen dollars not the two bucks in the meme. Ten pounds of potatoes was nearly four bucks, not less than three, as was quoted in the meme.
While some items will be more expensive at this time of the year as it is not summer (three nectarines cost her over four dollars while eight ears of corn were about eight bucks) others are in season all year round and still far more expensive than stated in the meme. A pound of lean ground beef was more than five dollars, not the three asserted by the meme.
She also headed to her local fried chicken place where she bought a standard meal including a chicken and three large side items along with four biscuits.
The fried chicken cost? $22.10. The final tally for the food in the bottom half of the meme? A whopping $47.40. While you might think that perhaps costs food costs are higher than other parts of America, this is not true. Many food items like rice, tomatoes, and oranges come in below national averages. Moreover, again this is a Walmart specifically intended to serve the needs of the poor with good, nutritious, cheap food.
Similar food costs can be found all over the country.
Let’s be honest. No one is advocating eating junk food all the time or even more than a few times a month if that. Fried chicken and coleslaw are once in a while items and that’s it. Many Americans could well afford to revamp their food budgets and use them better. Even at about fifty bucks, the second food bill is still a far better use of money. Oatmeal, fruit, chicken, peas, fresh corn, potatoes, and yogurt are all more nutritious than a fast food dinner.
But that’s not why this meme was put out there. It wasn’t put out to remind us all we could choose to use our food dollars better. It was put up to shame people. It was put up to imply that some people spend their food dollars well and others don’t. And that is why, like so many other such assertions, it fails miserably.

Unleash the Hidden Power of Laughing With Your Kids

Whether we are feeling anxious about current affairs or dealing with a health issue, laughter, believe it or not, can help us persevere.

Sometimes life can be tough. Whether we are feeling anxious about current affairs or dealing with a health issue, something as simple as laughter, believe it or not, can help us persevere.
As adults, we can get bogged down with our to-do lists and stresses of daily life, and forget how beautiful it is to let loose and have a good laugh. Unfortunately, most adults do not laugh enough. In fact, one study found that healthy children may laugh as much as 400 times per day, but adults only laugh 15 times per day.
We can learn so much from our children when it comes to being lighthearted. It is important to raise them in such a way that they will continue to experience fun and laughter throughout their lives. We can create a positive environment for them to grow up in by stopping once in a while to have a laughing fit together.
Laughter really is like medicine. According to the Mayo Clinic, laughing is one of the easiest ways for us to reduce stress and anxiety in our lives. Laughing transforms our body and mind in many amazing ways, boosting positive emotions.
When we laugh, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex of our brain is activated. This releases feel-good hormones called endorphins that allow us to experience pleasure and satisfaction. Laughing also reduced our stress response because the level of stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine (adrenaline), and dopamine are lowered.
We feel energized since we take in more oxygen-rich air when we laugh. Finally, laughing relaxes our muscles, which soothes tension from stress. In fact, a good laugh can leave your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes.
The muscles that help us smile also affect how we feel. When we use these muscles, we trigger a part of our brain that improves our mood. One particular research study involved having participants hold a pencil in one of three ways in order to get them to make certain facial expressions without telling them exactly what they were doing.
The first group held the pencil sideways in their mouths to force a smile. The second group stuck the pencil in lengthwise to force a frown. The last group, serving as the control group, held the pencil in their hands. Participants were then asked to watch cartoons and rate how funny there were to them.
The group with the sideways pencils (the “smiling” group) had higher funny ratings than the lengthwise group (the “frowning” group). The control group scored between the other two groups, demonstrating how smiling and laughing can really make a difference in how we perceive the world around us.
Researchers also found that facial expressions can reduce negative feelings like pain and sadness. In one study, researchers applied an uncomfortable heat to subjects’ arms and then instructed them to make either a relaxed face, an uncomfortable face, or a neutral face.
The results showed that the people who made a relaxed face experienced less pain than those who made an uncomfortable or neutral face. Smiling releases endorphins and serotonin, which are thought to reduce any pain we feel.   
Laughter can also change how we look at a situation. A silly moment can offer a healthy distraction from negative emotions like anger, guilt, and stress. It’s hard to feel bad when you’re cracking up! When faced with challenges, a lighthearted perspective helps us view such events as positive opportunities as opposed to threats.
Laughter builds resilience and the ability to adapt to adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or stress. When children are resilient, they are braver, more curious, more adaptable, and more able to obtain happiness and success.
Resilience cushions us from mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. (Mayo Clinic 2015) Laughter plays a huge role in how we handle adversity by allowing us to escape from our problems for a little while. By teaching our kids to laugh even in times of pain, we are giving them a key tool that will help them be more resilient as they grow older.
Laughing with our kids is so special because it builds a bond with them. These joyous moments create a more uplifting environment at home. What’s really fun is that laughter tends to be contagious, so before you know it your whole house could be giggling up a storm.

So, how can we laugh more with our kids? Here are 10 ideas to get you rolling:

  • Start a laughing contest to see who can make the other person laugh first.
  • Play fun games like charades, Twister, Pictionary, and Headbanz.
  • Read joke books and websites, and then share your favorites with each other.
  • Create funny stories using Mad Libs or whisper down the lane.
  • Have a family talent show and see who comes up with the funniest routine.
  • Dress up in silly costumes.
  • Watch a comedy television show or movie together as a family.
  • Talk in a silly language like Pig Latin.
  • Keep a collection of funny quotes and pictures that you can bring out at any time to get everyone laughing.
  • Try laughter yoga with your kids. Created by Dr. Madan Katari in 1995 in Bombay, India, this yoga practice combines breathing exercises, yoga, stretching, and laughing. Look for resources like Laughter Friends and LiveStrong.com’s guide to teaching laughter yoga to children.

For more intriguing facts about laughter, check out this infographic by Happify.