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

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

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

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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Temperament Resources

Throughout season 3 of the podcast, we will reference a number of temperament resources! Consider this your “all things temperament” blog post. This may be updated with additional resources as the season continues, and maybe beyond, so keep this page bookmarked!

General Temperament Resources

Books on Temperament

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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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

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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Trailer Outtakes for the Holiday!

To our listeners and viewers, thanks for sticking with us for a season and a half so far! We’ve decided to take this week off to relax for the 4th of July holiday. In the place of a regular podcast, we wanted to share our outtakes from our very first recording – the podcast trailer! Enjoy, and we will see you next week!

Mackenzie DeJong

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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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

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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Getting After Stress

The uncertainty around many of the situations that families may have been experiencing lately can cause us to experience the “s” word…also known as STRESS! While stress can take many forms and it can be considered both positive and negative, all of us, at one time or another, have probably experienced stress!

Over time, each of us must find an appropriate set of coping techniques to use so that when we feel a little panicked, or stressed, we can indeed cope! None of us likes to feel out of control, so being able to manage our stress is important. There are many healthy ways to manage and cope with stress, but they all require change. You can either change the situation or change your reaction.

Take a listen to our podcast as Mackenzie and Lori discuss how “stress” can be managed while also caring for your children and the family. The Science of Parenting team takes pride in providing resources and education that can assist anyone manage and cope with the stress they encounter. Begin your stress relief journey by visiting our parenting resources for helpful information whether you are parenting an infant, preschool child, or teen, help is just a click away.  

If you need additional support during this time Iowa Concern, offered by ISU Extension and Outreach, provides confidential access to stress counselors and an attorney for legal education, as well as information and referral services for a wide variety of topics. With a toll-free phone number, live chat capabilities and a website, Iowa Concern services are available 24 hours a day, seven days per week at no charge. To reach Iowa Concern, call 800-447-1985; language interpretation services are available. Or, visit the website, to live chat with a stress counselor one-on-one in a secure environment. Or, email an expert regarding legal, finance, stress, or crisis and disaster issues.

Barb Dunn Swanson

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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Being Both a Parent and a Person

The parenting years can be both a blur of activity and sleepless nights, a time of great excitement and unending joy for many families. As parents work to figure out how best to meet the needs of the little ones in their care, they must also realize their own self-care needs. We often hear the phrase, “you can’t pour from an empty bucket.” Having an awareness of our own needs with a plan for meeting those needs is essential.

While some may see this notion of self-care as selfish, mental health and parenting professionals both agree that self-care is essential. According to Psychologist, Dr. Anthony Borland of the Cleveland Clinic, “remind yourself that you’re doing something to strengthen your family — if you’re happier and healthier, then you can be a happier, more attentive parent.”1

Parenting self-care can look different for each parent. For some, exercise and time out of the house may be the boost that is needed to feel refreshed and re-energized. The fresh air and the endorphins that are released in response to exercise are helpful. We know the benefits to children who experience exercise and outdoor activities, the same is true for adults.

Watch your self-talk. While parenting takes energy, and strength, we must be sure our self-talk reflects that positivity. During caregiving for children, we cannot let the crying, or screaming that sometimes happens, drown out our own self-talk. We must find the things we can control and speak words of praise or affirmation. These words are a powerful self-care strategy.

As Mackenzie Johnson, co-host of The Science of Parenting suggests, know when to “tag out” with someone for some alone time. If you have someone you co-parent with, tagging out, is a way for one parent to hand off the reins of caregiving to the other co-parent for a time, to get a bit of “me time”. The time away helps to get re-energized and ready to give 100% again.

One last idea, when all else fails, don’t forget the technique we encourage all families to practice “STOP BREATH TALK”. The technique is useful in a variety of situations. It is a way to intentionally stop what we are doing, take some time to reflect and then change course if needed, or make a different decision.

Self-care is a combination of strategies designed to make each of us stronger at the roles we find ourselves in daily. It is never selfish; it is always essential.


1 Team, F. H. (2019, August 16). 5 Realistic Ways to Practice Self-Care as a Parent. Retrieved April 14, 2020.

Barb Dunn Swanson

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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Talking with children about race and racial bias

Children may be seeing images and videos of protests and violence. They may be hearing loud and angry voices. They may even be part of sad or traumatic events. They may be wondering and possibly even asking really hard questions that we as parents don’t know how to answer.

Lori Hayungs, co-host of the Science of Parenting podcast, takes a moment in a special episode to share some thoughts, strategies, and resources around how to talk with children about race and racial bias. Listen in to find out how we can begin to try and answer those tough questions.

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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What Have We Learned

We just wrapped up Season One: Parenting Foundations. Yes, I just said that. It’s hard for us to get our heads around that fact.

When we began talking about the possibility of podcasting about parenting, we had no idea we would actually be wrapping up an official season less than eight months later, let alone doing it via a Facebook Live Event. Above all, we had no idea how much it would mean to us to be able to share parenting research and reality with you all.

We want to take this time to say ‘THANK YOU’. Thank you for taking the journey with us, for encouraging us along the way, and for asking us to keep sharing.

Take a quick listen to our Season One: Parenting Foundations finale as we share what we learned along the way. And be sure to join us for the start of our next season in June.

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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Try This Trick to Improve Family Communication

While families continue to find themselves together under one roof, as they are “staying home”, it may be the time to involve everyone in a family meeting. Family meetings are a great way to communicate honestly with one another and can help all members feel safe during these very uncertain times. Routines have shifted, school is happening in different environments and parents may be working from home. The new ways we are accommodating to the Coronavirus is shaping how we can continue to be adaptable in the future. With all of these factors in our new realities, it’s important to make sure to check in with all family members and a family meeting is a great way to do it all at once!

A family meeting may sound formal, but it is really quite simple. Agenda items for the family meeting might include:

  • Menu planning – what food do we have in the refrigerator and pantry, and who would like to help prepare and serve the meals.
  • Computer usage – who needs the computer connections for work or school projects and how can we share so that everyone can have access for what they need.
  • School projects – can older siblings assist younger siblings with any additional school projects or work?
  • Family game time – each family member can take a turn picking a game to play
  • Question and answer session – provide some time for individuals to share their concerns or ask questions. Ignoring situations that are on the news is not helpful, but always consider the age and appropriateness of shared information.

We also suggest beginning each family meeting with a round of compliments. This helps all family members feel appreciated and recognized for being an important part of the family.

It may sound corny, but family meetings are a simple way to get everyone in the family on the same page and enjoy some quality time together!

Barb Dunn Swanson

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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Enjoy the Joys!

As we get closer to the end of our first season, we find ourselves reflecting on the role of parenting being a tough one. Tough yes, but so worth it as well.

Our research tidbits from one of the largest studies of the joys and problems in child-rearing revealed that by and large, parents get what they hope for out of parenting. In fact, the study also reported that parents reported twice as many joys as problems. On our tough day, THAT is a very reassuring piece of information. Listen in as we also talk about some of the most common joys described by parents.

And don’t forget that next week is our very next Facebook LIVE. We will wrap up our Parenting Foundations during that live and give you a sneak peek into Season Two.

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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It’s Okay to Ask for Help if You Need It

The last few months, we have focused quite a few blogs on parenting amid the COVID-19 pandemic. We hope you have found our tips and strategies helpful so far. However, we recognize that some parents and children may still be feeling overwhelmed. Maybe you feel like tips and strategies are enough to get you through the feelings of anxiety, stress, and uncertainty.

We all have different challenges, obstacles, opportunities, and resources during this time so it is natural that we would each have a different reaction to that. Our team at The Science of Parenting wants you to know that however you are feeling is okay. Like I tell my preschooler, I also remind myself and YOU that it’s okay to have “big feelings” or little feelings about all that’s going on around us. But I also want you to know that if those big feelings are overwhelming there is support available! It’s good to seek extra support when we need it – in fact it’s essential to our parenting. In Iowa we are fortunate to have hotlines and resources that are available 24/7.

If you need additional support during this time Iowa Concern, offered by ISU Extension and Outreach, provides confidential access to stress counselors and an attorney for legal education, as well as information and referral services for a wide variety of topics. With a toll-free phone number, live chat capabilities and a website, Iowa Concern services are available 24 hours a day, seven days per week at no charge. To reach Iowa Concern, call 800-447-1985; language interpretation services are available. Or, visit the website, https://www.extension.iastate.edu/iowaconcern/, to live chat with a stress counselor one-on-one in a secure environment. Or, email an expert regarding legal, finance, stress, or crisis and disaster issues.

211 is a free, comprehensive information and referral line linking Iowa residents to health and human service programs, community services, disaster services and governmental programs. This service is collaborating with the Iowa Department of Public Health to provide confidential assistance, stress counseling, education and referral services related to COVID-19 concerns.  

We hope you will seek the information or support that suits you best at this time. Please take care of yourself so you can continue to care for your children. If you have questions for The Science of Parenting team, you can email us at parenting@iastate.edu.

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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Follow Me:
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Just Say No to Judgment

My reality is not your reality. But somehow I still want you to think I’m a good parent. Ugh. Parenting can be so hard when we are always WONDERING if others view us as competent. This week’s podcast dives into the judgment zone.

Research tells us that 9 in 10 parents feel judged (90% of moms and 85% of dads). That’s a whole lot of hard feelings folks. Pew Research also tells us that “parents care a lot about how others perceive their parenting skills”. Particularly, their co-parent and their own parents. We want people to believe that we are good parents. It’s important to us.

So how do we take these feelings and acknowledge they exist while at the same time not letting what others think impact our confidence in ourselves and our own parenting decisions? One thing we can do is recognize that when we feel competent in our parenting we actually treat our own child as being more capable and resourceful, and we generally show them more positive feelings.  The reciprocal relationship between our parenting confidence and our belief in our child’s competence is important.

You are reading our blogs and listening to our podcasts because you want to find the tools that fit your family’s needs. Part of what you are doing is looking at and listening to the research we provide and you are applying them to your reality.

THAT my friends should give you confidence. You are looking, listening, and practicing how to fit research into your reality. Keep INVESTING IN the parenting work, many won’t but you are here and your relationship with your child is worth it.

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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