Reflecting for Resilience

The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted children and families in a variety of ways, both positively and negatively. You might wonder, how could families be impacted positively by a pandemic?  I can report, from responses to a questionnaire collected prior to delivering a webinar on pandemic parenting by members of the Science of Parenting team, many families found unique and supportive impacts from this most uncertain pandemic.

Families reported enjoying more time together at home. Because many heeded the advice to “stay home,” families appreciated newfound time for family meals and game and movie nights. Kids gathered in the kitchen and picked up some skills in meal preparation, including clean up! Parents reported that they enjoyed this time of bonding with their children.

Siblings learned they had to share screen time, internet usage, and even study space in the same house. Families learned to plan for and to negotiate needs among the family members, including some parents who found themselves working from home during the pandemic.

The pandemic had many unintended consequences. The network of face-to-face social support from neighbors and extended family members was very limited! The opportunities to share in rituals of birthday parties, graduations, and wedding celebrations, to name a few, were interrupted. Some families postponed events or simply found alternate ways to celebrate. The “drive-by” parties were very popular last year!

Parents took the time to listen to the stress, anxiety, and unexpected disappointments that family members expressed and then brainstormed together how to manage the feelings. Often, being heard and getting the chance to speak feelings out loud was a healing release. Some families used exercise and nature walks to release some of the stress they were experiencing. Journaling was another coping technique for both youth and adults. Keeping the lines of communication open during this time proved a positive protective factor.

As families navigated the pandemic, they learned tools that will translate into resilience during future tough times. Not sure how? Be sure to take time to reflect on what went well, what was tough, and how you learned from it all. You are RESILIENT.

Barb Dunn Swanson

With two earned degrees from Iowa State University, Barb is a Human Sciences Specialist utilizing her experience working alongside communities to develop strong youth and families! With humor and compassion, she enjoys teaching, listening and learning to learn!

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How to Repair

When families experience “tough times”, it can impact the feelings and behaviors of family members. And when family members act out in response to the “tough times” parents may have to set limits or deliver consequences that may be met with further hostility, anger or additional outbursts.

These times are not comfortable for parents or for children, but they happen, and all families must find reasonable ways to manage and cope! Unacceptable behaviors may stem from disappointment when a child doesn’t get their way. When emotions are high, we can act unreasonable. We let the emotions drive our behaviors. Waiting until our emotions are regulated once again is important.

Our emotions stem from one portion of the brain, and our decision-making capability from a separate portion of the brain. To think clearly, and make a good decision, we need to calm down, and become re-regulated. We can say things we don’t mean when we are caught up in emotion! Using the STOP, BREATHE, TALK campaign is a great way to get ourselves and our family members re-regulated, so we can talk through the tough times.

This means that when we find ourselves in the heat of the moment, and when emotions are running high, we STOP what we are doing and pause. We then take some deep cleansing breaths; next, we think about how we want to talk about the situation we experienced. We intentionally change the direction of the emotionally charged situation, to prevent ourselves from acting out in ways that are harsh or emotionally unacceptable.

Adults and children alike who recover from an emotional outburst can benefit from learning how to apologize and make amends. The ability to tell someone else that we are sorry for our words or behaviors takes courage. Parents who model how to apologize can help their children learn to do the same. Once an apology is extended, the ability to accept the apology and move forward is essential.

The “tough times” are also teachable times. We learn to express our regrets and say “I’m sorry” and discuss how to prevent the same things from happening again.

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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Renegotiating Rules

Everywhere we go, we experience rules that must be followed. Rules for driving; Rules for playing sports; Rules for how to spend grant funds; Rules for playing board games. Rules are essential and provide the structure necessary for people to work together and get along.

When people know the rules, this creates a sense of comfort. Both children and adults can anticipate what is expected and feel safe and secure. Parents often create a schedule or routine for their children that can help reduce feelings of chaos by providing flexible but consistent information and a daily structure that kids can anticipate.

Kids can play an important part in the rule making process. Giving kids some say in developing the rules and any consequences helps them to remember and take responsibility. When parents and kids can together have a “rules” conversation, parents can honestly share reasons for the boundaries and limits that reflect the family values and helps to keep everyone safe.

The rules that are established should reflect the age and ability of the children they are designed to protect. Helping children to meet the rules and using reminders can be helpful for young children who are very stimulated by their environment and excited about the opportunities before them.

Research reveals “specific, warm, concrete, understandable directions and expectations can improve child behaviors, prevent dangerous circumstances, reduce caregivers’ frustrations, and foster children’s learning of appropriate behaviors. It is most effective to tell children exactly what behaviors you desire.”

For example:

Instead of:Try this:
Don’t yell in the house!Please use your inside talking voice
Why isn’t your homework finished yet?Finish your homework, before asking for screen time.
You better be home on time.I expect you home at 10:00 PM
Knock that off.Please do not throw the football in the house.

One final reminder, as adults – we must remember to model the behaviors we expect from children. If we want rule followers in our home, we too must lead the way, and follow the rules too.

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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Utilizing Routines & Rituals

Having regular routines can be a helpful strategy for busy parents and kids, like the time we rise from sleep each day or what time we eat. Some parents even rise first so they have some “me” time before the kids wake. The children may have scheduled piano lessons or baseball practice followed by homework completion… all making up what we know as a family routine. Now that summer has arrived, a new routine may include swimming lessons, outdoor adventures, and time for rest and relaxation.

Rituals, on the other hand, may be symbolic. For example, the celebration of a family birthday. This special occasion might also include enjoying a family meal and a “favorite dish” requested by the birthday member!  The birthday ritual itself takes on special meaning and perhaps has been shared over generations. Families may have stories to share about how the rituals celebrated were started and why they continue to be meaningful.

Routines and rituals play a special role in our families and often reflect family values.  When families face “tough times,” the routines can be interrupted. However, parents who maintain routines during the chaos will find they can be a protective factor, which may help the family feel some stability during the “tough time.”

We are connecting rituals and routines to tough times now, but The Science of Parenting team produced two bonus podcasts relating to specific losses in the pandemic (be sure to go back and listen to those, too, if you haven’t heard them already!):

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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Leaning into Relationships

The family unit is a precious commodity! Every member has a unique and important role to play and every family will have a different set of people they consider meaningful, supportive, and essential! The way we describe our family and the ways in which we celebrate each member can be reflected in our family values! The bonds we create and the relationships we nurture can protect us even during “tough times”.  

The recent pandemic was felt by many families. The health precautions taken included masks, physical distancing, and even postponement of many routines and rituals once enjoyed by extended family and friends.

The isolation that was experienced was an unintended consequence of trying to keep all family members safe and healthy. Family relationships were still important and using video calling or texting or drive by visits were some of the unique ways people stayed connected.

Positive, warm relationships with adults are a protective factor during tough times. In addition to parents, extended family members, coaches, 4-H club or scout leaders, schoolteachers all become important individuals who can support the family during those difficult times!

Research confirms that children and adolescents both find the relationship with the parent unit a source of comfort especially during times of stress and parents are still needed as sources of external monitoring. The following table is one way we can continue to build warm relationships with our children, no matter their age.

To learn more about each of these important concepts, listen or view the podcast!

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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Risk & Protective Factors

While families are celebrating the start of the summer months and the end of a school year, they are also taking precautions because of the reality of the pandemic that has impacted so many for an entire year. Many lessons have been learned during this very uncertain time. The lessons have revealed the various ways families have experienced resilience over the last 12 months or more.

Family resilience can be defined as the ability of a family to respond positively to an adverse event and emerge strengthened. Numerous influences we refer to as protective factors help us to mitigate the effects of those adverse events. According to research (Hawley 2002), resilience is most likely to be found as risk factors are minimized and protective factors are present.

Sensitive, responsive caregiving is a critical protective factor. Taking time and listening to our kids is necessary. Families who plan for and spend meaningful time playing, talking, and enjoying one another is a great buffer against negative events.

In addition, families who can meet the basic needs of food, clothing, housing, and social support will also find these as protective factors during times of stress or crisis. Asking for help is also a meaningful way to acknowledge that we don’t have to manage all alone. The extended network of relatives, neighbors or friends can provide a needed buffer and support for the family.

The sixth season of The Science of Parenting podcast celebrates family resilience and supports the following actions families can take to reduce the effects of stress and crisis:

Looking for the things we can control in our environment.

Keeping our emotions regulated.

Identifying additional family or neighborhood support.

Asking for help.

Realizing that we 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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Resilience in Tough Times

During this past year, the Covid-19 Pandemic created unforeseen circumstances for many families. Parents and children found themselves at home together, parents working from home, and children participating in virtual school. While all families may have been impacted, the ways in which they were able to cope with those events could be attributed in part to the resilience they had as a family.

Resilience can be defined as the ability of a family to respond positively to an adverse event and emerge strengthened. A teen who recently finished school final exams – could consider that event a “tough time”; A family who has made the decision to move to a new home in a new neighborhood may have children who consider that a pretty “tough time”, if they must leave friends for the move. Managing tough times, no matter how big or little is essential.  

According to Dr. Kenneth Ginsberg, a pediatrician, professor, and author has identified the 7 C’s of resilience that he promotes as the essential building blocks of resilience including:

  1. Competence – helping children and family members to feel capable by learning new skills and abilities.
  2. Confidence – As children learn new skills they build the confidence needed to keep learning and growing.
  3. Connection – We are hard wired for connection with others. Keeping lines of communication open with all family members will support our connection to one another.
  4. Character – Personal integrity and a moral compass are important and reflective of our family values.
  5. Contributing – Children and adults feel worthy when they learn new skills, volunteer, or contribute to an effort larger than themselves.  
  6. Coping – Identifying ways we can manage and cope when we experience the “tough times”. Learning to breathe deeply; taking a walk to cool off; or having a conversation to clear the air are a few coping skills all of us could use.
  7. Sense of Control – As children grow up, the desire to have more independence is strong. Having a sense of control is important and helps us learn to reason and make decisions.

Practicing family resilience in the face of “tough times” takes open communication and connection with one another. Up next is the discussion about the risk and protective factors that impact our resilience! Don’t miss out!

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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Parenting in Stages

Many parents, especially new ones, may wonder what to expect when their new arrival makes their debut. It is natural to want to make sure that a child is growing and developing on time and know when to be concerned. This season on The Science of Parenting, we focus our attention on the “milestones” that may hint at how a child is growing and developing.

The first lesson in child development is that we all grow at our own pace. We all are on our own schedule, and to force the issue may be futile. However, the milestones provide guidance about what “might” be expected during a particular time frame. Many other factors play an important role in how children grow and develop, including other siblings in the home, a child’s own temperament, and the social supports the child has in their life.

Are you looking for a helpful resource as a new parent? I would like to recommend Just in Time Parenting as a free parenting newsletter delivered by email and specific to a child’s age and needs. The newsletter will feature relevant information that’s timely and useful to your family! Be sure to catch the podcast hosts Lori and Mackenzie as they break down the milestones and feature highlights for toddlers, preschoolers, school-agers, the teenage years, and beyond!

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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Choosing Positive Discipline

Guiding and directing children as they grow and develop is a serious endeavor for parents. We know family values are usually at the heart of all rules, boundaries, and limits that parents set for their children.

Research in family science has a lot to say about what works around discipline. According to two decades of research by Elizabeth Gershoff & colleagues, physical punishment like spanking has been shown not only to be harmful, but also ineffective.

Discipline and punishment are two very different things. Discipline is meant to help children learn to regulate their own behavior as they are gaining more and more independence. Parents who use positive discipline approaches are teaching their children what behaviors are desired and then using natural or logical consequences when necessary to guide and direct their children.

Blaming and shaming parents for the choices they make in guiding their children is also not helpful. When we look at the research around harsh parenting, we can choose to avoid harmful and ineffective techniques and utilize approaches that are less threatening and more positive! We can do this most effectively by encouraging behaviors we do like, communicating our messages openly and honestly, and by utilizing Stop. Breathe. Talk. for keeping our cool in the heat of the moment.

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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Actions Speak Louder

Do you ever get the feeling you are being watched? If you are a parent or adult who cares for children, then you can be sure you are being watched!  

Children are very impressionable. Have you ever heard the saying “children learn what they live”? If so, a good lesson for us as adults to remember is that we are always on display when guiding our children. They listen to how we talk to one another. They watch us as we busy ourselves taking care of routines daily. We want to make sure our words and actions match. 

This season on The Science of Parenting, our co-hosts Lori and Mackenzie have introduced us to a parenting approach developed by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The approach emphasizes why it is important to model good behavior, language, and energy when engaging with our children and the family.  

Modeling is about using our own words AND actions to show the desired behaviors we expect. Research shows this is especially important with kids because children learn as much, if not more, from our actions as they do from what we say. 

If a parent shouts orders at others, they shouldn’t be at all surprised to see their child shouting at others while at play. If I value a calm and respectful tone of voice, as an adult, I need to practice using that voice in my interaction with others. The bottom line, my behavior, and my words need to align because others who are important in my life are watching my every move!  

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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Setting the Stage

As children grow and continue to develop their own independence, parents are in a unique position to offer mentoring support. Children learn to count on their parents to provide feedback and encouragement while navigating the many rites of passage to come!

The definition of mentoring highlighted by the hosts of the Science of Parenting: a mentor is someone who provides support, guidance, friendship, and respect to a child. Growing and developing is hard work, so mentoring kids along the way can help them learn about our desired expectations and behaviors. Mentoring is about helping kids reach their full potential, which includes mistakes and tears and successes and smiles.

Mentoring looks different at each life stage.

  • Toddlers may need more boundaries and limits along with help in emotion management.
  • Preschoolers will enjoy getting to make choices that come with their blooming independence.
  • School-age children may need mentoring assistance as they adjust to school and work on homework assignments.
  • Parents who have teens in the home will want to keep the lines of communication open as the teen years can be times of strong emotion and the onset of puberty. Mentoring teens through curfew, teenage friendships, and learning life skills like cleaning, handling money, and home & car care is essential.

The largest role we play is setting the stage so that our kids can launch with skills and abilities that serve them as they live on their own! In each life stage, parental monitoring provides the guidance, encouragement, and support necessary for growing independence.

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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Keeping Tabs

Some parents with newborn children invest in a baby monitor to listen in and pay close attention to their baby resting in a crib. Over time, the baby monitor is replaced by parents who become the “monitor” in real life!

Parents have a big role in protecting their children from all kinds of situations daily. Monitoring children in their growth and development and providing a safety net for kids is essential. Monitoring our children is a protective factor and can reduce the amount of risk children engage in along life’s journey.

Monitoring is not about being in total control over our children but rather a way to guide and communicate reasonable limits and expectations. Explaining the reasons behind our established limits lets our children know that we care for their wellbeing, and they can learn to trust that what we expect or what we value.

As children grow and learn more independence, parental monitoring may take the form of questions like:

  • Who will you be spending time with?
  • What time can I expect you home?
  • Whose home will you be at?
  • What friends will be in the car with you?
  • How will you communicate with me if your plan changes?

Asking these questions with a calm, matter-of-fact voice and hearing the responses can set the stage for whatever limits might be necessary. Parents who establish boundaries or set limits for their children will teach their children that privileges come when clear communication, trust, and honesty are established.

Join The Science of Parenting co-hosts Lori and Mackenzie as they discuss strategies for monitoring children during different life stages!

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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React vs Respond

Everyday life can throw curveballs our way, the kinds of situations that cause us to REACT! We may react to protect ourselves from harm; we may react to let someone else know how we have been impacted; we may react as a form of on-going communication.

The Science of Parenting podcast hosts tackle the difference between REACTING to our children or RESPONDING. Sometimes our REACTIONS are an outgrowth of emotion. For example, if I am running late for work, and someone in the family spills their breakfast on the floor, my REACTION may stem from emotion–and the reality is, I am emotional because I am now really late if I have to stop and clean the kitchen floor.

Taking a few minutes to explore what happened and then responding with intention can be a teachable moment for everyone in the family. If the breakfast was strewn on the floor by the 1-year-old off the highchair, I may need to consider my child’s age and choose a response that meets the age and understanding of my 1-year-old.

If, however, two teens are fighting at the breakfast table and breakfast ends up on the floor, my response can also consider their age and ability to clean the mess up as a consequence of behavior.

Learning to respond with intention is a skill that takes time, energy, and patience. Our children are watching how the adults in their life respond to situations. Taking time to think about “how” to respond, not simply “react” to behaviors can help the whole family!

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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Talk It Up

Have you ever made a decision, and then immediately second-guessed yourself? You may have wondered, “did I do or say the right thing? Could I have done something differently?” In fact, you may even hear your inner critic replying! That inner critic may be referred to as our “self-talk” and it can be either positive self-talk or negative self-talk.

What we say to ourselves each day impacts how we feel, what we do, and what we say to those around us. We can easily see a good day deteriorate into a cloudy day when we let our self-doubt and negative self-talk convince us we did something wrong or could have done better.

Becoming aware that our self-talk influences our parenting behavior and how we respond to others is especially important if our family members are impacted. Our very impressionable children watch how we react to daily situations and learn what they live. If they hear criticism, they may learn to criticize. If they hear praise, however, they learn to praise and be positive.

During Season Four of the podcast, The Science of Parenting Team will explore a parenting approach that can help parents to stay positive in their journey. The approach emphasizes consistency, effectiveness, and relating to children in active and attentive ways! These concrete terms for parenting allow us to reflect and encourage ourselves and others in our parenting approach.

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 Big A-Ha

And that’s a wrap!

The Science of Parenting team has taken the last couple of months to introduce everyone to temperament, what it is, and what it is not. The research from Thomas and Chess reveal nine traits that are foundational to temperament. Our personality layers on top of our temperamental traits.

Each podcast, the team explored the assets and liabilities for children with traits at one end or the other of the spectrum. They also offered strategies to address each trait. One constant throughout the season, is that all individuals are gifted with temperament. Each person has their very own set of traits that make them unique. Understanding how the traits are expressed and impacted by other traits can assist a parent in responding to a child and their behavior.

We have discussed inhibited or shy children, and we have looked at children’s activity level and their persistence traits. We explored the traits of mood, regularity, adaptability, and distractibility. Everyone has a different combination of these traits that make up their temperament and having this knowledge can help us practice more patience and understanding with others around us, including members of our own family.

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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