Overstuffed Overstuffed

Friday, October 21, 2016

How to Connect With Your Family at Dinnertime

The older and busier my kids get, the more difficult sitting down to family dinner has become. I have read all the research about the importance of having dinner together as a family, and I want to make sure that my children are reaping all of those wonderful benefits, but man, when one kid needs to be at piano lessons, another one has dance right afterward, and the third has a late rehearsal, eating dinner together can feel nearly impossible.

(Want to read all the research about the importance of family dinner? Check out this article, which has tons of links to the actual studies here: The Most Important Thing You Can Do With Your Kids? Eat Dinner With Them.)

We are now at the point where there are a couple days a week where family dinner just doesn't happen. The important thing is that we are doing our best to make it happen. Even if one child is missing, we still have our family dinner with the other two—we rarely have a night where we simply can't have dinner together at all, though it has been known to happen.

One of the main reasons why having family dinner is essential is because it is often the only time the family is together during the day and can really connect with each other. That connection is the very thing that contributes to all of the benefits kids get from family dinner: better grades, fewer behavioral problems, less stress, and a better relationship with parents.

Research has shown that sitting down to family dinner at least 5 times a week has amazing benefits. Make sure you're using dinner time to really connect with your family and reap the benefits of eating family dinner together.

The thing is, that connection doesn't just happen because you are all eating at the same table. It happens because parents make a concerted effort to connect with their children during family mealtimes. I have found that three things contribute the most to that connection at our house.

How to Connect With Your Kids During Family Dinner

Have a set time

If there is no expectation of eating together, it is much less likely to happen. I admit that this is something that we sometimes struggle with, but when we do set a dinner time that is non-negotiable, we are much more likely to actually sit down to eat at that time. Of course, having dinner at a set time does require some planning so that there is a meal ready to go at that time! Make sure your morning planning sessions—or even your evening preparations—include dinner plans.

No electronics

I cannot stress enough how important this is. If electronics of any type are allowed at the dinner table, connection simply will not happen. This includes phones, iPods, Kindles, and even the television. Dinner should be a time where the family can communicate with one another and if someone is glued to a screen it just doesn't work.

If you need a little extra help banning technology from your dinner table, try the Circle with Disney. It has worked wonders in our household!

Related: Circle with Disney: How It Works, How We Use It, and Why It's Worth It


Our family tradition is to go around the table each night and tell our highlight of the day. It is by no means the only communication that happens at the dinner table, but it serves to spark conversation. My kids really love it—especially my youngest daughter.

You don't have to do highlights if that doesn't work for your family. Instead you could try one of these conversation starters (best for young children) or do a different tradition such as sharing your biggest failure of the day, telling something kind you did for another person, or explaining something new you learned that day. The possibilities are endless!

I love having family dinner each night. It really is often the only time I have to be with my entire family and see them connect with each other, and that makes me happy as a mother.

Small Habit: Eat together as a family every day.
Big Difference: Family connections, better grades for kids, fewer behavioral problems, and less stress.

This post is part of my Small Habits That Will Make a Big Difference 30 day challenge. To see all of the posts in this series, click here. Or, join the challenge and receive a daily email with a new small habit that can affect your life in a big way.

Join the challenge! Small habits that will make a big difference

Thursday, October 20, 2016

4 Ways Busy Moms Can Find More Time to Read

I love to read so much, but as a busy mom I often can't fit it in. I feel like my days are spent doing chores, running kids around town, helping them with homework, and taking care of church and civic responsibilities. Where am I supposed to find time to read? We are told that reading is important to keep our minds healthy and to develop empathy, etc.

I've done the obvious things: joined book groups, have books ready to read, even let all the chores go so that I could just sit in bed and read all day. But I can't count the times I haven't read the book of the month for book club, simply because I couldn't make time to read and didn't feel it was okay to slack off on housework.

Busy moms have a difficult time getting reading in—try these 4 easy ways to find more time to read.

But I'm back to reading at least one book a month, because I've found time in my day that works for reading.

How Busy Moms Can Find More Time to Read

1. Listen to books

Listening to books while driving your kids around in the afternoons or doing chores is the best way to find extra time to read. I was very stubborn about doing audio books for a long time. To me that wasn't reading. But a few years ago, I went to the library and checked out the audio CDs for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and I listened to it while doing the dishes or folding laundry. I realized that listening to books is a perfectly wonderful way to read, and I've been doing it more and more ever since.

I often just check out CDs from the library, but Audible is a great way to get digital files so you can listen on your phone or iPod.

2. Read while waiting

I love having my Kindle in my purse because I find that I am waiting a lot during the day. Whether at a doctor's office or in the car while waiting to pick up my children, I spend at least an hour each day just waiting. I could use that time to play on my phone, or I could use it to read.

If you don't have a Kindle, you can also just put the free Kindle app onto your phone and read that way. It's not my favorite, but I have the app on my phone just in case I need it!

3. Turn off notifications

This is a big one for me. When I don't have notifications turned on in my phone, I am less likely to waste time on Facebook or other apps. I can't believe how much time I sometimes waste just reading stupid stuff on my phone, when I could have been enriching my mind reading. Turn off notifications and don't let them distract you from what's important—reading or otherwise!

4. Read before bed

Again, I could choose to play on my phone, or I could choose to read before I go to sleep. I try to keep a nice pile of books on the nightstand so that I encourage myself to get some reading done. Even if I only read for 15 minutes before going to sleep, I can usually read one book a month that way.

But if you add in all of the above, you can easily read one book a week. And for me, that is so worth it!

Small Habit: Read daily.
Big Difference: Expand your mind, increase empathy, stave off Alzheimer's.

This post is part of my Small Habits That Will Make a Big Difference 30 day challenge. To see all of the posts in this series, click here. Or, join the challenge and receive a daily email with a new small habit that can affect your life in a big way.

Join the challenge! Small habits that will make a big difference

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

7 Things You Should Prepare the Night Before

You know the mornings. The ones where you're running around the house trying to simultaneously shove breakfast into your kids' mouths, find someone's lost shoe, and sign off on homework—all while the bus is just rounding the corner. It's exhausting! And then, once your ragged (and perhaps shoeless) little angels manage to barely make it on the bus, you still have to run around the house getting yourself ready for work and you can't find your phone and you still have a major case of bedhead.

Sound familiar?

I've written about my secret to calmer mornings before. But I thought I would include it in this Small Habits, Big Difference series because it's a habit that actually has immediate consequences. If you prepare things the night before, your morning is more likely to go smoothly. You might still have a few hiccups here and there, but I guarantee that if you don't prepare the night before, your morning will basically stink.

Try preparing these 7 things in order to be more prepared for the next day.

My last post about this mainly focused on the kids' night before preparation, but your night before preparation is just as important! The following list has a little of kids and parents, and if you do all of it before bed, it really should only take a half hour or so at most. The important thing to remember is that it is a calm half hour, instead of a stressful half hour that results in a missed bus and a yelling mom.

7 Things You Should Prepare the Night Before

1. Backpacks

Homework should be finished, put into the folder, and put into the backpack. Anything that needs to be signed by a parent—permission slips, homework planners, etc.— should also be signed and put into the backpack.

Make sure you remember any out of the ordinary items such as library books, field trip money, science projects, etc.

If your child goes to extra-curricular activities right after school, pack necessary items as well. Last year my friend picked up Chloe straight from school to take her to piano lessons, so every Wednesday we had to make sure that her piano bag was in her backpack the night before. Both my older girls run cross-country, so during the fall they needed to make sure they had running clothes and shoes packed, and if there was a meet that day they had to have their uniforms packed.

2. Lunches

My kids are required to make their own lunches the night before. Not only does this free up time the next morning, it means that they pack healthier lunches because they don't rush through the process. Every time they forget to pack it the night before, they end up grabbing a piece of fruit and a cheese stick and that's about it!

Related: Help Kids Pack Healthier Lunches {free printable}

3. Tomorrow's clothing

Have everyone in the entire house pick out their clothes for the next day—right down to the underwear. This includes you and your spouse! This way, any ironing can be done the night before (ironing? what's that?) and you won't have to run around looking for socks.

When I was working (I quit my job recently), I also set out my jewelry with everything else.

One thing that helped my youngest child with the whole picking out outfits thing was this hanging organizer. You can see how we used it here: Pick Out Clothes For the Entire Week

4. Purse/work/computer bag

Prepare whatever you need for work the next day if you are working. For me, that included whatever music I needed for the following day's students, my water bottle, and my computer bag.

Now that I am not working, I still make sure I have everything I need for the day in my purse.

5. Breakfast

Especially for the kids, setting out breakfast components is super helpful. Or, if you plan to make a hot breakfast, set out the ingredients that you need (unless they need to be refrigerated). It's nice to just have everything ready to go, and as silly as it seems, it saves a ton of time.

6. Dinner

Same as breakfast. This especially helps when you find that you are missing an ingredient—that way you can pick it up after work or while running errands.

7. Planner check 

For me, this is the most important thing I can do before bed. If I am using my planner correctly, everything I need to know about tomorrow will be written in it. I will be able to remind my children that they have dance or piano lessons after school, I will be able to prepare for any appointments I may have, and I will be able to have everything ready for the day—because I know what is supposed to happen.

Whenever I don't look at my planner the night before? That's the day I have something totally out of the ordinary and I either miss it or am completely unprepared.

It's amazing to me how far a little preparation can go. I'm not a fan of the whole running around like a crazy woman in the morning, so I will continue to do my preparation the night before.

Small Habit: Prepare for the next day the night before.
Big Difference: Calmer mornings, better preparation, more productivity.

This post is part of my Small Habits That Will Make a Big Difference 30 day challenge. To see all of the posts in this series, click here. Or, join the challenge and receive a daily email with a new small habit that can affect your life in a big way.

Join the challenge! Small habits that will make a big difference

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

5 Reasons Kids Should Do Household Chores

As a child, I didn't like Saturdays very much. Saturday was the day that my mom made us do chores—lots and lots of chores. I remember having to clean the toilets, mop the floors, wipe out the kitchen cabinets, and weed the yard while I watched my neighborhood friends ride their bikes around the block. I figured they had much nicer moms who didn't make them work, but maybe they were just a lot faster at getting their chores done than I was!

Now that I am an adult, I am thankful my mother taught me to work hard, and now my kids are the ones complaining about having to do their chores. Kids don't naturally love to do housework, so sometimes it isn't easy to get them to do their assigned work. Sometimes I even let it all slide or do it for them, so it's good for me to remember exactly why it's important that kids do chores. Following up on required chores needs to be a habit for me as the parent, just as doing them should become a habit for the kids.

Your kids should be doing chores around the house because it benefits them so much to do those chores. They will be happier and well-adjusted, among other things.

I did a little bit of research and added my findings to my own laboratory observations (i.e. 16 years of being a mother trying to teach her children to work). I came up with the following five reasons children should be required to do daily chores.

5 Reasons Kids Should Do Chores

1. Chores teach self-discipline

When a child is expected to do a chore before he can do what he wants to do, it instills self-discipline. He must make the choice to either do the work or not do it, but when the consequence of not doing it means he cannot go out to play or have electronics the choice becomes easier. As adults, we all have the same sorts of expectations, and even though I allow myself to play on my phone instead of doing my own chores, there are still consequences for not doing them. Having to make those choices early in life and learning to "just do it" helps self-discipline take root and will benefit kids in other areas of their lives as well—like school work.

2. Chores reduce entitlement

I tell my kids all the time that since they contribute to the mess they must contribute to the cleaning of the mess. When they complain about having to help with dishes, I remind them that they ate the food and it is part of their responsibility as members of the family to help clean up dinner.

Children should help around the house simply because they live there and are given many, many privileges as a member of the household. Doing a few chores is a pretty fair compromise, I think!

When kids want something, have them do extra chores instead of just buying it for them. This also helps reduce entitlement. My kids are now in the habit of negotiating work for their wants and I love it! My 16-year-old daughter really wanted a particular pair of shoes a few months ago. She knew that I sometimes have someone come in and deep clean the house and she asked me how much I paid for that service. After I told her, she offered to do the same work for the same price. It took her much longer than it does the girl I pay to come do it, but she did it. She worked very hard to get the shoes she wanted so badly, and I happily paid her for that work. I could have bought them for her, but I prefer to see my children work for the things they want—it will serve them well later in life. Also, I sure didn't mind getting a sparkling clean house out of the deal!

3. Chores help children grow up to be more successful

The Harvard Grant Study found, among other things, that doing chores as a child was the greatest contributor to success in life. The younger they began to do chores, the better. In today's parenting climate, it seems that chores often take a back seat to other endeavors such as sports or even school work. And while I agree that kids today have a high amount of stress and lots on their plates—my children included!—doing a few daily chores will not hurt them. It will only help them, and they will thank you later in life, just as I am thankful my mom made me work hard.

4. Chores help kids to be emotionally well-adjusted

Another longitudinal study has shown that children who began to do chores early in life had better relationships with family and friends, showed more empathy, and were more likely to be well-adjusted socially. These benefits did not show up in children who began to do chores in their teenage years. I found that interesting, though I also believe it's never too late to start teaching your children how to work!

5. Chores help kids to be more grateful

When kids have to do the hard work, they are more likely to notice the hard work of others and be thankful for it. I have certainly observed this phenomenon in my own children. They often thank me for working hard doing some household chore and they always notice when I have cleaned something that hasn't been cleaned for a while in the house (usually my office—I am not a good example of keeping house when it comes to that room!).

I think the sense of gratitude also comes from the simple act of working. You are more grateful for things when you have to work for them. You are more grateful for things when you are required to take care of them yourself. You get the point.

In my 16 years of being a mother, I have been on a constant quest for the perfect chore system. I have found it many times, but then it eventually begins to lose its luster and stops being effective for my kids. And so I try something new.

Lately, we have been using a chore app called Chore Pal from Country Financial. It's super easy to set up, you can have it on all devices in the house, and kids can easily see what chores they are assigned that day and quickly check them off when they are finished. Parents can assign monetary value or points (we use the points) as incentive to do the chores.

Use the ChorePal app to help kids check off daily chores and learn financial responsibility while they are doing it.

I figured since my kids are often on their devices, they would like having their "chore chart" right there, too. So far, so good.

You can get ChorePal for free on your phone or tablet. To learn more, click here: Country Financial ChorePal App.

Small Habit: Follow up on your kids' chores
Big Difference: Raise kids that are more successful, self-motivated, well-adjusted, and grateful.

This post is part of my Small Habits That Will Make a Big Difference 30 day challenge. To see all of the posts in this series, click here. Or, join the challenge and receive a daily email with a new small habit that can affect your life in a big way.

Join the challenge! Small habits that will make a big difference

Monday, October 17, 2016

Use the One-Touch Rule and Save Hours of Cleaning

Have you heard of the one-touch rule?

I just learned it while at an Education Week class a couple months ago, and it opened up my eyes to why things in my house can get so out of hand so fast. I'm not going to say I'm any sort of pro at keeping the one-touch rule yet, but I have definitely been more aware of it as I go about my day.

How the one-touch rule works:

Basically, you only touch an item once in order to put it in its place. Seems simple enough, right?

I thought so, too. But trying to live it has shown me that I tend to touch things three or four times before they finally get put away.

Save hours of cleaning by implementing the one-touch rule in your house. It gets rid of clutter problems and gives you more time to do the things you love instead of cleaning all the time.

For example, because we live in such an old home, our bedroom closet is tiny. My husband's clothes go in the closet in our bedroom, and mine are in the closet in the office. While I would sure love to have my clothes in the bedroom, too, the way the rods are built means that most of my long dresses don't fit in that closet.

I tend to get ready for bed in the bedroom, because my dresser that holds pajamas is there. It just seems like so much work for me to walk the ten feet to the office to hang up my clothes, so I usually put them on my dresser with the intent of hanging them up in the morning.

But then I don't hang them up in the morning. Instead, I leave them on the dresser until I have 2 or 3 days worth of clothing piled on my dresser. Then, I walk them into the office where I still don't put them away properly! Instead, I lay them nicely over my desk chair with the intention of hanging them up later—whenever that is.

I do eventually put them away, but not before at least one child has come into the office to use the computer and throws my nice clothes on the floor where the dog then walks all over them. Not only did I end up using three or four touches before my clothes are put away, I create even more work for myself when clean clothes end up in the laundry because I didn't hang them up right away.

I admit that this might be one of my worst habits. I justify it every night because I'm just so darn tired, but I'm creating so much extra cleaning for myself that it's just not worth it at all!

So now that I've shared an egregious example of not following the one-touch rule, I'll share some examples you might find more familiar:

1. You get out the stapler to staple some important documents and instead of putting it away immediately, you leave it on the table. Later, you need the table to eat, so you move the stapler to the counter. Once you are doing dishes, you finally put the stapler back where it belongs. 3 touches.

2. You come home from work and set your purse, keys, and jacket on the couch. Later, people need to sit on the couch, so you hang up your coat and move your purse to the floor. 2 touches. (Also, your purse probably needs a permanent home.)

3. When you are finished eating your lunch, you leave your plate and utensils on the table. Later, you move them to the kitchen sink where they sit for several hours until you finally load them into the dishwasher with the dinner dishes. 3 touches. (And another example of why you should do the dishes immediately!)

Touch it once.

For me, it's the clothes thing. And actually, I've inadvertently taught my oldest daughter to do the same—and she even has a closet right in her own room! Her clothes pile right up until it takes her an entire Saturday afternoon to get the all put away and her room cleaned up. Imagine what kind of time she could save if she simply touched her clothes once when she got ready for bed?

We're working on it. 

Small Habit: Use the one-touch rule
Big Difference: Cleaner house, more time, more self-discipline

This post is part of my Small Habits That Will Make a Big Difference 30 day challenge. To see all of the posts in this series, click here. Or, join the challenge and receive a daily email with a new small habit that can affect your life in a big way.

Join the challenge! Small habits that will make a big difference

Sunday, October 16, 2016

5 Ways to Make Your Prayers More Meaningful

The scriptures are chock full of verses admonishing us to pray to our Heavenly Father. The commandment to pray can sometimes be a tricky one because prayers can easily become redundant and repetitive. I know I catch myself saying the same thing over and over in my prayers on a regular basis—I have to be very mindful to make my prayers meaningful and truly talk to God.

I've noticed it's the same for my children as I listen to their prayers. It's human nature to fall into the habit of just saying a prayer and not really being aware of the words you are saying. On the other hand, The Maestro is a wonderful example of how to pray thoughtfully and I love to listen to his prayers because he truly communicates with our Father in Heaven.

The habit of praying daily is an important one, but it's easy to rush through it and say prayers that aren't thoughtful. Make your prayers more meaningful by trying one of these 5 ideas.

I've come up with a few things that I hope will begin to make my own prayers more meaningful and help me avoid the trap of mindless repetition.

5 Ways to Make Your Prayers More Meaningful

1. Keep a prayer journal

I belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), and this isn't something we're necessarily taught to do. I've seen the idea via other Christian denominations and I think it's a really good one.

The point is to have a small notebook in which you can jot down things you'd like to pray about, people you want to pray for, and things you'd like to thank God for. I think it's an excellent way to remember the things that you want to include in your prayers. I know that sometimes I tell someone I will pray for them for a specific reason, but then I forget. But if I had written it down in a prayer notebook, I could look at the things I know I want to pray about before I pray and I would be much less likely to forget.

A prayer journal is also a great place to record the answers you receive to your prayers. Overall, I think it's an excellent way to put more thought into the prayers you say and pay more attention to how they're answered.

2. Don't forget gratitude

Another prayer trap is only praying for the things you need or want, and forgetting to be grateful for the things you already have. Making it a point to thank God for all He has done for you is so important!

Be as specific as you possibly can in your gratitudes. My daughter Chloe is a pro at listing gratitudes in her prayers. She usually lists 5 or 6 seemingly random things that she is grateful for, and sometimes she gets a bit of flak from her sisters for the way that she prays. I love it, though. She reminds me that I should be thanking my Heavenly Father for the carpet, forks, snow days, my favorite shirt, and toothpaste.

Related: 4 Ways to Practice More Gratitude

3. Pray for others

Sometimes our prayers become pretty selfish. As I mentioned above, it's easy to think of prayer as simply a vehicle to ask for our own desires. One way to make our prayers more meaningful is to stop looking inward and begin looking outward. We can all think of people who are in need of the Lord's help in one way or another. Write them down in your prayer journal and remember to send prayers up in their behalf.

Not only will this add more meaning to your prayers, it will also help you to start being an instrument in the Lord's hands. As you pray for others, He will often answer those prayers by helping you to know how to best serve those you include in your prayers.

Related: 5 Simple Ways to Serve Others

4. Pray vocally

Prayer is a very private thing for me, and after I got married I fell into the habit of saying my personal prayers in my head because I did not want to pray out loud in front of my husband. While I certainly think it's fine to say some prayers silently (sometimes that is the only choice!), I find that I am much more easily distracted and more likely to fall asleep or forget that I was praying when I don't pray out loud.

In the past year, I've made more of a point to find places where I feel comfortable pouring my heart out to the Lord out loud. My two favorite places to pray vocally are in the shower and while taking a walk by myself in the woods or another quiet area. Praying out loud really does help me to focus on what I'm saying and put more thought into my prayers.

5. Schedule your prayers

If you're anything like me, sometimes prayer gets buried under all the other stuff on your list for the day. Adding prayer as a concrete part of your daily routine will help you to remember to say them. You can't have meaningful prayers if you're not saying them at all! You can write it in your planner to help you remember or make yourself a checklist.

Part of creating habits is having a trigger for your new habits. For prayer, getting out of bed could be the trigger. In other words, whenever you get out of bed you will be reminded to pray. Or, whenever you sit down to eat a meal, you will be reminded to pray. Or, whenever you put your pajamas on, you will be reminded to pray. I'll bet you already have a few solid prayer triggers set up, and if you do, the challenge is now to make those prayers even more meaningful than they already are.

Small Habit: Daily prayer.
Big Difference: Become more like Christ, align your will with God's, become more grateful, increase happiness, reduce stress.

This post is part of my Small Habits That Will Make a Big Difference 30 day challenge. To see all of the posts in this series, click here. Or, join the challenge and receive a daily email with a new small habit that can affect your life in a big way.

Join the challenge! Small habits that will make a big difference

Saturday, October 15, 2016

21 Ways to Exercise Without Heading to the Gym

I'm not a big fan of exercise. At least, not the kind that involves changing into special workout gear, driving a few miles to the gym, and then climbing on the treadmill. I just have such a hard time dragging myself out of the house and despite my good intentions, I rarely do.

Sure, I always feel great when I do make it to the gym, and I'm glad I went. But the getting there is just so darn hard!

News flash: the word "exercise" is not synonymous with "gym membership." Once I realized that I didn't actually have to go to the gym to get my exercise, I stopped feeling guilty and started trying to move my body a little bit each day in whatever way I could.

Exercise does not have to take place at the gym to count. There are so many ways to burn calories and move your body—be creative!

When you put your mind to it, you can come up with so many alternatives to the gym. Some of them will involve playing and having fun, and others will actually involve working and being productive. Whichever type of exercise you choose, you'll burn calories and feel just as good as you would have if you'd gone to the gym.

21 Ways to Exercise Without Going to the Gym

  • Walk the dog
  • Go on a hike
  • Vacuum the entire house (don't forget the stairs!)
  • Ride your bike to run your daily errands
  • Shovel snow
  • Put on some music and dance your heart out
  • Take your kids to the park and play tag
  • Mow the lawn
  • Go letterboxing (with or without your kids!)
  • Rake leaves
  • Take your kids on a nature scavenger hunt
  • Jump on a trampoline (if you don't have a big one—try a mini trampoline)
  • Play laser tag
  • Walk around the block once every hour (set a timer!)
  • Speed clean the house
  • Play the Just Dance video game
  • Organize a game of capture the flag
  • Go swimming
  • Jump rope
  • Weed your garden
  • Track your steps using a Fitbit or a Misfit (you'll be surprised how motivating the data is!)

I'm pretty sure you can easily come up with many more ideas. The point is to move your body on a daily basis and stay fit and healthy—not to feel obliged to do that exercise only at the gym.

Small Habit: Exercise daily however you can
Big Difference: Be healthier, have more energy, feel better, lose weight.

This post is part of my Small Habits That Will Make a Big Difference 30 day challenge. To see all of the posts in this series, click here. Or, join the challenge and receive a daily email with a new small habit that can affect your life in a big way.

Join the challenge! Small habits that will make a big difference

Friday, October 14, 2016

5 Reasons to Read Out Loud to Your Kids

As a mother, bedtime is a difficult time of day for me. I'd even go so far as to say it's the absolute worst time of day for me. Everybody is exhausted, and the last thing I want to do is sit in their room and read a book to my kids! I want them to just go to sleep already so I can go have the alone time I so desperately need by the end of the day.

But did you know that reading to your children is one of those little things that can make a significant difference in their lives? Just five or ten minutes to read a chapter to them has far-reaching benefits that will last them forever. So even though your tv show is waiting to be watched, go ahead and take that ten minutes to read first—you won't regret it!

Read out loud to your kids every night and reap great rewards—they will be more successful in school and your relationship will improve, among other things.

Some of the benefits are immediate, and others you may not notice until much later, but all of them are totally worth the extra few minutes each day.

5 Good Reasons to Read Out Loud to Your Children

1. Increased attention span

In a world where are children are continually pulled into screens of all types and sizes, their attention spans are shrinking. If a child isn't accustomed to having books read out loud, it might be difficult at first for them to pay attention. But the more they hear books read out loud and are forced to use their own imaginations to fill in the scenes, their attention spans and ability to focus will increase.

(Be sure that you are not allowing electronic devices to be used while you are reading to your kids.)

2. Larger vocabulary

Research has shown that reading stories out loud to children introduces them to a much larger vocabulary than just talking to them alone does (source). Children's picture books tend to use words outside of the 5,000 most common English words three times as often as adult conversation does! The earlier a child is exposed to a word, the more likely they are to master it in their adult vocabulary, so beginning to read to them at a young age will increase their adult vocabularies considerably.

Reading to them above their own reading level is also recommended. Again, they will learn new words as you read to them from a chapter book when they are still learning to read picture books. I still read to my 5th and 8th graders fairly regularly and they love listening to books that they might not be prepared to read on their own at this point.

3. More success in school

Partly because of the larger vocabulary and the increased attention spans, reading out loud to children has been linked to better grades in school.

4. Development of empathy

This is a big one for me. I want to raise children who are kind and empathetic, and books provide a wonderful avenue for developing empathy. The children will have a unique look into the characters they are reading about—characters whose lives and situations are very different from their own. As they hear you read about these characters (and eventually begin to read about them on their own, too) they will begin to develop more understanding about why people make the choices they do or what it might be like to have a particular trial or disability.

Reading to them gives you as a parent the opportunity to discuss many of these things with them. Sometimes it's a great teaching opportunity to discuss a particular character's choice and what the consequences were for that character. The discussions I have had while reading to my children have been some of my best teaching moments as a mother.

To see a list of some of my favorite empathy teaching books, click here: Books that help children learn empathy

5. Improved relationship

Even though it seems like a small sacrifice, your relationship with your children will improve as you read to them. I've experienced this so many times that it makes me wonder why I ever resist reading to them!

Tonight when you're feeling totally exhausted and you can't wait to get the kids in bed, grit your teeth and pluck a good chapter book off of the shelf and devote just 5 minutes to reading out loud. Your kids will love it and I think you will, too.

To see some of my favorite read aloud books, click here:

12 Beloved Books to Read Out Loud to Your Children
10 Read Aloud Books Your Kids Will Love

Small Habit: Read out loud to your kids every night.
Big Difference: They will be more successful, more empathetic, and increase their attention spans. Plus, you'll have a better relationship with them.

This post is part of my Small Habits That Will Make a Big Difference 30 day challenge. To see all of the posts in this series, click here. Or, join the challenge and receive a daily email with a new small habit that can affect your life in a big way.

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