Reflecting for Resilience

The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted children and families in a variety of ways, both positively and negatively. You might wonder, how could families be impacted positively by a pandemic?  I can report, from responses to a questionnaire collected prior to delivering a webinar on pandemic parenting by members of the Science of Parenting team, many families found unique and supportive impacts from this most uncertain pandemic.

Families reported enjoying more time together at home. Because many heeded the advice to “stay home,” families appreciated newfound time for family meals and game and movie nights. Kids gathered in the kitchen and picked up some skills in meal preparation, including clean up! Parents reported that they enjoyed this time of bonding with their children.

Siblings learned they had to share screen time, internet usage, and even study space in the same house. Families learned to plan for and to negotiate needs among the family members, including some parents who found themselves working from home during the pandemic.

The pandemic had many unintended consequences. The network of face-to-face social support from neighbors and extended family members was very limited! The opportunities to share in rituals of birthday parties, graduations, and wedding celebrations, to name a few, were interrupted. Some families postponed events or simply found alternate ways to celebrate. The “drive-by” parties were very popular last year!

Parents took the time to listen to the stress, anxiety, and unexpected disappointments that family members expressed and then brainstormed together how to manage the feelings. Often, being heard and getting the chance to speak feelings out loud was a healing release. Some families used exercise and nature walks to release some of the stress they were experiencing. Journaling was another coping technique for both youth and adults. Keeping the lines of communication open during this time proved a positive protective factor.

As families navigated the pandemic, they learned tools that will translate into resilience during future tough times. Not sure how? Be sure to take time to reflect on what went well, what was tough, and how you learned from it all. You are RESILIENT.

How to Repair

When families experience “tough times”, it can impact the feelings and behaviors of family members. And when family members act out in response to the “tough times” parents may have to set limits or deliver consequences that may be met with further hostility, anger or additional outbursts.

These times are not comfortable for parents or for children, but they happen, and all families must find reasonable ways to manage and cope! Unacceptable behaviors may stem from disappointment when a child doesn’t get their way. When emotions are high, we can act unreasonable. We let the emotions drive our behaviors. Waiting until our emotions are regulated once again is important.

Our emotions stem from one portion of the brain, and our decision-making capability from a separate portion of the brain. To think clearly, and make a good decision, we need to calm down, and become re-regulated. We can say things we don’t mean when we are caught up in emotion! Using the STOP, BREATHE, TALK campaign is a great way to get ourselves and our family members re-regulated, so we can talk through the tough times.

This means that when we find ourselves in the heat of the moment, and when emotions are running high, we STOP what we are doing and pause. We then take some deep cleansing breaths; next, we think about how we want to talk about the situation we experienced. We intentionally change the direction of the emotionally charged situation, to prevent ourselves from acting out in ways that are harsh or emotionally unacceptable.

Adults and children alike who recover from an emotional outburst can benefit from learning how to apologize and make amends. The ability to tell someone else that we are sorry for our words or behaviors takes courage. Parents who model how to apologize can help their children learn to do the same. Once an apology is extended, the ability to accept the apology and move forward is essential.

The “tough times” are also teachable times. We learn to express our regrets and say “I’m sorry” and discuss how to prevent the same things from happening again.

Renegotiating Rules

Everywhere we go, we experience rules that must be followed. Rules for driving; Rules for playing sports; Rules for how to spend grant funds; Rules for playing board games. Rules are essential and provide the structure necessary for people to work together and get along.

When people know the rules, this creates a sense of comfort. Both children and adults can anticipate what is expected and feel safe and secure. Parents often create a schedule or routine for their children that can help reduce feelings of chaos by providing flexible but consistent information and a daily structure that kids can anticipate.

Kids can play an important part in the rule making process. Giving kids some say in developing the rules and any consequences helps them to remember and take responsibility. When parents and kids can together have a “rules” conversation, parents can honestly share reasons for the boundaries and limits that reflect the family values and helps to keep everyone safe.

The rules that are established should reflect the age and ability of the children they are designed to protect. Helping children to meet the rules and using reminders can be helpful for young children who are very stimulated by their environment and excited about the opportunities before them.

Research reveals “specific, warm, concrete, understandable directions and expectations can improve child behaviors, prevent dangerous circumstances, reduce caregivers’ frustrations, and foster children’s learning of appropriate behaviors. It is most effective to tell children exactly what behaviors you desire.”

For example:

Instead of:Try this:
Don’t yell in the house!Please use your inside talking voice
Why isn’t your homework finished yet?Finish your homework, before asking for screen time.
You better be home on time.I expect you home at 10:00 PM
Knock that off.Please do not throw the football in the house.

One final reminder, as adults – we must remember to model the behaviors we expect from children. If we want rule followers in our home, we too must lead the way, and follow the rules too.

Utilizing Routines & Rituals

Having regular routines can be a helpful strategy for busy parents and kids, like the time we rise from sleep each day or what time we eat. Some parents even rise first so they have some “me” time before the kids wake. The children may have scheduled piano lessons or baseball practice followed by homework completion… all making up what we know as a family routine. Now that summer has arrived, a new routine may include swimming lessons, outdoor adventures, and time for rest and relaxation.

Rituals, on the other hand, may be symbolic. For example, the celebration of a family birthday. This special occasion might also include enjoying a family meal and a “favorite dish” requested by the birthday member!  The birthday ritual itself takes on special meaning and perhaps has been shared over generations. Families may have stories to share about how the rituals celebrated were started and why they continue to be meaningful.

Routines and rituals play a special role in our families and often reflect family values.  When families face “tough times,” the routines can be interrupted. However, parents who maintain routines during the chaos will find they can be a protective factor, which may help the family feel some stability during the “tough time.”

We are connecting rituals and routines to tough times now, but The Science of Parenting team produced two bonus podcasts relating to specific losses in the pandemic (be sure to go back and listen to those, too, if you haven’t heard them already!):

Leaning into Relationships

The family unit is a precious commodity! Every member has a unique and important role to play and every family will have a different set of people they consider meaningful, supportive, and essential! The way we describe our family and the ways in which we celebrate each member can be reflected in our family values! The bonds we create and the relationships we nurture can protect us even during “tough times”.  

The recent pandemic was felt by many families. The health precautions taken included masks, physical distancing, and even postponement of many routines and rituals once enjoyed by extended family and friends.

The isolation that was experienced was an unintended consequence of trying to keep all family members safe and healthy. Family relationships were still important and using video calling or texting or drive by visits were some of the unique ways people stayed connected.

Positive, warm relationships with adults are a protective factor during tough times. In addition to parents, extended family members, coaches, 4-H club or scout leaders, schoolteachers all become important individuals who can support the family during those difficult times!

Research confirms that children and adolescents both find the relationship with the parent unit a source of comfort especially during times of stress and parents are still needed as sources of external monitoring. The following table is one way we can continue to build warm relationships with our children, no matter their age.

To learn more about each of these important concepts, listen or view the podcast!

Risk & Protective Factors

While families are celebrating the start of the summer months and the end of a school year, they are also taking precautions because of the reality of the pandemic that has impacted so many for an entire year. Many lessons have been learned during this very uncertain time. The lessons have revealed the various ways families have experienced resilience over the last 12 months or more.

Family resilience can be defined as the ability of a family to respond positively to an adverse event and emerge strengthened. Numerous influences we refer to as protective factors help us to mitigate the effects of those adverse events. According to research (Hawley 2002), resilience is most likely to be found as risk factors are minimized and protective factors are present.

Sensitive, responsive caregiving is a critical protective factor. Taking time and listening to our kids is necessary. Families who plan for and spend meaningful time playing, talking, and enjoying one another is a great buffer against negative events.

In addition, families who can meet the basic needs of food, clothing, housing, and social support will also find these as protective factors during times of stress or crisis. Asking for help is also a meaningful way to acknowledge that we don’t have to manage all alone. The extended network of relatives, neighbors or friends can provide a needed buffer and support for the family.

The sixth season of The Science of Parenting podcast celebrates family resilience and supports the following actions families can take to reduce the effects of stress and crisis:

Looking for the things we can control in our environment.

Keeping our emotions regulated.

Identifying additional family or neighborhood support.

Asking for help.

Realizing that we are not alone.

Resilience in Tough Times

During this past year, the Covid-19 Pandemic created unforeseen circumstances for many families. Parents and children found themselves at home together, parents working from home, and children participating in virtual school. While all families may have been impacted, the ways in which they were able to cope with those events could be attributed in part to the resilience they had as a family.

Resilience can be defined as the ability of a family to respond positively to an adverse event and emerge strengthened. A teen who recently finished school final exams – could consider that event a “tough time”; A family who has made the decision to move to a new home in a new neighborhood may have children who consider that a pretty “tough time”, if they must leave friends for the move. Managing tough times, no matter how big or little is essential.  

According to Dr. Kenneth Ginsberg, a pediatrician, professor, and author has identified the 7 C’s of resilience that he promotes as the essential building blocks of resilience including:

  1. Competence – helping children and family members to feel capable by learning new skills and abilities.
  2. Confidence – As children learn new skills they build the confidence needed to keep learning and growing.
  3. Connection – We are hard wired for connection with others. Keeping lines of communication open with all family members will support our connection to one another.
  4. Character – Personal integrity and a moral compass are important and reflective of our family values.
  5. Contributing – Children and adults feel worthy when they learn new skills, volunteer, or contribute to an effort larger than themselves.  
  6. Coping – Identifying ways we can manage and cope when we experience the “tough times”. Learning to breathe deeply; taking a walk to cool off; or having a conversation to clear the air are a few coping skills all of us could use.
  7. Sense of Control – As children grow up, the desire to have more independence is strong. Having a sense of control is important and helps us learn to reason and make decisions.

Practicing family resilience in the face of “tough times” takes open communication and connection with one another. Up next is the discussion about the risk and protective factors that impact our resilience! Don’t miss out!

Emerging Adults

Each stage of life encourages all of us to learn skills and adapt to our surroundings. Teens finish high school and make plans for the next big adventure, whether it is college, trade school, or entry into the world of work. These milestones in the life of an emerging young adult are just the beginning of their dreams for a bright future. Parents with emerging adults in the home must navigate a household where more than one or two adults now reside.

The emerging adult is likely to want more freedom and may even explore moving out and getting their own place to live. This independence is part of the natural progression of growth and development. Financial independence from their parents is just one goal forward for many emerging adults.

Strategies for living with emerging young adults include:

  • Renegotiating the roles, instead of “always being the parent”, now as both adults, you must learn to co-exist.
  • Helping your emerging adult take on more responsibility and leaving the door open for the big discussions that may need to happen as they begin making more decisions.
  • Practice ACCEPTANCE, your child is likely to do some things like you do and other times will not.
  • As the parent of a child who has left the nest, be sure to find time to do some things you once enjoyed! Now is the time to celebrate both the grown adult children you raised and the newfound time you have to enjoy your own life journey.

Teens

Parenting is a journey. It is not a sprint to the finish, rather, a daily walk with those in our care, until they are launched as independent young adults. And then, parenting continues. Some parents look forward to the day their children leave the nest, knowing they created an environment that helped them learn the skills and abilities necessary to navigate our great big world.

If you are parenting teens, then you know this stage of life can be pretty unpredictable, depending on a number of factors including: a teen’s temperament; a teen’s age; family structure; available resources; education; peer support; and so much more.

The teen years are a time of growing independence. Homework, sports, afterschool activities, a part time job, time with friends all seem to take these teens away from the family home many hours of the day. And when the teen is home, are they hiding out in their room, or are they gathering with other family members for meals, tv, and other family routines? Navigating this sensitive time in development is important. 

While a teen is experiencing many physical and emotional changes to their growing body, their brain is not quite fully developed, so the decision-making ability of a growing teen may not match the ability of someone older.

The Science of Parenting hosts discuss some specific strategies for the teen age years including:

  • Being available to your teen by responsive listening and communication.
  • Serving as a role model of responsible behavior.
  • Continuing to provide boundaries and enforcement of safety rules while supporting your teens growing independence.
  • Communicating family values.
  • Encouragement of healthy decision-making.

For more helpful information for the teen years, check out The Science of Parenting resources.

Pre-teens

The milestones that make up healthy growth and development of children are used by parents, health professionals, and early childhood experts as guidance for what to expect as children grow. No two children will experience the same growth pattern. Each of us grows in our own timing, however, the milestones help us to prepare for what may be around the corner!

The pre-teen years can leave parents with many questions about navigating the emerging physical and emotional changes with their child. While desiring to have more independence, a pre-teen may seek more time with their peers than with their family. They may also be listening more to their peers, so making sure the peers that surround your child are ones you trust and who have similar values and interests as your child is important.

The pre-teen years are time for honest, open conversation about family values and expectations for behavior in school, home, and with friends. Discussion about sensitive issues related to growing sexuality, alcohol or drug use is important to have early and regularly so that your child knows the boundaries and can have honest conversations with you.

Showing respect for your pre-teen and taking an interest in their school and extra-curricular activities will help parents continue to stay engaged with their teen. Talk about the future with your teen. Talking about the hopes and dreams you have for your teen will help them explore their own hopes and dreams. Helping teens set goals for the dreams they want to accomplish is another strategy to stay connected and engaged with your teen.

The Science of Parenting Website is full of resources developed by Dr. Kim Greder! We hope you will explore the information on understanding your teens physical changes and emotional changes too.  

Parenting Children with Special Needs

While recording Season 5 on children’s milestones, I couldn’t help but think about all the parents who listen in and say, “but what if they aren’t?” or “but what if my child never will?” These are hard questions for a parenting educator to answer. As the parent of a child with special needs, I also recognize how difficult it is to be brave enough to ask these questions: the wondering, the worry, the self-doubt, and even the self-shame. I wanted you to hear us say, “We hear you. We see you in the back. We acknowledge that you have questions too”. While every child’s ability is different, and every child’s temperament is different, so are specific diagnoses and conditions. We hope that our short message here gives you the sense that your child is amazing no matter when they reach their milestones (or even if they never will). We want you to know that your parenting journey will need a set of special tools. Most of all, we want you to know that there is more than one way to raise great kids, and you have us to lean on.

Children with Special Health Care Needs (iowa.gov)

Family and Educator Partnership (FEP) | Iowa Department of Education (educateiowa.gov)

Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) – Home Page

School-agers

Now that the kids are in school full time, we may really notice how they begin to manage their continuing gross motor skills, emotional management, and budding friendships with classmates.

Have the kids in the neighborhood been riding bikes? Or have the children expressed an interest in some of the formal team sports like soccer or softball or baseball? These types of activities help a child to fine-tune their ever-increasing gross motor skills. Parents can often be heard encouraging children to “get outside and play.” The outdoor environment is full of opportunities for children to learn tasks for growth and development. 

As children’s cognition and language development are increasing, we may need to begin to offer more explanations or more “why” answers – rather than simply giving a simple yes or no to requests. Helping children learn that our decisions are based on keeping them safe all while providing realistic expectations for their behavior may be a conversation we must have. School-agers are beginning to understand others’ perspectives and are learning to listen to other people’s ideas and suggestions.

Kids in school are developing more memory strategies; Learning to read and then reading to learn. In fact, they may be focused on MASTERY of school and extra-curricular activities.

As parents we may have to be ready to adjust to the different range of emotions that may be apparent during this time frame. We may need to be ready to keep the lines of communication open, so that when the emotion doesn’t seem to match the situation, we are ready to explore WHY….and brainstorm potential solutions or strategies for emotional support.

A few tips for support during these school-age years include:

  • Show affection for your child and recognize their efforts and accomplishments.
  • Ask about school with questions like “tell me about your school day”. “Tell me about your friends”.
  • Do fun things together as a family, such as playing games, reading, hiking outdoors and going to events together.
  • Talk with your child about using money wisely.
  • Praise your child for good behavior.
  • Support your child in taking on new challenges.
  • Encourage your child to solve problems. Brainstorm possible solutions together. 
  • Talk with your child about their homework and discuss any help your child may need or request.

The school years are a time of budding independence. Be sure to show your parental support for that growing independence all while providing the love and limits needed for optimal growth and development.

Preschoolers

Can it really be that time? The time for our children to have a preschool experience. It seems like they were only born yesterday, how can they be ready for school? These are some of the comments that many parents have about their child and the next stage of life! All parents have big decisions to make as they evaluate their child’s growth and development and readiness for the next big milestones like school.

How is your child doing with both gross motor activity and fine motor activity? Do they enjoy using a crayon and drawing and coloring? Do they use chalk and write on the sidewalk or chalkboard? Have you noticed your child walking, running, and maybe even learning to hop, skip or jump? These are the actions of a child who is learning to develop those gross motor skills.

You may also notice that your child has learned many more words and uses them to communicate with you and others around them. The more words a child hears, the richer the child’s vocabulary becomes, which has a profound impact on the child’s school performance, IQ, and life path. Vocabulary development is increasingly acknowledged as a sign of school readiness at kindergarten, and these vocabulary skills are dependent upon the amount and quality of language exposure in earlier years.

The Science of Parenting co-hosts share some great suggestions for preparing the preschool age child during this stage in life:

  • Continue to read to your child. Nurture the love for books by visits to the library or bookstore.
  • Let your child help with simple chores. They can stack their toys or help to put them in a container.
  • Encourage your child to play with other children to learn the value of sharing and friendship.
  • Give your child a limited number of simple choices (for example, deciding what to wear, when to play, and what to eat for snack.

The ages and stages that make up the preschool years are filled with discovery and exploration. For more information be sure to follow the Center for Disease Control pages on child development.

Encouraging Toddler Curiosity

The toddler years!

Parents of active toddlers will often say, “I have to keep my eyes on that child continually,” and how true this can be. Toddlers are learning to use their newfound motion to explore their environment. Touch is one way they learn and grow. Because they are now crawling and getting around on their hands and knees, parents do have a bigger job in protecting their child from hazards and anything that could be a potential concern! As we consider parenting children of different ages, we are looking at developmental milestones –which are things most children can do or are doing by a certain age. We know that each child develops at their own pace! Some children are early, some are on time, and some a little later.

From studies by Goodnow, J. J. (1988); and more recent studies like Bartlett, J. D., Guzman, L., & Ramos-Olazagasti, M. A. (2018)– across the board the research shows that parents who understand developmental milestones are more likely to have age-appropriate expectations, have higher quality interactions, and use more effective parenting strategies. Be sure to listen to the podcast at the 10 minute mark to hear about how brain development impacts how a child continues on their growth journey.

The toddler years may be filled with emotion for many kids. As they are just learning about who they are becoming as individuals, we note that they have very little emotion regulation skills. They are learning to express their needs but can become frustrated when they cannot communicate effectively and we may see the toddler meltdown, or tantrum.  The meltdown could also stem from too much stimulation in the environment.

A few great ideas for engaging with your toddler during this life phase include:

  • Spend time reading to your toddler daily.
  • Ask your child to name and identify body parts and objects.
  • Play games with your toddler, like shape sorting, simple puzzles, or follow the leader.
  • Teach your child simple songs and rhymes.
  • Give your child attention and praise when following instructions and showing positive behavior and limit attention for defiant behavior like meltdowns.
  • Encourage your toddler’s curiosity and include field trips as opportunities to keep learning!

Oh, Baby!

The arrival of a new baby into the home can bring so many emotions, including joy, anticipation, worry, and delight. These emotions may stem from realizing that as parents, keeping the newborn safe, alive, and well-cared for is essential. Parents will monitor a new baby’s growth; they will watch how much a new one eats or sleeps, or even coo’s and cries. Each of these actions can produce a reaction on the part of the caregiver. Infants rely on their caregivers to provide so much of their daily care. This is a time when the attachment bond is securely formed. A child who cries and their needs are met will learn to rely on someone to provide for their needs.

Infants are discovering movement through head control and noticing their hands and fingers. As they grow, they learn to roll over, sit up, and eventually crawl. Brain development is efficiently creating neural pathways that are critical windows of opportunity. As parents take the time to talk to their babies, this enhances the brain’s development. A child hearing more words in the first years of life benefits the child when they begin school.

A few great ways to engage with your infant in the early stages of development include:

  • Talking and reading to your baby.
  • Repeating your words and responding to the baby talk and sounds your infant makes will provide reassurance to your little one.
  • Give lots of attention and stimulation to your baby.
  • When they begin noticing their hands and fingers, be sure to provide toys and sound makers that will encourage their use of their newfound hands.
  • Keep the baby safe by taking a close look at the environment and removing any hazards that could be potential trouble.
  • Children are naturally curious and will put most items in their mouth. Be sure to check for small items that could cause a choking hazard and remove those toys.
  • Wash and clean mouthed toys often.
  • Most of all, show love and affection to your baby and enjoy this stage of development. 

For additional information on your child’s growth and development, please explore a free series of electronic newsletters delivered to your email inbox based on your child’s birthday. They are called the Just In Time Parenting newsletters. Delivered once a month, the newsletter is filled with information about what you can expect of your child’s development, tips for how you can support your babies growth and progress toward their next milestones, tips for handling those common challenging moments, and some great suggestions for you, as a parent, to practice self-care.