All posts by Erin Balsa

About Erin Balsa

Erin Balsa is a Boston-based mom of two who met her husband on an airplane. Her interests include reading, writing and sleeping through the night.

Here are our top boating safety tips for infants.

What You Need to Know Before Boating with Your Baby

Earlier this summer, a neighbor invited my family of four on his speedboat for the afternoon. My initial reaction was to throw up in my mouth a little.

It’s not that I don’t love boating. Back before I had children, boating was right up there with pedicures and milkshakes. But when you’ve got your hands full on land with an infant whose sole mission in life is to climb every object in sight and a toddler who trips over his own feet on a daily basis, it’s hard to imagine having fun at sea as a family – especially when you know the frightening stats on water-related accidents.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard’s 2016 Recreational Boating Statistics summary, boating for fun led to 701 deaths and 2,903 injuries last year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that drowning is the second most common cause of accidental death in children ages 1-14 and that approximately 50 percent of drownings take place in bodies of natural water such as oceans and lakes.

Fortunately, drowning is preventable.

Knowing that there were steps I could take to prevent my kids from harm, I researched boat safety for kids, secured the necessary supplies and accepted our neighbor’s invitation. The day went off without a hitch, and I’ve felt confident leading my little ducklings out on the water ever since!

From safe boating tips to finding the best life jackets for babies, here is everything you need to know to go boating with your infant:

When parents take the time to research safe boating tips for kids, the whole family can get in on the fun!When parents take the time to research safe boating tips for kids, the whole family can get in on the fun.

Is it safe to bring my baby on a boat?

The USCG doesn’t recommend bringing infants on recreational boats as the personal flotation devices on the market may not correctly fit babies weighing less than 17 pounds. If the PFD doesn’t fit properly, it won’t function as it’s intended to, and that can be life-threatening.

If your child weighs less than 17 pounds and you’d like to take him or her onboard, you should test the life jacket in a pool to ensure proper functioning prior to boating.

If your infant weighs 17 pounds or more (my daughter was exactly 17 pounds when we took her on the boat for the first time!), you should still test in a pool prior to boating to be on the safe side.

What are the best life jackets for babies?

Type

The USCG noted that PFDs come in five types; all are suited for different water conditions and situations. Type II PFDs, or near-shore buoyant vests, are best for infants as they generally offer head support to help keep it above water.

Flotation

There are three basic types of PFD flotation: inherently buoyant (foam), inflatable and hybrid (foam and inflatable). While adults can choose any of the three, only the inherently buoyant models are available in infant size.

Fit

When it comes to life jackets, size does matter. To function as intended, the PFD must fit snugly. It’s important your child’s ears and chin can’t slip through; to test the fit, grab the shoulders of their PFD and pick your child up. You should also look for a model with a crotch strap, which REI noted helps prevent the PFD from riding up.

Life jackets are available in adult, youth, child and infant sizes. Infant PFDs are made for babies between 8-30 pounds.

Positioning

It’s important to select a life jacket that keeps the child in a stable face-up position with their head above water. Little ones have a tendency to panic and struggle, and some styles do a better job of keeping kids afloat and in the correct position than others. Test a few in a pool until you find one that works for your child.

Color

Choose a brightly colored PFD – or one with a bright pop of color (yellow, orange, pink) to help rescuers locate your child in the event of an emergency.

Select a life jacket with a bright pop of color - like yellow - so that rescuers could easily spot your child in an emergency.Select a life jacket with a bright pop of color – like yellow – so that rescuers could easily spot your child in an emergency.

When should we put on our life jackets?

We all know someone who refuses to wear a life jacket. And then there are those friends who only put on their personal flotation devices when the boat begins picking up speed. Either move could be deadly. According to the USCG, 90 percent of drownings occur in inland waters. The majority of victims were not wearing a PFD at the time of their death.

Every person on the boat must have an appropriately-sized PFD available to him or her.

Adults should put their life jackets on before the boat begins moving. Babies and children should be wearing a PFD any time they are on the boat – even if it’s docked and the motor’s off, and even if they know how to swim. The one exception to this rule is if the child is below deck in an enclosed cabin. However, even if your little one is safely below deck, don’t take your eyes off him or her even for a second. In the time it takes you to wash your hands, your infant could crawl up the few stairs onto the deck.

For a list of USCG-approved personal flotation devices, search this database by the keyword “infant” or “child.”

Cake smash tips to help you pull off a DIY photoshoot in your own backyard

How To Do Your Own Backyard Cake Smash Photo Shoot

Whether you call it a “cake smash” or a “smash cake,” one thing is for certain: this whimsical photo shoot is an excellent way to celebrate your baby’s first birthday. Mixing an infant and frosting is a recipe for cuteness, am I right? My son literally dove head first into his smash cake and it was pretty much the greatest thing ever.

Unfortunately, these professional photo shoots don’t come cheap. If you’re not willing or able to break the bank, consider doing it yourself at home with a camera or a smartphone. Summer’s the perfect time to do a cake smash in your own backyard – where you can hose down your child when you’re finished.

Here are a few DIY cake smash tips to ensure photos you’ll cherish for years to come:

Think of a theme

I’m not saying you need to dress your baby up in a “PAW Patrol” costume and pose him in front of 100 “PAW Patrol” mylar balloons. In fact, I’d advise you against doing that. However, you do want a general overarching theme to help connect the various elements of your set such as the cake, outfit and setting.

Mix cement and tulle for an interesting look that's both edgy and adorable.Mix cement and tulle for an interesting look that’s both edgy and adorable.

Let’s say you love thumbing through fashion magazines. You can use the sidewalk in front of your house to create a street style vibe that’s one part edgy, thanks to the cement, and one part adorable, thanks to your baby. I love the idea of dressing baby up in a tutu and ballet flats – it ups the juxtaposition of hard and soft, masculine and feminine, which adds extra interest to your photo.

Or, if you’re more the girl-next-door type, you probably appreciate the beauty in simplicity. Select a neutral spot in your yard such as a white picket fence or a stone wall and use that as your backdrop. Try to keep the other elements (outfit, accessories, cake) as light and natural as possible. Consider tying an oversized white balloon to your infant’s wrist or having him hold a sprig of baby’s breath.

The theme will dictate the outfit. If you wanted to do a tea party theme, for example, you could doll up your baby in a blue and white apron dress in the style of Alice in Wonderland. When it comes to cake smash outfits, pick one that’s special – something you wouldn’t pull from the closet on an ordinary day.

Get the lighting right

I love natural light portrait photography. Some of the best photographers I’ve worked with utilize natural light even when they shoot indoors.

But unless you have a polarizing filter, you’ll want to avoid taking photos in the afternoon when the sun is high in the sky. This can lead to squinty eyes as baby struggles to see. Instead, shoot in the morning or the evening when the sun is lower in the sky and the resulting light is softer.

Expert Photography noted that overcast or rainy weather is an ideal time to shoot outdoors. While a landscape photo of the sea on a cloudy day might evoke feelings of sadness, shooting your baby outdoors in the same conditions could result in a happy whimsical feel. Add some bohemian touches such as a tie-dyed tapestry or crocheted romper to really play into the mood.

Soft morning light is easy on baby's eyes.Soft morning light is easy on a baby’s eyes, which will make for better cake smash pictures.

Find the perfect perspective

Shooting your baby from above is a fun way to play with perspective. Just be sure your feet stay out of the frame!

Alternately, you can crouch down really low so that you’re in line with your child. To capture intimate close up shots, use your zoom feature. According to Digital Photography School, to achieve this you’ll need to be sure your baby fills the frame so that the focus is on him or her and not the environment.

In need of cake smash ideas? Consider shooting your child from above to give a unique perspective.In need of cake smash ideas? Consider shooting your child from above to give a unique perspective.

Craft your composition

Composition is the act of arranging visual elements to achieve balance. If your image is fully in focus, ensure that there’s interest in all three layers: foreground, middleground and background, according to Photography Life.

To create interest in the foreground, you’ll want to fill the bottom of your frame with lush green grass, a blanket or something else that is visually interesting. You could also move the cake forward so that it fills the bottom of your frame. To create interest in the background you might hang a colorful banner between two trees or inflate a bunch of balloons with helium.

When it comes to composition, you must consider the foreground, middleground and background.When it comes to composition, you must consider the foreground, middleground and background.

Have you successfully pulled off a DIY cake smash photo shoot? Share your pics with us – we’d love to see!

Help your toddler discover and pursue his or her creative passions.

The Best Ways to Encourage Toddler Creativity

My son Sebastian and I have many things in common, one of which being our affinity for watching Tiny Desk Concerts on YouTube. He began obsessing over guitars shortly after his second birthday, and quickly learned the difference between the acoustic and electric varieties, as well as a litany of vocabulary words like “neck,” “strings” and “frets.”

Eventually we bought him his very own toddler-sized acoustic when he was two-and-a-half years old. He played that puppy until his fingers bled, and then he played some more.

This photo was taken the morning after my two-year-old received his first guitar. Note the cuts on his fingers!This photo was taken the morning after my two-year-old received his first guitar. Note the cuts on his fingers!

One evening while we were in my bedroom, Sebastian ran into my bathroom and quickly returned with a bath towel, which he proceeded to plop down on the carpet. My instinct was to reprimand him: “What are you doing? I just washed that!” However, I bit my tongue and watched as he crouched down and carefully arranged the towel into a shape that resembled a butternut squash.

Before I could ask what he was up to, he ran out of my room again. This time he returned clutching his guitar, which he proceeded to place on top of the towel. “I have guitar case!” he said proudly. My heart practically burst out of my chest. I couldn’t believe my tiny toddler had such a big imagination. I was completely blown away.

This moment reinforced my belief that we as parents shouldn’t always jump to redirect our children – sometimes we should wait a moment to see if what they’re doing truly warrants redirection. Had I immediately instructed Sebastian to return the towel to the bathroom, I would never have witnessed this precious moment. More importantly, I might have stamped out his creative fire.

In addition to allowing your toddler a bit of freedom to innovate, there are other steps you can take to foster creativity now to benefit your child down the road.

Creativity for kids happens when you provide opportunities for exploration as well as the freedom to explore.Creativity for kids happens when you provide both opportunities and freedom to explore.

The benefits to being creative

Most successful employees have one thing in common: when they encounter a challenge and they aren’t sure how to solve it, they use their imagination to find creative solutions. By helping your toddler develop creative thinking skills, you could be setting him or her up to succeed later on in life. According to LinkedIn, problem solving is a top in-demand soft skill that employers seek in job candidates.

Studies have also found that creative endeavors stimulate brain development. The School Superintendents Association reported that activities like singing, drawing or dancing wire the young brain in a way that helps kids learn.

Keep it free and simple

When you think about ways to bolster creativity for kids, your mind might go immediately to costly endeavors such as music lessons at the conservatory. Good news: You don’t need to re-mortgage your home to purchase fancy lessons or supplies. In fact, experts recommend parents provide simple objects (your old clothes, pots and pans) and lots of unstructured play opportunities.

Psych Central reported that child educational psychologist Dr. Charlotte Reznick encourages her young clients to build whatever they want with Legos, no instruction manuals needed. And you can always upcycle a cardboard box by giving it to your toddler along with some crayons or washable markers. Who knows? It could become a rocket ship!

To you, it's a cardboard box. To your toddler, it's a rocket ship. To you, it’s a cardboard box. To your toddler, it’s a rocket ship.

In a similar vein, refrain from over-scheduling your kids with too many extracurricular activities. Instead, allow them to find creative ways to entertain themselves with objects found around your home. Just don’t hover over them as they play and manage their every move – while you might think you’re helping, you could be stifling their creative juices.

Help your toddler discover and pursue his or her passions

When it comes to helping children discover their passions, you have to throw a bunch of things at them to see what sticks. For example, Sebastian and his sister have about 15 different musical instruments between them, yet he favors the guitar and ignores the others. (Toddler obsessions are a tale as old as time, but that’s a story for a different day.)

For my toddler, music is oxygen. Knowing that, I make an effort to bring him to live family-friendly concerts, whether that’s a reggae show or a folk festival. I also choose restaurants where live musicians play so he can see his favorite instrument up close and personal while he eats his mac and cheese.

Resist the urge to manage your child's play - instead, let them explore on their own terms.Resist the urge to manage your child’s play – instead, let them explore on their own terms.

Once you’ve exposed your child to all the wonders of the creative world and he or she has found a favorite, be sure to make activities and materials available. For example, let’s say your daughter enjoys painting. You could provide her with various types of paint and allow her to paint on different surfaces with her hands, brushes or sponges. You could then take a trip to a gallery to look at paintings.

How do you encourage creativity in your home?

When it comes to being pregnant in the summer, it's all about staying cool and comfortable.

Being Pregnant in the Summer Doesn’t Have to Suck

Things that suck: long lines, mean people and being pregnant in the dead of summer.

Between the swelling and the sweating, you might be feeling a bit like an overinflated water balloon that’s been dipped in a margarita. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to keep cool, comfortable and happy all season long. You might even come to realize that being pregnant in the summer is sort of awesome.

Here are some summer pregnancy tips to try:

Rock that bikini

Ah, the age old question: Can pregnant women wear bikinis? Yes. Yes! The answer is a resounding yes! Truthfully, you should wear whatever the heck you feel comfortable in. If that’s a one-piece, great. If that’s a bikini, so be it.

During both of my summer pregnancies, I had lots of skin sensitivity issues. I absolutely couldn’t stand to have anything tight across my belly. Obviously, wearing a one piece was out of the question, and I wasn’t about to forego swimming. So, I shimmied myself (somehow) into my bikini and happily took my pregnant self to the beach.

When it comes to beach or pool attire, wear whatever you're most comfortable in.When it comes to beach or pool attire, wear whatever you’re most comfortable in.

Swimming does a world of good for pregnant bodies, as it’s easy on the joints and can relieve some general aches and pains you may feel from carrying extra weight. The American Pregnancy Association noted that swimming is a great way to get your cardio in without overheating. As exercise can lead to an easier delivery, you probably want to get in as much swimming as you can!

Embrace wardrobe minimalism

Being pregnant in the summer means you don’t have to spend money on a maternity coat or maternity sweaters. In fact, you don’t even have to wear pants if you don’t want to! I pretty much lived in breezy cotton or linen dresses during both of my summer pregnancies, which was supremely comfortable (and also made dressing for work incredibly simple).

When you’re pregnant, summer outfits can literally consist of three components: a dress, shoes and an accessory. Check out this ethereal white dress and delicate strand of pearls – couple it with a pair of comfy Birkenstocks and you’re good to go.

When you're pregnant, outfits are best kept light, breezy and simple.When you’re pregnant, summer outfits are best kept light, breezy and simple.

If you work in a corporate office environment, pair your dress with one of your regular blazers, which you can leave unbuttoned. Dress flats complete the outfit.

Tip: Stash a pair of flip-flops underneath your desk in case your feet swell and you need to take your shoes off as the day progresses.

Veg out and let others pitch in

If you’re experiencing slight swelling (edema) in your feet, hands, legs, ankles or face, the American Pregnancy Association recommends you sit with your feet elevated and rest. If your significant other isn’t available, ask a family member or friend to help out with chores or childcare for your older kids while you veg out on the couch with a remote in one hand and a dish of Ben and Jerry’s in the other.

To further minimize swelling, be sure to drink lots of water, avoid salty foods and ice affected areas. If you have a job where you stand for long periods, try to take sit-down breaks as much as you can.

While slight swelling is normal, contact your doctor if your hands and face swell suddenly as it can signal preeclampsia, which can be dangerous to both you and your baby.

Reduce swelling by resting in a cool place with your feet up.Reduce swelling by resting in a cool place with your feet up.

Eat popsicles!

In addition to water, popsicles can help keep you hydrated throughout your summer pregnancy. Shop for varieties that are all-natural with no added sugars (sugar should come from fruits and veggies). You could also make your own pops to save money. This recipe for Virgin Banana Piña Colada Pops features just four ingredients and might just quench that urge to sip a cocktail by the pool.

All-natural fruit or veggie popsicles are a great way to stay hydrated during your summer pregnancy.All-natural fruit or veggie popsicles are a great way to stay hydrated during your summer pregnancy.

Wear your swimsuit with confidence because a pregnant body is a beautiful thing. Get dressed in the morning with your eyes closed because it’s just that easy. Binge on Netflix while your S.O. washes dishes because – hello! – you need to rest. Eat popsicles every day because you really must stay hydrated.

This pregnancy-during-summer thing is looking better by the minute, am I right?

Taking photos of your infant or toddler at the beach? All you need is a smartphone and some know how.

How to Photograph Your Infant or Toddler at the Beach

A beach is a magical place. There, infants can dip their sandy toes into the foamy ocean water, smell the salty air and feel the breeze tickle their skin. At the beach, toddlers become mermaids, or pirates, or archaeologists, digging moats and collecting treasures like seashells or colorful sea glass.

There are adventures to be had at the shore, and it’s your job as the mom to capture all these precious moments so they can be frozen in time forever. All you need is a smartphone and some know-how to take the best DIY beach photos ever! Here are some elements to consider:

Time of day matters (lighting)

Photographing little humans in the bright afternoon sunshine typically procures two less-than-stellar results: squinty eyes and dark shadows cast by hats or noses. Unless that’s a look you’re striving for, take your kids’ beach portraits at sunrise or sunset when the light is softer and more forgiving. You can also get some really beautiful colors in the sky, which amps up the magic factor. Remember to turn off your flash!

If you happen to be at a beach with trees, or you have your oversized umbrella with you, feel free to snap pics at any time of day – just be sure your toddler or infant is completely within the shaded area.

Beach photography should take place during sunrise or sunset to avoid squinty eyes and dark shadows underneath the eyes.Beach photography should take place during sunrise or sunset to avoid squinty eyes and dark shadows.

Got puddles? Use ’em (composition)

Making water the foreground of your image allows for a super interesting composition. It also gives depth to your photo so that it appears more 3-D than 2-D, according to Digital Photography School.

To grab a playful shot of your baby, seat him or her in a shallow body of water – puddles are perfect. Squat down low so that the puddle fills the bottom half of your frame. Snap as many pics as you can while he or she splashes around joyfully. The more photos you take, the better the chance of nabbing a frameable shot.

To achieve a more serene, artsy photograph, capture your child’s reflection in a puddle. Ideally, you’d position your child behind the puddle so that it’s just out of reach; you want the water as still as possible to get the desired effect.

Safety is of utmost importance – the puddle should be extremely shallow and you or another adult should be within arm’s length of your child at all times.

When it comes to photographing your child at the beach, make water the foreground to get an interesting shot.When it comes to photographing your child at the beach, make water the foreground to get an interesting shot with depth.

Shoot from above (perspective)

From an artistic standpoint, shooting from above offers a unique perspective for most anyone who will look at your finished image. It’s interesting because of its novelty.

From a sentimental standpoint, shooting from above captures you looking down on your baby as you so often do when going about your day-to-day life. Before you know it, you’ll be staring your child square in the eye (or perhaps looking up at him or her!), so it’s a wonderful thing to preserve this fleeting moment in time – as well as those precious ringlet curls.

Feel free to reach your own hand out to your child and snap a shot of him or her holding it. Symbolically, it says a lot, and it’ll really tug on your heart strings in years to come.

One of the best baby picture photo ideas is shooting your child from above.One of the best baby picture pose ideas is shooting your child from above.

Don’t forget the fun (details)

Looking for more baby beach picture ideas? Amp up the fun factor and set the scene by incorporating bright details into your photos. As Cole’s Classroom pointed out, there’s typically an abundance of colorful objects at the beach – inflatable balls and rafts, plastic pails and shovels, towels, ice cream cones with rainbow sprinkles – you get the idea. Use them to add interest or a focal point.

Two poses to try: Drape a towel over your baby’s head, or hold an ice cream cone in front of his or her face, slightly off to the side.

Colorful elements add a fun visual touch to your baby beach photos.Colorful elements add a fun visual touch to your baby beach photos.

When you take time to consider lighting, composition, perspective and details, your photos transcend the ordinary and become extraordinary. You don’t need to be a professional photographer to take dazzling photos of your children – all it takes is a willingness to learn a few beach photography tips and the patience to try and try again until you get it right.

They say little girls are made of sugar and spice and all that's nice. But what if some girls are made for adventure?

Should I Force My Daughter To Be More Ladylike?

When my daughter Penelope was nine months old, she climbed into the dishwasher and grabbed a butter knife. Later that same night, she put me in a headlock. And then there was the time she landed a right hook and gave me a bloody nose. I think she was eight months old when that happened. These were some of my first signs that I was raising a tomboy – a pint-sized anti-princess with an affinity for roughhousing and adventure. 

If this sounds familiar, you might be wondering whether you should accept your daughter as she is (and stock up on Band-Aids), or force her to be a bit more ladylike. Here's my take: Parents should embrace their children's nature and focus less on gender norms and more on developing traits such as strength and independence, and I've got the research to back it up.

Out with the old advice for girls, in with the new

For decades, advice for girls went something like this: "Sit with your ankles crossed" and "Be demure." But in today's society, where women are able to run businesses and even run for president, this old-fashioned guidance simply doesn't apply. Instead, young girls benefit from being taught to be brave.

"Young girls benefit from being taught to be brave."

Caroline Paul gave a TED Talk titled "To Raise Brave Girls, Encourage Adventure." In it she referenced a study in which researchers observed children interacting with a playground fire pole. Moms and dads typically warned their daughters about the dangers of the pole and assisted the girls who wanted to play on it. Conversely, parents encouraged the boys to play on the pole in spite of their fears, and to do so unassisted.

From this example we can draw the conclusion that girls aren't expected to be brave.

When we hold our daughters to a lesser standard than our sons, we're setting them up for failure in more ways than one. First we're suggesting that girls are less competent than boys, and they're likely to internalize that message and behave accordingly. Also we're limiting their personal growth, which can occur as a result of facing challenges.

Instead, we should be teaching our daughters to take calculated risks, to step outside their comfort zones and to engage in something called "risky play." Every time our daughters do something brave, such as sliding down a fire pole, they're developing skills such as hazard assessment and becoming more confident and resilient in the process, according to Paul.

Let your preschooler explore that climbing wall -- she's building valuable life skills in the process!Let your preschooler explore that climbing wall – she's building valuable life skills in the process!

Failure is not something to be feared

It's natural for moms to fear the what ifs – What if my child fails at the task she sets out to do? What if she gets hurt playing on that fire pole? According to ShareAmerica, Neuroscientist Amy Orsborn believes we need to teach girls to face failure head on and to continue working toward their goals with a positive mindset. After all, an initial failure (or multiple failures) doesn't mean a person won't eventually be successful. 

Need proof? Look no further than Oprah Winfrey. According to Business Insider, the entrepreneur and television star was fired from a job for being "too emotionally invested in her stories." Today she's worth approximately $3 billion. While she could have taken the dismissal to mean she'd never have a media career, she stayed focused, kept her eye on the prize and stayed true to her nature. 

What's more, when young girls discover that failure is something to acknowledge and learn from, they're likely to fare better in adulthood, both in relationships and careers, according to CBS News.

What steps can you take today to encourage your daughter to be brave?

When preschoolers experience uncomfortable feelings and have difficulty expressing themselves verbally, they often lash out physically.

How to Prevent Kids from Biting, Kicking and Hitting

If your darling angel has morphed into a mini-Mike Tyson before your eyes, take comfort in the fact that this is par for the parenting course. Unwanted behavior such as biting, kicking and hitting is common among young children of both genders. But even though it’s “normal,” it’s nevertheless unacceptable. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent and redirect aggressive behavior so no one at home or school is knocked down for the count.

Does your three-year-old hit others? Aggressive behavior in preschoolers is, for the most part, normal and expected.Does your three-year-old hit others? Aggressive behavior in preschoolers is, for the most part, normal and expected.

Why is my preschooler displaying aggressive behavior?

Many toddlers outgrow biting by the time they enter preschool, but some 3- and 4-year-olds continue to bite others occasionally. The Early Childhood and Parenting Collaborative (ECAP) reports that preschoolers generally bite for the following reasons:

  • To exert control over a situation.
  • For attention.
  • As a self-defense strategy.
  • Out of extreme frustration and anger.

According to the ECAP, frequent biting at this age could indicate more serious concerns such as behavioral issues or a sensory processing disorder. If you suspect either, it’s best to consult your pediatrician.

Hitting, kicking and other forms of physically aggressive behavior (such as pushing a younger sibling to the floor) can also arise from communication shortfalls. For example, let’s pretend a 3-year-old doesn’t want her little brother to touch her cookie, but she can’t form the words quickly enough and his hand is inching closer and closer. Fearing he’ll snatch the treat away, she slaps him.

Preschoolers are little humans with big emotions. At times they can experience difficulty coping with uncomfortable feelings like being tired, hungry or anxious, as stated by Vanderbilt University’s Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL). Rather than tell an adult how they’re feeling, kids may resort to lashing out physically as a means by which to express themselves.

How to prevent and redirect aggressive behavior

Prevention is your first goal. It’s important to set firm limits and to enforce them consistently. Doing so will help your preschooler develop self-control. The more kids are able to self-regulate, the less likely they are to lash out aggressively.

You’ll also want to discuss appropriate and non-appropriate behavior. These conversations should happen when your child is happy, calm and receptive to listening to what you have to say. When you lecture immediately following an incident, you’re likely to find that your words fall on deaf ears. Reading books about biting is another smart idea as it provides an opportunity to chat about what the characters might be feeling. The CSEFEL suggests “Teeth Are Not for Biting” by Elizabeth Verdick and “No Biting” by Karen Katz.

It might also prove helpful to be physically affectionate with your child on a regular basis. Otherwise, your preschooler might feel rejected and become angry and primed to lash out.

“The more kids are able to self-regulate, the less likely they are to lash out.”

Some parents react to being bitten or hit by biting or hitting their preschooler back. The idea behind this is that it shows the child that being bitten or hit hurts, thus deterring the behavior. However, according to the ECAP, this is the incorrect approach because it conveys the message that violence is acceptable. Additionally, overreacting to the incident and rushing to punish the child isn’t recommended. Despite your best efforts to prevent aggression, some children might continue to bite, kick or hit others. It’s important to plan ahead for how you’ll address these incidents.

Instead, try the following gentle responses:

  • Separate: The first thing you should do is separate the aggressor and the victim. Focus on ensuring the victim is okay.
  • Stay calm: The CSEFEL says parents should say calmly but firmly, “No biting. Biting Hurts.” Scolding, screaming or resorting to physical punishment isn’t an effective way to reduce or eliminate the problem. It’s more effective to apologize to the hurt child, which models taking responsibility and empathy.
  • Listen: Often times the aggressor ends up in tears following an incident of violence. While you may be inclined to tell your child to calm down, listening and allowing him or her the time to cry and vent frustrations can help your preschooler learn to work things out on his or her own, according to Hand in Hand.
  • Role play: After your child has calmed down, you should discuss the incident and role play. It’s important to practice appropriate responses to frustration such as walking away, telling an adult or saying, “Stop.”

Be patient. Change doesn’t happen overnight, and it can take time for preschoolers to develop skills necessary to manage their uncomfortable feelings. Stay supportive and stay the course.

Encourage your active, energetic preschooler to be more aware and take responsibility for his actions.

Tired of The Whole Boys-Will-Be-Boys Thing? Me Too

Boys will be boys. It's a phrase that deserves to be thrown in a plastic bag and tossed onto the curb come trash day. Here's the thing: If it were reserved for times when boys got a bit too dirty while playing outside, it wouldn't be an issue. The problem is that it's often used as an excuse for unacceptable behavior such as pressuring a group of grade school peers to go down a slide that had been peed on. (Yes, this really happened, and yes, one mother really said, "Boys will be boys.")

When a child hears this phrase, he's likely to internalize the message as meaning he's allowed to cause mischief because of his male DNA – more so that society expects bad behavior from boys and men. Every time we say these words, we set our boys up to fail. In raising boys, we need to do better – we need to hold our sons to a higher standard. Boys need consequences for their actions, just as girls do.

If your preschooler is exhibiting worrisome behavior such as shoving or teasing his classmates, read on for some advice on deterring these actions and fostering accountability. 

Watch your words (and get dad in on the action)

Language is a powerful tool, and our words carry more weight than we may realize. When a boy observes a parent – particularly his father – making a crude joke or lewd comment, he is more likely to model similar behavior, which can lead to discipline problems at school as well as trouble making and keeping friends.

According to Dr. Phil on Twitter, "The most powerful role model in a child's life is the same-sex parent." Thus it's crucial to ensure your son's father or father figure is on the same page and willing to model respectful language at all times. As noted by the Center for Parenting Education, kids repeat their parents' positive behaviors. While you can't control nature, you do have a say in nurture!

Children who exhibit aggressive behaviors at school (pushing while in line, stealing peers' pencils, etc.) typically crave physical contact, according to PBS.org. As it's against classroom rules to roughhouse, these children can benefit from playful wrestling or "horsing around" at home with their parents in a safe, controlled environment.

Some preschoolers crave physical contact, which parents should provide at home.Some preschoolers crave physical contact, which parents should provide at home.

If your preschooler struggles with keeping his hands to himself, you might want to give this method a try. Here are some tips:

  • Begin and end each session with positive contact such as a handshake or a hug.
  • Refrain from pinning your child down and tickling him.
  • Utilize a code word that means stop – the sillier the better!

Welcome your son's non-masculine, or gender-neutral interests

If you were to drop by my house unannounced, you might find my son pushing a truck … or building a fairy house. Our home is a place where you're as likely to find a pink helicopter as a green one, where girls play with dinosaurs and boys collect Hello Kitty stickers. We're also big fans of gender-neutral toys like acoustic guitars and wooden blocks. 

According to Professor Christia Spears Brown as quoted in The Guardian, kids learn important skills such as empathy and caring for others through playing with dolls. On the other hand, lots of toys that are marketed to boys – think action figures and monster trucks – focus on action or destruction, as noted in the New York Times. Parents who only provide "boy toys" to their sons could be unwittingly promoting the aggressive behaviors they seek to curtail and also missing out on opportunities for instilling positive values.

Both boys and girls are a product of their environments – be sure you're creating one that helps your child feel happy and secure, and hold them accountable for their actions!

Has your preschooler taken control of your household? It might be time to set healthy boundaries for your child.

Preschoolers Want to Have Fun – But Need Boundaries

preschoolbehaviorDo you ever get the feeling that your preschooler is ruling the roost – bossing you around and throwing tantrums when things don’t go his or her way?

Been there! Here’s what it looked like in my house: My son would wake up and immediately demand to watch Blippi on our Smart TV. If I told him no, he’d throw himself on the floor and scream so loudly I was certain our neighbors would call the police. Breakfast was our next battle. And so on.

Preschoolers are famous for testing limits, and despite our best efforts and intentions, it’s easy for moms to fall into the trap of giving into our children​’s demands. We want to see them happy and we want to keep the peace. However, giving too much and being too lenient can be detrimental to both parent and child.

Setting healthy boundaries for preschoolers can help them become independent, confident and responsible adults.Setting healthy boundaries for preschoolers helps them become independent, confident and responsible adults.

The anxious parent

Writing for Empowering Parents, licensed mental health counselor Debbie Pincus noted that both children and parents cross boundaries. While preschoolers tend to do so in obvious ways such as ordering mom to give up her seat on the couch or insisting on ice cream for lunch, with parents it’s more subtle.

“As parents we often cross boundaries ourselves in our attempts to fix things for them,” wrote Pincus.

Moreover, boundaries blur when parents overfunction for kids and do things for them they should be doing for themselves.

“It’s important we let our children fight their own battles.”

At the crux of the issue is parental anxiety, as explained by Pincus. When mom worries that her child won’t be successful in school or that he won’t be able to control his behavior at a restaurant, she might insert herself into the situation and take control rather than letting him navigate the waters himself. In doing so, mom lessens her anxiety in the moment to the detriment of her son, who in turn misses out on an opportunity to work through the obstacle himself.

While allowing our children to struggle a bit goes against our natural instinct to protect our babies at all costs, it’s important we let kids fight their own battles. In doing so, they learn valuable life lessons that help them become autonomous, resilient, independent adults, according to The Guardian.

Setting healthy boundaries for kids

First and foremost, stop helping too much and giving too much. Psychology Today encourages parents to evaluate their helping and giving: Is it helpful or unhelpful? Does it interfere with your preschooler’s competency?

When we step in and “help” our children solve a puzzle that they could have figured out themselves, we’re intruding on their ability to build aptitude and confidence.

Likewise, when we succumb to our children’s tantrums and give them what they ask for, we’re actually creating an environment that breeds insecurity. Although your three-year-old acts like he wants to be in charge, actually being in charge and having that power can be scary to children, according to Parenting.com. Kids feel safe and assured when an adult is in charge and rules are in place and adhered to.

Through it all, it’s important that you remain as supportive as possible. Speak to your child in a manner that lets him know you’re on his side. For example, let’s say your son is acting up at a family member’s house and throwing toys. You decide he needs to leave. You could frame it as a punishment: “You threw toys, now you have to go home,” which will create distance between the two of you. Or you could frame it in a way that’s more gentle: “You threw toys and could have hurt someone. I know you can control yourself, so let’s come back tomorrow and try again.”

We must always remember that our  No. 1 job as mothers is preparing our children for life. By creating and respecting healthy parent/child boundaries and setting limits for preschoolers, moms are giving their babies a running start at success!