7 Kid Requests You Should Agree To in the Name of Autonomy and Independence

What are the costs and benefits of saying “yes” to these 7 common kid requests?

Last Sunday, my three-year old, recently liberated from the Costco shopping cart, took off running down the aisle.
My first instinct was to yell at him to stop running. Until I saw him peeking through the shelves of the next aisle over, beaming at me from between giant cans of tomato sauce.
What if I just said “yes”?
The aisles of grocery stores are made for running and sliding. Why wouldn’t I want my kid to get a little exercise while I shopped? We just had to set some ground rules. Wait for the aisle to be empty. Pick an object to run to. Run back to me.
Important lesson learned: Whatever your kid is asking, there is almost always a way to say “yes.”
There are a lot of lists of ways to say “yes” while actually saying “no,” or “not now,” or “when you’re much older.” These are of course necessary parenting survival skills. But in this list, there’s no redirection or deferring. You’re really going to let the kid eat chips for dinner, or cut her hair, or stay up late. This piece covers the costs and benefits of saying “yes” to 7 common kid requests, as well as what you’re really giving permission to with each “yes.”

1 | “Can I go outside without a coat?”

This question is one of an entire category of requests that parents say “no” to in order to spare kids from pain or discomfort. You can’t wear pants because it’s 90 degrees outside. You shouldn’t wear last year’s Halloween costume because it’s too tight. You should eat that right now so that you won’t be hungry later.
Kids are early students of cause and effect. At just eight months, they realize that their actions create effects (for example, shaking a rattle makes noise). At three years of age, kids can make and test their own predictions.
So your kid does not need to you to warn him about the discomfort of not wearing a coat. He can predict and test it for himself. And you can stand by the door and let him come back inside as soon as he realizes it’s too cold.

2 | “Can I wear this to school?”

Children are physically capable of dressing themselves between ages three and four, although they may need a little help with socks and zippers. While a child is learning to use the bathroom, a good general rule is that if he can take it off easily, he can wear it.
But parents often squabble over clashing patterns, princess dresses, and other items we don’t want to let our kids wear to school. When we tell preschoolers they can’t wear pajama pants or mismatched socks to preschool, we’re worried about how others might judge our parenting. But we do this at the expense of our kids’ self-expression. Why not let them power clash stripes and polka dots and let them enjoy being kids?
As children age, parents’ wardrobe worries shift. When we tell first grade boys they can’t wear dresses, we’re worried that they will be teased. When we tell eighth-grade girls they can’t wear midriffs, we’re worried about how they’ll be treated, either by their peers or school officials. In both cases, there’s still no reason to police our children’s fashion choices, because it’s now their job to consider the benefits and consequences of their own choices.

3 | “Can I get my hair cut?

Hair grows back. There’s no good reason to say no to this request. And yet, many parents and children suffer through nighttime detangling sessions because parents don’t want to say yes to haircuts.
This question is really a philosophical one for parents. What have you invested in your child’s hair? Do you view your child as your mini-me, a tiny version of your idealized self? Do you love watching the swish of her ponytail on the playground? Do you bask in the compliments his curls get from strangers?
You may have spent years hoping that hair would finally grow in. But it’s not your hair. It’s your child’s hair, and in “allowing” the cut, you’re reinforcing your child’s bodily autonomy.

4 | “Can we eat chips for dinner?”

We say “no” to chips because they’re unhealthy. But you can honor this request while sticking to your family’s rule of making only one (reasonably healthy) meal.
Tell your kids that yes, they can eat chips for dinner if they also make a fresh salsa taste test. Hand them tomatoes, peaches, mangoes, black beans, onions, tomatillos, garlic, and bunches of herbs. Better yet, get them to shop with you for those items. Then, review lessons about knife safety and let them start chopping.
If they want a blind test, pull out the blender so they don’t get clues from the texture. They get practice with knife skills and blenders and creative table setting.
KJ Dell’Antonia and Margaux Laskey of the New York Times argue that “children who cook become children who taste, and sometimes eat.” Early cooking also gives children more knowledge about healthy eating, a “can do” attitude, and closer relationships with other generations.
In this specific case, you’ve also allowed them some whimsy – chips for dinner! – while also eating reasonably healthy. Look at that ingredient list. It’s salad. The kids just happily made salad for dinner.

5 | “Can I decorate my room?”

You may have spent nine months or more pinning, planning, and decorating the perfect nursery. So when your kid asks if he can have that Lego Batman poster, you reflexively say “no.”
Gabrielle Blair’s endlessly creative blog Design Mom is a great resource for parents who don’t want to sacrifice good design once they have children. What you’re saying “yes” to when you let their kids decorate their rooms is not wall-to-wall Frozen paraphernalia. (Blair has a strict “No character” policy in her own home.) Instead, you’re saying “yes” to your kids’ interests.
Blair advises that parents handle kids’ decorating requests like more like designers. Designers take their clients’ interests in mind and come up with possibilities that the clients may never have thought of. You can do the same thing, making a list with your child about ideas for the room and then guide your child’s choices with a limited set of wallpaper designs, paint colors, and light fixtures to choose from.
If you take this route, though, you need to be prepared to go multiple rounds with your kid clients, just as a real designer would. Your job isn’t to choose decorations for your child’s room, but to help your child develop a space that reflects her interests.

6 | “Can I stay up late?”

If we acknowledge that our children are increasingly autonomous humans who can understand the consequences of their actions, we need to start saying “yes” to a lot more requests, even when we don’t want to.
Children’s bedtimes are often non-negotiable, with countless parenting sources stressing the need for a regimented sleep schedule. One potential consequence of such rigid adherence to the sleep schedule is that children don’t get to experience the consequences – both good and bad – of staying up late.
Without an occasional lapse in bedtime, it’s hard for kids to understand exactly why they have bedtimes in the first place. Without actual experience, kids tend to hear “bedtime” as “because I said so,” no matter how thoroughly we articulate the consequences of missed sleep. Better to just let them miss sleep and suffer the consequences.
Parents do a quick cost-benefit analysis every time we decide whether to binge-watch Netflix’s latest offering instead of going to bed. Why not occasionally extend this kind of decision-making to our children, too?

7 | “Can I touch that?”

Questions about how to decorate a room or when to go to bed fall to parents because these are our homes, and we are the ultimate decision-makers about what happens in them. But for some of the questions our children put to us, we do not have the final authority over the consequences.
At the toy store, your kid walks over to something shiny and slowly moves his hand toward it while cocking an eyebrow in your direction. You shout out “don’t touch!” But what if you didn’t? What if you let your kid touch it? What lessons might he learn?
If he picks up the toy, carefully inspects it, and places it back on the shelf, he’s learned a browsing technique that most adult humans use daily. If he picks up the toy and drops it, he will learn that it if you break it, you buy it. If he picks up the toy and dashes out of the store with it, he’ll learn the embarrassing consequences of shoplifting. In all of these cases, your child learns that in some situations, you are not the ultimate authority figure.
Imagine if you took this approach at museums, too. What if you said “yes” to touching the statue? Your child would quickly learn, through an alarm or docent scolding, that his actions have consequences. This is not to argue that we should let children destroy the world’s masterpieces. But we can teach our children that our permission isn’t always enough. We can teach them that we are not the ultimate authority figures, that different spaces come with different rules. If only the same policy worked on the adults who behave badly at museums.

“Can” versus “May”

Eagle-eyed parents may have noticed that grammatically, these questions should be phrased as “may,” because that’s the word we teach children to use when seeking permission.
But these questions are intentionally “can”ned.
First, your children can do all of the things on this list, and have probably been capable of each item for longer than you realize.
Second, although your children are asking permission, in these cases permission is not yours to give. In saying “yes” to these questions, we’re not giving permission. We’re acknowledging our kids’ bodily autonomy and growing independence.

10 Inspiring Books for Kids Struggling to Fit in at School

These 10 books help them see how normal those feelings are while showing how to increase self-esteem, be themselves, and show kindness to others.

Watching your child struggle is one of the hardest things we do as parents. So often we see what they’re going through and don’t know how to help them. Sometimes kids don’t know how to express what they’re going through. This creates a chasm that leaves our children feeling lonely and us feeling lost. Books can bridge that gap.

School is exciting and filled with learning new things, except for when it’s not. It’s easy for kids to feel different, inferior, or like they don’t fit in. These 10 books help them see how normal those feelings are while showing how to increase self-esteem, be themselves, and show kindness to others.



by Kevin Henkes

“Chrysanthemum” offers the most beautiful story about a girl who is being teased at school. The reader sees her struggle and immediately wants to cheer for this little mouse with the big name. A fantastic read aloud for kids in preschool and up, “Chrysanthemum” will leave kids feeling hopeful and confident in who they are.


Giraffes Can’t Dance

by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees

“Giraffes Can’t Dance” is a silly story about a lovable giraffe that feels like he’s not like his friends. Ages three and up will love the vivid animal illustrations and laugh with Gerald as he discovers how to find his own music. It also shows kids how they can be a good friend by cheering on people who are different than them.


The Colors of Us

by Karen Katz

A beautiful story that looks at skin color in all its shades, “The Colors of Us” journeys with a little girl through her neighborhood. The girl tries to paint a picture of herself but she struggles to find the right color paint. As she walks through her neighborhood, she sees the beautiful skin of everyone around her in all its varying shades. Perfect for little kids and older kids alike, this story reminds us that we are all unique and that it’s a beautiful thing.

A Bad Case of Stripes

by David Shannon

A silly story with a strong message, “A Bad Case of Stripes” reminds us to be exactly who we are, even if it’s not the same as the people around you. Through this funny tale and its illustrations, kids see how much better it is to be themselves than to conform. Perfect for early elementary grades, kids will laugh and learn that it’s okay to be different.


You Are Special

by Max Lucado and Sergio Martinez

“You Are Special” is one of the treasures in the Wemmicks stories. Beautifully illustrated with characters that carry through to all the books, kids see that you are special no matter what anyone else thinks of you. Perfect for those striving to be like everyone else, this heartwarming story spans early elementary to middle grades.



by R. J. Palacio

This current favorite is one of the most honest stories about a boy who looks different and his experiences at school. This story will inspire your child (and you) to be the best version of yourself, embrace all that life gives you, and find joy in the hardest places. While it is a middle grade novel, it is a fantastic read aloud for grade three through adulthood. It will also be on the big screen this November!



by Judy Blume

“Blubber” is a classic tale of middle school teasing. While it may not solve every part of the problem, it opens the door to conversation about bullying and all the roles people play when someone is bullied. A middle grade favorite, this is a great book to read with your child.


All’s Faire in Middle School

by Victoria Jamieson

This fantastic graphic novel describes the journey of a girl named Imogene who has grown up in the Renaissance Faire scene. Finally headed to public school, she finds out middle school can be tricky and friendships aren’t always what they seem. Finally, she discovers how to be herself and finds out what real friendship looks like. This is a treasure for fans of graphic novels.



by Cynthia Lord

Middle school can be challenging for anyone, but Catherine faces special challenges in “Rules.” Struggling to understand how to be who she is when her family life often revolves around her autistic brother, Catherine sets out to understand what normal is and discovers a lot about friendship, herself, and family along the way.



by Jerry Spinelli

This emotional tale highlights the ups and downs of popularity in a new high school. It’s easy to see why this book is so highly acclaimed as it touches on subjects like first love and being yourself no matter what everyone around you says. “Stargirl” is a great upper middle grade story with a real look at peer pressure and the desire to fit in.

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Does Giving Your 10-Year-Old a Cell Phone Increase the Risk of Bullying?

In a recent study, kids who owned a cell phone were significantly more likely to be a victim of cyberbullying, especially in third and fourth grade.

Do your kids have cell phones yet? This is a hot topic and can be a point of debate among parents depending on their views. I dread the moment when I have no other choice but to give in and let my kids get their own cell phones. I am holding off as long as possible because of the many concerns I have for electronic distraction and addiction to cyberbullying.
My son is currently in fourth grade and I am no way near being ready for him to have a cell phone, even if some of his classmates are starting to get them. On average, kids in the U.S. receive their first smartphone just a few months after their 10th birthday. Time is ticking for me, as my son turns 10 at the end of the school year. This is certain to become a tense issue in my home soon enough.
However, I know I am on the right track with my cautious approach because a new study presented at the American Academy of Pediatrics National Conference & Exhibition indicates how third and fourth graders who own cell phones are more likely to be cyberbullied.
Researchers collected survey data from 4,584 students in third, fourth, and fifth grades between 2014 and 2016. Across all three grades, 49.6 of students reported owning a cell phone. The older the student, the more likely they owned a cell phone: 59.8 percent of fifth graders, 50.6 percent of fourth graders, and 39.5 percent of third graders. Of the entire group of children assessed, 9.5 percent acknowledged that they had been a victim of cyberbullying in the past. Yet, the children who owned a cell phone were significantly more likely to be a victim of cyberbullying, especially in third and fourth grade.
The researchers concluded that the heightened risk of cyberbullying related to having a cell phone may be linked to increased opportunity and vulnerability from having the technology in their hand 24/7. The spread of technology has made bullying so much easier because it has removed the traditional barriers of time and space between bullies and their victims. Constant access to social media and texting increases the number of online interactions that children have with their peers, which makes them vulnerable to hate-filled behavior, negative comments and images, or hurtful and abusive messages.
Cyberbullying is a troubling phenomenon and not something to be taken lightly. Nearly 43 percent of kids have been bullied online, according to PACER, the organization that developed National Bullying Prevention Month. Cyberbullying is now the single largest type of bullying, and 25 percent of kids who have been bullied say they have experienced it more than once.
Why are kids being bullied? According to TeenSafe data, 72 percent of children are cyberbullied because of their looks, 26 percent of victims are chosen due to their race or religion, and 22 percent of harassed children feel that their sexuality was the cause of the bullying. Other reasons include weak athletic ability, intelligence level, strong artistic skills, strong morals, refusal to join the crowd, or having a small build (i.e., too short or too thin).
The more we can eliminate the chances of our children being exposed to nasty comments online, the safer and happier they will be – even if that means they do not get to sport the latest and greatest cell phone. Wait Until 8th is a campaign set up to encourage parents to delay giving their children a cell phone until at least eighth grade. The more parents who take the pledge to wait until at least eighth grade, the easier it will be for all children so they will feel less peer pressure to have their own phone. According to the campaign’s website:

“Smartphones are distracting and potentially dangerous for children yet are widespread in elementary and middle school because of unrealistic social pressure and expectations to have one. These devices are quickly changing childhood for children. Playing outdoors, spending time with friends, reading books and hanging out with family is happening a lot less to make room for hours of snap chatting, instagramming, and catching up on You Tube.”

I know I will be taking the pledge!

10 Best Mystery Books for Kids of All Ages

Filled with suspense, codes, puzzles, and intrigue, a good mystery can captivate and engage both emerging and older readers.

One of the most popular genres for both adults and children is mystery. Who doesn’t love a good whodunit tale? Kids are typically exposed to this genre through classic books like “Nancy Drew,” “The Hardy Boys,” and “Encyclopedia Brown.” Beyond these, the sky is the limit. Mystery is such a broad category with countless themes. Filled with suspense, codes, puzzles, and intrigue, a good mystery can captivate and engage both emerging and older readers.

Here are 10 of the best mystery books for kids of all ages:


The Cow Who Clucked

by Denise Fleming

A young cow has lost her moo. As she searches for it, she discovers how to cluck. “Well, that’s not right,” think the other farm animals, so they join the hunt for the lost sound in this colorful vocal barnyard search. The simple repetition will have children chanting right along with cow, “It is not you who has my moo!”

Booklist says, “Evidently inspired by Van Gogh’s Starry Night, the endpapers add a distinctive beginning and ending to this pleasing picture book, which offers opportunities for children to chime in with farm animal sounds and to predict the story’s outcome.”


What the Ladybug Heard

by Julia-Donaldson

The farmyard is full of noise. Clucks, moos, whinnies, and barks. It’s so loud that when a couple of thieves plot to steal the prize cow, no one hears them – except for the ladybug, the quietist creature of all. Can she outwit them and save the day?

Young readers will have a blast trying to find the glittery ladybug on each page while watching a tiny character take on a bold, brave task. “Hidden within the farcical story is a message about language and the power of saying the right thing; the perfect word (or woof) at just the right moment can indeed save the day,” says School Library Journal.


Detective LaRue: Letters from the Investigation

by Mark Teague

When devilish dog Ike LaRue leaves obedience school and becomes a super sleuth, he discovers that solving a mystery can take an unexpected turn. Soon, he finds himself in jail, wrongly excused of terrorizing the Hibbins’ cats and stealing their treats. Can he crack the case and clear his name?


Book Scavenger

by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

In this debut novel from Jennifer Chambliss Bertman, Emily and James, two diehard book and puzzle fans, set out on a quest around San Francisco to find out what happened to Garrison Griswold, the inventor of the Book Scavenger game.

Kids can play Book Scavenger in real life, and seek and hide their favorite books around town. “Sprinkled with ciphers, San Francisco landmarks, and literary allusions, ‘Book Scavenger’ is a fun, light, implausible adventure,” says School Library Journal.


Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library

by Chris Grabenstein

Class clown, Kyle Keeley, loves games. Board games. Video games. Word games. If there is fun and a challenge involved, he’s game. It’s no wonder his hero is Luis Lemoncello, the most fantastical game-maker in the world, who also built the new local library. Kyle is over the moon when he wins one of 12 coveted spots to attend a sleepover at the new facility, hosted by Lemoncello himself. The night is filled with games and puzzles. When the morning comes and the front door stays locked, they must solve the biggest riddle of all. How will they escape?


From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

by E.L. Konigsburg

When Claudia Kincaid runs away, she heads to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. She is joined by her younger brother, Jamie, who has the money to get them to their eccentric destination. As soon as they arrive, they immediately find themselves caught up in the mystery of the angel statue. The museum bought it for only $250 at auction, yet word has it that it’s possibly an early work of the Renaissance master Michelangelo. Could the bargain find actually be worth millions? Claudia is determined to find out.


The Westing Game

by Ellen Raskin

When 16 strangers gather for the reading of Samuel W. Westing’s will, a strange series of events unfolds. Each person becomes an unknowing participant in a wild and possibly dangerous game.

Who will inherit the deceased game-loving billionaire’s fortune? One of the 16 unlikely contestants. “Great fun for those who enjoy illusion, word play, or sleight of hand,” says The New York Times Book Review.


When You Reach Me

by Rebecca Stead

One day out of the blue, Miranda starts receiving mysterious notes. At first, she doesn’t know what to do. The notes instruct her to write a letter, a true story, but to keep it a secret. She does her best to ignore the messages until they take a scary twist. Whoever is writing them can predict the future. Now the sender says that someone is going to die. Can Miranda write fast enough to save some unlucky soul?


The Face on the Milk Carton

by Caroline B. Cooney

Mystery and suspense converge when the complications of family, friendship, and love collide in “The Face on the Milk Carton” from bestselling author Caroline B. Cooney.

Janice Johnson never paid attention to the faces of the missing kids on the milk cartons. One morning, she happens to look and sees an ordinary girl with pigtails and a white-collared dress. The little girl was kidnapped over 12 years ago at a shopping mall in New Jersey. Upon a closer look, Janice is overcome with shock and anxiety. The little girl is her. In a brave move, she sets out to solve the mystery of her own identity.


One of Us Is Lying

by Karen M. McManus

Five strangers, Bronwyn, the brain; Addy, the beauty; Nate, the criminal; Cooper, the athlete; and Simon, the outcast, attend detention on a Monday afternoon. By the end of the period, Simon is dead and the others are left pointing fingers. His death wasn’t an accident, so which of the misfits did it? How far will they go to protect their secrets?

Which mystery books for kids would you add to this list? Share in the comments!

Understanding the Emptiness of Pep Talks

Praise and pep talks are empty. Whatever is compelling my daughter to feel “less than” will not be satiated by my efforts to cheer her up.

I am notoriously hard on myself. After my first semester of high school at a private, all-girls school I got a 3.8 GPA. I was devastated. I felt angry at myself for not achieving a 4.0. I beat myself up for not studying more and I couldn’t escape my own negative self-talk.
20 years later I’m the proud mother of a beautiful five-year-old girl who’s turning out to be her own worst critic. Dripping in sparkling preciousness, my daughter has an emotional depth that’s mystifying. Her connections to the world and observations about life astound me regularly.
I’ve stood on the sidelines and watched with wonder while she has navigated kindergarten. I see how hard she works to sound out words and how frustrated she gets when she can’t figure it out. After struggling to learn to read, she recently proclaimed, “I’m dumb. I’m stupid.”
I reacted emotionally as her mother and number one cheerleader. “No, you’re not,” I said. “Why would you say that about yourself? You’re the smartest little girl I know. You’re so creative and talented.”
She looked at me through glossy eyes and replied forcefully, “Then why can’t I learn to read like everybody else?”
I stared at her blankly and held her as her exasperation flowed into tears. Later that night I thought about all the pep talks my parents gave me throughout my childhood. They fell on deaf ears. Nobody could say anything to cheer me up when I didn’t make varsity basketball my sophomore year of high school. I had my heart set on that goal and I fell short of it.
My dad tried to lift my spirits by saying that not many sophomores made varsity and that I was a good athlete. I couldn’t hear him. No matter how rational the argument he presented, he could never win over the voice in my head. His words of encouragement weren’t enough to silence my inner critic.
The trouble with being my own worst critic is that at times it has prevented me from feeling joy. I’ve focused on all the wrong things. Instead of focusing on my 3.8 GPA and celebrating the hard work that went into that outcome, I felt disappointment. Instead of being thrilled that I made the junior varsity team and that I had the opportunity to play high school sports, I felt not good enough for myself.
This feeling and my inner voice has followed me into my adulthood. It took me a while to realize the damage I was doing by not allowing myself the grace to let go and inhale the richness that makes up my beautiful, imperfect life.
We parents see parts of ourselves in our children. As I watch my daughter’s young, inner voice come out in such a raw form, I hear my own critic in her words. I wonder how I can influence her to ignore that negative voice and develop a positive one. There’s nothing more soul-crushing than listening to a five-year-old girl berate herself.
Praise and pep talks are empty. Whatever is compelling my daughter to feel “less than” will not be satiated by my efforts to cheer her up. I know it won’t equip her to chase away the negative chatter in her head or have her feel like who she is naturally is enough for the world. I can’t talk my daughter out of what her heart feels.
I can certainly relate to how she feels, however. Empathy is a powerful parenting strategy. My daughter was working on an art project recently and ended up in tears and anger.
“Mom, I don’t like my art,” she said. “I want it to look different. I want it to be perfect.”
I resisted my instinct to praise and come back to her with a canned mom response. Something along the lines of, “Oh, your art is beautiful. I love it. I don’t know what you don’t like about it.”
Instead, I looked at her sincere blue eyes and I said, “I understand. I know exactly what it’s like to want something to be perfect.”
She looked at me, bewildered. “You do?” she asked.
“I do. It took me a while to learn that there is no such thing as perfection. It doesn’t exist,” I explained. “All we can do is be our best selves and work hard. Did you work hard at your artwork?”
“I did, Mom,” she said. “But I want to try again.”
“Go for it,” I said. “I’m proud of you for working hard and being willing to try again.”
She walked away with a fierce, determined look in look in her eye, a look I couldn’t help but recognize.

Not Just Selfies: Simple Ways to Use Your Phone Camera to Help Your Kids Learn

Here are some ideas for using your phone camera as a family that will entertain your kids and build brainpower at the same time.

I love a good family selfie as much as the next parent, and whose phone doesn’t have a few extreme close-ups of your child’s nostrils? (Or 263, if your stealth three-year-old hijacked your phone while you were in the shower and laid his chubby finger on the “burst” setting?) Many of today’s kids can operate a cell phone camera before they can tie their own shoes. Why not use this to your advantage? Once you’ve wisely invested in a drop-proof case, or maybe scored a new iPhone 8 and cleared your old phone for kid use, here are some ideas for using your phone camera as a family that will entertain your kids and build brainpower at the same time.

Create personalized photo albums

If your child loves to scroll through your photo collection, make albums just for her. Talking about a collection of faces of family members and other VIPs or familiar places and objects is a surefire language booster. Insert text to show the first letter or entire word on each photo and “read” the album like a makeshift alphabet book –“’G’ is for Grandma”– for added value. Practice faces for various emotions like “excited,” “surprised,” and “tired” using your phone as a mirror. A “feelings” selfie collection helps your child learn vocabulary essential for healthy emotional development.
Possibilities for photo scavenger hunts are endless. Capitalize on obsessions-of-the moment to find and photograph green things, sports balls, vehicles, or whatever else your child can’t stop thinking about. Involving your child in the process makes for an enjoyable afternoon and can even make errands more fun. All these conversations teach “same and different,” categorization, and new vocabulary. An older child can build science knowledge by hunting for items in nature or improve letter recognition by snapping photos of familiar packaging, road signs, and business names. You could even print favorite collections into actual books using an online photo book service.

Manage life’s challenges

If your child can’t bear to wreck the block castle he made when it’s time to clean up for dinner, let him take a photo of it. Documenting something temporary makes it feel acknowledged and can help a child learn to move on. You can teach routines like getting ready for bed, table manners, or getting dressed by taking a photo of your child completing each step and reviewing the photo list again and again. Teach strategies for navigating difficult sibling situations by asking your children to “rewind” so they can star in a video about solving the conflict or cooperating and then watch it together.

Bring pretend play into the 21st century

Imaginative play is ripe with learning opportunities on its own, but if it’s been a long, rainy day or you wish your child would move onto a new game, strategically using photos and video can add pizzazz. Have your child create meals with play food and snap photos for a pretend restaurant menu. Be prepared for some creative ingredient combinations and camera angles. Cut a hole in a large box to be a TV and film your child pretending to report on the family news or weather. This is especially fun when you’re stuck inside due to the actual weather and can include footage from out the window.

Tell the story of an experience

When your child goes to school, standards like the Common Core will require her to use descriptive language, explain sequences of events, and break down complex ideas into parts. To get a jump start on these skills, film your child giving a video tour of something she’s created like a blanket fort, sand castle, or fairy house. Take photos or video clips of the steps of a cooking project and have him share the “recipe” with family members. Interview each other about how something works or how one creation (e.g., a ramp for toy cars) works differently than another.

Take reading practice up a notch

For a child who is beginning to read, film him reading to encourage him to practice reading fluently. Watch the video together to celebrate what he did well. Note spots to keep practicing and try another round. A child who isn’t yet reading conventionally can retell familiar books for the camera using the pictures or tell a story based on a picture she drew. While these activities are beneficial without the camera, using video can be extra motivating.
Enhancing play and learning with photos and video makes experiences personal and concrete, and – let’s face it – plays into kids’ natural narcissistic tendencies. Using Mom or Dad’s phone camera feels like a special privilege if you keep it as a back-pocket kind of treat. An added bonus: Those photos and videos will be treasures you’ll enjoy long after your child wants to play restaurant with you.

The Most Important Kid-Communication Opportunity You Might Be Missing

These types of moments happen every day, when our children mention something that they are unsure of and wait to see our reactions.

I want my children to be kind, empathetic, trustworthy, respectful, well-mannered, and savvy. Don’t we all? I want them to make good choices and navigate tough moral dilemmas with ease.
Parents are always looking for opportunities to inspire, educate, and enlighten our children. Oftentimes, we force those moments by teaching our children when we feel the need to teach them something. When that happens in my house, I notice my children tuning me out, totally missing the lesson I am trying to teach, and I get frustrated. I have found that instead of teaching my kids what I want them to know when I want them to know it, I should follow their lead.
When kids come home from school, they offer up tiny morsels of their days. They talk about a challenging test, a fun game they played in gym, what they ate for lunch and, sometimes, situations they found themselves in with a friend. There it is. The little gem of information that we can use to teach our kids the lessons we want them to learn.
When a child offers up one of these scenarios that they either witnessed or were a part of at school, they are testing us. We have a magical opportunity to either make a huge positive impact in the way our children navigate the world or we mold them in a different way, moving them away from their natural feelings of right and wrong and towards indifference. Here’s what I mean:
My daughter came home from school the other day and told me she overheard two boys talking in line on their way in from recess. These boys are known to our family as they have been in my daughter’s class a previous year. They are close friends and neighbors. She explained to me that she heard one of the boys say to the other, “I don’t want you to be my friend anymore. I want to play with (a different boy) instead.” When I asked my daughter why he said this mean thing to his friend, she explained that it was related to not having the right Pokemon cards.
Oh boy.
It just goes to show you how tenuous elementary school friendships are. After she told me this story, she looked at me, waiting to hear my reaction. This is the moment I am talking about. She knows that what that boy said was wrong and mean and uncalled for. She knows in her heart that friends shouldn’t say those types of things to each other. She knows that the one boy’s feelings were very hurt. By telling me, she wants me to validate those feelings. She is telling me this story so that I can validate how she is feeling about this event and give her the tools to deal with this type of situation.
We have two moves in this case:

Parent inaction or just nodding could cause apathy

If your child tells you something like this and you don’t really hear them or pay attention – or just nod and then move on to the next thing – you have shown your child that what they witnessed is not such a big deal. That it is not that bad to talk to friends that way and that your child’s feelings are unwarranted. Basically, they will see that their parents don’t think it’s a big deal, so why should they? They will begin to feel apathetic towards those situations in the future and you, the parent, will have missed your chance to shape your child in a positive way.

Validation and discussion could create empathy

The second move is to validate those feelings. “Wow. I can’t believe a friend would speak to another friend like that. How do you think he felt?” Having this discussion with your child gives them the chance to empathize, to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. In doing that, they can learn that words and actions have power, both negative and positive.
After talking with your child, ask them what they would have done in that situation? What could they say if someone says something like that to them?
We have told our daughter that if someone says to her, “Do this or I’m not your friend anymore,” she should respond, “Real friends don’t say that to people” and to move on with what she was doing. We have encouraged her to not give more weight to those words than they deserve and to just let the friend know that saying that is not cool or acceptable in the friendship.
The last thing about this moment that can be teachable is to ask, “Is there anything you can do to make the situation better?” When we said this to our daughter, she suggested checking on the boy the following day at recess to make sure he had someone to play with. If not, she was going to go play with him or invite him to play with her.
These types of moments happen every day, when our children mention something that they are unsure of and wait to see our reactions. If we miss it, then we have missed an opportunity to teach our children on their terms and in the context of their own lives. If we seize it, we can help our children be the kind, empathetic, trustworthy, respectful, well-mannered, and savvy children we hope they will be.

Why Teaching Kids to Play Chess Is Worth the Time and Effort

The skills kids learn in chess extend far beyond the black-and-white checkerboard.

Is your kid ready to advance to the next level in board games, something beyond “Go Fish” and “Memory?” Teaching your children how to play chess might just be one of the greatest gifts you can give them. Proponents claim the skills one learns in chess extend far beyond the black-and-white checkerboard.
According University of Memphis research, playing chess significantly improves children’s visual memory, attention span, and spatial-reasoning ability. On ichess.net, the writers note that the skills we learn from chess benefit us in other areas of life: “If we all teach children to play chess when they’re four or five, they will be primed for school. Chess teaches children fundamentals, like problem solving, focus, patience, and follow through.”
Back in 1973, Dr. Albert Frank conducted an oft-cited landmark study called “Chess and Aptitudes” in which children received chess instruction for two hours a week. He found a significant correlation between the ability to play chess well, and spatial, numerical, and administrative-directional abilities. The game also appears to improve verbal skills by exercising functions of the brain related to language.
Other scientific studies have found that the brains of expert chess players differ from non-chess players. Looking at MRIs, researchers saw that grandmaster chess players have more activity in their frontal and parietal cortices, the parts of the brain that focus on problem-solving and recognition. Advanced players also use both sides of the brain when they are playing – this is noteworthy because using both sides of the brain has been found to help prevent dementia from developing later in life.
On UsChess.org, chess player and teacher Dylan Quercia writes, “Chess has the power to shape the minds of children and prepare them for challenges that they may later face in life.” Thankfully, you don’t have to be a genius to learn the game. So how to get started?
Quercia lists the following five tips to keep in mind when teaching children chess:

1 | Start slow

He advises parents and teachers to introduce the game in stages, starting with the board. Then teach each piece individually and show their full range of movement. “Only use the full set when the student can demonstrate full knowledge of every piece,” Quercia notes.

2 | Encourage thoughtful calculation

“Make sure they are calculating the opponent’s moves as well as their own,” the author explains. One can see how this type of thinking can benefit learners in many situations, both socially and academically.

3 | Make sportsmanship a priority

Quercia recommends students get in the habit of starting and ending the game with a handshake and a “good luck” or “good game.” Chess gives us a chance to teach kids the importance of playing by the rules, being a good sport, and learning from our mistakes.

4 | Focus on principles

“Once students demonstrate an understanding of the basic rules,” Quercia explains, “the basic principles behind endgame and opening play are essential.”

5 | Use examples from real games

Finally, he reminds teachers and parents that “students need role models as well as model games.” Viewing expert players excites and inspires beginners while reinforcing game skills and moves.
Trying out chess sets designed for beginners is another way to introduce the game. When my son turned four, he demonstrated an interest in learning new board games [and I was desperate to move beyond Hungry Hungry Hippo].
Enter No Stress Chess. An introduction to chess for all ages, this “no stress” version spells out each piece’s moves and helps direct game play using illustrated cards with a labeled game board until players can navigate the game independently. It helped me teach my son the basics, and now we are using it to teach his little sister. My hope is that it will be a game they can play together for many years. Check mate!
Whether you’re designing an entire chess curriculum or simply dusting off your old board, there are countless online resources parents and teachers can rely on.
According to chessedu.org, its curriculum “is designed to use chess as a tool for teaching problem-solving, creative thinking, and abstract reasoning in a classroom setting, be it in a public or private school, home school or other institution, or for personal use.” It’s a user-friendly site for learning and teaching the game.
The US Chess federation has a page on their site site that keeps readers abreast of current youth chess news.
With over 15 million members, Chess.com is the leading online website devoted to playing chess.
Finally, FIDE.com, the official website for the World Chess Organization, features a directory of local associations, news, rankings and more.
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How to Turn Mundane Chores Into Mindful Moments for Our Kids

We can make chores a special experience for our kids by incorporating mindfulness into the tasks that might otherwise seem repetitive or boring.

We could all use a little bit of help around the house, right? It seems that children these days are too busy with homework, after school activities, and electronics to do any chores. In fact, unlike prior generations, most American parents today do not believe that their children should have to be responsible for household chores. According to a survey by Braun Research in 2014, 82 percent of adults polled said they had regular chores when they were growing up, but only 28 percent asked their children to do any. This is unfortunate because when children help out with such tasks, the entire family benefits. Parents are less irritated and stressed when we have some of our responsibilities lifted, and our children thrive in so many ways.
When children take on tasks such as making their bed or setting the table they feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. Encouraging children to participate in regular, age-appropriate chores has been associated with social, emotional, and academic benefits that help them succeed throughout life. Studies show that children who start doing chores as early as three years old become more self-sufficient, independent, confident, and responsible. Chores also give kids a chance to learn how things work around the house and create many opportunities for family bonding.
When it comes to identifying the benefits of children taking on chores, Marty Rossmann of the University of Mississippi is often quoted for her work in this area. After analyzing over 25 years of data, she determined that children who started doing chores beginning at age three or four were more likely to be well-adjusted, have better relationships with friends and family, and be more successful in their careers. In addition, the chores taught children about the importance of contributing to their family and developed their sense of empathy as adults.
Rossmann also discovered that the way in which chores are presented can impact a child’s ability to become a well-adjusted adult. She recommends the following tips: tasks should not be too overwhelming, parents should present chores in a way that fits their child’s preferred learning style, and children should help choose which chores they do through family meetings and a weekly chore chart. She does not think a financial allowance is a good idea, but this is a controversial topic with many perspectives that parents can explore. Finally, the earlier parents begin getting children to take an active role in helping out at home, the easier it will be to get them involved as they get older.

Add mindfulness

Another way that we can make chores a special experience for our kids is to incorporate mindfulness into the tasks that might otherwise seem repetitive or boring. Mindfulness has become a hot topic in recent years, with science demonstrating how being mindful can improve our lives. Mindfulness is the act of focusing on the moment at hand in a non-judgmental way. Study after study indicate how mindfulness improves our health because it relaxes us and reduces stress and anxiety. It allows us to quiet the endless distracting chatter of our mind so we can focus on the current moment. Furthermore, when we experience mindfulness, we connect with our inner thoughts and feelings so we can make calm, positive decisions.
Many experts suggest that we add mindfulness into everyday tasks, so what better way to show your kids how to get their mindfulness on than during some simple household chores? Mindful chores will help bring focus, attention, and sensory exploration to basic tasks like washing the dishes. Interestingly, research published in Mindfulness Magazine in 2015 found that dishwashers who looked at their task in a mindful way showed more positive attributes (e.g., inspiration) and less negative attributes (e.g., anxiety).
Essentially, we can show our kids how to use the time spent doing chores as a mini meditative session to promote mindfulness. The key is for them to focus on what they are doing and to notice all the sensations and feelings they experience. Make it into a fun “noticing game” for them.
Here are some questions to train them to ask themselves while working on their chores:

  • What colors do you see?
  • How does what you are doing feel? Does it feel soft or hard, wet or dry, smooth or rough?
  • What do you smell? Do you like the smell?
  • What sounds do you hear?
  • How does this activity make you feel? Happy, sad, frustrated, excited, proud?
  • What thoughts are you having while you complete the task?

Start simple

Your children will be ready to take on certain types of chores depending on their age. Start simple with something pertaining to their own personal care like brushing teeth. Instead of fighting you, they will now have an activity to focus their attention. In order for your children to really experience mindful teeth brushing, they should slow down and not rush through this typically boring chore. Encourage them to appreciate the many sensations they feel at each step. You can guide them by asking some easy questions:

  • How does the toothbrush feel in your hand? How does it look?
  • What does it feel like to squeeze the toothpaste onto your toothbrush?
  • How does the toothpaste smell?
  • How do the bristles feel in your mouth? On your tongue, teeth, and gums?
  • What does the toothpaste taste like?
  • How does your mouth feel differently after brushing your teeth?

Anther important chore to ask your children to do is to make their bed every morning. It only takes a minute, but it can set the tone for their day because it creates a tidy and organized environment that will help them feel calm. Add some interest to this chore by asking them how the sheets and blanket feel.
The next time you ask your children to set or clear the dinner table, turn it into a mindful event for them. Ask them to focus carefully when they hold each object so they don’t drop it. Also, ask them the following questions:

  • How heavy does each cup, plate, bowl, spoon, knife, fork, and napkin feel in your hand?
  • Are the objects smooth or rough, hard or soft?
  • What sounds do you hear when you place each object on the table?
  • What colors and patterns do you see?
  • What do the plates smell like as you clear them off the table?

Other typical chores for children include folding laundry, cleaning their room and playroom, wiping down the table, light vacuuming or cleaning up with a dust buster, and taking care of pets. Each of these tasks can easily be transformed into a relaxing, introspective time with a little mindfulness magic.

6 Common Elements of Effective Discipline

Regardless of the method used, effective discipline methods share similar characteristics.

One of the greatest differences between discipline and punishment is that discipline helps kids learn about appropriate behavior and helps kids improve their self-control. Punishment does not.
There is still much controversy about the most effective way to discipline kids. Although science has attempted to highlight harmful discipline approaches and to provide some clues as to the most appropriate discipline strategies, it is still impossible to conclusively establish how disciplinary methods affect kids over the short- and long-term.
What we know, however, is that regardless of the method used, effective discipline methods share similar characteristics. According to the Paediatrics & Child Health journal, effective disciplinary methods have six common characteristics.
The six characteristics of effective disciplinary methods:

1 | Must be given by an adult with an affective bond to the child

Discipline is most effective when it occurs in a warm and loving environment. When we look our kids in the eye or touch them as we explain the consequences of their behavior, they are less likely to view discipline as unfair punishment.
Creative an affective bond also means being ready to listen to your kid’s opinion, even when you know that this will not change your final decision. It also means knowing when and how to negotiate.
Speaking in anger can lead to verbal abuse which can be detrimental to kids’ well-being. Being angry at your kid’s behavior is normal, but you can control how you react to that behavior. There is evidence that misbehavior can be reduced if we take kids’ emotions into account, but we have to learn to manage our own emotions first.

2 | Consistent and close to the behavior needing change

Discipline is about changing specific inappropriate behavior. It loses meaning when we “discipline” kids for everything.
Discipline is most effective when it targets specific behavior and is applied consistently only for that behavior. In other words, choosing one or two behaviors and focusing only on those until the desired behavior is achieved is likely to be more effective than trying to deal with everything you perceive as misbehavior. Once the targeted behavior is achieved, you can move on to other inappropriate behaviors.
There is also a consensus that discipline is most effective when consequences are applied as soon as the inappropriate behavior is observed.

3 | Perceived as “fair” by the child

When your kid perceives the consequences of his actions as fair, your disciplinary method is more likely to be effective. It is important for kids to be aware of the consequences of their actions beforehand. In other words, kids should know the behavior for which there will always be consequences – hitting, biting, hurting themselves, and hurting others.
Much evidence suggests that allowing kids to participate in decision-making makes it more likely that they will respect the decisions made. Allowing kids to participate in decision-making can help them view consequences for misbehavior as “fair.” For instance, you could say something like, “You know you’re not supposed to ride your bike without your helmet on. What should we do when you ride your bike without your helmet?” Remember not to negotiate once you’ve both come to a decision about the appropriate consequences.

4 | Age-appropriate

The effectiveness of discipline strategies largely depends on your kid’s age. For instance, toddlers under two years of age rarely get verbal reasoning and need to be distracted rather than to be reasoned with. Time-out works best for two- to six-year-olds. Negotiation works better for older kids.
It is also important to distinguish between inappropriate behavior – hitting, for example – and “normal behavior,” like when your kid accidentally drops his plate on the floor or spills water on the table.

5 | Temperamentally appropriate

The same discipline strategy can work like magic with one kid and fail miserably with another. Effective discipline techniques are those that are in line with your kid’s personality and your own. Although a self-quieting space may be more appropriate for some kids, time-out may work best for others.

6 | Lead to self-discipline

The ultimate goal of discipline is not to make kids “act good” when they’re being watched.
Effective discipline is about helping kids learn to manage their behavior by themselves. An effective self-discipline strategy helps kids eliminate misbehavior and teaches them to adopt appropriate behavior. Self-discipline can only occur if the five characteristics listed above are respected.