Have the conversation…now

Wow, it is August! Each year, right at this time, families begin carefully thinking about the beginning of a new school year! They may be curious about school teachers; school supplies; transportation; sporting events; and after-school programming. Well this year, as a nation, we are experiencing the unexpected! We are experiencing a pandemic that is altering every notion we have of how to prepare for the school year.

father and child

We are now exploring alternative school schedules; masks; social distancing; sanitation,  health and safety like never before. When we first learned of the pandemic, we may have thought we would return to our regular schedule by mid-summer. Now we are learning that the pandemic may be impacting our schedules much longer.

With that reality, I wanted to encourage parents to continue to check in with your children and other family members. Take some time to really sit and listen to the feelings your family members may be experiencing. Are they feeling sad or depressed because they miss interacting with their friends? Are they feeling anxious about starting a new school year and don’t know what to expect? Was their summer interrupted, were they unable to go to camp; county fair; or other routine events cancelled? All of these situations can bring a level of disappointment and talking it all out could be one step in the healing process.

Keeping our family members healthy during this pandemic is a priority. When we have honest conversations about why our schedules have been interrupted, we can begin to plan for alternate ways to respond. Keeping the lines of communication open and discussing positive coping techniques to use when we feel upset are critical! We don’t have to know all the answers, but we can reach out for support! Consider the following resources:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

Positive Coping Strategies for Kids

Text: "Adults who can practice social empathy and show positive coping skills with be encouraging to family members also feeling stress."

Has your family had lots of questions about the most recent corona virus pandemic? If you follow the news stations, they will provide information around the clock. We don’t all interpret what we are hearing in the same way, so having honest conversations, at the level that individual family members can understand is important.

The most important message we can provide is that as a family, we will do everything we can to stay safe, including hand washing and sanitizing all surfaces we touch on a regular basis. We can practice social distancing and we can reach out to our neighbors by phone or our friends by video chat.

As we grow, we all learn to navigate our emotions and experiences in different ways. We know that children will watch their parents and siblings for ways to respond. Adults who can practice empathy and show positive coping skills will be encouraging to family members also feeling stress.

Children may need to have a list of appropriate responses that they can choose because one of the many needs a young person has while growing up is independence. Being able to choose from a list of suggested coping techniques can be very helpful. For example, could we do some yoga or deep breathing exercises? Could we get out the art supplies and do some creative art? Maybe we are piano players or have music that we can turn to as a calming coping mechanism.

Older children may need to get more physical exercise, an outdoor run or a walk in nature may be a great idea. Other children may enjoy journaling their feelings, special journal paper, pens or a book is a great way to encourage getting the feelings onto paper.

Another family activity can be found in the kitchen. Find a recipe that could become part of the family meal and together, practice some math and science skills as you create a delicious meal together. Check out our Iowa State University Extension and Outreach Spend Smart Eat Smart website for recipe ideas and helpful cooking videos!

If down time is needed, suggest a rest period. Our body needs eight or more hours of sleep each evening to perform at our best. When we are overwhelmed with anxiety, frustration, disappointment or plan stress, we don’t sleep well and that too can impact how we feel and react throughout the day.

We are all in this together and caring for one another and modeling good coping skills is up to each of us! More coping information can be found on the CDC’s web page, “Stress and Coping.”