Establishing the Environment

Everyone needs a feeling of safety, no matter the age or stage in life. The home is usually the first foundation of safety for most families. And new parents spend a great deal of time moving throughout the home, making sure the environment their children are exposed to is safe!

A classroom teacher has the same responsibility for maintaining safety. Securing the environment helps children feel comfortable, secure, and capable of success!  As children feel more secure and safe in their environment, whether at home, school, or even after-school, they will begin to assert their own independence.

As children grow, we want them to use their budding independence to learn new skills; practice making new friends; and have confidence at school. Parents can support their children’s autonomy in the following ways:

  • Create consistency in routines and rules. The structure that children grow to expect is a protective factor for their growing independence.
  • Establish expectations for your children and communicate those expectations and consequences to them! When children know what to expect, they can make good decisions knowing their parents will help and support them.
  • Reinforce the good behaviors children exhibit with praise and positive discipline.
  • When consequences are required, communicate honestly and provide rationale for behaviors that are expected. Use natural and logical consequences to help children to make good choices.
  • Take an active interest in your child’s activities and interests.
  • Showing love, warmth, and responding to them with positive feedback will also help them develop their independence.

Be sure to listen to the Science of Parenting podcast to learn more about establishing safe and secure environments at home and away!

Tuning in With Temperament

The cell phone is ringing; you are listening to your son practice the piano; dinner is slowly cooking stovetop and the dog is barking at something outdoors. All these competing sounds begging for your attention, all at the same time. This can cause anyone to feel overwhelmed. And when we feel the tug for attention, we may snap in response to a question from our child, or co-parent, or barking puppy!

The need to get re-regulated is necessary so that we can give the attention necessary to our children and the tasks at hand. Our Science of Parenting co-hosts Mackenzie  and Lori have an entire season dedicated to discussing how to define “regulation”, and how to effectively help ourselves and our children when we become dis-regulated”.  Our personal temperament can play a role in helping us to stay regulated, especially when we feel those competing tugs! Don’t forget you can listen here and be sure to follow us on social media including facebook and twitter!

Regulation in Stages

Living life is a series of experiences that can trigger our emotions – both positive and negative, depending on the situation! No matter our age, we all find ourselves in situations where our emotions are on display. The emotions can be happiness, excitement, scared, frustration, or even anger. The older we are, the more life experiences we have had. Experiences often teach us how to navigate those emotional situations. The people in our life are also valuable resources to help us manage whatever emotion we may find ourselves in.  

New parents may be curious about how to help their infants when they express those big emotions from hunger, thirst, or even signaling a diaper change is needed! Infants attune their attention to their caregivers and will find they learn to trust that caregiver, to provide the attention to meet their needs. Attachment is at the core of this understanding. According to Alan Sroufe, Developmental Psychologist at the Institute for Child Development at the University of Minnesota “Attachment is a relationship in the service of a baby’s emotion regulation and exploration”.

As a parent, it may be difficult to remain calm and regulated upon hearing a screaming baby. The noise alone can trigger upset in the entire home. Parents soon learn to recognize the different noises and can quickly anticipate the baby’s needs. As children age, parents will again have to navigate the tide of emotions and work to bring everyone back into regulation.

Parents can support their child through these three broad categories:

  • Provide love, warmth, connection, and responsiveness
  • Structure a safe environment for the child who is trying to get re-regulated
  • Teach self-regulation skills, and be a good model of self-regulation skills.

I’m the Adult Here: My Regulation

Every day brings a new set of demands for busy families. The schedules we keep tell a story of the priorities that challenge us minute-by-minute. Do you ever feel like you are a juggler in a big ring circus? Trying to keep all the cups spinning with a smile on your face? If you ever feel like this, you are not alone. On any given day, parents who have this list of demands will likely feel overwhelmed and need to call upon a strategy or two to let their brains wind down and relax.

The ways in which we learn to relax or prioritize our “to do” list can help others in our family also learn to manage themselves, too! Our children watch us for signs of how to respond when we are feeling emotionally charged. They watch to see how we speak to others, and sometimes we laugh when we hear our children repeat the same language we have used!

Sometimes using the technique of “mindfulness” will help us to re-store our thinking to a calmer attitude. Mindfulness may take the form of several minutes of stillness followed by thoughts of quiet and peace. It may take the form of rest. Parenting is full of daily decisions that are best managed when well rested and supported by our network of social supports!   

Keeping your mind and body regulated is the first step in handling that to do list! For more information on emotional and behavioral regulation, be sure to listen to season 9 of the Science of Parenting! And be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter

What is Self-Regulation?

Have you ever been involved in a conversation that was difficult? Where you had trouble keeping your cool? Where you wanted to scream and shout so someone could hear and understand you and your point of view?

Well, all of us from time to time have had this experience. And so it is with parenting too! Sometimes we find ourselves wanting to scream so that others will hear us and our message. Or perhaps your child is the one screaming to be heard. Either way, the emotions that come with the shouting can produce upset for everyone. It is during this upsetting time that the adult in the conversation can practice the STOP. BREATHE. TALK. technique.

This technique is especially useful because when everyone is shouting, no one can be heard, and the communication is shut down. Stopping and taking a few cleansing breaths can be the beginning of repair in the conversation. Then, intentionally thinking about what you want to say in a calm voice, one free of the emotional shouting that produces additional upset, can yield the desired action from yourself or your child.

Modeling this technique for others helps all family members learn to adjust their words and actions so that everyone can be heard and understood.

Learn more about Stop. Breathe. Talk. in Episode 3 – Take a Break and Take a Breath podcast. Be sure to follow the Science of Parenting team on social media, including Twitter and Facebook.

Changes to CDC Milestones

With the recent changes to the CDC’s milestone checklists, we know that some parents have had questions about what changed, why they changed them, and what it means for their family. We will give you the overview here, but check out our bonus podcast episode to get more in-depth answers and information!

What happened?

  • In 2004, the CDC’s Learn the Signs. Act Early. program developed free milestone checklists that included developmental warning signs, messaging to “act early” to addressing concerns; and developmental tips/activities. These materials were developed to help parents recognize typical development, improve conversations between parents and professionals about a child’s development, and support developmental screening at recommended ages and additional screenings when there are concerns. 
  • In early 2022, the Center for Disease Control released changes to these long-standing Developmental Milestone Checklists. The purpose of these checklists has always been to help doctors and parents keep an eye on children’s development and to facilitate ongoing conversations between doctor and the families they serve. It’s not an official screening tool that would be used to help determine if a child would qualify for additional services or therapies – it’s a starting point for a conversation between doctors and families!
  • The changes made to these checklists were based on research and recommendations of an expert working group from the American Academy of Pediatrics. According to the article that group published in the peer-reviewed journal, Pediatrics, “The goals of the group were to identify evidence-informed milestones to include in CDC checklists, clarify when most children can be expected to reach a milestone (to discourage a wait-and-see approach), and support clinical judgment regarding screening between recommended ages”

What are the changes/updates?

  • The updated checklists no longer list a milestone at more the one age (this caused a lot of confusion before)
  • Eliminated vague terms like “children may begin to…”
  • Removed the “warning signs” section on each checklist
  • Direct citations to research studies that support them (yay!)
  • Based on more studies that look at development from more diverse and cross-cultural groups
  • Added a checklist specifically for the 15- and 30-month ages (as these are common ages for well-child checks in America that previously did not have a milestone list associated with them)
  • Suggestions for open-ended questions for doctors to use with families
  • Finally, the biggest change – moving the milestones to the age where 75% of children would be expected to achieve the skill. This was a change from the previous standard of 50%. In most cases, this meant moving milestones back to a slightly older age.

Why did they make these changes?

  • The change from 50% to 75% has some people confused or frustrated, so let’s start with some of the reasoning provided for this change. According to the article in Pediatrics, there were several justifications for it.
  • When the milestone was listed at the age when 50% of kids could do a task, doctors often would tell concerned parents to just wait and see because some kids simply had to be in the later half. This experience often left parents unsure and unheard. On the flip side, pediatricians knew that waiting until the age where 90% of children could do the task would likely delay the opportunity for children who do have a developmental concerns to get a diagnosis or support services. Therefore, the team landed on 75% as a benchmark to balance these two things.
  • These new checklists can also prevent worry for children older than the average age of attainment of a milestone but not likely to be at risk for delays (aka late bloomers)
  • In a direct quote from the article, authors said “[the previous checklists provided] insight into typical development but [did] not provide clarity for parents, pediatricians, and other early childhood professionals  about when to be concerned or when additional screening might be helpful
  • Another change that people had a lot of questions about was why crawling was removed from the checklists. According to the article in Pediatrics, the age range varies greatly for this milestone, and some typically-developing children never crawl at all.
  • A common misconception was that this move was related to the pandemic, but the criticisms, the thought process, and the planning were underway to make these changes long before the COVID-19 pandemic occurred. (Fun fact: I actually wrote a paper in graduate school on developmental milestones, and I read papers criticizing the original milestone checklists that were published in 2007, 2013, and 2019.)

What’s this mean for you and your family?

  • Continue to have conversations with your family doctor about your child’s development. If you have concerns, share them with your doctor. Keep trusting your parenting instincts when things don’t feel right. If necessary, build your skills for assertive communication and advocating for your child!
  • Download the CDC’s Milestone Tracker app, and answer the questions related to your child’s age. You will answer Yes/Not Sure/Not Yet to specific questions about your child, and then you’ll get follow-up feedback. You can use this tool to communicate with healthcare professionals or therapists you may work with.
  • Keep engaging with your child in through conversations, play, and simple daily routines!

The majority of the content referenced in this episode can be found in this American Academy of Pediatrics journal article – they also have a short video abstract from one of the authors you can watch. https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article/149/3/e2021052138/184748/Evidence-Informed-Milestones-for-Developmental

When My Child Misbehaves: Deciding on Discipline

Consequences are a byproduct of behavior – at all ages. As an adult, if I run a red light while driving my car, I may be hit by another driver, or get a ticket if a police officer observed me run the red light. Both actions are a consequence of my behavior.

Families, too, implement consequences. Often they are meant to help shape and provide boundaries and safety for their family members. For example, a consequence of coming home later than curfew may be the loss of an evening out the following week! Or perhaps the consequence for staying on a cell phone past when it is lights out is the removal of the cell phone from the bedroom during the sleeping hours.

Another example is for preschoolers. If a preschooler won’t help pick up toys when playtime is over, then perhaps a favorite toy or two is removed from the toy bin for several days. This removal signals that some behavior was not followed.

The application of consequences must be followed with conversations about desired behaviors. The conversation communicates the reason for the rule or restriction. Sometimes parents have included the older kids when discussing rules and consequences. Reminders help even the youngest children to be mindful of their behavior.

The Science of Parenting team has been discussing child growth and development as it relates to guidance and discipline. Each session provides helpful research and strategies designed to support parents in their role as nurturing and loving parents.

Gauge by Their Age

Guiding children often comes with many decisions that impact how children grow and develop, and discipline strategies are one of the many decisions.

Depending on the child’s age and stage of development, the strategy will be different.  For toddlers and preschoolers, appropriate discipline may involve simply distracting children or giving them something different to do to redirect their attention away from misbehaviors. As children get older and can understand more complex reasoning and explanations, parents’ discipline approaches may be more adaptive as they rely more on reasoning to manage children’s behaviors.

The real goal of parental discipline is to teach children how to behave in desired ways. Rewards and punishments have long been used as a strategy. As children age, they begin to understand their parents’ rules and family values and begin to exhibit behaviors that align. The conversations parents have with their children about the rules and consequences can help children, especially if both parent and child are calm and regulated. The discussions that happen when emotions are high may have more harsh consequences than when discussed after emotions have calmed for both child and adult.

As teens, parents might find that removing a privilege is a fair consequence to bring about more desired behavior. Communication will again be a favored strategy so that the teen still feels connected to the parent even in the face of a consequence for undesired behavior. It is during this time of adolescence that the teen begins to assume the responsibilities that come with emerging adulthood and is rewarded with more privileges. Guiding preschoolers, school-agers, or teens means continual communication with one another and choosing discipline strategies that respect the age and stage of each individual.

Recognizing the Parent-Child Relationship

The relationships that parents have with their children can be some of the strongest bonds ever. Parents are the first educators of their children, so they have a big responsibility to provide the guidance, safety, and protection that allows their children to grow and develop into healthy children, teens, and eventually, adults!

Research from Grusec & Goodnow, 1994, reveals “the overall climate of the parent-child relationship affects how receptive children are to parents’ attempts to shape their behavior”. If the overall parent-child relationship is warm and loving rather than hostile or neglectful, children will be more motivated to obey their parents, making discipline attempts easier and more effective.

When children comply with house rules and their behavior is compliant with parental requests, parents may feel like guiding their children is easy. However, when children are curious, energetic, and don’t comply with house rules or are easily distracted and unable to comply with family guidelines, parents must step in and help them learn. This is the whole role of discipline. Helping children learn to modify their behavior so that they can experience inner self-control. Sometimes discipline can be expressed as a very harsh, negative consequence for bad behavior. However, discipline can also be thought of as a way of guiding individuals toward appropriate behavior. Even adults show their own self-discipline on a daily basis! A parent who remains committed to helping their child grow in happy and healthy ways will see discipline as a positive response.

Emotions: The Good, Bad, & Ugly

Each day brings a new set of experiences for everyone, including those parents raising children. These experiences include following a schedule for the day, planning meals, getting kids ready and off to school or early care and parents out the door to work on time! The competing activities can cause tension and frustration without the necessary coping skills!

Kids too can feel a level of frustration when they:

  • Don’t get what they want, when they want it!
  • Another child will not share a toy
  • They are overstimulated
  • Too tired to express their feelings in positive ways or
  • HUNGRY

to name a few!

The result may be behavior that is expressed in ways that cause everyone upset. Parents quickly become aware of the signs their children express in reaction to the frustration they may be feeling. Many times, parents can act first and re-direct a child, offer a snack, provide a new activity, or offer a moment to snuggle resulting in a well-deserved nap.

When the emotions are high, something needs to happen to get everyone re-regulated. The Science of Parenting team has suggested the “STOP. BREATHE. TALK” campaign as one way to work through a tough time, without letting all the emotions guide our behavior. Learning to calm ourselves first can help us choose a positive reaction to the behavior we have to address!

Follow this eighth season of the podcast as we explore guiding childing and finding appropriate discipline techniques.   

Unspoken Aspects of Discipline

As parents learn they are expecting a new baby, they may be filled with joy, excitement and anticipation too! They may also have worries about how they will ever learn everything there is to know about raising happy healthy children. As we have explored in previous podcast seasons, our temperament is part of who we are from birth! As the great guidance and discipline season is upon us you might be interested to learn that some research has revealed that “Individual characteristics of both children and parents predict the form of discipline that parents use”.

The traits we have as children can even predict what type of discipline is used, for example the following childhood traits were found to increase the likelihood of harsh punishment:

  • Children with problems with conduct, attention, and disobedience
  • Children who are more negative emotionally and more irritable
  • Children who display behaviors that are particularly stressful for their parent
  • Children with disabilities, particularly those with communication difficulties

Adults who are aware of their own temperament and who can identify when they are being triggered by their child’s behavior, can be prepared with another, less harsh form of discipline.

Culture is another aspect that figures into our decisions regarding what measures are taken to guide and discipline children. Research confirms culture influences what child behaviors we view as desired or undesirable. It also influences what parenting practices we view as normal and acceptable.

As a society we rely on adults who are responsible and accountable, thus who have learned discipline from an early age. As parents navigate the journey of child rearing, they too have decisions to make regarding the best way to raise their children to become happy, healthy, well-mannered, and disciplined! We will continue to explore guidance practices and offer strategies for the parent toolbox.

The Great Guidance and Discipline Debate

While the goal of having a great family and good kids who get along and follow the rules and know-how to behave when out in public is a great goal, sometimes we miss the mark, and someone in the family just isn’t having the best day and their behavior will attest.

Because we are human, we won’t have a good day every day, and someone may bother us or say something to us to make us angry. Perhaps a sibling will not share a new toy with another, and a fit ensues. These are the situations that are common in most families from time to time. Parents are the first educators of their children and are called on to provide the rules and guidance necessary for the children to grow, develop, and feel safe in the family home.

Discipline is something all adults practice daily in order to be successful, complete daily responsibilities, and raise a happy, healthy family. This season on The Science of Parenting podcast, we will explore how guiding children and helping everyone learn discipline can guide behavior so that children learn accountability now and well into their teens and adulthood. 

Speaking on Special Needs & Temperament

Special needs, diverse abilities, individual differences. Over the years I have learned quite a bit about these words. What I have come to believe is this: all of us to some extent have special needs. As human beings, we all ‘need’ different things to help us learn, grow, and engage with the world. Some of us encounter more obstacles than others. Ultimately, those who care for us, guide us, and love us come to understand what our individual needs are.

When it comes to understanding temperament alongside diagnosed special needs and diverse abilities, we can utilize similar parenting tools. Temperament tools are ‘universal,’ Meaning they can be utilized for all children, regardless of ability.

When we give a five-minute warning to the child that is slow-to-adapt in transitions, it doesn’t matter what their ability is. All children can benefit from a ‘heads up’ about a transition. If we pack a bag of extra snacks for the child that has an irregular biological clock, we can do the same for a child with a diagnosed medical need. Similar parenting tools for all different kinds of individual needs.

As the parent of a child with diverse abilities, knowing that there are parenting tools I can tap into ‘just like everyone else’ made me feel that for that moment in time, my daughter and I could utilize the same ‘parenting book’ as others. Utilizing the tools specific to a child’s temperament, helped me recognize that ALL children have individual needs. When caregivers recognize the benefit of understanding individual temperament and how to engage specific temperament tools to guide children’s behavior (regardless of ability), both adults and children can be impacted positively.

Teen Traits

The teen years can be a whirlwind of changes, emotions, and growth! Not only the physical changes to the teen body, but the pressure that teens may feel from their peers to engage in risk-taking behaviors like smoking, early sexual experimentation, and alcohol or drugs. Teens wanting to “fit in” and who don’t have the refusal skills to use in high-pressure situations may feel very conflicted.

As teens age, they may engage in more social opportunities, and teens are likely influenced by individuals other than their parents. Neighborhood friends, school peers, and sports teammates all can influence how a teen responds in any given situation. Although parents have communicated boundaries, family values, and expectations for behavior, the pressure to belong and be accepted by others can impact the decisions that teens will ultimately make.

Decision-making is such a critical life skill for all, and for the teen whose brain is not fully developed until later adolescence, making the very best decision in any given situation may be impacted by emotions, peer pressure, temperament and so very much more. Parents can do the following things to support their teen as they navigate the teen years:

  • Intentionally listen to your family members
  • Be consistent when dealing with misbehavior
  • Involve family members, when reasonable, in developing rules and consequences for behavior
  • Encourage family members to learn new skills (4-H, Scouts, Youth Group, FFA, etc)
  • Check in with family members to encourage reflection on successes, setbacks and growth
  • Provide an environment in which kids can try new things and challenge themselves safely
  • Help kids set personal goals that align with their values

Additional teen resources for Understanding Emotional Changes; or for Understanding Physical Changes; Resources for teens and their Changes in Thinking.

School-Ager Set Point

The school-age years can be very busy with a flurry of activity for kids and added responsibilities for parents as they try to keep up! Depending on the age and temperament of your child, the school years can be both challenging and exciting, all at the same time.

Consider a school-age child who is curious, energetic, and ready to explore everything offered in and out of school time! For every child like this, we can also find a child who is more cautious, who finds the busyness of school overwhelming, or even overstimulating.

It is a fine dance for teachers, parents, and family members to provide the appropriate amount of stimulation, education, and opportunities all while supporting individual differences of kids.

Routines continue to be a valued asset for school-age kids, who need at least 8 or more hours of sleep, and healthy nutrition coupled with plenty of time for play. Spending time outdoors can provide both opportunities for play and additional exercise. Riding bikes, exploring a nature preserve, or hiking with friends are a few things that school-age children may like to do.

Routines help kids to know what to expect and when to expect them. So, for school-age children, knowing what time the bus arrives to pick them up can help them decide how early to get up and get ready while leaving time to eat some breakfast. For the school-age child who is sleepy in the morning, their routine may look different and that is ok. Perhaps they sleep a few minutes longer and choose to eat breakfast at school.

Knowing and respecting the individual differences of all kids and families can help everyone plan for and enjoy a successful school experience.