Parenting

Doctors are worried about an increase in child abuse due to COVID-19

There's no question—these are difficult times. The American Academy of Pediatrics offers tips for dealing with kids during the coronavirus outbreak.

Not to state the obvious, but as parents, we’re dealing with a situation we’ve never faced before. We’re in the midst of a huge health crisis, one that has us sequestered in our homes, with our children, for an indeterminate amount of time. Many of us are trying to work from home, and even homeschool, while dealing with our own anxieties about the future. Still others are on the front lines, either as health care workers or working in essential jobs like cashiers in grocery stores.

Stress is at an all-time high—and that’s a cause for serious concern, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). “Research has found that when families are stressed, children are at an increased risk of being abused,” noted the AAP in a press release.

The AAP urges caregivers to take care of themselves physically, by eating, exercising and getting enough sleep. They also note the importance of staying connected to friends, family and others by phone or video chat.

Of course, it’s not just parents who are stressed. Kids are dealing with a complete disruption to their routine and can also sense the anxiety of their parents. The AAP offers these tips for dealing with your kids during this challenging time:

Engage your children in constructive activities

Bored or frustrated children are more likely to act out. Many children have had their lives disrupted. They are out of school, and they can’t play with their friends.

Help them with their fears

Children who are old enough to follow the news may be afraid, for example, that they or their parents are going to die. You can acknowledge the fear, and discuss all the things you are doing to stay healthy, such as washing hands and staying home to avoid germs.

Call a time-out

This discipline tool works best by warning children they will get a time-out if they don’t stop, reminding them what they did wrong in as few words―and with as little emotion―as possible, and removing them from the situation for a pre-set length of time (1 minute per year of age is a good guide).

Know when not to respond

As long as your child isn’t doing something dangerous and gets plenty of attention for good behaviour, ignoring bad behaviour can be an effective way of stopping it. Ignoring bad behaviour also can teach children natural consequences of their actions. For example, if your child keeps dropping his food on purpose, he soon will have no more crackers left to eat.

Catch them being good

Children need to know when they do something bad—and when they do something good. Notice good behaviour and point it out, praising success and good tries. This is particularly important in these difficult times, when children are separated from their friends and usual routines.

Give them your attention

The most powerful tool for effective discipline is attention—to reinforce good behaviours and discourage others. Remember, all children want their parent’s attention. When parents are trying to work at home, this can be particularly challenging. Clear communication and setting expectations can help, particularly with older children.

Now, we know we’re all doing our best during this wild time, so be kind to yourself. But if you do find yourself on the brink with your kid’s behaviour, the AAP suggests asking yourself: Does the problem represent an immediate danger? How will I feel about this problem tomorrow? Is this situation permanent? “In many cases, the answers will deflate the panic and the impulse to lash out physically or verbally at children,” the release notes.

The AAP also suggests reaching out to friends, relatives or neighbours who may be in need of emotional support or practical tips at this time.

Parenting

The one parenting trick everybody needs to know

How positive reinforcement can encourage your kids to clean up their toys, brush their teeth and maybe even be nice to one another.

At the start of the school year, Lonnie Starling was struggling with her eight-year-old son’s behaviour. Another kid at school was being mean to him, and he was acting out at home by throwing tantrums, pushing, shoving and kicking. The Calgary mom remembered that using positive reinforcement—that is, focusing on the positive things he was doing, rather than constantly correcting his behaviour—had been effective to influence his actions when he was a toddler, so she got into the habit of praising him again.

“When he does something good, we kind of go overboard. We make a huge deal of it—if he’s helpful with things around the house, when he shovels the walk,” explains Starling. “His sister was upset and he brought her a stuffie. I said, ‘You’re such a good brother, that was so thoughtful of you.’”

After repeatedly catching her son being good, and commenting on it, the physical aggression and tantrums have tapered off, and he’s doing a better job of communicating, with words, when he’s upset. For Starling, positive reinforcement has worked like a charm.

What is positive reinforcement?

The idea behind this parenting strategy is simple: children respond better to kudos than they do to criticism or correction. If parents make a big deal of it when their kids share, show kindness, do their chores, or play quietly while Mom is on the phone, they’ll do more of these things because they like the good feelings that come with the positive attention.

“It’s just human nature that people, and kids, too, want to be acknowledged and recognized and they want to be appreciated. It’s nice to be noticed,” explains Judy Arnall, the Calgary-based author of four books on non-punitive parenting including Parenting With Patience and Discipline Without Distress.

While the reinforcement could come in many forms, such as stickers, toys, applause or treats, research indicates that the most effective form of reinforcement is verbal praise, says Susan Birch, associate professor in psychology at the University of British Columbia.

What if my kids don’t do anything positive?

Mom leaning over messy counter looking very stressed as kids run around in background 10 proven ways to finally stop yelling at your kidsOur kids all do positive things, it’s just that the misbehaviour is more obvious because it’s often loud and obnoxious, like siblings fighting, or a child screaming because she didn’t get what she wanted. On the other hand, good behaviour is often quiet, like playing independently or doing homework.

“Find those moments—even if they’re rare—when the child is doing what you want,” says Birch. “We have to make an active effort to pay attention.” You might comment, for example, on how quietly your kids are sitting in their carseats, or if you notice them helping a younger sibling.

Parents can also look for positives in an annoying situation instead of focusing on the negative. A mom I know caught her kid dancing around the room with one sock on while the other lay untouched on the floor. Rather than admonish him for goofing off (which gives attention to a negative behavior) or nag him to get going on the second sock, she said, “Wow, you’ve got one sock on!” The acknowledgement of his accomplishment motivated him to repeat the sock success on the other foot.

The right type of reinforcement

The most effective form of praise is praise for the effort rather than the outcome, says Birch. Saying, for example, ‘I’m really proud of you for studying so hard’, is better than saying you are proud of the grade they got.

Toronto mom-of-three Katie Ford*, who has been using positive reinforcement since her youngest was in kindergarten, aims for five specific praises to every corrective statement. So if she got a phone call from the school that her youngest, who is now 13, has gotten into trouble at school, she’ll open with, “I’m so happy you’re home,” and then comment on how organized he is when he unpacks his backpack, and perhaps finds a few more things to praise or joke around about (her son responds well to humour) before she addresses the misbehaviour.

If your house has been more of a negative environment in the past, your kids might be skeptical of all the praise, says Birch. But by being sincere and consistent, it will soon start to feel more natural.

What do I do about bad behaviour?

It might go entirely against your intuition, but if the behaviour isn’t dangerous, but rather just inappropriate or attention-seeking (think whining or making fart noises) you can ignore it or even leave the room.

In her own family, Arnall has been known to ignore irritating behaviours like a child kicking at a table leg. “If it’s just annoying then I leave the room,” she explains.

One strategy, says Catherine Lee, a professor emerita of psychology at the University of Ottawa, and a trainer with Triple P Parenting Canada, a positive parenting program that helps families overcome behavioural and emotional challenges in children and teens, is to still be aware of those behaviours, but don’t comment on them. Then, the minute the whining, blowing raspberries or table leg kicking stops, you can give the child your attention by asking about his day at school, for instance. This way the kid learns that these behaviours are not effective ways to get their parents’ attention.

If your kid’s behaviour is aggressive or dangerous, you’ll need to get involved by removing them from situation. Arnall suggests reminding them that ‘this is not how we act in this family.’ In Starling’s house, the consequence for aggressive behaviour is the loss of weekend screen time, but her kids can earn it back by being good.

Should I give a reward for good behaviour?

It may seem logical to reward good behaviour with a treat or a toy, as well as praise, but when you offer the reward as an incentive you are entering bribe territory, says Arnall. Unlike praise and positive attention, bribes don’t encourage a long-term change in behaviour. So if you want to give your kid a cookie for emptying the dishwasher, go for it. But don’t expect your kid to suddenly love emptying the dishwasher. Rewards can be helpful, however, in short-term, temporary scenarios, such as doling out a Smartie for going poop on the toilet, then phasing it out once the toddler is, ahem, regular.

Are you sure this is going to work?

Just as sleep begets sleep, positivity breeds positivity. It’s infectious.

“The more you do it the easier it is to notice those opportunities and the more good behaviour you’ll see. It sort of snowballs,” says Birch. “It can actually dramatically change the mood in the household once the focus is on the positive.”

In fact, research on positive parenting shows that stress levels for kids (and parents) come down because everyone starts being more positive.

But many families, Starling’s included, note that it’s hard to stay rosy, especially when you’re in “triage mode” during a tantrum. Arnall says with practice it can become a more natural habit. She suggests doing things like regularly adding a note to a kid’s lunch telling him you’re so happy he’s your kid, for example, or that you’re proud of him for running so hard during his soccer game the night before. Physical reminders like a marble jar, where you fill it up at the beginning of the day (use different colours for different kids) then take a marble out every time you praise your child, can help you stay on track. One family Arnall knows placed a bell on the kitchen island, then anytime someone needed a hug they could ring it. This strategy empowered the kids to ask for positive attention without having to actually say, “I need some love right now.”

Starling, who took a 12-week parenting course that focused on positive reinforcement, uses the strategy with her 5-year-old daughter as well as her son. By regularly saying things like, “It makes me really happy when you’re nice to your sister,” or, “I really appreciate it when you help with dinner,” they’ve been doing more of the things she’d like and the overall mood in their house has improved.

It’s true: Make an effort to start noticing the good and the whole family will be rewarded.

Read more:
An age-by-age guide to disciplining your kid
6 discipline fallbacks… and how to fix them!

Parenting

How to stop using food to reward (and punish) your kids

It’s all about finding ways and words, instead of using food, to show your kids how much you love them.

At one time or another, just about every parent uses food to reward their kids for good behavior and achievements—or to console them when they’re sad or disappointed.

When children make honor roll, win a big game or persevere through a struggle, a parent might express their pride and joy with candy or ice cream. Likewise, when kids feel down and out, pick-me-ups can take the form of a treat. The reasons for this are simple: Using food as an incentive might get results, and salty, sweet or sugary foods are often within easy reach.

You may figure there’s no harm in doing this kind of thing. But as a dietitian and nutritionist focused on family nutrition, I consider regularly using food as an incentive for kids to be risky.

Rewarding and comforting kids with food can lead to overeating when they are not hungry. It also increases the chances they will try to deal with their emotions through what they eat.

I spend a lot of my time at work helping clients break this cycle. I show them how to stop using tactics like bribery, judgment and shame that involve foods and drinks that can range from a bowl of chocolate pudding to a big glass of soda. I also teach parents other ways to celebrate and soothe that don’t depend on food.

Plenty of research shows kids consume more total calories, carbohydrates and fat daily when parents use food to reward behavior. For example, when the mothers of preschool-age children use food to ease their kids’ emotions, those children eat more sweets when they get upset. And a French study found that moms who used food as rewards for their children stimulated their kids’ tendency to overeat – even when their children aren’t hungry. Of course, it’s not just moms and dads using food in this way but caregivers of all kinds, from babysitters to grandparents. And while it’s a big problem at school too, changing patterns at home is key.

To help parents get the hang of kicking this habit, I’ve zeroed in on four steps to purge guilt and let go of food as a reward.

1. Recognize common scenarios

Think about how you celebrate after performances or if you often promise a treat when your kids finish a task. Do you prod your kids to clean their room by dangling the possibility of dessert? Do you take them out for pizza to help them cope when they don’t make the team? Recognizing common scenarios is an essential first step toward breaking this pattern.

2. Don’t blame yourself

You are not alone if food is ingrained in how you interact with kids when you’re not at the table. What matters most is your willingness to explore a new path without stewing in self-judgment. Using food to reward kids undermines healthy habits you’re trying to instill, so any effort toward change may have long-term benefits.

3. Name the feeling you aim to convey

Separating your intent from your actions will help you stop using food as a way to soothe or praise. To do this, imagine your child in a situation where you might use food that way. Play the scene out in your mind, stopping before you bring on the food. As you envision your child in the scenario, ask yourself what feeling you would like to convey.

For example, your kid falls down on the sidewalk and skins their knee. You crouch to comfort them and tend their wound as the wailing escalates. You keep consoling after you’ve carefully stuck a Band-Aid on them but they just can’t calm down. If you’re like many of my clients, you’ll be tempted to say, “I’ll help you up and then we can go get ice cream.”

Ask yourself at that point what feeling you want them to perceive. In this case I’ll wager that it’s comfort and relief – rather than a delicious dairy product.

Becoming mindful of your specific feelings enables two things to happen. First, you’ll see how food stands in for various emotions. Second, it will help you separate your feelings from food – making it easier to deliver something else that’s truly needed in the moment.

You can also try saying your feelings out loud. For example, when your child doesn’t get invited to a friend’s party, say, “This feels sad. My wish for you is knowing how much you are loved.” That can help you remember to try something else besides food to console them.

4. Do something else

There are plenty of ways to comfort your kid that don’t involve food. You can hug them or give them a bubble bath, for example.

To celebrate, try watching a family video together, taking the time to say what makes you feel most proud of them. If you’re trying to motivate or inspire your child, you can crank up their favorite song, then dance and sing along with the music.

When you want to compel or encourage kids to, say, do their homework, give praising their effort a try. Tell them that you see them working hard and ask: “How can I support you right now?”

With small children, when they’re refusing to leave the playground or get into a bath, try engaging them with a stuffed animal or squishy toy to fidget with.

Try to get your child to help choose some alternatives. They might have good ideas that don’t occur to you.

Ways and words

Using food to reward or console kids is pervasive enough that the American Academy of Pediatrics and five other professional organizations recommend that parents not use food this way.

But no one, including doctors, is suggesting that you should never make a birthday cake or use food as a reward in any situation. Food is an integral part of cultures everywhere and meant to be fully enjoyed.

Should you find that you regularly rely on food to express emotions with your kids, I believe you ought to try to switch gears.

It’s all about finding ways and words, instead of using food, to show your kids how much you love them.

Stephanie Meyers is a registered dietitian and nutritionist. She is also an instructor of the graduate nutrition program at Boston University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Parenting

What it’s like to parent when you have agoraphobia

Before having kids, my agoraphobia affected no one but me. But as a mother, I couldn't ignore how my mental illness was impacting my kids lives.

Last year, I sat across from a psychiatrist and was diagnosed with agoraphobia. The word sounded foreign to me; almost funny. But agoraphobia is far from funny. It’s a serious and sometimes debilitating mental illness—and according to my doctor, I have it.

The first signs of agoraphobia began to appear when I was in university. I’d spend long, leisurely days at home under the soft crocheted blanket my mother had made me. I didn’t leave my house for days, existing on food scrounged from the fridge, or takeout. I created a haven of quiet and solace that nobody else could penetrate.

At the time, I just thought I was introverted, a private soul who needed the comfort of four walls surrounding me. I didn’t know anything about panic or anxiety, and I definitely hadn’t heard the word “agoraphobia” before. I’d grown up in a family that didn’t discuss mental illness, despite the fact that it’s part of our family history.

For years, I lived this way. I went to school, work and church, but I didn’t really breathe until I was safely inside my home.

I met my future husband at 19; his extroverted nature and desire to be outside in the world helped me to challenge myself more. We got married and had two children, and I managed to function fairly well as a young wife and mom. But in 2015, a series of traumatic events challenged my mental health. Shortly after my children turned three and one, my brother died of a massive heart attack. Months later, I was faced with the decision to come forward and report an assault I had experienced a decade earlier. I could feel myself unravelling. After my third daughter was born, in 2017, I began to retreat.

Like other mental illnesses, agoraphobia is as unique as the individual diagnosed. The Canadian Mental Health Association defines agoraphobia as “fear of being in a situation where a person can’t escape or find help if they experience a panic attack or other feelings of anxiety.” Because of this fear, a person with agoraphobia might avoid public places, and some may even avoid leaving their home.

My agoraphobia diagnosis is coupled with my recently diagnosed panic disorder. It’s not so much the indoors that I crave as it is avoidance of places that might create panic. For me, panic can be triggered by a myriad of experiences; an uncomfortable social encounter at the library or park, a noisy concert or performance, or a crowded grocery store with a long checkout line. My home represents safety, so I find many excuses to stay inside my house.

As a university student, my agoraphobia affected no one but me. But as a mother to three children, it was clear that my mental illness was having an effect on them as well.

Before my mental health plummeted, I had managed to function fairly well, pushing myself into uncomfortable situations for the sake of my children. But afterwards, I didn’t have the strength, favouring my own perceived safety over getting outside with my kids.

My older kids (ages five and seven) are involved in sports and clubs. Every school concert and performance, fun trip to the museum or drop-off to an after-school program can send me into panic. My mind tells me to avoid these places and send someone else. Sometimes my anxiety wins, but other times I push myself to my limit. On those days, I’m often rewarded with a wonderful experience and treasured memory with my children. Occasionally, my fear manifests and I experience a panic attack, requiring me to quietly retreat to the car for deep breathing, hot tears spilling down my cheeks.

There have been moments of resentment, like when my seven-year-old huffs that her father is more fun, and that she wishes I’d pick her up from school more often. Sometimes she’ll say things like, “Daddy goes on field trips, Mommy doesn’t.” I’ve chosen to hide my panic from them, and will wait to talk about my diagnosis when they’re old enough to understand. But that leaves us with the obvious fact that my presence is missing at times—and in those moments we all lose.

It’s hard hearing that I’ve not been present enough for my daughters, or that there are things they wish I did more. I realize that I’m missing out on parts of their childhood.

My youngest daughter has been affected by my agoraphobia the most. She was born at the peak of my diagnosis, and until recently had only seen me when my mental health had been at its worst.

As a mom with a toddler, there are plenty of ways to encounter an awkward social situation, whether it’s at circle time at the library or out grocery shopping. When my panic takes over, we’ll avoid going out to public places, sometimes for two, three or at the most four days. We eat our meals together at home, watch Elmo’s World, play with her Little People barn and take leisurely naps together.

When I received my diagnosis a year ago, I was stunned and in denial. I didn’t understand agoraphobia and was afraid of the label and judgment it carried. Shortly after the diagnosis, I stopped seeing my psychiatrist, choosing to ignore my reality. I continued to retreat further and brought my youngest daughter with me, her cherubic cheeks and light-hearted laughter a soothing balm on my aching and wounded spirit.

It wasn’t until recently, when I began to see how agoraphobia was affecting my children, that I began to seek recovery. I’ve started seeing a therapist again and have seen how my improved mental health has helped my children.

As I work through the painful and traumatic experiences of my past and dig deeper into my desire to avoid social situations, I am encouraged. Mental illness will be a battle that I’ll wage my entire life, but I don’t want it to define me. I’m also thankful to have a partner who has been with me for the last decade and has been calmly supporting me through the ups and downs of my mental illness. Over the last few months I have been practising proven therapies for agoraphobia, and I am already seeing progress.

Some of these therapies include learning more about agoraphobia and why I’m anxious; practising deep breathing to reduce stress and anxiety; introducing safety behaviours, like going to a playgroup with a friend instead of alone; and rewarding my bravery, like getting a pedicure after facing the fear of driving on the highway. It requires hard work and effort, but I face my fears because I want to live a life fully immersed in all the world has to offer—but also because I want my children to experience the beauty of this world too. Seeing my youngest daughter make friends at playgroups and special outings has been one of the most joyful and rewarding results of my therapy so far.

Recently, I’ve committed to picking my older girls up from school twice each week and dropping them off every morning. We volunteer together at the school on Friday mornings, and I help out in their classrooms a few times each school year. Things like school trips are areas I’ll likely never venture into, but I feel it’s important to respect my limits.

With my youngest, I try my best to get outside with her daily, to take her to the library or a fun playgroup, but I’ll admit that there are some days when the pull of home is too much. On those days, I return home from dropping off my school-aged kids and I wrap my two-year-old and myself up in the warm embrace of our home.

It’s taken commitment, patience and a lot of strength to face my fears head-on and to walk into a world that I’ve seen as scary for so long. But with each outing, I see myself saying yes to a life without limits.

This article was originally published online in March 2019.

Read more:
Mental health problems during pregnancy are more common than you think
Why isn’t anyone talking about maternal suicide?

Parenting

Kristen Bell on 13 of parenting's most controversial topics

In an exclusive interview with Today's Parent, actress and mom-of-two Kristen Bell gives us her hot takes on some of parenting's biggest controversies.

All those controversial, tricky parenting issues you struggle with, like whether to co-sleep with your baby or let your preschooler have screen time every night? Celebs struggle with them too!

In our exclusive interview with Frozen and The Good Place star Kristen Bell, we asked for her to briefly share her thoughts on some of those difficult parenting topics. Here’s what she said.

1. Forcing kids to eat vegetables:

“Do I force them? No. Do I explain that vegetables are fuel for their bodies to grow strong, see in the dark, jump high and run fast, and that every meal has to have a colourful plate? Yes.”

2. Letting kids have dessert every night after dinner:

“Absolutely not. Dessert is reserved for special occasions, because you’re crazy on sugar and I can’t handle you and your crazy.”

3. Allowing kids pick their own outfits (even if they look ridiculous):

“One hundred percent yes. That’s a non-starter. Let them be them.”

4. Occasionally skipping a hygiene routine:

“If my daughters are having a fit before bedtime, we skip brushing teeth and go right to bed. You have to cut yourself some slack.

5. Lying to kids:

“I like to be brutally honest. My kids know they’re going to die, they know Santa Claus doesn’t exist (they asked!) and they know that Daddy and I have sex.

6. Time outs as a discipline tactic:

“Once they’re calm, as a consequence? Yes. Or telling them, ‘You need to go to your room to calm down’? Yes. But not if it feels like abandonment. It shouldn’t be, ‘You’re being crazy so now I reject you.’”

7. Making kids share a room:

My girls share a room. It’s very important to me. They’re going to live a privileged life and someone once told me, ‘Always have your kids going through something.’ To me, sharing a space with your sister is what you’re going to be going through. You’re going to have to navigate that.”

8. Co-sleeping:

“Into it. But my husband can’t sleep when they’re in our bed.”

9. Screen time:

“On lazy weekends, we’ll do four or five hours a day. But the only other screen time that’s allowed are school programs. They don’t have phones or play video games.”

10. Cleaning kids’ rooms for them:

“That’s a tough one. If we’re talking Legos, it’s got to be done, because nobody wants that injury. At ages four and six, I’m just now giving them the responsibility to tidy up their own room.”

11. Yelling at kids:

“The child psychologist Wendy Mogel says it’s OK to get angry at your kids, but you never want to make them feel like you regret having them. And when I yell, I don’t yell kindly. So I don’t do that.”

12. Letting kids pee outside:

“I just tell them to pee on the grate, not on the fake grass or the cement.”

13. Leashes for toddlers who bolt:

“Total lifesaver.”

Family

How to raise a feminist

Whether you have a boy or a girl, teaching your kids about gender equality feels more crucial than ever.

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Very simply, a feminist is someone who sees men and women not as exactly the same, but equal—due the same pay and advantages, the same respect and the same power over one’s body.

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I am a parent of three boys, ages two, five and eight, and I’ve always thought it critical to raise them as feminists. My commitment to this belief was reinforced a few months ago when I decided to share my personal experience of being sexually assaulted by Jian Ghomeshi. It was an exceedingly difficult story to make public, but I wanted to show them how existing cultural and social stereotypes and systemic sexual inequalities meant that even though I was a lawyer and knew the law, I didn’t share my story, I didn’t go to the police, I didn’t take action. As parents it’s hard not to worry about the world our kids are growing up in and how it will shape the adults they become. Will our boys always treat women with respect, and will our girls feel like they can speak and be heard? All parents—myself included—need more practical tools for encouraging these ideals. This isn’t a revolution as much as it is a daily commitment to be a role model for your kids, to encourage them to be who they are and to share how they feel. We can raise our children to be the change we want—and need—to see.

1. Monitor their media

Most parents have some level of control over what their kids consume online and in the media. This is good—continue on and, if you can, do even more, because screens play a huge part in shaping how kids see the world. “Media plays an important role in forming and reinforcing gender roles and stereotypes. Media violence in particular influences the way kids play and even develop relationships with one another,” says Karyn Kennedy, executive director of Boost Child Abuse Prevention & Intervention, an advocacy and awareness organization in Toronto that also helps kids at risk of being abused or who have been abused in the past. “Kids who are exposed to media violence are more aggressive in how they relate to others and are more likely to solve problems using violence.” Media violence not only desensitizes kids to the effects of aggression, Kennedy says, but it can also dehumanize the victim and reduce kids’ ability to feel empathy. Some easy ways to monitor your kids’ media consumption include:
-Just being around—I moved all our devices into one (loud!) room, so most of the time, one parent is with them while they are watching TV, playing video games or surfing the web. Explain to older kids why you want to control what they see. I tell my eight- year-old that my job is to prevent him from seeing or hearing things that will make him feel bad or scared. For now, it seems to work.
-Review content in advance to gauge how age appropriate it is. It could be as simple as googling and reading a few reviews by other parents. A bit of poking around can pay off.
-Encourage and support networks like TVO and other non-commercial media—the absence of advertising is a huge help. A show may be fine, but the ads can often be totally inappropriate.
-Instead of watching whatever is on TV, use tools like a PVR, OnDemand and Netflix to make better choices. Shows like Canadian Geographic for Kids, The Magic School Bus and Word Girl show smart, strong female protagonists. Check in with Media Smarts, an Ottawa non-profit organization that promotes digital and media literacy or its US counterpart, Common Sense Media, a group that keeps an extensive and regularly updated list of games, apps, movies and shows all reviewed for age appropriateness and positive messages.

 

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2. Make them media savvy

The reality is that no matter how hard we try, our kids will still be exposed to content that’s over-sexualized, gendered and often violent—simply because it’s all around us. The American Academy of Pediatrics found that via TV, magazines, billboards and online sites, children view more than 3,000 such images on an average day. Because monitoring can only go so far, we also need to teach our kids from a young age how to look critically at these messages. Watching TV or reading magazines together and then discussing them is one of the best ways to do this. Ask your kids about the characters and images, encourage them to think about who made the show and how they would make it different. Ask “why” a lot. If you pass a poster with a half-naked woman on it, don’t uncomfortably ignore it or hope they don’t see it. Trust me, they already have—so point it out and ask them what they think the advertiser is trying to do there and why? Besides being educational, these conversations are often fairly amusing.

3. Stop the body shame

Having a comfortable relationship with their bodies is the foundation for healthy sexuality in later years—and it begins with the words we teach them. Using anatomically correct words—as opposed to cutesy or bashful euphemisms—for all of their body parts promotes positive body image, increases their self-confidence and encourages healthy communication, ultimately decreasing their vulnerability to potential abusers, according to sex education experts. If (like me) you didn’t grow up with parents who were this open, using words like penis and vagina in conversation with little children can feel odd, especially in public. But push on! It really does get easier, and most importantly, it’s the start of a lifelong conversation about sex that you want to be able to have with you kids. As they grow older, encourage alternative ways of thinking about our bodies. When my five-year-old notices those posters and ads showing women’s breasts, I make sure to also mention that’s how babies get food and that all mammals do this. And don’t forget to watch how you talk about your own body as well. A friend recently shared with me the uncomfortable conversation she had to have when her twin seven-year-olds overheard her saying that having kids had “ruined” her body.

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4. Instill the idea of boundaries, then respect them

The idea that no means no can start with play. If they’re playing a chasing or tickling game and one kid doesn’t like it, game over. Implement the concept of regularly “pressing pause” when they’re playing—a quick check-in to make sure everyone is still having fun. Insisting your kid kiss or hug a relative or family friend is probably the most common way we ignore our own kids’ boundaries.

We have to listen if we want them to believe that no really does mean no, regardless of how awkward it might be on the etiquette front. “Children should be taught that only they can decide how they feel about a touch—that they give permission to be touched. When they learn that they have the right to say no or question the behaviour of others—even grown-ups—they have gained valuable prevention skills against abuse and exploitation,” says Kennedy. How do you avoid potentially offending others when hugs are denied? Offer a positive alternative, like blowing a kiss while you hold your child, shaking hands or just waving goodbye.

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5. Cultivate their natural empathy

Teaching empathy—the ability to appreciate how your actions may affect others, and then adjust them accordingly—is key to raising emotionally intelligent kids. Studies show that by the age of two or three, children can empathize with feelings of happiness, sadness and anger, since those are emotions they intensely feel themselves. Parents can actively encourage empathy by helping kids to regularly recognize and name what they feel, and then expand on that by asking them to consider how a friend or sibling feels in a variety of everyday situations. Model empathy yourself, too, but there will be times when you don’t. Use those examples as conversation starters to discuss what you could have done better and why.

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6. Squash stereotypes

According to Lise Eliot, author of Pink Brain, Blue Brain, gender awareness begins around two and a half. By kindergarten, kids begin chastising their peers for gender non-conformity (designating types of toys, colours or long or short hair as being specifically “boy” or “girl,” for instance). Challenge this kind of language when you hear it from kids. Ask them why they feel that way and make it clear that all kids are free to make their own choices and have their own preferences. Do away with phrases like “Act like a lady” and “Boys will be boys.” Parents can work against stereotypes by never using gender as a reason for your kids to do or not do something—like discouraging boys from figure skating or insisting girls learn to cook. Dreams of being a hockey player, dancer or astronaut are for everyone. This shift has the potential to be uncomfortable for parents—you may worry about your son wearing pink or feel disappointed that your girl isn’t girlier, but you have to put that aside. It’s more important for them to be confident and happy.

One of the most important ways to treat your boys and girls equally: Nurture them as they experience their full range of emotions—make it just as OK for boys to cry and talk about their feelings as it is for girls. A recent study published in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology found that the conversations mothers have with their four-year-old daughters tend to contain more emotional words and content than the conversations they have with their sons. Researchers found this practice unconsciously reinforces gender stereotypes to their kids—and may give girls an advantage when it comes to higher levels of emotional intelligence. In the end, it’s up to kids to grow up to be who they really are, regardless of old ideas about what boys and girls should be. And it’s our job as parents to create a loving and supportive environment where anything is possible.

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Reva Seth is the bestselling author of The Mom Shift: Women Share Their Stories of Career Success After Children (Random House: 2014). She is also the mother of three boys.

Read more:
How not to raise a sexist pig
Why we need to stop teaching our girls to be nice

 

Family life

11 simple ways to add some magic to your kid's day

From breakfast in bed to backwards dinners and flashlight walks, surprise your kids with magical moments they'll be talking about for weeks.

Adding something special to your child’s day doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. Surprise your kids with one of these offbeat activities that your little ones will be talking about for months. Who knows? You might create a new family tradition.

1. Backwards dinner

Tonight, serve dessert first! Don’t stress about ruining their appetite; it’s only one meal.

2. Pyjama day

Let your kids wear their comfy PJs all day long, no matter what is planned.

3. Rude dinner

Encourage your kids to break all the mealtime rules. They can eat with their mouths open, forgo cutlery, blow bubbles in their milk, put their elbows on the table—and not worry about muttering a please or thank you.

4. Treat hunt

If they want sweets, they’ll have to work for them! After dinner, send your kids on a scavenger hunt around the house to find dessert.

5. Breakfast in bed

Once a month, serve your kids their favourite morning meal in bed. (Try to be zen about crumbs and spills.)

6. Go camping at home

A family posing in helmets while on a bike ride10 awesome staycation ideas for familiesHave a picnic on the kitchen floor for dinner and then sleep together as a family in a fort or tent in the living room.

7. Ice cream soup!

Give each kid a bowl of ice cream and a bunch of ingredients—caramel sauce, mini marshmallows, sprinkles, chocolate chips—and let them mix it all up into a soupy delight.

8. Play hooky

Pick your kids up from school early and take them to an afternoon movie. Don’t tell them in advance: A surprise is that much more magical. (Sorry, teachers!)

9. Take a trip

Bring them to an extra-special playground or sledding hill—even if it’s on the other side of town.

10. Movie party

Have a family movie night, complete with a blow-up air mattress, tons of pillows and blankets, popcorn and candy.

11. Flashlight walk

Bundle up, give everyone a flashlight and take a post-dinner stroll.

Read More:
5 fun games kids can play under the stars
The 10 most anticipated kids’ movies of 2019

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Family

"I love working at home with my kids!" (said no mother ever)

As Jennifer Pinarski re-enters the workforce, maintaining a work/life balance has taken on a whole new meaning.

Follow along as Jennifer Pinarski shares her experiences about giving up her big city job and lifestyle to live in rural Ontario with her husband, while staying home to raise their two young children.

When my husband lost his job in April, I was fortunate to find a part-time job with the flexibility to allow me to work from home. My new employer also has young children and understands that kids can get sick and that bad weather means cancelled school buses. Secretly, I was glad to have the chance to still be home with my kids because, despite needing the income, I felt guilty about returning to work.

At six and three, my kids are very self-sufficient, able to fetch their own snacks and drinks, go to the bathroom on their own, turn on the TV to their favourite shows and — for short periods of time, anyway — even play together without fighting. But what they weren’t used to was my being at home and not spending time with them — they didn’t understand that I couldn’t drop what I was doing to watch them colour or ride their bikes. After three years of saying “yes, I’d love to come and play” (even when I didn’t want to play Lego for the hundredth time), saying no was very difficult for me.

Here are some of the other adjustments I’ve had to make as a work-at-home mom:

1. Learning to zip it when eavesdropping on my family

Now laid off, my husband is the primary caregiver and we do things very differently. For example, I’d much rather go to the beach early in the morning to avoid high UVs and sunburns. My husband takes the kids after lunch. Instead of butting in and telling him what to make the kids for lunch or when to break up a fight, I’ve had to tell myself to keep my opinions to myself. He’s an awesome dad — that’s what is important.

2. My kids will always think I’m a jungle gym

I took the accompanying picture on Monday while trying to work on my Calm the Eff Down post. Being a jungle gym is being a good parent, but a terrible employee.

3. Accepting that my home will never, ever be clean again

When my husband worked from home, I’d sometimes wonder why he wouldn’t take the laundry downstairs or tidy the kitchen — just any little household task. The problem is that when tackling household chores, it starts a domino effect because you realize that your house is a disaster and, by the time you’ve cleaned your house, a few hours have gone by — and other than a clean house you have no billable work to show for it. I’d much rather be earning money than cleaning my house and I’d much rather my husband be at the beach with my children. If something’s gotta give, I choose a clean house.

4. I’ll do anything for peace and quiet

My employer has a peaceful office 43 kilometres away from my house. Since we’re a one-car family, we agreed it’s more important for my husband to have the car during the day in case of emergencies. One day last week, I was so desperate for a quiet place to work that I rode my bike to the office. Bike commuting seemed like a great idea at the time when I left the house at 6:30 a.m., but when I rolled into the driveway at 6:30 p.m. at the end of the day — 86 kilometres later — buying noise-cancelling headphones seemed like a better idea than biking.

5. Working at home is not flexible

In theory, working at home provides the ultimate work/life balance. In practise, it’s easier to stick to a traditional 9-to-5 work schedule and get tasks done during the day. Since having children, I’m no longer the night owl I used to be. By 8:30 p.m. I want to be in bed, not working.

This article was originally published online in July 2013.

Parenting

I'm a rage cleaner—it's my version of therapy

It’s cheaper, for one thing. And I figure it’s better to clean than to scream.

I was 15 the first time I realized the true power of rage cleaning. That day, I had returned from a tenth-grade field trip to find my locker partner making out with the boy I was crazy about against the locker we shared.

That night, I did not get on the phone to cry to friends. I did not flop onto my bed and do the whole woe-is-me sob fest—or maybe I did, but only for a few minutes before I noticed my closet door was open by an inch or two. From my bed, I could glimpse a jumble of shoes at the bottom. To a soundtrack of Indigo Girls and Counting Crows, I started with lining up the shoes and within minutes, I’d progressed to emptying my entire wardrobe on the floor of my bedroom. This was more than my usual neat-freak mode: I was now a wrecking ball of rage. For three full hours, I wiped down shelves, purged clothing, and folded everything into impossibly precise little squares. I colour-coded shirts, for God’s sake. At the end, my closet looked like a rack at the Gap, I had three bags of clothing to donate and I was exhausted. But at least I could sleep.

There have been many, many other instances of rage cleaning since that first one.

My dorm room, when a friend handed in an essay I’d written the year before and we both got hauled into the dean’s office. My tiny bachelor apartment, many times, when my first boss turned out to be someone who subscribed to The Devil Wears Prada School of Management. The apartment I shared with my then-fiancé, when we got scammed by our wedding DJ and lost our deposit. (That one featured me—armed with a toothbrush and baking soda—versus the bathroom grout.)

But nothing compares to the rage cleaning I do as a parent. It takes a lot to push me there, but when I get to DEFCON Level 1 of anger—for reasons that range from a sassy-mouthed daughter who is on my last nerve, to a schoolyard bully who just won’t leave one of my kids alone—I figure it’s better to clean than to scream.

I know rage cleaning is not the solution itself—in reality, I usually process the problem and arrive at the solution while feverishly mopping the kitchen floor. But it helps me find a more appropriate, less Godzilla-meets-Tokyo approach or perspective to the situation.

woman with her head in her hands Mom rage is a real thing—here's how to deal with itI cannot explain the sheer sense of relief I feel when I’ve sorted 769,342 pieces of LEGO. Or scrubbed the tub of those damn “tile-safe” bath-crayon scribbles. Or stripped all of the beds and washed all of the sheets in the house (sometimes with dramatic mattress flipping included).

To be clear, I’m not Marie Kondo-ing. I’m not a calm, does-this-spark-joy evaluator in these moments. There’s no joy—it’s rage. And this is simply a means to an end.

I’ve heard a million times before that I should journal. That I should write and reflect on my feelings—and I know this is a proven technique for so many people. But I’m a writer for a living, and to me, writing as a form of catharsis is like telling a surgeon to head to the operating room to decompress. No, my catharsis is making my oven look brand new again, or finally finding and matching all of the Tupperware lids, or feverishly polishing my grandma’s silverware.

I can’t tell whether rage cleaning is healthy or not, to be honest. I know it forces me to take time for myself and think my way through any issue I’m having, and that can’t be bad. I like that I get to see the instant results of my labour. Plus, it’s cheaper than therapy, and there’s the added bonus that I don’t even have to leave the house to do it.

Of course I know there are many problems and challenges that do require professional help—rage cleaning only alleviates minor, everyday tension. If the kitchen floor is sparkling but it still hasn’t yielded the relief I crave, then I know I’m in over my head. But when it works, a good anger-scour of something in my house is usually enough to clear my head and help me determine a path forward.

That said, I suspect if you ask my kids what it’s like when I’m in the power-vacuuming zone, they’d probably tell you they’ve learned to just stand back and leave Mommy alone. At least they appreciate my cleaning soundtrack these days—now cue up some Lizzo and pass me a dust rag.

Read more:
10 IKEA products to help you organize your life
15 genius cleaning hacks for families

Parenting

Kristen Bell uses diaper-rash cream as lip balm—and other things we learned in our exclusive interview

In an exclusive interview with Today's Parent, Kristen Bell talks mom-guilt, self-care, postpartum body image—and why she's launched a new baby-care brand, Hello Bello.

Kristen Bell sitting on a bed leaning with her head on her hand wearing pajamas with feathery cuffs

Photo: Katherine Holland; Creative direction: Sun Ngo; Fashion styling: Nicole Chavez; Hair stylist: Bridget Brager; Makeup stylist: Simone Siegl

Kristen Bell always seems to have multiple projects on the go. In the past year alone, you could find her in Frozen 2 (in which she plays Princess Anna—and if you didn’t know that, are you even a parent?); TV’s The Good Place (Eleanor Shellstrop, for fork’s sake!); the web series Momsplaining with Kristen Bell (in partnership with Ellen DeGeneres); and, most recently, in a boardroom, planning the launch of her new baby-care product line, Hello Bello.

Professional success aside, Bell is also seriously nailing the whole mom thing. On a Friday night, when you’re home streaming Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Bad Moms or one of her interviews on Ellen or Jimmy Kimmel, it’s possible she’s at some swanky Hollywood event with her actor/podcaster husband, Dax Shepard. But she’s just as likely to be at home, too, in her PJs, jotting notes in the margins of a parenting book or creating a dried-bean sensory activity for her daughters, Lincoln, 6, and Delta, 4.

Bell steadfastly refuses to let paparazzi snap pics of her kids, and she never reveals their faces to the 12.9 million followers on her Instagram account, but that didn’t stop her from dishing to Today’s Parent about the wild and crazy ride that is parenthood.

Read on for our exclusive interview with one of our favourite celeb moms ever.

Kristen Bell jumping on a bed wearing pajamas with feathery cuffs

You have two young kids and tons of acting projects on the go. Why did you start Hello Bello?

Because my brain never stops. And when I have an idea—whether it’s organizing my junk drawer or carving out a niche with a new company—it’s like an itch that I have to scratch.

Hello Bello’s focus is on good-quality, Earth-friendly ingredients at accessible prices. Why did you choose this angle?

My husband and I both grew up in Michigan, and we were both on a pretty major budget growing up, like 99.9 percent of people who live on this globe. And when we moved to California, we never stopped being grateful that we could go to a fancy baby boutique and buy something with the best ingredients and not even look at the price. And it occurred to us that, with the platform we’ve been given, we could take an idea like this to someone who could execute it and do it right, and we’d speak on behalf of it. So the goal was to create a premium baby-care product that had efficacy, that was healthy for the planet, but did not make parents choose between their baby and their budget. We like to say, “It’s your mom’s ingredients at your dad’s prices”—because Dax is cheap and I’m always the one reading labels. I mean, we’re both cheap, but Dax is so cheap.

Which Hello Bello products do you use at home?

We all use the wipes everywhere and anywhere, and the kids use just about everything except the diaper rash cream, but I use it as a lip balm.

Wait, you put a product made for bums on your mouth?

There’s just great stuff in it! It’s moisturizing; it’s a balm. You can also use it as a foot moisturizer under your socks. Everyone should learn to read labels.

The Hello Bello diapers are getting tons of attention for their adorable prints. But I guess your kids are out of diapers at this point.

There’s a nighttime diaper situation. There’s a four-year-old late bloomer who likes a nighttime diaper for comfort.

Hey, no shame in that. My feeling about overnight potty training is that most of the time you can wait for it to solve itself.

Right? And also, no sixth grader is wearing diapers. This is going to rectify itself—I don’t need to worry too much about it. But what’s funny is, my first child potty trained herself at the mere suggestion of using the toilet, before she was even two years old. She was also the best baby, and my husband and I were like, “Why is everyone complaining so much about parenting? This is, like, so easy. Either that or…maybe we’re just really good at this!” Then we had the second one and we were like, “Oh no. It’s a mess. It’s a mess.

The pressure on moms to lose weight after having a baby can be a lot, and it has to be worse for celebs, whose appearance is incessantly scrutinized. What was that like for you?

I was very concerned with the shape of my body when I found out I was pregnant. I was asking other moms how much weight they gained, when they lost it, whether breastfeeding really makes you shed the pounds. And I did end up gaining 47 pounds, which is a lot, although my doctor said it was OK. But after I had the baby, something clicked. I thought, I can spend the next couple of years worrying about the shape of my body or I can focus on this beautiful thing I’ve created and look at the marks on my body as the scars of a superhero, as having done something as spectacular as birthing another human. That realization dissolved all the fears I had. I just decided worrying about it wasn’t going to be my thing. I don’t know that there’s anything you can say to anyone that will get them to feel OK about it, though. It has to come from something internal. You have to decide whether you want your body to be the focus or you want your baby to be the focus. There’s no amount of advice that will make you stop focusing on it until you decide to stop.

Grid of photos showing Kristen Bell lounging on a bed with a sleep mask on here head that reads Wish you were here

Even with an “easy” baby, the newborn phase is hard and most couples end up fighting a lot in the first year. What did you and Dax argue most about?

We didn’t. We read a book called Brain Rules for Baby and the pregnancy chapter talks about how something like 85 percent of marriages go downhill after having kids because of the stress. It gave us five indicators to look for—isolation, lack of sleep, and a few others—and we handshake-agreed to be on the lookout for those things in each other. So when he was awake all night because I was [keeping him up by] breastfeeding, I would say, “I’m gonna sleep in the front room with the baby for the next couple of nights so you can catch up on sleep.” When he noticed I hadn’t left the house in four days because I was frazzled with a newborn, he would say, “I’m going to take over today; I want you to go out for lunch with your girlfriends.” It was very much us fighting for each other in order to fight for our marriage. And that was because we did the research ahead of time, we didn’t go into it blindly.

I’m also really lucky that Dax is a firm believer, perhaps because of his sobriety, that you have to earn what you’re involved in. So, I remember him saying to me, “If I go to work for 10 hours a day and then I come home, I can’t tell you how to parent her. I have to be involved. I have to get up and change the diapers. If I want to have a say in what medicine she takes or her sleep schedule, then I better be involved.” And he was.

The fact that he’s an engaged dad must help with the guilt that comes from being away from your kids for work.

I trust my husband so much, he’s very hands-on, so I have that safety net. But I still struggle with guilt. It’s there; I have it. But what I’ve realized is this: Parents have to get comfortable with uncomfortable feelings. I miss them right now; that’s a fact. And when I’m with them, I’m sometimes thinking about work. And that’s OK. All of it’s OK. We all, as human beings, need to get more comfortable with uncomfortable feelings. Running from them does nobody any good.

It’s kind of like how, when our kids are crying, we try to get them to stop. But why do we do that when crying is a natural expression of emotion? Why do we try to stop it?

Because our kids are projections of ourselves and none of us have been taught how to appropriately handle discomfort. Experts say that’s a lot of the reason addiction exists—bad things come from when you cannot handle uncomfortable feelings. I just finished a book called The Gift of Failure, which talks a lot about how important it is for kids to feel uncomfortable feelings.

The author gives a specific example: Let’s say we’re children and we’re in the sandbox together and I throw sand in your face. If my parents swoop me up and your parents swoop you up and the adults try to fix it separately, my parents have denied me the ability to see you cry, to get embarrassed, to feel shame. Those are necessary emotions for character development. So I’m probably going to throw sand at you again next time because I never saw how you reacted. If I see you crying, I’m thinking, “Uh-oh, my friend is crying; that creates a funny feeling in my body. I don’t like that feeling. Maybe next time I won’t throw sand.” Kids can feel this—they can feel it at one year old. That blew my mind when I read it. And, so, lately I’ve been telling my girls, “It’s OK to feel embarrassed. I’ll just sit with you.”

Kristen Bell sitting on a lounge holding a mug

Parenting is exhausting and you have so many different jobs. What do you do that’s just for you? I’m avoiding the word “self-care” because it can be so loaded.

I don’t think we’ve done a deep-enough dive on the topic of self-care. For me, a manicure or a bubble bath is not self-care. It’s bigger than the hour you’ll take for yourself that week. Self-care, to me, is asking for help. That comes in a lot of different shapes and sizes. It’s having a quick video chat with my girlfriends. It’s calling my sister, or my best friend, Jess (my girls call him Naughty Uncle Jess because he’s a fun piece of work), and saying, “I’m going to wring someone’s neck. I need you to come over here and defuse some of this energy.” He’ll come over, put on some music and have a dance party with them and I can just breathe.

What about another mom buzzword: the mom-cation? It’s cringey and gendered, but is the idea of a total break from your mom and wife duties intriguing?

I actually took my first girls’ trip ever a couple of weeks ago, to Europe. I’ve never taken one before because every minute I wasn’t working, I wanted to be with my kids. I was hesitant but my husband encouraged me. The first couple of days were miserable because I missed my family—I’m pit-of-my-stomach uncomfortable when I’m away from my tribe, truly. But by day three, I felt good. I felt what it was like to be just a woman in the world again, which is pretty invigorating. And by day six, when I came home, I was the 2.0 version of myself.

How long did the new, invigorated version of you last?

Oh, it’s still here. It’s never going away. I bought a hat and a pair of glasses and I’m pretty much Parisian now, so everyone’s just going to have to handle that.

What’s an amazing family trip you guys have taken recently?

A couple of times per year, we take Thursday and Friday off, we rent a big Airbnb about an hour away from our house, and we stay there with four other families. It involves nothing more than that. We pack puzzles for the kids, and a bunch of food, and it’s incredibly relaxing. The kids run around together and the adults can just talk. I find so much happiness in community living. At the end of every single one of those trips, we go, “Why on earth don’t we live in the same house? Why don’t we just buy a commune?” It’s so much easier and so much fun.

Parenting village How to build a villageThey say it takes a village. And yet moms are more isolated than ever, so they turn to social media for support and advice. Where do you go when you have a parenting challenge?

I rely a lot on friends, face to face, but my primary source of information is books. I read a lot of parenting books—from the ones written by moms just winging it to the ones by neuroscientists—and I take a little bit from all of them. But I think the most important thing to remind moms is to follow your gut. You don’t actually need advice!

How do you and Dax spend family time with your girls? What might we find you doing on a random Saturday afternoon?

We do a lot of family bike rides on the Los Angeles River bicycle path. At home, I’m very into making sensory crafts for them. Like, we just pulled this out a couple of days ago—you fill a big bin with by-the-pound dried beans, then hide little trinkets in it and have a sort of digging adventure. And then after they find all the toys, they’ll spend hours playing with the beans—scooping them in cups, dumping them out. We also do a lot of cardboard box crafts and puzzles. And we build a lot of forts.

What’s the sleep situation in your house? Do your girls sleep through the night?

The older one sleeps perfectly. The little one wakes up a lot. She’s never been a good sleeper. She will be at the side of my bed, like Children of the Corn, staring at me at 3 a.m., and I’ll wake up suddenly and she’ll tell me some nonsense, like she has a hangnail. In the beginning, it made me very frustrated, but I’ve surrendered to it. I said to myself, This is something she’s going through; it doesn’t help anyone if I’m angry about it. So I get up, I tuck her back into bed, I stay with her for three minutes, and then I go back to bed.

But one thing we recently discovered is giving them kids’ melatonin at night. I kind of can’t believe it—it’s such a game changer. It makes everything so much easier. So I immediately called Hello Bello and was like, “We need a kids’ melatonin!” And we’re doing it.

Melatonin helps bedtime, but what about mornings? Are they early risers?

One thing we’ve made clear to them is that Dax and I will wake up at 7 a.m. Before then, you’re on your own. This morning, for instance, they got up about 5 a.m. and I could hear them moving things. I went into their room at 7 a.m. and they’d moved all the furniture—the dresser, the chair, everything—and had redesigned the space. I don’t know how they did it and I’m sure there are scratches all over the wood floor. But one of the best moments of motherhood was the day I walked into their bedroom early in the morning and the older one was lying with the little one on the bottom bunk. Apparently the little one had gotten scared. I heard her say, “Don’t go get Mama and Dada. I’ll lie with you.” She’d never done that before—and, so far, hasn’t done it since—but she was just so kind and it almost made my heart explode.

Kristen Bell in a bathrobe by a shower door biting her fingernail

Is it unusual for them to be sweet to each other? Do they fight a lot?

They fight almost 100 percent of the time, and it was a big surprise to me. I definitely thought my children would get along better than they do. But what I’ve been able to recognize is that when siblings fight, it’s usually because they don’t have the tools to work it out yet. And they’re also trying to discover their id, their ego and their self-awareness, and that takes a lot of time and mistakes.

Do you get involved in their arguments?

If they have a bad fight, I’ll break it up. And I step in when the big one hits the little one. I take her aside and say, “We are nice girls. We do not hit people or things that are smaller than us. We protect things that are smaller than us.” There’s a theory that telling kids they’re smart can backfire, but I don’t think telling them they’re kind and nice can backfire. I hope that’s the label they show the world. It’s something I say to them a lot: “Here’s how nice girls act. We are nice girls.” It’s like our code in our house. Just now that they’re four and six, I’ve started letting them work out their own fights, although I listen in because one is bigger than the other and I wouldn’t be responsible if I didn’t. But I also don’t want the little one thinking I’ll come to her aid all the time. I want her to learn how to stand up for herself.

Do you make them say sorry?

No, because sorry isn’t active. If you hit somebody and all you have to do is say sorry, then you’ll learn that all you have to do is say sorry and then you’re out of it. Our preschool taught us to instead have them say, “What do you need?” So we’ll say, “Ask her what she needs.” And the answer could be: “I need space, I need a hug, I need a teacher, I need an ice pack.” It’s usually an ice pack, to be honest. Someone once told me that kids’ brains are most open right before they go to bed, so usually before bed we talk about the fight. The conversation always pleasantly surprises me. Like, “I did that because she was annoying me and I couldn’t control my body but I know that I shouldn’t react that way. I’ll try harder next time.” It makes me very happy.

Do you let your kids quit activities or force them to finish?

I used to let them quit everything. They started soccer and quit, they started ballet and quit. Recently they joined a 12-week theatre group program. They said they wanted to.

But it was brutal—and I mean brutal. Every week they were screaming in the car, “I hate going here!” But I said to them, “We’re going through with this play, because neither of you knows what it’s like to be on a team, and that is a skill that you need.” I like to give my kids context, so I said, “I’m not just forcing you to go to this theatre rehearsal; I’m telling you that you need a skill set that you don’t yet have, and it’s called being on a team, and we’re going to do this. So you can either make this miserable or you can bear with me and do 12 weeks of it.” They made it miserable. But then something clicked at week 10 and they decided they loved it. They had a great time at their performance and they want to do it again.

With the baby and toddler years behind you, what are you loving about parenting older kids?

Their developing opinions. Babies are cute and wonderful but I just love the endless, endless opinions. They’re hilarious and just so interesting. I also love seeing their aesthetic developing, when they pick their own outfits or they tell me they don’t like a certain fabric or a colour, or I see the way they draw. I see that as someone who is shaping themselves.

What’s the very best part about being a mom?

You never get tired of looking at their faces. It’s like having the Mona Lisa in front of you forever. It’s like having the world’s most beautiful picture following you around. It’s endlessly entertaining and pleasing to look at.

But, actually, you know what’s even better? The opportunity to focus on someone else and care so much about their development. It’s so peaceful for your own ego. That’s also why
I have a bunch of senior dogs. They require so much work, but being of service is a very peaceful feeling, and when you’re focusing on nurturing something else, it’s harder to let your ego get out of control. Being a parent makes it easier to be happy.

Introducing Hello Bello!

Here are a few of our favourites from the new baby-care line launched in part by Kristen Bell. The items are available at HelloBello.ca and will soon be in a wide variety of stores across Canada.

Read more:
Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard on what it’s like to parent while sober
In Kristen Bell’s Momsplaining, celeb moms confess the grossest things their kids ever did