When My Child Misbehaves: Deciding on Discipline

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

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

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

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

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

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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Gauge by Their Age

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

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

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

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

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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Recognizing the Parent-Child Relationship

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

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

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

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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Emotions: The Good, Bad, & Ugly

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

Kids too can feel a level of frustration when they:

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

to name a few!

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

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

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

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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Unspoken Aspects of Discipline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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The Great Guidance and Discipline Debate

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

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

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

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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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

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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Slow Down

When both children and adults experience some type of stress, it often ends with an emotional outburst – sometimes from kids, and sometimes from parents, too. When it comes to these emotional meltdowns, who has the control – parents or kids? To find that answer, let’s look at a little research on brain development.

Our brains are an important organ in the development of regulating our emotions, feelings, and decisions. In fact, the human brain is not fully developed until we are into our early 20’s. This means that the earliest, most primitive portions of the brain are more readily activated than other parts of our brain – those responsible for helping us to make good decisions about how best to express our emotions.

Babies communicate their needs through emotion all the time. If we hear a baby cry, we anticipate the need may mean hunger, tiredness, or even a diaper change is in order. As we age, our verbal skills allow for us to tell others what we need. And finally, when we have the entire brain working, we can use communication along with other coping skills to manage our ever-increasing emotions. Ultimately, this means that our kids don’t have the emotional self-control skills that parents do. Now this may be hard to hear, but as the adults in the situation, that means we have to take control of our emotions.

Sometimes parents need help calming down, too. The need to slow down and even breathe, then talk, allows us to re-regulate. When we feel overwhelmed with emotion, the decisions we make in those moments may not be as clear or satisfactory, as when we have given ourselves permission to step back and take some time to think. Our body needs time to get re-regulated after a big emotional outburst.

On the podcast this week, we discuss the importance of self-regulation (or emotional self-control), and reveal some research highlighting the long-term benefits of regulatory self-control.

All of us have big feelings from time to time. It is during those times that we may need to use our STOP, BREATHE, TALK approach. Parents and kids, it is helpful to slow down when you feel those big emotions. Let your body get regulated and then reach back out to one another and communicate!

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. Our next time LIVE on Facebook will be April 30 at 12:15 p.m.

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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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

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

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

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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“Am I a good parent?” – and other ways we reflect on our parenting

Two Children, a boy and a girl, fighting In Front Of their frustrated mother at home.

“Am I good parent?”…“I feel like a bad mom today.”… “Feeling like Dad-of-the-year over here (sarcastically).”

From morning to evening, parents make countless choices throughout the day.

  • The thought process about how to get your child to clean up their room without it becoming an ordeal.
  • The decision whether to “choose this battle” about your child’s clothing choice.
  • The debate about whether to let your child stay up a little later tonight for something fun or stick to the usual curfew or bedtime.
  • The split second reaction either trying to remain calm during a frustrating moment or losing your cool.

Everyday we are faced with an ongoing slew of split-second decisions about how we guide and even just talk to our children. Sometimes at the end of the day as we reflect back on our interactions with our child, we may be have feelings of guilt or defeat. We may look back at the day and think, “I was a bad parent today”.

Today, I want us to really reflect on the way we talk to ourselves about our parenting choices. We often use this idea of a “good” or “bad” parent as the standard, but I want to suggest that these terms really aren’t very helpful for us as parents. Here’s a few reasons:

  • Who or what defines what is a good or bad parent? This is often based on other’s opinions, our feelings, or the way we were raised – but all three of those things are not a helpful or reliable standard.
  • This feeling of good/bad can fluctuate greatly throughout even one day, or even within one moment. For example, maybe you feel like a good parent for making a healthy supper for your family while simultaneously feeling bad because you raised your voice at your child to get out of the kitchen.
  • Finally, using the terms “good” and “bad” really doesn’t give us a chance to reflect on our parenting in a helpful way. If I just say “I was a bad mom today,” it can just build feelings of shame and guilt instead of encouraging me to reflect on what in particular I wish I had done differently.

I want to encourage all of us to stop using the terms “good” and “bad” to describe our parenting. Fortunately, there are several research-based parenting models that give us alternative ways to reflect on our parenting (which we will dive into over the next few weeks). But for now, I encourage you to use this week to give thought to how you reflect on and how you talk to yourself about your parenting. Try to avoid using the terms good and bad. If you are wishing something had gone differently about a particular interaction, choose to reflect more on what you may want to try different next time instead of focusing on the guilt.

Come back for our next post where we will discuss a research-based parenting model that will give you new terms to replace “good” and “bad”.

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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Help Young Children Form Positive Financial Habits

parent and daughter putting coins into piggy bankGuest blogger and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Human Sciences Specialist in Family Finance, Sandra McKinnon shares some compelling information on youth and financial literacy.

Children form financial habits at an early age. Parents and care providers can influence what those habits will be. University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher Karen Holden and colleagues found that habits children learn when they are young form the basis for their future behavior. A study from Cambridge University found that children form financial habits by age 7. We may teach our children that a dime is thin and worth 10 cents, but developing financial habits includes more than just recognizing coins. Parents and care providers can help children gain the knowledge and skills they need to develop positive financial habits.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau suggests teaching preschoolers these basic concepts:
You need money to buy things.
You earn money by working.
You may have to wait before you can buy something you want.
There is a difference between things that you want and things that you need.
Other concepts to establish good financial habits include learning about numbers, time and institutions, such as stores, banks or credit unions, and employers. Children also can learn about budgeting, regular saving and shopping strategies; social values, such as gifts, generosity and sense of community; and public goods like the library.

Another way to engage with children is by reading money-related books with children, and providing hands-on learning opportunities. Check out the following titles at your local library:

Sheep in a Shop by Nancy Shaw
The Berenstain Bears Think of Those in Need by Stan and Jan Berenstain
Just a Piggy Bank by Mercer Mayer
Just Saving My Money by Mercer Mayer
A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams

The goal is to help children become comfortable with basic tools of how and why financial choices are made. For example, we can encourage pretend play, like a grocery store. Or we can explore careers by playing dress-up or acting out stories. In addition, we can talk about whether spending money on entertainment, for example, is a need or a want.

ISU Extension and Outreach human sciences specialists in family finance offer Preschoolers and Pennies: Read, Talk, Learn and Play, a 2-hour training for child care providers. Providers practice a way of reading with children that gives children an opportunity to become storytellers of books with a money theme. This introduces and reinforces money-related words and concepts in a more meaningful way. Complementary activities throughout the day encourage preschoolers to practice money skills.

Visit the Extension Store for the Allowance Game. Playing this game starts a great discussion on choices and consequences.

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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101 Ways to Celebrate Your Family: Family Connections & History

Last week, I gave you some hobbies and activities to try in order to celebrate your family and create #greatchildhoods. Want to dig a little deeper? The next step beyond immediate family activities is family connections and family history. These are the ideas that will help parents connect their children to those who came before them and helped to pave the way. Remembering, celebrating, and reflecting on history is a great way to bond with one another across generations!

Ideas in this category included:Parents reading a book with their daughter

1 – Read a book together
4 – Say “I love you” to one another
8 – Visit a relative
26 – Sing old songs
36 – Take cookies and visit an older neighbor or friend
42 – Look at old family pictures
43 – Tell old family stories
49 – Give everyone a hug
52 – Celebrate your heritage
62 – Watch an old black and white movie
68 – Talk to older persons about their lives
72 – Bury a time capsule
73 – Dream about the future
77 – Start a journal
81 – Begin a wisdom list of quotations, sayings, and advice
82 – Fingerprint family and compare and contrast any similarities or differences
90 – Plan a family feast
91 – Write notes to each other in the family
93 – Give a compliment
100 – Create a special events calendar
101 – Enjoy one another

What other ways have you embraced family connections and embraced your family history?

– Adapted from 101 Ways to Celebrate Your Family, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach –

Mackenzie DeJong

Aunt of four unique kiddos. Passionate about figuring how small brains develop, process, and differ. Human Sciences Specialist, Family Life in western Iowa with a B.S. in Family and Consumer Sciences and Design minor.

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