It’s Okay to Ask for Help if You Need It

The last few months, we have focused quite a few blogs on parenting amid the COVID-19 pandemic. We hope you have found our tips and strategies helpful so far. However, we recognize that some parents and children may still be feeling overwhelmed. Maybe you feel like tips and strategies are enough to get you through the feelings of anxiety, stress, and uncertainty.

We all have different challenges, obstacles, opportunities, and resources during this time so it is natural that we would each have a different reaction to that. Our team at The Science of Parenting wants you to know that however you are feeling is okay. Like I tell my preschooler, I also remind myself and YOU that it’s okay to have “big feelings” or little feelings about all that’s going on around us. But I also want you to know that if those big feelings are overwhelming there is support available! It’s good to seek extra support when we need it – in fact it’s essential to our parenting. In Iowa we are fortunate to have hotlines and resources that are available 24/7.

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, https://www.extension.iastate.edu/iowaconcern/, 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.

211 is a free, comprehensive information and referral line linking Iowa residents to health and human service programs, community services, disaster services and governmental programs. This service is collaborating with the Iowa Department of Public Health to provide confidential assistance, stress counseling, education and referral services related to COVID-19 concerns.  

We hope you will seek the information or support that suits you best at this time. Please take care of yourself so you can continue to care for your children. If you have questions for The Science of Parenting team, you can email us at parenting@iastate.edu.

Mackenzie Johnson

Mackenzie Johnson

Parent to a little one with her own quirks. Celebrator of the concept of raising kids “from scratch”. Learner and lover of the parent-child relationship. Translator of research with a dose of reality. Certified Family Life Educator.

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How To Talk with Kids about COVID-19

We are parenting in an unprecedented time, and that means our kids have unprecedented questions and concerns. Knowing how much to tell them is seriously tough. What is appropriate to tell my three year old? And what am I supposed to tell my school-ager who wants to go over to a friend’s house? And how do I talk with my teenager about all rumors they have heard floating around?

Well at The Science of Parenting we focus on sharing research-based information that fits your family. So we have put together some trustworthy resources that guide you in having these tough conversations with your kids. Check them out below (and look for more information on our COVID-19 webpage for parents).

Centers for Disease Control and PreventionTalking with Children about Coronavirus Disease 2019 General tips for talking with our children based on the most current facts we have about the pandemic

Department of Family Science from the University of Marylandthese pages provide parents with specific questions to ask and words to use based on your child’s age.

Zero to Three Answer Your Young Child’s Questions about Coronavirus
This website provides specific language parents can use to answer questions that young children may have.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (free download of PDF on the right side) – Talking with Children: Tips for Caregivers, Parents, and Teachers During Infectious Disease Outbreaks
This resource looks at how children of different ages may be reacting to the outbreak and provides tips for talking with each age group.

Mackenzie Johnson

Mackenzie Johnson

Parent to a little one with her own quirks. Celebrator of the concept of raising kids “from scratch”. Learner and lover of the parent-child relationship. Translator of research with a dose of reality. Certified Family Life Educator.

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Guilt Free Routines

Routines – this word may make you feel confident or queasy. Simply put, Wolin & Bennett back in 1984 defined family routines as “patterned interactions that are repeated over time”. Those things we do regularly because we have to do them and often don’t give too much thought to. Notice this definition is NOT saying routines is about having strict schedule of your day in thirty minutes increments. (Though if having a schedule is helping you – more power to you!) Routines are simply about the parts of your day you can do with some continuity to create some consistency for your kids. This could include things like bedtime, mealtime, wake up times, or even watching television or chatting with a relative.

It’s okay if your normal routines are totally out of whack right now. All of us (parenting included) are processing a lot around what’s going on with COVID-19, and disrupted routines is a very normal part of this stress. I tend to fall into the group of parents who enjoys regular routines (which is DIFFERENT than a strict schedule – more on that in the podcast), but Lori shares that sometimes the conversation around routines have made her feel guilty. Her natural temperament is a little more spontaneous and flexible, while mine tends to be more regular. Another consideration for this difference is that my kids are younger and Lori’s are older… This is just one more example why, at The Science of Parenting, we talk about a pluralistic approach to parenting, which basically just means that we believe there is more than one way to raise great kids.

Routines are ONE TOOL in our parenting toolbox. For me, having some regular routines provides me and my kiddos some feelings of consistency and normality around bedtimes, mealtimes, and wake times in the midst of the chaos with COVID-19. For Lori, she shares that the one routine she has chosen to focus on is wake up time. Both approaches are great, and even small routines can help provide some comfort and consistency to our kids.

An example from awhile ago when I used routines as a tool for my parenting is about a year ago when we were having battles and meltdowns every day when it was time for sleep. I mentioned it to my good friend Lori (ironic, I know), and she suggested maybe developing a little sleeptime routine and visual plan could help smooth the process out. Developing some consistency of what my daughter could expect at bedtime and nap time helped reduce the disagreements!

So if you are feeling like you are floundering around during this unprecedented time, consider if developing (or revisiting) some simple routines of comfort for you and your family could help you feel better. If it feels overwhelming to you to tackle lots of routines at once, it’s great to even just start with one. Remember to give yourself some grace during these unprecedented time. You are the expert on yourself, your kids, and your family, only you know what’s best for all of you during this time. You’re doing great work.

Hear more about the research and reality on routines in our bonus podcast episode.

Mackenzie Johnson

Mackenzie Johnson

Parent to a little one with her own quirks. Celebrator of the concept of raising kids “from scratch”. Learner and lover of the parent-child relationship. Translator of research with a dose of reality. Certified Family Life Educator.

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Take a Break and Take a Breath

Were you able to join us for the very first LIVE podcast from The Science of Parenting on Thursday?! We talked a little more in-depth into our favorite parenting strategy – Stop. Breathe. Talk. If you are unfamiliar with this strategy, we have several blog posts you can look at:

As you can tell, we think taking the time to stop, take a breath, and think about how you want to proceed before you talk, is a great strategy for intentional parenting! But does the research back it up? YES – in fact, a 2014 study from Hurrell, Hudson, and Schneiring has demonstrated that parental reactions to children’s emotions play a role in the development of children’s emotional regulation.

In other words, the way WE, as parents, react and interact with our child during a heated or challenging moment plays an important role in our children’s emotional development. What we model for them in terms of how we handle our own emotions affects how they will learn to handle their own big feelings.

Now there are plenty of times when my own “big feelings” get ahead of me in a tough moment. I do not get it right every time! But I tend to do better when I remember to Stop. Breathe. Talk. It just gives me the chance to get out of my own emotions and slow down. The breath helps reset my brain so I can think a little more clearly. And then, after I’ve calmed down a little, I can speak to my child in a way that I intend to.

Learn more about our Stop. Breathe. Talk. strategy by watching or listening to the recording of our Live broadcast!

You can subscribe to us on any podcasting app to tune in to our weekly episodes, or keep an eye on Facebook or Twitter to make sure you stay caught up.

Mackenzie Johnson

Mackenzie Johnson

Parent to a little one with her own quirks. Celebrator of the concept of raising kids “from scratch”. Learner and lover of the parent-child relationship. Translator of research with a dose of reality. Certified Family Life Educator.

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Talking to Your Kids Who Are Missing Out on Big Moments

With all that’s going on to prevent the spread of COVID-19, many important events have needed to be adjusted, postponed, or even cancelled. Some of these events may be things that we and our kids, have been looking forward to for quite some time.

I’ve seen countless stories on social media about kids and parents alike who are sad or frustrated about events getting cancelled – like prom, commencement, family reunions, state level sports competitions, weddings, the big spring theater production, holiday gatherings, and other “rites of passage”. These big feelings associated with missing out are completely understandable and valid!

Part of the reason we have these big feelings about this is that many of these events would meet the research definition of a ritual. According to a literature review by Fiese and colleagues, rituals are defined across three important characteristics. They are…

  • Symbolic – rituals are a representation of “who we are”. (In other words, the event’s meaning may be more about what it represents than what we actually do during it).
  • Enduring and affective – rituals create an emotional and impactful memory that we can look back on.
  • Meaningful across generations – Rituals give us something to look forward to that those before us and after us will also participate in.

When we look at the event cancellations that have left us with shoulders dropped and tears in our eyes, we may find that it’s because they are tied to an important ritual or rite of passage. Our kids may have been looking forward to a ritual like walking across that stage at graduation – it represents an accomplishment and transitional phase in their life; it is a significant event that has an emotional impact; and it is something that parents, siblings, friends, and additional generations take part in.

It’s completely understandable that parents and kids alike are having big feelings about these unexpected changes. As adults, we recognize that while it may be disappointing to miss these events, that we will be okay in the long run. Hopefully we are using healthy coping strategies to adjust to these changes. However, our kids don’t necessarily have the same skills that we do, so it’s important to help them navigate these cancellations and adjustments.

Here’s four steps for helping your child navigate tough feelings of disappointment or frustration about cancellation of these rituals:

  1. Find out what “rituals” or big moments specifically your child is reflecting on. There may be different events that are more important to them than you might realize. Maybe they care more about missing out on senior activity day than about prom. (Hint: that’s okay!)
  2. Ask how they are feeling about it, and then accept and acknowledge those feelings. Some kids might feel anger, disappointment, frustration, sadness, or even relief about events getting cancelled. Whatever it is they are feeling – that’s okay. Listen to your child, and try to avoid dismissive statements like “there are way worse things in the world”, “suck it up”, or “it doesn’t matter in the big scheme of things”. While some of these statements may have some truth to them, it is not very helpful or supportive. Instead, try to focus on statements like “it’s okay to feel _______”, “I know this is something you were looking forward to”, or “this is really hard”.
  3. Provide some extra attention, talk about concerns, and provide the factual reason why the big moment was cancelled or postponed. Gently remind your child of the factual reasons why the event was postponed. Also remind them that it’s not their fault, or your fault, or the school’s fault. Try to give them the extra time to express their concern or frustration.
  4. Think creatively about how we can still create some of those feelings associated with this big moment or ritual. Think about how you can use your knowledge of the definition of rituals to still create a special memory, even if it looks different than originally planned. Maybe you can reenact the moment, do something virtually, commit to celebrating at a later date, or even asking your child what they’d like to do instead.

To gain a broader understanding on rituals and the impact of missing out, please listen or watch The Science of Parenting’s mini episode, “Missing Out on Big Moments.”

Watch the video:

Or Listen (also available on most podcast apps, including Apple and Spotify!):

Mackenzie Johnson

Mackenzie Johnson

Parent to a little one with her own quirks. Celebrator of the concept of raising kids “from scratch”. Learner and lover of the parent-child relationship. Translator of research with a dose of reality. Certified Family Life Educator.

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It’s Not About Being Perfect

As you might know, The Science of Parenting loves to look at research and reality. We believe parents should have access to trustworthy information, and they can use that information to make decisions about what’s best for their unique family. Where the challenges sometimes come in is actually FINDING that research-based information. Who can you trust to give you unbiased information?

Research by Bernhardt & Felter confirms that parents consider information gathered from a university or medical professional to be more trustworthy than commercial sites, and we tend to agree. However, this same study mentions that parents are using commercial sites at a high rate! These commercial sites might be blogs or even companies that sell children’s products. So even though we don’t think it’s the most reliable source of information, we are sometimes still going to those places to get information.

Why are parents doing this? If you ask me, I think it’s because often times, those commercial sites are simply easier to find. They often come up on the top of the search engine list. I also think it’s because sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures. Maybe we looked for information in more trustworthy places and simply couldn’t find any answers. Or sometimes it comes down to needing something – support, advice, information, etc. – because sometimes we feel desperate as parents. Even if it’s not ideal, sometimes SOMETHING is better than NOTHING. No judgment here – I’ve absolutely been in the place where I just need something to help me.

We explore this exact topic in our second episode of The Science of Parenting podcast, and we also share four strategies to help you find trustworthy information!

You can subscribe to us on any podcasting app to tune in to our weekly episode, or keep an eye on Facebook or Twitter to make sure you stay caught up. And don’t forget to join us LIVE on Facebook on March 26 at 12:15 P.M. as we talk about our favorite strategy – Stop. Breathe. Talk!

Mackenzie Johnson

Mackenzie Johnson

Parent to a little one with her own quirks. Celebrator of the concept of raising kids “from scratch”. Learner and lover of the parent-child relationship. Translator of research with a dose of reality. Certified Family Life Educator.

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Parenting in the Midst of COVID-19

If you’ve been following us, you know that our passion is providing parents like you with research-based information for your family. With concern around COVID-19, we’ve identified some trustworthy resources to help you navigate this ever-changing situation.

Watch our “Parenting Through COVID-19” Podcast video:

Or Listen (also available on most podcast apps, including Apple and Spotify!):

Mackenzie Johnson

Mackenzie Johnson

Parent to a little one with her own quirks. Celebrator of the concept of raising kids “from scratch”. Learner and lover of the parent-child relationship. Translator of research with a dose of reality. Certified Family Life Educator.

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Dive Into All Things Parenting

Did you see it?!

We launched our new podcast! If you’ve been following The Science of Parenting for awhile, you know that we like to look at things with a lens of R&R –and while we think rest and relaxation is important, we are talking about RESEARCH and REALITY. And that’s exactly what our podcast focuses on: looking at parenting research and exploring how it’s been relevant to our own family realities.

We think parents like you should be able to find trustworthy information when you want it. Research conducted by Zero to Three (2016) tells us that parents need and want information and support. The report says found “80% of parents work to be better parents, and 69% of parents say if they knew more parenting strategies, they would use them. Despite this motivation, however, almost half of parents say they aren’t getting the support they need during times of stress.”

The Science of Parenting team wants to help you find the support they need in times that you need it! This is why we put together a resource website, write blogs, and now have a podcast: we are working to give you easier access to research-based, trustworthy information that you can use to make decisions for your own family.

We are also so excited that podcasting gives us an opportunity to share a little bit more of our own REALITY as parents with all of you! So join us on this new adventure to help get trustworthy, non-judgmental parenting information in your hands (and ears).

You can subscribe to us on any podcasting app to tune in to our weekly episodes, or keep an eye on Facebook or Twitter to make sure you stay caught up. And don’t forget to join us LIVE on Facebook on March 26 at 12:15 P.M. as we talk about our favorite strategy – Stop. Breathe. Talk!

Mackenzie Johnson

Mackenzie Johnson

Parent to a little one with her own quirks. Celebrator of the concept of raising kids “from scratch”. Learner and lover of the parent-child relationship. Translator of research with a dose of reality. Certified Family Life Educator.

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When Should I Allow My Child To Start Dating?

Daughter stands next to her mother who is shaking hands with a potential boyfriend of the daughter.

In the month of February, we are looking at relationships. We’ve looked at our co-parenting relationships, and now we want to look at when our kids are looking at dating! Last week we looked at having realistic expectations, and now we want to know about the age-appropriateness of dating. This is a common question for parents – so let’s look with a Research & Reality lens.

RESEARCH:

  • Kids younger than age 14 years do not have the social skills needed for dating. Early dating often leads to problems. Often kids learn about dating relationships from TV and movies that don’t show appropriate dating relationships. Young people will likely act in ways they see portrayed, rather than develop a healthy relationship with the other person.”
  • Youth spend less time with same-sex friends. Same-sex friendships help kids learn many skills about getting along with others that they may not develop in a dating relationship.”
  • Personal identity is not formed. Most youth do not know themselves well, what they like and dislike, and their own values. Such self-understanding is required in order to relate in a healthy dating relationship. Youth who do not know what they want or should expect in a relationship may be too easily talked into behaviors for which they are not yet ready. Young dating partners may become too close too quickly, which may keep them from maturing emotionally.”

REALITY:

The reality is, every child develops (physically, socially, and emotionally) at different rates. Only you, your co-parent, and your child can make the decision about what’s best for your family! Other factors that may influence your decision could be your family values, your child’s temperament and maturity, and your personal comfort level. Also understand that youth vary greatly in their wishes to be in dating relationships. There is nothing wrong with youth who have no interest in dating.

Here’s a few tips you can use in your own family –

  • Encourage group activities. By sixth or seventh grade, it is appropriate for youth to sit with their friends of both sexes at ball games or other events.
  • Discuss the reasons for not allowing your child to date. Choose a time when both of you are calm and can listen and discuss wishes, values, and rules.
  • Be firm if your child continues to pressure you. You can say, “I love you and the answer is no.”
  • Encourage your child to be active in school and community activities and to identify a hobby that interests him or her.
  • Stay involved. Know where your child is and what he or she is doing. Unsupervised time can lead to trouble.

Get more information to help inform your conversation about dating in our Parenting in Challenging Moments – Teen section!

Mackenzie Johnson

Mackenzie Johnson

Parent to a little one with her own quirks. Celebrator of the concept of raising kids “from scratch”. Learner and lover of the parent-child relationship. Translator of research with a dose of reality. Certified Family Life Educator.

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Our Parenting Relationship Affects The Kids

Standing on a beach looking out over the water, two parents stand with their arms around each other, and each parent holds hands with a child on either side.

Last week I shared about my own relationship with my partner, and how it can be hard with young kids to find time to focus on the “couple relationship”… And I don’t think I am the only one!

Let’s review this with a Research & Reality lens:

RESEARCH – Well, the research is clear — the quality of adult couple relationships and positive parenting practices are connected to healthy child outcomes. So the relationship I have with my partner affects my parenting and ultimately my kids. Having a relationship that includes good communication and shared decision-making is an important aspect of raising kids together!

REALITY – The reality is; however, I find only enough energy to take care of the next thing on my to do list. Right now it is usually work, play, supper, bath, bed, and repeat. (Now don’t get me wrong, routine can be a good thing, if it comes with intention.)

But we also know this co-parent relationship looks different for every set of parents – maybe you’re dating, married, divorced, separated, in different cities, living together, or somewhere between. Maybe your reality is a challenging relationship with your child’s co-parent.

The good news is that co-parents can intentionally choose to put their kids first – and one way to do that is by working on having a relationship with their co-parent that allows you to communicate and share decision-making in a way that benefits your children!

Join me in planning to do one thing this week to invest in your co-parenting relationship. You, your co-parent, and your kids will benefit!

Mackenzie Johnson

Mackenzie Johnson

Parent to a little one with her own quirks. Celebrator of the concept of raising kids “from scratch”. Learner and lover of the parent-child relationship. Translator of research with a dose of reality. Certified Family Life Educator.

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Valentine’s Day is Coming! Let’s Talk about Relationships

A father and daughter look at each other joyfully, both wearing red heart sunglasses and holding a heart-shaped sucker together.

We are sneaking up on February, which brings Valentine’s Day! On the Science of Parenting, we talk about our relationships with our kids, and next month we are diving into COUPLE relationships – both kids and adults.

We will explore suggestions for how to navigate when your child is expressing interest in dating and some tips for you and your co-parent. We will also identify a few red flags to be addressed in our own behavior and relationships!

As I’ve shared before, I have two young kiddos at home right now. Other team members have teens who are now dating. As a parent of young children, I still have to intentionally give thought to my relationship with my partner. In the mix of keeping up with an active preschooler and waking at night with an infant, it’s easier than I’d like to admit to forget to dedicate time specifically to my partner. As the chaos of the recent holiday subsides, I am wondering when the last time was that we spent couple time together that didn’t involve the kids, our jobs, or the house? I know that my relationship with my partner can greatly influence my parenting and my children, so it’s time to get back into focus. Join us this month as we look at our relationships and parenting!

Mackenzie Johnson

Mackenzie Johnson

Parent to a little one with her own quirks. Celebrator of the concept of raising kids “from scratch”. Learner and lover of the parent-child relationship. Translator of research with a dose of reality. Certified Family Life Educator.

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Consider Giving Kids Less Stuff, More Time during Holidays

A father and his two sons happily wrestle a football from one another while they play in the yard.

Although the holidays can be a season of giving, sometimes the focus shifts to a season of getting, or so it may seem from a child’s perspective. It’s OK to give gifts to our children. We all want to see our children happy, and as parents we give from the goodness of our hearts. However, it’s easy to overdo it, especially around the holidays. This can become a pattern, and before we know it, we’re overindulging our children – giving them too much, too soon and for too long.

Research shows that overindulging children puts them at risk for a variety of negative outcomes, including a need for immediate gratification, an overblown sense of entitlement and a materialistic mindset and goals. Children who are overindulged may have poor self-control, as well as a more difficult time developing adult life skills.  Giving children too much stuff is just one form of overindulgence. Other forms include soft structure, meaning a lack of rules and responsibilities, and over-nurturing – doing things for children that they should be doing themselves.

So how can parents know whether they are crossing the line into overindulging their children?

Researchers Jean Illsley Clarke, David J. Bredehoft and Connie Dawson started the Overindulgence Project – Overindulgence.info – in 1996, studying the relationship between childhood overindulgence and subsequent adult problems and parenting practices. To date, they have completed 10 studies investigating overindulgence involving more than 3,500 participants.

The researchers suggest parents ask themselves four questions:

  • Do these gifts use a disproportionate amount of family resources?
  • Does what I am doing harm others, society or the planet?
  • Does this meet my needs (as the adult) more than the needs of my child?
  • Does it hinder my child from learning developmental tasks?

If parents answer yes to one or more of these questions, they probably are overindulging their children. However, there are some simple ways to get back on the right track.

  • First of all, if you have been overindulgent, take responsibility. Being in denial about it means that you can’t change anything.
  • Second, forgive yourself. If you’ve gone overboard in the past, don’t beat yourself up about it. Look at how you can move forward, do things differently and learn from your previous experience.
  • Next, work on one problem area at a time. Don’t try to suddenly change everything about your parenting style at once, as that will likely be too overwhelming. Maybe you start by deciding not to give your children so much stuff – toys, electronics, etc. – this holiday season, but consider giving them the gift of your time. For example, parents could create a “gift certificate” for a parent and child lunch date, or plan for an afternoon playing board games or having a baking day together. Or start even smaller and decide you won’t give in to your child’s next temper tantrum at the grocery store.

Just because you’ve overindulged your children in the past, doesn’t mean your children have been damaged forever. You can get back on track and raise your children to become responsible adults who show respect for others.
Share with us how you have takes steps to work on overindulging your children. Your ideas may help others!


This blog was originally posted on 12/21/16: Consider Giving Kids Less Stuff, More Time during Holidays

Mackenzie Johnson

Mackenzie Johnson

Parent to a little one with her own quirks. Celebrator of the concept of raising kids “from scratch”. Learner and lover of the parent-child relationship. Translator of research with a dose of reality. Certified Family Life Educator.

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It Can Be Hard, but We Are Thankful

Happy African American girl holding 'I'm thankful' sign and looking at camera during Thanksgiving meal with her parents.

Around Thanksgiving time, we are surrounded with messages about thankfulness. As parents, people often remind us to fully enjoy the moments with our kids because time is fleeting. While there is truth to this, at Science of Parenting we want to look at research and REALITY. We recognize that raising children can be so rewarding, but we know there are times when it’s just plain hard.

We recently added another child to our family, and let me tell you, I am basking in sweet smiles, coos, and little milestones these days. But I’m also navigating some tough stuff like a nighttime waking, spending quality time with all my kids, and finding a new routine.  On the average day my feelings can flip from exhausted to ecstatic to emotional pretty quickly.

Even if you didn’t recently add another child to your family, most of us can relate to a mixed bag of feelings that parenting can bring. At Science of Parenting, we recognize the REALITY that sometimes parenting can be so hard. It can challenge us in ways we didn’t know were even possible. And then there are the moments that we are just lit up with joy from our children. For instance, my daughter recently mastered galloping, and watching her practice her new skill makes me smile daily. It’s such a simple thing, but it brings me so much joy!

So this Thanksgiving, Science of Parenting encourages you to find those parenting moments you feel grateful for, but it’s okay if that’s not every moment of every day. And when you are having those tough moments and questions, remember that Science of Parenting is full of resources you can explore. If you have a specific question, we have a hotline for home and family questions called Answerline (1-800-262-3804 in Iowa).

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Mackenzie Johnson

Mackenzie Johnson

Parent to a little one with her own quirks. Celebrator of the concept of raising kids “from scratch”. Learner and lover of the parent-child relationship. Translator of research with a dose of reality. Certified Family Life Educator.

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Words Have Power – Even on the Second Try

We’ve been talking an awful lot about WORDS lately on the blog. We looked at a post from a mom who wished she had used her words differently. We’ve agreed to stop using the words “good” and “bad” to define our parenting. Over the last little while, we’ve been taking a look at four words we can use to describe our parenting that research shows helps lead us toward positive outcomes – Effective, Consistent, Active, and Attentive.

With all of the focus on the words we use, it only feels right to bring it all back together by talking about communication. We saw across these different posts how the way we communicate with our children and ourselves impacts our relationships and well-being. That’s the research part of it, right? Research shows us over and over how important our words and communication are in parenting.

A mother crouches to her young daughter and smiles while her daughter holds a teddy bear.

Now it’s time for us to take a look at our reality. I’ll share a little of my reality recently. I had a sick toddler at home with me, AND I had some serious deadlines I needed to meet. I laid my toddler down for nap and was feeling hopeful for all that I could accomplish in those next two hours… except she woke up and was not going back to sleep. (Mom face palm). I was tired, stressed, and I was feeling like I had used up all of my patience and multi-tasking abilities in the morning. So as my sweet kiddo came down the stairs, my words were exasperated and short. We immediately started to spiral downward – with my daughter teary-eyed from being sick and overtired, and I was stressed and out of energy.

ENTER Stop. Breathe. Talk. … I didn’t get my words right on the first try. I spoke from a place of frustration first. After a few minutes of our downward spiral, I realized I was the one tanking the interaction. So I pulled my girl up in my lap, and after I stopped to catch a breath I talked… I told her I was tired too. I talked about how sleeping is important to starting to feel better when you are sick. And I told her I was sorry for not speaking kindly to her.

Research and reality tell us that our words do have power. My words and actions helped transform my interaction with my toddler from one of frustration to one of bonding. But I want to be transparent that it took me awhile to get there. I didn’t get it right on the first try.

I think that’s a really important message for us parents to share with each other as we think about the power of words – it’s about practice, not perfection. There is room for a little grace. There will still be days when you call yourself a “bad parent” without remembering you have other words that can be more helpful, and there will be moments where you don’t get the words right on the first try during a challenging moment with your child.

Challenging Moments are inevitable in parenting. Luckily we can use our words to help navigate them – even if we don’t always get it right on the first try.

Mackenzie Johnson

Mackenzie Johnson

Parent to a little one with her own quirks. Celebrator of the concept of raising kids “from scratch”. Learner and lover of the parent-child relationship. Translator of research with a dose of reality. Certified Family Life Educator.

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Being an Active Parent Can Look Differently for Each Family

We’ve been looking at different ways to reflect on our parenting over our last few posts, and today it continues with a look at active parenting, which the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development defines as “participating in your child’s life.”

Boy wearing a chef's hat measures flour while baking with his father in the kitchen.

This one is pretty broad, right? Just participating… that seems simple. And yet, how each of us might define participation looks so different! Some parents may say you are an active parent if you see your child every day. Others might say it’s being available for big moments like ball games and concerts. Some might say it’s more about being present for the little moments like dinner time and bed time.

Some of these definitions may leave out certain parents – like parents who work a night shift, so they may not be there for evening meal and bedtime, or parents who live separately and may not see their child every day. Does this mean those parents cannot be active in their child’s life? The answer – NO.

Every family is different. We each have kids with unique temperaments, our family structures may vary, and our schedules may look different. I think that’s part of the beauty of this broad definition of active parenting: participation can look differently for each parent and each family!

It ultimately comes down to the experience of your specific child. Does your child feel like you are available to them? Do they know that you want to be a part of their life? Do you have a plan for maintaining ongoing contact with them?

For some parents, this aspect of being an active parent may feel very obvious, while others have to give more thought and creativity to ensuring their participation in their children’s lives. Whichever spot you may fall into, know that your efforts to be active and available to your child are worthwhile and are an important aspect of developing your relationship! Keep up the good work!

Come back in our next post to explore the concept of being an attentive parent!

Source: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, https://www.nichd.nih.gov/sites/default/files/publications/pubs/documents/adventures_in_parenting_rev.pdf

Mackenzie Johnson

Mackenzie Johnson

Parent to a little one with her own quirks. Celebrator of the concept of raising kids “from scratch”. Learner and lover of the parent-child relationship. Translator of research with a dose of reality. Certified Family Life Educator.

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