Understanding Why They Do What They Do – Brain Development

familyWhen I teach on child development I often say “my two passions are brain development and temperament”.

For more than twenty years I have loved sharing with adults how children’s brains physically grow, connect and shape who that child becomes. Take that developing brain and put it alongside the ‘nature AND nurture’ of temperament and you have the answers to many of childhood’s great mysteries. Questions like “Why do they DO that?” or “What were they THINKING” can often be answered by taking a look at children’s brain development and temperament.

The Science of Parenting has many resources but some of my very favorites are the Ages & Stages publications and the Just in Time Parenting newsletters (in both English and Spanish).  When you zero in on exactly what children are capable of knowing and doing based on the age of their brain we often find that our parenting expectations change.

For instance, if our toddler has a large vocabulary we may mistakenly think that they are capable of also controlling their emotions. While checking the newsletter that corresponds to their age we may actually find that their emotions at this age are really too ‘big’ for the child to actually control on their own.

Or, if our preschooler is struggling with aggressiveness or defiance, we may find that after reading the newsletter that corresponds to their age we may need to offer them more choices and opportunities to control their decisions.

Whatever the age of our child, learning about what their brain is capable of is always a positive tip for our parenting toolbox. And in case you are worried, your child’s brain is not actually fully grown and connected until their early 20’s – that’s years not months.

Check out the other development resources found in our Everyday Parenting section.

 

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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Juice Recommendations

Apple juice, orange juice, fruit punch, 100% juice, fruit drinks, and on and on. There are countless options for juice, and also countless points of view about how much juice to offer our kids. At Science of Parenting, we strive to share trustworthy and research-based information with you, so we are going straight to the source of trustworthy information on kids’ health – the American Academy of Pediatrics. Last year, they published recommendations which gives parents helpful answers to common questions about juice!

 

What kind of juice should I give my kids?

100% fresh or reconstituted juice are the healthiest juice choices. (If it is called “beverage”, “cocktail”, or “drink” instead of juice, then it is not 100% juice!) Check out the differences in the nutrition facts between these different types beverages. (Also note that the APA says that children should not be given unpasteurized juice).

Comparison of Orange Juice, Orange Drink, and Orange Soda. Orange juice is shown to have less sugar, carbohydrates, and sodium, as well as more calcium and vitamin C.

However, the American Academy of Pediatrics says juice is not the ideal choice for children. They explain that milk and water are sufficient drinks for children, and that it is better to offer whole fruits instead of fruit juice, as fruit juice has more unnecessary calories and lacks dietary fiber compared to whole fruit.

How much?

The recommendations for the amount of juice vary by the child’s age. (Note: These are recommendations for the maximum a child could have in a day, not a recommendation of how much they should have).

Under 1 year No juice
1-3 years old Max of 4 oz per day (1/2 cup)
4-6 years old Max of 6 oz per day (3/4 cup)
7-18 years old Max of 8 oz per day (1 cup)

These recommendations are important because drinking too much juice can cause tooth decay and excessive weight gain.

What other guidelines are there for juice?

Juice should not be given as a treatment for diarrhea or dehydration.

Children should not be allowed to carry juice with them and drink it throughout the day. This ongoing exposure causes damage to children’s teeth by giving them a repeated “juice baths” throughout the day which creates tooth decay. Also avoid giving juice at bedtime.

 

As a parent myself, I’m grateful to have organizations of experts who can give me trustworthy information on topics like this. After reading about all of these recommendations, I think my daughter and I might have to try out the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. recipe for Fruit Slush – which has the benefits of whole fruit but still feels like a sweet summer treat!

Want to learn more about raising healthy kids? Check out our Nutrition and Wellness resources on the Everyday Parenting page. 

 

Source: American Academy of Pediatrics – https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/American-Academy-of-Pediatrics-Recommends-No-Fruit-Juice-For-Children-Under-1-Year.aspx

Nutrition Label examples borrowed from the USDA’s Nutrition Newsletter, Nibbles for Health – https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/Nibbles_Newsletter_19.pdf 

Mackenzie Johnson

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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Responding to Everyday Emotional Reactions in School Age Children

boy refusing to eat food

You know those moments when your kids have mild negative emotional reactions – like when your school age child whines about doing homework, gets in your face to MAKE you look at something, or has a little attitude about cleaning up a mess? These little emotionally charged moments aren’t a huge dispute, and they don’t mean that your child doesn’t respect you. It’s just a brief second where your child’s negative emotions just got a little ahead of them.

But how should we handle these little moments of anger or sadness or attitude? A recent study in the journal Family Relations explored this question!

Sometimes parents might gravitate toward a negative verbal response to these little moments – we might be critical of our child’s behavior (“you shouldn’t whine”), make negative statements about it (“grow up”), or verbally dismiss what our child said (“too bad”). But this study found that these parent negative verbal reactions actually increased the likelihood of children to do MORE negative behavior (whether it be whining, attitude, or whatever else).

On the flip side, some parents might try to offer some emotional support to their child. This is sometimes called emotion coaching – where you take the opportunity to validate your child, label the emotion, and help them problem solve (which is something we really work on with our younger children, right?) Previous research has suggested that supportive statements from parents can help decrease negative reactions from a child, but this study did not find a relationship between the supportive statements and these everyday type of negative interactions with school age children. The researchers suggest that maybe these supportive statements are more helpful with bigger outbursts rather than the everyday mild negative reactions.

Wait – if we aren’t responding negatively AND if being emotionally supportive doesn’t seem to make a difference in changing our child’s response, what are we actually supposed to do? Well according to this study, ignoring these little emotional reactions in our school age kiddos may be our best bet!

So next time you’ve had a long day, and your elementary age child is pushing your last button with that mild little negative emotional response, remember to just ignore it (which, I mean, at the end of a hard day sometimes it’s easier to ignore it than to engage in a emotion coaching type of situation anyway – parent win!). Ignoring your child’s little negative response may just give them the chance to practice their own emotion regulation skills!

Source: Sperling, J., & Repetti, R. L. (2018). Understanding Emotion Socialization Through Naturalistic Observations of Parent–Child Interactions. Family Relations, 67(3), 325-338. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/fare.12314?campaign=woletoc

Mackenzie Johnson

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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Insights on Childhood Trauma with Dr. Carl Weems

With the large amount of information regarding childhood trauma in both print and digital media, we at Science of Parenting took a moment to tap into our experts as way to ensure parents had valid and reliable information when it comes to the impacts of trauma and toxic stress on the developing brains of children and youth. Dr. Carl Weems, Professor and Chair, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, shared some great insight with us!

Dr. Weems shared that “Experiencing traumatic stress is common and may lead to a number of outcomes including anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder but also resilience and growth”. So if or your child have experienced traumatic stress, know that you are not alone and that it doesn’t make you “messed up”. Yes, this stress does have impact on the brain and is associated with some outcomes that are challenging, but it is also associated with RESILIENCE and GROWTH!

Dr. Weems also shared that when researchers look at how cognitive and psychological disorders “work” in the brain, they see that these disorders cannot be nailed down to one specific part of the brain but that several areas of the brain are a part of the disorder. Researchers have identified several key functional networks that may play a role in psychopathology, such as traumatic stress.  For example, he shared that the salience network is a network in the brain that is a collection of regions thought to be involved in detecting behaviorally relevant stimuli and coordinating neural resources in response.

This understanding of cognitive and psychological disorders makes sense with what Dr. Weems has studied relating to childhood trauma. He shared with us that differences in the brain’s structural connections and distributed functional networks (like the salience network) are associated with traumatic and severe early life stress.  Basically, when it comes to childhood trauma and toxic stress, we see that impacts many parts of the brain that are also the parts affected by psychological and cognitive disorders!

So you are now a parent “in-the-know” on some of the new highlights of current research around childhood trauma. If you want to explore more beyond the insights Dr. Weems shared with us, the following video clip from Resilience: The Biology of Stress may help you understand more about toxic stress and brain development.

The Science of Parenting Research page also currently highlights the impacts of Adverse Childhood Experiences

 

References

Carrión, V. G., & Weems, C. F. (2017). Neuroscience of pediatric PTSD. New York: Oxford University Press.

Menon, V. (2011). Large-scale brain networks and psychopathology: a unifying triple network model. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 15, 483–506.

Weems, C.F., Russell, J. D., Neill, E. L., & McCurdy, B. H. (Forthcoming in 2019). Pediatric Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from a Neurodevelopmental Network Perspective. Annual Research Reviews of Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.

Weems, C. F. (2018, July 2). Personal communication.

Mackenzie Johnson

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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Tough talks about relationships

One of the changes we wanted to make with Science of Parenting was the idea of being able to talk to children about tough topics – especially around relationships. At times we struggle just talking to other adults about tough relationship topics (ie. divorce, co-parenting, broken relationships), so might we be able to say that it is ‘normal’ to struggle with talking with children about tough relationship topics?

If you haven’t had a chance to check out our resources in “Parenting in Challenging Moments” I would encourage you to do so. Parenting isn’t easy and THAT is the reality. Divorce, co-parenting and broken relationships aren’t easy either but we do need to take the time to talk with children about them.

Our hope is that the resources available here may help you start a conversation as you work through the difficulties.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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Music and Child Development

We’ve talked about music in terms of resilience and mental health – but what other benefits can children gain from experiencing music?

According the Environmental Rating Scales Institute, children can gain language skills, fine motor skills, social skills, balance and coordination, expressing emotions, creativity, a sense of rhythm, and listening skills through music and movement. It can also promote group learning in settings like a small group, child care, or preschool. Awesome things for our kids, right?!

Plus, music can also support cultural diversity for children. According to our publication Supporting Cultural Diversity, which can be found under any age on the Everyday Parenting page of Science of Parenting, music supports cultural diversity through “instruments, music, folk songs, and dances from different countries. Music activities are great activities for building relationships and learning English and other languages. The repetitive nature of songs allows children to become familiar with new words and phrases.”

With all of these benefits related to music, the next question is, “now how do I help my child get all of these benefits?” Well have we got some good news for you – music can be super easy to incorporate into your child’s life. Some simple strategies can include listening to (age-appropriate) music together in the car together, singing your child’s favorite songs before bed, encouraging your child to use instruments (simple ones like maracas for your younger kiddos or having an older child involved in band), or even just having dance parties on the weekends.

Learn more about the science behind music and the child’s brain from our previous blog, Is it Magic? Or is it Music? from guest blogger, Elizabeth Stegemöller, PhD and Board Certified Music Therapist from the ISU Kinesology Department.

After all this music talk, let us know how you incorporate music throughout the day to encourage your child’s development!

Mackenzie DeJong

Mackenzie DeJong

Recent Family and Consumer Sciences grad and Human Sciences Program Coordinator serving four counties in Northwest Iowa. Background editor and occasional contributor of the "county perspective" for the Science of Parenting blog.

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Music and Mental Health

Last week, I spoke of a lyric in a song that sparked an entire blog post. That idea is the perfect lead into what I wanted to write about this week, as May is Mental Health Awareness Month – music as a tool to help regulate emotions and support mental health.

As someone who has experienced both anxiety and depression I know the importance of finding the right outlet for my emotions. Although struggles with mental health are not always solved by practicing self-regulation, oftentimes they help to de-escalate a situation. An individual may choose to go for a run, meditate, or talk to a friend. For me, music helps.

Music is not only about a musician playing the right notes on a staff – it can provoke a physical and emotional response from many that allows movement and reflection. An upbeat song might get you tapping your toe or up out of your seat. A slow song might be just what is needed to drift off to sleep for a brain that is otherwise anxiously analyzing the next day. Songs with good lyrics also can have a strong impact – like last week’s blog post mentioned, a song might encourage you. Sometimes, there’s a tearjerker that helps you process your emotions in a way that you couldn’t on your own.

I can’t forget to mention that it’s not just about listening to music –there is benefit to singing and playing the music yourself. For me, singing a song as loud as possible in the car for is liking writing those thoughts out in a journal for others. I also play the cymbals, and I’m sure you can imagine the physical release that those allow.

Music can help both children and adults regulate their emotions! In place of “Stop. Breathe. Talk.” My tactic in a high-stress situation might actually be “Stop. SING. Talk.” When our littles are crying hysterically, humming a soft tune might help steady their breathing and calm their mind.

Next week, we’ll look deeper into the “science” side of Science of Parenting and discuss more benefits of music and movement for children!

Mackenzie DeJong

Mackenzie DeJong

Recent Family and Consumer Sciences grad and Human Sciences Program Coordinator serving four counties in Northwest Iowa. Background editor and occasional contributor of the "county perspective" for the Science of Parenting blog.

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Music and Resilience

This morning as I was driving to work, I was listening to the new song, “Youth,” by Shawn Mendes and Khalid. The lyrics spoke about feeling hopeless but not letting pain turn to hate, which really hit me in relation to the last few blogs. The words made me think about experiencing situations that might have a negative effect, but then reminding myself “nope, I’m not going to let those feelings overtake me. I’m going to find ways to overcome this.”

Last week, Mackenzie Johnson talked about the research and reality of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), child abuse prevention, and starting at home.

Often, when talking about ACEs, we get the response of “okay, so what now?”. I’ll be the first to admit that when someone asks me this question on the spot, I get a little clammy trying to decide which resource would be the best fit, how to quickly and effectively respond to meet the needs of their situation, and how I can include all of the crucial pieces without oversimplifying. It’s that step of the process in which we help to build RESILIENCE, but the whole process of trauma informed care can feel complex.

Although there are many ways to reach the end goal, the ACE Interface explains that the structure of a successful trauma-informed community is three-tiered in what they call “Core Protective Systems.” Thriving communities support caring and competent relationships (like a positive parent-child connection), and these relationships support individual capabilities such as self-efficacy and self-regulation.

Individual capabilities lead to a sense of security, the ability to regulate emotion, and adapt to social situations, among other things. It gives us the ability to step back and say the words that were echoed in song, as I heard this morning.

Individual capabilities also give us the ability to know which tools work best to help us express self-regulation, like listening to music – but I’ll talk more about that next week.

Mackenzie DeJong

Mackenzie DeJong

Recent Family and Consumer Sciences grad and Human Sciences Program Coordinator serving four counties in Northwest Iowa. Background editor and occasional contributor of the "county perspective" for the Science of Parenting blog.

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#GreatChildhoods Starting at Home

As we mentioned before, last month was Child Abuse Prevention month, and Science of Parenting is still thinking this important conversation. As you know, as Science of Parenting, we like to talk about research and reality. So that’s how we’ve decide to break this down.

RESEARCH

The research on abuse- whether physical, sexual, or emotional- is pretty clear that there are long-term outcomes for people who experience abuse as a child. As you can see on the Parenting Research tab of our website, research on the thoroughly-studied Adverse Childhood Experiences shows that child abuse is related to outcomes like depression, poor health outcomes, poor academic achievement, alcoholism, increased likelihood of future violence, and more.

Just looking at the research, it’s easy to think about abuse as something that other people need to worry about. It can be easy to see this information, and think about how we are glad it isn’t happening to our kids and move right along.

REALITY

According to a 2016 Iowa ACEs Study, “56 percent of Iowa adults have experienced at least one of eight types of child abuse and household dysfunction”. The reality is that child abuse has happened and is happening in Iowa. It’s happening in big cities, small towns, and on country roads… It’s not just those people over there who need to think about preventing child abuse. As parents and caregivers of young children, we need to think about it too. And a good place to start is right at home!

Starting at Home

RESEARCH says child abuse leads to negative outcomes. REALITY says some parents are do lose their temper and cross the line… (But let’s remember one of the potential outcomes of being abused as a child is the increased likelihood of being violent as an adult. Not every person had the luxury of an easy childhood or having great role models for parents.)

RESEARCH says staying calm in a frustrating moment with your child makes you better able to be intentional in your parenting. REALITY sometimes says “holy cow, how does this child that I love so much make me this angry?!”

Fortunately, Science of Parenting has a technique to help us all be more successful parents – Stop. Breathe. Talk. Whether you are prone to losing your temper or just need a technique to be intentional about your parenting, Stop. Breathe. Talk. can help you take that moment to check yourself before you act and potentially cross a line.

Here at Science of Parenting, we want to help all parents and caregivers help give their kids #GreatChildhoods! Stop. Breathe. Talk. can help us all along the way!

Mackenzie Johnson

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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Busy Families can create #GreatChildhoods

Analogue, classic, clock

April is Child Abuse Prevention month, which means Science of Parenting is thinking about what makes #GreatChildhoods. For me, I fondly remember singing in the car with my mom, standing on the end of the grocery cart, weekends by the lake, and doing lots of puzzles.

As much as we love our kids, sometimes it feels hard in the chaos of life to carve out good quality time with them. I find myself saying things like, “well it will be better after next week” or “we will have more time after we get through [fill in the blank]”. At times I feel like I’m just floating from one day to the next trying to get by. Whether it’s work commitments, transporting kids, trying to squeeze in some exercise, community service commitments, or finding time with your significant other, being a parent in this generation can feel like we are constantly trying to beat the clock. How do we have special moments with our kids when we come home from work exhausted and still have to get supper on the table before bath and bedtime? Does it always have to be big family vacations and long weekend trips to the lake? The answer….

No, you don’t have to have big chunks of time to have special moments with your kids. Though carving out large amounts of time for things like family vacations can be beneficial (check out a #throwback on this topic – Family Vacations Radio Show), great childhoods can be built in the midst of life’s other commitments and responsibilities. We can look for “little moments” or pockets of time throughout the day to just spend a few minutes talking with your child. In fact, a lot of the memories I have of my childhood came in between big commitments. The singing in the car often happened on short trips to and from a traveling sports team game in a neighboring town. The goofing around on the grocery cart happened while my mom picked up our food for the week. Those “weekends at the lake” sometimes were actually only two hours on a Saturday morning before a commitment that night. The puzzles often happened at the table while supper was being made.

As I think about my own parenting, learning about the benefits of little moments is great news! Focusing on creating #GreatChildhoods in the little moments is a saving grace, because at times I’ve felt like I’m being the best parent I could be because of other constraints on my time. So join me as I try to move beyond saying “it will get better after [blank]”, and let’s look for ways to create special moments now! Yes, things are crazy right now at my house, but I can sing songs with my daughter in the car on the ride home. Yes, we still have to make supper tonight, but maybe our school age kiddo can help stir the pot on the stove or we can ask our toddler about the magnet letters on the fridge while we cut up some veggies.

Take a moment right now, and think about a little moment with your child you can have today. Be intentional about making a plan that’s realistic for you, and then decide how to carry it out (get creative if you need to – e.g. video calls or writing notes). All of these moments can add up to #GreatChildhoods!

Mackenzie Johnson

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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SANE consequences

We’ve been talking a lot about challenging behavior lately. And yeah, even us Science of Parenting folks have children who challenge us!

Today we want to look at how we can respond to challenging behavior. Maybe your preschooler has been testing out new lies, or your school age child has been skipping homework, or your preteen is throwing attitude around like it’s confetti, or your teen is not touching base when they are out and about. Whichever one resonates with you, finding a way to respond to problematic behavior can be a challenge. How do we strike a balance between too harsh and too lax?

Luckily, the National Institute on Drug Abuse looks at research on how parents can help their kids stay on the right path, and they have a handy little acronym for helping parents identify appropriate consequences – SANE (and I mean that acronym has all kinds of double meaning, am I right?).

  • S – Small consequences are better 
    • When we are especially angry or frustrated with our child, chances are we are more likely to fly off the handle a bit with our consequences (Stop. Breathe. Talk. to save the day again!). Instead, try to find small consequences that relate directly to the child’s behavior. Like if your child is being difficult at bedtime because they want to watch more TV, you might consider taking away TV privileges for a few days.
  • AAvoid consequences that punish you
    • When we give consequences to our child, it needs to be something we can and will follow through on. But when we choose consequences that make our lives as parents more difficult, we might be less likelihood to carry out the consequences like we originally planned. So if your teenager is abusing their school permit, you may decide that they need to lose that privilege for a few days. You can avoid this from punishing you (by you having to drive them) by having your teenager have to find their own ride to school or maybe ride the bus.
  • N Nonabusive responses
    • Yup, we sometimes are very angry with our kids when they don’t meet our expectations, but we don’t want that anger to have so much power that we respond to our children in unhealthy ways. As we say at Science of Parenting, “Hitting Harms. Yelling Hurts.” (Another place where Stop. Breathe. Talk. can be our saving grace!)
  • EEffective consequences
    • Effective consequences are consequences that are under your control and that actually help deter your child from wanting to do that behavior again (non-rewarding). Of course, this is the whole point of consequences right!

So when we are thinking about consequences, try to stay SANE (you see what I did there?).

 

Source: https://www.drugabuse.gov/family-checkup/question-4-setting-limits

Mackenzie Johnson

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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Teenagers

Teenagers… Wait, what was your reaction when you read that word? Maybe an eye roll, a sigh, or perhaps a smile? Each of us have a different experience with raising teenagers – some parents think it is the most fun age during their parenting journey while others dread it. Some of us may even fall into the tendency to paint a mental picture of the teenage years filled with back talk, conversations about curfews, and loud music behind closed doors. But there is a flip side to that coin – seeing your teenager live out their values, getting the opportunity to watch them achieve and excel in their passions, and having meaningful and heartfelt conversations.

Regardless of which way you tend to view the teenage years, most of us who have raised teenagers know that these are the years when friends become a really BIG DEAL, right? Teens care what their classmates think about their looks and what they say and do. And as parents, you watch them grow closer and closer to friends, and it might feel like they are slipping away from you. But great news – they’re not. Sure, your teen is probably growing stronger relationships with their friends, but adolescents (a.k.a. teenagers) still care a lot about their parents and what they think! So don’t lose heart – your teen does hear what you say, and your opinion matters to them!

So continue to communicate your values to your teenager, even if you think you already have or if they give you the “I know this already” look. Sometimes the teen years bring their own challenges, but so does every age (I gotta say, I bet your teenager doesn’t cry while you cook supper like my toddler does, so that’s a plus J). Remember that while you are going to have some challenging moments here and there, you are also going to have some pretty amazing ones too.

Do you have more questions about navigating challenging parenting moments with your teenager? Check out the Parenting in Challenging Moments page on our Science of Parenting website. You can find resources for parenting a child of any age under the Guidance by Age section.

Mackenzie Johnson

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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I Love My Child. I Love My Child…

“I love my child. I love my child. I love my child.”

Seriously, I do love my child, but sometimes I have to remind myself in the heat of the moment. For example, right now my daughter is in this phase where she stands at my feet screaming while I try to cook supper. It doesn’t matter if I’m in the kitchen for three minutes or thirty, I can count on her to find me and whine “Momma, Momma, up, up, up!” and then proceed to cry when I can’t hold her while simultaneously cooking on the stove. It can be seriously crazy-making. (I think the part that makes me craziest is that she doesn’t do it to my husband when he cooks supper!).

But here’s the thing – I know she is doing it because she wants to be with her momma. I know her behavior is worse than usual right before supper time because she is hungry. I also know there might come a day when she is older that she doesn’t want to be with her mom all the time. I KNOW all of those things, and yet in the heat of the moment in front of the stove I’m tempted to lose my cool (again). I hear my voice go from “hey silly goose, can you go play with your blocks for a little bit?” to calling to my husband to “get her out of here” much quicker than I’d like to admit…. Sometimes I’m proud of how well I do during these moments in the kitchen, and other times I wish my patience had lasted a bit longer for me. But one thing that is consistent – every time I choose to Stop. Breathe. Talk. instead of go with my first reaction, I do better. Sometimes I remember to pause and take a deep breath right away when I start to feel frustrated, and other times I don’t remember until I’ve already gotten more irritated than I should have. But it doesn’t matter how far into the situation I am – when I take that extra moment to think about what I want to say and how I want this interaction with my child to go, I know it helps me be a more effective and responsive parent.

 “I love my child. I love my child. I love my child”.

Seriously, we do love our children, and sometimes we say this phrase to ourselves because we are beaming with pride or soaking in a sweet moment – like watching your child take their first steps, or having a warm conversation with your teenager, or hearing your school-age kiddo was kind to someone. These amazing moments help make up for the not-so-good ones. But the reality is that the journey of being a parent is a mixture of amazing moments with challenging ones sprinkled in between. Maybe your challenging moments look like mine where your child is really testing your patience and you are about to lose your cool (or already started to). Or maybe your moment is something bigger like navigating your new role as a stepparent or responding to your child being bullied.

Whether your challenging moment is one where you forget to think or one where you’re thinking a lot, Science of Parenting wants to help. We believe that you love your kids and want to do what is best for them, so we want to help you find trustworthy information that is based in research so that you can know what you are doing is helping your child. If you are experiencing a challenging moment, go take a peek at our Parenting in Challenging Moments page to see what the research might say about what you’re experiencing.

Mackenzie Johnson

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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Baby-Led Weaning – Just the Facts!

Have you all been hearing as much about baby-led weaning as we have? We decided it’s time for us to take a look at hot topic! To start us off, let’s first look at two common methods for introducing foods to an infant.                                                                       

  1. Spoon-feeding (often referred to as “the traditional method”)
    • In this method parents either buy or make pureed foods (typically starting baby cereal, and then fruits and vegetables) for their infant and spoon-feed them. Parents gradually transition their child from totally pureed foods, to thicker purees, to chunky purees, until they are ready for solid food.
  2. Baby-led weaning 
    • In this method, infants are encouraged to self-feed solid foods (non-pureed/whole) from the start.

Here’s what research shows about babies who do baby-led weaning (BLW):

    • Tend to get more protein and fat (which is good!)
    • Less likely to be rated as a “fussy eater” at 18-24 months by their parents
    • Some studies suggest that these children may be better able to eat based on their hunger (rather than food just being present), but the data is not considered conclusive
    • There is a slightly higher rate of choking than with spoon-feeding, but this is also tied to the fact that BLW parents are more likely to offer foods that pose choking risks for infants (ex: apple slices, crackers, sausage)
    • A recent study shows that baby-led weaning does NOT decrease likelihood of a child being overweight later in life
    • No difference from spoon-fed children on fruit, vegetables and carbs consumption
    • Tends to be messier than spoon-feeding
    • BLW babies are more likely to eat with their family rather than at a separate time
    • Parents claim it is more convenient because they don’t have to prepare separate food just for the infant

That’s what the research is currently telling us about baby-led weaning. Yet, we know that there is always a dose of reality (and personal preference) that goes into making a decision on which method you want to use with your own child. So here are some other things we think may be helpful for you to consider:

  • Research shows that children are less likely to become obese if they’re parents have a responsive feeding style. Basically this means that we let our child determine how much they eat and when to be done eating, rather than parents saying “there is still half of a container left, let’s just finish it”. Consider how you can use this style regardless of which feeding method you decide on!
  • Many parents who use BLW mention that babies do lots of gagging (which is different from choking) when they are getting started. Consider if this is something you are comfortable with. And regardless of which method you choose, always be on the lookout for when a child is actually choking.
  • Children need to be able to sit up unsupported, bring food to their mouth, and chew and swallow food before they are regularly offered solid food options. The World Health Organization currently recommends waiting to introduce solid food until a baby is six months old.
    • Note: many people remember when the recommendation was four months old. Few infants can do all of things listed above at four months, which is why spoon-feeding became extremely popular.
  • Introducing food to children before they are four months old is recognized as a high risk factor for being overweight, with introducing before six months also having a (weak) correlation with being overweight
  • Consider the food you’re offering to your infant. If you’re baby-led weaning, remember to keep an eye out for foods that are particularly high in sodium or saturated fat and avoid feeding those to your child. Also be sure to avoid foods that pose a high risk of choking.
  • Many pediatricians do not support this method because of their concerns about choking as well as nutrient intake (not much definitive research on nutrient intake yet). Consider how important the support of your pediatrician is to you personally.

This is what research currently shows about the baby-led weaning method, but we still have lots to learn! Remember, at the Science of Parenting, we don’t advocate for either method but rather work to provide you the facts so that you can make a decision about what is best for your child and your family.

Source: Baby-Led Weaning: The Evidence to Date

Have more questions about your child that are kind of specific to their age? Go explore the As Your Child Grows information under the Everyday Parenting section of the Science of Parenting website. You can find information specifically for your infant, toddler, preschooler, elementary age child, preteen, or teenager!

Mackenzie Johnson

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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Nutrition and Wellness for Families

Human Sciences Extension and Outreach has three subject areas, including Nutrition and Wellness, which covers a variety of topics from what’s on your plate to food safety to preservation to exercise. Some of these apply to families, some address aging, and some are adult specific.

A lovely domestic scene of a cute little boy with Down Syndrome baking cupcakes with his dad at home in their kitchen. This is an authentic scene using ambient lighting and real people.One of our best tools for nutrition that is available is Spend Smart. Eat Smart.  I know that Barb highlighted it back in July,  but it has so much going on, I wanted to remind you. From the county perspective, it is an easy way to introduce individuals to healthy meal choices and cost saving when I don’t have as much expertise on the topic as the specialists do!

Spend Smart. Eat Smart. is great for anyone who plans, cooks, or eats food. Every recipe on the website follows specific nutrition guidelines and lists the cost per serving. This way, you can make delicious meals that are both good for your family AND your bank account! The site also helps you save money by providing a lesson on unit pricing (and the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. app has a unit pricing calculator!), assisting in meal planning,  as well as other ways. To promote good nutrition, in addition to the recipe following those specific guidelines, the website provides nutrition labels with every dish. There is also a tab to explain what the information on those labels means!

Beautiful African American woman and her daughter cooking in the kitchenI’ve only included a few benefits of Spend Smart. Eat Smart. – so check it out!

On the Science of Parenting website, you can find a link to the Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website under the Everyday Parenting tab, and the Nutrition and Wellness for Parenting heading. In including the Nutrition and Wellness for Parenting section, we hoped to narrow down the wide variety of resources available to a few of our favorites that fit parenting more specifically. Perhaps once you go and take a look at what’s available – you’ll end up planning supper for tonight!

Mackenzie DeJong

Mackenzie DeJong

Recent Family and Consumer Sciences grad and Human Sciences Program Coordinator serving four counties in Northwest Iowa. Background editor and occasional contributor of the "county perspective" for the Science of Parenting blog.

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