Establishing the Environment

Everyone needs a feeling of safety, no matter the age or stage in life. The home is usually the first foundation of safety for most families. And new parents spend a great deal of time moving throughout the home, making sure the environment their children are exposed to is safe!

A classroom teacher has the same responsibility for maintaining safety. Securing the environment helps children feel comfortable, secure, and capable of success!  As children feel more secure and safe in their environment, whether at home, school, or even after-school, they will begin to assert their own independence.

As children grow, we want them to use their budding independence to learn new skills; practice making new friends; and have confidence at school. Parents can support their children’s autonomy in the following ways:

  • Create consistency in routines and rules. The structure that children grow to expect is a protective factor for their growing independence.
  • Establish expectations for your children and communicate those expectations and consequences to them! When children know what to expect, they can make good decisions knowing their parents will help and support them.
  • Reinforce the good behaviors children exhibit with praise and positive discipline.
  • When consequences are required, communicate honestly and provide rationale for behaviors that are expected. Use natural and logical consequences to help children to make good choices.
  • Take an active interest in your child’s activities and interests.
  • Showing love, warmth, and responding to them with positive feedback will also help them develop their independence.

Be sure to listen to the Science of Parenting podcast to learn more about establishing safe and secure environments at home and away!

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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Tuning in With Temperament

The cell phone is ringing; you are listening to your son practice the piano; dinner is slowly cooking stovetop and the dog is barking at something outdoors. All these competing sounds begging for your attention, all at the same time. This can cause anyone to feel overwhelmed. And when we feel the tug for attention, we may snap in response to a question from our child, or co-parent, or barking puppy!

The need to get re-regulated is necessary so that we can give the attention necessary to our children and the tasks at hand. Our Science of Parenting co-hosts Mackenzie  and Lori have an entire season dedicated to discussing how to define “regulation”, and how to effectively help ourselves and our children when we become dis-regulated”.  Our personal temperament can play a role in helping us to stay regulated, especially when we feel those competing tugs! Don’t forget you can listen here and be sure to follow us on social media including facebook and twitter!

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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Regulation in Stages

Living life is a series of experiences that can trigger our emotions – both positive and negative, depending on the situation! No matter our age, we all find ourselves in situations where our emotions are on display. The emotions can be happiness, excitement, scared, frustration, or even anger. The older we are, the more life experiences we have had. Experiences often teach us how to navigate those emotional situations. The people in our life are also valuable resources to help us manage whatever emotion we may find ourselves in.  

New parents may be curious about how to help their infants when they express those big emotions from hunger, thirst, or even signaling a diaper change is needed! Infants attune their attention to their caregivers and will find they learn to trust that caregiver, to provide the attention to meet their needs. Attachment is at the core of this understanding. According to Alan Sroufe, Developmental Psychologist at the Institute for Child Development at the University of Minnesota “Attachment is a relationship in the service of a baby’s emotion regulation and exploration”.

As a parent, it may be difficult to remain calm and regulated upon hearing a screaming baby. The noise alone can trigger upset in the entire home. Parents soon learn to recognize the different noises and can quickly anticipate the baby’s needs. As children age, parents will again have to navigate the tide of emotions and work to bring everyone back into regulation.

Parents can support their child through these three broad categories:

  • Provide love, warmth, connection, and responsiveness
  • Structure a safe environment for the child who is trying to get re-regulated
  • Teach self-regulation skills, and be a good model of self-regulation skills.

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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I’m the Adult Here: My Regulation

Every day brings a new set of demands for busy families. The schedules we keep tell a story of the priorities that challenge us minute-by-minute. Do you ever feel like you are a juggler in a big ring circus? Trying to keep all the cups spinning with a smile on your face? If you ever feel like this, you are not alone. On any given day, parents who have this list of demands will likely feel overwhelmed and need to call upon a strategy or two to let their brains wind down and relax.

The ways in which we learn to relax or prioritize our “to do” list can help others in our family also learn to manage themselves, too! Our children watch us for signs of how to respond when we are feeling emotionally charged. They watch to see how we speak to others, and sometimes we laugh when we hear our children repeat the same language we have used!

Sometimes using the technique of “mindfulness” will help us to re-store our thinking to a calmer attitude. Mindfulness may take the form of several minutes of stillness followed by thoughts of quiet and peace. It may take the form of rest. Parenting is full of daily decisions that are best managed when well rested and supported by our network of social supports!   

Keeping your mind and body regulated is the first step in handling that to do list! For more information on emotional and behavioral regulation, be sure to listen to season 9 of the Science of Parenting! And be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter

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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What is Self-Regulation?

Have you ever been involved in a conversation that was difficult? Where you had trouble keeping your cool? Where you wanted to scream and shout so someone could hear and understand you and your point of view?

Well, all of us from time to time have had this experience. And so it is with parenting too! Sometimes we find ourselves wanting to scream so that others will hear us and our message. Or perhaps your child is the one screaming to be heard. Either way, the emotions that come with the shouting can produce upset for everyone. It is during this upsetting time that the adult in the conversation can practice the STOP. BREATHE. TALK. technique.

This technique is especially useful because when everyone is shouting, no one can be heard, and the communication is shut down. Stopping and taking a few cleansing breaths can be the beginning of repair in the conversation. Then, intentionally thinking about what you want to say in a calm voice, one free of the emotional shouting that produces additional upset, can yield the desired action from yourself or your child.

Modeling this technique for others helps all family members learn to adjust their words and actions so that everyone can be heard and understood.

Learn more about Stop. Breathe. Talk. in Episode 3 – Take a Break and Take a Breath podcast. Be sure to follow the Science of Parenting team on social media, including Twitter and Facebook.

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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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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