Why Honesty Is Good for Our Kids' Health

Lying is part of human nature. In fact, it’s essential to children’s development and can even have some surprising benefits.

Liar, liar, pants on fire! Remember when lying was a negative thing? Now our culture is flooded with alternative facts and fake news – i.e., lies – wherever we turn. Lying may make people feel good about themselves and help them get ahead temporarily, but in the long run lying is damaging to our physical and mental health.

Lying is part of human nature. In fact, it’s essential to children’s development and can even have some surprising benefits. Studies have found that the average person lies 1.65 times per day or 11 times per week. The problem is when our children get too comfortable with lying and it becomes a habit. Ultimately, the lying can begin to negatively impact their body and mind.

How do we know this?

Back in 2012, critical research uncovered a link between lying and health. Anita E. Kelly, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame, led a groundbreaking “Science of Honesty” study that found that people can significantly improve their health if they purposefully and dramatically reduce how often they lie.

The research team observed a group of 110 people for a period of 10 weeks. Half the participants were asked to stop telling major and minor lies during the 10 weeks. The other half of the group served as a control group that received no instructions about lying. Both groups came to the research lab each week to complete health and relationship surveys and to take a polygraph test to assess the number of major and white lies they had told that week (so they couldn’t lie about lying).

Over the course of 10 weeks, researchers found that people in the non-lying group experienced better physical and mental health than those who were in the control group. Specifically, when the test subjects told three fewer lies than they did in other weeks, they experienced about four fewer mental and physical health complaints. These symptoms included feeling tense or melancholy and ailments like sore throats, headaches, and nausea. Additionally, during the weeks when participants told fewer lies, they reported that their close personal relationships improved and their social interactions went more smoothly.

Why does this happen?

Lying is a ton of work and can take a toll on us both physically and mentally. When we tell a lie, we start to feel tense, fidgety, and sweaty. Our heart rate speeds up, our body temperature rises, and our eyes may even dilate. Our brain senses that we are doing something wrong and could possibly be in danger, so it causes our body to create these automatic responses similar to the fight-or-flight response.

According to Dr. Arthur Markman quoted in Shape magazine, the minute we lie, our nervous system kicks in and releases the stress hormone cortisol into our brain. We prepare to defend ourselves and create additional lies to supplement the first lie, as lies tend to easily multiply. We become stressed and anxious as a result of being dishonest. We may also feel anger, irritation, or paranoia towards the person we lied to because we do not want to get caught. Also, we may end up feeling negative emotions like disdain, disappointment, and embarrassment for lying in the first place.

For those who end up in a downward spiral of lying often, the burden of living a lie can cause chronic anxiety that takes the form of physical symptoms like having a worn-down immune system, insomnia, headaches, dizziness, and heart palpitations. Our emotional health can also be impacted, leading to depression, anti-social behavior, and fear, because we want to avoid those who we lied to.     

As the research pointed out, lying also affects our interpersonal relationships. Without a foundation of trust, our children could lose the love and support of friends and family.

What can we do?

It’s up to us to tell our kids that, no matter how many lies they see on television, online, and in the news, honesty is the best policy. Although they will be tempted to lie at times, we can let them know that it will only cause them stress and anxiety and prevent them from being as happy as possible. Here are some ways that you can fill your home with truth: 

  • Be an honest role model. As the primary role models in our children’s lives, we play a vital part in showing them how to be truthful every day. This means that you should avoid lying to your children even when they ask you difficult and uncomfortable questions about topics like sex, drugs, and death. Instead of lying or ignoring them, let them know that those are difficult issues to explain to children and you need to get back to them after you do some research to find out the best books and other resources that you can review together.
  • Read and discuss stories about lying. Some good ones are “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” and “Pinocchio.”
  • Play fact-checking games. When children are young, you can purposely mess up facts in a story they know. For example, you can tell them that Mary had a little “dog” and ask if they can spot the lie, or make a statement like they have a certain color hair even though it’s not true. For older children, challenge them to fact check news stories and political debates using sites like www.factcheck.org, Snopes, and Politifact.
  • Talk about how lying makes them feel. Given the science discussed above, it’s critical that we let our children know how lying can cause them to feel sick and unhappy. Ask them: is it really worth it?
  • Set consequences for lying. Be careful not to brand your child as a liar, but also make it clear that lying is wrong and they will face consequences when they do it. For example, if they lie about finishing the cookies in the cookie jar, take away desserts for one week. Ask them to talk about why they lied to address any feelings of shame, fear, or disappointment that they are struggling with.
  • Develop open and honest communication with your children. The most crucial step we can take as parents is to build a special relationship with our children so they can come to us about anything. When children don’t trust us or are afraid of our reaction, they will lie. On the other hand, if kids are emotionally intelligent, they will have the tools and confidence to be talk to us about what is going on in their lives.

Growth is Necessary, But Honestly, Growth Can Suck

The logical adult in me realizes that I should stand and beg the universe to give me the strength to let my children grow.

It’s been three weeks since my kids went back to school and I’ve cried twice. I talked with a teacher-mom-friend the other day and she cried. I’ve read several articles by fellow writers who are also crying.
Why the hell are we all crying so much?
Because sometimes growth can suck.
I believe in growth. I teach from a growth mindset. I have publicly declared how much I love that my kids are getting older. The physical growing and getting bigger is a great thing! Personal growth for me is essential in life. I need to grow in order to live. It may be hard but I know I can handle it.
I was recently faced with the terrifying experience of sitting in a courtroom to settle a case involving an accident. I was hit from behind by an 18-wheeler while driving over 60 miles per hour. Yes, you read that correctly. It’s not a typo. I was hit from behind while moving. Despite this fact, the ruling landed in the defendant’s favor. No, not another typo – I was found to be at fault. This was an excruciating experience that left me floundering and questioning everything I knew about life. My initial reaction was to curl up and wallow in a lifeless ball of fear, pity, and sadness.
Then I realized that I had to find a way to grow from this experience.
With the help of two glorious women and an emergency road-side stop at a local sports bar for a drink and solid conversation, I was able to piece back parts of my life that were beginning to crumble. With their push and my intentional movement forward, my faith in humanity has been restored intact and made stronger. Growth resulting from an internal struggle is a very good, positive thing. Except when I have to watch my children do it.
I cried this week when my five-year-old told me he was sad because his new friends didn’t laugh at his jokes. It was soul crushing, thinking how he may be feeling lonely throughout the school day. Another mom cried when her daughter was having a hard time getting her new high school schedule straight. The uncertainty for her, being placed in the wrong classes, learning to navigate self-advocacy, and the feeling of helplessness as a mom unable to solve these newfound challenges. I shudder at the thought of my daughter dealing with rejection. Another mom cried about her son playing alone at recess.
The thing is, I don’t mind this kind of growth because I have the life experiences to know I can handle it. I’m 42 years old and fully aware of what I’m made of and capable of. My kids know how to record 57 episodes of Alvin and the Chipmunks. Of course, they are more capable than that, but the thought of it scares me. I continually share with them the honest reality of the challenges in life but these experiences are mine, things I’ve gone through. Of course it helps to assure them that they are not alone, but truly, they need to experience all of these things themselves.
As a mother, it’s goes against everything within me to let that happen and I want to keep them protected and safe from hurt. As a logical adult, I realize that I cannot. The mother in me wants to stand in the middle of the den, eyes closed and arms waiving in the air, asking the universe to give all struggle, pain, and uncertainty to me. I will gladly shoulder all of the growth for my entire family. The logical adult, thankfully realizes that I, instead, should stand and beg the universe to give me the strength to let my children grow.
Letting them grow means letting them go.
I have a sneaking suspicion this is why we are all are crying. I want my children to grow, but I don’t want them to hurt in the process. I want my kids to grow, but I’m having a hard time letting them go. I want my kids to grow and become strong and resilient people of good character, but I still want them to need me. Currently, I would rather have someone hammer bamboo shoots under my finger nails, one-by-one. Slowly.
It’s the sinister paradox of motherhood. We are intensely there for them from the moment they are born and then suddenly our roles change. We once shielded them from every bump and bruise and now we have to allow them to fall. While I may be screaming for mercy on the inside, asking the universe “to give,” I will continually pack them up and see them off into their lives. I will wave from afar and wish them the best of luck and the happiest of days. I will be their everlasting champion. I will be there to wipe away tears, take in their hurt, build them back up, and send them back out into the wild, wild world of Kindergarten and fourth grade. I know we will all be better people for it, and who knows, maybe I’ll grow a bit, too.

Why Multitasking Isn't Your Most Productive Strategy

Multitasking is linked to time management skills. With that in mind, here are five ways you can end your multitasking ways and boost productivity.

It’s incredibly difficult to avoid multitasking. Even young kids get caught in the habit. There always seems to be too much to do and too little time to do it. Ironing while watching TV or talking to our kids or partners saves us a lot of time – or so it seems.
After observing how common multitasking really is, several researchers sought to find out if multitasking is really as terrible as classical psychology says it is. Participants were asked to perform three tasks at the same time to measure productivity. The study found that although the participants were all able to complete the three tasks, they performed terribly on all of them. The researchers were unable to find even one task in which multitaskers performed better than those who didn’t multitask. According to the study, multitasking makes you overall less productive than when you focus on a single activity at a time.

Why multitasking make you less productive

Here are just a few reasons why multitasking hampers productivity:

  • Although the brain can perform multiple tasks, it can only focus on one thing at a time. In other words, when we perform several tasks at the same time, we’re likely to perform them worse than if we focus on one activity at a time.
  • Multitasking keeps you distracted.
  • Multitasking reduces your ability to remember.
  • Multitaskers are worse at switching between tasks.

 
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How to recover from multitasking

Multitasking is linked to time management skills. With that in mind, here are five ways you can end your multitasking ways and boost productivity:

1 | Think of your time as an investment

Lack of time seems to be a problem we all struggle with, yet there are many people with impossible schedules who seem to manage to get more done.
Being more aware of where your time goes is the first step if you want to get your time back. We can’t spend our time on everything, just as we can’t spend our time on everyone. Adopting a daily planning ritual can also help in time management.
According to one study, reflecting on how you managed your time at the end of each day for 15 minutes is more effective than actually working for 15 more minutes. Analyzing where your time goes and taking the time to organize your day and week can save you a lot of time and reduce the need to multitask. It can also help you determine the activities that are best done in the early morning and those that are best done when the kids go to bed.

2 | Be unapologetic about your to-do list

There are too many distractions, which means that we often focus on the loudest distractions instead of what really needs to be done. Not everything is a priority and not everything requires your attention. Go through your to-do list and only keep the things that really matter.

3 | Simplify, simplify, simplify

There are many ways parents can make things simpler. Taming the toys not only spurs kids’ creativity, it also helps keep the house tidier. According to the authors of the book “Simplicity Parenting”, adopting simple routines such as making meals predictable (e.g., Monday is soup night, Tuesday is pasta night, Wednesday is pizza night, and so on) is less demanding for parents, and the predictability also gives children a sense of stability.
Embrace the many situations in which less is more.

4 | Fight distractions

The only way to stay focused is to fight distractions – easier said than done! There’s just too much “interesting stuff” that gets in the way. The first step in fighting distractions is to know what distracts you. Emails? Social media? Calls? Knowing what distracts you most can make it easier to set up strategies to reduce those distractions. For example, switching your phone off or setting aside specific time slots to check your social media accounts can help you get your time back. According to research, social media dependency is one of the biggest distractions out there today.
Not all distractions can be prevented, but it’s important to remember that not everything requires immediate attention. The key lies in being able to recognize distractions for what they are and to quickly get back to the tasks at hand. Note: It’s much easier to fight distractions when you have an effective to-do list.

5 | Accept imperfection

You can’t get everything done within 24 hours. You just can’t, and you don’t have to. Accept that your house won’t be picture perfect everyday. When we strive for perfection, we invite stress and disappointment into our lives. The price to pay for perfection is much too high a price. As Oprah Winfrey once said, “You can have it all. Just not all at once.”

Finally Finding My Groove as a Stepparent

Through all the changes and adjustments we’ve made, it’s become clear being a stepparent is as much of an honor as being any sort of parent is.

Children dream of what they’ll do when they grow up and their dreams are generally big. One thing no one ever dreams of growing up and being is a stepparent. Children are likely to answer the question, what do you want it to be when you’re big? with: a dentist, a doctor, a fireman, a farmer, a superhero, a mum or a dad possibly, but never a stepparent.

Being a stepparent is a role filled with many different emotions like frustration, anger, joy, heartache, happiness, and sadness. This range of emotions, I can only assume, is much like that of a “real” parent.

I met my stepson when he was four. He doesn’t remember a time when I haven’t been around. Meeting him for the first time was nerve-racking even though we were best friends instantly. We laughed smiled and had fun. We hugged, kissed, and held hands. We played games and were a team. It was me and him against his Dad. Me and him playing tricks on Dad. Me and him baking and playing. He would come and stay every weekend and all of the school holidays. He adored being with his Dad but he also loved spending time with me, too. He loved his “weekend” family.

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I was the next best thing to a mum. His dad invited me to be a part of his life and I was honored. I washed, cooked, cleaned, played, baked, and cared for him as a “real” mother would. It would be me he would wake in the night when he couldn’t sleep or had a bad dream or felt ill. I loved my new role.

His mother didn’t always make life easy for us. She was angry and was trying to protect her son and herself. Although we didn’t always like each other, we all very much loved him and only ever wanted what we thought was best for him.

When he was eight, four years after we met, his Dad and I made the difficult decision to move. Not just down the road, but to a new country in a new continent in a completely different time zone. It wasn’t an easy decision but it was a decision that we were confident would be the best for all of our futures. We both got new jobs and asked, begged, and pleaded that he come with us. Understandably, his mother said no. It was hard for everyone but hardest for him. However, after 18 months of heartache for everyone, my stepson came to live with us to start a new life thousands of miles from home.

After the excitement of its newness had worn off, it became clear that sacrifices had to made by everyone and we all had to make quite a few adjustments. On reflection, it was the toughest year we’ve had as a family. Not only had his life been completely turned upside-down but so had ours.

His first few months with us were hard. We were all adjusting but he’d had to adjust to being at a very different school, in a different country, and in a different house with different guidelines. He knew no one and we all had to get used to there being three of us. More importantly, we were no longer the “weekend” parents, we were the day-to-day “boring” parents: the parents who had full-time jobs and could not commit all of their time to fun things. Life had changed dramatically.

It’s hard to admit but becoming a full-time stepmum was a job I found very difficult. All of our relationships with each other suffered. I thought it would be easy but there was now a change to how my stepson viewed me. In his words, “I was no longer fun.” We always used to laugh but now I was always too busy. We always used to be on the same team but now all I did was tell him what to do and bossed him around. There were so many more rules than there used to be.

He was right. We rarely laughed and we were definitely not on the same team. We would fight and argue. We would cry and scream. We were battling. We had moved from “weekend” parenting to full time, day-to-day parenting. His loyalty to his mum also made him angry towards me.

Being a stepparent is frustrating. You get to make decisions but you don’t really get to make decisions. Mum and Dad make the big decisions. At times you can feel like a secretary who completes important documents and paperwork. Occasionally parenting viewpoints can differ and as a stepparent, you will be overruled.

For a long time, it felt like my stepson and I were continually fighting. We’d wake up and fight; we’d have breakfast and fight; we’d eat dinner and fight; bedtime came and we’d fight. It was beyond exhausting. There were many times when I’d question why I was doing this. I would dread waking up, not knowing what we’d find to argue about that day.

But through all the frustrations and resentment, I was also fully aware that being a stepmum was an amazing thing. You get to watch someone blossom, form relationships, make decisions, and grow in confidence. You get to watch someone learn how to tie their shoelaces, tell the time, and push boundaries. You get to watch someone grow in maturity; watch someone recognize he wasn’t always very nice or polite or kind to you. You get to watch someone apologize for these wrong choices but then make the same mistakes again.

I am very lucky that my partner respects and values my opinion (most of the time). He has let me parent his son, his pride and joy, in a way that isn’t my stepson’s mother’s way or even my partner’s way, but my own way. Although it’s hard to admit, I know it’s not always the right way. We do fall out over it. I’ve heard, “He’s my child, I’ll decide,” more than once (although I’m sure “real” parents who have a fifty-fifty share of their child have also been known to say that when they feel their viewpoint is correct).

Through all the changes and adjustments we’ve had to make, it has become clear that being a stepparent is as much of an honor as being any sort of parent is. All parenting is frustrating. It makes you angry, it brings you joy, and it makes you happy and sad, all in equal measures. It’s tough. It’s exhausting. It’s life changing.

After nearly two years of him living with us, our relationship is getting back on track. We’ve both recognized that our roles within the family team have evolved and changed. Being a full-time stepmum and a full-time stepson have altered the family’s team rules. We are working hard to learn the new responsibilities we each have to make this family a team that works together, learns together, and has fun together. We’re becoming a team that can work through the tough times, the disagreements, and the fights. We need to continue to work hard to keep our relationships healthy in order to make this the best team it can be.

Just Make up Traditions and They'll Become a Thing

You want fun family rituals? State them in an Official Announcement voice, and they’ll become gospel.

Before my husband Tom and I had kids, having any sort of tradition was not our thing. We craved the new – the latest restaurant or the coolest new place to travel to. Doing the same thing over and over just struck us as boring.

Then, when we had our daughter, I began to feel a little depressed about our freewheeling, tradition-free lifestyle. I thought about when I was little, and how I looked forward to our family’s corny but fun little rituals, like Pizza and Movie Night on Fridays.

I realized that I could just make up traditions. Many of our official-sounding rituals are ones that I hastily crafted on the spot when Sylvie was three or four. All I had to do was state it in an Official Announcement voice, and it became gospel (oh, how I miss those gullible days when she actually believed my declaration that toy stores were closed on weekends, and the iPad stopped working after sundown).

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Once when Sylvie came down with a stomach bug, I tried to make her day home from school special. I rummaged around in my cabinet and found a plate with a bunny on it that I had completely forgotten about – my mother had sent it to me and I had absently stashed it away. I brought out the plate with a flourish, piled crackers on it, and announced that Sylvie could only eat from the special bunny plate when she was sick. After that, every time she was sick, she reminded me to bring out the plate.

Small gestures can take on huge importance in a kid’s mind. One night when I was fried after a grueling day, I asked my husband and daughter if they could pile into bed with me and do a “sardine can.” Being squished close together was goofy and comforting. Now, if one of us has a bad day, he or she can request a “sardine can” and we all race to the bed. (I never need an excuse to crawl into bed at any time of day.)

Another time, when Tom was away one weekend on business, I woke to the sight of my daughter Sylvie standing by my bed at 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning, smiling and ready for the day to begin. I just didn’t feel motivated to leave the house or, to be honest, to put on shoes or pants without an elastic waist. Or to stand upright. Or to eat any food containing fiber or vitamins. So instead I issued the proclamation that it was a “Lazy Saturday,” and we were fully authorized to stay in our pajamas all day, make cookies, and loll around watching “The Sound of Music.” Some on-the-spot rebranding transformed my slothfulness into a hallowed family custom. Now Sylvie and I regularly have Lazy Saturdays.

Being sluggish together builds some downtime into our busy week, which benefits us both. In the first-ever study of what children think of their working parents, child development researcher Ellen Galinsky talked to more than one thousand children ages eight to 18 about their family relationships and their parents’ work lives.

She found that what parents believe their children think and what their children are actually thinking can be markedly different, the most telling example being what she calls the “one wish” question. She asked the child ren, “If you were granted just one wish that could change the way your mother’s or your father’s work affects your life, what would that wish be?”

She then asked adults to guess how their child would respond. Most parents guessed that their kids would wish for more time together. Not so. Their most ardent wish was that their parents would be less stressed and less tired. Only two percent of parents got that one right. When we are frazzled and racing from one thing to the next – when even weekends have become a strain – our kids notice and become distressed.

What often compounds working parents’ tension is the pressure they put on themselves to create Memorable Moments on their few days off. But research tells us you do not need to jet to Disney World for the weekend to wow the kids. As Galinsky found, you don’t even need to go to Uncle Stinky’s Unlicensed Fun-Plex off the highway.

She also asked the children what they would remember the most from their childhoods and had their folks predict what the kids would say. Parents almost always guessed the five-star big event or vacation that took meticulous planning and buckets of cash. But Galinsky says that instead, kids specified the small, everyday rituals and traditions that said, “We’re a family.”

One girl mentioned that every morning when she left for school, her father would say, “You go, tiger, you go get them.” This seemingly insignificant, throwaway ritual, which brings a lump to my throat every time I think about it, was singled out as the experience this child would remember most vividly from childhood. As Galinsky discovered, those little things matter so much more than we think they do.

This essay is adapted from Dunn’s book “How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids,” published by Little, Brown. 

5 Things Every Dad Should Know Before Taking a Paternity Leave

For one, it’s not a “sadaddical.”

In the months before you become a parent, you’ll get a lot smarter. You’ll take classes that prepare you for your “journey” into parenthood. You’ll Google your way to a working knowledge of everything from nursery feng shui to stroller ergonomics; and you’ll absorb a mountain of advice from every parent you know.
If your pre-fatherhood experience is anything like mine, it won’t include much information about extended paternity leaves. You’ll likely be expected to follow some version of the standard American template for infant care, with mom taking a twelve-week maternity leave, you taking a few days off after the birth of the baby, and both of you returning to work as soon as possible.
The trouble is, that template doesn’t work for everyone. It certainly didn’t work for me. After my son was born, I struggled to reconcile new family responsibilities with longstanding professional commitments, and parenthood upended the “50/50” partnership that had sustained my marriage.
 
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Eventually, something had to give, and I decided to pursue a parental leave of absence from work. The decision wasn’t easy to make at the time, but ended up being invaluable, often for reasons I didn’t necessarily expect. Here’s what I learned from the experience:

1 | Your employer and colleagues will support you  

Before I decided to take an extended leave, the entire concept was alien to me. I rarely took so much as a long vacation, and no one ever discussed paternity leaves around the office. I had absolutely no idea how such a thing would be administered through our HR department, and I worried how my colleagues and supervisors would react.
I needn’t have. Employers are required by the Family Medical Leave Act to allow for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave within the first year of a child’s arrival, and it’s relatively simple to file the paperwork.  
More importantly, once your leave is booked and you share the news, you’ll likely be cheered on by your peers and co-workers. I was surprised and touched by the support I received from my company’s leaders, and by the number of colleagues who told me they appreciated what I was doing and hoped it would influence more men to do the same thing. Notably, this support continued upon my return to the office.

2 | Your leave is not for you – It’s for “us”

Once my leave began, I quickly discovered that it really wasn’t about “paternity.” It was about family. Paternity leaves help you clarify your priorities as a partner, and sharpen your childcare skills.
That doesn’t just mean changing diapers and giving baths either. Prior to my leave, I was plenty capable of all the baby care basics, but it wasn’t until I was home with my son for weeks that I really learned to read his cues, get onto his tiny wavelength and feel certain that I was as capable of caring for him as my wife was.
That confidence proved invaluable later on when my wife decided she was ready to go back to work. We could now move forward knowing that we could handle any employment scenario, and deal with anything the little guy threw at us. We also restored some of the balance that made our marriage tick, and learned that an investment in the future of “us” was much more valuable than a temporary loss of income.

3 | Your leave is a job, not a “sadaddical,” a “stay-cation,” or a “break”   

For those of us in a corporate world defined by a prescribed allotment of holidays and vacation time, the idea of a leave of absence can seem like a fantasy. Any extended time off work can easily be confused for a total escape into a world of self-reflection and rejuvenation.
Maybe some leaves are like that, but paternity leaves aren’t. Full-time parenting is a job. It’s an amazing job, but it’s a job. That means you’re probably not going to have the opportunity to pursue that long-delayed project, or try your hand at woodworking, or read all the classic novels you were supposed to read in high school but didn’t.
What you will have is the chance to become a pro dad, which is a pretty enriching thing. The sooner you embrace that singular opportunity, the more fulfilling your experience will be.

4 | You don’t need to do any homework beforehand, but you might want to work out

Once you get your leave on the books, it can be tempting to start planning for tons of baby-friendly adventures and activities. You might find yourself Googling things like “how to hike with a baby” and shopping for baby adventure gear.
Honestly, that time might be better spent working on your core. Sure, once your time off starts you’ll do some adventuring, but you’ll mostly just be hanging out with a baby, generally in awkward and uncomfortable positions. You’ll sit cross-legged on cold library floors. You’ll fold yourself over a crib for 20 straight minutes, and you’ll fish around under beds and tables in desperate search of pacifiers and “lovees.”
All that physical stress can take a toll, especially for those of us used to working at a computer all day, so it’s worth preparing for. Besides, Google will always cooperate when you need to research a new adventure. Your back won’t.

5 | It’s the best opportunity you’ll ever have to “disconnect”

Speaking of working at a computer, if you’re considering a paternity leave, you’re probably also considering how you might be able to stay “connected” to your work while you’re out of the office. Maybe you feel a sense of obligation to your employer, or maybe being removed from work feels so different and unusual that you would actually prefer to keep some of your old routine.
Those feelings are natural of course. If I could do it again, I’d probably attempt a complete disconnection from all of my email and projects, and maybe a complete social media detox too. During your leave, your job, colleagues, and projects will all adapt. While they’re adjusting to your absence, your baby will be adjusting to your presence. He or she will show you exactly where you should be focused, and it won’t involve email, status updates, or your digital life. My best advice is to listen.

I Gave Up Saying Good Job for a Week, and Here's What I Found

We want to raise children who are self-motivated and confident, and this happens when we trade passive phrases for true presence and real conversation.

My five-year-old received a couple mini garden kits and was excited to get them going. He followed the directions carefully, put them in a sunny spot, and nourished them with water, kisses, and conversation.
After checking on them one evening, he ran to me in the bathroom screaming, “Mommy! Mommy! Look! Look! I’ve taken such good care of my plants, and I have another baby sprout!” I was wrapping my hair in a towel and felt the quickly-excited words “Good job!” on my tongue, but I stopped.
I caught the look of pure joy in his eyes, and all of a sudden, that phrase felt cheap and automated. I knelt down beside him instead and asked him to show me. I asked him how he felt, and he said, “So proud of myself.”
I’ve known the arguments against “Good job” are out there, but verbal praise has felt too natural and harmless to bother investigating. After the sprout incident, I found myself interested. I came across an article by Alfie Kohn, author of “Unconditional Parenting”, which lays out five reasons to stop saying “Good job.”
 
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He claims it’s manipulative and exploits the pleasing nature of children. Good job, he says, is less about the emotional needs of children and more about the convenience of adults. He argues that praise doesn’t increase self-esteem, but actually makes children more dependent on the approval of others.
Kohn cites the work of Mary Budd Rowe, a researcher at the University of Florida, who found that students accustomed to a lot of verbal praise from their teachers were actually more cautious in answering questions, pursuing creative endeavors, and more likely to give up when tasks became hard.
Kohn says praise steals the pleasure of what’s being done. Children naturally take pride in their accomplishments. When we say “Good job!” we’re telling them how to feel instead of letting them decide. This also causes our young learners to lose interest in what they’re doing because the point becomes the prize, not the process. Ultimately, Kohn’s argument states that praise makes children more unsure of themselves and require greater external validation.
As I read, concern grew inside of me. I decided to pay close attention to the verbal praise I offer my children for a week, and here’s what I noticed: a constant stream of “Cool jump!”, “Nice coloring!”, and “I like the way you’re sharing!” As I took note of my impulses, I considered Kohn’s views. While I often felt the urge to say some form of “Good job,” it didn’t feel manipulative.
My young children are learning every day and require a lot of guidance and feedback. Praising my two-year-old for waking up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom isn’t about manipulation. It’s letting him know he’s on the right track.
If that’s wrong, I don’t want to be right.
Nonetheless, I’m sensitive to the argument about praise making children into people-pleasers. I want my kids to be bold, free to create, to make mistakes, and go for it. I want them to do, make, and learn for their own satisfaction, not for validation from me or anyone else.
Even though some things aren’t all that fun – like cleaning up, and doing homework – I want them to know the fulfillment of being a cohesive part of a family. I want them to know the pride of trudging through something difficult and completing it. I want to nurture their self-motivation, not a dependence on gold stars and pats on the back.
With this in mind, I changed some of my responses. When my five-year-old showed me a letter he wrote to a friend, I didn’t drop the immediate “Good job!” Instead, I asked him what he thought of his work, and he said, “Well, I forgot the S in Best, but I squeezed it in, and I’m okay with it.” I told him I liked that he solved the problem without crumpling the paper. (Wait, is that still praise?!)
When his two-year-old brother was freaking out because he didn’t have a feather to play with, he eventually gave him one on his own. I smiled adoringly and asked him how his heart felt. I couldn’t help but also tell him what a kind brother he is. And as I did, I wondered if my compliments could really change his motives from doing what feels right to earning my approval.
You see, I want to make the point that how he feels is more important than how I feel. But it seems cold and unnatural to not give recognition. Although I’ve found value in withholding praise, complimenting others is a part of my life that I don’t want to give up. I want to continue appreciating and encouraging one another. Now, I feel inspired to do so in more genuine ways.
The other day, when I said it was time to go swimming, my eldest went upstairs to get everyone’s bathing suits without even being asked. As I thanked him, I realized that many Good Jobs are often Thank Yous geared toward children. They’re appreciation dressed up as approval, and even though I don’t want to nitpick wording, they do seem to send different messages.
I’ve found value in interacting more authentically and switching the focus from my evaluations to theirs. I’ve talked with my son more about his thought processes and internal guidance. Meanwhile, the main problem I found with “Good job” isn’t that it’s necessarily damaging, but it’s often empty. The words come out of my mouth too automatically, without enough attention. I hear myself say it as a half-hearted acknowledgment.
One evening, as I cut vegetables and my youngest pasted bits of paper, I felt myself almost say “Nice gluing!” Surely, he didn’t need any feedback in the moment. He was self-directed and doing the activity because he wanted to. The real reason I felt the urge to say this is simply because I wanted to acknowledge him. Instead of speaking at all, I moved closer to him. He looked up at me as I took a seat beside him. I smiled as he continued on with his work.
Being with him then felt more meaningful than any words. The next day, I chose a similar tactic when he wanted to open a yogurt by himself. He didn’t need praise. After all, he’s two and wired to want to do things for himself. I quietly watched him, and he seemed to take pleasure in my attention and his own abilities.
When he got the top of the yogurt off, I didn’t applaud. I said, “You got it. Time to throw it in the trash.” And he did, in the most confident manner. The way I spoke to him felt less condescending. I didn’t act surprised by his every little ability, but rather like I expected his competence – and that somehow felt more empowering than praise.
Now, rather than use my words to let them know I see them, I use my presence. Instead of praising a painting while prepping dinner, I stop and ask what their favorite part of the painting is. And although I feel more conscious of praise, I don’t feel scared of it, either.
A few days ago, our preschooler lay on the couch peacefully. My husband walked over and said, “You’re a good boy, Jav.” Then he looked up at me and said teasingly, “Oh yeah, I’m not supposed to say that.”
I laughed because, of course, we shouldn’t stop saying kind things to one another. But being conscious of how I acknowledge my kids does place my sights on the big picture of parenting: to raise children who are self-motivated and confident, and also to connect with them as deeply as possible. And this happens when we trade passive phrases for true presence and real conversation.

My Mom’s Genius Strategy for Making Mornings Insanely Easy 

I have no recollection of seeing my mom awake before eight in the morning. And we were totally fine.

I often struggle to remember where I put my sunglasses or my phone, but when it comes to details from my childhood, I have an exceptional memory. I have no recollection of seeing my mom awake before eight in the morning.
My mom always made sure we dressed appropriately for the weather, and that our permissions slips were signed. We knew we’d eat a balanced meal, (a protein, a starch, a vegetable, and a salad) at six o’clock every night, and we knew we were loved. We also knew not to expect to see our mom in the morning, save for a groggy, “have a good day” and the kiss we’d dash up to her bed for before running out the door.
She wasn’t sick, lazy, or addicted to anything. She was just a night owl. And, like the fact that my dad didn’t own pajamas, or the fact that we ordered Chinese food on Sunday nights, I assumed this was normal until I grew up and realized it wasn’t.
 
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Now that I’m a parent, I understand that while my mom’s strategy was unconventional, it was genius. Here’s why:

1 | We were responsible

Because my mom never woke me up, I had to figure out when to wake up in order to get to school on time, and be responsible for actually getting up at that time. Since I can remember, I’ve had a penchant for determining the last possible moment I could wake up and still be on time, and set my alarm at least 30 minutes earlier, to allow plenty of time to hit snooze. If I rushed to shove breakfast in my mouth, I had only myself to blame. It was up to me to remember my lunch, my homework, and a hat. We didn’t have our mom (or Alexa) to tell us what the weather was going to be. Instead, we had the weather line memorized.

2 | We avoided power struggles

If I didn’t like the healthy cereal my mom had bought a dozen boxes of on sale with double coupons, that was my problem and mine alone. Because my mom was still peacefully slumbering, there was no point in whining about the gross cereal or refusing to eat it. For her part, my mother couldn’t disapprove of my outfit, jacket, or anything else if she wasn’t awake to see them. I was a sassy (read: bitchy) teenager and, like my mom, have never been a morning person. Had we both been awake and in the same room in the mornings before I left for high school, I suspect the crime scene investigation team would have been at our house before the bell rang for first period most mornings.


3 | My brother and I figured out how to get along


My brother is two years older than me and, like normal siblings, we alternated between being partners in crime and mortal enemies. While leaving us to our own devices could have made us go all Lord-of-the-Flies, it didn’t. In the winter, Adam set our jackets on the radiator, taking care to arrange them so the zippers wouldn’t burn our fingers before braving the New England winter en route to the bus stop. Being taller and less likely to make a mess, he always popped our waffles in the toaster and poured our milk. I honestly don’t know what I contributed, other than blithely letting him be in charge. I do know we had a system that worked. 

4 | I understood my mom had priorities other than me

From a young age, I got that my mom was up late doing important stuff, which was why she had to sleep in. My little sister was born when I was in the first grade. I remember rousing in the middle of the night and hearing my mom’s voice wafting from the nursery as she rocked and sung her back to sleep. Later, it was her hobbies that my mom attended to in the wee hours. She caned chairs, read, sewed, and did calligraphy. I don’t know that we ever discussed it, but I intuited that my mom took those late night hours for her own interests – interests that had zero to do with me or my siblings.


5 | I had a role model who didn’t care what other people were doing

My mom didn’t have Facebook and Pinterest but she must have known everyone else’s mom was up in time for breakfast. She clearly did not care. Her ability to do what worked for her despite the fact that no one else (at least no sober, sane, stable stay-at-home-mom I’ve ever heard of) did it her way, is impressive.
One of the most important lessons I could teach my children is to be themselves. Whether that means living in a commune, making art, keeping strange hours, or whatever else they need to do to nourish their souls, it doesn’t matter, as long as they’re true to themselves, not slaves to other peoples’ expectations.

My mom’s schedule was indeed bizarre, but the more time I spend on this planet, the more I am convinced there is no such thing as normal. I know my mom wasn’t trying to do anything except save her sanity and get some much-needed sleep – it was the 80’s and 90’s and the widespread use of “parent” as a verb was nascent. Nevertheless, by doing what she needed to do for herself, my mother taught me some valuable lessons.

The Power of Silence and How to Help Kids Find More of It

Science indicates that silence can be beneficial to us in so many ways, as it impacts our physical, mental, and emotional health.

A visit to a silent retreat is on my bucket list. It seems like the ultimate way to reach a mindful, relaxed, and introspective state. Science indicates that silence can be beneficial to us in so many ways, as it impacts our physical, mental, and emotional health. Given our increasingly loud lives with technology constantly buzzing in our ears, how can we give our children the gift of silence to make them happier and healthier?

Why too much noise is a problem

Noise pollution is considered a serious concern throughout the world. The World Health Organization ranks it as the second most critical environmental challenge after air pollution because excessive noise can seriously harm human health and interfere with people’s daily activities. It can disturb sleep, cause cardiovascular and other physiological effects, reduce performance, and lead to changes in social behavior. As the world gets louder, we may be able to cope a little bit; however, our evolutionary biology has not kept up with the rapid technological innovation.

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Noise affects our bodies in the following ways:

Physiological

Sudden jarring noises cause the body to produce cortisol, the fight-or-flight hormone that causes us to feel stressed and anxious. Some studies show how chronic exposure to levels of sound greater than 50 to 55 decibels can boost these stress hormones and increase blood pressure, hypertension, and heart rate.

Psychological

Sounds can change our mood. Constant or loud noises can shift our mood from happy and calm to stressed and irritated. When we are surrounded by these intrusive noises all the time, the impact can add up and crush our spirits.

Cognitive

The brain has a huge storage space, but the amount of noise that it can process is relatively limited. When we are bombarded by noises, it can impact our ability to focus and think clearly. Research shows that children studying in schools under flight paths have reading skills several months behind their peers in quieter places, simply because they are unable to hear well.

Behavior

Loud noises can lead to changes in how we act. We tend to move away from sounds that we don’t like or that feel uncomfortable to us. In a recent experiment at a shopping center, speakers playing loud pop music were set up at one end of a store and calm, ambient music was played at the other end of the store. The results showed that many shoppers physically moved away from the pop music speakers.

Sound, therefore, can impact decisions that we make in our lives. What is most alarming is that researchers have noticed that children have become so used to constant noise that they are actually uncomfortable without it. Noise, essentially, has become a crutch for our children. This has led to habits like coming home and immediately turning on the television or iPad.

Benefits of silence

The best remedy for all of this noise is very simple: silence. Being silent may sound like an odd concept, but more research comes out every day highlighting the importance of quiet time for both us and our children.

Silence has a calming effect. It settles the many emotions that are activated by talking and listening. As our mental and emotional lives calm down in this quiet space, our bodies can relax. In a group of studies on silence for the magazine Nautilus, it was noted how participants were most relaxed during the moments of silence between pieces of relaxing music as opposed to during the music itself.

We need silence to bring us back to the present moment, helping us to calm down and not worry about what happened in the past or what may happen in the future. Silence is a wonderful way for us to take a step back, find peace, and recharge.

Silence also helps us more effectively connect to the world around us. Essentially, all of our senses are heightened when we are silent. We may notice sounds that we never did before, and view our surroundings with a fresh perspective. For example, we may notice how loud the traffic is from our backyard or how beautiful the birds are singing as we wake up in the morning.

Being able to hear more easily allows us to have greater clarity and helps us make better decisions, especially ones that we’ve been struggling with. Silence reduces the mental chatter that distracts us from being able to think clearly and to truly be in touch with our own thoughts and feelings.

Silence may also be good for our brain. In 2013, biologist Imke Kirst conducted an experiment in which she exposed four groups of adult mice to either various sounds or to silence to find out if it affected them. She discovered that the mice kept in silence were the only group that developed new brain cells. These cells were in the part of the brain connected to memory, emotion, and learning. Although these results have not yet been duplicated in humans, this study offers some insight into how our brain may change due to silence.

How to give our children more silence

The best way to combat the excessive noise that our children are exposed to daily is to teach them how to create a quieter environment around them. Here are 10 ways that you can bring more silence into your children’s lives.

1 | Be a positive role model to your children. This means keeping your home free of excessive noise and showing your kids that you take time out of your busy day for quiet moments, such as meditation.

2 | Turn the television off when nobody is watching it. Do not use it as a background noise filler, especially when you are eating as a family or when your children are doing homework.

3 | Work on positive behavior shifts, which include limiting your child’s computer time, television time, cell phone time, tablet time, etc.

4 | Offer ear plugs or noise-reducing headphones to your children if they’re bothered by noise or just need to tune out sounds when they’re having quiet time.

5 | Set aside quiet meditation time for your children, such as right after school to provide a break from their busy day before they jump into homework or extra-curricular activities.

6 | Make an effort to drive your children to and from school without the radio blaring. This allows everyone to have a moment with their thoughts before and after their hectic day.

7 | Go for a family nature walk to quietly enjoy the beauty around you. Challenge your children to be quiet so they can listen to all the natural sounds around them, such as the rustling of leaves and birds chirping.

8 | When you go for a long drive in the car, spend some of that time in complete silence. This will prompt your children to look out the window and soak in the world passing by.

9 | Create a quiet zone in your home where your children can go to when they feel like they need some silence. This can be a floor pillow in the corner of their playroom or bedroom where there are some books and stuffed animals to comfort them as they recharge.

10 | Teach your children stillness techniques like yoga, tai chi, chi gong, and breathing exercises.

Stay at Home Parents: Nurture Your Adult Relationships – Not Just Your Kids

There are a few tricks to feel less alienated from your beloved adult relationships. Because you do deserve to have them.

Let’s not lie: when you’re stay-at-home-parent, you have to suck it up on lots of things. Our gig can look cushy to outsiders, but the social and psychological sacrifices are great. It’s an intense phase of life, and even though everyone and their great aunt will smugly instruct you to “enjoy this time” because “it goes so fast,” while it’s actually happening it can be really lonely. And tedious. Yeah, it can seriously suck. And that’s not because you have an attitude problem – it’s just the tragicomedy of life.

But there are a few tricks to feel less alienated from your beloved adult relationships. Because you do deserve to have them!

Skip the status

Rather than post your observations and witty quips on social media, text them to a specific friend or on a select group thread (the GroupMe app is a great choice, especially if you’re into making quicky memes). It may feel good to get 30 likes or a handful of retweets, but this form of social acknowledgment doesn’t actually build relationships.

Addressing someone directly means you’re investing your attention in them, which encourages them in turn to reciprocate theirs more fully. Actual conversations can grow out of a casual exchange if started in a private medium. Then at least if your schedules can’t line up, you’ll know what’s really going on in each other’s lives, not just what you’d like to project – and isn’t that the definition of real friendship?

Become a regular

Novelty can be a SAHP’s savior, but there’s something special about a place where everyone knows your name. Find somewhere convenient to your routine that’s relatively childproofed and chill with a wallet-friendly menu, and get to know the people who work there. No need to force them into idle chitchat, but introduce yourself, learn who’s who, and tip what you can afford. It goes a long way to have a grown-up spot where you don’t feel like a total asshole just taking up tables and plowing through napkins. You may even bond with other regulars enough to have them mind your mini-me while you go take your daily poop-cation. The luxury!

Loop in your mate

As much as you miss your out-of-the-house co-parent, they surely feel they’re missing out, too. Do what you can to include them in daily happenings by making little videos with the kids – goofy choreographed dances, what-we-did-this-week montages, faux commercials, and silly tutorials. It takes as little or as long as you want, and can really perk up the lunch break of a work-bound mom or dad. Be sure to work in some “thank you’s” for all the sacrifices they make. It may be different for them, but this time is trying for everyone.

Activate your inner activist

I know you’ll feel tired just reading this, but the relative flexibility of a SAHP schedule means you have enviable opportunities to hustle for your cause of choice. Activist leaders are increasingly aware of the need to accommodate children at their meetings and in spaces of protest. Reach out ahead of time to inquire about family-friendly accommodations, and be honest about your needs. These are passionate people who share your values and want your participation. Tell them how to help you make your contribution. They need it, and so do you.

Sanctify one meal per day

In my house we have a sacred object (actually a cheap broken bracelet, but it is sparkly) that we lay on the table to signify when capital-d Dinner has begun. No screens, no getting up unexcused, no whining. This is where we gather as a family and sometimes with guests, but adult conversation reigns. Anyone who can’t cooperate is welcome to wait it out in their room – without food.

Yes, you’re allowed to do this. No, it doesn’t have to be dinner. It’s good for kids know that some rituals are sacred, and that adult communication has an important place they should respect, if only for twenty minutes a night. All grown ups need to have dialogue that goes beyond, “How was your day” “Fine, yours?” While it may test the young ones’ patience, they will actually acquire great social skills from proximity to you and your dinnermates’ candor.

Switch to social hobbies

Before having a baby, my main hobbies were knitting, running, and reading, all of which I did alone. Now I go out and do stand-up comedy once a week because open mics are an easy way to mingle with a consistent group of interesting people. Getting involved with church or volunteer work and using sites like MeetUp.com make it easy to find folks who share your interests and the events plan themselves. If the support isn’t there at home, reach out to another parent for a weekly childcare trade off, but somehow, someway, get out of the house and make talky-talky with the other big kids before you lose all your words.

Automate dates

You know how key it is to have a regular date night, and how it helps to have that babysitter booked by default. Save money and deepen bonds by switching off childcare with another couple, taking turns to go out. Also go in together on a sitter for all the kids so you can have a scheduled double date. Don’t forget to pencil yourself a reoccurring anti-date, where you get a routine chunk of that sweet, sweet Alone Time. Or that Hang With Your Childfree Friends And Talk About Their Lives Time. Or, Lie In The Grass And Let Squirrels Wonder If You’re Dead Time. It’s really a human right!

Toot some horns

You need recognition. Every day you do a dozen things that will get undone a dozen times before the mail comes. Without some validation, you might start to feel like a ghost, so don’t be bashful about demanding it. In our family debriefings, we designate some time to toot each other’s horns (i.e., give a grateful shout-out), but the holiest of toots is the self-toot. Toot your own horn to your partner or friends! Announce something you did (or attempted) that you’re proud of, which would otherwise get overlooked. It feels silly at first (this verbiage doesn’t help), but soon it will become second nature. You’ll see your own value, get the thanks you deserve, and fend off any latent resentment that may otherwise curdle into passive-aggression. Stay-at-home-parents live on food, water, hugs, and praise. Don’t deny yourself the essentials.

Party on

Despite their four children and religious abstinence from alcohol, my parents always hosted New Year’s Eve parties when I was growing up. Did it make for a rough morning the next day? Probably. Did it ever flush a whole week of routine down the toilet? I don’t remember, but it’s possible. What I do remember is how proud I felt to see my charming stay-at-home mother all glammed up and laughing with her friends. I remember the thrill of refilling our guests’ cups with ice cubes on demand. For me it was a magical chance to spy from behind the couch, and for them it was likely a welcome relief to pretend they didn’t see.

I’m sure there were nights my parents sat us all in front of the basement TV while they entertained. Guess what? We were fine. It was more important that they have a cheerful and fulfilling life than to keep daily screen time to 90 minutes or less without fail. Kids need their parents to have fun, and sometimes you have to bring the fun to you. Don’t lament the loss of the village – be its chief, be a host, make your neighbors welcome. You won’t look back and remember the bedtime protests or the stained tablecloths. If you do, they’ll probably just blend in with a haze of happy nostalgia.