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 distractability. 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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Going Bold

Have you ever looked at your child and said, “Oh my, this child of mine has a lot of energy”? Or have you ever thought, “Wow, my child is very emotional.”

Some may call this a spirited child. Others may label a child difficult, feisty, or even strong willed.

Having an awareness of a child’s natural temperament can prevent us from labeling them in ways that diminish our appreciation of them! When a child’s behavior is challenging, we start to evaluate a number of outside influences to answer any questions we have about the type of behavior we observe. We look at the environment. Maybe we look at the time of day. Perhaps there’s a situation the child is navigating.

How can we celebrate the child who exhibits more tenacity or feistiness? Perhaps we consider the child with focus, tenacity, and feistiness will stay at a project and finish. Maybe that same child will be able to withstand other distractions, when others may have lost focus or given up.

Appreciating the temperament of each child will help us observe and adjust our expectations in ways that can assist our children be successful in their growth and development.

Mary Sheedy Kurcinka is featured as our guest in this episode discussing that spirited child.

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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Baby Steps

Quiet and Shy – and I’m OK! 

Season three of The Science of Parenting podcast has explored the many facets of temperament! The information shared each week celebrates the unique and rich gift each trait expresses! Every day brings new opportunities to master challenges and milestones. As parents watch their children grow and develop, they consider the temperament that a child possesses and other factors like family structure, siblings, and so much more.  

The child who is slow to warm up – or seems inhibited when interacting in their environment may need assistance from others to explore their surroundings. Parents must consider that their own temperament and their own actions are cues to their children about how to behave. Keeping the lines of communication open and asking questions of our children can help them explore “new situations.” Asking our child to tell us: 

  • how they are feeling;  
  • what questions do they have about the new situation;  
  • what do you think might happen if you explore further;  
  • how can I help you manage this new challenge;  
  • could we set a goal – or simple steps to begin this new challenge?  

These few questions can be the start of helping your inhibited or shy child gain the self-confidence needed to interact and explore their environment.  

In the podcast, Lori and Mackenzie talk about these slow to approach kiddos and talk to expert Robert Coplan on helping those shy kids navigate the world.

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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Bring Out the Best

“Hey, you’re in a good mood today!” Has anyone said that to you lately? Our mood is a temperament trait! The Science of Parenting team has been exploring many temperament traits, and MOOD is just one that may resonate with many parents. Having children with a happy disposition or in a good mood is a joy. Finding ways to comfort our child when the mood is negative can be a challenge. Parents may find they need to adjust their own schedule or expectations if a child’s mood is one that is emotional or negative from time to time. Learning to soothe a child takes skill, patience, and time. It also takes the same to help children learn to self-soothe. 

Have you heard a child become whiney as they are learning to tie their shoes? Or do they have an “I Can” attitude when it comes to this new skill? Which mood will surface? 

Listen in on the Science of Parenting podcast, as our hosts discuss developmental milestones and how children’s mood may be expressed as they grow.   

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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Rhythm of Life

Maintaining a manageable schedule when a newborn arrives is one of the first pieces of advice new parents receive. “Be sure to stay on schedule.” The schedule is something that may include feeding, sleeping, diapering, etc. The idea of a schedule seems important, yet it is something that may be out of your control if your child is not one to eat when you are ready; or sleep when they are tired! Although we cannot control our children, we can influence their environment, which can help them sleep and eat!  

Parents seek control because they feel confident when they can anticipate their baby’s needs. Children who can eat and sleep on our schedule help to keep things moving smoothly in our very fast-paced world. Many new moms and dads will have lengthy conversations about preparing for leaving the house with a newborn. Do we have formula or a safe place to breastfeed? Do we have diapers? Has the baby slept, been fed, or still sleepy? What do we need to anticipate to make our outing manageable? The schedule we keep can help us answer those important questions. So, it stands to reason that temperament may have to be considered when discussing these pivotal moments in the day. 

Helping our children get into a rhythm can be very helpful. Some children feel more secure when they know what to expect, and they are familiar with their body’s natural rhythm. How we help our children develop their own rhythms may look like the following: we adjust our own expectations for our children; we may put aside our plans or schedule to help our child manage their needs – like eating or sleeping or toileting. We may need to limit the competing distractions that children experience, anything from other siblings, television or screen time; and any loud noises that prevent them from eating on a schedule, or relaxing before sleep. We may provide the nutrition needed for healthy bathroom experiences and reminders about taking the time to go to the bathroom! Listen in as our hosts, Lori and Mackenzie, discuss this very important temperament trait.

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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