Why Ages 2-7 Matter So Much For Brain Development

If your five-year-old is anything like mine, he or she has made you question something you thought you knew. For instance, whenever we go someplace, my kids ask me, “Are you going the right way?” They know I get lost often, and they think they’re going to tell me the way to go. They sometimes think they know everything — and while we know they absolutely do not, this age is actually the best time to teach them as much “everything” as we can. Because as the five-year-olds that they are, their brain development matters immensely right now.

There are critical periods in a child’s development which happen in spurts; during these periods, the connections between brain cells double, giving our children between the ages of 2-7 the ability to learn faster than any other period in life. Our kids’ brain development matters immensely both before and after that span, of course, but it’s especially important in those years between 2-7.

It’s during these critical years that we can help our kids develop a growth mindset: the belief that their abilities can improve over time and with effort, rather then the black-and-white belief that they’re either good at something or they’re not. This kind of mindset can help them for the rest of their lives. To help foster a growth mindset, we can praise the process instead of the result — telling them we appreciate the way they worked to solve the problem or learn the skill, whether the outcome was success or failure. We can let them know that failure isn’t anything to be ashamed of, but something we can learn from that can help us improve.

The social and emotional health of our children, especially during the age we’re living in, is also important. In addition to promoting a strong growth mindset, we must also introduce our kids to a wide range of possibilities no matter their gender or interests. Since kids’ brains are so malleable during these years, allowing them to “sample” all kinds of different experiences with music, art, math, sports, and language will lay a broad foundation that can be narrowed down in later years.

And while we’re all at home these days, it’s a great time to let them discover. My daughters, who just turned five years old, are chemists scooping cups upon cups of flour and mixing it with any liquid they can find while making a complete mess in my kitchen. By night, they are coloring and enjoying quiet time with their books. The pandemic has practically given them free rein of my kitchen and the ability to make a mess any time of day, which ultimately allows me to get shit done — and helps develops their brains, to boot!

Young girl looking in microscope
MoMo Productions/Getty

When my girls turned five, along with their gifts, they received a calendar of daily chores and a mason jar with their names on it. They also received a little bit of a lecture about the importance of chores and the importance of saving money. For each day they complete their chore, they receive a quarter to put into their save jars. This is also important for their brain development, as they are learning to be helpful to their family members and that everyone has a role to play in our home. When their chores are not finished, we talk about what happened and how their actions may have hurt our family in some way, like forgetting to give everyone a fork at dinner as they set the table. Ages 2-7 are a prime time to develop emotional intelligence, and chores (and talking about them) help them hone those important interpersonal skills like teamwork and empathy.

In her newsletter Confident Parents, Confident Kids, social and emotional learning expert Jennifer Miller shares plenty of tips and tools to strengthen our kids’ social and emotional health during this all-important stage of brain development. Whether it’s at the dinner table, or in the car driving to the grocery store, or in the grocery store itself, every bit of what we are teaching our kids gives them the opportunity to grow as little beings. 

Recently, my daughter asked me to sign her up for Chinese lessons so she can speak to her bestie in Mandarin. Who am I to hold this little girl back from learning Chinese? So, I’ll look for a Chinese tutor — but not because I want to dole out money to simply make my kid happy (though that’s definitely part of it). I want to foster her love for learning, her desire to want to speak with her friend in her native language. And I want to show my daughter that she can try anything (within reason) … right now, while her brain is the most receptive it will ever be.

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10 Ways To Stay Sane While Working From Home With Kids

When I started my journey of self-employment, it was with my kids. They were newborn and 16 months. It was in the midst of the economic crash of 2009, approximately one year after we purchased our first house, which conveniently was about three months before the bottom fell out.

My husband and I are not wealthy people. We were both raised by hard working, middle class parents and had jobs at the age of 14. Relaxing is not something that comes easy to either of us, and as parents, we just want our children to have comfort, security, and confidence.

So much of what we desire for our kids shows up in the decisions we make in our professional lives. My husband is from Ohio – he honestly is the epitome of Midwestern values. Get up early, work hard, don’t complain, and do your best every day.

I am a word nerd and have always been writing. One Saturday, when I was unknowingly pregnant with my daughter, in a move I still blame on an internal nesting instinct, I created a free Google site, positioning myself as a freelance business copywriter offering services that included resume writing and corporate communications.

Within a week, my first client had found me, hired me for a resume, and my business was born. Fast forward approximately two years and two kids later, and I made the bold decision to leave my full-time job (with just one month of savings and no real plan) to go into business for myself … full-time. I quickly realized I needed help, which started out as traveling to visit grandparents two days a week, then hiring a sitter. This morphed slowly into daycare and a different sitter, all requiring a degree of flexibility and adaptability that I was previously unaware I was capable of.

When I look back, I can’t even believe I had the courage to do it. What gene was I born with that made me think I could build and run a business with two tiny people crawling around?

In retrospect, I don’t recommend this fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants method to starting a business. I would highly suggest a more thought-out approach; however, I did make it work, and I believe I owe that success in large part to a set of loosely-tied-together principles that have become my non-negotiables.

What’s my secret to working at home with kids?

1. Accept failure.

You will absolutely not get the things done that you planned.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

2. Build an “Oh, Sh*t” block into your schedule.

It’s a great cushion for the things that will fall through the cracks.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

3. Get up and move.

A lot. Like at least once every hour, to ward off the anxiety that creeps in when you’re not getting all the things down.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

4. Exercise.

Daily if possible. This balancing act is hard. You need to combat stress, and exercise is the best thing I’ve found.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

5. Get dressed and put on makeup.

You just feel more effective when you look the part. My other secret? Shoes. I always put on shoes when I’m in my office. It’s a small psychological trick that works really well for me to reinforce work vs home.

6. Find your rhythm.

Learn when you are most productive, and block that time. Using a calendar app like Calendly with rules built in is a great way to manage that.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

7. Train your partner.

They will forget that while you “worked” all day, you were interrupted every 20 minutes. So the reason you work when they get home is because you can actually get stuff done.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

8. Be prepared to sacrifice.

Weekends, vacations, typical time off all goes out the window when you’re self-employed — but you don’t have to miss plays, concerts, school meetings, and all the other things.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

9. Find (and stick to) systems that work.

These are different for everyone. The hardest part is sticking to it, but routines will save you.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

10. Be disciplined.

I can’t tell you how hard it is some mornings to not just binge watch Netflix. But I don’t. Mostly.

Things have changed over the years, not least of all my kids. At this point, they are pretty self-sufficient and have a sitter who keeps them busy while I’m wrapping up my day. There are days when I wonder if I made the right decision. Then 2:52 rolls around. Every day, my son gets off the bus and silently crawls into my arms, tucking his head under my neck (being careful not to make too much noise because he knows Airpods in means I’m talking to a client) to give me a hug, and my “why” comes back into focus.

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Let’s Normalize Not Asking Couples When They’re Going To Have Kids

Did you read that title? No? Shame on you — you always read the title first, you rebel. Now go read it. If you did read it, gold star! Now go back and read it again. Reread it. And keep reading it until you no longer ask couples when they’re going to have a child or subsequent children.

I don’t know why people feel like it’s appropriate to ask a couple when they’re going to have a baby, whether it’s their first, second, or fifth. It is inappropriate AF to pry into a couples’ personal life like that. Do you realize what you’re really asking? “Are y’all just having sex for pleasure? Or are you having sex with a purpose?” Does that not make you as uncomfortable as it does me? I’m no prude, but y’all… come on.

And guess what? Not every couple wants children. And that’s fine. Not every couple can have children. And that’s not fine. And asking about it brings up unspoken pain you know nothing about. Pain that is then at the forefront for this couple, who are now trying to decide how to delicately respond to you while also keeping themselves from falling apart and breaking a little bit more. Shame on you.

Questions or statements like:

“Oh, he/she’s a year now, so when are you going to have another?”

“Well, you don’t want them to be too far apart in age, so you really need to start thinking about that.”

“Are you trying? Or are you just not being careful and if it happens, it happens?” (Which is an actual question I was asked after offering up literally zero information. It was just assumed that we were spraying and not praying after I decided not to answer the initial “are you trying” question.)

Why are people so comfortable making a couple’s sex life and family planning any of their business? Like they are owed your next move. They want to know when you’ve done the deed, and if it was spontaneous, or done with the knowledge that you were maybe ovulating.

Listen up, Karens of the world. What happens between my husband and me in our bedroom and our family planning is actually none of your business. If anyone feels they want to make it their business, then please be prepared for me to pry as personally into yours as you just did mine.

And you know what’s shocking? I have been pretty outspoken about my most recent miscarriage, thinking that as an added bonus from that, it might somehow protect me from people putting themselves in my bedroom with my husband and me.

But somehow, people pry. And continue to pry, despite knowing about the devastating loss I will have to come to terms with for the rest of my life. It was like as soon as my daughter Addison hit a year old, all of a sudden, it was a normal, and common, topic of conversation for just about everyone.

And it actually hurts. It hurts when people ask me, especially because they know what I have been through. I should be celebrating milestones with what would have been my second child. But I lost that child. Despite the pleas and prayers and tears willing that baby to hold on, I lost. And every time you ask me when I am going to have another, I am reminded of that. I am reminded of the pain, and the blood, and the loss I didn’t want.

So, before you think about asking a couple when they’re going to have children or try for another, please just don’t. You don’t know what happens behind closed doors, nor should you, unless that information is offered up to you. You don’t know if that couple has decided that children are not for them and being constantly asked about it is annoying and frustrating. You don’t know if that couple is secretly pregnant and waiting to tell everyone until they’re ready. You don’t know if that couple has suffered loss after loss and desperately wants to have children, but it hasn’t happened for them. You don’t know if by asking them that question, you just reminded them of one of the most painful experiences they have been through as a couple. You. Just. Don’t. Know. And guess what? It’s none of your ever-loving business.

For the love, guys, quit asking. Find something else to talk about. Find something else to connect over. Find anything else, and never ever utter those words to another couple again.

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Modern ‘Productivity Culture’ Is Dictating How We Deal With The Pandemic

In my office, I am known as the task-manager, the one to check off the boxes, the one who gets things done. I enjoy the process of planning a project and seeing it through to the end. When the pandemic hit, that’s how I took on managing my household with post-its everywhere. On my fridge, next to this year’s class photos from our three kids’ schools, were grocery shopping lists for the week, a calendar of bills which needed paying for the month, a list of items we could and could not compost — a project I decided to incorporate into our newly-adopted green living lifestyle.

In traditional ambitious form, I also decided to keep our four-year-old twins in their full-year/full-day preschool program. I told myself it was to “prepare for kindergarten,” but now I know, I kept them in this program because I didn’t want them to not try to be the best preschool students they could be — even during a pandemic. I didn’t want them to fall into the slump of being at home for months on end, downing Trader Joe’s strawberry cereal bars and gallons of chocolate milk while watching another episode of Doc McStuffins or Vampirina. Even more, I did not want them to perceive me to be at their beck and call. I am the “get shit done” parent in our household and my kids, I hope, are learning to be productive little humans, a life lesson I am sure they will carry with them forever.

There are days I wonder if I am pushing them too hard. I wonder if my own ingrained (sometimes unrealistic) “you can do anything you set your mind to” approach is a bit much for them right now. Maybe it is even a bit much for me these days, too. I push them because I don’t want them to get lazy or have their minds to turn to mush before they enter the doors of their school (if they enter this September) for kindergarten. I make them go outside and play with their two little friends who live next door, or even push them outside if only to water the grass.

Modern ‘Productivity Culture’ Is Dictating How We Deal With The Pandemic
Darby S/Reshot

I have this desire to make everything for them into a life lesson: let’s create a chore chart (since we are home for the next few months); let’s create an allowance system (since we are home for the next few months); let’s have family dinners at the dinner table each night (since we are home for the next few months) — all of these things not only giving us more time together as a family but also teaching them something. For me, this is my modern-day productivity system — giving my kids (and myself) enough to keep us busy and our minds off the unknown of what our future holds within the clenches of COVID-19.

For me, it also comes down to creating more of the “knowns” in a time when so much is “unknown.” More or less, we know what a four-year-old will do with a quarter they are supposed to put into their piggy bank — maybe they will save it, or maybe they will lose it before it even makes it to their piggy bank. We more or less know the outcome of what happens when we let our kids watch television all day long — they become more irritable and perhaps couch potatoes as adults. Right now, I will take that risk; I need the television to get through my meetings each day. And, I must attend my meetings because I need my job to help support our family.

What I don’t know, and perhaps part of me is scared to find out: what happens if I don’t have them finish the commitment I signed them up for — their preschool program? Of course, it’s all being done remotely, and I am their stand-in teacher (save for the daily Zoom sessions set up by their three classroom teachers). I am their in-real-life, at-home teacher. Not only that, but I’m teaching them other life lessons that extend far beyond academics (like how to properly wipe their butts).

When all is said and done, on top of everything else, we are juggling the pseudo-camp schedule, the emotions associated with not going to school, the anxiety of needing to put on a mask every time they go out in public, and the uncertainty of the times. Our kids have enough on their plates. If we don’t find a summer camp to enroll them into, or a math tutor to educate them so they don’t fall behind, or they don’t get to finish an intended project — it is okay. They will not fall behind an entire year of school. They will not suffer and end up in psychotherapy their entire lives (though it’s okay if they do) just because we didn’t schedule them for every available summer activity we could. We are all in this together, they will not be left behind, and I have to remember that.

If I fail or they fail, does it matter? We are all living through a pandemic. All we can truly hope is to do our best, and hope that the pandemic does not get the best of us.

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Maskholes, Can You Lay Off The Kids, At Least?

I’m sure you saw the video of Costco Karen throwing a fit in the middle of the store because she was asked, yet refused, to put on her mask—the one that was already hanging off one of her ears—but if not, it’s hella embarrassing and her behavior is totally unnecessary. (Why is it always Costco, by the way? Those tired but steadfast employees deserve raises.)

From the “I feel threatened” guy to the granny having a toddler-sized tantrum at customer service, these grownups are proving that older does not mean more mature. And as if it’s not bad enough that people refuse to wear masks, they are also the assholes who berate the people who choose to wear them for the safety of others. It’s one thing if you want to be pissy at me, an adult, for wearing a mask. Call me a sheep, conspiracy theorist, or socialist all you want; I am totally okay being a socialist, FYI. But leave the kids out of it. No kid or teenager needs or deserves to be berated because you think masks are a violation of your freedom.

You may be wondering who would do that? Maskholes, that’s who — specifically, customers at Mootown Creamery in Berea, Ohio. In a Facebook post, Creamery owner, Andrea Brooks, responded to people who were upset that her teenage employees wear masks while working:  “I’ve been trying not to say anything, but it is getting out of control. STOP!!! Stop yelling at these young girls. Stop slamming doors. Stop swearing at them and making a scene. STOP!!! These girls are wearing masks for YOUR protection. They are required by the state to wear them, and they do so with a smile because they care about you and your safety.”

Too many adults are acting like spoiled children. The irony of an “elder” who probably demands respect but can’t give it to a young person who is being responsible isn’t funny here. How did society sink so low that an adult can feel justified screaming at another human trying to do their job, especially if they are a teenager? How have we fallen so far from grace and compassion that it’s easier to harass a child than to just shut the fuck up? I support yelling at kids to get them to stop doing something that is hurting another living being, but yelling at them because they are trying not to hurt you is bullshit. This shouldn’t be a thing.

Demonstrators hold a "Rolling Car Rally" in front of Democratic Governor Ned Lamont's residence while protesting the state's stay-at-home order to combat the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on May 04, 2020 in Hartford, Connecticut
John Moore/Getty

I wish I could say the mask isn’t about you, but it is. For those of you who can’t see the importance of wearing a mask during the middle of a fucking pandemic caused by an airborne virus that causes respiratory infections that can kill you, then let’s reframe the situation. Someone wearing a mask out of choice or requirement because of their job or the building they choose to enter is doing it for you. These people include teenagers trying to earn some cash and kids who are trying to gain a bit of normalcy while venturing into public spaces after having school, sports, camps, playdates, and every other kid activity cancelled.

None of us love wearing masks. But we do it to protect people from the potential of carrying around a deadly virus that we may not know we have. The sneaky thing about COVID-19 is that symptoms may not show up for days after the virus is contracted or it’s possible to have COVID-19 and never be symptomatic. But if I take my mask-less face out into public and cough, sneeze, or talk my germs all over you and the shit you touch, there is a good chance I could kill you and I don’t want that on my conscience. Even kids understand this and are able to practice common courtesy. I’m not sorry this offends you.

Taking your anger out on someone to intimidate and bully them is gross and abusive. It’s also contradictory. You seem to get a chuckle when my son wears his Iron Man mask into the grocery store on a random Tuesday in May. But the second a mask is used for health reasons you get all ragey?

So maybe you don’t believe the scientific benefits of mask use or believe that the virus even exists. Think of a mask as part of someone’s uniform, fashion statement, or none of your fucking business. Would you like someone yelling at you for wearing a particular style of pants, color, or stick up your ass? No, you wouldn’t. Because when you left the house for the day, you felt good about your floral top and the piece of oak between your butt cheeks. You probably tsk, tsk at teens with too many piercings and “weird” haircuts. I would bet that you also clutch your pearls or wallet when a teen swears or wears a hoodie. The maskholes who refuse to wear a mask or only so do because they are forced to if they want to get groceries or ice cream, are generally the ones with lots of biases and ignorance weighing down their ability to be nice.

Right, back to being nice. If you see a kid wearing a mask in public what is it to you, and how is it different than a kid with blue hair? Maybe you shouted at the blue-haired kid too, but I suspect you didn’t. Maybe it’s the idea that blue hair doesn’t challenge your privilege and a mask does.

Look, I think you should wear a mask because we are in the middle of a pandemic. You think it’s your right not to. I wear my mask and so do my kids. There are zero reasons why you should be upset seeing others, particularly kids, doing this. We don’t care if we are wrong. We would rather wear a mask, even if it is uncomfortable, than risk the far outweighing consequences of not doing so.

Perhaps masks aren’t a great look, but harassing kids isn’t fashionable either. Knock it off.

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There Is Something Magical About The Mother-Daughter Bond

My daughter crawled in bed with me a few months ago. She was on the cusp of turning fifteen, and that day in the car we were listening to that new song called “Supah Lonely” by Benee. Maybe you’ve heard it with your own teenage daughter. Or maybe you have no idea what song it is. Regardless, it’s a woman talking about how lonely she is.

Without thinking too hard about it, I told my daughter the song reminded me of myself. I tried to laugh after I said it. I was trying to cover up the fact I was feeling sorry for myself. I knew I was letting my daughter in on a secret I’d been trying to hide from my kids — I’m lonely.

I’m lonely because they’ve grown older and they need me less. I’m lonely because I feel like our relationships have changed. And I’m lonely because they all went through puberty at once, leaving me with the sound of music behind their closed bedroom doors instead of being downstairs with me. 

As soon as I said it, I regretted it. While I want to be real with my kids and see that their mother is not made out of iron and has swinging emotions, I don’t want them to feel guilty about growing up and their independence.

But my daughter’s reply let me know she heard me, she saw me, and she cared.

“I didn’t know that, Mom. I didn’t know you were lonely,” she said. We drove then the rest of the way home in silence and I tried not to tear up thinking back to the days when I wasn’t this lonely. 

I realized being a mother to a daughter gifts you a bond unlike any other. We argue, we disagree, we don’t like each other at times. But we love one another so deeply we know there’s nothing that can break that love. If that’s not a bond, I don’t know what is. I mean, when you feel really safe with someone, isn’t that the time to really be yourself and know you will be fully accepted and loved unconditionally?

How many people can you say you have that bond with? 

According to a study published in Journal of Neuroscience, the bond between a mother and daughter is like no other since their brains are more closely matched in the empathy department. 

So when your daughter comes to you with a problem, situation, or is experiencing something good in her life, as her mother you are able to see yourself in that same situation and relate to her in a way no one else can.

I love my two sons just as much as I love my daughter. But when she comes to me with something that is bothering her, I see myself in her so much. And when the role is reversed, I can see my daughter is able to empathize with me deeply hence her coming in bed to get some snuggle time with me after my confession. 

Scary Mommy polled some of our readers to see if they agreed with the sentiment about mother-daughter bonds … and they did. 

One commenter admitted to crying for days when she found out she was having a girl. “I didn’t know what in the world I was going to do with a girl. I’m not girly and I just knew it would be a disaster. She’s almost 11, she’s my best friend. She’s so amazing! I can’t imagine my life without her. She’s so smart and wise beyond her years.”

Another mother said, “I was ecstatic when I found out I was having a girl. Her dad and I divorced when she was three. We have had an extremely close bond from day one. We definitely have a battle of wills at times because she is a very strong willed child but she is my greatest joy. My mom and I are super close and always have been and I pray that my daughter and I have the same bond throughout life.”

A mother of two boys and two girls said she was terrified when she found out she was having her first daughter, “I said ‘check again!’ I was terrified. I have two and two — wouldn’t change it for anything. Love my girls, they are my best friends. Strong, resilient, sporty and big hearts!”

One mother who has both sons and daughters explains it perfectly, saying, “It’s an indescribable bond. I’m incredibly close with my son. We share a lot of similarities, humor and just get each other. But with my 17-year-old daughter, it’s magnified. So many things she has accomplished or overcome are the same things that I dealt with at her age, but somehow amplified by all of today’s stressors.”

The bond some mothers have with us feels different than the bond we have with our sons. It doesn’t mean we love them more, or favor them over their brothers. But the study does prove there can be such a strong bond simply because we are sharing a lot of the same experiences and are connected in a different way to our daughters.

And even when we feel like we don’t know what we are going to do with them as they grow up, gain independence and sass, we know that bond won’t be broken.

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I Will Provide My Kids’ Needs, But They Need To Pay For Their Wants

My recently 15-year-old son got his first summer job, so he wanted a bank account. As the banker was teaching us about his account and such, she mentioned “overdraft fee.” After she said this a few times, I looked at him and said, “Do you know what ‘overdraft’ means?” He didn’t. I said, “It’s like when someone is in-the-hole for allowance. But they make you pay for going in-the-hole.” This made sense to him.

There were more discussions about how I would check and monitor his bank account. I said, “I don’t think I’ll have to? It’s his money?” Much like the reason I rarely check my kids’ grades on PowerSchool: They’re not my grades. My banker complimented our parenting decision to give an allowance and teach the value, ownership, and consequences of money prior to getting to the banking account point.

There are pros and cons to giving allowance. If you google “should I give allowance,” you’ll find many different answers. Dave Ramsey suggests a commission system. As someone who can barely fill out an allowance sheet every week, this sounds like a lot of work. Also, I don’t know Dave Ramsey’s children. But for any mom who has ever gone back and forth with a “tricky fellow” of a kid (aka: ADHD, intense, defiant, strong-willed, naughty, argumentative, oppositional, non-listening kid), we know that any chore we throw at them on a commission system will be met with a campaign of why they should have more money per chore. Along with a chorus of “nos” towards the chores we ask of them when they don’t want the money because grandma just took them on a shopping spree, or they’re in a “no” kind of mood.

WHY?

When my first child reached about age three, I realized she wanted “stuff.” As someone whose love language is not gift giving, I didn’t just want to give her stuff. I didn’t want to buy a toy any time, let alone every time, we went anywhere. I wanted to take her to stores and to the zoo and to a fair, but I didn’t want to buy stuff when we went places. I didn’t want my kids constantly asking for things.

I think it’s important to empower kids and give them control where they’re able to have it, so I was always looking for places to give them autonomy; having them control some money was an easy place to hand over some control. I also needed a logical consequence to kids being chronically irresponsible with items or chronically breaking stuff. Being trained as an educator in Love and Logic and the Nurtured Heart Approach had taught me that natural consequences were the best thing I could give my children to allow them to learn from their mistakes. All kids lose mittens or a hat a time or two a winter. I told my kids that I’d buy the first replacement of the winter, but they’d buy the second. I’m sure they lost their mittens, but they were always wise to check the lost and found on the bus or at school or retrace their steps and find it when they did.

My tricky fellow is impulsive, and that includes breaking stuff. When he was five, his favorite thing to do was launch things into the air as high as possible. Of course, this did not include thinking about where the thing might land when it came down. Making him pay some money to repair things he broke made him see that he didn’t then have money to chase down the ice cream truck as it came on our street.

I had received allowance as a kid, and so the idea made sense to me. I thought I had heard something on the Oprah show about allowance being a good idea. I asked my financial advisor for her recommendations, I asked a mom-friend, I googled, I read. After my studies and training, I was drawn to the idea of giving an allowance without linking payment directly to a chore.

My kids get a weekly allowance, no matter if they did 500 chores or they were gone at camp for a week. A chore is done because I need some help, and everyone in the family needs to be helpful; a chore is not done for payment. I give allowance in place of buying them stuff. If parents who don’t give allowance (and are in a similar income bracket as us) compared what they spend each year on “stuff” for their kids, they likely have a very similar number to what we pay in allowance each year. And similarly, moms who buy kids a toy or electronic here and there, when they feel like it, or say no when they feel like it, versus giving an allowance still have kids who do chores at home.

We started allowances at age three. That was pretty early, but it worked for us.

The kids got half their age per week for payment. One week per month is put into a saving account. So a three-year-old makes about $4.50 per month. A 16-year-old makes about $24/month. (Each January, we parents just take 12 months x 1/2 their age and add that to their 529 plans.)

Parental compliance is probably the most difficult thing with allowance. I set the bar very low on this one. Each kid has a column. I picked Wednesdays as a “pay day.” About every three or four Wednesdays, I remember to add things up. I write down when I take out savings to ensure that is not missed (and so the kids can see it as an “automatic” thing.) When the kids want to buy something, I give them cash or I buy it on my bank card. When we get home, they/we get out the allowance sheet and subtract and total it out (depending on age.) They write down what any additions or subtractions were for, mostly so I don’t forget and say “Hey, did you ever pay me for that video game I paid for at Target the other day?”

When the kids were little, they needed to have cash to really see and understand. So I’d go to the bank every now and then, and take out $100-$200 in smaller bills so that I could physically pay them the allowance every week or so. Much like a checking account, I’d simply write a balance of zero on the allowance sheet and write PAID CASH. They kept their money somewhere safe in their room. When the kids were little and we’d go somewhere on a trip, I’d have four different envelopes of money. This allowed the kids to see how much they had and we could count out how much the things they wanted to buy cost. If they didn’t have their money with them and wanted to buy something on a random day, they’d pay me in cash when we got home. Now when we go on a trip, I just make a note in my phone of how much each kid has in allowance at the time of the trip and I subtract as we go and they glance at it, much like they would a banking app.

As I said, I don’t pay for chores. Allowance isn’t tied in any way to chores, and this also eliminates threats of “if you don’t do ‘fill-in-the-blank,’ I’m not going to pay you your allowance.” The kids will ALWAYS get an allowance, no matter what. And they are expected to ALWAYS do a chore when I ask, no matter whose turn it is or who has done more chores today or how dumb the chore is.

They may have to use their allowance to pay for something they break (see -$50 for a new Kindle, after my son left mine on the floor for the 50th time and someone stepped on it), but the allowance won’t get taken away. Allowance goes up with age, and so do the family responsibilities. Older kids might have to watch siblings or drive them to/from places or make supper. But again, allowance and responsibilities are not tied to each other. You can also see that once a kid gets a job (my daughter), they don’t really touch their allowance money and they become my ATM when I need cash. We’re currently discussing where that money should be put, versus sitting in the “allowance bank” where she earns 0% interest.

We also don’t buy birthday presents or Christmas presents; allowance is sort of in place of the gifts. Santa brings each kid over age ten a gift around the $100 mark; we tried to keep it much lower when they were little. Our birthday gift was always their birthday party; when they stopped having parties (12ish), we did buy them a small gift. When they started to realize that we weren’t buying them gifts and asked why, we said we would either do allowance or gifts, but not both. So either they’d need wait for Christmas or their birthday for us to buy them a Switch, or they’d need to save their allowance money for a Switch. The kids all liked having the control that allowance afforded them, and so we continue.

A con that makes allowance difficult is “Well what will mom/dad buy and what does allowance buy?” From the start, we’ve said that we parents will buy needs, they will use their allowance money for wants. For example, I didn’t want to buy snacks at Disney World; it’s plenty expensive without snacks. So I brought snacks that we might need. The kids could use their allowance money to buy a $12 ice cream cone they want, or they could eat the snacks I brought. (FYI: two kids had such buyer’s remorse after buying a snack that the other two were happy to learn from their mistakes.)

Example 2: A kid needs winter boots; they don’t need Uggs. My daughter, who was then 12, really wanted Uggs. The boots I was willing to buy were $80, the Uggs she wanted were $120. So she paid for $40 and I paid $80 and she got the Uggs. We buy clothes they need; they buy the extras. We don’t buy gas for their car that we split the cost of; they take our minivan if they have to drive a sibling somewhere or run an errand for us. Many times, my husband and I will decide that an experience is something we want them to do, and we may send them to camp or on a trip. This “who buys what” has really only been a problem when it comes to the older teenage daughter and clothes; everything else the kids have wanted has been self-explanatory that they need to use their allowance.

Another con is the massive regret I have over deciding to pay them to mow the lawn. That should’ve just been a chore like any other chore, and not attached to allowance. I didn’t follow my own advice on that one.

As parents, we have never needed to charge interest or an overdraft fee. The kids really don’t like having a negative balance, and it doesn’t often happen. Much like they don’t like getting bad grades, they are intrinsically motivated to stay out of the red.

There are many ways to teach kids about money. For our family, allowance has worked well.

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Red White and Blue Ice Cream Sandwich Pops

Red white and blue ice cream sandwich pops are an easy patriotic dessert for the 4th of July or Memorial Day. Simple sprinkles make these extra cute! Red White and Blue Ice Cream Sandwich Pops Simple no-bake red white and blue ice cream sandwich pops are the perfect patriotic dessert for a festive 4th of […]

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The Day I Could No Longer Deny The Impact Of My Eating Disorder On My Child

Just like moseying into the kitchen to grab a coffee as soon as my eyelids cracked open, stopping to examine my body every time I passed a mirror was a subconscious compulsion I did without a second thought. I’d turn to one side, then the other, and determine my worth for the day based on how much my stomach protruded.

For as long as I could remember, at least since hitting puberty when my once-flat belly began to bloat, my stomach size determined my worth every single day. If it stuck out more than normal, I’d be ashamed and starve myself for the day. But, if it was within my acceptable range, I’d splurge and binge, sometimes eating thousands of calories in one meal.

Since giving birth to my oldest daughter, I knew I needed to get a handle on my eating disorders; my biggest fear was passing my habits onto her. But healing my relationship with food was always tomorrow’s problem. I continually told myself the children were too young to notice my habits, let alone comprehend my inner dialogue. One day I’d recover, but I didn’t have to quite yet.

Looking back, I wasn’t ready to heal because I feared that, without the appearance of control, my body would swing like a pendulum to a point of no return. My eating disorders wrapped me in a cocoon of self-absorption that kept me from reflecting on the things holding me back in my life. My fight against food meant I wasn’t fighting with my then-husband, setting boundaries with people who wronged me, or researching and advocating against issues in society. I was too busy spending every free moment reading about body cleanses and foods that blasted belly fat that I didn’t have the room to think about anything else.

One ordinary morning as I turned to the side to examine my body from every angle, I caught my five-year-old’s eye in the mirror. When I noticed her watching me, my nerves prickled like a startled cat as if I’d just been caught in a lie. I didn’t know how long she’d been watching, or if she saw me grab the skin and pull it out, and then suck it back in as far as I possibly could. I opened my mouth to try and say something witty or deflective but she looked away, seemingly uninterested, and I exhaled relief at the thought that I was still in the clear.

Not long after that, I caught her observing me in the mirror again. Her eyes were glazed over with a neutral look, the way she looked when we’d been walking through the Target aisles for two hours. But this time it didn’t alarm me as much; she had no idea what I was doing and didn’t care. According to her, I was looking at my body. It was innocent. It’s not like she’d ever seen me shove my toothbrush down my throat in an attempt to vomit an entire meal. I made certain to only do that at night when she was asleep, or when she was at preschool. Yes, she watched me weigh food, log it into my phone, and sometimes not eat, but anyone watching their weight did that. It was normal. I was normal(ish).

I was as certain that I was getting away with this big secret as I was that if I bought a carton of ice cream, I’d eat the entire thing in one sitting.

And then one day as I carried a bag full of laundry into my room to fold, I caught my daughter looking in the mirror as she turned to the side the same way I did. Her eyes grazed down her tiny body as she looked at her tummy like she was trying to understand what I had been doing. A red flag popped up, but that inner demon inside me — the one that gave me delusional self-worth based on my size — reassured me that she was only looking at herself in the mirror. Everyone did that. I took an extra precaution and cheerily said she looked beautiful and was so lucky to have such a strong and healthy body.

Then I caught her doing it again. And again. Every time her eyes were searching for some sort of answer. I don’t know if it was days or weeks later, but one morning as I left the bathroom and examined my stomach in the mirror, my five-year-old came into the room and said, “I wish my tummy was as small as yours, mommy.” My heart dropped into my stomach and knocked the air out of me.

It was one of those moments when the pretty glass reality you were living in gets cracked and tumbles down. When I looked at her face, I instantly recognized the pain in her eyes; it was the same pain I felt on the days I was deemed unworthy of food. I’d planted a seed of self-loathing in her brain, that I then watered every time I mentally picked myself apart in the mirror. And now here she was, about to start kindergarten, already filled with the agony I felt of not loving your body or self.

I said all the reassuring things that I thought would fix it. “Your body is perfect!” “You’re beautiful!” “Don’t think things like that!” “Don’t ever compare your body to anyone else’s!” As if throwing words at her would fix this problem before it snowballed into a life-consuming avalanche that she’d spend years trying to run from. And, of course, it didn’t work.

She’d later tell me three more times that she wished her stomach was smaller. And then a friend told me she overheard my sweet, gentle daughter tell her friends that she wanted to be as skinny as another friend’s mother when she was older. I didn’t understand how she even learned the verbiage when I’d been so careful not to say anything negative around her. I was a mother, her protector, and her teacher. Like a sponge, something ugly absorbed into her through our parent-child osmosis. She saw how I felt about myself and thought if I, her role model, didn’t love my body the way it was, then she shouldn’t love hers either.

I decided, at least for her, that it was time to stop hiding and numbing. Like learning a new language, I immersed myself in recovery. I bought books, listened to podcasts, read articles, watched YouTube videos of people who healed, and started going to therapy. I ate, breathed, and lived eating disorder recovery for six months as the pings of disillusion and fear became less and less. I retrained my lower brain to trust me by promising myself I’d never starve again, which eventually stopped the binging, followed by the desire to purge. And, so very slowly, almost beyond my awareness, I learned to let go of the control.

I began to love myself, to eat when I was hungry, and stop when I was full. I stopped excessively exercising with the mentality of punishment and began going on more walks with my children, and doing fewer sit-ups alone in my room. Over time, new pathways formed in my brain while others shut down like abandoned ghost towns.

Somewhere along the way, my daughter stopped talking about her body and looking in the mirror with criticism. Letting go of the control felt like hell, but it was worth it so my two daughters could grow up with a mother who mirrors self-love instead of self-hate.

My recovery may have been inspired by my daughter, but it ended up being especially for me.

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Dear Oldest Child: You Don’t Know Everything 

Dear Oldest Child,

I know you were born before you siblings and because of that, you knew how things worked around here and felt the need to show them the ropes. I get it. You can be possessive, territorial, and a bit controlling like a lot of other kids who share your title.

And while I appreciate your “help,” I need to let you in on a little secret: you don’t know everything.

When you were younger, I thought being the Town Crier was something you’d tire of. I was wrong, though. As you’ve grown up and become a teenager, it’s not just your siblings you feel the need to preach to, teach, and correct. Now, I fall under your “teaching” umbrella and let me just say, it’s annoying as hell.

You know I’m the person who was almost in her third decade of life when she gave birth to you, right?

I get that you have had to do a lot of firsts with me before your siblings and for that reason, you feel it’s your place to be the bearer of all the news. There’s also the fact I gave birth to your brother and sister, so you can let me handle them, okay?

I implore you to remember I have a lot of years on you. I’ve done everything you’ve done in your life a lot earlier, and a few times over at that, so I’ve got some good practice under my belt. 

Lying to my mom about where I’ve been? Check.

Lying to my mom about where I’m going right before I leave? Check.

Trying to blame a teacher because I didn’t do what I was supposed to do? Check.

Thinking I’m invincible and taking risky chances only to have them blow up in my face? Check.

Talking like I know about something I’ve never actually done before? Check.

I’ve walked in your shoes and I know the signals. So when you tell me you are “just going for a ride with friends,” I know something is up. One simply doesn’t go for a leisurely, safe drive with friends as a 16-year-old.

And when I tell you you better be safe, and you shrug it off because you think you’re invincible and nothing will ever happen to you, it shows me something.

It shows me that you don’t, in fact, know all you claim to know. If you did, you wouldn’t dismiss my advice about not driving like an asshole.

I may not know all the cool terms you and your friends know these days. I may struggle with SnapChat and make you cringe when I get the name to a popular song wrong. And for the record, I actually do know (according to you) everyone in the world except you and your siblings have AirPods, while y’all are “stuck with the generic brand,” but I also know something else: there’s three of you and I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend that kind of money on something you’ll stick in your ears and lose anyway.

I know if you earn the money to buy them for yourself, you’ll care for those ear buds (that must be made out of gold) a lot better.

I am aware of the dangers of teenage driving, especially when you are with your friends.

I know I’m not the coolest person in your world and you think your life would be better if I was more laid back.

But I know it wouldn’t be.

I know how to raise you and your brother and sister. You can retire yourself from that duty right now.

Oh, and for the record, I do know how to grocery shop, how to tell when you are lying, and how to budget the money I work hard to make (hence no AirPods).

So, my dear oldest child, while I love you with my whole heart and appreciate that face we’ve been through many first together and you’ve seen me struggle more than your brother and sister have, you don’t know everything.

You don’t have it all figured out. You don’t have life in the bag. I hope you realize soon we are all evolving creatures who never stop growing or learning unless we choose to put ourselves on autopilot because we think we already know it all.

You have a lot to learn from others so sit back, let someone else do the teaching. Just because you were born first and feel the need to be in charge all the time, doesn’t mean you have to be in that role all the time.

Do us all a favor, including yourself, and be vulnerable enough to admit you don’t always have to have all the answers because really, none of us do. It will just make you a better human. 

Love, your mother (someone who really does know a thing or two).

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