Vanessa Williams: Holidays Are About “How thankful and blessed you are to have family and friends.”

By social-media demand, M&M has brought back M&M’s Crispy to satisfy your holiday chocolate cravings. Parents caught up with Vanessa Williams—singer, actress, former Miss America, mom to four kids, plus the voice of M&M’s Ms. Brown—about her family’s holiday traditions, what she wishes she knew when her kids were younger, and raising confident daughters.

P: M&M’s Crispy are a great holiday snack. What’s your holiday snack to make with your kids?

VW: I love Christmas cookies no matter what they are—sugar or Linzer Torte or chocolate. My parents were both music teachers so they’d always get cookies from their students. It’s one of the things that always makes me feel like I’m in the Christmas spirit.

P: You’ve had an illustrious career in acting and singing and now your daughter, Jillian, is a singer. Is Christmas a super musical holiday in your house?

VW: We listen to a lot and I’ve been lucky enough to do two Christmas CDs. I’ve done Christmas on Broadway and specials and always am delighted to have the music component. But Christmas starts too early now. It’s so commercialized. You barely make it through Halloween and then it’s the tunes. It’s nice to concentrate and focus on what the time should really be about: how thankful and blessed you are to have family and friends and to appreciate what’s happened through the year. The music for me is more reverential than commercial and that’s what we try to do with playing the music in the house and singing as a family.

P: Of your four children only Sasha is still at home. Is there any tradition that brings everyone back with childhood memories?

VW: We have a Christmas Eve pageant. When the kids were young they would each get a part depending on what class—second graders could be angels and if you were Mary and Joseph you were the stars. We still go to the children’s mass because we love seeing the kids. It also reminds us of how long we’ve been together and the roles they had. Then we come back to the house and I make a lasagna and the kids open one gift. Christmas Eve is the one we try to make consistent every year.

P: Your kids are growing up quickly, but is there anything about parenthood that still baffles you?

VW: I think it’s just the adolescent years. It’s a mixed bag every day. You don’t know what the mood’s going to be, the hormones are raging, their bodies are changing and their attitudes change as well. The biggest thing is to not take it personally. You have to be there and be consistent and set limits and [give] advice, but be steady.

P: What do you know now about being a parent that you wish you had known about those early years?

VW: I know so many parents are hyper-focused on achievement and test scores. It’s almost like you’re in competition with other parents, and the kids are overwhelmed and stressed out. Life will turn out the way it’s supposed to turn out. I think it puts too much pressure on the parents who micromanage their kids. It’s anxiety-causing. Within [kids who have the] same parents you’re going to get four different personalities, four different studying types, four different skill levels, and you have to tailor your energy toward each child. If you get a bad test score in 7th grade, guess what? You can still be the CEO of a company because if that’s what you’re good at and you work hard and life happens to bring you that opportunity, they’re not gonna know what you got on your 8th grade geometry test.

P: You have three daughters and there is a prominent dialogue today about raising women who are not defined by their appearance, yet we cannot deny that how you present yourself matters. How do you navigate this challenge as a mom?

VW: I think it’s getting worse, particularly when you have social media and the opportunity to take images of yourself and correct them. You’re presenting a perfection constantly and you’re always trying to live up to the perfect example on a day-to-day basis. Luckily for me and luckily for my kids I emphasize what they do, which is talent.

I’ve also had the luxury of taking my kids all over the world so they see the different body types and the different genetics that are different in Brazil than they are in Egypt than they are in Austria. Instead of trying to squeeze yourself into a box where you don’t fit, that’s the great thing about traveling the world. They can appreciate [differences] and I think it really helps in term of self-esteem and really feeling comfortable.

How to Make Sandwich Cookie Snowglobes
How to Make Sandwich Cookie Snowglobes
How to Make Sandwich Cookie Snowglobes

If cookies aren’t your favorite, find enough cupcake recipes for a year here!

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Give Your Kids Great Hair for Photos

*guest written by Cozy Friedman, founder of the new SoCozy Professional Hair Care Collection for Children and Cozy’s Cuts for Kids. The New York City salons are celebrating their 20th anniversary this year. 

These hairstyling do’s and don’ts to give your little one the best shot at the cutest school photo ever, and are equally good for holiday photos.

DO shampoo your kid’s hair the night before and use a leave-in conditioner (like the SoCozy Cinch Detangler + Leave-In Conditioner) to enhance curls, smooth hair, and add body and shine. If hair is dry, flat, or full of static in the morning, spray it with a bit of water and a little more leave-in conditioner.

DON’T get a haircut the day before picture day. Ideally, schedule your appointment one to two weeks before. Hair will look more natural and any uneven areas can be corrected in time.

DO try to capture your kid’s everyday look, so that when you look back in thirty years, it’s a true representation. Nothing too fancy!

DON’T forget that school-picture day is a regular school day and not a private studio session. Keep your kid’s hairstyle simple and you’re more likely to end up with a photo everybody likes. For girls, that means no bows or hair clips.

DO use a light styling cream, such as the SoCozy Behave Styling Cream, or alcohol-free styling gel in the morning to hold a neat, smooth style that doesn’t look stiff or slick. But keep in mind the rule for styling products is the same for school glue: A little dab will do ya!

Are you a little too compulsive with your own photo-taking? Watch this video before the holidays!

Must-Knows On Tech and Child Development: Take Fewer Photos!
Must-Knows On Tech and Child Development: Take Fewer Photos!
Must-Knows On Tech and Child Development: Take Fewer Photos!

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Exclusive Gilt.com Paddington Pre-sale for Our Readers

It’s every kid’s dream come true! Parents has teamed with our friends at Gilt.com, as they host an exclusive sale featuring merchandise and authentic props from Paddington, the new hit adventure film from the producer of Harry Potter, set to release on Jan. 16. Only our readers have access to the sale before it opens up to the public on Wednesday, Dec. 10, at noon.

As if owning props from a film starring Nicole Kidman, Hugh Bonneville, Ben Whishaw, Sally Hawkins and more isn’t exciting enough, you should know 100% of the proceeds benefit The Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness’s “Be Homeful” campaign. The effort strives to put an end to homelessness before it begins.

The sale also features a collection of Gilt.com’s favorite children’s clothing and accessories inspired by the film, from snuggly sweaters to rain-gear, wellies and more.

Are you ready to shop? Check it out:

How can you resist this adorable Yottoy Paddington Bear? Price: $20

 

These Igor Yellow Piter Boots are so Paddington. Price: $35

 This stylish RDP Paddington Raincoat is such a steal! Price: $15

And how cute is this JoJo Maman Bebe Duffle Coat? Price: $55

Do you have a puzzle solver at home? Check out the New York Puzzle Company’s Paddington Movie Poster Jigsaw Puzzle. Price: $16

Now, if you’re really a fan, make sure you check out some memorabilia from the actual film! Check it out:

Paddington’s Skateboard Paddington wildly sets off on these hot wheels as he searches for the “owner” of a lost wallet. Price: $1,200


Jonathan Brown’s Yoyo Right before meeting Paddington, Jonathan walks through Paddington Station with his family, as he plays with his yoyo. Price: $175

Mrs. Bird’s Duster This duster doesn’t come with the dance moves, but it is the cleaning tool employed by eccentric relative of the Brown family, Mrs. Bird. She dances around while she uses dusts. Price: $150

Signed by Cast — Paddington Movie Poster Price: $250


 

 

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Baby Bloopers: Santa Edition

Anahi, 6
A month before Christmas, my daughter and I were shopping for a winter coat at a department store. She was more interested in the toys, and pleaded with me for a doll instead. I told her, “Let’s wait and see what Santa brings you first.” She began to cry, and asked, “Do you know what it’s like to have to wait an entire month for something?”
Tony Giorgi; Sacramento, CA

Alexa, 4
My daughter mentioned that she wanted ballet slippers, so I told her she should put them on her Christmas list. She gave me a funny look and said, “Mommy, I don’t want them on my list. I want them on my feet!”
Samantha Michelin; Scottsdale, AZ

Charlie, 2
I was helping my daughter write a letter to Santa. I told her she could ask for anything. She responded, “I want Santa to come over in his comfy clothes and play. And I can make him grapes!”
Nikki Antonucci; New Philadelphia, OH

Elizabeth, 6
We were sitting at the dinner table after going to see Santa earlier in the day. My daughter loudly announced, “I want a man for Christmas.” After a long moment of dead silence, we realized she meant a Ken doll for her new Barbie.
Amy Schoenhard; Bethesda, MD

Christopher, 2
During my son’s bath, he started to splash water onto the floor. I asked him a few times to stop, but he didn’t listen. So I finally told him, “Santa is watching!” He immediately looked up to the ceiling, covered his body with his hands, and cried out, “I don’t want him to see me naked!”
Lauren Amendola; Miller Place, NY

Image: Santa Claus via Shutterstock

Christmas Crafts: Clothespin Skier Ornaments
Christmas Crafts: Clothespin Skier Ornaments
Christmas Crafts: Clothespin Skier Ornaments

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Learning Apps Get the Disney Treatment

Disney knows you’re searching the App Store for educational games for your kids, and trying to tell the good-quality from the waste-of-time is rough to say the least. (We know, we looked at a ton for our 70 Best Apps for Families.) Today Disney unveiled ambitious plans to pair their stories and animation with strong learning content; the first of some 30 Imagicademy apps will launch on December 11.

The search for “joyful learning that kids don’t run away from,” as Andrew Sugarman, executive vice president of Disney Publishing Worldwide, puts it, is universal these days. This generation is screen-savvy and ready to learn as long as we capture and keep their attention. To that end, the math app, the first one out, features games like “put the sleepwalking alien to bed” that cleverly build in number order along the way. Another activity in the app has a baby robot building a sandcastle, working in number sense by first asking the child to draw a numeral on the touchscreen, then having that number of balls of sand appear, then counting them out and assembling a castle with that number of spires. (A mischievous child can then gleefully destroy the sandcastle. It’s all part of staying engaged!)

This first Imagicademy math app will hit the sweet spot of ages 3 to 5, children in Pre-K and Kindergarten. A creative arts app will roll out in January, followed by a Frozen-themed science app in March and reading with Doc McStuffins in April or May. By 2016, Imagicademy apps will stretch from ages 3 to 8.

One final note: Parents will be able to download our own app, and receive push notifications about what a child is doing in the Imagicademy world. You can then send your child a virtual high-five or at least be able to give them concrete feedback, such as “I like that rocketship you built,” rather than having to always ask, “What are you doing on there?”

 

Digital Devices and Children
Digital Devices and Children
Digital Devices and Children

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Jennifer Hudson: “I just want to keep making music and being with my family”

In the spirit of the holiday season, singer-actress Jennifer Hudson went to work with Johnson’s Brand as they launched their new initiative More Hands, More Hearts on #GivingTuesday. As a mom to 5-year-old David, Hudson was thrilled to assemble babycare kits to distribute to families in need nationwide as part of the campaign. Here, the Grammy-winning artist gets real about her desire to give back, her proudest moment as a mom, and the latest star David is trying to emulate.

P: What drew you to this particular project on #GivingTuesday?

JH: Well, in general giving back is very important to me. We founded the Julian D. King Gift Foundation in honor of my nephew a few years back because we wanted to be able to think of him and know that something positive was being done in the world. And with Johnson’s More Hands, More Hearts it’s that same idea of helping others. You never really think of how many needy babies there are in the world, but they need our help. Julian’s Foundation exists to provide positive experiences for children of all backgrounds so that they will become productive, confident and happy adults, but you need healthy, happy babies first. They need diapers and bottles to grow and be healthy and so I’m thrilled to be involved with this project.

P: You mention the Foundation in honor of your nephew. How has the Foundation progressed since you started it six years ago?

JH: Oh my goodness, so much. When we first started it we just wanted to honor my nephew and help kids in the community. It started with the toy drive for gift-giving around Christmas, but now we added a back-to-school supplies drive. The line was around the block. It just keeps getting bigger and bigger. I can’t even keep track.

P: Does it work through scholarships or is it more event-focused?

JH: Well, we do have the dinner around Christmas each year and kids in the community can be nominated by their teachers to attend. They don’t have to be getting all A’s, but they do have to be trying. It’s the effort we want to encourage. It’s not a scholarship, but we reward that effort by granting their Christmas wish around the holidays. Our mission is to be something positive, a catalyst for change in children’s health, education, and welfare. We have the Toy Drive and Hatch Day each year and sometimes other events—we do as much as we can but we are local [in Chicago].

P: Let’s talk about your son, David. What is your favorite thing about this age?

JH: He’s 5 now and I think it’s just how creative he is. His mind is just going going. He started building a tent area at home, gathered materials and built this huge tent area and then I found out he has a garbage can in there. He throws trash in it and then empties it in the kitchen trash. He’s keeping it clean. It’s so funny to see him create his own little home.

P: It sounds like he’s very much his own little person. Is there a parenting rule that he always gets you to break?

JH: Bedtime. That’s probably the toughest because he always wants to stay up late and hang out. He’ll fake being hungry, like “Oh mom, I’m hungry, I can’t go to bed yet.” And I let him have a snack, but then I realized Wait. He’s not hungry, he’s just trying to stay up.

P: What has been your proudest moment as a mom?

JH: I mean, I brought a life into the world. That in and of itself…. But he’s also so smart and creative and thoughtful. He really cares about others. Like if I’m cold, he’ll curl up next to me and cover me with a blanket. He’s very aware of others and how they feel.

P: So is he like his mama? Does he like to perform?

JH: Ohhhhhh yes. He loves to dance and he just loves Michael Jackson. I took him to see Usher and told him Usher is like Michael Jackson. He had the best time. When we got home he said “Mommy! Turn on ummm ummm what is his name?” And I said “Usher?” And he said “Yeah, Mommy. Turn on USHER! I’m gonna dance for the camera!”

P: Through your Foundation you encourage kids to express themselves and accomplish things with this idea of Hatch Day. It’s so important for kids, but it’s also important for adults to mark their accomplishments. What do you hope to accomplish in 2015 in the essence of Hatch Day?

JH: Oh wow. I never thought of it that way, but I feel so blessed. I just want to keep making music and being with my family. If I can keep making music that people enjoy, I really hope for longevity in my career. I want to work towards that.

Find out what you need for newborn with our Baby Care Supply List.

How to Buy Baby Gear on a Budget
How to Buy Baby Gear on a Budget
How to Buy Baby Gear on a Budget

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Real Glam Moms: “When you start feeling bored with your looks, get red involved”

Here’s the newest installment of the Parents beauty department series on mommy bloggers. Each installment will feature what beauty means to real moms no matter what their beauty routine is like—and how they take time to themselves after having children. 

After adopting her first son, Elijah, six years ago, Kortni wanted a place to document her adoption and motherhood journey. Love is All You Need is now home to what she thinks is most valuable to her family so her kids “will have something tangible to connect them to their childhood. This vault of memories will make them very rich with love someday.” Today Kortni tells us all about her ever-changing beauty identity and her affinity for red.

How has your beauty routine changed since adopting Elijah (6) and Oliver (2)?

Before I adopted my boys, I thought I had to fit into one defining box of who am I, what kind of mom, friend, wife, writer, home decorator, clothes-wearer, picture taker and person I am—as if I had to choose only one.  Now instead of pushing myself toward one defining area, I’m accepting that it’s okay to be a hodgepodge mess of everything. After kids, my beauty routine changes daily. Some days, I am boho-chic-funky-mismatched-don’t-forget-the-hat-girl and others, hair up-messy-bun-and-high-heel-girl.

What is the importance of taking time to yourself?

Every mama has a quiet, built-in, “comes-with-the-package-of-parenting,” part of herself that sacrifices her needs when responsibility calls for it.  And while sacrificing and taking care of others before ourselves feels good and right, those feelings can only last so long before that inner self, that source from which we give, starts to wither, slowly taking with it our motivation, inspiration, contentment and patience.  The cardinal rule of flight should apply to the journey of motherhood as well. Put on your own oxygen mask before you assist someone else with theirs. In other words, you can’t be who others need you to be without taking care of yourself first.

I can live without my … Sephora classic red lipstick, flat iron, a slouchy beanie and mascara.

What’s the best beauty advice you’ve ever received?

When in doubt, less is more.

My beauty advice for moms is… When stuck in a monotonous routine or when you start feeling bored with your looks, get red involved—red shoes, red nail polish, red purse, red lipstick. Red is ordinary’s kryptonite, and it will add all the flare necessary to make your day feel a little more magical.

My celeb mom beauty icon is … Jessica Alba. Sister gets it.

How do you find time to focus on yourself, your blog and your family? 

I believe that every mom merits the title of Wonder Woman or Supahmom no matter what her capabilities are.  When they hand you your baby for the first time, they should also include a pair of those awesome red boots and maybe a magic lasso in your welcome to motherhood bag—because that is what we do. We take on the world when we become moms. We juggle time and perform these marvelous balancing stunts.  And we all do it differently with our own style and flare.  The best part about owning the title of mother is that we don’t have to be defined solely by it.  There is a framework of interests, dreams and passions that make us individuals who are strong enough to stand alone. I am also a wife. I read, I write, I pray.  I am a nature lover, a picture taker and a beauty maker.  I do my best to find the time to balance all of my individual interests throughout the day, and yet, there is nothing I would rather be defined by more than my children.

New-Mom Makeovers: How To Look Pulled-Together Fast
New-Mom Makeovers: How To Look Pulled-Together Fast
New-Mom Makeovers: How To Look Pulled-Together Fast

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The Parents Goody Giveaway: Enter for a Chance to Win Five Chuggington Playsets and Two DVDs, All Worth $280!

Do you have a little builder or train conductor at home? If you think these Chuggington model train sets are just too much fun to pass up, this giveaway is for you!

Enter for the chance to win approximately $280 worth of merchandise, including five Chuggington train playsets and a DVD.

ONE (1) lucky winner will receive:

To enter, leave a comment below, up to one a day between now and the end of the day on December 8, 2014. Be sure to check back on December 9th and scroll to the bottom of the post to see who won. We reach out to winners via Facebook message (it goes into your “other” message folder on Facebook), so if you win, look for us there as well.

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY.  Open to legal residents of the 50 United States, or the District of Columbia, 21 years and older. Begins: 4PM EST on December 2, 2014. Ends: 11:59PM on December 8, 2014. Subject to Official Rules at http://www.parents.com/blogs/goodyblog/official-rules-enter-for-the-chance-to-win-five-chuggington-playsets-and-two-dvds/. Void where prohibited. Sponsor: Meredith Corporation.

For more check out our official rules. Goody luck!

Best Toys That Feature Favorite Characters
Best Toys That Feature Favorite Characters
Best Toys That Feature Favorite Characters

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