What Hand Were You Dealt? Happy or Turbulent Childhood?

October 1st, 2015

Four Aces

In many ways life can be a lot like playing cards and unfortunately many of us as children were dealt a hand that was less than ideal and loaded with “ACES” or adverse childhood experiences.  The experiences of our childhoods—both the good and the not so good influence the adult we become.

From our childhood, we develop traits and skills that prepare us to be effective in the world. We also develop the capacity to adapt in the face of challenges.   We call this capacity to respond in a positive way— resiliency.  Resilience is complex; it is possible to be resilient in one setting and to do very poorly in another. It is our ability to bounce back when faced with a variety of challenges.

Research is clear that the effects of negative early childhood experiences don’t end when a child becomes an adult.   The more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) that a child experiences, the greater the risk for health problems, mental illness, and substance abuse as an adult (Felitti et al., 1998). It can be easy to blame your childhood, to get stuck on situations and circumstances that were beyond your ability to change.  We need to learn that one cannot re-write their childhood history but writing your future and your child’s future is possible.    There is hope.  Change is possible.  Communities and families can learn to break the cycle of negative childhood experiences from one generation to the next.

All parents want a better life for their children.  But many parents are not always sure how to create a better life.  Fortunately, early childhood advocates are starting conversations to help parents achieve resiliency and develop a plan for a better life for themselves and their children.  .

There are numerous conversations starting in Iowa around the concept of adverse childhood experiences and creating a resiliency culture for adults and children alike.  I encourage you to reach out and find out what your community is doing.  Get involved!

Janet Smith

Human Sciences Specialist-Family Life


Adverse Childhood Experiences, Resiliency

Break the Cycle of Childhood Trauma

September 14th, 2015


More than half of us grew up in families that were marked with challenges, but we don’t have to pass those experiences on to the next generation. The cycle can be broken by developing safe, stable and nurturing relationships that heal the parent and the child. The keys to success are developing healthy relationships and building resiliency.

Traumatic, or adverse, childhood experiences can include neglect as well as physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Other family issues that can contribute to a traumatic childhood include substance abuse, divorce, hunger, domestic violence, mental illness and incarceration.

Children who are exposed to many adverse childhood experiences may become overloaded with stress hormones, leaving them in a constant state of fight or flight and unable to focus. They learn adaptive and coping behaviors in response to these experiences.

This month we will discuss ways to build resiliency in children. We also will discuss ways that communities can begin to support all children and families in reducing the incidence and impact of adverse childhood experiences.



Autonomy vs Diminished Skills

August 24th, 2015

This week e welcome a guest post from our ISU Extension and Outreach Human Sciences Family Finance partners. If you have additional thoughts or questions we welcome the conversation.

Autonomy vs Diminished Skills

Most days Dad cannot add or subtract or figure out if he has enough money in his pocket to pay for something. I try hard to never say, “NO”, because that leads to reasoning with Dad, and there just is no such thing as a logical discussions when Alzheimer’s is involved. My goal is to make Dad FEEL good. So, Dad now carries a wallet with $30 to $50 in it most days. With the exception of a walk down town to have coffee with the neighbor (who is also in his 80’s and lives with his daughter), dad goes nowhere without me. So, why does Dad need that much money in his wallet? Because, that is what he has ALWAYS carried in his wallet. It is NORMAL for him. It makes him FEEL good. More than once he has lost his wallet and I have always found it…in a pair of pants in the laundry basket or in a drawer in his room. I have no concern that he will REALLY lose it because he never goes anywhere without me. Dad’s wants are few and inexpensive. Having $30 – $50 in his pocket means he never has to figure out if he has enough to pay for something. If I know he wants something that will cost more than he has in his wallet, we swing by the bank and pick up some extra cash so he can manage the transaction without my help.

As Dad’s disease progresses, he gets younger in his mind and in his behaviors. While picking up stuff for our vacation, Dad began grabbing snack items for our trip. He grabbed an armload and ran to the check out to quickly pay for them. Why the hurry? Why not continue shopping with me and we all check out at the same time? As a kid, that behavior would have made Dad ask ME if my money was burning a hole in my pocket. It occurred to me that, HE wanted to pay for these things to share with everyone on the trip. Had he waited and checked out with me, I may have insisted on paying for it all together.  He wanted the joy of being the provider. So, in the future when we shop, I will send him to pick out the fruit and let him pay for it while I take care of the rest of the purchases.

My financial goal with Dad is to keep him safe, secure and happy. I don’t always get it right the first time (At first I didn’t let him carry cash for fear he would lose it), and we all paid the price. The good news is, he has no short term memory so he doesn’t remember my unsuccessful attempt at making him happy. Alzheimer’s always lets me have more than one try at getting it right.  ~Brenda Schmitt


When a Grandparent Has Dementia

August 11th, 2015

When a grandparent has dementia, the grandchildren may not understand why grandma or grandpa is becoming forgetful, mom or dad is stressed out and everything is different than it used to be. However, parents can help their young children and adolescents learn to cope.  The most important message is to be as honest as you can. Offer clear explanations and plenty of reassurance. Try to get a sense for how much information each child can cope with, and tailor your discussion accordingly.

This month we will discuss ways to talk to children and adolescents about dementia and share ideas about how to help children cope. Research has shown that dementia can dramatically change the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren, but it doesn’t have to be all negative.

Join us  as we talk about caregiving adults with dementia and the impact it has on young children.


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Thank you from Science of Parenting

August 5th, 2015

I thought this might be a perfect ‘blip’ in our regular blogging timeline to say THANK YOU for reading our blog. We enjoy reading your emails and comments back to us and appreciate your insight.  Thank you for sharing our blog with others. We are grateful for the trust you have in our information. As a way to say thank you, I wanted to take a moment to share the other great blogs my co-workers have been working on.

When I went to our ISU Extension and Outreach blog homepage, I was reminded how much fabulous educational information is right there at my fingertips! A blog on Iowa vegetables? Where did that come from? And all that great information on connecting to the environment! I needed some connecting! Oh yes, and the Answer Line! how could I forget that one? We ALL need answers!

I’m not sure about you, but I must also take this moment to confess that I am starting to look for my educational information in bite-sized pieces. Smaller snippets of information designed to grab my attention and then draw me in to the deeper stuff.  Educational blogs represent bite-sized information for me. Bite sized is important but my ‘bites’ also need to be from reliable, valid and trustworthy sources.

As I looked through the blogs that my co-workers create I couldn’t help but smile and think “Wow, that’s a whole lot of perfectly sized trustworthy education for the public right there!” And it’s for EVERYONE! It’s for child care providers, business owners, teachers, farmers and families in general! Perfect blog-sized, bite-sized pieces!

So, THANK YOU for reading and sharing our blog with others, we truly enjoy providing our blogs for you!

Now sit back and click a couple links, read a couple bites and enjoy the trustworthy, educational information.

Lori Hayungs



Science of Parenting Adds Texting Option

July 26th, 2015

The Science of Parenting

The Science of Parenting blog now is available via text message. It’s another way you can access research-based parenting information from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

It’s easy.  Simply text the keyword sciparent to 95577 to be added to our distribution list.

The Science of Parenting’s Web-based texting program operates much like an email service.   After participants text sciparent to 95577, they are added to the Science of Parenting texting schedule and will begin receiving text messages with parenting information on a regular basis. Sometimes the messages will include links to photos or videos hosted on the Science of Parenting website. Participants can text their replies, as well.

Let us know what you think…..

Janet and Lori


Science class: 24/7, 365

July 23rd, 2015

iStock_000003889494Small[1]Helping_1One of my favorite things to say about young children is  “their life is like science class 24/7, 365 days a year”. I love watching young children (especially infants and toddlers) explore their world.

Infants take in EVERYTHING. They can’t seem to get enough of looking, touching, tasting, shaking, and smelling everything in sight. Toddlers do the same, with just a bit more gusto.

Everything is a discovery session. Everything a science experiment. They wonder, “What happens if I drop the cup milk off the high chair?  What does it sound like if I shake the bowl of cereal? If I chew on my mom’s arm what does she sound like?”

It seems like everything they do can be based around science! The discovery of cause and effect. The observation of the ‘law of gravity’. The exploration of mass and volume.

I’m sure you’ve witness hundreds of science experiments at your house. Some experiments turn out very successful. Other experiments may have been less than stellar. No matter the outcome, fantastic learning has probably taken place.

How have you seen your children take in information from their every day experiences and turn it into scientific discovery? How did you encourage them? (and my favorite part, active participation)What did you do to partake in the experimentation with them?

Share with us what everyday science exploration you have done.

Lori Hayungs


STEM at the fair

July 13th, 2015

It’s summer time! That means it’s county fair time. Do you know how much science, technology, engineering and math happens at a county or state fair?

Confession time, I was not a fair kid growing up. I thought that if I went to the county fair I would just see my friend’s farm animals and the cookies they had been practice baking for months. No really, that’s what I thought! I have come to learn however that it is about amazing fabulous STEM opportunities and experiences. Even as a visitor, your opportunities to experience STEM are endless.

When I searched ‘what to do at the fair’ I found an endless list of activities for families. From milking cows, to using robots, to participating in food demonstrations (read EAT), from creating your own artwork, to learning about wildlife and insects.  And these were just the 3 links I found from 3 different states! Not to mention all the counties in those various states that were sharing their fair activities.

Take a moment and think about how you might be able to encourage STEM activities in a fun and family friendly environment with your children. Most fairs are low cost or have discount days/times. They cater to families with children and want to create an engaging family focused time for you. Get creative while you’re at the fair. Create family challenges or mini-competitions at the exhibits and demonstrations. Enjoy the demonstrations and talk about how you might do something similar in your own home. Take the fair boards up on their offer, find a fair close to you and show your kids that you know a little about STEM too.

We would love to hear about your favorite fair experiences.


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Help Kids Learn about Science

July 6th, 2015

Not all parents feel confident having “the talk” with their children — when the topic is science, technology, engineering and math. However, it’s an ongoing conversation parents and kids need to have.

STEM — Science, technology, engineering, and math — is a vital part of our kids’ education and their future and parents play an absolutely critical role in encouraging and supporting their children’s  STEM learning at home, in school and in the community.  This month we will discuss how to create a science-learning friendly home. We’ll also talk about how parents can be more actively engaged with their children’s teacher and school.

Want to receive texts Science of Parenting information via text?   Text  sciparent  to  95577



Parents take lead for summer learning

June 15th, 2015

A child only educated at school is an uneducated child

—George Santavana

School is out and many educational experts would say learning is on hold.    So parents…… it’s up to you!   Remember, learning doesn’t just happen in a classroom.  How, and when do children learn?   Learning…can be anytime, anywhere, on demand and individualized.  Parents as their child’s first and foremost teacher can be in a position to assist their child in 24/7 learning.    Learning is most optimal when it can be as individualized as the kid.  Teachers know that this is important, but struggle to achieve this with increased class sizes and academic achievement.  But parents can, if they take on the challenge.  With a little planning and researching, parents can fill their child’s day with many brain boosting activities and strategies.

To quote philosopher George Santavana—“A child only educated at school is an educated child”.  Lifelong learning goes far beyond the classroom setting and summer can be the perfect time to set your child on a journey to authentic learning.  Let’s start with the notion that learning can and should be fun.  Ideally, we can learn to capitalize on our child’s ideal learning style.  Many kids prefer hands on learning and traditional classroom teachers are challenged to find the time and resources to provide learning activities are geared for hands on learners.  Hands on learning can be both academic and fun.

As parents always remember to vary activities.  Remember that a little fresh air is the best way to wake up a sleepy summer brain. Get them outside. Get them moving. Keep them reading. Keep them learning.  Summer can be a great time to discover music, attend outdoor concerts, boost music lessons, write songs, make instruments or try a new instrument.  Consider an outdoor talent show in your neighborhood.

Make your home “learning friendly”—fill with books, newspapers, games, how to manuals, magazines,  and access to the internet. Be a learner yourself.  Let your kids see you researching how to do things, and see you reading.   Remember to TALK.  Ask questions. Ask probing questions for deeper meaning and thoughts.  Challenge each other.   Learn from each other.

It has also been said that “Necessity is also the mother of invention”.  Consider a hands-on project and the research that is necessary to complete it.  My son-Cole has been a project kid.  We have learned all sorts of things through his persistence and ongoing projects.   We have taken on projects like survival skills including:  catching water in a catchment system, making char cloth, constructing a fish trap, creating snares, beekeeping,  willow whistles, blacksmithing techniques,  fishing lures and fly-tying—(flies mimic insects actually found in nature, understanding of fish and entomology) as well as the perfect homemade dough bait prepared in my kitchen! We attempted engineering challenges like catapult creations, mobile ice house construction,   leather making, knots and lashings, and coin collecting—just to name of view of his own-going learning bucket list.  Has he traveled this learning journey alone?  No—his father and I have learned alongside.  As a parent I have also learned to take his lead.  I’ve learned to support and encourage what he is interested in.  As parents we have learned that lifelong learning is about giving kids learning experiences.  It’s about asking questions.  It’s about being mindful and observing their interests.  It’s about letting them fail and learning from those failures.  It’s about encouraging curiosity and not squelching ideas.  It’s about asking thinking questions.  It’s about knowing your child and where their interests lie.

Take time this summer to look at learning as a life time of exploration not only for your child but for yourself.  Learning shouldn’t be a chore!    Take time to let learn with your child!

Janet Smith


Science and Math in 4-H?

June 15th, 2015
Science of Parenting guest blog
Cindy Gannon, Northwest Iowa Marketing Coordinator
Of all the possible clubs and organizations parents and kids can choose to belong to, a 4-H club should be number one on the list. What do you know about 4-H? Some think it’s all about farms. And animals. Period.
We know it’s so much more. All the activities are and always have been STEM focused, meaning the members are engaged in science, technology, engineering and mathematic principles. Members of 4-H who belong to a 4-H club are immersed in STEM activities.
But, what if your child isn’t in 4-H? How about trying a summer camp? Most camps are open to all youth in the area. Those who attend will have much to write on “What did you do this summer?”
Examples of some camps ISU Extension and Outreach offer:
Robotics Camp I, II and III
Free Style STEM
1st Steps Vet Science
Explorations in Vet Science
Next Steps Vet Science
CSI:  Learn to Investigate
CSI:  Unsolved Mystery
Jelly Genes and DNA:  Biotechnology
Food Science
Green Thumbs, Dirty Fingers
Or, how about:
Photography camps, NASA Mars rover camp, nature STEM camps, sewing camps, explore medicine camps, and more. Many of the camps could not happen without community partnerships such as area hospitals, school science teachers, NASA astronauts (yes, really), and many more.  
Want your child to Join 4-H? Contact a county office near you.



Summer Learning Can Continue through 4-H and Scouts

June 5th, 2015

I grew up on a farm in northeast Iowa and my summers were spent picking up rocks, cutting volunteer corn from soybean fields and learning from 4-H.   4-H was interwoven into the culture of rural life.  Learning was at the center of summer and 4-H was the catalyst.  Fair projects provided the incentive for me to learn many things.  I learned about the science of cooking—why eggs turned green if boiled incorrectly, the process of canning and using a pressure cooker, tying a variety of macramé knots, the details of furniture refinishing, photography and the effects of different light exposures to only highlight a few.  Learning didn’t stop when the school bell rang, in fact, learning moved into high gear.  For me learning that was purposeful or necessary to do something was powerful.  I learned early the importance of how to learn and the joy and satisfaction that can come from learning.

How can we encourage this kind of learning today? Kids are still joining and learning through 4-H and the Scouting organizations are still running summer camps.   I’m seeing my 15 year old off to Scout camp this weekend for a two week stint and he can easily give testimony to what he has and will learn at camp.  Youth programs like 4-H and Scouts offer valuable opportunities for youth to learn not only practical, technical skills, but life skills like communications and getting along with other youth and adults.    Sadly, more should and could take advantage.  Summer youth programs can provide a unique opportunity for youth to learn in a relaxed environment outside of school.

It’s not too late to get your child enrolled!  It’s not too late for learning!  Call today.


Janet Smith


communicating, learning

Help Kids Learn this Summer

June 4th, 2015


Classes are over, swimming pools are open and summer sports leagues are in full swing. But summer vacation from school doesn’t have to be a vacation from learning.

Researchers have documented that young people may lose some of what they learned during the school year if they aren’t engaged in educational activities during the summer. However, many communities, schools and youth organizations have summer learning opportunities worth exploring.

Parents are extremely important in encouraging and motivating their children during the summer months. This month, we will explore ways for parents to help their children discover the joys of reading and tips to keep those math skills sharp. We also will discuss challenges that parents face when trying to encourage learning.



Parenting..More Than a “To-Do” List

May 28th, 2015

ThinkstockPhotos-476027825 (3)

I have two children that have graduated from high school and the youngest will start his sophomore year in high school this fall.   So my parenting years are dwindling. Do I have any regrets?  Well…I’m sure like many busy mothers; the years seemed to fly by and most of the time, I was blessed with children who were typically “easy” and didn’t demand intensive parental intervention.   Somewhere during those early years I remember reading a book by William Doherty, Ph.D. about being “intentional”. Doherty’s book helped me to realize the importance of everyday rituals that could strengthen our family and marital relationships.   I learned that I couldn’t do it ALL.  But I also learned that being intentional meant setting priorities.   And I learned that if I didn’t set goals, things just wouldn’t get done.  But sometimes, I just got tangled up in the never ending details of family life and responsibilities.  My kids have always been good at keeping me centered on what was most important.  I learned that when they were most unlovable, they needed love the most.  And when they were quiet and happily playing alone, they needed me just as much as when they were whining and pulling at my leg for attention.  We have attempted to make our family communication a two way street.  I know that I have learned as much from my children, as they have learned from me.  One of my most treasured “ah-ah” moments for me came from a mother’s day gift—from my then 12-year old daughter.   She framed a Dove Chocolate wrapper—with the fitting quote, “Life is more than a to-do list”.  How shaming, yet so very spot on!  I was taken back by her subtle communication tactic.  But I took her advice to heart and I still have the chocolate wrapper as a reminder of the most important things in life.  Be intentional and remember to take time for what matters most.

Janet Smith

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Son’s Easy Temperament an Asset for Coping with Physical Disability

May 21st, 2015

The temperament experts—describe three temperament types—feisty, slow to warm up and easy.  I have blogged about my feisty 15-year old son, my slow to warm up 20-year old daughter and now I am going to share with you my experiences raising my 21- year old “easy” son.  Has parenting him always been easy?  Not in the least!

My first born son—Jared has always been an easy temperament kid.   He really never cried.  I fed him every four hours because that’s what the doctor said.  He didn’t demand it.  But I knew I should.  He didn’t use a pacifier.  He was content on his own.   He smiled at everybody.  He adjusted well, despite his parents’ inexperience.    He was simply the most content, happy baby.  His easy temperament was a good match for my sometimes “feisty” temperament.

My concerns with his physical development started at 10 months of age when I noted that he couldn’t sit up on his own.  And at 18 months, I really began to worry because he still wasn’t walking.  I remember our family doctor looking at him as he referred to a child development book and said,  “Hmm, he really should be walking.  “He looks strong enough”.  As a first time mom I wondered,  “ was he just “too easy-going?” ,  “ was he lazy?”, or “could it be something else?”.  But his easy going style, and a long waiting list for the developmental clinic kept these questions in my mind for several months.  And still he couldn’t walk.

Then at 20 months of age, Jared had his first of several febrile seizures.  Most twenty month olds wouldn’t have tolerated that EEG cords, the IVs and the liquid epileptic medications.  But Jared did.  He Smiled, and actually seemed to enjoy the interaction with the nurses and lab technicians.  The testing went on for a couple of months and then just prior to his 2 year birthday, we received his diagnosis of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.  Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy is a progressive neuromuscular disease that typically effects only males, because of the x-linked genetic mutation.  Boys are sometimes slow to develop physically, sometimes have speech and cognitive challenges as well as cardiac and pulmonary issues, and lose the ability to walk around the age of 12.  So at the same time that we celebrated his first steps, we mourned the losses that lay ahead his first future knowing that he would permanently lose his ability to walk.  His easy going temperament has been the key to our acceptance.  He has never expressed his desire to do anything physical that he wasn’t able to do.  His positive attitude is infectious.  His easy temperament is an asset.  I hope that you  can see the temperaments that your children have as an asset too!


Janet Smith

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