Supporting Children When There is Scary News

We wanted to share a great article written by our fellow Human Sciences Family Life Specialist, Malisa Rader. Thank you, Malisa for allowing us to share your words.

All children are born with a unique temperament. Some will be more sensitive to scary news stories or worrisome about their safety and the safety of their loved ones, says Malisa Rader, a family life program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

“We need to be mindful of what we are watching and discussing when small ears are around,” Rader said, “while also making sure we take time to listen and pick up on cues our child might be sending us. A change in behavior like clinginess or crying might be a signal that your child is anxious over recent disturbing events in the news.”

Parents, teachers and caregivers can help children that are feeling distressed about safety cope with their fears, Rader said. She recommends the following actions:

Keep regular routines. Stick to your normal schedule and events. Children take comfort in predictable daily activities like dinner at the kitchen table and bedtime rituals. Knowing what will happen provides a feeling of security.

Watch your emotions. Parents everywhere are shocked and saddened when children are victims of a tragic event. Children that are sensitive to emotions can pick up on this and become concerned for their own safety or the safety of others. When adults maintain a calm and optimistic attitude, children will also.

Have conversations with your child. Find out what your child knows and what questions he or she would like answered. Young children might express themselves through drawing or in their play. Provide reassurance, clear up any misconceptions and point out to your child the many helpful people in emergency events like law enforcement and medical professionals. Talk with your child about what is happening to make him or her safe at home, school or in the neighborhood.

Limit your TV viewing.  Monitor what is on the television set and for how long. Young children may not understand that scenes repeating on news stations are all the same event. Choose a favorite video to maintain better control over what is viewed by your children.

Find healthy ways to deal with feelings. Taking a walk together, reading a favorite book, or playing a board game can be comforting to both you and your child.

Take action. If your child continues to show concern, he or she may be feeling a loss of control. Doing something such as sending a donation or writing a letter can help bring back a sense of power and help your child feel a part of the response.

Seek professional advice if needed. If your child shows symptoms of distress such as a change in appetite or sleep patterns, speak with your child’s physician or a mental health professional. You can also contact ISU Extension and Outreach’s Iowa Concern hotline at 1-800-447-1985.

Revisiting: Calm, Cool, and Collected

As the NEW YEAR looms, I am eager to welcome the start of a new season! Before that happens, enjoy this podcast featuring the temperament trait “intensity”. The Science of Parenting team has dedicated their podcast episodes to revealing temperament traits and helping parents learn strategies to support their family members. “Intensity”, a trait defined as the amount of energy exhibited in emotional expression is highlighted here.

We can think about intensity as our ability to express emotion. Like joy over something very happy, or sadness and regret when something unfortunate happens, is what keep us human! We don’t and won’t all experience the same set of feelings when similar things happen to us. Because of our lived experiences, we will approach our reaction to situations very personally.

The connections young children have with their parent will help the child to be able to manage the emotions they possess. A parent may have to regulate their own emotions first, before helping a young person try to manage theirs. In fact, we may even have to step away from each other for a time, when emotions run high, before we can come back together to address an intense situation.

In this podcast, Mackenzie and Lori offer several tools to help with the challenges an intense temperament might present to parents.

Revisiting ‘Missing Out on the Big Moments’

Earlier this spring, when the word “pandemic” was still relatively new to our vocabulary, our team released a bonus episode on Missing Out on the Big Moments. We were hearing about the emotional toll that missing out on events and rites of passage was having on our kids. Now, several months down the road, this concept of missing out because of COVID is a common experience for kids and adults alike.

In the midst of a pandemic and the holiday season, the research around “missing out” and family rituals from this episode is still incredibly relevant. In this episode, you hear our co-hosts define rituals as events that are symbolic, emotionally affective, and having meaning across generations. Many of the holiday traditions families practice meet this definition! We know that tough conversations and emotions can be apart of our family interactions during the holidays in this pandemic as we all try to adjust.

In this episode, you’ll hear about ideas to adjust family rituals. Even if you already heard it this spring, we hope you’ll consider listening with a new perspective. Now that we have been in this pandemic a little longer you may have new insights and questions. Also, you may want to focus more on your own emotions around adjusting these family rituals.

Please join us in revisiting the topic of Missing Out on the Big Moments by examining research around family rituals!

Revisiting ‘How to Find Balance’

Each year, the holidays bring a rich set of traditions for many families. This year however, while living with the Covid-19 pandemic, our family traditions may take on a new reality. Instead of large gatherings, we may have smaller intimate gatherings. Instead of spending time together in one home, we may gather around our computers and share stories via video chat. We can continue to celebrate the holidays, but we may need to be creative to keep all family members safe and healthy!

The many responsibilities parents encounter as they prepare for the holiday season can be stressful! One challenge is identifying household tasks and finding time to complete those tasks and still have enough time and energy to respond openly to your children and family. During this podcast, the discussion reveals research around how household division of labor is managed in many homes.

There is some evidence (Meier, McNaughton-Cassill, & Lynch, 2006) that mothers report managing more of the household and childcare tasks than their co-parents. Join the Science of Parenting team as they explore the research behind sharing the tasks that are so important to raising happy, healthy families.

Lori and Mackenzie share evidence that suggests parents who feel appreciated for the household tasks they perform are more likely to continue to complete the tasks. Most everyone will admit it feels good to be noticed or recognized for doing well or accomplishing a task. Families will find they have more time together if all members share the housekeeping load.

Revisiting ‘In the Heat of a Meltdown’

Regulating our emotions is not always an easy task. As adults, our early experiences shape the way we respond to adversity or challenges. We must be aware that the kids around us are watching how we respond, react, or behave when faced with challenges.

Especially now, during times of pandemic, as our routines and schedules have been interrupted, we may see behaviors from our children that may indicate they are struggling with the mounting pressure of having to socially distance, study from home, or put aside their desire to be out and about with friends.

These pressures may be revealed in a variety of ways. We may see tears; yelling; or even meltdowns because of the mounting frustration.

When emotions get high, our ability as the parent to self-regulate can assist other members of the family to find peaceful ways to self-regulate.

It doesn’t mean we won’t have times when we are upset or challenged, but it means that we will need to call upon appropriate techniques, and that can be hard to do.

Stop. Breathe. Talk. is a technique which gives the brain time to re-focus energy from the limbic portion of the brain, where our emotion sensor is, to the prefrontal cortex, where our rational, decision-making portion of the brain is and can engage.

Helping kids move from the meltdown into the calm down stage means they, too, must have time to re-regulate. The wiring of their brain must re-focus back to the pre-frontal cortex, where they can think about how they want to respond.

The Covid 19 pandemic has brought families together in more ways than one. Let us use this time together to build family resilience, reengage our communication with one another and support one another until we can say the pandemic is gone.

The Big A-Ha

And that’s a wrap!

The Science of Parenting team has taken the last couple of months to introduce everyone to temperament, what it is, and what it is not. The research from Thomas and Chess reveal nine traits that are foundational to temperament. Our personality layers on top of our temperamental traits.

Each podcast, the team explored the assets and liabilities for children with traits at one end or the other of the spectrum. They also offered strategies to address each trait. One constant throughout the season, is that all individuals are gifted with temperament. Each person has their very own set of traits that make them unique. Understanding how the traits are expressed and impacted by other traits can assist a parent in responding to a child and their behavior.

We have discussed inhibited or shy children, and we have looked at children’s activity level and their persistence traits. We explored the traits of mood, regularity, adaptability, and distractability. Everyone has a different combination of these traits that make up their temperament and having this knowledge can help us practice more patience and understanding with others around us, including members of our own family.

Going Bold

Have you ever looked at your child and said, “Oh my, this child of mine has a lot of energy”? Or have you ever thought, “Wow, my child is very emotional.”

Some may call this a spirited child. Others may label a child difficult, feisty, or even strong willed.

Having an awareness of a child’s natural temperament can prevent us from labeling them in ways that diminish our appreciation of them! When a child’s behavior is challenging, we start to evaluate a number of outside influences to answer any questions we have about the type of behavior we observe. We look at the environment. Maybe we look at the time of day. Perhaps there’s a situation the child is navigating.

How can we celebrate the child who exhibits more tenacity or feistiness? Perhaps we consider the child with focus, tenacity, and feistiness will stay at a project and finish. Maybe that same child will be able to withstand other distractions, when others may have lost focus or given up.

Appreciating the temperament of each child will help us observe and adjust our expectations in ways that can assist our children be successful in their growth and development.

Mary Sheedy Kurcinka is featured as our guest in this episode discussing that spirited child.

About Those “Easy” Kids

Researchers Thomas and Chess have provided so much information to help parents learn more about how a child’s temperament impacts their behaviors and how they experience the world. We understand that we cannot change temperament, that it will always be an integral piece of who we are, and what we can change is our approach to others.

As we have seen, the nine temperament traits fall into patterns, and we notice that a large majority of children’s temperament may fall into the ‘flexible’ pattern. This pattern may include temperament traits such as easy to soothe, less active, and intense as well as less demanding in general. While this pattern may not cause many parent/child power struggles, it is still important for us to teach this child to raise their voice.

As a flexible child, they may go with the flow and easily agree to others’ ideas. We need to help them be brave enough, use their voice, and say what they need to say! As adults, we need to watch for times when we see them go along with a suggestion even when they don’t want to. We need to protect their right to have their own voice be heard, and perhaps to help them sound their voice!

Giving the flexible child a voice to be heard is just one way to help children appreciate the gifts their temperament provides. What are some other gifts temperament gives our children?

Join us each week as we continue to talk about parenting with temperament in mind.

Baby Steps

Quiet and Shy – and I’m OK! 

Season three of The Science of Parenting podcast has explored the many facets of temperament! The information shared each week celebrates the unique and rich gift each trait expresses! Every day brings new opportunities to master challenges and milestones. As parents watch their children grow and develop, they consider the temperament that a child possesses and other factors like family structure, siblings, and so much more.  

The child who is slow to warm up – or seems inhibited when interacting in their environment may need assistance from others to explore their surroundings. Parents must consider that their own temperament and their own actions are cues to their children about how to behave. Keeping the lines of communication open and asking questions of our children can help them explore “new situations.” Asking our child to tell us: 

  • how they are feeling;  
  • what questions do they have about the new situation;  
  • what do you think might happen if you explore further;  
  • how can I help you manage this new challenge;  
  • could we set a goal – or simple steps to begin this new challenge?  

These few questions can be the start of helping your inhibited or shy child gain the self-confidence needed to interact and explore their environment.  

In the podcast, Lori and Mackenzie talk about these slow to approach kiddos and talk to expert Robert Coplan on helping those shy kids navigate the world.

Bring Out the Best

“Hey, you’re in a good mood today!” Has anyone said that to you lately? Our mood is a temperament trait! The Science of Parenting team has been exploring many temperament traits, and MOOD is just one that may resonate with many parents. Having children with a happy disposition or in a good mood is a joy. Finding ways to comfort our child when the mood is negative can be a challenge. Parents may find they need to adjust their own schedule or expectations if a child’s mood is one that is emotional or negative from time to time. Learning to soothe a child takes skill, patience, and time. It also takes the same to help children learn to self-soothe. 

Have you heard a child become whiney as they are learning to tie their shoes? Or do they have an “I Can” attitude when it comes to this new skill? Which mood will surface? 

Listen in on the Science of Parenting podcast, as our hosts discuss developmental milestones and how children’s mood may be expressed as they grow.   

Rhythm of Life

Maintaining a manageable schedule when a newborn arrives is one of the first pieces of advice new parents receive. “Be sure to stay on schedule.” The schedule is something that may include feeding, sleeping, diapering, etc. The idea of a schedule seems important, yet it is something that may be out of your control if your child is not one to eat when you are ready; or sleep when they are tired! Although we cannot control our children, we can influence their environment, which can help them sleep and eat!  

Parents seek control because they feel confident when they can anticipate their baby’s needs. Children who can eat and sleep on our schedule help to keep things moving smoothly in our very fast-paced world. Many new moms and dads will have lengthy conversations about preparing for leaving the house with a newborn. Do we have formula or a safe place to breastfeed? Do we have diapers? Has the baby slept, been fed, or still sleepy? What do we need to anticipate to make our outing manageable? The schedule we keep can help us answer those important questions. So, it stands to reason that temperament may have to be considered when discussing these pivotal moments in the day. 

Helping our children get into a rhythm can be very helpful. Some children feel more secure when they know what to expect, and they are familiar with their body’s natural rhythm. How we help our children develop their own rhythms may look like the following: we adjust our own expectations for our children; we may put aside our plans or schedule to help our child manage their needs – like eating or sleeping or toileting. We may need to limit the competing distractions that children experience, anything from other siblings, television or screen time; and any loud noises that prevent them from eating on a schedule, or relaxing before sleep. We may provide the nutrition needed for healthy bathroom experiences and reminders about taking the time to go to the bathroom! Listen in as our hosts, Lori and Mackenzie, discuss this very important temperament trait.

Dealing with Difficult Behaviors

Sometimes we label things so that we can understand them better. In fact, the labels can be limiting if we are not careful to explore our own use of the labels. Have you ever heard someone say, “Wow, that child is difficult!”? Or, have you heard, “I’m so glad my child is not as difficult!”? Well, what does difficult mean? In terms of temperament – it may mean that a child has their own idea, of how they interact with their environment. They have an idea and want to put that idea into action! Often the “difficult” behaviors that may be observed, may also be accompanied by strong emotions as well. 

A child with strong ideas, and a willingness to act, may need boundaries and structure! When we acknowledge our child’s skills and temperament, as the adult, we can accommodate their needs by setting an environment and boundaries so that they can succeed.  

If our child gets dis-regulated, or frustrated because they experienced a challenge to their “action plan”, we may need to wait for them to calm down, and get – re-regulated before we can have a discussion about how to meet that same challenge in the future. Our child’s ability to make a good decision when they are experiencing big feelings is much more difficult, than when they are calm and ready to listen to reason.  

We can accommodate and put the “difficult” label aside! 

In this episode, Lori and Mackenzie discuss this and feature an interview with Dr. Sean McDevitt, Ph.D.

Proceeding with Caution

I almost jumped, but then I hesitated! 

Have you ever challenged yourself to jump off the diving board at the pool? You may climb the steps with confidence, walk to the end of the board, and peer overboard. Once you take in the view from up high, you may have second thoughts. You may hesitate to jump. But why? You were excited by the thought of jumping, but at the last minute, you may have discovered you were fearful.  

This is how many people and even children react to situations in real life every single day. Each of us may have those self-doubts that creep into our consciousness every day. We may have every intent to do something, but when it is finally time, we hesitate, or put off, what may be a difficult decision. We may not even know why we do it, but the hesitation or withdrawal is another temperament trait.  

As parents, we want our children to find success in their own growth and development at home, school and in their community. Some children, as our Science of Parenting Team has explored, will be very excited and jump right into new situations, while others will act with caution. Which one is right? They both are. Acceptance, accommodation and celebration will be useful approaches to helping children learn to use their temperament traits in ways that meet their own needs.  

Finding Focus

What…did you say something? I was distracted.

Each week, we have been exploring temperament traits and discovering how those traits may or may not show up in children. Each of us is born with unique genetic features and within the same family, we can look alike but behave differently and have very different temperament traits. The differences between individuals can make parenting joyful AND challenging.

For children who find themselves easily distracted, we may celebrate their perceptiveness. In other words, they may be on high alert to everything going on around them. This attentiveness may make it more difficult for them to settle, quiet themselves, or find peace easily. They may be so alert that napping is difficult. Eating and other routines may be interrupted because so many competing distractions make it hard to focus on any task at hand.

Parents with children who are very perceptive may need to keep what I call “shiny objects” at a minimum. In other words, if we expect children to sleep, we may have to be intentional about minimizing the distractions in the bedroom, or limiting the noise, or reducing the stimulation that can interrupt a child’s natural desire to sleep or rest easy.

The constant stimulation that may occur in a household may be energizing for some family members, while being a total distraction for others. As you learn more and more about your child and their temperament, are there certain boundaries you can establish that will help your child feel comfortable and able to focus? Using praise and recognition when a child manages to stay focused or not get distracted is one approach.

Looking around your home environment may provide some solutions for reducing the stimulation that can be the cause of distractibility.  Another idea is to review daily routines and trying to honor the schedule and routine that assists your child’s ability to focus and become less distracted. I know that when I have many competing thoughts it is hard to prioritize and make good decisions. How many times are children faced with trying to make a good decision, when they are plain distracted? Join the Science of Parenting podcast hosts as they explore distractibility in children.

Learning to Adapt

Have you ever had an interaction with someone and they said, “No, do it my way”? And then did you resist, or were you able to try it a new way?

How we adjust to requests to “try something new” may be an indication of our ability to adapt. Like we adjust when working with other adults, parents may need an open approach when learning just how adaptable their own children are. Parents may perceive their easily adaptable child as compliant and even refer to the child as an “easy baby.”

The opposite can also happen. The child who is very focused on completing tasks their “own way” without help or assistance from others can be referred to as stubborn. Think for a minute of the child learning to feed themselves, or the older child learning to tie their shoes. It can take less time for a parent to simply feed the child rather than let the child learn to use a fork or spoon to self-feed.

Learning any new skill means we must adapt what we once knew to learn the new skill. In fact, childhood is a series of adjustments so that we can grow and develop. It really takes all kinds of patience and adaptability on the part of parents and caregivers to provide space for children to learn and grow.

Celebrating a child and their adaptability is as important as not shaming or blaming a child when they are slower to adapt or adjust. Continuing to communicate with our children and acknowledging that play is the way children learn can help all of us manage our expectations for child growth and development. Join the Science of Parenting podcast team as they discuss childhood adaptability.