Parenting in Stages

Many parents, especially new ones, may wonder what to expect when their new arrival makes their debut. It is natural to want to make sure that a child is growing and developing on time and know when to be concerned. This season on The Science of Parenting, we focus our attention on the “milestones” that may hint at how a child is growing and developing.

The first lesson in child development is that we all grow at our own pace. We all are on our own schedule, and to force the issue may be futile. However, the milestones provide guidance about what “might” be expected during a particular time frame. Many other factors play an important role in how children grow and develop, including other siblings in the home, a child’s own temperament, and the social supports the child has in their life.

Are you looking for a helpful resource as a new parent? I would like to recommend Just in Time Parenting as a free parenting newsletter delivered by email and specific to a child’s age and needs. The newsletter will feature relevant information that’s timely and useful to your family! Be sure to catch the podcast hosts Lori and Mackenzie as they break down the milestones and feature highlights for toddlers, preschoolers, school-agers, the teenage years, and beyond!

Choosing Positive Discipline

Guiding and directing children as they grow and develop is a serious endeavor for parents. We know family values are usually at the heart of all rules, boundaries, and limits that parents set for their children.

Research in family science has a lot to say about what works around discipline. According to two decades of research by Elizabeth Gershoff & colleagues, physical punishment like spanking has been shown not only to be harmful, but also ineffective.

Discipline and punishment are two very different things. Discipline is meant to help children learn to regulate their own behavior as they are gaining more and more independence. Parents who use positive discipline approaches are teaching their children what behaviors are desired and then using natural or logical consequences when necessary to guide and direct their children.

Blaming and shaming parents for the choices they make in guiding their children is also not helpful. When we look at the research around harsh parenting, we can choose to avoid harmful and ineffective techniques and utilize approaches that are less threatening and more positive! We can do this most effectively by encouraging behaviors we do like, communicating our messages openly and honestly, and by utilizing Stop. Breathe. Talk. for keeping our cool in the heat of the moment.

Actions Speak Louder

Do you ever get the feeling you are being watched? If you are a parent or adult who cares for children, then you can be sure you are being watched!  

Children are very impressionable. Have you ever heard the saying “children learn what they live”? If so, a good lesson for us as adults to remember is that we are always on display when guiding our children. They listen to how we talk to one another. They watch us as we busy ourselves taking care of routines daily. We want to make sure our words and actions match. 

This season on The Science of Parenting, our co-hosts Lori and Mackenzie have introduced us to a parenting approach developed by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The approach emphasizes why it is important to model good behavior, language, and energy when engaging with our children and the family.  

Modeling is about using our own words AND actions to show the desired behaviors we expect. Research shows this is especially important with kids because children learn as much, if not more, from our actions as they do from what we say. 

If a parent shouts orders at others, they shouldn’t be at all surprised to see their child shouting at others while at play. If I value a calm and respectful tone of voice, as an adult, I need to practice using that voice in my interaction with others. The bottom line, my behavior, and my words need to align because others who are important in my life are watching my every move!  

Setting the Stage

As children grow and continue to develop their own independence, parents are in a unique position to offer mentoring support. Children learn to count on their parents to provide feedback and encouragement while navigating the many rites of passage to come!

The definition of mentoring highlighted by the hosts of the Science of Parenting: a mentor is someone who provides support, guidance, friendship, and respect to a child. Growing and developing is hard work, so mentoring kids along the way can help them learn about our desired expectations and behaviors. Mentoring is about helping kids reach their full potential, which includes mistakes and tears and successes and smiles.

Mentoring looks different at each life stage.

  • Toddlers may need more boundaries and limits along with help in emotion management.
  • Preschoolers will enjoy getting to make choices that come with their blooming independence.
  • School-age children may need mentoring assistance as they adjust to school and work on homework assignments.
  • Parents who have teens in the home will want to keep the lines of communication open as the teen years can be times of strong emotion and the onset of puberty. Mentoring teens through curfew, teenage friendships, and learning life skills like cleaning, handling money, and home & car care is essential.

The largest role we play is setting the stage so that our kids can launch with skills and abilities that serve them as they live on their own! In each life stage, parental monitoring provides the guidance, encouragement, and support necessary for growing independence.

Keeping Tabs

Some parents with newborn children invest in a baby monitor to listen in and pay close attention to their baby resting in a crib. Over time, the baby monitor is replaced by parents who become the “monitor” in real life!

Parents have a big role in protecting their children from all kinds of situations daily. Monitoring children in their growth and development and providing a safety net for kids is essential. Monitoring our children is a protective factor and can reduce the amount of risk children engage in along life’s journey.

Monitoring is not about being in total control over our children but rather a way to guide and communicate reasonable limits and expectations. Explaining the reasons behind our established limits lets our children know that we care for their wellbeing, and they can learn to trust that what we expect or what we value.

As children grow and learn more independence, parental monitoring may take the form of questions like:

  • Who will you be spending time with?
  • What time can I expect you home?
  • Whose home will you be at?
  • What friends will be in the car with you?
  • How will you communicate with me if your plan changes?

Asking these questions with a calm, matter-of-fact voice and hearing the responses can set the stage for whatever limits might be necessary. Parents who establish boundaries or set limits for their children will teach their children that privileges come when clear communication, trust, and honesty are established.

Join The Science of Parenting co-hosts Lori and Mackenzie as they discuss strategies for monitoring children during different life stages!

Protect and Prevent

Protecting our children and setting boundaries for safety is something that most parents would agree is essential in raising happy healthy families! The boundaries help support growth and development and children learn they can count on their family members to protect them.

In each life stage, prevention measures must be considered. For infants and toddlers, child-proofing the home, covering outlets, providing baby gates, and anchoring bookshelves are examples of how parents prepare the environment for health and safety.

When children are school-agers we encourage wearing a bike helmet when riding; we may teach children to ask permission before leaving to play at another friends home. 

As teens we may teach “peer pressure” refusal skills so these kids can have a few tools at their disposal for protection and safety. And providing a few explanations of “why” rules and boundaries are established can help children and teens know we value safety!  

Prevention is something everyone can practice! Communicate honestly and frequently with your family members about how and why safety and prevention are important and valued! The lessons learned through shared communication can be the first step in prevention education.

React vs Respond

Everyday life can throw curveballs our way, the kinds of situations that cause us to REACT! We may react to protect ourselves from harm; we may react to let someone else know how we have been impacted; we may react as a form of on-going communication.

The Science of Parenting podcast hosts tackle the difference between REACTING to our children or RESPONDING. Sometimes our REACTIONS are an outgrowth of emotion. For example, if I am running late for work, and someone in the family spills their breakfast on the floor, my REACTION may stem from emotion–and the reality is, I am emotional because I am now really late if I have to stop and clean the kitchen floor.

Taking a few minutes to explore what happened and then responding with intention can be a teachable moment for everyone in the family. If the breakfast was strewn on the floor by the 1-year-old off the highchair, I may need to consider my child’s age and choose a response that meets the age and understanding of my 1-year-old.

If, however, two teens are fighting at the breakfast table and breakfast ends up on the floor, my response can also consider their age and ability to clean the mess up as a consequence of behavior.

Learning to respond with intention is a skill that takes time, energy, and patience. Our children are watching how the adults in their life respond to situations. Taking time to think about “how” to respond, not simply “react” to behaviors can help the whole family!

Talk It Up

Have you ever made a decision, and then immediately second-guessed yourself? You may have wondered, “did I do or say the right thing? Could I have done something differently?” In fact, you may even hear your inner critic replying! That inner critic may be referred to as our “self-talk” and it can be either positive self-talk or negative self-talk.

What we say to ourselves each day impacts how we feel, what we do, and what we say to those around us. We can easily see a good day deteriorate into a cloudy day when we let our self-doubt and negative self-talk convince us we did something wrong or could have done better.

Becoming aware that our self-talk influences our parenting behavior and how we respond to others is especially important if our family members are impacted. Our very impressionable children watch how we react to daily situations and learn what they live. If they hear criticism, they may learn to criticize. If they hear praise, however, they learn to praise and be positive.

During Season Four of the podcast, The Science of Parenting Team will explore a parenting approach that can help parents to stay positive in their journey. The approach emphasizes consistency, effectiveness, and relating to children in active and attentive ways! These concrete terms for parenting allow us to reflect and encourage ourselves and others in our parenting approach.

Supporting Children When There is Scary News

We wanted to share a great article written by our fellow Human Sciences Family Life Specialist, Malisa Rader. Thank you, Malisa for allowing us to share your words.

All children are born with a unique temperament. Some will be more sensitive to scary news stories or worrisome about their safety and the safety of their loved ones, says Malisa Rader, a family life program specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

“We need to be mindful of what we are watching and discussing when small ears are around,” Rader said, “while also making sure we take time to listen and pick up on cues our child might be sending us. A change in behavior like clinginess or crying might be a signal that your child is anxious over recent disturbing events in the news.”

Parents, teachers and caregivers can help children that are feeling distressed about safety cope with their fears, Rader said. She recommends the following actions:

Keep regular routines. Stick to your normal schedule and events. Children take comfort in predictable daily activities like dinner at the kitchen table and bedtime rituals. Knowing what will happen provides a feeling of security.

Watch your emotions. Parents everywhere are shocked and saddened when children are victims of a tragic event. Children that are sensitive to emotions can pick up on this and become concerned for their own safety or the safety of others. When adults maintain a calm and optimistic attitude, children will also.

Have conversations with your child. Find out what your child knows and what questions he or she would like answered. Young children might express themselves through drawing or in their play. Provide reassurance, clear up any misconceptions and point out to your child the many helpful people in emergency events like law enforcement and medical professionals. Talk with your child about what is happening to make him or her safe at home, school or in the neighborhood.

Limit your TV viewing.  Monitor what is on the television set and for how long. Young children may not understand that scenes repeating on news stations are all the same event. Choose a favorite video to maintain better control over what is viewed by your children.

Find healthy ways to deal with feelings. Taking a walk together, reading a favorite book, or playing a board game can be comforting to both you and your child.

Take action. If your child continues to show concern, he or she may be feeling a loss of control. Doing something such as sending a donation or writing a letter can help bring back a sense of power and help your child feel a part of the response.

Seek professional advice if needed. If your child shows symptoms of distress such as a change in appetite or sleep patterns, speak with your child’s physician or a mental health professional. You can also contact ISU Extension and Outreach’s Iowa Concern hotline at 1-800-447-1985.

Revisiting: Calm, Cool, and Collected

As the NEW YEAR looms, I am eager to welcome the start of a new season! Before that happens, enjoy this podcast featuring the temperament trait “intensity”. The Science of Parenting team has dedicated their podcast episodes to revealing temperament traits and helping parents learn strategies to support their family members. “Intensity”, a trait defined as the amount of energy exhibited in emotional expression is highlighted here.

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 podcast, Mackenzie and Lori offer several tools to help with the challenges an intense temperament might present to parents.

Revisiting ‘Missing Out on the Big Moments’

Earlier this spring, when the word “pandemic” was still relatively new to our vocabulary, our team released a bonus episode on Missing Out on the Big Moments. We were hearing about the emotional toll that missing out on events and rites of passage was having on our kids. Now, several months down the road, this concept of missing out because of COVID is a common experience for kids and adults alike.

In the midst of a pandemic and the holiday season, the research around “missing out” and family rituals from this episode is still incredibly relevant. In this episode, you hear our co-hosts define rituals as events that are symbolic, emotionally affective, and having meaning across generations. Many of the holiday traditions families practice meet this definition! We know that tough conversations and emotions can be apart of our family interactions during the holidays in this pandemic as we all try to adjust.

In this episode, you’ll hear about ideas to adjust family rituals. Even if you already heard it this spring, we hope you’ll consider listening with a new perspective. Now that we have been in this pandemic a little longer you may have new insights and questions. Also, you may want to focus more on your own emotions around adjusting these family rituals.

Please join us in revisiting the topic of Missing Out on the Big Moments by examining research around family rituals!

Revisiting ‘How to Find Balance’

Each year, the holidays bring a rich set of traditions for many families. This year however, while living with the Covid-19 pandemic, our family traditions may take on a new reality. Instead of large gatherings, we may have smaller intimate gatherings. Instead of spending time together in one home, we may gather around our computers and share stories via video chat. We can continue to celebrate the holidays, but we may need to be creative to keep all family members safe and healthy!

The many responsibilities parents encounter as they prepare for the holiday season can be stressful! 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. During this podcast, the discussion reveals research around how household division of labor is managed in many homes.

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.

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.

Revisiting ‘In the Heat of a Meltdown’

Regulating our emotions is not always an easy task. As adults, our early experiences shape the way we respond to adversity or challenges. We must be aware that the kids around us are watching how we respond, react, or behave when faced with challenges.

Especially now, during times of pandemic, as our routines and schedules have been interrupted, we may see behaviors from our children that may indicate they are struggling with the mounting pressure of having to socially distance, study from home, or put aside their desire to be out and about with friends.

These pressures may be revealed in a variety of ways. We may see tears; yelling; or even meltdowns because of the mounting frustration.

When emotions get high, our ability as the parent to self-regulate can assist other members of the family to find peaceful ways to self-regulate.

It doesn’t mean we won’t have times when we are upset or challenged, but it means that we will need to call upon appropriate techniques, and that can be hard to do.

Stop. Breathe. Talk. is a technique which gives the brain time to re-focus energy from the limbic portion of the brain, where our emotion sensor is, to the prefrontal cortex, where our rational, decision-making portion of the brain is and can engage.

Helping kids move from the meltdown into the calm down stage means they, too, must have time to re-regulate. The wiring of their brain must re-focus back to the pre-frontal cortex, where they can think about how they want to respond.

The Covid 19 pandemic has brought families together in more ways than one. Let us use this time together to build family resilience, reengage our communication with one another and support one another until we can say the pandemic is gone.

The Big A-Ha

And that’s a wrap!

The Science of Parenting team has taken the last couple of months to introduce everyone to temperament, what it is, and what it is not. The research from Thomas and Chess reveal nine traits that are foundational to temperament. Our personality layers on top of our temperamental traits.

Each podcast, the team explored the assets and liabilities for children with traits at one end or the other of the spectrum. They also offered strategies to address each trait. One constant throughout the season, is that all individuals are gifted with temperament. Each person has their very own set of traits that make them unique. Understanding how the traits are expressed and impacted by other traits can assist a parent in responding to a child and their behavior.

We have discussed inhibited or shy children, and we have looked at children’s activity level and their persistence traits. We explored the traits of mood, regularity, adaptability, and distractibility. Everyone has a different combination of these traits that make up their temperament and having this knowledge can help us practice more patience and understanding with others around us, including members of our own family.

Going Bold

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

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

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

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

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

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