Dealing with Difficult Behaviors

Sometimes we label things so that we can understand them better. In fact, the labels can be limiting if we are not careful to explore our own use of the labels. Have you ever heard someone say, “Wow, that child is difficult!”? Or, have you heard, “I’m so glad my child is not as difficult!”? Well, what does difficult mean? In terms of temperament – it may mean that a child has their own idea, of how they interact with their environment. They have an idea and want to put that idea into action! Often the “difficult” behaviors that may be observed, may also be accompanied by strong emotions as well. 

A child with strong ideas, and a willingness to act, may need boundaries and structure! When we acknowledge our child’s skills and temperament, as the adult, we can accommodate their needs by setting an environment and boundaries so that they can succeed.  

If our child gets dis-regulated, or frustrated because they experienced a challenge to their “action plan”, we may need to wait for them to calm down, and get – re-regulated before we can have a discussion about how to meet that same challenge in the future. Our child’s ability to make a good decision when they are experiencing big feelings is much more difficult, than when they are calm and ready to listen to reason.  

We can accommodate and put the “difficult” label aside! 

In this episode, Lori and Mackenzie discuss this and feature an interview with Dr. Sean McDevitt, Ph.D.

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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Proceeding with Caution

I almost jumped, but then I hesitated! 

Have you ever challenged yourself to jump off the diving board at the pool? You may climb the steps with confidence, walk to the end of the board, and peer overboard. Once you take in the view from up high, you may have second thoughts. You may hesitate to jump. But why? You were excited by the thought of jumping, but at the last minute, you may have discovered you were fearful.  

This is how many people and even children react to situations in real life every single day. Each of us may have those self-doubts that creep into our consciousness every day. We may have every intent to do something, but when it is finally time, we hesitate, or put off, what may be a difficult decision. We may not even know why we do it, but the hesitation or withdrawal is another temperament trait.  

As parents, we want our children to find success in their own growth and development at home, school and in their community. Some children, as our Science of Parenting Team has explored, will be very excited and jump right into new situations, while others will act with caution. Which one is right? They both are. Acceptance, accommodation and celebration will be useful approaches to helping children learn to use their temperament traits in ways that meet their own needs.  

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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Finding Focus

What…did you say something? I was distracted.

Each week, we have been exploring temperament traits and discovering how those traits may or may not show up in children. Each of us is born with unique genetic features and within the same family, we can look alike but behave differently and have very different temperament traits. The differences between individuals can make parenting joyful AND challenging.

For children who find themselves easily distracted, we may celebrate their perceptiveness. In other words, they may be on high alert to everything going on around them. This attentiveness may make it more difficult for them to settle, quiet themselves, or find peace easily. They may be so alert that napping is difficult. Eating and other routines may be interrupted because so many competing distractions make it hard to focus on any task at hand.

Parents with children who are very perceptive may need to keep what I call “shiny objects” at a minimum. In other words, if we expect children to sleep, we may have to be intentional about minimizing the distractions in the bedroom, or limiting the noise, or reducing the stimulation that can interrupt a child’s natural desire to sleep or rest easy.

The constant stimulation that may occur in a household may be energizing for some family members, while being a total distraction for others. As you learn more and more about your child and their temperament, are there certain boundaries you can establish that will help your child feel comfortable and able to focus? Using praise and recognition when a child manages to stay focused or not get distracted is one approach.

Looking around your home environment may provide some solutions for reducing the stimulation that can be the cause of distractibility.  Another idea is to review daily routines and trying to honor the schedule and routine that assists your child’s ability to focus and become less distracted. I know that when I have many competing thoughts it is hard to prioritize and make good decisions. How many times are children faced with trying to make a good decision, when they are plain distracted? Join the Science of Parenting podcast hosts as they explore distractibility in children.

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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Learning to Adapt

Have you ever had an interaction with someone and they said, “No, do it my way”? And then did you resist, or were you able to try it a new way?

How we adjust to requests to “try something new” may be an indication of our ability to adapt. Like we adjust when working with other adults, parents may need an open approach when learning just how adaptable their own children are. Parents may perceive their easily adaptable child as compliant and even refer to the child as an “easy baby.”

The opposite can also happen. The child who is very focused on completing tasks their “own way” without help or assistance from others can be referred to as stubborn. Think for a minute of the child learning to feed themselves, or the older child learning to tie their shoes. It can take less time for a parent to simply feed the child rather than let the child learn to use a fork or spoon to self-feed.

Learning any new skill means we must adapt what we once knew to learn the new skill. In fact, childhood is a series of adjustments so that we can grow and develop. It really takes all kinds of patience and adaptability on the part of parents and caregivers to provide space for children to learn and grow.

Celebrating a child and their adaptability is as important as not shaming or blaming a child when they are slower to adapt or adjust. Continuing to communicate with our children and acknowledging that play is the way children learn can help all of us manage our expectations for child growth and development. Join the Science of Parenting podcast team as they discuss childhood adaptability.

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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How to Navigate Making COVID-19 Decisions

I don’t know about you folks, but I have been exhausted lately. Getting ready to go back to school, navigating new expectations and norms, and living in a pandemic all adds up. On top of all of that, as parents, we are constantly making decisions for our families.

  • “What should we eat this week?”
  • “When is the last time my kid has a bath/shower? Do they need one today?”
  • “What is our family expectations around living in a pandemic?”
  • “What are we going to change in our school routine this year?”
  • “Am I going to pick kids up first or try to run this quick errand?”

My brain feels like it is continuously ON, trying to make these decisions that range from tiny to enormous. The Science of Parenting team is guessing that you’ve maybe been feeling this way too. The back-to-school transition is already kind of hectic, but adding the layer of a pandemic has made it a whole new ballgame. So we’ve put together a bonus episode on Decision Making and the Back-to-School transition. We talk with Dr. David Brown about the continuum of stress for families in this pandemic, we explore parenting decision-fatigue, and we talk about specific strategies for reducing that exhausting feeling of stress and decision-fatigue.

We also share some important resources for parents like you. Check out the bonus episode as well as the links below.

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 Takes Some Energy

Have you ever watched your toddler explore their environment and thought, “Wait, let me catch up to you!”?

If you have, you might be parenting a child with a very active temperament. You may have a child who is learning and growing through exploration and play. They may be so active that you are fearful for their safety, and you find yourself glancing around the house for unknown hazards.

As parents monitor a child’s environment and see potential dangers or hazards, the active child sees a challenge and an invitation to move. A child who is more cautious is still taking in information and making decisions based on what is seen and experienced around them. The child who seems fearless and ready to take on the world is wired differently and ready for adventure, even when a parent spots danger on the horizon.

On the other end of the spectrum is the child who is less active. One who is content to sit and watch and take in information while carefully observing what is happening all around them. It is even possible to have siblings with opposite active temperaments in the same household. The challenge for parents is engaging each child’s temperament with joy and expectation because each child is using all their energy and knowledge to reach the developmental milestones necessary for healthy development.

As parents, our job is to take our cue from our child. Providing boundaries that protect our children yet with enough room to take age-appropriate risks is important as children move through their developmental milestones in their quest for autonomy. Parents who can tune into the activity levels of their children without blame and shame can provide the support and encouragement their child needs to continue to reach and meet the many growth milestones throughout childhood. 

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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Celebrate Persistence

Have you ever tried to learn something new, perhaps a new language, preparing a new recipe, or putting together a piece of furniture with directions from a kit? All of these opportunities require us to have a set of skills in order to be successful. One of the biggest skills we rely upon in situations is persistence: the idea that we are going to stay with the job until it is completed. The idea that we will see our effort to the end.

Children learn persistence when they are learning new skills, like eating, crawling, and walking. Although we may not have a working memory of learning to eat or crawl or even walk, we had to have persistence to develop the skill.

Persistence can be challenging, too. When a toddler or an older child is focused on completion of some task, they may not hear the request of a parent or another sibling. Parents could see this as a refusal to listen, or as disobedience. Consider, however, that the child was so focused and attuned to their task that they truly heard nothing.

Persistence is useful throughout our lifetime. The ability to use our focus and concentration can help to complete schoolwork, keep a clean room, complete a 4-H or Eagle Scout project, attend to a music lesson, learn a new language, and so much more. Check out The Science of Parenting podcast as the discussion of temperament continues highlighting persistence and how parents can celebrate it.

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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Calm, Cool and Collected

Temperament is our predisposition to how we react in any type of situation. It’s in-born, genetic and with us from the very beginning of life. The Science of Parenting team is introducing us to the temperament continuum and have been exploring the nine different traits (as described by Chess and Thomas). How much of each trait we personally possess is unique to each of us. One of the nine traits is INTENSITY, and identified as:

the amount of energy exhibited in emotional expression.

We can think about intensity as our ability to express emotion. Like joy over something very happy, or sadness and regret when something unfortunate happens, is what keep us human! We don’t and won’t all experience the same set of feelings when similar things happen to us. Because of our lived experiences, we will approach our reaction to situations very personally.

The connections young children have with their parent will help the child to be able to manage the emotions they possess. A parent may have to regulate their own emotions first, before helping a young person try to manage theirs. In fact, we may even have to step away from each other for a time, when emotions run high, before we can come back together to address an intense situation.

In this weeks podcast, Science of Parenting hosts offer several tools to help with the challenges an intense temperament might present to parents. Join us as we look continue on our temperament journey.

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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It Makes Sense

From an early age, our sensitivity is part of us. How we connect with others, and how others react and interact with us! How sensitive we are to sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touch. Our senses are also tightly connected to our emotions. How we use them is dependent in part, on how our brains are wired. It is also dependent on how others respond to us.

Parents may wonder why one child covers their ears at loud noises and another can seemingly sleep through fireworks. The differences are because we are all unique, with our own genetic makeup and each of us comes into the world at different times and our journey is uniquely ours.

Temperament is how we act and react to stimuli that we experience. Each week, during season three, The Science of Parenting team is exploring different temperament styles and discussing the characteristics and potential strategies for working with our children who may have various temperaments.

All temperaments are to be celebrated including the ones that challenge our parenting skills the most. Our children, too, must adjust to their own temperament, and not just during childhood, but throughout their lifetime as well. Our temperament follows us and becomes an important part of who we are in the world.

The sensitive child may have been born with a nervous system that is quick to react to their environment. The sensitive child may express a variety of emotions, may be overwhelmed in crowded situations, and may be very creative. Parents with children who exhibit these traits may need strategies that include: acceptance of your child’s unique gifts and talents; creating calm environments; checking in with your child to create connection; and remembering that this child of mine is like no one else.

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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It’s in Their Nature

A new addition to the family can be met with wonder, anticipation and perhaps many questions. Who will this child of mine become? Will I know what to do, to take care of this precious little one? New life brings all kinds of questions for parents. Every new life is a unique creation full of individual traits. These traits are causes for celebration! Join The Science of Parenting team as they explore “temperament”.

What is temperament? Temperament can be described as the combination of mental, physical, and emotional traits of a person; or the natural predisposition someone possesses.

Parents, as first educators of their children, can support the temperament of their children in a variety of ways. A parent’s reaction to a child’s behaviors, will be the child’s first notion about appropriateness of their behaviors and responses. When we acknowledge that their temperament is a gift and is preparing them for all the many joys and challenges they will face in their lifetime, we can then choose how we respond. We can respond with frustration if we are tired, overwhelmed, or upset. We can also respond with patience, calm, and reassurance so that our child knows that behaviors can be managed, and as parents we will be there to help them learn to manage their own behaviors.

Drop in on season three of the Science of Parenting Podcast as Lori and Mackenzie reveal there is no bad or good temperament. Each trait has assets and liabilities. Learning to understand, appreciate and work with the trait is what builds positive parenting opportunities.

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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Embrace Your Support Network

As human beings, we feel many emotions and the calling to be connected to one another. The connections give us a sense of security, safety, and purpose. Parents will often tell how significant it is to have the love and support of others as they try to raise their children. Support can be identified in several ways, including extended family, workplace support, community resources, and support of the co-parent and siblings.

Some families are on their own to raise and nurture because extended members are not local. Also, not all workplace situations consider or provide family-friendly benefits or support. The ability of parents to seek out support is a helpful skill. Identifying what types of support or assistance that are necessary to meet a family’s needs is also important.

When parents are working, they have competing interests on their mind and it can be hard to focus. Finding others who can step in and provide support in terms of childcare; recreation support; school support or even opportunities for parents to get away for some self-care support is critical to feeling competent.

The Science of Parenting team visits about how important support systems are to the development of happy healthy families.

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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Define Your Philosophy

When it comes to parenting, being on the same page or in agreement with your co-parent usually brings some stability and confidence with decision making. When co-parents agree to a parenting philosophy their actions communicate a solid foundation that can provide boundaries and safety for the entire family.

Deciding on a parenting philosophy may take some research or discussion. Some parent the way they were parented; Others parent based on what they have studied about healthy child development. Several philosophies that have been highlighted include:

  • Attachment parenting
  • Authoritative parenting
  • Authoritarian parenting
  • Permissive parenting
  • Helicopter parenting

Learning about the styles and how they fit your family’s values is important. Children who know what is expected of them and feel safe and secure will be better able to manage their behavior. One study, the Minnesota Longitudinal Study of Risk and Adaption (MLSRA) revealed that the quality of the early attachment was influential well into later childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. This study highlights the importance of the first few years of life and how influential parents can be to the growth and development of their children.

Identifying a parenting style or philosophy is one important step in creating a happy healthy family.  

Join the Science of Parenting Podcast hosts as they explore and discuss the role of identifying a parenting philosophy in this episode.

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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How to Find Balance

The many responsibilities parents encounter as they raise a family, send kids to school, and perhaps even work outside the home are far-reaching. Every day brings new opportunities and with those, challenges too. One challenge is identifying household tasks and finding time to complete those tasks and still have enough time and energy to respond openly to your children and family.

There is some evidence (Meier, McNaughton-Cassill, & Lynch, 2006) that mothers report managing more of the household and childcare tasks than their co-parents. Join the Science of Parenting team as they explore the research behind sharing the tasks that are so important to raising happy, healthy families. They will even explore the notion that some co-parents won’t relinquish enough control, to allow the other parent an opportunity to contribute.

Lori and Mackenzie share evidence that suggests parents who feel appreciated for the household tasks they perform, are more likely to continue to complete the tasks. Most everyone will admit, it feels good to be noticed or recognized for doing well or accomplishing a task. Families will find they have more time together if all members share the housekeeping load.

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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Accentuate the Positive

Becoming a parent is a big responsibility and one that brings joy and some uncertainty too. You may wonder if you will know how to respond to your baby, and as they grow, you will still have those same questions. Parents want to feel like they know what their children need, and they want to be judged as doing a great job parenting their children. In fact, a 2015 Pew Research Study revealed that “Regardless of how they see themselves, parents care a lot about how others perceive their parenting skills.”

Parents want the support of their co-parent first and foremost, followed by the support of their own parents. Feeling confident in our parenting role is important and impacts our children too. Additional research has revealed that parents’ positive emotions could help them to notice a wider range of strengths in themselves and their children, and to think of a greater number of ways to deploy their strengths. In this episode of the Science of Parenting Podcast, Lori and Mackenzie discuss parenting strengths and introduce us to a tool called the Keys to Interactive Parenting Scale (KIPS). The confidence and support parents have in their abilities provide dividends for 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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