All posts by Katie Quirk

About Katie Quirk

Katie Quirk is a mom of two, a boy and a girl. She lives and writes in Seattle, WA.

Intex 57444EP Dinosaur Play Center

10 Fantastic Outdoor Toys for Toddlers

Stuck at home with a toddler? A few new outdoor toys could mean hours of entertainment and a break from the monotony. Thankfully we’re heading into spring and most of us can head out to the backyard or park to play, becuase toddlers and nice weather are a seriously fun combination. The newly mobile little ones love to get outside and explore, and most welcome any opportunity to climb, get dirty, and splash in some water, especially on a hot day. Make the most of your little explorer’s excitement for warmer days (and get a break from the monotony that all this coronavirus outbreak social distancing can cause!) with these 10 fantastic outdoor toys for toddlers.

1. Little Tikes Spiralin’ Seas Waterpark Play Table

Little Tikes Spiralin' Seas Waterpark Play Table

If your toddler enjoys water play, he’ll love this play table, a best-seller on Amazon. It comes with five plastic character squirter balls – always a hit with little ones – that they can send down the spiral and into the lazy river, or try to catch them in the Ferris Wheel. The table also comes with a cup to scoop water into the twin water-wheels, powering them up. And then there’s the thrill of just splashing in the water!

$45 at Amazon.com

2. Step2 Naturally Playful Lookout Treehouse
Step2 Naturally Playful Lookout Treehouse

This little plastic treehouse isn’t much, really – a short slide, a few steps to climb, a couple of windows to look out of. But for a new walker and increasingly independent toddler, this play structure is everything. He’ll loving having his own little house, and one that allows climbing to boot; yep, that’s sure to be a happy kiddo.

$160 at Amazon.com

3. EverEarth Active E Lite Beach Blanket Pool

EverEarth Active E Lite Beach Blanket Pool

You know those times you’re at the beach and it’s hot, but the waves are too rough for you to safely take your toddler into the water? This reversible beach blanket pool is the solution. Use it as a beach blanket, or flip it over and make it a kiddie pool. To fill it up, use its travel bag as a canister (and hopefully you have a few big sand buckets on hand as well). Kind of bizarre? Yes. Kind of brilliant? If the reviews are to be believed, it’s a winner!

$32.99 at Amazon.com

4. Intex Dinosaur Play Center

Intex 57444EP Dinosaur Play Center

You could get your kiddo one of those boring plastic round swimming pools. Or you could spend a little more on this one and throw a serious pool party. Featuring a slide, waterfall, sprayer, and enough space to comfortably fit several children, the “play center” will keep your little and a couple of his friends cool and happy this summer.

$45 at Amazon.com

5. Maikehigh Play Tunnel and Tent

Indoor Outdoor Play Tunnel and Tent Play Tent Cubby-Tube-Teepee Indoor Pop up Tent

Is it a tunnel, is it a tent, is it a ball pit… it’s all of the above! For use inside or out, this play structure has the potential to be a triple threat when it comes to toddler entertainment. One downside: the balls are sold separately.

$29 at Amazon.com

6. Green Toys Wagon

green toys wagon

Perfect for toddlers who like to cart things with them everywhere they go, the Green Toys wagon is just the right size for hauling a bunch of stuffies or whatever toys your little is feeling very attached to today. Like all Green Toys, it’s made of recycled plastic and is designed for indoor and outdoor use.

$25 at Amazon.com

7. Hape Scoot Around Wooden Balance Bike

Hape Scoot Around Wooden Balance Bike

Toddlers love a good ride-on toy, and this wooden one from Hape is both attractive and solidly constructed for a little’s adventures. Four wheels make this a safe and stable choice for a child’s first ride.

$80 at Amazon.com

8. Little Tikes Gas ‘N Go Mower

Little Tikes Gas ‘N Go Mower

Pre-kids, we used to wonder about toys that emulated chores, but now we get it: kids love to act like mom and dad. And with this fun mower, who can blame them? It has a pull cord that activates engine sounds, a removable gas can and cap, and beads that make popping sounds when kids push the mower. Ahh, the joys of yardwork.

$15 at Amazon.com

9. Little Tikes Easy Store Junior Picnic Table with Umbrella

Little Tikes Easy Store Junior Picnic Table with Umbrella

How cute are tiny tables for toddlers? We love this one from Little Tikes. With an umbrella for shade and seating for four toddlers, it’s perfect for picnics both real and pretend. And it folds down flat for easy storage.

$63 at Amazon.com

10. Melissa & Doug Sunny Patch Pretty Petals Flower Sprinkler ToyMelissa & Doug Sunny Patch Pretty Petals Flower Sprinkler Toy

Sometimes a simple sprinkler is all you need for summer fun. This one looks cute while squirting water out of its 16 flowers. The sprinkler doesn’t rotate and the water doesn’t blast out very high or fast, so it’s a good choice for little ones.

$20 at Amazon.com

Although kids seem to get relatively mild cases of coronavirus, they should practice healthy behaviors to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 to others.

How to Keep Your Kids Healthy From the Coronavirus

The novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, has landed in the United States and is spreading quickly. The good news is that kids generally seem to experience only mild cases of the virus, which can be very dangerous for elderly and immune-compromised individuals. The bad news is, kids can spread the virus to family and friends. For that reason, states across the country are closing schools and asking all of us to practice social distancing.

As parents, we want to do as much as we can to protect our kiddos. Unfortunately, most of us can’t completely zip into a bubble and wait this out. But we can practice the healthy habits listed here, and encourage our kiddos to do the same. Together, we can slow the spread of coronavirus.

Teaching kids to wash their hands thoroughly and frequently is an essential component of helping prevent illness and slow the spread of the coronavirus.Teaching kiddos to thoroughly and frequently wash their hands is one of the most important things parents can do to keep their families healthy during the COVID-19 crisis.

Staying Safe and Healthy

Good hygiene is one of the best ways to keep you and your child healthy during the coronavirus outbreak. What can you teach, encourage, and remind your kids to do right now to reduce the risk of catching and spreading the coronavirus?

  • Wash hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds: Lather up and tell your kids to sing the Happy Birthday song or their ABCs twice while washing to make sure they hit 20 seconds. Wash your hands at the same time to emphasize the importance of this habit. Bring along hand sanitizer and wipes for when you don’t have easy access to soap and warm running water.
  • Cover mouths when sneezing or coughing: Experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believe the coronavirus is spread when respiratory droplets from an infected person make their way to others. That’s why it’s so important to cover sneezes and coughs. Teach your kids to sneeze and cough into a tissue, or use the inside of their elbow if no other option is available. Encourage them by following the same behavior.
  • Avoid crowded (and most public) places – even outdoor playgrounds: Lots of people in relatively small places mean plenty of potential for exposure. To slow the spread of this virus, we all need to avoid crowded places and wash our hands thoroughly after touching surfaces in public places. Some experts are recommending families avoid all indoor playspaces and playdates, and are even suggesting we be very wary of playing on public play equipment, as the virus might be able to survive for up to nine days on the outdoor equipment.
  • Discourage touching eyes and noses: Bacteria thrives on hands, so when your kids rub their eyes or pick their noses, they’re putting germs into vulnerable areas. Show them how to use tissues to wipe their eyes and noses or to wash hands before touching their faces. It can take a long time for your kids to learn this type of behavior, but it’s still worth it to teach them.
  • Don’t share silverware, plates, or cups: Viruses can survive for extended periods outside human bodies, and they’re easy to pick up when eating. To avoid accidentally sipping from someone else’s cup, put them in the dishwasher immediately after use.
  • Eat, play, and sleep well: Exercise, a balanced, nutrient-rich diet, and a good night’s sleep can all help boost the immune system. Make sure your kiddos are following these healthy behaviors to keep them as illness free as possible.
  • Avoid sick friends and family: During this pandemic it’s essential that sick people stay home when ill so as to not spread this potentially-lethal disease to others. Keep your kids home when they are ill, and  protect your kids by keeping your distance from people who are already sick.
  • Praise good behavior: Let your kids know they’re doing a great job every time you see them engaging in one of these healthy behaviors. It can take a while to create healthy habits, so you should also provide plenty of gentle and encouraging reminders, too.

Treating Symptoms

Although kids seem to get relatively mild cases of COVID-19, it’s still essential to call your doctor if your child shows any of these common signs of the virus:

  • Fever
  • Dry cough and shortness of breath
  • Exhaustion and body aches

Find more information about the coronavirus on the American Academy of Pediatrics’ website Healthychildren.org and on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.

Remember that anyone can get coronavirus, and we need to support each other (from a safe distance!) as much as possible during this outbreak. Stay heathy, families!

Firm, flexible, and thick, your pelvic floor muscles provide support to your pelvic organs.

Pelvic Floor Weakness: What to Know Before and After Having a Baby

Growing and having a baby changes so many aspects of a woman’s body, and a significant one is the effect that pregnancy and childbirth have on your pelvic floor. A woman’s pelvic floor consists of a few major muscles that support the pelvic organs of the bladder, uterus, and rectum. Pregnancy and childbirth can weaken pelvic floor muscles, leading to annoying and embarrassing symptoms like leaking urine and passing uncontrolled gas, and painful, serious issues like pelvic organ prolapse. Here’s what to know about pelvic floor weakness and what you can do about it.

What is the Pelvic Floor?

Pelvic floor muscles run like a hammock from your pubic bone to your tailbone and spanning the width between your hips. Firm, flexible, and thick, they provide support to your pelvic organs and are able to be contracted (raised) and relaxed (lowered), similar to a trampoline. Within the pelvic floor muscles are several holes for urethra, anus, and vagina to pass through, and the pelvic floor muscles usually wrap snugly around these elements to help keep them closed. Encircling the anus and urethra are circular muscles called sphincters. 

What Do Pelvic Floor Muscles Do?

The pelvic floor muscles help hold the uterus, bladder and rectum in place. They play an important role in bladder and bowel control, sexual health, and in childbirth.

When the pelvic floor muscles like the sphincters are contracted, they prevent urine and feces from being released. Strong pelvic floor muscles allow us to contract and control our bathroom functions and delay emptying our bladder and bowels until it’s convenient to do so. We relax the pelvic floor muscles when we want to go to the bathroom or pass gas.

When pelvic floor muscles are weak, inconvenient, embarrassing, and sometimes painful symptoms can appear. You might find yourself peeing a little when you laugh, or difficulty in making it to the bathroom on time. You may also experience pelvic organ prolapse, when any one of the pelvic organs sag, possibly herniating or bulging into the vagina.

What Causes Weak Pelvic Floor Muscles?

Weak pelvic floor muscles in women are often a side effect of pregnancy and childbirth. The pregnancy weight puts added pressure and stress on the pelvic floor muscles, diminishing their strength. They’re also stretched out of shape during labor. Other causes of weak pelvic floor muscles are age, menopause, obesity, and recurrent straining/constipation. 

Signs of Weak Pelvic Floor Muscles

Weak pelvic floor muscles are very common, with at least one-third of women experiencing symptoms of pelvic floor weakness. When you have a weak pelvic floor, your ability to tighten and relax your pelvic muscles is not as great as it should be. This weakness means you have less control and can present as any/all of these symptoms:

  • Urinary incontinence (leaking urine when you do things like laugh, sneeze, and walk, not making it to the bathroom in time) 
  • Fecal incontinence (leaking feces) 
  • Passing gas when bending or lifting
  • Tampons becoming displaced and/or falling out
  • Unexplained lower back pain
  • Feeling of heaviness in vagina
  • Distinct bulge at vagina if prolapse has occurred
  • Pain with sex
Kegels are one way to improve your pelvic floor strength.
It’s important for all women to exercise their pelvic floor muscles, and it’s especially essential for women who’ve been pregnant and delivered vaginally. 

How to Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor

It’s important for all women to exercise their pelvic floor muscles, and it’s especially essential for women who’ve been pregnant and delivered vaginally. Here are some ways to improve the strength of your pelvic floor.

Maintain a healthy weight: This helps alleviate the muscle strain caused by supporting extra weight.

Eat a fiber-rich diet: Help your body out by making bowel movements easier and strain-free.

Biofeedback: Biofeedback treatment for pelvic floor disorders involves working with a physical therapist and using sensors and video to monitor pelvic floor muscles as you attempt to contract and relax them. More than 75% of women experiencing pelvic floor dysfunction see improvement from biofeedback treatment, according to the Cleveland Clinic. 

Surgery: If you’ve experienced a pelvic organ prolapse, you’re probably in discussions with your doctor about the best course of action, including a hysterectomy in the case of a prolapsed uterus.

Kegels: Even if you’re not experiencing any of the symptoms of a weak pelvic floor, you should almost certainly* be doing kegel exercises for a few minutes every day for prevention. Kegel exercises involve contracting and relaxing your pelvic floor muscles to keep them strong and functioning as they should.

To identify what muscles you should be working when doing kegels, imagine you need to pee but aren’t near a restroom so you are holding it. Then relax those muscles. Another way to identify your pelvic floor muscles is to place two fingers inside your vagina and tighten around them, then relax.

Once you have identified your pelvic floor muscles and how you can control them, aim to do 10 reps three times a day. Here’s a kegel exercise to try, alone or part of this postpartum Pilates workout:

“Imagine your vaginal opening wrapping around a straw, then, gather the muscles inward, lifting up as though your vagina were sipping from the straw. Just as important as it is to engage and lift, we must gently lower and fully release the pelvic floor. Contracting these muscles alone will not work. For muscles to be functional, healthy, and strong they must lengthen and relax as well as engage.”

You might find doing kegels easier and even fun by employing kegel balls or a pelvic floor exerciser. These devices sync with an app featuring monitoring and games to help you track your kegels.

*It’s important to consult a physical therapist who specialize in pelvic floor disorders before beginning to do kegels, and here’s why: According to the National Institute for Continence, some women suffer from their pelvic floor being in an overactive, rather than weakened, state. Performing kegels with an overactive pelvic floor can cause more harm than good. It can be hard to know if you have a weak pelvic floor or an overactive one without a diagnosis from a physical therapist. 

Remember that pelvic floor weakness and disorders are very common and nothing to be embarrassed about. Get in touch with your doctor if you have any concerns or are in need of treatment advice and support.

Teaching kids they can and learn anything is a way of encouraging a growth mindset in kids.

8 Ways to Help Your Child Develop a Growth Mindset

We all want our kids to grow up to be happy and successful. One way parents can help kids get there is by encouraging a growth mindset, or the belief that success is based on hard work, continuous learning, practice, and training.

Growth Mindset Versus Fixed Mindset 

Researchers have identified two kinds of mindsets, growth and fixed. When people have a fixed mindset, they believe intelligence and ability are something someone is born with innately. They tend to have a limited view of what they can and cannot do, and are less willing to try new things for fear of failing. 

People who’ve cultivated a growth mindset tend to be more willing to try and put forth more effort, believing that their performance can always be improved. They don’t fear failure because they view it as an opportunity to learn and grow. Having a growth mindset has been strongly linked to greater happiness and achievement in life. 

Kids with growth-mindset mentalities are more persistent and better equipped to face life’s challenges. They are better problem solvers and more motivated. What parent doesn’t want to see that kind of attitude in her child?

You can help your kid develop a growth mindset. In fact, parents, teachers, and coaches probably have the greatest impact of any adult on kids’ mindsets. Here are eight ways to encourage your child to develop a growth mindset.

8 Ways to Help Encourage Your Child’s Growth Mindset

    1. Teach your kiddo about the brain’s ability to grow and change. We now know that the brain continues to grow and develop throughout our lifetimes. When we try new things and challenge ourselves to learn, our brains develop new connections. These connections get stronger and our brains get denser with continued effort. Parents report that this info about the brain’s growth tends to delight and engage kids who love to learn about their growing brains.
    2. Praise effort, not ability. When we tell our kids they are smart, talented, or gifted, we are actually imposing a fixed mindset on them by reinforcing the idea that this is who they are. Praising effort – through specific statements like “you worked hard on that” or “I know you studied a lot for that test” – helps instill a growth mindset and gets kids believing that their basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work.
    3. Encourage mistakes. Kids learn a lot by doing, but they might not try if they’re worried about being less than perfect. Tell your kids that it’s ok to make mistakes, and even let them in on some of the mistakes you’ve made.

      Growth mindset through mistakes
      Making mistakes while doing anything, including practicing the piano, is how kids and adults alike learn.
    4. Avoid labeling your child. Any label we give our kids – whether it’s smart, pretty, shy, outgoing, etc. – can foster a limited belief within themselves. Try to avoid pigeonholing them in this way.
    5. Teach them to add the word “yet.” Sure, your four-year-old can’t ride without training wheels now, but don’t let him get stuck in that thought – remind him that he can’t ride a two wheeler yet. If he puts in the work, cruising on two wheels (and anything else he puts his mind to) can be accomplished, if just not yet.
    6. Show your own growth mindset. Kids learn by watching us, so embrace your own growth mindset, mama! Talk out challenges you’re facing and how you’ll accomplish them.
    7. Encourage positive self talk. We all need an inner cheerleader if we’re going to keep growing and changing. Help your child to identify when negative attitudes are holding him back from trying and achieving his goals. Replacing negative thoughts like “I can’t do it” with positive ones like “I’m going to give this my best try” is essential to be in a growth mindset state of being.
    8. Point out when they’re showing a growth mindset. When you notice your child displaying growth mindset attitudes and behaviors, heap on the accolades! You can tie their growth mindset approach to specific results if applicable. For example, if your little replaced a negative “I’ll never be able to do it” with a positive “I just don’t know how to do that yet,” and then she conquered the task in question, now’s the time to shout out the role that her growth mindset played in her success. 

How do you encourage a growth mindset in your kiddos?

All About Positive Discipline

The hardest thing about parenting for me has been trying to get my kids to behave. I knew I didn’t want to be a strict authoritarian parent, all about rules and control. Nor could I let my kids rule over me unchecked. Thankfully I’ve been fortunate enough to connect with a preschool that has a parent education component emphasizing positive discipline. 

According to the website ahaparenting.com, positive discipline has three components.

  1. Parental self-regulation: Parents commit to staying calm and controlling their own emotions when their kids are upsetting them. Think: no yelling, spanking, saying something critical, controlling, or mean, showing anger, etc. It’s about not taking taking kids’ behavior personally, and recognizing that as parents, they set the tone for their kiddos. When parents are in control of their emotions, they are better able to connect with their kids and model self-regulation, an important life and social skill.
  2. Prioritize the parent-child connection: When they value and respect their kids rather than trying to control them, parents are able to connect with them. That means taking the time to understand what their children are feeling and emphatically acknowledging their wants or needs. Kids crave connection with their parents. A strong connection can inspire kids to naturally want to please their parents (rather than defy them).
  3. Use emotion coaching instead of control and punishment: All emotions are valid. By recognizing and validating what a child is feeling – whether it is sadness, anger, frustration, loneliness, etc. – parents allow the kiddo to feel heard and supported. For example, I might say to my daughter “You feel angry because I turned off the TV.” The next step is helping her work through that anger so she can move on from it.

Applying positive discipline definitely doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s not always easy to stop what I’m doing and take time to talk through my kids’ emotions. (That’s especially true when one kid is wailing because the other threw a book at him.) Sometimes I’m not empathetic, or good at controlling my frustration or irritation, or feeling energetic enough to connect.

But I do know that threats don’t work, bribes only go so far, and timeouts are ineffective (and according to ahaparenting.com, only lead to future behavior issues). I like that positive discipline advises setting reasonable limits instead of punishments and consequences. It uses giving choices, playfulness, win-win solutions, and imagination (giving the child’s desire in fantasy) to help kids accept the limits you’ve communicated. It feels more like teaching and supporting (because it is), and less like dictating and demanding (because it’s not).

Manage to parent in this way and you’ll end up raising kids who are self-disciplined, resilient, emotionally intelligent, and happy, says ahaparenting.com’s creator Dr. Laura Markham. That’s a big promise, but a very motivating one (after all, who doesn’t want that for their kids?!).

And I’m hoping it sets me up to have a good relationship with my kids into their tween and teen years. If dealing with a three-year-old’s behavior is hard, I can only imagine the challenges that await me when she’s older.

Are you familiar with positive discipline? Is it your style of parenting?

How to Find Moms for Your Childcare Swaps

When my son was two, an acquaintance asked if I’d be interested in setting up some childcare swaps. She would watch my kiddo one afternoon a week, and I’d have her son over some other afternoon. It would be for just a couple of hours each time. But with no family around to help out and no budget for babysitters, I jumped at the chance to get two hours to myself.

And thus began my six-years-and-counting love affair with childcare swaps.

As a stay at home mom who also freelances, childcare swaps have been invaluable to my work-from-home career, and my sanity. Over the years I have swapped with at least five families for hundreds of hours of free childcare, and in return have hosted tons of swap playdates at my house. Childcare swaps provide me with time to work, run errands, and exercise. They’ve helped my kids make friends and learn to play nicely with other kids, and they’ve given me that village all parents need. All for the price that a very low earner like a SAHM/freelancer can afford: free.

I recommend all moms set up childcare swaps, so long as you have the patience to watch other people’s kids (because not all of us do, and that’s ok too). Ready to set up a childcare swap? Let’s get started!

Find Families for Your Childcare Swaps

First, identify some potential swap partners. These could be friends or even just acquaintances who you trust, like a mom from your church or child’s school. I have been in swaps with friends that expanded to include another mom or two I knew only casually, but who was verified  trustworthy, kind, and reliable through another (non swapping) friend. Phew!

Some factors that make a family a good potential swap partner:

  • they have a child or children about the same age as your kid or kiddos
  • they run similar schedules to you, i.e. kiddos nap at the same time, or they have their afternoons free, etc.
  • you like their kids and the kiddos are a good fit with yours, personality-wise

Once you have a family in mind, just approach them and broach the subject. You’ll quickly work out if a swap between your families will work for your schedules, and if it does, great! The swap is on. If not, NBD, just find another family.

A note on that: I’ve been lucky in that I was always able to find swap partners within my immediate, offline community. (I got hooked up through my husband’s church, where there are tons of families with little kids). For moms who might not have such great options, online swap communities have sprung up. Just google “childcare swap,” and explore your options (carefully, of course. You never want to put your child in danger for free childcare, obviously). Local Facebook Groups are another great way to connect with moms in your area, with the intention of starting a childcare swap or just for friendship and support!

Childcare swaps work best for everyone when the kids are compatible.

Starting Your Childcare Swaps

Once you have a swap established, it’s good to start small and ramp up. That first swap I did eventually grew from two families to four families, and from two to three hours each time. There are definite advantages to having more families swapping: With four families, each mom got three afternoons of free childcare for every one afternoon that she had the kids. But that one afternoon was also a lot more work, as anyone who has ever watched four preschoolers (three boys and a girl, in this case) knows!

Once word gets out around your mom crew that you have a swap established, you’ll probably have at least a couple moms asking if they can join in too. Definitely consider how much you (and the other parents) can handle before adding more kids. Those families can always start childcare swaps on their own.

Would you love to be part of a childcare swap? Do you currently swap kids with friends to work or get a much-deserved break?

Nine Great Themes for a First Birthday Party

Let’s be honest: Your one-year-old doesn’t know a birthday from an elephant. But that’s no reason not to have a first birthday party! A first birthday party is a chance for you to celebrate your first anniversary as parents, as well as your child’s milestone, in a way you can all enjoy.

From a First Zoo Trip to a Time Capsule Gathering to a Birthday Brunch, here are nine birthday celebrations that do not involve cartoons, clowns, or goodie bags.

1. A Birthday Brunch

pancakes in a fry pan

Who It’s For: Baby and family

Plan It: Organize an intimate celebration with just the grandparents or your closest friends at a local brunch spot, preferably somewhere a little bit special (and with a high chair, of course). Morning is most babies’ sweetest time of day, and giving the birthday child some extra attention will make him feel like a little king. This might even be your baby’s chance to log a new first: first taste of pancake or waffle, first bite of bacon, first syrupy hand in the hair. Bring a new small toy or two and a snack to keep baby happy until the food arrives.

Why It Will Be Great:  No clean up plus a chance for adult conversation, need we say more?

Extra Credit: Bring your own cake and candle. Be sure to let the restaurant know ahead of time and ask about plating fees  the charges added to your bill for cutting and serving your cake.

2. A Birthday BabyQ

a family having a bbq

Who It’s For: Baby, family, and friends

Plan It: Host a family barbecue to celebrate this one-year milestone in a big way. Hot dogs and burgers are easy and inexpensive party foods that everyone loves (note, though, that one-year-olds can choke on hot dogs, along with chips and popcorn). For the birthday child and his friends, set out a “baby buffet” of finger foods. Instead of a large cake, serve mini-cupcakes; they’re just big enough for one candle!

Why It Will Be Great: Babies and kids get lots of space to crawl, run, and play; you get to celebrate inexpensively with a crowd.

Extra Credit: Decorate your yard with streamers and Mylar balloons, and give each child a balloon as they leave (unlike traditional balloons, Mylar ones don’t pose a choking hazard for babies).

3. A Grown-Up Cocktail Party

some pink cocktails

Who It’s For: Baby, family, and friends

Plan It: Give yourselves a treat by gathering with friends and family for a real, grown-up party. Prepare a variety of appetizers and some specialty drinks, and ask everyone to dress up, baby included!

Why It Will Be Greats: You get to re-experience life before baby (yes, that was just 12 months ago), and s/he gets lots of grown-up attention.

Extra Credit: Make sure to have your phone ready and charged, and take a picture early on during the party. Who knows when your toddler will be dressed up like that again!

4. A Zoo Party

a dad and his son looking at a goat

Who It’s For: Baby and family; friends optional

Plan It: Head to the zoo for a day to remember, whether the “party” consists of just immediate family or includes some of baby’s playgroup friends. Your local zoo might offer special party services, but these are generally geared to older kids. For a one-year-old, plan your own short tour by picking a couple of exhibits. A best bet is the petting zoo, where babies can get up close to animals like chickens, lambs, and goats. Bring your own snacks and cake and have a celebration at the start of the party so guests can leave whenever.

Why It Will Be Great: Having a planned activity and destination cuts down on the stress of entertaining.

Extra Credit: Give each baby a bag of animal crackers to munch on during the stroller tour.

5. A Time Capsule Gathering

a toy train

Who It’s For: Baby and family or close friends

Plan It: The goal of this gathering is to create a collection of things that you can give your little when he turns, say, 21  a gift for the future from the people closest to him, that will show him both how loved he was as a baby and what the world was like back then. At the same time, you’re enjoying a warm, low-stress celebration. So put on a large pot of soup or order in, and invite family members and friends to bring something that represents the “now” for them  some ideas are a magazine clipping, a recent family photo, or a flash drive loaded with a couple of songs or music videos. Collect it all in a special keepsake box with a card signed by the guests. Then, seal it and stash it somewhere safe for a decade or two.

Why It Will Be Great: In ten or twenty years, your child will have a unique memento of this day.

Extra Credit: Make this an annual tradition by adding new stuff to the “capsule” every year.

6. A Baby Carnival

candy floss

Who It’s For: Plenty of family and lots of friends

Plan It: Creating your own carnival, whether indoors or out, may seem like a lot of work, but the payoff is a ton of fun especially if baby has older siblings or cousins. That said, you can keep it simple by setting up a few tables with games, contests, and activities like:

  • Guess and Win: Fill up a jar with Hershey’s Kisses and have people guess how many are in the jar.
  • Ring Toss: Make a ring-toss game out of soda bottles (learn how here)
  • Create a Prize Walk: Tape numbered feet in a circle on the ground and have your guests step from foot to foot while the music plays. When the music stops, each guest stands on a foot. Draw a number from a hat and the person standing on the matching number wins a prize.
  • Face painting: Ask an older kid or one of your friends to adorn kids’ faces with basic animals, rainbows, or flowers.

Purchase inexpensive and cute little trinkets or travel-size games from your local drugstore as prizes. For food, request guests bring a dish to share, potluck-style.

Why It Will Be Great: Who can resist a festive carnival atmosphere with games, prizes and tons of fun?

Extra Credit: Hand out bags of cotton candy.

7. A Birthday Garden

some plants budding in a garden

Who It’s For: Baby, family and close friends

Plan It: Gather loved ones to plant perennial flowers and shrubs, or even better, a flowering tree, that will grow as the baby grows. If possible, pick a species of plant that blooms around the time of baby’s birthday. Ask guests to come prepared to get a little dirty before celebrating with cake and treats. Be sure to take many photos of your baby playing in the mud. Then every year on your child’s birthday, snap a photo of him or her in the garden. If you want, make this a “green” themed celebration with reusable or recycled plates and flatware, and ask your guests to bring seeds or plants as birthday gifts.

Why It Will Be Great: It’s the party that keeps on giving through beautification of your baby’s future environment and the start of a living photo tradition.

Extra Credit: Make a little plaque for your garden or tree with your baby’s name, age, and the date.

8. A Mommy Group Gathering

two moms posing with their babies

Who It’s For: Babies and mommies

Plan It: Turn one of your regular playgroups or baby classes into a chance to celebrate baby’s first year. If other kiddos in the group have a birthday the same week, share the party! You can plan special activities  a sing-along, cake time, and even a group trip to a nearby kid-friendly cafe or ice-cream shop  and talk about how you feel making it to this major milestone.

Why It Will Be Great: It’s a low-key, DIY way to let mom hang out with her friends and baby with his, but with some extra-special vibes.

Extra Credit: If the other moms don’t mind, ask your partner if he can stop by. His presence, even for 10 or 15 minutes, will make the occasion feel all the more special  and he won’t feel left out.

9. A Baby Dance Party

a baby dancing

Who It’s For: Baby, friends, and family

Plan It: Organize an afternoon dance party for friends of all ages, complete with music, snacks and beverages, diaper-changing stations, and areas where little ones can chill out or play.

Why It Will Be Great: You get to relive your pre-baby days and get your groove on with your little one.

Extra Credit: Get the whole family dressed up, decorate with disco balls, and hand out glow sticks.

Which one of these first birthday themes is your favorite? How will you celebrate your baby’s first birthday?

How To Bathe a Newborn Baby

You’re a mom now, congrats! For many new moms, having an infant is both exhilarating and terrifying: you’re in awe, but you might also be a little unsure as to how to care for such a tiny baby. And one area where many moms feel uneasy is baby’s first bath.

Newborns don’t need frequent baths. In fact, bathing them every day risks drying out their skin. Plus, until your baby’s umbilical stump dries up and falls off, you’ll want to avoid immersing your baby in water. A sponge bath once or twice a week is all your newborn needs right now.

Giving a newborn a sponge bath can seem daunting at first. But not to worry, you can do this, mama! We have a step by step guide here to help baby’s first bath go smoothly. Take a minute to read through these instructions and gather your supplies. You might find it helpful to have your partner or other adult at your side when you give baby a bath. It’s always good to have another set of hands close by when it comes to a squirmy baby! Plus, they can be your runner in case you forgot to grab any essential supplies.

Follow these step by step instructions for a stress-free baby bathtime.

Baby’s First Bath: How to Give a Baby a Sponge Bath

  1. Choose a location in your home for the bath. Your baby won’t be immersed so it’s not necessary to do it in the bathroom; instead pick a place where you can safely lie your baby down flat, like on a changing table, your bed, or the couch. Then warm up the room, to a toasty 75-80 degrees for your baby’s comfort. Spread out a large towel.
  2. Gather everything you need. You’ll want a hooded towel, a small hand towel, several baby washcloths, gentle baby shampoo or baby wash, diapers, baby lotion and baby powder, a new outfit for baby, a bowl or basin, a pour cup, and a baby bath thermometer.
  3. Fill the bowl or basin with a little warm water. It should be between 90 and 100 degrees. You can use a baby bath thermometer to test it, and also feel it by dipping your wrist or elbow into the water. The water should feel warm, not hot. Place the water within arm’s reach of the bath location.
  4. Now it’s time to start! Undress your baby except for his diaper, and wrap him in the hooded towel. Lie your baby down on the large towel. Keep one hand on your baby at all times.
  5. Dampen a washcloth with water only, and gently wipe one eye from the inner corner to the outer corner. Repeat on the other eye, using a fresh washcloth. Then use a different washcloth to wash baby’s face, around her ears, and under her chin and neck. It’s ok to use a little baby wash on the face, just avoid baby’s eyes and mouth. Gently pat baby’s face dry with the hand towel.

    New moms can feel unsure about giving baby’s first bath, but these step by step instructions can help them feel confident.
  6. Carefully wipe the rest of baby’s body with a washcloth and a little baby wash, moving from the neck down and uncovering only the area you are cleaning. Wash baby’s arms and legs, chest and back, and in between the fingers and toes. Clean around the umbilical stump, keeping the cord dry. Pat each area dry after you’re finished.
  7. Remove baby’s diaper and gently clean the diaper area with fresh damp washcloth. If you have a baby girl, wipe from front to back. Take care with circumcised boys; there’s no need to push back the foreskin of uncircumcised boys. After you’ve washed and rinsed baby’s bottom, pat dry with a towel and put on a fresh diaper.
  8. Now’s a good time to give your baby a soothing massage. Infant massage can help with baby’s neurological function, sleep patterns, and more. Plus, it facilitates bonding while alleviating baby’s tummy troubles. If you’re using baby lotion, warm up a little in your hands before you apply.

    How to Massage Your Newborn Baby

  9. Finally, it’s time to wash baby’s scalp and hair. Cradle your baby over the basin and use the pour cup to slowly wet your baby’s head. Add a nickel-sized amount of shampoo and gently massage baby’s scalp. You’ll feel baby’s soft spots, which are safe to touch. Slowly pour water over baby’s head to rinse away the shampoo. Use the towel’s hood to pat baby’s head dry.
  10. After you get your baby dressed, you might use a baby brush to gently comb your baby’s hair if s/he has any. Then hold your little one close, breathe in that sweet newborn smell, and congratulate yourself on a job well done, mama!

10 Ways Parents Can Celebrate Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is nearly here and guess what, mama, you should really celebrate it.

This year it falls on a Friday, making it a perfect date night opportunity! We  know some people consider Valentine’s Day just a big merchandising opportunity for American companies. But don’t even try to tell us that your love life couldn’t use a little help right now, even if it must be inspired by a cheesy box of candy.

We’re not saying you need to go so far as put on heels or makeup. But a little extra attention to your relationship: yes, you should. And here are 10 easy and adorable ways to celebrate your sweetie that even exhausted parents can manage.

  1. Feed each other candy message hearts. Do the whole bag. They’re so corny, you might even share a laugh over some of them.
  2. Give a toast. Raise a glass of something, anything, and really speak from the heart about why you love your partner. Bonus if you do this in front of friends or family.
  3. Put your phone away. Spend an evening doing something together, even if it’s just watching a movie, without the distraction of Instagram pulling your attention away.
  4. Look through the photos of your life together. Pull out the wedding album or swipe through your pre-baby moments.
  5. Go out: This one’s obvious, but it should still be said: getting out of the house together without your baby is pretty magical these days, right? Splurge on a sitter!
  6. Tag in. What’s something your partner does that you could take on for a time? Maybe it’s a cleaning project, paying the bills, or tackling the shopping. Give him or her the week off and handle it instead.
  7. Do a special meal. Not to worry, it can be take-out. Just so long as it’s somehow special.  For example, it could be something you dislike but your partner loves, just this once.
  8. Re-enact your first date. Can you remember where you went and what you did? What you said? Do you still have any of the clothes you wore? Haul it all out of the old memory bank and star in your very-own first date memoir.
  9. Set up a treasure hunt. With the treasure being you, of course (wink, wink).
  10. Really look at each other. When’s the last time you did that?!

What do think of these ideas, mama? Will you do something to celebrate Valentine’s Day with your partner?

Sad caucasian autistic little girl

How to Handle Toddler Tantrums

Toddler tantrums: there’s no escaping them. As a parent, all you can do is try to find the best possible way to deal when your little one rages against the machine (which, unfortunately in this case, is you). So, as the mom of a toddler, I was happy to read – and re-read – this great advice that Megan posted in the Moms of 2-Year-Olds group:

“I look at tantrums as an opportunity for my son to learn how to manage his emotions while also staying safe and following directions. We use choices, choices, choices. We just make sure that all of the choices we offer have a desirable result.

For instance, in our stroller conflict (which right now is our carseat conflict), we’d get down to his eye level and in a calm voice (even if he is screaming) say, “Max, do you want to buckle yourself in the stroller or do you want mommy/daddy to do it for you?” We usually give him a 5 count to answer, and if he continues throwing a tantrum, ask him calmly one more time. Nine times out of 10, he’ll make a choice. Those times that he continues throwing a fit, we’ll say, “Okay, it looks like you are upset and don’t want to make a choice right now. I am going to buckle you in.”

By getting down to his level we are showing him that we are not being authoritative, but want to talk to him. By staying calm we show him that his tantrum will not get us riled up. By giving him two options that will end with him buckled in the stroller (carseat) we get what we want, which is to keep him safe, and he gets the control that he is throwing a fit over. And for those times when he continues to throw a tantrum, we will take the reigns and show him that sometimes he just needs to do what mommy and daddy say :)”