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Can You Take Emergen-C While Breastfeeding? Dosage Safety

Can You Take Emergen-C While Breastfeeding? Dosage Safety

During cold and flu season, busy breastfeeding moms may be asking, can you take Emergen C while breastfeeding? Anything that can potentially give a tired mom a leg up sounds like a pretty good idea, right? A review of the available information and scientific literature 

Healthy Carrot Muffins for Toddlers with No Added Sugar

Healthy Carrot Muffins for Toddlers with No Added Sugar

These healthy toddler muffins with no added sugar are a big hit in our house! They are full of wholesome ingredients like carrots, oats, unsweetened applesauce, and almond butter.  Additionally, you can easily make these muffins gluten-free or vegan with a couple of tiny tweaks!  

How to Choose the Best Non-Dairy Milk for Toddlers

How to Choose the Best Non-Dairy Milk for Toddlers

Summary of Findings on The Best Non-Dairy Milk for Toddlers

  • US scientific agencies (CDC, FDA) and professional associations (APA, AHA) recommend unsweetened fortified soy milk as the best substitute for cow’s milk for young children.

  • 1-2 years of age is an important period of growth for toddlers. Nutrients provided by dairy products or dairy substitutes are crucial during this period.

  • Plant-based milk alternatives and cow’s milk should not be given until a child has reached 1 year of age. Plant-based infant formula, dairy formula, or breast milk should be given before 1 year.

  • Plant-based milk alternatives should be unsweetened and fortified with calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12 when serving as a substitute for whole milk.

  • The available scientific literature suggests that when consumed in moderation, the isoflavones in soy foods and beverages are safe. Soy supplements on the other hand, should be avoided.

  • Parents need to pay close attention to the nutrition labels of plant-based milk alternatives. Nutritional values may vary from brand to brand.

  • In partnership with a registered dietitian or pediatrician, parents should assess and adjust a child’s diet as needed when substituting a plant-based alternative milk for whole cow’s milk.

  • Important nutritional information to compare between plant-based milks and cow’s milk includes the fat, calorie, protein, and carbohydrate content of each.

Please note that I am not a medical professional. The information I share here has been gathered from peer-reviewed research articles, scientific agencies, and professional associations. Any questions regarding the information shared here should be directed to a doctor. Thank you!

Reasons Parents Choose Plant-Based Alternative Milks

Parents may choose to give their children non-dairy milk alternatives instead of cow’s milk for several reasons; 

  • cow’s milk allergies
  • environmental sustainability
  • animal welfare
  • lactose intolerance
  • health concerns

As a parent, I started looking into the best milk alternative because my 1-year-old daughter has a cow’s milk protein allergy. I was planning on weaning her from breastfeeding just after she turned 1 year old and giving her cow’s milk; however, I delayed weaning so I could make a plan regarding an alternative milk and my toddler’s diet.

cow's milk allergy rash on young toddler
Full body rash on my baby after eating a couple of yogurt melties with cow’s milk protein.

Gathering Information on Cow’s Milk Alternatives 

When I asked my child’s pediatrician about plant-based milk alternatives at my daughter’s 12-month well check, the pediatrician recommended full-fat oat milk. He said that of all the alternative milks, full-fat oat milk was most similar to cow’s milk nutritionally speaking.

When I did a little poking around online though, I was surprised to read that this was not the same recommendation supported by organizations like the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics). Given that these are credible sources, I decided to look more into the question of what the best non-dairy milk for toddlers is. 

When considering a plant-based milk alternative, there are many choices. All of these choices can be overwhelming when standing in the grocery store aisle, and choosing the best milk that will fulfill a growing toddler’s nutritional needs is not exactly an intuitive process. 

Non-Dairy Milk Options

Possible milk alternatives include the following;

  • Soy milk
  • Almond milk 
  • Rice milk
  • Hemp milk 
  • Flax milk
  • Oat milk
  • Pea milk
  • Cashew milk
  • Coconut milk

Each of these milks have different nutritional profiles. Many come in both sweetened and unsweetened versions, and not all are fortified with important vitamins and minerals.

While they may all be marketed as healthy, most cannot be considered as adequate dairy substitutes in terms of their nutritional content.

Growing toddlers have different nutritional needs than adults, so we need to know which alternative milk will provide the same essential nutrients as dairy foods and beverages.

Ruling out Rice Milk, Coconut Milk, and Almond Milk

Additionally, we need to know which milks may have adverse effects on a young child’s health. Brusati et. al (2023) for example, explains that rice milk is of concern for children 5 and under due to arsenic levels in rice. Consumer Reports explains that arsenic is a carcinogen and can potentially have negative health consequences later in life for young children.

In regards to coconut milk, researchers Brusati et. al (2023) note its high saturated fat content. It is also low in important nutrients for growing toddlers. 

I have also ruled out almond milk as a suitable alternative milk option for my toddler. It is a lower-fat milk with very little protein.

Recommendations from Scientific Agencies and Professional Associations on Milk Alternatives

There seems to be consensus among public health agencies and professional associations in the United States when it comes to the best plant-based milk substitute for cow’s milk. The vote is for unsweetened, fortified soy milk.

This recommendation applies to children after 1 year of life and when cow’s milk is not an option for medical reasons or their parents have chosen a vegan/non-dairy lifestyle for them.

International Opinions on Plant-Based Milk and Cow’s Milk

Some of the sources from other countries around the world, however, have a different opinion. Researchers Brusati et. al (2023) review these varying recommendations in their peer-reviewed article Plant-Based Milk Alternatives in Child Nutrition.

For example, the Spanish Society of Pediatrics does not recommend plant-based milk alternatives as adequate substitutes for cow’s milk until a child is 2-3 years old. Similarly, the Canadian Pediatric Society recommends that young toddlers take rice or soy-based formulas until 2 years old. 

U.S. Food & Drug Administration

Interestingly, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) includes fortified soy beverages in the dairy group in their 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines.

This is because fortified soy beverages are very similar overall to the nutrient profile of cow’s milk. This is not the case with all plant-based milks. The FDA specifies that soy milk should be fortified with calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin A.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends fortified soy milk as a suitable substitution for cow’s milk. They state that it is the only milk alternative that is close enough to cow’s milk to serve as an appropriate dairy substitute. 

American Academy of Pediatrics

Similarly, the American Academy of Pediatrics states that alternative plant-based milks should not be used as a replacement for cow’s milk unless it is fortified unsweetened soy milk. The AAP also emphasizes that if a child is substituting soy milk for cow’s milk, that child’s diet should be carefully assessed and monitored. 

American Heart Association

The American Heart Association (AHA) agrees with the above recommendations regarding fortified unsweetened soy milk as a dairy substitute for 1-2-year-olds when necessary. They do note, however, that parents should work with their pediatricians or registered dietitians to make sure young children following a vegan diet get all of their nutritional needs met.  

Choosing an Alternative Milk in the Context of a Child’s Whole Diet

Since professional opinions on the best non-dairy milk for toddlers varies in different parts of the world, Brusati et al. (2023) recommend looking at a child’s overall diet and individual needs when deciding which alternative milk to offer. 

For example, if a child is eating a lot of high protein foods but not a lot of fatty foods or carbohydrates, full-fat oat milk might be a good choice. If a toddler is consuming a lot of low protein foods that are high in carbohydrates and fats though, soy milk might be the better choice. 

In the case of a child with a soy allergy though, or a child who does not like full-fat oat milk, a parent may need to consider an alternative milk like rice or almond milk. In these cases, young toddlers would need to be eating foods rich in proteins and fats since almond and rice milk are low in these nutrients.

Brusati et. al (2023) also suggest a benefit in alternating different types of milk throughout the weeks to get a variety of nutritional benefits. Different milks will also introduce young children to different tastes and textures.  

Nutritional Value of Different Plant-Based Alternative Milks

When comparing alternative milks to whole milk, pay special attention to the protein, fat, carbohydrate, and calorie content. Also look for products that are fortified with vitamins and minerals. 

The table below shows the protein, fat, carbohydrate, calcium, mineral, and vitamin values for whole milk and nondairy milks; soy milk, oat milk, pea milk, and almond milk. I list the brand of each milk since nutritional values can vary from brand to brand. 

ProteinFatCarbsCalciumVit DVit AVit B12
O Organics Whole Cow’s Milk (1 cup)8g8g12g310 mcg4.5mcg90mcg1.2mcg
Silk Organic Unsweetened Soymilk (1 cup)7g4.5g4g300mcg3mcg140mcg2.5mcg
Ripple Unsweetened Pea Protein Milk8g4.5g<1g440mcg5mcg110mcg2.5mcg
Oatly Full Fat Oatmilk (1 cup)3g9g15g350mcg3.6mcg160mcg1.2mgc
Almond Breeze Unsweetened Almond Milk (1 cup)1g2.5g1g450mcg5mcg150mcg

Fats, Proteins, and Carbohydrates: Cow’s Milk Vs Soy Milk and Full-Fat Oat Milk

Oatly’s Full Fat Oatmilk is very similar to whole cow’s milk in terms of fat and carbohydrate content. Full-fat oat milk has 1 gram more per serving of fat than cow’s milk, however, it has notably less protein.

Researchers Brusati et. al (2023) comment though, that oat milk usually is not the best choice for young toddlers. This is because oat milk has a lot of sugars and carbohydrates in it. Since toddlers are usually already consuming plenty of these nutrients from foods, they do not need the additional sugars.

Soy milk on the other hand is high in protein, and has just 1 less gram of protein per serving compared to cow’s milk. It is however, lower in fat than full-fat oat milk.

Animal-Based Protein Vs Plant-Based Protein

Brusati et. al (2023) note that animal-based proteins are superior to plant-based proteins because of their amino acids. The body also digests animal-based proteins more easily than plant-based proteins. Even though soy protein may not compare to cow’s milk protein though, young children can consume other high-quality sources of protein through other foods in their diets. 

Controversy Over Soy

While fortified unsweetened soy milk is recommended by many agencies and associations in the US as the most suitable substitute for whole milk, soy products have some controversy surrounding them.

Isoflavones (Plant Estrogen) in Soy

The controversy is in regards to the high levels of isoflavones found in soy. Isoflavones are plant estrogen compounds that act similarly to the hormone estrogen that naturally occurs in the body. 

Controversy has led to questions regarding whether or not soy disrupts hormone levels, impacts the timing of puberty, increases or decreases breast cancer risk, or increases risk of developing Kawasaki Disease in young children. It seems that much of the controversy is based on unsubstantiated claims.

Kawasaki Disease

Conduct a google search on Kawasaki disease risk and soy, and you will come across several blog posts and articles loosely referencing a study that concluded a link between increased risk of Kawasaki disease and high soy intake in children. And especially in Asian American children. Most of these articles do not provide any details about the study they reference though, and do not even link to the original research article.

Researchers Messina et al. (2017), however, address the specifics and question this finding regarding Kawasaki Disease in their article Health Impact of Childhood and Adolescent Soy Consumption.

Messina et al. (2017) explain that the study linking Kawasaki Disease risk and soy consumption should not be taken as a conclusive result. For one, the authors note that only 51 Asian American children were assessed in the study, which is hardly enough to generalize to the wider population. Additionally, isoflavone intake from soy was not very high, even in those with Kawasaki Disease.  

Breast Cancer

While there has been some controversy over whether or not the isoflavones in soy increase risk of breast cancer, Mayo Clinic explains that the isoflavones in food do not significantly raise a person’s estrogen levels. They can if taken in supplement form, but drinking a moderate amount of soy milk or eating soy naturally found in foods like edamame and tofu will not. Mayo Clinic defines a moderate amount as one to two servings a day. 

In a meta-analysis study from the National Library of Medicine, researchers concluded that pre and post-menopausal women who consumed soy isoflavones showed decreased risk of breast cancer. Furthermore, WebMD claims that a myth about soy fueling cancer cell growth simply came from a spread of misinformation among the public and non-reputable sources. As noted earlier though, there are few available studies on young children and more need to be conducted.  

Evidence Supporting the Safety of Moderate Soy Consumption

The general consensus given the available scientific literature thus far, is that soy is generally safe and healthy to consume in moderate amounts. For more details on the available research regarding soy and hormone disruption and disease concerns, I suggest reading the Health Impact of Childhood and Adolescent Soy Consumption. It reviews a number of studies showing that moderate soy consumption is safe.

The authors of this article do note however, that more studies need to be done, especially on young children.

Plant-Based Milk Alternatives and a Child’s Overall Diet

The job of ensuring our children have all that they need nutritionally is a big one! The best we can do is work with the health professionals and stay up to date on trusted resources and recommendations.

We can also be cognizant of nutrition labels and learn about the benefits of different nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. No child or person is going to have a perfect diet, but we can all strive to have a healthy and well-balanced diet. 

Iron-Rich Foods for Toddlers
Baby Self-Weaning from Breastfeeding
Banana Chia Seed Pudding Recipe with Non-Dairy Milk


Peer-reviewed research articles:

Brusati, M., Baroni, L., Rizzo, G., Giampieri, F., & Battino, M. (2023). Plant-Based Milk Alternatives in Child Nutrition. Foods, 12(7).

Messina, M., Rogero, M. M., Fisberg, M., & Waitzberg, D. (2017). Health impact of childhood and adolescent soy consumption. Nutrition Reviews, 75(7), 500-515.

U.S. scientific agencies and professional associations:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

U.S. Food & Drug Administration

American Academy of Pediatrics

American Heart Association

Fun Toddler Activities in Portland OR: Insider Scoop (2024)

Fun Toddler Activities in Portland OR: Insider Scoop (2024)

There are so many great activities for toddlers to explore in and around Portland, OR. I’ve included some of our favorite picks here! Toddler Friendly Parks Laurelhurst Park Laurelhlurst Park is located in southeast Portland. It is an amazing park for the whole family. Laurelhurst 

Breastfeeding at 1-Year-Old: How Often Should I Be Nursing?

Breastfeeding at 1-Year-Old: How Often Should I Be Nursing?

Topics: Breastfeeding a 1-Year-Old: How Often? Factors Influencing Breastfeeding Frequency My 1-Year-Old’s Breastfeeding Schedule Young Toddlers’ Nutritional Needs How Much Does a 1-Year-Old Drink in a Single Breastfeeding Session? How Long is a Full-Feed Nursing Session?  Responding to a Child’s Breastfeeding Cues How Do I 

Best Family Beach Packing List: Baby, Toddler, Kid Edition!

Best Family Beach Packing List: Baby, Toddler, Kid Edition!

As we are headed into the sunshine season, let’s get ready for some sandy fun-filled days at the beach!

Taking a family vacation or even just a day trip to the beach can be hard work and requires some planning, especially with little ones in tow. Just know that the time and energy put into packing is worth it!

Being prepared for a trip means that there is more time and energy to relax and have fun once you arrive at your destination. You don’t have to think about as many logistics and you can be fully present with your family. 

The first time my family went on a beach day trip, I could not believe how much stuff we needed. We were disorganized and we were missing some key items. I vowed to pack better for our next family beach trip.

So I created this list with all of the essentials as well as some nice to have items, to simplify the packing process and ensure a great time at the beach!

Day Trips Vs Overnight Vacations

While this list contains many items for day trips to the beach, it is also relevant for overnights trips. You may just want to rent items like beach umbrellas, chairs and even beach toys rather than take them on an airplane, obviously! If traveling by plane, you can even rent a big cooler and check out the local grocery stores to stock up on snacks and sandwich fixings once you get to your destination.  

Alternatively, many Airbnb or Vrbo beach house rentals will already have many beach supplies, like sand toys and towels. You can message your host ahead of time and see what they already have for you to borrow. 

The Ultimate Family Beach Trip Packing List

Here’s the complete beach packing list for the family! To see the compiled list without additional notes and tips, feel free to skip ahead.

* marks additional notes

1. Transportation Gear

  • Collapsible beach wagon *
  • Travel bags *

Collapsible beach wagon – A wagon is great for hauling all of your gear and supplies to and from the car. The first time my family went to the beach without a wagon, we made so many trips to and from the car. It created so much extra work when we should have just been relaxing and having fun! Wagons can be a bit on the pricey side, but they truly are worth it and will make the whole beach experience with young children easier. We found a great collapsible wagon with heavy duty tires for less than $100.

* Travel bags – Organizing items by category and keeping each category in a separate bag can make locating items when at the beach much easier. Here is a list of all the different bags you may want; 

  • Beach toy bag
  • Snack bag
  • Clothing bag
  • Sun protection bag
  • Beach lounging gear and supplies bag
  • Miscellaneous supplies bag
  • Car activities bag

Large duffels, backpacks, or beach bags work great for car trips. You can easily throw them in a collapsible beach wagon and haul everything to and from your beach spot. If traveling by plane, putting items in smaller bags within a large rolling bag makes travel through airports much easier.

Print the summarized checklist to use as a reference when you are at the beach and trying to locate different items. You can write out the item category for each bag on a piece of scotch tape and stick it on the outside of each bag for easy identification.

2. Beach Toys and Games

  • Kite
  • Soccer ball
  • Frisbee
  • Bubbles
  • Beach ball 
  • Slotted laundry basket or beach bag *
  • Beach toys *
  • Jump rope *
  • Baby bathtub * if applicable
  • Flotation devices if applicable
  • Snorkel gear if applicable


kid sand toys on the beach

* Slotted laundry basket or beach bag- Keep all your toys in a laundry basket and then shake all the sand through the basket slots when it’s time to pack up. This will help you avoid taking a bunch of sand home with you and will help keep everything consolidated while you are playing on the beach. Alternatively, a nice big beach bag will do the trick as well!

* Beach toys – Sand pails, water squirters, shovels, water toys, sand molders and sand cars/trucks all help keep little ones busy playing on the beach.

* Jump rope – Wiggle a jump rope or run around with one trailing behind you on the beach and let your kids try and catch the end. This is a great game for young children. 

* Baby bathtub – If you have a baby, a baby bathtub can be great to have on the beach. You can fill it with ocean water with a sand pail and let your little one cool off and splash around without having to hold them at the ocean’s edge the whole time. If traveling by plane this is obviously not an item you want to pack, but it’s great to pack if you have room in your car.

3. Snacks

  • Baby/toddler food pouches
  • Sweet treats
  • Water *
  • Snacks for kids and adults *

* Water – Lots of water is a must. Pack an insulated water bottle or two to keep water cold and a large jug for refills. Sippy cups or regular cups come in hand as well. 

* Snacks for kids and adults – Good packable snack options include items like; 

  • crackers/chips
  • dried fruit
  • granola bars (these homemade granola bars are great for little ones)
  • beef jerky
  • puffs
  • melties
  • teething crackers

4. Cooler

  • Ice packs
  • Lemon slices for water
  • Sandwiches – pb&j, turkey sandwiches
  • Smoothies
  • Go-gurts
  • Sliced fresh fruit and veggies

5. Clothing

  • Change of clothes for the end of the day
  • Bathing suits
  • Sandals
  • Swim diapers 
  • Diapers
  • Wipes
  • Wet bag *
  • Dry bag *
  • Water shoes *

Wet bag * – Bring a trash bag to throw wet bathing suits and wet clothes in at the end of the day.

Dry bag * – Bring a dry bag to have a change of dry clothes for everyone to get into at the end of the day.

Water shoes * – Water shoes are great to protect feet from debris in the sand and hot sand when running to and from the water.

6. Sun Protection

  • Lip balm with SPF
  • Cover-ups and long sleeve shirts
  • Beach tent or beach umbrellas *
  • Rash guards *
  • Sun hats *
  • Sunglasses *
  • Sunscreen *


wide brimmed sun hat that rolls up for easy packing
Love my packable sun hat!

Beach tent or beach umbrellas – Large shade protection is especially important if babies and young toddlers are in the picture. There skin is so delicate and spending large amounts of time under a harsh sun on a hot day leaves them vulnerable to sunburns or overheating. 

* Rash guards – There are many great rash guards with UV protection for kids. Investing in one is a great way to protect your little one from sunburn. 

* Sun hats – A wide-brimmed sun hat (for kids and adults) that protects the back of the neck and shoulders as well as the face is great for long hot sunny days at the beach. I love my packable sun hat that rolls up so it doesn’t get crushed or take up too much space en route.  

* Sunglasses – Young children have especially delicate eyes, so remember to pack a pair of sunnies for everyone!

* Sunscreen – UV protection is perhaps the most essential item to pack. Make sure you have a big bottle of waterproof sunscreen that isn’t expired. Consider a mineral based reef-safe sunscreen. 

7. Beach Lounging Items

  • Beach chairs
  • Fitted sheet *
  • Beach towels *
  • Fold up baby bouncer * if applicable


baby in bouncer at the beach
Our baby napping in her Baby Bjorn fold up bouncer on the beach!

* Fitted sheet – You can lay a fitted sheet out flat and put bulky items in all 4 corners to create a nice big relatively sand free spot. You can keep all your supplies here or use it as a picnic spot.

* Beach towels – Turkish towels are lightweight, dry quickly, and pack down well, making them great for beach trips.

* Fold up bouncer – A collapsible bouncer is amazing to have at the beach for babies that aren’t yet sitting up on their own.

8. Miscellaneous Items

  • Paper towels
  • Fully charged cell phone
  • Facial wipes
  • Waterproof camera or phone waterproof cover
  • Small journal/paper pad and writing/drawing tools
  • Books
  • Ear pods/headphones
  • Plastic bags for cell phones and other items you do not want to get sandy or wet
  • First aid kit *
  • Baby powder *
  • Bug spray *
  • Nursing cover if applicable
  • Diapers, wipes, travel pad or blanket if applicable

* First aid kit – You never know what might happen during a fun filled day with active kids. Having some basic first aid items can really come in hand! Big and small bandaids, antibiotic ointment or betadine, Benadryl and aloe vera are some good basics to have. 

* Baby powder – At the end of the day or before lunch you can sprinkle some baby powder on sandy hands and feet. This helps absorb water from wet sand and makes it easy to brush off all the excess sand that tends to stick and make its way into clothes and cars. 

* Bug spray – Pack an eco-friendly non-toxic bug spray to keep pesky mosquitoes and sand fleas at bay. 

9. Car Ride or Plane Activities

If traveling with young children, you know that getting to and from places can be a challenge. Unless little ones are snoozing in the car or on the plane, they likely need something to keep them busy. 

  • Ipad or tablet for kids
  • Kids’ music or audio storybooks
  • Drawing tools (water drawing pad, notepad with markers, or drawing tablet)
  • Magnet activity board
  • Magnetic travel tangram puzzle book
  • Car bingo set

Beach Activity Ideas

  • Visit the local ice cream shop 
  • Build sandcastles
  • Visit the beach water park if available
  • Throw a frisbee or kick a soccer ball on the beach
  • Relax in the ocean breeze and meditate on the waves
  • Beach walk
  • Draw in the sand with sticks
  • Make a seashell and rock design in the sand
  • Bring out the bubble wands
  • Fly a kite
  • Run away from waves (young kids love this)
  • Pick up trash on the beach with kids
  • Beach yoga
  • Explore tide pools *
  • Read on the beach * 
  • Explore the local scene *

sand mandala

* Explore tide pools – Check the local tide schedule to find out when low tide is.

* Beach walk – Give young kids a sand pail to collect sea shells along the way. Teaching them to leave the seashells at the beach at the end of the day can be a good learning moment to encourage environmental awareness. An alternative to a family beach walk is having your partner watch the kiddos while you go for a walk or jog and get some solo time in to recharge. 

* Read on the beach – Check out your local library’s collection of both fiction and non-fiction books about the beach and ocean. Reading about sea life while sitting by the ocean can be a fun way for kids to learn. kids will also love reading a storybook about the ocean while burying their feet in the sand. Also bring your own book to read if you get a quiet moment for some R&R! 

* Explore the local scene – Beach towns often have fun activities and sites to check out if you do not want to spend all of your time in the sand. Some places have small aquariums, carousels and fun candy shops with lots of salt water taffy! Eating out and getting some delicious seafood can be a special treat and be a chance to expose kids to foods they don’t normally eat.

Stress-Free Packing

Packing for a family beach trip can be overwhelming. As a mama of two little ones, I have been known to experience parental burnout and mom overstimulation, so I try to simplify as many things as possible when it comes to packing. I also do my best to adopt a relaxed mindset, and take care to pack ample snacks and other essentials that help keep toddler tantrums at bay!

Start Packing Well Ahead of Time

When packing for the first time for a family beach trip, it’s a good idea to start packing a few days in advance. This gives you time to head to the store to pick up any items you don’t already have.  

The Most Important Thing

At the end of the day, the most important thing to keep in mind is that a great family vacation or day trip is about the time you spend together. It is about the joy and the shared experience of being in a beautiful place with the people you love.

Refer to a packing list, but don’t get too caught up in the details. If there are some items that you don’t have and don’t want to buy or have the funds to buy, don’t worry about it! As long as you have ample sun protection, snacks and water, the beach will do the rest! 

Family Beach Trip Packing Checklist

Transportation Gear

  • Collapsible beach wagon
  • Travel bags

Beach Toys

  • Slotted laundry basket or beach bag
  • Kite
  • Soccer ball
  • Frisbee
  • Bubbles
  • Beach ball 
  • Sand Toys
  • Jump rope
  • (Baby bathtub)
  • (Flotation devices)
  • (Snorkel gear)


  • Beach chairs
  • Fitted sheet
  • Beach towels
  • (Fold up bouncer)


  • Baby/toddler food pouches
  • Sweet treats
  • Water
  • Snacks for kids and adults
  • Change of clothes for the end of the day
  • Bathing suits
  • Sandals
  • Wet bag
  • Dry bag
  • (Swim diapers) 

Sun Protection

  • Water shoes
  • Lip balm with SPF
  • Cover-ups and long sleeve shirts
  • Beach tent or beach umbrellas
  • Rash guards
  • Sun hats
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Ice packs
  • Lemon slices for water
  • Sandwiches – pb&j, turkey sandwiches
  • Smoothies
  • Go-gurts
  • Sliced fresh fruit and veggies


  • Paper towels
  • Fully charged cell phone and charger
  • Leave-in conditioner
  • Facial wipes
  • Waterproof camera or phone waterproof cover
  • Small journal/paper pad and writing/drawing tools
  • Book
  • Ear pods or headphones
  • Plastic bags for cell phones and other items you do not want to get sandy or wet
  • First aid kit
  • Bug spray
  • Baby powder
  • (Nursing cover)
  • (Diapers, wipes, changing pad/blanket)
Overstimulated Mom Symptoms and 20 Soothing Ways to Cope

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An overstimulated mom is tired, stressed, and overwhelmed. Her nervous system has been bombarded with sensory information in the form of shrieking rambunctious children, crying babies, and the countless demands of motherhood.  She may experience strong feelings of anger and irritability, and feel like she 

Stay at Home Mom Burnout Signs and 10 Ways to Recover

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Stay at Home Mom Burnout Signs 10 Ways to Recover from Burnout If you are dealing with stay-at-home mom burnout, you are not alone. Raising children full time is hard work and can get the best of anyone.  While all mamas have the occasional hard 

Understanding Children’s Development Through Drawing Stages

Understanding Children’s Development Through Drawing Stages

Before we can read, write, or talk, we are able to make our first rudimentary marks on paper; we scribble. And while an erratic scribble does not appear to be anything extraordinary, it is the first step on the amazing journey of human graphic development.

Just as there are general developmental milestones when it comes to learning, moving, speaking and playing, there are also developmental milestones when it comes to a child’s art and drawing skills. 

Typically developing children show a progression of certain characteristics in their drawings as they get older. These characteristics are representative of their cognitive, emotional, social and physical changes and experiences.

Art therapists, art educators and curious parents are among those who are likely interested in learning about these drawing stages. This information helps them understand how a child is developing and how they can provide support.

My interest in child development and the drawing stages comes from being a mother of two young children and a former art therapy student. Learning about the stages of drawing development was a topic in one of my first classes in my art therapy & counseling graduate program. We read Viktor Lowenfeld’s book “Creative & Mental Growth”, which outlines 5 stages of children’s graphic development.

These are the stages I will be summarizing below. I read the 8th edition of this book which was published in 1987, and amazingly the basic concepts in this book are still the standard for understanding children’s graphic development.

Lowenfeld’s Stages of Artistic Development

While Lowenfeld designates specific ages for the progressing stages of graphic development, children usually move fluidly in between and sometimes in both directions between adjacent stages.

As they grow and develop, they may start displaying signs of moving into a more advanced stage while continuing to draw elements characteristic of a previous stage. Lowenfeld’s distinct age ranges for the various stages provide a general guideline though, and way to conceptualize children’s graphic development. 

Scribble Stage (2-4 years old)

Lowenfeld explains that the beginning of the scribbling stage is all about kinesthetic exploration. That is, how a child explores the physical experience of mark making. 

As children progress in this scribbling stage and develop more hand eye-coordination and fine motor skills, they start to develop more control over their marks and scribbles. This is called controlled scribbling. They can start to form basic shapes and the beginning of intentional forms and recognizable shapes emerge.

While their shapes and scribbles have no identifiable meaning to onlookers, young children may start naming aspects of their drawings. Children are unattached to their drawings and what they have created at this stage. It is all about the process and the experience.

young toddler drawing in Lowenfeld's scribble stage

When my toddler was in his scribble stage, he loved to stand in his learning tower at the kitchen counter or scooch around on the floor and make fast erratic scribbles on big pieces of paper.

He also loved the kinesthetic experience of repeatedly hammering markers onto paper to make dots and dashes. Often he did not even look at the paper while scribbling and dotting and dashing, showing that he was more involved in the experience of how he was creating and using his drawing tools, rather than what he was creating.

Preschematic Stage 4-7

The pre-schematic stage is perhaps the most fun stage to witness, although I am biased since I have a 4-year-old who regularly draws endearing and often comical family portraits with accompanying narration.

In this stage during the preschool years, children are experimenting with making representational forms. Figures and forms are usually floating on the page, and there are very few if any contextual features in preschematic drawings. Children draw what is important to them and they can talk about who or what they have drawn.

child's preschematic stage human figures drawing
Mom with her birthday cake and Dad with hairy arms and legs.

Drawings of people have basic body parts like wiggly stick legs and arms and a head and/or body. Young children are well known for these adorable cephalopod or tadpole people.

Some details and facial features may emerge in their drawings at this stage, but it is not the focus. For example, my 4 year old often likes to include hair detail on his faceless people. He often includes my husband’s hairy legs and my “hair ball” (bun) on top of my head. Other details like facial features, he usually leaves out unless prompted to include them. 

Schematic Stage 7-9

The schematic stage of drawing is characterized by children developing schemas or symbolic representations of people, objects, and nature in their artwork. They are learning to organize concepts as they develop awareness of the world around them. This shows in their uniform and repeated depictions of the human figure and objects. Human figures usually have all their facial features and body parts.

A baseline is also often present in a child’s drawings from this stage. For example, a child may draw a row of identical flowers across a baseline, which grounds all of the figures and objects in the drawing. The presence of this baseline represents how children are becoming less egocentric and more aware of their surroundings at this age. It also becomes a point that helps integrate and describe a common relationship between everything in a drawing (verses floating objects and figures in the previous preschematic stage).

Although children are developing greater awareness of their surroundings in this stage, they are not usually drawing directly from observation.  

Dawning Realism Stage/The Gang Age (9-12)

In the next stage, dawning realism or the gang age, children’s drawings become more realistic and include more detail. Children begin to try and draw from observation, rather than purely relying on their internal schemas for drawing subjects.

As they develop these observational skills, they become more self-conscious and critical of their artwork and the discrepancies between how things look in real life and what they are depicting on the page. 

Children in this stage become interested in depicting details and more complicated relationships like overlapping elements in a drawing. While they are interested in drawing realistically, their drawings also reflect scenes from their imaginations. 

Pseudo-naturalistic Stage (12-14)

Generally taking place around 12-14 years of age, Lowenfeld describes the pseudo-naturalistic stage. During this stage, children may become more interested in developing their artistic skills and creating realistic drawings. 

They may experience frustration though, as their awareness grows of the complexities in life as well as in realistically depicting life through drawing. Despite this conflict though, children in this stage attempt to draw with realistic use of color, shading, proportions, and three-dimensional space.

How a drawing or piece of art comes out is very important to children at this stage.

The Period of Decision (14-17)

The final stage of graphic development is only explored by children who wish to continue developing their artistic skills as they develop into young adults. 

This is a stage where children choose to learn to draw with more detail and visual-spatial awareness and can achieve a high level of realism if they choose to explore these concepts. They combine these technical skills with their personal styles of self-expression to create unique artworks.

Developmental Benefits of Creating Art

Encouraging children to make art helps promote growth throughout their development. Offering different art media and art activities teaches them new skills, that they can then apply to their life experiences.

Physical Developmental Benefits

Offering art materials is a wonderful way to encourage hand-eye coordination and the development of fine motor skills. Different art materials will help kids learn to apply varying motor skills and techniques to manipulate markers, paintbrushes, clay, playdough etc.

Likewise, a variety of art activities will encourage kids to use their bodies in different ways. Some art projects like painting on a big canvas require gross motor movements, while drawing on a small piece of paper requires a more detailed approach with fine motor control. 

Cognitive Developmental Benefits

Helping kids learn new artistic skills encourages healthy cognitive development. As they grapple with new ways to represent forms and relationships between forms, they learn new concepts and develop their creative thinking and problem solving skills.

Children also learn about perspective-taking and what it means to create something from external observation or from a subjective internal perspective, or to see a problem from different angles. For example, doing a still-life drawing requires observational skills and external visual perception. A free drawing on the other hand may prompt imagery to emerge from internal thoughts and feelings. And doing a 3-dimensional sculptural project requires even different perspective-taking skills as a child must consider how their piece looks from different angles.  

Reflecting on artwork and talking about it can also provide personal insight and help develop self-confidence and self-awareness.

Emotional Developmental Benefits 

Creating art can be a wonderful way to explore, express, and reflect on emotions. Through color, art materials, and imagery, children share aspects of their emotional experiences that they don’t know how to or want to otherwise. 

Different art materials can elicit various emotional experiences. For example, a child who is struggling with internalizing problems (eg anxiety and depressive symptoms) may benefit from using highly expressive and fluid art materials like paint that will encourage externalizing difficult feelings. Or perhaps from soothing and grounding materials like clay. A child who is experiencing a lot of overwhelming and chaotic feelings on the other hand, may benefit from using controlled materials like pencils and markers.

The type of art activity also has an impact on the emotional experience of creating. Activities can be highly structured to guide or contain big feelings, or open-ended to encourage emotional expression and exploration. Art therapists and art educators are trained to know what kind of activity will promote growth and offer support for different individuals. 

Additionally, developing artistic skills and feeling pride and joy around creating artwork helps develop children’s self-esteem and self-confidence. Feeling good about their artwork translates to feeling good about themselves since their artwork is an extension of themselves. 

Creative Expression for Healthy Child Development

When given the opportunity, children have a natural drive to create and explore through imagery and the physical process of making art. By working with different art materials and diving into interesting activities and projects, they learn about the world and themselves. They also get the chance to develop new skills and consider different perspectives and ways to create. 

child's art hanging on the wall

As my own children grow and develop, I hope to offer them as much opportunity as I can to experience the joys and benefits of making art. And with an awareness of Lowenfeld’s graphic development stages, I can help support their growth as they become capable of exploring new concepts at each new stage.  

Lowenfeld, V. (Ed.) (1987). Creative and Mental Growth. Prentice Hall.

Young Children’s Activities to Encourage Creative Growth and Exploration:
Free Painting on Wooden Shapes for Creativity and Confidence
DIY Playdough
DIY Kinetic Sand Recipe 
DIY Cardboard Toddler Toys
Children’s Libraries and Free Resources

How an Assertive Parenting Style Helps Mom Keep her Calm

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My Favorite Art Activity For 3 Year Olds to Encourage Creativity and Confidence

My Favorite Art Activity For 3 Year Olds to Encourage Creativity and Confidence

Setting my son up to paint on inexpensive wooden shapes from the dollar store or the craft store is perhaps my favorite art activity for 3 year olds. I love joining in on this activity too!

This little art project somehow holds my 3 year olds attention for hours. One day he sat and painted for at least 2 hours and made about 20 wooden tree ornaments. And he was ready for more the next day!

3 year old art activity painting on wooden christmas trees

We are now using his finished painted trees to count the days to Christmas by tying one to our blanket ladder everyday. And because we painted so many tree ornaments, we had a ton leftover (after setting aside 25) to make a long garland we hung from our bathroom mirror as some fun festive Christmas decor. 

painted wooden christmas tree art activity for 3 year olds

Reasons I Love This Art Activity For 3 Year Olds

  • Develops self confidence and self esteem
  • Develops creativity
  • Encourages creative exploration
  • Fun for child as well as for parent/caregivers
  • Versatile for different seasons/holidays/child’s interests
  • Can be done as a long term or short term project

This art activity for 3 year olds is pretty simple to setup and I don’t have to do much once my 3 year old gets going. In fact, I can enjoy a little craft time myself!

And the reason I love this activity for my son’s development is because it provides some structure while still allowing a lot of freedom and room for creativity.

Three year olds really want to exercise their growing independence. They also have a ton of wild energy. So this activity allows them to paint independently, while not getting too out of hand. The wooden shapes create both a literal and psychological boundary that helps contain little wild toddler energies.

Of course some adult supervision is necessary and perhaps some gentle redirection, but I have found I have only had to be involved minimally when my son is focused on this activity.

I have a background in art therapy, and the following phrase by the famous art therapist Judith Rubin was always referenced in my training; “a framework for freedom.” This means that setting people up for success is all about providing them with the right tools and structure. The structure isn’t meant to be restrictive in an overbearing way, but more to contain energies and impulses that are actually counterproductive to free and meaningful self expression. 

Free painting on wooden shapes also helps little ones develop their self confidence and self esteem. The shapes contain wild and free brushstrokes within an identifiable form that delights little ones.

My 3 year old loves hanging his finished pieces all over his room as garlands or single pieces.

finished pieces from a painting art activity for 3 year olds

And every time he looks at them he is reminded (at least on a subconscious level) of his creative power. As well as the joy and pride that went into making his creations. I’m hoping this sense of empowerment stays with him as he grows up. As well as the joy and excitement of creating.

Additionally, this art activity for 3 year olds is great because it is so versatile. You can create different themes depending on your chosen wooden shapes to go with different seasons and holidays, or for just any ordinary old day.

For Christmas, we painted on a ton of wooden ornament, tree and snowflake shapes. And then hanging all the ornaments on our mini tree became another fun activity.

hanging 3 year old's painted christmas ornaments on a tree

My tot has also painted many wooden cars (he is obsessed with cars in general).

toddler painting on wooden cars


  • Wooden shapes (from the dollar store or craft stores like Michaels)
  • Acrylic paint (or washable paint, depending on how comfortable you are with your toddler and paint)
  • Paint brushes
  • Cup with water for paintbrushes
  • Old dish towel or paper towels
  • Tray or newspaper or plastic sheet to paint on
  • Painting bib

In addition to being versatile, it’s also a very affordable activity for 3 year olds! For example, I recently bought a set of 16 neon acrylic paints at Michael’s for $10. And at Christmas time I got 50 wooden ornaments for $5 (that was a solid 6 or more hours of activity!).

You can also get wooden pieces at the dollar store. They have all sorts of shapes and sizes. The dollar store also has little acrylic paints and paintbrushes.

Creative Growth for Kids

There are so many rules and directions that kids have to follow everyday. So setting them up with projects that allow them to exercise their creativity, independence and self-expression is so important. Plus, sometimes tired parents just need something to keep their wild children busy sometimes! 

How did this art activity go for you and your littles? Please share in the comments below!

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How Much Coffee Can I Drink While Nursing?

How Much Coffee Can I Drink While Nursing?

Ever since becoming a mom, coffee has become a very important part of my life. VERY. The cumulative effects of sleep deprivation are just too real, and sometimes a cup of coffee feels like the only thing that is possibly going to get me through the day.

So, I have commandeered a cabinet shelf in our kitchen to house my caffeine supplies. This is my little shelf of joy. And I have even leveled up to buying primo locally roasted coffee beans and purchased an espresso machine. Yum!

mini coffee bar shelf for mom

Although I love my coffee and ideally would love to sip on it all day long, I have set some limits for myself. And this is because I am breastfeeding and caffeine can transfer to breastmilk. So when I started brewing myself a second cup of coffee everyday, I started to wonder, exactly how much coffee can I drink while nursing?

While Healthline notes that only a tiny 1% of caffeine transfers from mom to baby, some babies may be more sensitive to those small amounts of caffeine. Additionally, especially premature babies and young babies can not process caffeine very quickly, so it can build up in their systems. 

Effects of Caffeine on Breastfeeding Babies

In good news, Medical News Today explains that drinking coffee while breastfeeding does not pose the same risks to a baby as drinking too much caffeine while pregnant. 

So, while there is not the same concern of effects of caffeine on breastfeeding babies as babies in the womb, breastfeeding mommas may still notice some negative side effects of caffeine on their babies. Healthline states that excessive caffeine can make some babies fussy and disrupt their sleep patterns. 

Exactly How Much Coffee Can I Drink Per Day While Nursing?

La Leche League International explains that breastfeeding moms can safely have 200-300 mg of caffeine daily. And that caffeine is greatest in a person’s system 1 to 2 hours after consumption. And ACOG (The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) recommends no more than 200 mg of caffeine per day while breastfeeding.

Like La Leche League International, the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) also recommends staying under 300 mg of caffeine/day while breastfeeding.

Interestingly though, another web page on breastfeeding from the CDC leaves one with a little different perspective on how much coffee is too much. They state, “Irritability, poor sleeping patterns, fussiness, and jitteriness have been reported in infants of mothers with very high intakes of caffeine, about 10 cups of coffee or more per day.”

10 cups?! That seems like an awful lot for a person whether they are breastfeeding or not. Medical News Today echoes this more lax perspective and states that even more than 300 mg of caffeine per day is “unlikely to harm a baby”. 

I’ll continue to play it safe though and stick to my 200-300 mg of caffeine daily, but it does make me feel better about having my 2 cups of coffee knowing that the CDC is using 10 cups of coffee as a reference point for significant effects on baby. 

Another point to consider is the timing of coffee consumption. La Leche League Canada notes that caffeine content is highest in breastmilk 1 to 2 hours after drinking it. So I like to try and drink my coffee either right before I breastfeed, while I’m breastfeeding or right after I breastfeed. 

How Many Cups of Coffee is 200-300 mg of Caffeine?

Having some clear numbers in regards to a daily caffeine limit is great, but how exactly does 200-300 mg of caffeine translate to a cappuccino or a cup of drip coffee? After all a Venti Starbucks drip coffee is going to have a very different level of caffeine than a cappuccino with a double shot of espresso.

As it turns out, the answer to the question of caffeine content in coffee is really not all that clear. In fact, there is quite a wide range of answers depending on the source. 

For example, the table below shows some numbers from different sources I found online regarding caffeine content in a double shot of espresso. As you can see, these numbers range from 58 mg to 150 mg. So can I safely have 3 cappuccinos a day or should I just stick to 1 while breastfeeding? While the difference may not be significant to many people, it can be important for a breastfeeding momma who wants to follow the guidelines.

mg of caffeine in a double shot of espresso
Super Coffee150 mg
Two Chimps70-120 mg
Stumptown Coffee Roastersless than 100 mg
The Spruce Eats58-185 mg

The reason caffeine content is not always so clear is because the amount of caffeine in a cup depends on how coffee is brewed and the type of bean used.

Stumptown Coffee Roasters explains that batch brew coffee (like that from an automatic drip coffee maker) has the highest caffeine content, then pour over, and then espresso. 

coffee caffeine content by brew method guide while nursing
Batch brew coffee has more caffeine than pour over or espresso because the brew time is longer.

As far as type of coffee beans and caffeine content is concerned, Super Coffee explains that there are “robusta” coffee beans and “arabica” coffee beans. You can use either in espresso drinks, but robusta coffee beans can have twice the amount of caffeine as arabica coffee beans. In good news for pregnant or breastfeeding ladies, Super Coffee states that coffee beans sold in the US are usually arabica beans. 

I looked on the two different bags of coffee I have in my cupboard, and nowhere does it indicate whether they are robusta or arabica coffee beans. I find this odd given that robusta beans can have twice as much caffeine (even if most coffee beans sold in the US are arabica beans). It would be nice to look on a label and get some confirmation. 

Luckily a quick google search of any given coffee bean company usually reveals what kind of beans they use and some general information regarding caffeine content.

For example, Stumptown Coffee Roasters explains that a double shot of espresso usually has less than 100 mg of caffeine. Meanwhile, an 8oz cup of batch brew has somewhere in the range of 120-180 mg of caffeine. And they explain that differences between different coffee bean roasts (with the exclusion of arabica vs robusta beans) are “minuscule”. Again, the caffeine content is determined mostly by the brewing method.

Enjoying my Coffee While Breastfeeding

In conclusion, I’ll be enjoying my cup or 2 of coffee everyday without worrying about ill effects on my nursing baby. There’s enough to worry about and deal with while breastfeeding (eg Nipple PainMilk Blebs, etc…), so I’m glad to at least check this one off my list! 

And since there seems to be a lot of varying information regarding just how much caffeine is in a cup of coffee, knowing some general ranges is helpful. It also gives me some additional peace of mind to drink my coffee right before, during or right after breastfeeding. Even though our bodies do a pretty good job of metabolizing caffeine before it reaches breastmilk, caffeine is highest in the system 1-2 hours after drinking it. 

I’m also keeping in mind that the caffeine content is largely determined by the brewing method. And the longer the brewing time, the more caffeine there is. So espresso, french press and pour over have less brew time and contact with hot water than drip coffee. 

So there you go! I hope this is helpful and I’m wishing all the breastfeeding mommas continued strength and endurance on their breastfeeding journeys.

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Preventing 3 Year Old Behavior Problems After New Baby

Preventing 3 Year Old Behavior Problems After New Baby

For the first month or so after bringing home our new baby, I was surprised that my 3 year old had no apparent shifts in behavior. He seemed curious about and delighted by the new baby.

Fast forward a month and this is when the ear piercing toddler screams started. Yikes. 

In addition to this outrageous screaming, other 3 year old behavior problems after new baby came home included;

  • Kicking/hitting
  • Refusing to go to bed
  • Refusing to get in the car
  • Making angry grunting noises when wanting attention
  • Ignoring or pretending not to hear directions

In retrospect, I really can’t blame my toddler for acting out in these ways. Things were a bit chaotic as we all figured out a new schedule and I myself took to “silent screaming” on occasion, along with stuffing my face with cookies as my primary coping mechanism… Perhaps this is why it is hard to return to pre-pregnancy weight after a second child.   

So when I realized that my new cookie eating habit was getting a little out of control, as was my toddler, I got serious about figuring out how to help him and the whole family adjust to our new family system.

Resources On Helping Toddlers Adjust To New Baby

I read Dr Laura Markham’s book, “Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings” and this book completely shifted my mindset and approach with my toddler. 100% recommend. For those who do not have time to do a deep dive into the whole book, I share my takeaways below.

I also recommend following @Transformingtoddlerhood on Instagram for bite size pieces of amazing parenting advice.

So as my husband and I implement many of the suggestions from these resources, we have witnessed huge improvements in morale around our house. Our toddler is back to falling asleep at a decent hour, he hasn’t had a major tantrum in weeks, and for the most part he is listening to us when we ask him to do something. Of course there are days where I want to rip my hair out, but overall, my heart is full and our house is peaceful. Well, as peaceful as a house can be with a 3 year old bursting with energy. 

Toddler Regressions After New Baby

While I was initially bewildered and frustrated by my 3 year old’s behavior problems after new baby, I have since realized that they actually make a lot of sense given the massive shift in our family system. With a new baby in the house, my 3 year old started receiving far less attention than he was used to, and of course he was/is going to have big feelings about that.

Romper explains that toddler behavior regressions are perfectly normal after brining home a new baby. Young children can feel like they are being replaced and the shift in their parents’ attention can really throw them for a loop!

So after reading about toddler regressions, I realized that those angry grunting noises I mentioned earlier were my toddler’s attempt at mimicking the baby when she cried out. He was making that same “eh, eh, eh” sound whenever we were shifting our attention to her. So to a toddler, mimicking a baby probably seems like a perfectly good way to win back some attention.

To highlight how stressful a new baby can be for a toddler, I love the way that a HuffPost article on the subject frames it; they describe a scenario where your spouse brings home another partner and tells you that this new partner will now be living in the house and how great it is that everyone is going to love one another. Of course most people would not be happy with this situation. So it is understandable that our little toddlers with their undeveloped toddler brains can’t quite comprehend why exactly we have brought home a new baby.

5 Guiding Principles to Deal with Toddler Tantrums After Second Baby

Toddlers can ignite a special kind of fury and frustration in their parents. As a result, I think it is very normal for parents to start feeling like they need to strictly discipline so that they do not become their 3 year old’s personal minion. 

Let’s remind ourselves though, our 3 year olds’ need for power and control is not about them having dreams of ruling over us. Rather, it is most often about them feeling insecure, anxious, fearful or overwhelmed.

And as a result, trying to figure out (aka test) where the boundaries are that are going to help them manage those feelings. A boundary lets them know that things aren’t going to get out of control. They also help our littles know what to expect, which helps build a foundation of stability and security in their growing minds. 

So reminding myself that little brains and hearts are prone to overwhelm and that I can help keep that overwhelm in check, usually pretty quickly starts to transform my frustration into compassion and love for my toddler.

So what little ones may need most when they are acting out is to know that their parents can remain calm and in control, and that they will continue to love them no matter what. This approach requires putting some trust in our toddlers. 

So rather than assuming the worst of my toddler, I assume the best; I assume that he wants to cooperate and listen, but that he is struggling with some big feelings that are making it hard for him to do so. I assume that when I give him my unconditional love and supportive guidance and boundaries, he will better be able to regulate his feelings and behavior.

playing with my 3 year old and new baby

1. Keep Your Cool

Keeping your cool and calm while modeling emotional regulation skills for your toddler is no easy task. Especially when you are exhausted from being up half the night feeding a newborn. But, it is something to strive for and work on, both for yourself and your toddler.

Keeping your cool does not mean that you do not have or express any emotions of your own. It does mean though, that you do it in a conscious and regulated way. So rather than angrily yelling at your child when he refuses to listen, you step back and take a deep breath (or several).

And when I notice that I am having a hard time keeping my cool with just a few deep breaths, I put extra effort into some self care at the end of the day, or I step up my independent play basket game for my toddler so that I can have a quiet moment during the day.

2. Be a Fountain of Unconditional Love

In the midst of a toddler tantrum, I remind myself that my toddler is likely feeling insecure and overwhelmed, and that his undeveloped toddler brain is in overdrive and is spinning out. This is when he really needs my love and supportive guidance so he can take back control of the wheel. So I remind myself of this over and over and over.

And being a fountain of unconditional love is simply letting my toddler know that I am there for him, whether it be through words or just a calm and loving physical presence. In the midst of a tantrum, the later is more effective since a spinning out toddler brain really can’t process many words. So in these cases, a bear hug or a warm and concerned facial expression while sitting nearby can mean a lot to a little one that is overwhelmed.

3. Cultivate Empathy

We teach our children about empathy by showing and talking about feelings; both our own and theirs. Cultivating this emotional awareness and understanding is a huge part of learning to regulate big emotions.

Giving a name to emotions and talking about them helps kids feel like their big feelings can be managed. They learn to see that big feelings are not illusive all powerful monsters that are going to completely overwhelm them. They are just normal human emotions that can be felt and talked about. Additionally, understanding emotions is an important part of positively connecting with others.

We can also help explain to our toddlers why they might be feeling those big feelings. This helps young children feel seen and heard, and that is so important for our little ones’ sense of self worth and self-esteem.

Here are some ways we can cultivate empathy with toddlers;

  • Use an “I feel…” statement and use a facial expression to match it. In the case of a feeling like anger or frustration, using an “I feel” statement is not about trying to emotionally guilt trip or manipulate your child. Rather, it is about teaching them about emotions, understanding others and understanding how they can positively or negatively impact others. 
  • Empathize with your toddler and help name the feeling they are expressing (eg anger, frustration, sadness, happiness) and pointing out how their behavior and facial expressions match the emotion. And also narrate for them what happened before, during and after the arrival of a big feeling.

4. Set Reasonable Limits

Sometimes it is not enough to empathize with an overwhelmed toddler. Sometimes, we need to additionally practice some assertive parenting skills and set a limit. This is a boundary that helps toddlers know what to expect as well as what is and is not acceptable behavior. And when toddlers know what to expect and know what we will and will not allow, this may lessen anxieties that are contributing to problem behaviors after new baby.

For example, when my 3 year old started having some regressions around bedtime after new baby, he started kicking his door and then me one night. In this kind of situation I’d say, “You are feeling really frustrated because I am asking you to go to bed. You don’t want to go to bed because you are having so much fun playing together. I can’t let you kick me though, because it’s not okay to hurt people”.

And then I step back or put a pillow in front of me. And if he keeps trying to kick me or looks like he might bust his toe by kicking the door, I give him a big bear hug to help him calm down. Bear hugs help activate the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, which is the system that kicks in when we are in a rest and relaxation mode. 

I have only had to physically step in like this twice after new baby came home and things were escalating too much for my liking. For the most part, empathizing, setting a limit verbally and lovingly letting my toddler know that I am there for him is enough to get things back on track. And then we talk about what happened once things are calm. 

As parents, we decide what limits to set for our children. Sometimes though, it is hard to know what exactly an appropriate limit is. Sometimes I find myself setting limits when one isn’t really needed, or setting limits that do not really make sense. Or sometimes I am too lax about setting a limit and things get a little out of control.

So whenever I realize that I need to set a limit, I ask myself the following questions;

  • Is this limit meant to keep my toddler and others around him safe?
  • Will this limit help my toddler feel less overwhelmed?
  • Will this limit teach my toddler something important?

If I answer yes to one or all of these questions then I know I have set a reasonable and meaningful limit. Setting a reasonable limit also allows parents to explain in simple terms to their toddler why they set the limit. And toddlers are surprisingly reasonable themselves when they understand why a limit has been set.

And when you combine empathizing with setting a limit, it helps your toddler feel seen and heard, as well as helps them know that you are watching out for them.

5. Maintain a Positive Connection with Your Toddler

In her book on encouraging positive sibling relationships, Dr. Laura Marham discusses how young children want to listen and cooperate when they have a positive connection with their parents.

So often we think that we need to focus on strict discipline or complicated parenting strategies to get our kids to listen, but in reality, maybe we just need to play with them more!

Here is what I do with my toddler to build up our positive connection;

  • Schedule time for one-on-one activities or special outings. Baby stays home with my husband and my toddler gets my undivided attention. Outings do not have to be extravagant or excessive. It can be a simple trip to the donut shop, a walk to the park or making a batch of cookies together.
  • Use encouraging words and comment on positive behaviors
  • Play and play and play more together

Doing Our Best to Help Our Toddlers Adjust to New Baby

It’s so easy to talk about unconditional support and maintaining calm as a parent, but I know it can be incredibly difficult in reality. And I don’t think we ever become a “perfect” parent, but we can always be a better one than we were the day before.

And sometimes no matter how calm, empathizing and loving we are, our toddlers are still going to have the occasional meltdown. We might too. And that’s normal.

What I want though, is to minimize the number and intensity of the meltdowns and problem behaviors. I want my toddler and his little sister to have a great relationship growing up together, and I know that I can influence this relationship by practicing patience and consistency, and giving them all my love and support. 

Do you have any stories to share about the challenges of life with two little ones? Say hi and share in the comments below! 

More on parenting young children:
Assertive Parenting to Help Mom Keep Her Calm
Intergenerational Family Patterns and How We Parent
Raising Little Boys and Thoughts on Andrew Yang’s ‘Why Boys and Men are Failing’
Raising Global Citizens for a Better Tomorrow

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