Science of Parenting live interview with Quad Cities television station. Click here
Science of Parenting live interview with Quad Cities television station. Click here
Alert! Attention! Calling all parents and adults. Yes, YOU! I’m talking to you. Kids are watching. They are watching everything you do and everything you say. Some of the most important lessons kids learn about kindness are observed. But, will they pick up caring behaviors simply from watching? Yes, they will model our behavior, but they will emulate much more, if we can intentionally discuss and encourage positive interactions. It’s our duty and responsibility as parents to point out the positive interactions that we observe and to be mindful that kids might be watching every move we make, so we had better behave!
As parents, we want what’s best for our children. But as a parent I’ve experienced the urge to provide experiences and material possessions that I wasn’t fortunate enough to have had as a child and as an adult I have the financial means to provide for my child. I have learned that this urge needs to counter with the question of “what is best?”.
How do we know what’s best? I ask myself this question every birthday, and every holiday. I have used a couple questions to keep my urge to give under control. The first question I ask is “Is this gift or experience good for them?” In other words, does giving this gift promote or prevent learning? Then I evaluate the financial impact that this gift will have on our family budget. Does it use too many family resources that should be used or saved for something else? College isn’t many years away even for an infant. Even little purchases add up over the years. The last question I consider is that of need. Is the gift something I want? Does it benefit me more than my child? Am I using the gift as a way to compensate for time, I wish I had spent with my child?
Overindulging and buying too much has become epidemic among parents. As parents we need to question our purchases and respond with moderation and mindfulness. Even with good intentions, the results of giving too much can be harmful.
There are many similarities between goal setting and traveling down life’s highway. How do we help kids learn how to achieve goals when the path life takes you isn’t typically a superhighway. Rather it’s a curvy, twisting, mostly uphill dirt road scattered with potholes and mud puddles. At least that’s how many people would describe the path their life has taken.
I don’t think that we are fair with our kids, if we paint a picture of success that is void of the obvious potential obstacles that may get in their way. I’ve found goal setting to be more productive with my kids, if together, we can anticipate the difficulties that might lay ahead. As adults we already know that it’s much easier to travel down a road that has signs posted that help you avoid potential perils. We’ve learned that it’s easier to drive with your headlights on, in other words, being prepared for the conditions and what lies ahead.
My other piece of travel advice. Never travel without a roadmap. A roadmap is essential for the experienced and inexperienced traveler. In goal setting — the map is the plan. A plan that has been made with all of the anticipated obstacles in mind… will make success much more probable!
I survived my early years of motherhood with support and advice from some very knowledgeable, and observant mentors. I still remember and heed their words. “Take care of yourself so you can take care of others”. “Years from now, you will never remember having a dirty sink”. “Motherhood is a marathon, pace yourself”. “Get enough sleep. Everything is worse when you are tired.” Interestingly their advice focused on me, not my children. The advice seemed to focus on meeting some basic human needs in order to fulfill my role as a parent.
There advice alone wasn’t enough to meet my needs as a parent. I signed up for a parenting class and I learned about the HALT acronym. Like the word implies—HALT requires one to stop, pause and think through one’s behavior. The acronym stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. The philosophy of HALT is that when children are hungry, angry, lonely or tired they will be more likely to misbehave and act out. But I also knew that as a parent I had also experienced the effects of HALT. When I felt HALT—hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness—I too, became short fused and not at my best. The technique suggests that parents also “halt” and think about their personal emotional status and wellbeing.
Let’s think about applying the HALT principle to ourselves as parents.
HUNGRY – When we think about hunger, we usually think about how we feel when we are lacking food. But we can also be emotionally hungry. We may be hungry for attention, for understanding, friendship, or comfort. Just as food satisfies our physical hunger, we need social and emotional supports to satisfy our needs.
ANGER – Many of us are uncomfortable at expressing anger and many times it comes out in very unproductive ways—yelling, slamming doors, criticizing, or resentment. If we have unresolved anger, our relationships with our children suffer. Physical activity, mindfulness, meditation, deep breathing, breaks, and professional help can all help a parent cope and resolve feelings of anger.
LONELY – Parents can easily find themselves isolated and alone. It’s important to reach out and interact with other people, especially other parents. Isolation and loneliness can lead to depression. A depressed parent will have difficulty responding positively to their children.
TIRED – Parents must often deal with interrupted sleep and many parents ignore tiredness. Physical tiredness can impact our wellbeing and can leave one vulnerable for accidents and conflicts. Naps, when possible and going to bed earlier can all be solutions for the sleep deprived parent. Parents can also experience exhaustion from taking on too much or being overwhelmed from leading overly busy lives. Solutions that I have tried include: prioritizing, paring down my expectations of myself, and taking a break.
So the next time you are feeling stressed or you find yourself not enjoying parenthood, consider the HALT acronym. I’ve found it a wonderful tool to gain insight into my children’s behavior, but even more insightful into understanding my own.
This week we welcome our guest blogger Kristi Cooper, Human Sciences Family Life Specialist.
Sunday Dinner at Grandma’s
I love this quote from the program “Lemonade for Life” – “You can’t rewrite the beginning of your story but you can change how it ends.”
Adverse childhood experiences (ACES) affect a child’s neurological, social-emotional and cognitive development. ACES may eventually manifest in chronic health conditions in adulthood.
I’m part of the 55% of Iowans who have more than one ACE. When I think of the chaotic times in my childhood, I’m grateful for the touch points that kept me ‘on track’. The research on Adverse Childhood Experiences tells us these touch points are called resiliency factors. These resiliency factors include individual capabilities, attachment and belonging with caring competent people and a protective community, faith or cultural process. Let me share a few of these touchpoints from my own life and maybe you can see how resilience can be woven through the fabric of our lives.
I am grateful for the elementary school nurse who never questioned my stomach aches and always had clean dry clothes for me to wear when I had an ‘accident’. I’m grateful for my 3rd grade teacher’s calm, caring approach and the interesting hands-on projects she had us do. She introduced me to creative writing which became an outlet for me whenever I felt life was overwhelming. I’m grateful for my grandmothers who loved me unconditionally and were always interested in me. I’m grateful for the routine of Sunday church followed by dinner at Grandma’s house with its comfort food, safety, hugs and laughter. All of these helped me feel normal and sane when life felt scary.
Spending time outdoors with cousins was an important touchpoint for me. Our many adventures catching tadpoles and crawdads, jumping the bogs in the pasture, riding bikes for miles, building snow forts and climbing in the empty corncrib took my mind away from the hurtful times. Music was another touchpoint for me. I saved my 4-H and birthday money and bought a guitar. With the creative writing gift from Miss Ihnen and my new instrument, I made it through a few more turbulent years.
All of these touchpoints helped to reset my stress response – all it takes is a 20 minute activity to reduce heart rate, regulate breathing again and re-focus the mind. As an adult I use meditation, yoga, journaling and sewing projects to reduce anxiety, keep depression away and help my mind think clearly. I have a therapist I consult when I need to sort things out. I’ve used my early experiences to change how I parented my children, hopefully, changing the course of my grandchildren’s lives. These individual resiliency practices combined with positive social relationships and trauma informed community resources help heal the impact of adverse childhood experiences and to reduce the impact of traumatic events.
What are the touchpoints that help(ed) you survive and thrive?
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In many ways life can be a lot like playing cards and unfortunately many of us as children were dealt a hand that was less than ideal and loaded with “ACES” or adverse childhood experiences. The experiences of our childhoods—both the good and the not so good influence the adult we become.
From our childhood, we develop traits and skills that prepare us to be effective in the world. We also develop the capacity to adapt in the face of challenges. We call this capacity to respond in a positive way— resiliency. Resilience is complex; it is possible to be resilient in one setting and to do very poorly in another. It is our ability to bounce back when faced with a variety of challenges.
Research is clear that the effects of negative early childhood experiences don’t end when a child becomes an adult. The more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) that a child experiences, the greater the risk for health problems, mental illness, and substance abuse as an adult (Felitti et al., 1998). It can be easy to blame your childhood, to get stuck on situations and circumstances that were beyond your ability to change. We need to learn that one cannot re-write their childhood history but writing your future and your child’s future is possible. There is hope. Change is possible. Communities and families can learn to break the cycle of negative childhood experiences from one generation to the next.
All parents want a better life for their children. But many parents are not always sure how to create a better life. Fortunately, early childhood advocates are starting conversations to help parents achieve resiliency and develop a plan for a better life for themselves and their children. .
There are numerous conversations starting in Iowa around the concept of adverse childhood experiences and creating a resiliency culture for adults and children alike. I encourage you to reach out and find out what your community is doing. Get involved!
A child only educated at school is an uneducated child. —George Santavana
School is out and many educational experts would say learning is on hold. So parents…… it’s up to you! Remember, learning doesn’t just happen in a classroom. How, and when do children learn? Learning…can be anytime, anywhere, on demand and individualized. Parents as their child’s first and foremost teacher can be in a position to assist their child in 24/7 learning. Learning is most optimal when it can be as individualized as the kid. Teachers know that this is important, but struggle to achieve this with increased class sizes and academic achievement. But parents can, if they take on the challenge. With a little planning and researching, parents can fill their child’s day with many brain boosting activities and strategies.
To quote philosopher George Santavana—“A child only educated at school is an educated child”. Lifelong learning goes far beyond the classroom setting and summer can be the perfect time to set your child on a journey to authentic learning. Let’s start with the notion that learning can and should be fun. Ideally, we can learn to capitalize on our child’s ideal learning style. Many kids prefer hands on learning and traditional classroom teachers are challenged to find the time and resources to provide learning activities are geared for hands on learners. Hands on learning can be both academic and fun.
As parents always remember to vary activities. Remember that a little fresh air is the best way to wake up a sleepy summer brain. Get them outside. Get them moving. Keep them reading. Keep them learning. Summer can be a great time to discover music, attend outdoor concerts, boost music lessons, write songs, make instruments or try a new instrument. Consider an outdoor talent show in your neighborhood.
Make your home “learning friendly”—fill with books, newspapers, games, how to manuals, magazines, and access to the internet. Be a learner yourself. Let your kids see you researching how to do things, and see you reading. Remember to TALK. Ask questions. Ask probing questions for deeper meaning and thoughts. Challenge each other. Learn from each other.
It has also been said that “Necessity is also the mother of invention”. Consider a hands-on project and the research that is necessary to complete it. My son-Cole has been a project kid. We have learned all sorts of things through his persistence and ongoing projects. We have taken on projects like survival skills including: catching water in a catchment system, making char cloth, constructing a fish trap, creating snares, beekeeping, willow whistles, blacksmithing techniques, fishing lures and fly-tying—(flies mimic insects actually found in nature, understanding of fish and entomology) as well as the perfect homemade dough bait prepared in my kitchen! We attempted engineering challenges like catapult creations, mobile ice house construction, leather making, knots and lashings, and coin collecting—just to name of view of his own-going learning bucket list. Has he traveled this learning journey alone? No—his father and I have learned alongside. As a parent I have also learned to take his lead. I’ve learned to support and encourage what he is interested in. As parents we have learned that lifelong learning is about giving kids learning experiences. It’s about asking questions. It’s about being mindful and observing their interests. It’s about letting them fail and learning from those failures. It’s about encouraging curiosity and not squelching ideas. It’s about asking thinking questions. It’s about knowing your child and where their interests lie.
Take time this summer to look at learning as a life time of exploration not only for your child but for yourself. Learning shouldn’t be a chore! Take time to let learn with your child!
I grew up on a farm in northeast Iowa and my summers were spent picking up rocks, cutting volunteer corn from soybean fields and learning from 4-H. 4-H was interwoven
into the culture of rural life. Learning was at the center of summer and 4-H was the catalyst. Fair projects provided the incentive for me to learn many things. I learned about the science of cooking—why eggs turned green if boiled incorrectly, the process of canning and using a pressure cooker, tying a variety of macramé knots, the details of furniture refinishing, photography and the effects of different light exposures to only highlight a few. Learning didn’t stop when the school bell rang, in fact, learning moved into high gear. For me learning that was purposeful or necessary to do something was powerful. I learned early the importance of how to learn and the joy and satisfaction that can come from learning.
How can we encourage this kind of learning today? Kids are still joining and learning through 4-H and the Scouting organizations are still running summer camps. I’m seeing my 15 year old off to Scout camp this weekend for a two week stint and he can easily give testimony to what he has and will learn at camp. Youth programs like 4-H and Scouts offer valuable opportunities for youth to learn not only practical, technical skills, but life skills like communications and getting along with other youth and adults. Sadly, more should and could take advantage. Summer youth programs can provide a unique opportunity for youth to learn in a relaxed environment outside of school.
It’s not too late to get your child enrolled! It’s not too late for learning! Call today.
I have two children that have graduated from high school and the youngest will start his sophomore year in high school this fall. So my parenting years are dwindling. Do I have any regrets? Well…I’m sure like many busy mothers; the years seemed to fly by and most of the time, I was blessed with children who were typically “easy” and didn’t demand intensive parental intervention. Somewhere during those early years I remember reading a book by William Doherty, Ph.D. about being “intentional”. Doherty’s book helped me to realize the importance of everyday rituals that could strengthen our family and marital relationships. I learned that I couldn’t do it ALL. But I also learned that being intentional meant setting priorities. And I learned that if I didn’t set goals, things just wouldn’t get done. But sometimes, I just got tangled up in the never ending details of family life and responsibilities. My kids have always been good at keeping me centered on what was most important. I learned that when they were most unlovable, they needed love the most. And when they were quiet and happily playing alone, they needed me just as much as when they were whining and pulling at my leg for attention. We have attempted to make our family communication a two way street. I know that I have learned as much from my children, as they have learned from me. One of my most treasured “ah-ah” moments for me came from a mother’s day gift—from my then 12-year old daughter. She framed a Dove Chocolate wrapper—with the fitting quote, “Life is more than a to-do list”. How shaming, yet so very spot on! I was taken back by her subtle communication tactic. But I took her advice to heart and I still have the chocolate wrapper as a reminder of the most important things in life. Be intentional and remember to take time for what matters most.
The temperament experts—describe three temperament types—feisty, slow to warm up and easy. I have blogged about my feisty 15-year old son, my slow to warm up 20-year old daughter and now I am going to share with you my experiences raising my 21- year old “easy” son. Has parenting him always been easy? Not in the least!
My first born son—Jared has always been an easy temperament kid. He really never cried. I fed him every four hours because that’s what the doctor said. He didn’t demand it. But I knew I should. He didn’t use a pacifier. He was content on his own. He smiled at everybody. He adjusted well, despite his parents’ inexperience. He was simply the most content, happy baby. His easy temperament was a good match for my sometimes “feisty” temperament.
My concerns with his physical development started at 10 months of age when I noted that he couldn’t sit up on his own. And at 18 months, I really began to worry because he still wasn’t walking. I remember our family doctor looking at him as he referred to a child development book and said, “Hmm, he really should be walking. “He looks strong enough”. As a first time mom I wondered, “ was he just “too easy-going?” , “ was he lazy?”, or “could it be something else?”. But his easy going style, and a long waiting list for the developmental clinic kept these questions in my mind for several months. And still he couldn’t walk.
Then at 20 months of age, Jared had his first of several febrile seizures. Most twenty month olds wouldn’t have tolerated that EEG cords, the IVs and the liquid epileptic medications. But Jared did. He Smiled, and actually seemed to enjoy the interaction with the nurses and lab technicians. The testing went on for a couple of months and then just prior to his 2 year birthday, we received his diagnosis of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy is a progressive neuromuscular disease that typically effects only males, because of the x-linked genetic mutation. Boys are sometimes slow to develop physically, sometimes have speech and cognitive challenges as well as cardiac and pulmonary issues, and lose the ability to walk around the age of 12. So at the same time that we celebrated his first steps, we mourned the losses that lay ahead his first future knowing that he would permanently lose his ability to walk. His easy going temperament has been the key to our acceptance. He has never expressed his desire to do anything physical that he wasn’t able to do. His positive attitude is infectious. His easy temperament is an asset. I hope that you can see the temperaments that your children have as an asset too!
My first two children were relatively “easy” babies. Then I gave birth to my third child and I immediately, knew something was different. He was intense and persistent…right from birth. He required less sleep. He demanded more and most of the time he got more or at least he put up a good fight. During his toddler years, I can remember wishing that he was less persistent. But I have come to appreciate that his persistence is a wonderful, desirable trait and it is an absolute essential trait to success in the adult world. I’ve had to re-think and re-frame this trait. Especially—after much self reflection I have realized that it is also one of my stronger temperament traits. Some could describe him as “argumentative”, but I have chosen to view him more positively, as a young man who is “strongly committed” to his goals.
Do you have child like my son Cole who seems to stand firm and have a hard time accepting “no” for an answer? When he get an idea in his head, he is determined to carry it through. He has been known to push and sometimes almost shove to have things done his way. Persistence is one of the temperament traits that every child possesses, and is one of the contributing factors that make every child unique. Some kids like my Cole are on the extreme or high end of the “persistence” scale.
I have learned that being aware of your children’s unique temperament and how they respond to the world around them can help you and your child understand and learn to work together to create more harmony within your home and to provide an environment where everyone can be more successful. From experience I know that persistent children can wear parents down with their strength of will. It helps to remain neutral and not engage in battle with your children when they are upset. They really need you to take charge when they get locked-in or stuck and to help them find ways to get calm.
There is a positive side to being persistent. These children tend to be goal oriented. Once they set a goal, they will stick with it, determined to work hard to reach their objective. They tend to pay close attention and listen to your instructions more thoroughly than their less persistent peers. Once they begin a task, including chores, they tend to endure to the end. Because of their unwavering sense of commitment, they often are big achievers with high hopes and goals and they often become strong leaders as they follow their passions.
So what’s a parent to do? From my experience I have tried to focus on three simple strategies. First I have learned ways to stay calm and avoid power struggles that I could lose. We have learned how to find solutions where we both win. Secondly—I have tried to teach him strategies that calm him when he gets upset, such as learning to compromise and learning to be more flexible. He has learned how to “take a break”, when he’s getting frustrated and prior to his breaking point. And lastly, I have learned that I am a “persistent parent”. There must be a genetic correlation with this trait! So I have learned to “be the adult” and relax my persistence. I’ve learned to drop arguments and remind him that we can problem solve together.
My daughter is the ultimate “wallflower” when it comes to dancing through life. I am fortunate to have had the personal experience of parenting a “slow to warm up” temperament child. I will share some parenting strategies or “dancing steps” that I have learned over the years that I think have enhanced our relationship and her development.
First—as a parent I know Hannah well. I know when she is stressed. I know when she is scared. I know when she is apprehensive. I have learned when she needs support and when she needs a little push. I have learned how to support and not hover. This ability to read our kids temperament is the first and most important step in creating the “goodness of fit” that we discussed in our latest Science of Parenting podcast.
I lovingly call her my “wallflower”. Many times she was overlooked in classroom or in social activities because she was quiet and easily over powered by those with more eager, robust temperaments. She required more time to adjust to new situations, new environments, and new people. She was and continues to be highly sensitive to sounds, food, smells, and textures. She requires time to observe, and become comfortable. Large groups, busy places, and surprises were hard for her to adjust to. I learned early in her life—to provide early notification and discussion of what she was going to experience. Coaching and communicating were important for her comfort. She is almost twenty now, but still finds comfort in familiarity.
When parenting a “slow to warm up” child, it is important to nurture their development and self-esteem. They need acceptance. This means encouraging strengths ( for example- ability to play on her own, or to observe what’s going on around her carefully), and providing support when she needs it (visiting and exploring a new class in child care to help her feel comfortable).
When you notice and appreciate the similarities and differences between you and your child, you can adapt the way you parent in order to meet your child’s individual temperament needs. This helps your child feel loved, confident, important, and capable. Sensitive parenting helps your child know and feel good about themselves as they mature. Lastly, encourage your child to engage in activities that they enjoy. Avoid the “shy” labels. Give ample time to help them get used to the idea of doing something new. Advocate, coach and encourage.
American society tends to view sensitivity and “shyness” as negative traits, but as a parent of a —slow to warm up now adult child I have learned that they have much to offer. They are perceptive, observant, caring, empathetic and deeply in touch with their feelings and emotions and importantly those of others. Traits not always easily found in others. Love and value your kids for who they are. I love my wallflower….Hannah.
It’s cliché! But oh so true. Parents— really are a child’s first teacher. It is amazing to watch tiny babies grow physical and mature into walking and running little people in less than 12 months. It’s equally amazing to not only experience but influence the miracle of understanding and talking. From the first babble of sounds to the uttering of recognizable words and then real sentences. Infant communication is a miracle. But it only happens with parents who take the time to interact.
Parents and caregivers who take the time to listen, coo, talk, read, sing, and play games with their babies are teaching important language skills that will set children up for success. Success in school is related to the acquisition of vocabulary. Preschoolers who have increased vocabulary do better in school. That sounds really simple! ISU Extension has a helpful publication called “Understanding Children-Language Development”. (PM-1529f). The publication has some great parent tips on ways to nurture child language skills as well as assessing your child’s typical developmental language skills.
Finger plays can be a great way to interact with infants and toddlers. Try out the “Old Owl” finger play, included in the publication. Don’t worry if you can’t sing. I don’t know any infants that care about your lack of pitch. Remember some of your favorite finger plays from childhood. My grandmother had some good ones that I still remember including—“Here is the church…Here is the steeple”? Or how about “Fly Away Jack, Fly Away, Jill”. What are some of your favorites?