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5 Tips for Teaching Your Children What a REAL Hero Looks Like

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It can help them build up their own self-esteem and self-worth.

Mentors and role models, we all know, serve great value in our lives. They teach, inspire, excite and support us.

Sometimes, however, our culture’s obsession with celebrity and wealth can create an environment where children are choosing their heroes or role models based on status or power.

That’s why I wrote a book to help children identify positive role models who will empower them to be their best, The Hero Book: Learning Lessons from the People You Admire. We need to help children think about what makes their ‘heroes’ admirable; encourage them to seek out positive role models whose examples will provide positive guidance and empowerment; inspire them to emulate the traits and actions of those they admire; and strengthen their self-esteem by showing them all the admirable qualities they possess.

Here are some top tips on helping your children find positive role models:

1. Turn it upside down.

When you talk to your children about their heroes or role models, get them thinking first about the qualities and traits that they admire in people; that way, they’ll begin to view people through the lens of those qualities that they find inspiring.

2. Talk to your children about your role models, and, when you do, be sure to highlight WHY the person is your role model.

Mention the qualities that inspire you—like the person’s kindness, integrity, hard work and courage—so that your child can see that heroes might be well-known people, but can also be people who they see everyday who act in ways that inspire others.

3. Show them they are heroes too.

Once you’ve shown your children that people can be admired for their qualities and characteristics, it’s then easy to let them think about the great qualities that they possess—helping them to build their self-esteem and sense of self-worth.

4. Show them how they can learn from their role models.

Now that they’ve thought about the qualities they admire in others, who they choose as role models, and what they like about themselves, you can explain to them the best way to show you admire someone is to emulate the things you think are great. For example, if they admire someone for being kind, suggest they think of some kind things they can do. If they admire someone for being talented at a skill, have them think about a skill they want to be good at, and how they plan to practice and work hard to improve it.

5. Plan a HERO party and make it fun.

There’s a free parent’s guide that offers activities for planning a children’s party that inspires children to think about role models and celebrate the hero inside themselves.

 

This article was written by Ellen Sabin from Working Mother and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

Get Your Kids to Spring Clean With You

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It’s springtime, and many of us will be taking on spring cleaning tasks like washing the windows or deep cleaning our kitchen appliances. Many spring cleaning tasks involve heavy lifting and require stronger cleaning solutions than we use for our day-to-day chores, making them less than ideal for kids to help with. But there are some tasks that are suited to doing with your children, should you want to get them involved in your spring cleaning routine.

We take spring cleaning very seriously at Lifehacker. Far be it from us to let an opportunity to refresh, reorganize, and declutter our homes lives pass us by. We’re also pretty psyched to hit the reset button on our tech usage, take a close look at our finances, and give the heave-ho to the day-to-day habits that have gotten a little musty. Welcome to Spring Cleaning Week, wherein we clear the cobwebs of winter and set the stage for sunny days ahead. Let’s clean things up, shall we?

A few general tips to consider: First, take the time to clearly explain and/or demonstrate the task ahead. Sure, it will add a little time to the process, but it will also help them learn, and save you from having to do their work over. Speaking of doing the work over: Try to avoid that if you can so you don’t inadvertently send a message that their best wasn’t good enough. It’s also a great idea to get them dressed for the job at hand—have them wear old or sturdy clothes that you won’t mind getting dirty. And, of course, you’ll want to take into account the age and skill level of your child, as well as any other concerns like allergies or respiratory problems that may make it less than ideal for them to participate in a given task.

Washing the Car

It’s my personal opinion that washing a car is one of the most fun chores around and when the weather turns, it’s a great job to get the kids involved in.

Start with the interior and have them help sort through any trash and recycling that are cluttering up the car, take out any stuff like toys or a stray sneaker or books that need to be returned to their rightful home. Then, have the kids use a handheld vacuum to vacuum the seats and floors.

Once the interior is clean, the real fun can begin! Washing a car’s exterior isn’t rocket science, but there are a few best practices to know: Work from the top down; wash and dry the car in sections so that soap and water residue doesn’t dry onto the car as you work, leaving sudsy residue and water spots; use car wash soap instead of dish soap, which can dull the car’s clear coat.

Dusting Baseboards

The great thing about turning kids loose on the baseboards is that they’re already low to the ground anyway! Plus, dusting baseboards requires nothing more than microfiber, like this dusting cloth from Casabella, which makes it perfect for kids—no harsh chemical products, no sloshing buckets of cleaning solution, just a rag and some crawling action are all that’s required.

Vacuuming Furniture

You can add a little extra fun to this chore by letting your kid keep any change they find hidden in the cushions. The job is easy and can/should certainly involve making a pillow fort out of couch and chair cushions, decorative pillows and throw blankets as you take them off the frame of the furniture. Then, put the upholstery or crevice attachment on the vacuum for your kids and have them do the honors, starting with vacuuming the frame, then giving the cushions and pillows a good THWAMPING to redistribute stuffing and knock out dust. Then, replace the cushions and vacuum them as well. Finally, launder blankets and throw pillows if needed.

Doorknobs and Lightswitch Plates

This is an easy little task that only a rag or paper towels and a small amount of a gentle all-purpose cleaner: Have kids wipe off doorknobs and light switch plates—which, by dint of being touched all the time, get quite grimey and germy—going room by room. You can divvy it up by room or give one kid doorknob duty and another light switch duty and have them count to see which one you have more of in your home, to make it a little bit more game-like.

Cleaning and Organizing a Bookshelf

Bookshelves, like baseboards, get quite dusty but deep cleaning really only requires a good microfiber cloth, making it a good task for kids to help with. Remove all the books and knick-knacks from shelves and work from the top down, since dust will travel south as you clean. Smaller kids can be tasked with wiping books off while taller kids can work on the bookcase itself. Then, have the kids pitch in with putting everything away by having them organize books by color, or alphabetically by author.

Washing Trash Cans

Trash cans and recycling bins get super dirty, even if you’re diligent about always using liners. While you don’t need to clean them regularly, it’s not a bad idea to wash them out once or twice a year, and it’s a great job to do outside on a nice day. Much like washing a car, it can be a lot of fun for kids to splash around with a bucket of sudsy water and/or a hose. A large car washing sponge, dish soap, water and a rag for drying are really all that’s needed for the job, and you can have the kids start by finding all the trash cans and recycling bins in the house, emptying them if they’re full, then bringing them all outside to be washed. Once they’re clean, dry them using a rag (an old bath towel would be perfect here) and have the kids bring them back inside to be put away.

 

This article was written by shared by Jolie Kerr to Lifehacker and Jolie Kerr on Offspring from Lifehacker and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

Don’t Have Time to Exercise? Do it With Your Kids

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As a working mom with a to-do list longer than the refrigerator, trying to find time to workout and raise happy, healthy children is nearly impossible. But who says you have to compartmentalize exercising and parenting? By exercising as a family, you can enjoy the best of both worlds.

Staying Fit as a Family

Unless you’re a professional athlete or trainer who works out for a living, exercise shouldn’t be something you separate from the rest of your life. Between work and other responsibilities, you’re already away from your children enough. By bringing them into your workout routine, you can spend quality time with them and stay fit.

There are numerous advantages associated with working out with kids. One of the biggest benefits is that it helps your kids see exercise as normal and healthy, as opposed to something that’s strange and unsatisfactory.

“Not only is including your kid in your workouts an effective way for him or her to have positive associations with exercise, it’s a great way for you to remember that working out shouldn’t always be a chore. So many adults are focused on sets and reps, when they could really benefit from playing,” trainer Naomi Nazario writes in Men’s Health..

The question is, how do you exercise with your kids in a manner that’s safe, effective, and challenging for all ages? The following suggestions may help:

Go For Walks Before or After Dinner

One of the easiest ways to get exercise is to take a nightly walk, either before or after dinner. While this isn’t rigorous exercise, it’s enough to get your blood flowing. Even more importantly, it provides an outlet for having conversations and seeing how your kids are doing on a heart level.

Play Games on the Trampoline

Older kids may enjoy neighborhood walks, but younger kids will get bored pretty quickly. Switch things up to keep each of your children fully engaged.

One idea is to play around on the trampoline – which is an extremely good platform for exercise. It engages your muscles and builds core strength. If you have a trampoline in your backyard, jump together. Don’t have a trampoline? Visit a local trampoline park and play games like H-O-R-S-E or dodgeball. This probably isn’t something you’ll do every day, but it’s a good weekly activity to mix things up.

Play Sports in the Backyard

If you have athletic kids who play sports – or even kids who like the idea of sports – you can get some really good exercise in by playing various games in the backyard or driveway.

For example, you and your kids can have a lot of fun playing basketball, kickball, or even four square. Over time, these may even become family traditions.

Create Fitness Competitions

Kids love competition. If you’re able to make fitness into a game, you’re much more likely to get your children involved on a regular basis. One idea is to have a weekly competition. Something as simple as the loser of a round of a game having to do certain exercises can result in a great workout.

Watch YouTube Workout Videos

As your kids get older and become more interested in organized workout routines, you may think about doing YouTube workout videos together. YouTube has a huge collection of workout videos from both amateurs and professional trainers. They’re free and can be accessed on demand in your own living room.

Finding Balance in Your Life

If you spend too much time working out on your own, you won’t have much of a relationship with your children. If you don’t workout enough, you’ll be unhealthy. Life is all about balance, and you need to look for ways to balance parenting and fitness. As this article shows, a little tweaking makes it possible to do both.

 

This article was written by Emily Green from Working Mother and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

The Benefits of Summer Camps for Your Kids (And You)

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Now that the sun is shining and the weather warms up, that means the school year is coming to an end. The kids will be home for two full months meaning you have to figure out what to do while you maintain your full-time job.

Before, the kids would be busy throughout the day at school. Maybe you were able to meet them at home, or they had someone watching them until you are home from work. But what if the kids aren’t ready to be left at home all day, every day?

Consider enrolling your children in summer camps. These camps provide entertainment while educated kids on different subjects. More and more the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering Arts and Mathematics) summer camps are becoming the popular (and recommended) choice for kids. Why? It is because these are all skills that are needed in a continually growing workforce (think computer software developers, medical scientists, analysts).

Here are a few benefits of enrolling your children in a STEAM summer camp this year.

They Learn New and Unique Skills

The skills your kids will learn at a STEM summer camp will be valuable their entire life. But not only that, they integrate these skills into a fun and exciting atmosphere. For example, coding camps give kids the opportunities to learn about computer programming skills they usually wouldn’t learn in school. Launch After School programs are a fantastic example of what kids learn, how they learn it and why it is beneficial for their future.

They Get a Feeling of Independence

Allowing your children to have the chance to foster a sense of independence will help guide them as they grow older. They go into a new environment with new people all around. While there, they have the opportunity to make their own decisions on almost anything. Add that to having to learn to develop trusting relationships with other adults and friends to help them instead of always relying on their parents.

It Builds Friendships

When you send your kid to a summer camp, they are going to be surrounded by not just kids their own age. But they will also meet people that are interested in the same things they are. Summer camps are a perfect environment for kids to build lasting friendships. Whether it be through games, free time or through team-building exercises, your children will develop friendships they will cherish for a long time.

Help Grow Up Confidently

It isn’t always easy to pack up and leave home while at a young age. It can be intimidating and scary (for you too). But sometimes that is precisely what they need to give them a little push outside their comfort zone.

Too often do children nowadays rely on things that make life easy, whether it be electronics or having things handed to them. But by going to camp, they gain experiences that they may not get anywhere else. All of these opportunities help them grow up as children and build a level of confidence they may not have gotten otherwise.

So while you figure out your summer plan between children being home and try to work, consider enrolling them in a summer camp (or maybe two). It will be a relief for you since you know where they will be the whole time and won’t have to worry about finding a babysitter. More than likely when they come home, they’ll want to go right back.

 

This article was written by Emily Green from Working Mother and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

5 Family Traditions From Around the World Worth Trying

Celebrate the first day of school, the German way.

The kickoff to first grade is a big deal in Germany, as my American family learned while living in Berlin. The weekend before our daughter started first grade, we joined a celebration called Einschulung. Her school welcomed students with an assembly; afterward, families gave the children Schultüten—large paper or plastic cones filled with school supplies and sweets. When we moved back to the United States, we replicated Einschulung for my son. We invited our family over and asked them to bring a small school-related gift, like a notebook or pen. We made him a Schultüte, and the older kids put on a play about what school is like. It makes the children feel responsible, grown-up, and proud to be going to school.

Sara Zaske is the author of Achtung Baby: An American Mom On The German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children. She Lives in Moscow, Idaho.

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Honor your ancestors, the Japanese way.

Traditional Japanese homes have a small family altar, or butsudan, as a sign of respect for elders who have passed away. When I go back to my family’s home in Japan, I still feel a spiritual connection to my ancestors as I make offerings at the butsudan—a bowl of rice, flowers for my grandmother, a can of beer for my grandfather. It feels truly healing. To set up a memorial, pick a quiet spot, put out photos, flowers, and other offerings, and tell kids about their ancestors. If we don’t mark our history, we may lose an important part of who we are.

Candice Kumai is a chef and the author of Kintsugi Wellness: The Japanese Art Of Nourishing Mind, Body, and Spirit. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Share your culture through stories, the Trinidadian way.

In Trinidad and Tobago, where I grew up, storytelling happens anytime, anywhere—not just at bedtime. We might be driving to the beach or walking to my grandmother’s house. People often tell folk stories about mythical creatures called jumbies to help explain things people don’t understand, such as a sudden illness. Regardless of where you come from, there is a benefit to telling traditional stories. At some point, I realized my kids, who were growing up in the U.S., had no idea what our folklore was, so I started telling them jumby stories. Telling these stories helps the children preserve their culture.

Tracey Baptiste is the author of Jumbies, part of a fantasy series for middle schoolers. Born in Trinidad and Tobago, she now lives in northern New Jersey.

Care for all animals, the Indian way.

To show gratitude to animals, families in southern India feed cows and birds during the annual Hindu harvest festival of Thai Pongal. Children learn that all species are interconnected and interdependent. I’ve followed this tradition in both India and the United States with my daughters. In Bangalore, I used to take my young daughters to a nearby shed to feed the cows. We also fed birds by placing fruits and grains on banana leaves and putting them out on our terrace—something we also did surreptitiously at our New York City apartment. Pick a day for an annual visit to a petting zoo, butterfly garden, family-friendly farm, or horse stable where you can feed the animals or help care for them. It’s a way to teach children about having compassion for all beings.

Shoba Narayan is the author of The Milk Lady of Bangalore: An Unexpected Adventure. She lives in Bangalore, India.

Exchange personal poetry, the Dutch way.

In the Netherlands, families exchange not only gifts but also poems during Sinterklaas, the Dutch winter holiday season. Older children and adults each draw a name and write a poem about the recipient. The poem usually has puns and is funny—the more mischievous and personal, the better. On “gift night,” people sit in a circle with hot drinks, and everyone reads the poem they receive out loud. I’ve learned that the real gift is the love that goes into the poem. You’re taking time to compose something special, letting someone know what they mean to you.

Rina Mae Acosta is a writer, photographer, and coauthor of The Happiest Kids In The World: Bringing Up Children The Dutch Way. She lives in Doorn, The Netherlands.

 

This article was written by Betsy Rubiner from Real Simple and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

Five Benefits of Teaching Children to Cook

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Cooking is as important a life skill as swimming or riding a bike; however, like those other skills, cooking is not generally taught in school. Parents are usually responsible for teaching their children to cook. Here are five benefits of teaching children this valuable skill.

  1. It’s a great bonding experience. If you teach your child how to make a favorite family recipe, she will have a memory that can last a lifetime.
  2. It leads to healthy eating habits. By purchasing fresh, healthy ingredients and using them to prepare a meal at home with your child, you will give him a better understanding of what healthy eating looks and tastes like.
  3. It helps build math skills. Cooking involves math, such as measuring out a cup of milk, counting eggs or doubling a recipe. Using math practically in the kitchen helps bolster those skills.
  4. It helps boost confidence. If you serve spaghetti and meatballs and announce to the rest of your family that your child helped prepare the meal, it may give him a sense of accomplishment, which will increase his self-esteem.
  5. It encourages the development of communication and collaboration skills. If you and your child are baking a cake, you have to talk about what you are doing, such as measuring flour or stirring batter. You must also work together to assemble the cake.

8 Ways to Make a Weekend at Home Feel Like a Family Vacation

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You don’t need to go anywhere to capture the vacation vibe.

Spring and summer school breaks are coming up, and while many of my friends hop on the first plane, train, or rental car outta the city year after year, my family and I have found ourselves stuck at home many times in the past. The thing is: We’re all feeling it, the vacation itch. That’s why I like to bring the vacation vibe to us for special weekends. From decor to activities–and most of all, mindset!–we make weekends at home feel like the best family vacation ever.

Unplug

This is a tough one (at my house, anyway), but at least try. Put your phones, tablets, and computers in a drawer–padlocked if necessary–and spend the weekend like you’re on a desert island, devoid of news updates, texts, and annoying robocalls. You will survive, and maybe even feel refreshed.

Change the Decor

Go nuts with colorful flowers and funky lighting, and hide your regular artwork and rugs to take “your house” out of your house. So maybe you’re not at a fancy hotel in the Swiss Alps, but you’ll barely recognize your digs and will have a blast setting up (and then luxuriating in) this alternate universe.

Eat Exotic Foods

Roll your own pasta (it’s not as hard as it sounds!) and toss in a little Puttanesca sauce to bring the flavors of Naples to your kitchen. If you’d prefer to take a break from cooking, order a lavish Mediterranean meal or a Spanish feast if there’s a tapas restaurant in town, or get something decadent online, like Russian caviar. And don’t stop there. Go the extra mile by bringing in exotic dessert or candy to go with it. After a wedge of Turkish Baklava or a box of Baci (y’know, the delicious Italian chocolates that come with a message inside), you’ll feel like you spent the day anywhere but home.

Switch It Up

Do you usually eat dinner in the dining room? Try a picnic on the bedroom floor. Maybe you’ll get leave some crumbs, but that’s what the vacuum is for. Similarly, skip your queen-sized bed and have a slumber party in the living room or under the kitchen table (maybe vacuum first, in this scenario).

Bring Camping to You

If you have a yard or garden, pitch a tent out there and eat dinner under the stars before cozying up to sleep. Once you’re zipped inside a tent, you really won’t notice if you’re in your yard or atop the Rocky Mountains. This way has some added conveniences in that you can wash your hands after they get covered in s’mores and the beer will stay cold in the fridge.

Have a Rave

Glow sticks: check. Bubbles: check. Techno: Well, my daughter will make sure it’s Selena Gomez–but, check. If you can’t make it to Ibiza this summer, turn out the lights, have a fashion contest to see who can come up with the wildest outfit, and boogie down till sunrise.

Throw a Film Festival

Pick a theme, from beach movies to French thrillers, and hunker down for a lazy weekend of nothin’ but movies. Create a themed cocktail or amuse-bouche for each film and see if you can borrow a projector from a friend to get the full experience. To really build a retro vibe of a drive-in movie experience, serve a classic snack like Entenmanns’s Minis Apple Snack Pies–what’s more of an American staple than apple pie made by a baked goods company founded in 1898?

Make It a Spa Weekend

Go to Sephora and load up on sheet masks, then start lighting scented candles, ripping off rose petals, and running a hot bubble bath. If you really want to feel decadent, find a local masseuse who does house calls and turn those muscles to mush in the comfort of your own home.

*This piece is sponsored by Entenmann’s.

 

This article was written by Alex Richards from Real Simple and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

5 Ways to Make Tough Conversations with Kids Easier

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1. Time it right.

Weekend mornings are preferable because you’re not rushing to get everyone out the door and your kids can return to you—and the topic—if they have more questions or fears later in the day. Many kids (and grownups) are grouchy and exhausted by the evening.

“And even if your kids seem to be in a great mood, a drowsy brain can’t take in information as well, and any tears or anxious questions make it hard to wind down for sleep,” says Dawn Huebner, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and author of the self-help children’s book

2. Rehearse beforehand.

If the situation is emotional for you—for example, your pet needs to be put down or someone in your family is sick—take time to practice what you’re going to say, either in front of a mirror or with your partner or a close friend. That will help you keep your composure and deliver the news in the way that you want, says Dr. Huebner. “It’s okay for kids to see that their parents are sad, but the initial conversation sets the tone, and if you’re sobbing or stumbling over your words, your children may feel frightened.”

3. Speak on their level.

Complex concepts such as moving, divorce, or death are difficult for children to comprehend, says Paige Greytok, a family psychotherapist in Greenwich, Connecticut. If you flood your kids with all the nitty-gritty details, they may get overwhelmed or shut down. Instead, use short and straightforward sentences with age-appropriate explanations.

4. Validate in the moment.

Labeling emotions can help your young child put words to whatever feelings bubble up. For instance, you can say, “It sounds like that makes you sad” or “Is that scary?” But resist the urge to jump into fix-it mode. “It’s tempting to minimize feelings by saying something like ‘Don’t be afraid,’ but remember, whatever your child is feeling is real and valid to her,” says Dr. Huebner. “Children need to ‘feel felt’ before they can move on to things like processing and problem solving.”

5. Check back in.

The conversation isn’t over when it ends, points out Greytok. With a hard topic, kids will have further questions, so make it clear that you’re always available to discuss this again and that they can come to you with any questions or worries, big or small.

 

This article was written by Kate Rockwood from Parents and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

7 Sneaky Ways to Make a House Kid-Friendly

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Anyone else’s home victim to a messy (albeit adorable) tornado of a child? Same. But today we’re here to remind you that you don’t have to sacrifice on style to master function. Take this apartment by designer Jess Gersten: While luxe and immaculate at first glance, every last decision was made with her tiny clients (a six-month-old boy and three-year-old girl) in mind. Lucky for you, we’re spilling her secret pro tips below. 

Courtesy of Jessica Gersten Interiors

ROUND-EDGE FURNITURE

No bumps and bruises in this tactile living room. Every piece of furniture that lands at toddler eye level or below was selected for its soft edges. See: the circular glass coffee table, the twin club chairs, the wooden accent table, the mid-century lounger.

Courtesy of Jessica Gersten Interiors

WOOD

Gersten relied heavily on hardwood furnishings, which are super hard-wearing, impervious to stains and easy to wipe down in a pinch. (Also, no need to put a needs-to-vacuumed rug beneath a dining table when you’ve got those gorgeous floors.)

Courtesy of Jessica Gersten Interiors

LEATHER (& FAUX LEATHER) UPHOLSTERY

The one question to ask yourself: Is this easy to wipe clean? The foyer bench seat is sealed leather, which makes it a safe spot for the kids to kick off their shoes after coming inside from the park. In the living room, the cushions and seat backs on the sofa sectional are also clad in easy-wipe faux leather.

Courtesy of Jessica Gersten Interiors

VINYL WALLPAPER

Wall treatments are a gorgeous design statement—but they’re easy prey for grubby fingers and errant magic markers. The solution? Easy-wipe vinyl wallpaper from Elitis, which Gersten used across accent walls in all the bedrooms.

Courtesy of Jessica Gersten Interiors

WOOL RUGS

We know what you’re thinking: Beige rugs in a kid zone?!  But all of the pale carpeting in this home is strategically 100 percent wool. Fun fact: Wool is effectively stain-repellant thanks to the natural lanolin oils in its fibers. Translation: Wool doesn’t soak up spills like other materials do—and it’s the easiest material to steam clean as needed.

Courtesy of Jessica Gersten Interiors

DOUBLE DUTY DECOR

Think fashion and function when it comes to pieces they’ll outgrow. The teepee in the girl’s room, for example, is both a fun design note as well as storage solution and activity hot spot. In addition to a cute indoor playhouse, toys and mess can be quickly tucked inside at cleanup time. 

Courtesy of Jessica Gersten Interiors

KID ‘ZONES’

Keep the messiest activities (see: snack time, arts and crafts) to a designated spot for a solid defense against major messes. This child-size Jens Risom dining set is the first place these kiddos flock to because they have ownership over it—and it makes them feel like tiny grown-ups!

 

This article was from PureWow and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

The Benefits of Your Family Getting More Sleep

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Before you can consistently be in the moment with your kids, before you can appreciate the precious details and small treasures of their lives and your lives together—before, that is, you can achieve a level of day-to-day mindfulness—there’s something you and those around you need: sleep. Sleeping is one of the easiest (and most effective) things we can do for our health and general well-being, and yet so many of us act like sleep is a luxury we often can’t afford. Parents especially seem to pay the steepest price, due to the unpredictable sleep patterns of children. But what exactly is the cost of sleep loss to a family? And what are the benefits of good rest?

The National Sleep Foundation’s most recent Sleep in America poll found that only 10 percent of American adults prioritize sleep over other aspects of their daily life—including fitness, nutrition, work, hobbies, and social life. A prevalent attitude among people seems to be that we can catch up on sleep another time, take a nap the next day, or bank hours of sleep over the weekend. But sleep is not an investment that builds over time; rather, the deposits and withdrawals are made daily, and the truth is that if you don’t snooze, you will lose.

And that loss can be significant: “When people get less than six hours a night as their norm, it’s associated with lower immunity response, higher cardiovascular incidents, higher rates of metabolic syndrome; it impacts our hormones, and leads to cognitive dysfunction,” says Michelle Drerup, Psy.D., director of Behavioral Sleep Medicine at Cleveland Clinic. She reveals that the latest research shows a potential link between lack of zzz’s and dementia, because sleep can remove beta-amyloid—a toxic protein linked to Alzheimer’s—from the brain. That protein has been found to be higher in those who get less sleep. Most studies tend to look at sleep deprivation as opposed to sleep loss (as in staying awake for 31 hours straight). “Although these findings do not provide that sleep deprivation causes Alzheimer’s disease,” says Dr. Drerup. “They highlight the importance of sleep to optimize brain health.”

Sleep deprivation certainly takes a toll on children, as any parent who has experienced the mood swings and the, uh, determined behavior of an underslept child can attest. “We typically pay attention to a child’s daytime functions but often overlook what is happening in the child’s body during sleep at night, yet what really happens in sleep is what dictates daytime behavior and function,” says Suresh Kotagal, M.D., a child neurologist and a pediatric sleep specialist at the Mayo Clinic. In school-age children especially, Dr. Kotagal says, insufficient or disruptive sleep will cause their frontal lobes to not work as well. Frontal-lobe function impacts not only mood but also attention and concentration. He sees many children in their sleep clinics with a diagnosis of possible attention deficit disorder, but what the child ultimately needs is to get “good quality sleep.” Even among children who are accurately diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, Dr. Kotagal often finds an additional sleep disorder; if the disorder is successfully treated, the child may experience incremental improvement in daytime alertness and concentration.

Babies and toddlers have their own nuances around sleep patterns. Sally L. Davidson Ward, M.D., division head for pediatric pulmonology and sleep medicine at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, says infants tend to become sleep-deprived due to illness. That makes for a generally cranky infant. Toddlers, Dr. Davidson Ward adds, might manifest their sleep deprivation by being more prone to oppositional behavior. In other words, without proper sleep patterns, the “terrible twos” could be even more terrible.

Sleep loss and parenthood seem to go hand in hand. How often have you heard new parents say they had no understanding of the true definition of tired until being faced with nighttime feedings and not being able to get their infants to drift off? While some of the war stories relayed by exhausted new parents are amusing—say, a mother on maternity leave who gets fully dressed to go to work and even goes out to her car before remembering she is still on leave—the reality of the effects of lack of sleep for new parents is less funny. Dr. Drerup points out that not only can sleep deprivation cause new parents to be more forgetful about things like when they last changed the baby’s diaper, it may also increase the risk of depression for postpartum mothers.

The practical applications of not getting enough sleep can have consequences. The National Sleep Foundation reports that severe sleep deprivation can have similar effects on your body as drinking alcohol. People who are awake for 18 hours straight drive like they have a blood-alcohol content level of .05. (The legal level of intoxication for drivers in the U.S. is .08.)

Across the board, not getting enough sleep can be a detriment to your family’s health, safety, and relationships. At the very least, if you’re foggy because you didn’t sleep well, chances are you’re not going to be present for the everyday. Any parent who for whatever reason missed a first smile, word, step, or other milestone can tell you how important mindfulness and being in the moment is in parenting. And any parent who’s ever lost her temper because she’s cranky from lack of sleep knows that gut-punch feeling of guilt after snapping at her children.

Making sure that your (and your family’s) sleep habits don’t detract from your health and wellness is not as easy as just hitting the hay more. Following the popular advice “Sleep when the baby sleeps” is rarely that simple, especially with a newborn. We all know the drill: You nurse the baby to sleep, but when you go to put her back in her bassinet or crib, she wakes up and can’t fall asleep again until you nurse her or rock her, creating a vicious cycle that results in exhaustion for you and for your infant.

“Imagine if you fell asleep in your bed but you woke up in the car in your garage—what would happen? You would be very distraught, scared, and worried,” explains Dr. Davidson Ward. “That’s what’s happening to your baby every time they wake up in the crib. They don’t know where they are, because that’s not where they fell asleep.”She goes on to explain that you want your baby to fall asleep in the “desired sleep environment”—say, her crib or bassinet—and that you want to put them down when they’re drowsy but not yet asleep.

With toddlers and school-age children, the biggest issue is often getting them to go to sleep. How many times has your child begged you for another story or suddenly had the thirst of a water-deprived camel right before it’s time for bed? Dr. Davidson Ward describes it as the “curtain call,” and says that a predictable routine, verging on boring, done at the same time every night, could help your child avoid behavioral insomnia. “The routines around bedtime have to be for a finite period of time, 20 to 30 minutes maximum. If we keep talking to the child over and over again, what happens is sometimes children actually get excited and activated. Then they cannot sleep at all,” Dr. Kotagal says.In other words, right before bed is not the time for a pajama dance party or a rousing game of Chutes and Ladders. It’s easy to fall into the “wear them out and they’ll sleep better” trap—after all, it sounds logical. But too much physical activity, just like too much mental stimulation, can have the
opposite effect and invigorate the child.

A good, common routine might simply involve a bedtime story (singular) and a lullaby, but this can also be a time to teach a child about meditation and conscious breathing. That may help them fall asleep while also having the potential added benefit of relieving stress or anxiety. Of course, it’s not easy to get little ones to sit still, let alone to focus on something as mundane as breathing. Still, give this simple exercise a try: Start by asking your child to lie down, close her eyes, and breathe normally. Ask her to pay attention to all the parts of her body that move as she breathes. Then ask her to place one hand on her chest and the other on her stomach. Explain that when she inhales through her nose, the hand on her stomach will move upward while the hand on her chest will remain still. Tell her to inhale for four seconds and then hold that breath for four seconds. Then instruct your child to exhale, feeling the hand on her stomach move downward. Once she gets the hang of it, lie next to her and do the breathing exercises together for five minutes. Just make sure you leave your child’s bedroom before they (and/or you) fall asleep.

For both parents and children, one of the key components to ensuring proper sleep is diet. Since carbohydrates burn quickly, eating a heavily carb-based dinner or giving your child carb-based snacks before bedtime will almost guarantee that they become hungry again within a couple of hours—possibly after they’ve fallen asleep. Instead, advises Georgia Ede, M.D., a nutrition consultant and a psychiatrist, a whole-foods diet with adequate protein and fat will go a long way toward facilitating better sleep for the entire family.“Foods that are easiest for most people to digest are meat, seafood, poultry, fruit, and most seeded vegetables,” Dr. Ede says. “Foods that are easy to digest are unlikely to cause heartburn or indigestion symptoms that can interfere with sleep quality.”For snack-loving children, Dr. Ede suggests that a piece of fruit, carrot sticks with almond butter, and cucumber slices with guacamole will do your child and his sleep a much better service than processed snacks with refined carbohydrates.

What we eat, though, is not the only connection to better sleep. How we eat can also have a great impact. Small steps toward mindful eating, such as having dinner together at a table and not in front of a television, can help avoid distraction and, consequently, overeating. Paying attention to how our food tastes and smells while taking time with a meal or a snack can also help our bodies register when they’re full. Mindfulness during mealtimes can go a long way in getting the most mileage from our fuel, giving us the quickest detour to a better night’s sleep.

A staple of parents’ diets usually involves some method of caffeine ingestion, but Dr. Drerup says that while one or two cups of coffee is usually fine for most people, because the “half-life of caffeine is about five to seven hours,” noon or early afternoon is usually a good cutoff. If you still experience the mid- to late- afternoon slump, she recommends taking a walk outside instead of going to Starbucks for a venti never-gonna-sleepuccino. Exposure to natural light can help alertness, and a quick walk will give you a much needed boost of energy afterward. The National Sleep Foundation says that as little as ten minutes of aerobic exercise can also
“dramatically improve the quality of your night-time sleep.”

Another key component to getting a high-quality night’s sleep for the entire family is minimizing screen time, especially before bed. Experts agree that cutting off screen time at least an hour before bedtime is ideal. Dr. Kotagal explains that screen light suppresses the natural sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, not to mention that whatever is being watched might also be mentally activating for both children and adults.

Temperature can also be a factor in getting a good night’s sleep. While babies and children tend to sleep better in the low 70s, the ideal temperature for adult bedrooms veers cooler, hovering in the low 60s, according to Dr. Drerup. Per Dr. Kotagal, there is some research that suggests that because of the body’s natural gradient temperature, the temperature at an infant’s feet should be lower than the temperature around her abdomen, which is naturally higher. Parents might think it’s best to bundle infants in both socks and a heavier sleep sack, but that could make it harder for babies to fall asleep by artificially preventing heat loss from the infant’s body.

No matter what steps you take to help you and your family invest in better sleep, remember that sleep health is a significant part of a much larger overall picture, which is why Dr. Davidson Ward likes to ask her patients what they do for fun: “I think the pillars of good health are healthy nutrition, healthy exercise, a good night’s sleep, and doing something that you are passionate about or love every day. All these things are achievable for most families.” You just need to put your minds to it. *

This article originally appeared in Parents: The Mindful Life available at retailers and on Amazon.

 

This article was written by Lacey Vorrasi-Banis from Parents and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.