St. Louis mom’s alternative to timeouts turns into multimillion-dollar business

Suzanne Tucker of Richmond Heights has gone global with a product close to her heart. It’s called the Time-In ToolKit. 

The Ultimate Guide To Building A Calming Corner And Using Time-Ins At Home

Calming Corner

Your four-year-old son drops to the floor in a puddle, arms and legs flailing. He wants the choo-choo train his baby sister is holding, despite the basket of toy trains that sits on the floor right next to him.

All too fast, your son’s flailing arms kick a pillow off the couch and womp, the pillow lands smack dab onto baby sister’s head and you watch on helplessly from about five feet away as your five-month-old baby girl topples to her side onto pillows you’d placed there as she worked on mastering a newfound ability to sit. 


Your daughter is now on the ground and crying with big brother holding the prized train up over her head, just out of reach.

Yelling feels ineffective. Everyone is crying and your anger has reached a boiling point.

So what do you do?

In the past, you’ve tried putting your son into a time-out on the steps – but he ignores your directives and immediately gets up off the step, placing the two of you into a locked-horns power struggle. Overpowering his small, raging body by forcing him back onto the step and leaving him in isolation seems cruel and ineffective; after all, your goal is not to control your son, it’s to teach your son how to control himself.

If any of this rings true for you, then setting up a calming space in your home might be the game-changing solution you’ve been looking for.

Taking A Time-In

Time-ins help children learn how to manage their feelings in a safe space, practicing social and emotional skills when they are calming so they can effectively use them when they are not. Time-ins reinforce attachment and connection, reinforcing skills children will have and use for a lifetime including self-awareness, empathy, conflict resolution, and problem-solving.

Generation Mindful’s Time-In ToolKit gives families everything they need to ditch time-outs in one place — posters, cards, stickers, social-emotional learning activities, videos, step-by-step instructions, curriculum, and a free online community to hold your hand through it all.

Dr. Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and executive director of the Mindsight Institute, says, “Having kids reflect on and talk about their emotions, what we are calling a time-in, has been demonstrated in a wide range of studies to support the important development of emotional understanding. We encourage parents to comfort and soothe and connect with their children during times of distress, and to reflect afterward on their inner experience with reflective dialogue, rather than punitively isolating them in a moment of anger and without any opportunity for reflection and connection.” 

Moving Away From Time-Outs

When children feel powerful, safe, and connected, they can learn and grow much more easily than when they are feeling fear or shame — even from their mistakes. If you have used time-outs in the past, start your journey by saying GOODBYE to time-outs with your children in a memorable, concrete, and playful way.

Marking your transition encourages children to trust in your shift away from punishment and to take ownership of time-ins, increasing their intrinsic motivation to embrace the new approach. The more silly and memorable the goodbye ritual is, the better! 

Creating Ways To Say Good-Bye

  • Write “time-outs” on a piece of toilet paper and flush it down the toilet.
  • Remove the time-out chair from your space (if you had one) and put it out on your front curb to be donated as you march, sing, and/or dance to an upbeat song.
  • Have your children draw a picture of how they felt when they were put in time-outs. Have them draw a picture of how they imagine they’ll feel taking a time-in with you instead. Ask them to draw a big heart around the one they like more. 
  • Engage your child by ask them directly, “How would you like to say goodbye to time-outs?”

There are a number of differences between time-outs and the time-ins Generation Mindful’s Time-In ToolKit will guide you in creating: 



You are in trouble for your thoughts, emotions, words, actions

You are having trouble with your thoughts, emotions, words, actions

You are being punished for being bad

You are having a learning moment where you can practice new skills

Children focus on how unfair it is that they are in a time-out more than their behavior

Children reflect on what happened, and how they are feeling.

Fuels a child’s anger and may lead to sneaking and lying

Builds a child’s brain and leads to learning

Children feel angry or hurt by the person who puts them in a time-out

Children feel closer to themselves and others after a time-in


Talk with your children about the many differences that exist between time-outs and time-ins in an age-appropriate way they can understand. You might begin this conversation by saying something like, “Instead of getting punished or having to sit on the step when we are having trouble controlling our bodies, we can go to our Calming Corner for a time-in and practice calming down together. And if we notice we are mad or sad or scared, we can take a time-in then, too.”

If your children are able to absorb more information, add, “That way, if we say or do something we wish we would not have said or done, we can learn from it, correct it, and do things differently next time.” 

Making It Safe To Fail 

A time-in is not a dressed-up version of a time-out, and you will want to be clear about this before you transition into using time-ins. Teach your children that everybody makes mistakes. It’s important to introduce this concept before setting up the Calming Corner so that they don’t mentally and emotionally write off time-ins as another form of punishment in the face of misbehavior. 

To open this conversation with your children ages three and up, it can be helpful to open with a question like, “Do you think it’s okay to make mistakes?”

Listen to your child’s response and see if you can better understand your child’s thoughts and feelings when it comes to making mistakes. Write down the things you hear without judgment. Repeat your child’s responses back to them, minus any commentary, so that they feel heard. 

Here are a few ideas to make mistakes (aka learning moments) safe in your home: 

  • Share the idea that even though a learning moment might sometimes feel bad, a learning moment does not mean that we are bad. 
  • Talk about mistakes you have made in your life, and lessons you have learned. If age-appropriate, invite your child to do the same, or for younger kids, offer help with the process. 
  • If you actively see your child make a mistake, get underneath your own triggers to respond to what is happening, rather than react. When children feel safe to make mistakes, they are more likely to learn from them. 
  • Model grace to yourself when you make a mistake. Our kids are always watching, and the way we speak to ourselves will become the foundation for their own self-talk. 

For many children, making mistakes does not feel safe, but feelings can evolve over time. Affirm your child’s sense of self and emphasize the fact that what they do is not who they are, and the idea that who they are is love

How do I Create a Calming Corner?

  • Choose your space together. Even a small space can work well!
  • Hang your posters using double-sided tape or frames and velcro to secure them to the wall. Using play-based social-emotional learning activities when your child is calm, like SnuggleBuddies, and PeaceMakers (both included in the Ready-To-Hang Time-In ToolKit Bundle) will help them embrace and use these new skills when they are not.
  • Chat with your child about the items they would like to include in your new calming space. See the Digital Manual that comes free with every Time-In ToolKit, including a printable list of items to help children regulate that you can typically gather from around your house to create a calming time-in basket.

Take all of your child’s senses into consideration when designing your space. Have your children help and have fun creating the space together. 

How Do I Use The Calming Corner?

Using the Calming Corner you are guided in creating with the Time-In ToolKit will help your children ages 3+ strengthen their ability to notice feeling sensations in their bodies. From there, you will be guided in how to teach your children to name these emotions, and finally, in how to regulate (just a fancy word for “manage”) them. All of this happens best with a heavy dose of connection and play. 

Here are five tips to help you successfully introduce and use the Calming Corner you’ve created with your children:

1. Transform triggers. 

The process of using a Calming Corner in your home starts and ends with you. Be aware of your own thoughts, feelings, and emotions, and notice any triggers that may be knocking you off your center. Our online course is a game-changer if you could use support in getting to the source of your triggers, as is this free introductory video on taming triggers.

2. Introduce the tools during non/heated moments. 

For two weeks prior to using your calming space during heated moments, spend 5 to 10 minutes a day playing games from your Time-In ToolKit’s Digital Manual or Curriculum Guide Book in the space. Reading books, snuggle up, and make time to practice and learn about the different emotions presented in the 32 Feelings Faces poster included in the kit. As your child begins to feel both safe and motivated to visit the space on their own or with you during non-heated moments, they will feel more confident and engaged in using the space when they are dysregulated. 

Some activities include: 

  • Roleplay with favorite dolls, figurines, or stuffed animals
  • Read children’s books with your child that teach kids about emotions
  • Place a mirror by your Calming Strategies poster and invite your child to make different faces in the mirror. Practice matching them with the faces on the 32 Feeling Faces poster that comes in your kit (mad, sad, tired, surprised, silly, etc)
  • Create art to express the many different emotions we all feel. Ask your child, “Can you show me what feeling “happy” looks like in your body? (Mad? Calm? Etc…)
  • Play Feelings Bingo

3. Create daily playful rituals. 

Here are a few ideas for playful rituals you can share on a daily basis in your Calming Corner using your Time-In ToolKit, and bonus, each takes just about 5 minutes or less:

  • Pull a card from the PeaceMakers Mindfulness Card deck with your children each morning. Take a few minutes to talk about the card, and use it to set your family’s “intention of the day”. Throughout the day, talk about the card you pulled and what it means to you. Here are more ways to play with the PeaceMakers Cards.
  • Use the SnuggleBuddies every evening at bedtime. Sit in the Calming Corner with your child, or snuggle up together in bed or on the couch and talk about the emotions that came up for both you and your child that day. Hold the colored SnuggleBuddies mood emoji that goes with the feeling you are sharing about in your hand (happy = yellow, sad = blue, calm = green, and mad/scared = red). Here are some other fun ways to play with the SnuggleBuddies to grow your child’s emotional intelligence.

    4. Use the tools yourself. 

    The next time you are feeling a tad bit dysregulated (aka annoyed, frustrated, angry, sad), show your children that the Calming Corner is helpful space in your home for you to use as well. Go to your calming space and point to the emotion on the 32 Feeling Faces poster that best represents how you are feeling and then do one or two calming strategies to help you shift. Use the “What Can I Do?” Activity Mat to guide your time-in, just as you might with your child. Children learn by watching the things we do much more than they do by listening to the things we say. Reinforce the skills and behaviors that you are wanting to see from your children by using them yourself.

    5. Be in the moment with your kids. 

    In the midst of a tantrum, invite your child to join you in your Calming Corner, not to talk so much as to help them feel supported as they practice calming their body. Hugs, rocking, breathing, squeezing a ball, taking a drink of water; all of the many strategies featured in the Time-In ToolKit can help, and once they are calm, you can help them become aware of the things they were thinking and/or feeling when they became overwhelmed or upset.

    If the time-in was sparked by a conflict with another person, ask your child what they imagine the other person might have been thinking and/or feeling. 

      Not only do Time-Ins build the connections or neurosynapses of the brain, but they also help to normalize all emotions, even the unpleasant feeling ones like anger, sadness, and jealousy. The point is not to stop our children from feeling mad, sad, etc. but to help them to notice, name, express, and ultimately, to manage these big and often overpowering feelings in healthy ways.

      Using the Time-In ToolKit to create a Calming Corner in your home can help you teach your children how to name and share their feelings free from the shame, pain, and forced isolation involved in using time-outs. This positive discipline approach for managing big feelings and teaching children important skills they will use for a lifetime is evidence-based and rooted in love. And while using positive discipline instead of punishment may not always feel easy, it will always feel empowering, for both you and your children.


      Generation Mindful creates innovative educational products that nurture emotional intelligence through play and positive discipline. Join us and receive more joy in your inbox each week.

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      How To Change Your Own Contempt

      You may not even be aware of how you are acting or speaking out of contempt—often it can feel like you are being genuine. Dr. John Gottman realized there needs to be a path that leads to a culture of appreciation, and that is by expressing your feelings and longings.

      The post How To Change Your Own Contempt appeared first on The Gottman Institute.

      Three Ways To Love A Bully

      Under the surface of a bully

      Bullying affects everyone – those who are bullied, those who bully, and those who witness the bullying.

      Studies show that raising kind kids is a top priority for parents, and researchers tell us that kindness stretches beyond being nice alone to include empathy.

      What would happen if we taught our children to empathize with others, even those who didn’t always lead with kindness, all the while teaching them skills to maintain healthy boundaries at the same time?

      What if we taught people to care not only for those who are being bullied but also for the person doing the bullying as well?

      What We Know About Bullying

      According to a study by the Cyberbullying Research Center conducted in 2019, over half of students (52.3%) experience some kind of bullying in school. This is a 35% increase from the numbers they polled in 2016.

      • 79% reported verbal harassment such as being called names, insulted, or teased.
      • 50% experienced social harassment and were the subject of rumors or left out on purpose.
      • 29% reported physical bullying such as being pushed, shoved, tripped, or spit on.
      • 25% experienced cyberbullying. 

      It is easy to call perpetrators “bullies” and those who are targeted “victims,” yet professionals urge parents and educators to drop the labels.

      When children are labeled as bullies or victims, it fails to recognize the multiple roles children might play in different bullying situations. In a recent national survey of students in grades 6-10, 13% reported bullying others, 11% reported being the target of bullies, and another 6% said that they bullied others and were bullied themselves. 

      Psychologists say that instead of labeling the children involved, parents and educators can focus their attention on their behaviors. When we start to focus on the behavior, we move away from the notion that a child’s behavior is fixed, and that their behavior defines who they are.

      Digging Deeper

      Newer research aligned with the positive parenting paradigm says that all behavior is communication, and sometimes that communication is a cry for help. When we see bullying as such, we begin to break the cycle where trauma begets more trauma, and create room for love and kindness to those who likely need it most. 

      Looking through the lens of empathy, we ask, what could be underneath the behavior of someone who bullies? Here is what professionals in the area tell us: 

      • Children who bully are often recipients of hate or abuse themselves and can feel powerless or unsafe. As a result, to feel a sense of control, they may try to assert power over someone else.
      • Children who did not create secure bonds as babies and toddlers, who were not taught about their emotions, and who had little guidance/involvement from parents are at greater risk for engaging in bullying behavior. 
      • An extremely permissive or excessively harsh parenting approach to discipline has been linked to an increased risk of teenage bullying.
      • Sometimes bullying is an outlet for extreme stress or change in the child’s life. 
      • There is a tendency for some teens who have been victims of bullying to look for ways to retaliate or to seek revenge. These kids often feel justified in their actions because they too have been harassed and tormented. When they bully others, they may feel a sense of relief and vindication for what they experienced. Sometimes these kids target someone weaker or more vulnerable than them and other times, they will target the person who bullied them directly.

      Overall, professionals stress the importance of teaching children about their emotions from a young age and teaching the skills of empathy. According to Gwen Dewar, Ph.D., empathy includes three phases: 

      • Emotional sharing: feeling distressed when seeing another in distress
      • Empathetic concern: motivation to care for others who are in distress 
      • Perspective-taking: consciously putting oneself in the mind of another to better understand their feelings, thinking, and actions

      Instead of bullying the person who bullies, what if we loved them, heard them, and truly saw them? Maybe then we could teach them a new way. 

      Brooks Gibbs, national spokesman for the foundation “Be The Difference. Speak Up Against Bullying!” and author of the anti-bullying book Love Is Greater Than Hate says, “The ones who hurt us need our love the most. In fact, I believe that this is the ultimate pathway to healing – to turn the hate that you feel towards someone into genuine love and care for them. This goes against our most basic instincts, but when you love those who hurt you, like someone who bullies, everything changes.”

      Leading With Love

      Love is more powerful than hate and is very likely the answer to ending the bullying epidemic. Here are some ways to show love toward someone who has bullied, and to reverse the destructive cycle of abuse:

      • Shift Your Perspective
      Typically, when someone does us wrong, we hurt, and a normal thought pattern is to think negatively about them, dwell on it, or magnify it. However, when we become curious as to why someone may bully, we can create a small space between what they are doing and who they are. Hold this person in your heart, cancel the negative thought you may have, and replace it with one positive thought about them. It isn’t always easy yet where your thoughts go, your feelings will follow. As Gibbs says, “Love will open your eyes. You will gain the ability to see past their masks of hate and see a heart full of hurt.”
      • Look To Your Actions
      Love isn’t just thinking about bullies differently, love also requires a change in actions. Consider doing a small, kind gesture for the person who bullied you. Write them a note, offer a smile, or give them a sincere compliment. Mother Nature programmed us to treat other people the way they treat us. By extending the olive branch of kindness, it may just spread and grow. 
      • Forgive And Set Boundaries
      Forgiveness is a skill, and it isn’t always easy. Gibbs says that unforgiveness re-victimizes us upon every remembrance, yet when we learn to forgive, we begin to heal.
      “Forgiving someone sets us free from letting them hurt us over and over again.”
      As you lead with love for someone who has bullied, also lead with love for yourself by setting boundaries. Make agreements with yourself based on what you want, and state what you will do. Be firm and clear in your physical and emotional limits.
      By setting goals for your thoughts, words, and actions, you begin to feel more powerful, safe, and connected, and can better spread kindness to others. 

      Change begins with love – love for yourself, and love for another. When we learn to hold kindness and empathy for those who have bullied while remaining firm in our boundaries, hate is stifled, and healing begins. We cannot control the actions of another, yet we can choose our own thoughts, words, and actions. And what we choose ripples in ways far bigger than we could ever imagine. Love is always the answer. 

      Words that can help you connect with someone who is showing bullying behaviors. 

      SAY THIS


      You seem like you’re hurting. 

      Stop! Why would you hurt him like that?

      You are love and you are loved. It is ok to be sad, angry,confused,etc..It is not ok to hurt others with our words or actions.

      You are such a bully.

      You are safe. I am here for you. 

      Go away, no one wants to be around someone acting like this. 

      You are not defined by your behaviors. I believe in you.

      You are not nice … kind … good. 

      Can you help me understand what’s going on?

      What is wrong with you? 


      Helpful phrases for setting boundaries with someone who is showing bullying behaviors.

      • I am going to choose to walk away.
      • What you’re doing feels hurtful. I understand you are hurting, too.
      • When your voice is calm, I’ll share my thoughts and feelings.


      Generation Mindful creates educational tools, toys, and programs that nurture emotional intelligence through play and positive discipline. Join us and receive joy in your inbox each week.

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      What Teachers Are Thinking and Feeling About Returning To School This Year

      Summer is coming to an end, so we took to our community and asked educators to share both their hopes and concerns about returning for the 2020/2021 school year. This is what they had to say.

      Emotions Are High 

      Most teachers admit that they feel a mix of emotions about returning to school:

      “I’m excited and nervous at the same time.”
      “The children have missed each other so much and it will be good for them (and me!) to get back to a more normal routine.”
      “The virus hasn’t gone away and I’m nervous about a second wave shutting everything down again.”

      Loving What They Do

      While there are many uncertainties, educators are expressing their excitement as well: 

      “I am looking forward to returning to the job and the children that I love.”  
      “I’m looking forward to seeing my students, even if it is just for two days a week. It was really hard this spring when I couldn’t see students face-to-face.”
      “I’m excited to see what educators throughout our country will do to navigate this unique time, letting everyone know how creative and important educators are.”

      CDC Guidelines

      When it comes to the CDC’s recommended guidelines, most teachers seem to agree that they are appropriate:

      “As a science teacher and advocate for science, I respect the recommendations of the CDC. I just want to keep everyone healthy so we can all enjoy the school year.”
      “I think the greatest emphasis should be on proper hygiene and nutrition, safe spacing, and possibly masking until things are truly dying down. I would use fewer chemicals.”
      “From what I’ve seen of the CDC guidelines, I’m fine with them. The point is to help keep people safe, and safety is multifaceted.”

      Funding For Educators 

      Another point educators seem to agree on is that there needs to be more funding for education:

      “In a dream world, teachers would be more fairly compensated for their time.” 
      “We are putting ourselves and families at greater risk for the greater good. People are realizing just how important teachers are, and it would be nice for our salaries to reflect that.” 
      “There is not enough funding for teacher’s pay, physical safety, or for necessary resources like new devices, internet access at home, and more.”

      Teaching And Parenting

      Many educators say that this school year isn’t just about adjusting professionally, but about adjusting at home as well:

      “We will have to navigate educating our five-year-old and getting care for our two-year-old. It is a big stressor trying to determine care for both and still maintain being an educator at a high level.” 
      “Personally, I have a hard time separating work and parenting when they’re both taking place in my house.” 
      “The bigger challenge for us will be that we will have to start distancing from the grandparents again because our exposure will increase exponentially and we cannot risk exposing them.” 

      Students will not be the only ones learning this year; this is going to be a team effort. The truth is, we are all stretching to adapt, accept, and grow the best we can. And while there are many thoughts and opinions about how children will resume their learning this fall, one thing is for sure: we are all in this together.


      Click here for a free back to school printable booklet to help children feel safe and to share their feelings about returning to school this year whether they are homeschooling, learning from home, and/or heading back to the classroom.

      Generation Mindful creates educational tools, toys, and programs that nurture emotional intelligence through play and positive discipline. Join us and receive joy in your inbox each week.

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      Am I The Only Mom Who Does This?

      I can’t be the only one who asks, “Am I the only one?”

      Am I the only one who raised her voice today. I did more times than I would have liked, and then I sat on the floor and cried. 

      Am I the only one who, despite the busy days, feels lonely? Distant from my partner, separated from my friends, disconnected from my reflection. 

      Am I the only mom desperate for a break yet terrified to leave her kids? 

      The only one who longs to return to work, 

      Or who dreams of staying at home?

      Am I the only mom who struggles to find balance between the list of “to-dos” and being with my children? Why is it so hard for me to hush my mind and play?

      Am I the only one who doesn’t have it all together? Sometimes it looks like everyone else does and I wonder, how are they doing it? 

      Could I be the only one who questions if she is doing enough, doing it right, or just flat out ruining them? I ask myself daily, and the chatter is deafening.

      I can’t be the only one who asks, am I the only one?

      Am I?

      We feel so similar yet hide it so well. 

      Do you see me, dear mama? 

      I see you. 


      We are not broken. 

      We are enough. 

      We are doing it right. 

      We are not alone. 

      And while I am not the only one, I am the only one. 

      The only one who knows how to kiss their boo-boos, snuggle them in close, and bring about a belly laugh. The only one who knows the thoughts behind their eyes, their smile, their sounds. I am their safe place to come together and fall apart. I am their mom. 

      I don’t have it all figured out. 

      And I don’t get it perfect, but I am perfect for them. 

      No, I’m not the only one, but I am the only one.


      Generation Mindful creates educational tools, toys, and programs that nurture emotional intelligence through play and positive discipline. Join us and receive joy in your inbox each week.

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      When Play Feels Like A Chore

      The language of childhood is play.

      Through play, children learn about who they are and the world around them. Play is how children learn social-emotional skills like problem-solving, impulse control, empathy, and relationship management. On top of all of these attributes, play is just plain fun.

      And while playtime certainly helps to meet children’s physical and emotional needs, making time for play on a regular basis can feel hard for parents.  

      Barriers To Play

      Your child asks you to pretend to be a unicorn, to act like superheroes, or to be a choo-choo train that runs around the dining room table, and you find yourself thinking Nope. Not for meCan’t do itBored to tears.

      According to research, while parents agree that play is essential, it is not always a top priority, and some adults find it downright difficult. 

      The State of Play, Back to Basics report interviewed 2,000 parents and 2,000 children aged 5 to 15 about their play habits and concluded that play is in danger of becoming a “lost art,” with 21% of parents struggling to engage their children in creative and imaginative activities that will help their development.

      We wanted to know more about which facets of play parents find most challenging, so we asked hundreds of parents in our online community. Following are the top five barriers to play that the parents shared: 

      1. Parents feel busy.

      Making dinner, cleaning the house, running errands, work responsibilities, family obligations, not to mention friends and “me-time”… the list goes on. Parents told us that it is hard to silence the to-do lists long enough to be present and play with their kids. 

      One mom shared, “I’m always left with more to plan, more to clean, just more in general. It’s a balance between wanting to have a relationship with my kids in a way that feels good to them, and wanting to get everything done, which feels good to me. When my list of to-dos is long, it’s hard for me to have fun.” 

      2. Parents feel bored.

      The way children want to play is often not the way that parents want to play. For one thing, children love to do the same thing over and over again. This is how their brains are wired to learn. Pretend-play gives children a chance to try on adult roles like preparing food, driving, doing yard work, or taking care of babies. As adults, we already have these skills, so pretend-play can seem boring.

      One father of a two-year-old shared, “I want to. I try. I just can’t. I like structure, and pretend play doesn’t have that. Not going to lie, it’s boring. When my daughter asks me to play Barbies, I cringe a little.”

      3. Parents struggle to value play.

      The parents in our community told us that many of them were not encouraged to see play as valuable in their own childhood years — that they were either not provided with play opportunities, or that their parents simply viewed playing as a low priority. And because the adults in their lives did not see play as “time well spent” when they were children, they find it challenging to value play as an adult. In fact, some shared that they view play as frivolous and unproductive. 

      “Honestly, I hate to play. I’m so task-oriented. I think it comes from my childhood where play was not valued. Performance was how I achieved validation – things like keeping my room clean, staying out of trouble and getting good grades. When I do stop to play, it feels like a waste of time,” shares one mama.  

      4. Parents find play leads to sibling rivalry.

      Can play lead to competition for attention? That was a complaint we heard from nearly a third of the parents we interviewed who said that playing with their kids was stressful because it led to family squabbles.

      In one parent’s words, “When I play with my kids, it never fails — my two and four-year-old start battling for my attention until it spirals downward into fighting. I’m thinking why do I bother because everyone, including myself, just ends up feeling frustrated.”

      5. Parents struggle to play with children of different ages.

      When parents have children of different developmental or chronicle ages, it can mystify parents on how to play in ways that bridge the gap. 

      One mom of two shared, “My daughter is five and has been diagnosed with autism and my two-year-old son is “neurotypical.” My daughter doesn’t interact with my son at all yet, and I can’t seem to figure out how to connect with both of them at the same time. Playing just seems hard.” 

      Setting Goals

      While there are many roadblocks when it comes to making time to play with their children, nearly every parent we spoke to shared their interest in doing this very thing. These parents were motivated to find solutions. Here are just a few of their comments:

      • “I would like to be present with my kids, even if it is just five minutes with a clear mind.”
      • “I want to enjoy playing with my children for what it is. Maybe I can even learn a little from my children on how to slow down.”
      • “I want to find ways to play that are engaging for my kids and interesting for me. And bonus if it teaches them skills like patience and taking turns.”

      Getting Back To Basics

      Parents, we hear both your struggles and your desire to slow life down and to connect with your children. Here are a few tips to make playtime easier and more enjoyable:

      • Understand why kids want to play. When children ask us to play, it’s a request for connection. They want to involve us in their worlds and fill their need for “mama” or “papa” time. According to Judy Ellis, Chair, FIT Toy Design Department, “play is not only the way kids connect with us, but it’s also the way they learn … and it’s a great way for parents to learn about their children, too.” 
      • Speak the same play language. Play is, by definition, something you want to do, and the key to having fun while playing with your children is to find a mutually enjoyable activity. Here are a few ideas: 
        • Read books
        • Go swimming
        • Paint or create art
        • Build something together
        • Go on a nature walk or bike ride
        • Play board games, card games or outside games 
        • Snuggle
        • Turn on some music and dance
        • Run around the living room or have a pillow fight
      • Invite children into your world. When your “to-do” list feels never-ending, invite your children to join you in getting things crossed off your list in playful ways. Think sock sorting races, or recruiting your child as your sous chef in the kitchen as you prep for dinner. Involving your child can check two boxes at once, turning a mundane task into a moment of connection. 
      • Get comfortable with boundaries. If your child wants to play and you either can’t or do not want to in that moment, place your focus on what you can or will do. You might reply with, “I’m all done playing superheroes right now, but I would love to play LEGOs. Do you want to build something together?”, or “Would you like to color together once I get these groceries put away?”
      • Say no with a yes. You are in the middle of cooking breakfast or working, or maybe, you just simply aren’t in the mood. It is okay if now isn’t a good time for you to play. Instead of completely declining your child’s request, find ways to say no with a yes. For example, you might say:  “Yes, I would love to play with you. Go ahead and play what you are playing right now, and then at 2 PM (or “when this timer goes off”, or “when the baby takes a nap”, or even “tomorrow”, etc…), I will join you.” 
      • Schedule it. If you like structure, order, and routine, designating playtime with your children can be helpful. You can schedule it quietly, putting 10-15 minutes of “playtime” on your daily calendar as a reminder for yourself alone, or share it with your child, making it a daily or weekly playful ritual they can look forward to. 
      • Get out of the house. If your to-do list seems hard to escape, it can be helpful to get out of the house. Parents told us that they had an easier time focusing on their children when they were away from other things that pull for their attention. 

      There are many reasons parents can feel like playtime is no fun at all, so if you are a parent who feels this way, take comfort in knowing that you are not alone. Let go of any guilt, and honor your feelings.

      Name it to tame it, staying curious about your feelings instead of judging them. Your feelings are not “right” or “wrong”, but they are helpful, especially when we are able to put thoughts and words to them.

      Playing with our children can come in many forms, so if pretending to be a cat does not sound like fun to you — it’s okay. Celebrate this awareness and go rock the things you do enjoy doing with your child, because even more than playing makebelieve, your children love you for being you.


      Generation Mindful creates educational tools, toys, and programs that nurture emotional intelligence through play and positive discipline. Join us and receive joy in your inbox each week.

      Time-in Toolkit in action

      GENM's positive parenting course


      Social worker and mom uses yoga and positive affirmations to heal herself and her family

      Ellen, founder of head and heart

      “Compassion is the path to changing the world,” says Ellen Slater, a mama of two and founder of Head and Heart, an organization that marries her passions of social work and yoga.

      Ellen uses tools like positive mantra cards and social-emotional games that teach kids about emotions in her work with families to encourage healing from stress and trauma. “​We are all woven together. When we find wholeness in ourselves, it affects our families and our communities. I believe that self-compassion leads to human compassion.”   

      Boy playing PeaceMakers cards

      Ellen’s path to working with children and families at risk of higher levels of trauma and stress started at an early age.

      “My first memory was in elementary school. I grew up in St. Louis and could walk to school, yet it wasn’t always easy getting me out of the house to go. One day I noticed that some of my classmates were bussed from the city, and had been on the bus for hours to get to our school. I remember thinking about the motivation and courage it took for these young kids, no different than me, to bus to a strange neighborhood, more often than not as a minority. I couldn’t make sense of what I was noticing at the time, nor could I for a while, but I can see now that even as a young child, I was headed towards working in the field of social work.” 

      Boys with Time-In-ToolKit

      As a social worker, Ellen focused on trauma, anxiety, and the impact of stress on the brain and body. This is when Ellen turned to yoga. “Yoga brought peace to my life and helped me shed the weight of striving to be perfect. Intellectually, I understood that this way of thinking was not helpful – but this insight only took me so far! We can realize that our thoughts and beliefs are unhelpful, but truly unearthing them is challenging.”

      Ellen’s personal healing journey coupled with her degree in social work and her experiences as a yoga instructor led her to found Head and Heart. “The purpose of Head and Heart is to spread compassion, inspiring people to treat each other and the earth with kindness. I’ve witnessed the profound impact mindfulness tools like yoga and meditation can have on children and adults alike, and I want to share them.”

      Head and Heart

      When Ellen saw Generation Mindful on Instagram, she instantly gravitated toward the tools. “These tools beautifully promote peace. We all have emotions, and all emotions are welcome. It’s how we learn from, manage, and respond to them that matters.”

      Ellen has made the PeaceMakers cards found in the Time-In ToolKit a daily ritual within her home. At breakfast, we each pick a mantra card as our intention for the day. We post them in the kitchen’s window sill and refer to them throughout the day as gentle reminders of our intention for that day. It’s a practice of self-compassion and it helps us remember how we want to show up in the world.”

      Ellen shares that the most important gift she can offer her kids is self-awareness and emotional literacy. “Emotional skills help children in every domain of life. It’s a process and kids are still going to be overwhelmed by emotions at times… but when my 4-year-old son turns to me when his 2-year-old brother is messing with his legos and says, ‘I’m feeling frustrated, Finn is touching my legos,’ my heart soars.”

      Ellen has incorporated PeaceMakers’ mantra cards into her yoga sessions, too. “In my kid’s classes, I use the cards as themes. We work with a single card, reading the mantra intention at the start and end of the class, using prompts and poses to help children embody the intention throughout the class as well.”

      Ellen shares that healing tools like PeaceMakers’ mantra cards are not for children alone. “Mindfulness was not mainstream when we were being raised, and so many adults do not have these skills developed yet either.”  

      Children playing PeaceMakers cards

      By using evidence-based ancient healing practices alongside her clinical experience, Ellen teaches that through the connection of the head and heart, we heal and transform, teaching these same skills to our children, too. 

      When asked for one tip she’d like to share with parents, Ellen shares, “Model emotional literacy for kids. Notice out loud what you are feeling, and then show them how you cope. Normalize emotions, because emotions are information, and mindfulness permits us to choose how to respond to that information.” _____________

      Generation Mindful creates educational tools, toys, and programs that nurture emotional intelligence through play and positive discipline. Join us and receive joy in your inbox each week.

      Time-in Toolkit in action

      GENM's positive parenting course


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