New Blogger, Mackenzie Johnson, shares research and reality

Hello hello! I’m Mackenzie, and I’m so excited to be joining the Science of Parenting blog team! A little about me – I have an infant daughter, I enjoy cooking from scratch, and I’m a total geek for research on the interaction of parents and children (even studied it in college)! These three facts about me actually all roll together into one of my biggest passions – learning about the phenomenon of how parents get the opportunity to help raise new adults “from scratch”!

In my education, I’ve learned a lot about parenting styles, stages of child development, strategies for guidance and discipline, etc. So when I thought about becoming a parent, I had big plans. Oh boy, I had all kinds of plans! I said things to myself like “I will do things this way” and “I would never do that” … Then I held my tiny infant in my arms, and suddenly everything changed. She came into the world with her own temperament, her own challenges, her own quirks. I found out that my plans weren’t panning out how I thought- no matter how much effort I put into them! “What now?”, I asked myself, “I know that research suggests this is the best way to do this, but my plans aren’t working!”

Over a few months, I’ve been able to get some clarity on what I like to refer to as “balancing research and reality”. The research suggested that _______ is the most successful strategy, but I had to balance that information with what my reality was. With certain things, the research-suggested strategy just wasn’t working for us… But Instead of feeling terribly guilty about it, I’ve come to find a level of acceptance. I realized that I wasn’t a failure, but rather a parent who made an educated decision about what was best for my family. In certain circumstances, it was better for my family to change the way we were doing things than to continue on a path that wasn’t working for us. And because I had learned about the research, I was able to make an INFORMED decision for MY FAMILY.

That’s the perspective I hope to bring with me to the blog: understanding that research is here to empower us to be able to make informed decisions about what is in the best interest of our families. So no parent-shaming here. No condescending words to belittle anyone’s parenting. No telling you that there is only one way to do it. Instead, we will work to give you access to information so that you can decide what is best for your family.

So yes, I’m truly excited to be joining the Science of Parenting team, because I just can’t think of a better parent-empowering movement to get behind.

Mackenzie Johnson

Mackenzie Johnson

Parent to a little one with her own quirks. Celebrator of the concept of raising kids “from scratch”. Learner and lover of the parent-child relationship. Translator of research with a dose of reality. Certified Family Life Educator.

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The Role of Parents in Mental Health and Trauma Therapy

 

This week we welcome guest blogger Erin Neill. Erin is a doctoral student in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at Iowa State University. She is also a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker in Washington, DC. Erin is passionate about all things mental health.

 

 

Events such as hurricanes, tornadoes, terrorism, abuse, and neglect are all examples of traumatic experiences that many children in our country and around the world experience on a daily basis. Experiencing a traumatic event leads to poor outcomes for children, including acting out, poor school performance, substance abuse, and mental health issues such as posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Fortunately, we know that there are effective treatments for childhood PTSD. One of those treatments is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT. But what we don’t know is exactly how, or why, or for whom CBT works best. We need more information about this. For children we want to know, what is the role of parents?

There is some research that suggests that children and parents have a reciprocal relationship. That is, children and parents interact with each other to affect how CBT treatment is working. So far, however, there have been very few studies that show this type of relationship.

In my research, I looked at data for children who had experienced a traumatic event and developed PTSD as a result. These children, and only the children, attended 12 weeks of a CBT intervention. We also asked moms (who brought their children to treatment each week) to report on their child’s PTSD sympto
ms as well as their own maternal depression symptoms.

The most exciting finding was that even though the moms did not receive any treatment themselves, their depression symptoms decreased significantly over the course of their child’s treatment. But even more, they were part of the reason that their child got better over time. I found that it wasn’t just that child PTSD symptoms decreased over time, or because of the treatment, but at least part of the reason that kids’ PTSD symptoms decreased was because the moms’ depression decreased as well. I also found a reciprocal relationship; Part of the reason that moms’ depression symptoms decreased over time was because of their child’s PTSD symptom decrease.

This data provides evidence that moms and children really are affecting each other’s mental health. This is important to know, because if only one person can attend treatment, we know that therapy can affect the mental health of the dyad and of the family system.

This is just one step in learning how, and why, and for whom these treatments work. We continue to need more research in this area because children will continue to experience traumatic events, and they deserve effective treatments.

 

 

 

 

 

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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April is Child Abuse Prevention Month

Parents who did not have an ideal childhood may unknowingly be perpetuating the same traumatic experiences for their children. However, the cycle can be broken.

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 will share research on how children respond to trauma, how to build resiliency in children and ways that communities can begin to support all children and families in reducing the incidence and impact of adverse childhood experiences.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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Disco Creates Drive

**Flashback to 2014**

Ok, disco music doesn’t really create the drive to do things but it sure can HELP! Elizabeth’s blog last week, got me thinking about all the ways that I utilize (or have utilized) music to accomplish or complete different things throughout my life. It’s a pretty long list, but I thought the ones below were worth sharing.

  1. Playing the Top 40 on the radio to study my high school geography notes and connecting locations to the lyrics of the songs (…her name was Rio…).
  2. Using a Disco Micky Mouse record (yes a vinyl record) to help my three year old classroom kiddos expend their energy before nap time.
  3. Gathering multiple cd’s to take to the hospital when they told me it could take more than 24 hours to birth my child and I would want to be distracted.
  4. Downloading an hours worth of music to my music player to help convince my body it wants to keep moving and work up a good sweat.

From live radio to recorded downloads music can motivate us, relax us, energize and calm us. It connects to our feelings and emotions in a way that can keep us moving forward. Driving us to accomplish and complete.

As you reflect back on your life and the music in it, we would love to have you share with us the different ways that music has supported or helped you to ‘finish’.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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Is it Magic? Or is it Music?

So do you ever wonder why when you tell a 3 year old to “clean up”, they completely ignore you, but once you start singing that oh so popular “Clean Up Song”, that same 3 year old happily and energetically starts cleaning up? Is it magic or is it music? That’s the question we asked guest blogger Elizabeth Stegemöller, PhD and Board Certified Music Therapist from the ISU Kinesology Department.

Join in on our conversation with Elizabeth below.

..”Well, of course it is the music. Believe it or not being involved with music, be it music listening, instrumental playing, singing, or dancing has many benefits for a child’s physical, mental, emotional, and social development. Children learn to coordinate fine motor movements of the hands when learning an instrument. In fact most instruments require you to do completely opposite actions with each hand. Yeah, you remember how hard it was to get that left hand to do anything productive on the piano. Dancing includes the coordination of larger muscle groups of the whole body. Then there is the mental/cognitive aspects that include reading and pairing symbols with letters and meanings, leaning a whole new language (I mean what does forte really mean, how about adagio), and then somehow translate all of this into a motor command for your fingers or voice. Now, what about the emotional responses to music. Music is a mechanism to appropriately express feelings. I mean give a teenager some headphones and if you dare a drum set, and watch out! Finally, making music together teaches children how to work together to produce a final masterpiece. Really, there is no part of the human brain that isn’t involved with music.”

But what is it specifically about music that holds this power over human behavior? How can music encourage a toddler to clean up or help them learn their ABCs and why does this even matter?

“Interestingly, it starts with the rhythmic and harmonic structure of music and how the brain processes this signal. First, by nature music is a “cleaner” signal. There is less noise in a music signal than in a speech signal. And the brain likes a “clean” signal, especially a developing brain. Second, precise temporal stimulation of neural structures leads to plasticity (making new connections in the brain). Basically, if the brain (neurons) fires together, it wires together. Music is a highly organized rhythmic structure that allows for synchronization of multiple brain areas. Most importantly, music listening increases dopamine in the brain. Guess what, in order to learn anything, you need dopamine! So, stimulating the brain with a clear and synchronized signal along with the increase in dopamine is precisely what is needed for neural plasticity (i.e. learning).”

Now, back to that 3 year old cleaning up. Why did music work?

“Well, singing was a clear signal that was easier for the child to process and make the neural connection and or association that the signal meant to “clean up” regardless if they processed the meaning of the actual words or just the musical tune. But what about the ABC’s? Well, music synchronized neural activity along with increased dopamine and established new connections for alphabet order. Now just imagine how many neural connections are being made by playing an instrument, dancing, and making music as a group! Music is magic – brain magic!”

Share with us how you have used music in a way that seemed magical!

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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Stop. Breathe. Talk. in Action

I wanted to share this comment I received from a reader. Thank you Mackenzie for allowing me to share your thoughts with our readers.

“I’m a parent of a mostly happy seven month old daughter. I’m also an adult educator who helps parents understand the important difference between reacting (when we let our immediate emotions decide how to react to a child’s behavior) and responding (when take a moment to stop and think about how we actually want to respond to our child’s behavior). One simple way to remember this difference is to tell yourself to “Stop. Breathe. Talk.” It sounds so simple, right? And most people assume I must get it right every time, but that is NOT true… In my head I know that my daughter feels things intensely (like her momma does) and responds with the same intensity because she doesn’t have the skills to cope appropriately yet. And still, in the heat of an overwhelming moment, I definitely have to take that second to think to myself, “Stop. Breathe. Talk”.

“Like last night, my teething daughter was up for the second time in the middle of night (a phase I thought we had finally made it through). I picked her up from her crib and tried to soothe her back to sleep for a few minutes. When she calmed down, I set her back into the crib and headed back to bed. Seconds after I get back under the covers, I hear the crying start again. It’s the middle of the night, I’m tired. I start to huff back to her crib irritated. As I walk I’m saying to myself, “Just sleep! Why won’t you sleep? I’m so sick of this!” I walk up to her crib… “Wait,” I think to myself. “She isn’t doing this to you. She is having a hard time and needs her momma to help her through this.” So I stop. I walk into the hallway. I take a deep breath. I walk back up to her crib. In a calm voice I say, “I know, sweet girl. Getting teeth is hard work. Mommy is here.” I pick her up and rub her back. Her body relaxes and after a few minutes, I set her down in her crib, totally asleep.”

“Even as someone who teaches these skills to fellow parents, I know I don’t get it right every time. But in the moments where I remind myself to “Stop. Breathe. Talk”, I do better. That extra second gives me the chance to consider my emotions and reaction, and change it into the kind of response I want to have. ”

 

Consider one of the last frustrating interacting you had with your child. Would it have ended differently if you had chosen to Stop. Breathe. Talk.? Comment and tell us about a time when this strategy has worked for you! We’d love to hear from you!”

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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Stop. Breathe. Talk



Research shows that physical punishment and yelling is harmful.

So what can we do instead?

Stop.

Breathe.

Talk.

As we wind down our conversations on guidance & discipline it becomes important to just step back and focus on 3 simple steps. At any age and in any situation we can help ourselves by remembering to take a moment to stop, take a breath and use a calm voice as we talk to our child about our expectations.

No matter what age our children are, we can stop, breathe and talk. Even a crying infant can be comforted by our slowed breathing and calm reassuring voice. Toddlers can see our calm demeanor and notice our quieter voice. The elementary and middle school child notices that we are role-modeling actions for them to mirror.

Talk doesn’t mean lecture. It can be as simple as, “I hear you” or “I see that you are upset right now”.  Allowing children a safe place to express their strong feelings while we model a calm, cool and collected approach, is the best kind of guidance and discipline we can give our child.

 

 

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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Self-Discipline

Self-discipline is often measured in terms of how willing we are as individuals to decide between what we WANT today and what is best for us in the long run. Having the self-discipline to manage our resources; appropriate behavior; language and work ethic help to create a stable environment in which to live.  Parent’s too, who spend the time early in a child’s life to help them adjust their behavior so that they are well mannered in school; the neighborhood and at home, can take credit for creating a nurturing environment.

Natural consequences are all around us, youth and adult alike. If I work through lunch and the cafeteria is closed when I finally take a break to eat, I will have to have another plan for eating. If I choose to use “salty” language to my peers on the job, I may run the risk of being overlooked for leadership positions, because my language is a reflection of my lack of self-discipline in proper communication.

Everyday, we are challenged to work alongside others who may or may not have the same set of skills; our self-discipline is simply an expression of the character we have and our willingness to lead by example!

Barb Dunn Swanson

Barb Dunn Swanson

With two earned degrees from Iowa State University, Barb is a Human Sciences Specialist utilizing her experience working alongside communities to develop strong youth and families! With humor and compassion, she enjoys teaching, listening and learning to learn!

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Natural and Logical Consequences

This week we welcome guest blogger and doctoral candidate Amber Kreischer.

Amber is a doctoral candidate in the department of Human Development and Family Studies. Homeschooling mother of two. Former preschool teacher. Passionate about early childhood development, gender, and books.

Children are in a continuous state of learning how to manage their emotions, their bodies, and their thoughts. Because of this, it is common for children to have outbursts, make mistakes, and test boundaries. The question is: What can we do to help them learn from these events and help them change their behavior for the better? Two options are to use “natural” and “logical” consequences.

No matter our age, we all face consequences for our actions. Often, people argue that children who grow up ‘without consequences’ will never learn how to behave in society. The implied message behind this statement is that adults need to plan or manipulate the consequences that children experience in order for them to have an effect. This is not always the case.

Many times, teaching children “natural consequences” is an effective behavior management technique. It requires no intervention at all on the part of the adult, other than thoughtful discussion with the child regarding what happened. As the name suggests, these types of consequences occur naturally and can be strong motivators for children to reflect on and change undesirable behavior. If a child throws a toy in anger and the toy breaks, the natural consequence is that the toy is now broken. Immediately replacing or repairing the toy would not allow the child to learn from what naturally resulted from their actions. Similarly, perhaps your child is one of many whose bedroom gets messier by the second. Upon stepping on an object on the floor, their pained foot and broken object are natural consequences of choosing to have a messy room.

What is particularly powerful about natural consequences is their lifelong relevance. These are aspects of life that people must manage on a regular basis. Discussing these naturally-occurring outcomes with children benefits them both during the immediate situation as well as in the long run.

A related technique involves the use of “logical consequences.” This technique requires caregivers to think of and employ consequences that logically connect to the given misbehavior. For example, at meal times children sometimes have a habit of bouncing around in their chairs. When a child spills their drink, it logically follows that they would be required to clean it up, rather than having an adult swoop in and clean it for them. My son had a habit of screaming in restaurants when he was a toddler. At first, we shushed him as much as we could, noting glares from other tables. Once I thought to use a logical consequence, his behavior quickly changed. In response to his loudness, we began to calmly remove him from the dining area while telling him that we could not scream in restaurants and we would return to our table when he was finished. It was evident that he learned that the behavior of screaming was not appropriate for restaurant environments, and after 2-3 times of receiving this logical consequence, he used an “inside voice” every time we went out to eat.

It can sometimes be difficult to think of natural and logical consequences in the moment. Consider some behaviors that your child exhibits often. What are some ways that you could allow them to learn from the logical and natural results of their actions?

 

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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A Look at Corporal Punishment

Last week we talked about how consistent discipline builds trust. This week we asked Dr. Carl Weems PhD, Professor and Chair of Human Development and Family Studies at Iowa State University about the effects of corporal punishment and its impact on youth’s ability to regulate their emotions.

In the study, Parenting Behaviors, Parent Heart Rate Variability and their Associations with Adolescent Heart Rate Variability, Journal of Youth and Adolescence, Dr. Weems and colleagues looked at the associations between parenting behaviors and emotion regulation.

Tell us a little about what your study looked at:

Emotion regulation is associated with positive social functioning and psychological adjustment among youth. Emotion regulation involves both the automatic and voluntary control of negative and positive emotions using physiological, cognitive, and behavioral means to achieve goals. Resting heart rate variability (i.e., the natural variability in the time between heart beats while an individual is at rest) is a physiological index of an individual’s emotion regulation. In our study we fund that certain parenting behaviors were related to this.

How did corporal punishment impact your findings?

Inconsistent discipline and corporal punishment were negatively associated with adolescent resting heart rate variability. Suggesting that corporal punishment is associated with diminished levels of emotion regulation. Theoretically, the extended use of corporal punishment as a disciplinary technique may be especially harmful for youth with low heart rate variability because it may cause youth to view their home environment as threatening and decrease their sense of control over their environment, which may exacerbate existing emotion dysregulation and maintain low heart rate variability levels.

Did you find impacts of positive parenting as well?

Positive parenting and parental involvement were positively associated with emotion regulation-suggesting these are associated with increased emotion regulation ability. Inconsistent discipline and parental involvement also influenced the relationship between parent and adolescent resting heart rate variability. Such that that in the context of low inconsistent discipline (i.e., consistent discipline), there was a positive association between parent and adolescent resting heart rate variability.

If you were to share one important message from this study what would that be?

This finding suggests that consistent discipline may entrain parent and adolescent heart rate variability (i.e., make parent and adolescent resting heart rate variability more similar). The findings provide evidence for a role of parenting behaviors in shaping the development of adolescent resting heart rate variability with inconsistent discipline and parental involvement potentially influencing the entrainment of resting heart rate variability in parents and their children.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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Discipline helps children learn

I recently had someone ask me, “Lori if you say I can’t punish my child aren’t you really telling me that they should be able to do whatever they want?”.   Thus started our conversation on the difference between punishment and discipline.

Earlier this month we defined both punishment and discipline. We found the definition of punishment to be: to deal with roughly or harshly, to inflict injury on. While the definition of discipline is training that corrects, molds, or perfects moral character.

In parenting, our goal should always be to mold and correct as opposed to inflict injury on. I understand where the question about punishment came from. Obviously, we don’t want to imply that inappropriate behaviors in children should have no consequences or that children shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions. What we do want is children who trust that we have their best interests in mind as we guide and teach them appropriate ways to act and behave.

We know that guiding children takes time but it also takes a trusting relationship. Children learn to trust us through our consistency with them. They learn from us when we are consistent with our expectations of their behavior and when we take time to talk and model the behavior we want them to have instead. When we guide their appropriate choices we instill a sense of trust in them. They understand that even though we may not be letting them do what they want, they trust us because we have been loving and consistent.

My answer to the original question then was “Discipline is always about helping children learn the consequences of their actions. Punishment is about instilling fear”.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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Discipline is different for everyone

We know this to be true. Parenting is not a ‘one size fits all’ kind of journey. Understanding that each child is unique becomes important even as we consider guidance and discipline. Guidance and discipline strategies will change as children grow and they will also be unique to each particular child. We won’t have just one strategy that we use from start to finish. We will, however, select strategies that grow as our child grows and that match their temperament and personality.

The first step then is selecting a discipline strategy that is appropriate for the age of the child. Appropriate toddler age strategies include redirecting and ignoring. Examples of appropriate strategies for preschoolers include natural consequences or time-in. Consider this more effective version of time-out called ‘time-in’ – essentially it is cuddle time or positive quiet time to get the child’s needs met and ensure emotional regulation for both parent and child.

The second step is then selecting the strategy that meets each child’s particular temperament and personality. Some children will respond quickly to a particular strategy while others may have a limited response. You may even need to select different strategies for siblings due to their different temperaments.

The third step can actually be considered ‘one size fits all’. Consistency. Consistently applying your strategy over and over, at home, at grandma’s and at the store is a huge piece to guidance and discipline success. This means that your strategy needs to be able to be implemented in all places. We don’t select one strategy for grandma’s house and a different one for the store. This is confusing to children and they may become unsure of exactly what your expectations are.

Guidance and discipline is a balance between being loving and kind while at the same time being firm and consistent.

Resources shared below have additional suggestions on age-appropriate strategies.

Disciplining Your Preschooler — Understanding Children

Disciplining Your Toddler — Understanding Children

Parenting Young Teens: Parenting in Stepfamilies

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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First a ‘Thank-You’ and then Our January 2017 Topic Punishment vs Discipline

Welcome to January 2017.

Our Science of Parenting team wanted to take just a moment to say ‘thank-you’. Thank-you for continuing to spend time with us here on our blog. Thank-you for sharing your thoughts and ideas with us and thank-you for supporting our efforts to provide research based information for parents. We appreciate the messages you have sent us throughout the year and we look forward to sharing more time together with you in 2017.

We decided to start 2017 off with a topic that several of our faculty are currently researching. Punishment vs Discipline.

What’s the difference you might be asking? Great question.

When it comes to raising children, we often find parents confused on what do to when it comes to punishment or discipline. In looking at the definitions, we see a stark contrast in the two words. Punishment-to inflict injury on versus discipline-training that corrects.

This month at the Science of Parenting we are going to dive into those two words and review the research that has been done by faculty and students right here at Iowa State.

We look forward to sharing with you!

January 2017 Podcast Script

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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From Gifts to Gratitude

Now that the gifts are open and the wrapping paper scattered, I began to think about how to help my children show their appreciation for what they received.

I remembered that when the girls were little we created small thank you cards and mailed them. I don’t exactly recall when we quit sending thank you’s but we did. As I sit and wonder, I can’t help but think that that the practice should have gotten easier as they aged because they could take on the task more independently. Why did we stop? I don’t know.

So I did what any curious mom would do while she ponders the importance of thank you’s and gratitude.  I googled ‘gratitude research’ to find out what science says about the topic.

According to research projects done through The Youth Gratitude Project: The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California Berkley, “Research convincingly shows that grateful youth, compared to their less grateful counterparts, are happier, more satisfied with their lives, friends, family, neighborhood, and selves. They also report more hope, engagement with their hobbies, higher GPAs, and less envy, depression, and materialism.”

There are pages of research on the benefits of modeling, teaching and sharing gratitude with children. We could probably blog on gratitude for a year and not run out of research to share.

So if it is so important, why didn’t I continue the practice? I don’t know. I can’t change what we haven’t done in the past, but I can change what we will do in the future. Gratitude. It’s important to my children’s health.

I would love to know how you have helped shared gratitude with your children. Share your ideas with me.

 

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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Three Presents

I received a wonderful message from a reader of our blog. I asked the writer for permission to share.   I love when our readers let us know that something has touched them personally. 

Beautiful little girl child with shopping colorful paper bags in

Listen in on Laura’s thoughts….and thank you Laura for being willing to share.

When I was growing up, each of us seven kids in my family received three Christmas presents from Mom and Dad, under the guise of Santa Claus: a toy present, a clothes present, and a book present. There may have been discrepancies in the total cost of each kid’s gifts, but that didn’t matter to us. We each had three packages to open. It was fair.

This system also helped Mom and Dad administer their Christmas budget. They were not the type to go into debt; if they couldn’t pay for it, they didn’t buy it. But they could plan ahead – quite necessary when dealing with 21 presents (seven kids times three)!

In addition, they taught us kids a lesson about finances. They told us that parents would leave money on the kitchen table for Santa – to pay him for the presents. They said some parents could leave more money for Santa than they could, while other parents couldn’t leave as much. Santa then considered each family’s Christmas list against the money and provided accordingly. That made sense to us and was a simple way to explain why some of our friends might get more, or fewer, presents than we did.

But most important, my parents were sharing their values. We learned we couldn’t have everything we wanted – we had to make choices. Sure we may have wanted three toys, but we also needed socks or a new pair of pants – we learned to understand limits. We also grew to enjoy and value reading.

I took my parents’ three present system to heart, and my husband and I followed it with our own children.

I can’t quote the exact research that supports my parents’ – and my – approach to holiday gift giving. But it seems to be in line with the concepts the specialists’ teach: treat children fairly, practice love and limits, promote literacy, and stick to your budget.

Laura Sternweis

Laura is a communications specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She has a B.S. in communications from the University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point and an MS in rural sociology from Iowa State. She’s a former farm kid and the parent of two young adult children.

 

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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