All About Sleep

New parents know the importance of schedules for their newborn. In fact, the literature supports parents helping their children develop patterns of sleep, feeding, and awake times in order to thrive as newborns. However, we know that not all children are born with the same temperament. In fact, in the same family, children may have completely opposite dispositions and needs for stimulation, sleep, and attention.  

Parents who have children that struggle to sleep may blame themselves for their child’s inability to quiet or sleep. They may question their own behaviors as a parent and try everything to help their child learn to sleep. They may also feel pressure from extended family members who try to offer support and guidance, and nothing seems to help the newborn quiet or rest peacefully. Parents who struggle to find the balance of sleep and awake time for their children not only feel judged, but also can perceive they are “bad” parents because they don’t seem to be able to get it all figured out. The truth is, research reveals these parents are not alone, and are not at all “bad parents”, simply parents who could use additional information about supporting their very active little one. Some children are just more attentive, awake longer hours during the day, or are more active, and this can cause pressure on parents who themselves are tired and need a few moments of rest. 

Researcher Macall Gordon has made a career of helping parents learn about sleep and how it may impact children and their behavior. 

Macall visits with our Science of Parenting team to discuss her years of research on sleep and children. She offers some ideas that may be useful for parents who have the child that has FOMO – also known as “fear of missing out”.  She wants parents to know they are not alone.  

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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It Takes Some Energy

Have you ever watched your toddler explore their environment and thought, “Wait, let me catch up to you!”?

If you have, you might be parenting a child with a very active temperament. You may have a child who is learning and growing through exploration and play. They may be so active that you are fearful for their safety, and you find yourself glancing around the house for unknown hazards.

As parents monitor a child’s environment and see potential dangers or hazards, the active child sees a challenge and an invitation to move. A child who is more cautious is still taking in information and making decisions based on what is seen and experienced around them. The child who seems fearless and ready to take on the world is wired differently and ready for adventure, even when a parent spots danger on the horizon.

On the other end of the spectrum is the child who is less active. One who is content to sit and watch and take in information while carefully observing what is happening all around them. It is even possible to have siblings with opposite active temperaments in the same household. The challenge for parents is engaging each child’s temperament with joy and expectation because each child is using all their energy and knowledge to reach the developmental milestones necessary for healthy development.

As parents, our job is to take our cue from our child. Providing boundaries that protect our children yet with enough room to take age-appropriate risks is important as children move through their developmental milestones in their quest for autonomy. Parents who can tune into the activity levels of their children without blame and shame can provide the support and encouragement their child needs to continue to reach and meet the many growth milestones throughout childhood. 

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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Celebrate Persistence

Have you ever tried to learn something new, perhaps a new language, preparing a new recipe, or putting together a piece of furniture with directions from a kit? All of these opportunities require us to have a set of skills in order to be successful. One of the biggest skills we rely upon in situations is persistence: the idea that we are going to stay with the job until it is completed. The idea that we will see our effort to the end.

Children learn persistence when they are learning new skills, like eating, crawling, and walking. Although we may not have a working memory of learning to eat or crawl or even walk, we had to have persistence to develop the skill.

Persistence can be challenging, too. When a toddler or an older child is focused on completion of some task, they may not hear the request of a parent or another sibling. Parents could see this as a refusal to listen, or as disobedience. Consider, however, that the child was so focused and attuned to their task that they truly heard nothing.

Persistence is useful throughout our lifetime. The ability to use our focus and concentration can help to complete schoolwork, keep a clean room, complete a 4-H or Eagle Scout project, attend to a music lesson, learn a new language, and so much more. Check out The Science of Parenting podcast as the discussion of temperament continues highlighting persistence and how parents can celebrate it.

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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Calm, Cool and Collected

Temperament is our predisposition to how we react in any type of situation. It’s in-born, genetic and with us from the very beginning of life. The Science of Parenting team is introducing us to the temperament continuum and have been exploring the nine different traits (as described by Chess and Thomas). How much of each trait we personally possess is unique to each of us. One of the nine traits is INTENSITY, and identified as:

the amount of energy exhibited in emotional expression.

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 weeks podcast, Science of Parenting hosts offer several tools to help with the challenges an intense temperament might present to parents. Join us as we look continue on our temperament journey.

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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It Makes Sense

From an early age, our sensitivity is part of us. How we connect with others, and how others react and interact with us! How sensitive we are to sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touch. Our senses are also tightly connected to our emotions. How we use them is dependent in part, on how our brains are wired. It is also dependent on how others respond to us.

Parents may wonder why one child covers their ears at loud noises and another can seemingly sleep through fireworks. The differences are because we are all unique, with our own genetic makeup and each of us comes into the world at different times and our journey is uniquely ours.

Temperament is how we act and react to stimuli that we experience. Each week, during season three, The Science of Parenting team is exploring different temperament styles and discussing the characteristics and potential strategies for working with our children who may have various temperaments.

All temperaments are to be celebrated including the ones that challenge our parenting skills the most. Our children, too, must adjust to their own temperament, and not just during childhood, but throughout their lifetime as well. Our temperament follows us and becomes an important part of who we are in the world.

The sensitive child may have been born with a nervous system that is quick to react to their environment. The sensitive child may express a variety of emotions, may be overwhelmed in crowded situations, and may be very creative. Parents with children who exhibit these traits may need strategies that include: acceptance of your child’s unique gifts and talents; creating calm environments; checking in with your child to create connection; and remembering that this child of mine is like no one else.

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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It’s in Their Nature

A new addition to the family can be met with wonder, anticipation and perhaps many questions. Who will this child of mine become? Will I know what to do, to take care of this precious little one? New life brings all kinds of questions for parents. Every new life is a unique creation full of individual traits. These traits are causes for celebration! Join The Science of Parenting team as they explore “temperament”.

What is temperament? Temperament can be described as the combination of mental, physical, and emotional traits of a person; or the natural predisposition someone possesses.

Parents, as first educators of their children, can support the temperament of their children in a variety of ways. A parent’s reaction to a child’s behaviors, will be the child’s first notion about appropriateness of their behaviors and responses. When we acknowledge that their temperament is a gift and is preparing them for all the many joys and challenges they will face in their lifetime, we can then choose how we respond. We can respond with frustration if we are tired, overwhelmed, or upset. We can also respond with patience, calm, and reassurance so that our child knows that behaviors can be managed, and as parents we will be there to help them learn to manage their own behaviors.

Drop in on season three of the Science of Parenting Podcast as Lori and Mackenzie reveal there is no bad or good temperament. Each trait has assets and liabilities. Learning to understand, appreciate and work with the trait is what builds positive parenting opportunities.

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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Have the conversation…now

Wow, it is August! Each year, right at this time, families begin carefully thinking about the beginning of a new school year! They may be curious about school teachers; school supplies; transportation; sporting events; and after-school programming. Well this year, as a nation, we are experiencing the unexpected! We are experiencing a pandemic that is altering every notion we have of how to prepare for the school year.

father and child

We are now exploring alternative school schedules; masks; social distancing; sanitation,  health and safety like never before. When we first learned of the pandemic, we may have thought we would return to our regular schedule by mid-summer. Now we are learning that the pandemic may be impacting our schedules much longer.

With that reality, I wanted to encourage parents to continue to check in with your children and other family members. Take some time to really sit and listen to the feelings your family members may be experiencing. Are they feeling sad or depressed because they miss interacting with their friends? Are they feeling anxious about starting a new school year and don’t know what to expect? Was their summer interrupted, were they unable to go to camp; county fair; or other routine events cancelled? All of these situations can bring a level of disappointment and talking it all out could be one step in the healing process.

Keeping our family members healthy during this pandemic is a priority. When we have honest conversations about why our schedules have been interrupted, we can begin to plan for alternate ways to respond. Keeping the lines of communication open and discussing positive coping techniques to use when we feel upset are critical! We don’t have to know all the answers, but we can reach out for support! Consider the following resources:

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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Embrace Your Support Network

As human beings, we feel many emotions and the calling to be connected to one another. The connections give us a sense of security, safety, and purpose. Parents will often tell how significant it is to have the love and support of others as they try to raise their children. Support can be identified in several ways, including extended family, workplace support, community resources, and support of the co-parent and siblings.

Some families are on their own to raise and nurture because extended members are not local. Also, not all workplace situations consider or provide family-friendly benefits or support. The ability of parents to seek out support is a helpful skill. Identifying what types of support or assistance that are necessary to meet a family’s needs is also important.

When parents are working, they have competing interests on their mind and it can be hard to focus. Finding others who can step in and provide support in terms of childcare; recreation support; school support or even opportunities for parents to get away for some self-care support is critical to feeling competent.

The Science of Parenting team visits about how important support systems are to the development of happy healthy families.

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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How to Find Balance

The many responsibilities parents encounter as they raise a family, send kids to school, and perhaps even work outside the home are far-reaching. Every day brings new opportunities and with those, challenges too. 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.

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. They will even explore the notion that some co-parents won’t relinquish enough control, to allow the other parent an opportunity to contribute.

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.

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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Accentuate the Positive

Becoming a parent is a big responsibility and one that brings joy and some uncertainty too. You may wonder if you will know how to respond to your baby, and as they grow, you will still have those same questions. Parents want to feel like they know what their children need, and they want to be judged as doing a great job parenting their children. In fact, a 2015 Pew Research Study revealed that “Regardless of how they see themselves, parents care a lot about how others perceive their parenting skills.”

Parents want the support of their co-parent first and foremost, followed by the support of their own parents. Feeling confident in our parenting role is important and impacts our children too. Additional research has revealed that parents’ positive emotions could help them to notice a wider range of strengths in themselves and their children, and to think of a greater number of ways to deploy their strengths. In this episode of the Science of Parenting Podcast, Lori and Mackenzie discuss parenting strengths and introduce us to a tool called the Keys to Interactive Parenting Scale (KIPS). The confidence and support parents have in their abilities provide dividends for the whole family.

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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Getting After Stress

The uncertainty around many of the situations that families may have been experiencing lately can cause us to experience the “s” word…also known as STRESS! While stress can take many forms and it can be considered both positive and negative, all of us, at one time or another, have probably experienced stress!

Over time, each of us must find an appropriate set of coping techniques to use so that when we feel a little panicked, or stressed, we can indeed cope! None of us likes to feel out of control, so being able to manage our stress is important. There are many healthy ways to manage and cope with stress, but they all require change. You can either change the situation or change your reaction.

Take a listen to our podcast as Mackenzie and Lori discuss how “stress” can be managed while also caring for your children and the family. The Science of Parenting team takes pride in providing resources and education that can assist anyone manage and cope with the stress they encounter. Begin your stress relief journey by visiting our parenting resources for helpful information whether you are parenting an infant, preschool child, or teen, help is just a click away.  

If you need additional support during this time Iowa Concern, offered by ISU Extension and Outreach, provides confidential access to stress counselors and an attorney for legal education, as well as information and referral services for a wide variety of topics. With a toll-free phone number, live chat capabilities and a website, Iowa Concern services are available 24 hours a day, seven days per week at no charge. To reach Iowa Concern, call 800-447-1985; language interpretation services are available. Or, visit the website, to live chat with a stress counselor one-on-one in a secure environment. Or, email an expert regarding legal, finance, stress, or crisis and disaster issues.

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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Being Both a Parent and a Person

The parenting years can be both a blur of activity and sleepless nights, a time of great excitement and unending joy for many families. As parents work to figure out how best to meet the needs of the little ones in their care, they must also realize their own self-care needs. We often hear the phrase, “you can’t pour from an empty bucket.” Having an awareness of our own needs with a plan for meeting those needs is essential.

While some may see this notion of self-care as selfish, mental health and parenting professionals both agree that self-care is essential. According to Psychologist, Dr. Anthony Borland of the Cleveland Clinic, “remind yourself that you’re doing something to strengthen your family — if you’re happier and healthier, then you can be a happier, more attentive parent.”1

Parenting self-care can look different for each parent. For some, exercise and time out of the house may be the boost that is needed to feel refreshed and re-energized. The fresh air and the endorphins that are released in response to exercise are helpful. We know the benefits to children who experience exercise and outdoor activities, the same is true for adults.

Watch your self-talk. While parenting takes energy, and strength, we must be sure our self-talk reflects that positivity. During caregiving for children, we cannot let the crying, or screaming that sometimes happens, drown out our own self-talk. We must find the things we can control and speak words of praise or affirmation. These words are a powerful self-care strategy.

As Mackenzie Johnson, co-host of The Science of Parenting suggests, know when to “tag out” with someone for some alone time. If you have someone you co-parent with, tagging out, is a way for one parent to hand off the reins of caregiving to the other co-parent for a time, to get a bit of “me time”. The time away helps to get re-energized and ready to give 100% again.

One last idea, when all else fails, don’t forget the technique we encourage all families to practice “STOP BREATH TALK”. The technique is useful in a variety of situations. It is a way to intentionally stop what we are doing, take some time to reflect and then change course if needed, or make a different decision.

Self-care is a combination of strategies designed to make each of us stronger at the roles we find ourselves in daily. It is never selfish; it is always essential.


1 Team, F. H. (2019, August 16). 5 Realistic Ways to Practice Self-Care as a Parent. Retrieved April 14, 2020.

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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Try This Trick to Improve Family Communication

While families continue to find themselves together under one roof, as they are “staying home”, it may be the time to involve everyone in a family meeting. Family meetings are a great way to communicate honestly with one another and can help all members feel safe during these very uncertain times. Routines have shifted, school is happening in different environments and parents may be working from home. The new ways we are accommodating to the Coronavirus is shaping how we can continue to be adaptable in the future. With all of these factors in our new realities, it’s important to make sure to check in with all family members and a family meeting is a great way to do it all at once!

A family meeting may sound formal, but it is really quite simple. Agenda items for the family meeting might include:

  • Menu planning – what food do we have in the refrigerator and pantry, and who would like to help prepare and serve the meals.
  • Computer usage – who needs the computer connections for work or school projects and how can we share so that everyone can have access for what they need.
  • School projects – can older siblings assist younger siblings with any additional school projects or work?
  • Family game time – each family member can take a turn picking a game to play
  • Question and answer session – provide some time for individuals to share their concerns or ask questions. Ignoring situations that are on the news is not helpful, but always consider the age and appropriateness of shared information.

We also suggest beginning each family meeting with a round of compliments. This helps all family members feel appreciated and recognized for being an important part of the family.

It may sound corny, but family meetings are a simple way to get everyone in the family on the same page and enjoy some quality time together!

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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Positive Coping Strategies for Kids

Text: "Adults who can practice social empathy and show positive coping skills with be encouraging to family members also feeling stress."

Has your family had lots of questions about the most recent corona virus pandemic? If you follow the news stations, they will provide information around the clock. We don’t all interpret what we are hearing in the same way, so having honest conversations, at the level that individual family members can understand is important.

The most important message we can provide is that as a family, we will do everything we can to stay safe, including hand washing and sanitizing all surfaces we touch on a regular basis. We can practice social distancing and we can reach out to our neighbors by phone or our friends by video chat.

As we grow, we all learn to navigate our emotions and experiences in different ways. We know that children will watch their parents and siblings for ways to respond. Adults who can practice empathy and show positive coping skills will be encouraging to family members also feeling stress.

Children may need to have a list of appropriate responses that they can choose because one of the many needs a young person has while growing up is independence. Being able to choose from a list of suggested coping techniques can be very helpful. For example, could we do some yoga or deep breathing exercises? Could we get out the art supplies and do some creative art? Maybe we are piano players or have music that we can turn to as a calming coping mechanism.

Older children may need to get more physical exercise, an outdoor run or a walk in nature may be a great idea. Other children may enjoy journaling their feelings, special journal paper, pens or a book is a great way to encourage getting the feelings onto paper.

Another family activity can be found in the kitchen. Find a recipe that could become part of the family meal and together, practice some math and science skills as you create a delicious meal together. Check out our Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Spend Smart Eat Smart website for recipe ideas and helpful cooking videos!

If down time is needed, suggest a rest period. Our body needs eight or more hours of sleep each evening to perform at our best. When we are overwhelmed with anxiety, frustration, disappointment or plan stress, we don’t sleep well and that too can impact how we feel and react throughout the day.

We are all in this together and caring for one another and modeling good coping skills is up to each of us! More coping information can be found on the CDC’s web page, “Stress and Coping.”

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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How to Help Kids Cope and Contribute during COVID-19

The new “normal” that many families have endured recently includes limiting their time engaging with friends and neighbors in an attempt to practice social distancing. This experience is probably very new for many people. Not only is it new, but it can also be very lonely and disappointing. Children who want to play with friends, but who are told they cannot, may really have many questions. Their emotions may spill over with fear, anger and even anxiety as they try to adjust to this situation.

Providing additional parental hugs of reassurance that the boundaries and limits that are being followed at this time will not last forever. Taking the time to listen to children as they express their emotions will help them to brainstorm solutions for how they can cope with limited time with friends and neighbors. Young children may have an exaggerated response to being separated from their friends, so talking and reassuring your child is important. Perhaps using a social media platform to check in with the neighborhood playmates may help to ease the separation anxiety.

Even older teens may feel lonely or isolated or even experience the FOMO “fear of missing out” on what their friends are doing in their own homes, practicing social distancing. Visit with your children and let them know that their concerns might be turned into something positive. For example, if we are missing our friends, could we each keep a simple journal to highlight our days, and how we spend time as a family?

If we had concerns about a neighbor who lives alone, could we make cards of greeting and well wishes? Even a daily walk to enjoy the fresh outdoor air can make a difference and lift our spirits.

Our situation may not change overnight, but our response to it can! We can choose to communicate with one another and find ways to support each other through the covid-19 pandemic. We can listen to the emotions our family members have, and brainstorm helpful solutions.

As a reminder, we always encourage families to remember to Stop, take some deep breaths, and then Talk with intention to one another. Listen to our Science of Parenting Podcaster Mackenzie Johnson as she describes the benefits of the STOP BREATHE TALK method.

In addition, the following additional resources may be helpful to you and your family.

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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