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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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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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.”

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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How to Help Kids Cope and Contribute during COVID-19

The new “normal” that many families have endured recently includes limiting their time engaging with friends and neighbors in an attempt to practice social distancing. This experience is probably very new for many people. Not only is it new, but it can also be very lonely and disappointing. Children who want to play with friends, but who are told they cannot, may really have many questions. Their emotions may spill over with fear, anger and even anxiety as they try to adjust to this situation.

Providing additional parental hugs of reassurance that the boundaries and limits that are being followed at this time will not last forever. Taking the time to listen to children as they express their emotions will help them to brainstorm solutions for how they can cope with limited time with friends and neighbors. Young children may have an exaggerated response to being separated from their friends, so talking and reassuring your child is important. Perhaps using a social media platform to check in with the neighborhood playmates may help to ease the separation anxiety.

Even older teens may feel lonely or isolated or even experience the FOMO “fear of missing out” on what their friends are doing in their own homes, practicing social distancing. Visit with your children and let them know that their concerns might be turned into something positive. For example, if we are missing our friends, could we each keep a simple journal to highlight our days, and how we spend time as a family?

If we had concerns about a neighbor who lives alone, could we make cards of greeting and well wishes? Even a daily walk to enjoy the fresh outdoor air can make a difference and lift our spirits.

Our situation may not change overnight, but our response to it can! We can choose to communicate with one another and find ways to support each other through the covid-19 pandemic. We can listen to the emotions our family members have, and brainstorm helpful solutions.

As a reminder, we always encourage families to remember to Stop, take some deep breaths, and then Talk with intention to one another. Listen to our Science of Parenting Podcaster Mackenzie Johnson as she describes the benefits of the STOP BREATHE TALK method.

In addition, the following additional resources may be helpful to you and your 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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Time to Check in With Your Teens – Resource List

Science of Parenting

Relationships

SFP 10-14

4-H

Broad Extension Resources

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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How To Talk with Kids about COVID-19

We are parenting in an unprecedented time, and that means our kids have unprecedented questions and concerns. Knowing how much to tell them is seriously tough. What is appropriate to tell my three year old? And what am I supposed to tell my school-ager who wants to go over to a friend’s house? And how do I talk with my teenager about all rumors they have heard floating around?

Well at The Science of Parenting we focus on sharing research-based information that fits your family. So we have put together some trustworthy resources that guide you in having these tough conversations with your kids. Check them out below (and look for more information on our COVID-19 webpage for parents).

Centers for Disease Control and PreventionTalking with Children about Coronavirus Disease 2019 General tips for talking with our children based on the most current facts we have about the pandemic

Department of Family Science from the University of Marylandthese pages provide parents with specific questions to ask and words to use based on your child’s age.

Zero to Three Answer Your Young Child’s Questions about Coronavirus
This website provides specific language parents can use to answer questions that young children may have.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (free download of PDF on the right side) – Talking with Children: Tips for Caregivers, Parents, and Teachers During Infectious Disease Outbreaks
This resource looks at how children of different ages may be reacting to the outbreak and provides tips for talking with each age group.

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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Guilt Free Routines

Routines – this word may make you feel confident or queasy. Simply put, Wolin & Bennett back in 1984 defined family routines as “patterned interactions that are repeated over time”. Those things we do regularly because we have to do them and often don’t give too much thought to. Notice this definition is NOT saying routines is about having strict schedule of your day in thirty minutes increments. (Though if having a schedule is helping you – more power to you!) Routines are simply about the parts of your day you can do with some continuity to create some consistency for your kids. This could include things like bedtime, mealtime, wake up times, or even watching television or chatting with a relative.

It’s okay if your normal routines are totally out of whack right now. All of us (parenting included) are processing a lot around what’s going on with COVID-19, and disrupted routines is a very normal part of this stress. I tend to fall into the group of parents who enjoys regular routines (which is DIFFERENT than a strict schedule – more on that in the podcast), but Lori shares that sometimes the conversation around routines have made her feel guilty. Her natural temperament is a little more spontaneous and flexible, while mine tends to be more regular. Another consideration for this difference is that my kids are younger and Lori’s are older… This is just one more example why, at The Science of Parenting, we talk about a pluralistic approach to parenting, which basically just means that we believe there is more than one way to raise great kids.

Routines are ONE TOOL in our parenting toolbox. For me, having some regular routines provides me and my kiddos some feelings of consistency and normality around bedtimes, mealtimes, and wake times in the midst of the chaos with COVID-19. For Lori, she shares that the one routine she has chosen to focus on is wake up time. Both approaches are great, and even small routines can help provide some comfort and consistency to our kids.

An example from awhile ago when I used routines as a tool for my parenting is about a year ago when we were having battles and meltdowns every day when it was time for sleep. I mentioned it to my good friend Lori (ironic, I know), and she suggested maybe developing a little sleeptime routine and visual plan could help smooth the process out. Developing some consistency of what my daughter could expect at bedtime and nap time helped reduce the disagreements!

So if you are feeling like you are floundering around during this unprecedented time, consider if developing (or revisiting) some simple routines of comfort for you and your family could help you feel better. If it feels overwhelming to you to tackle lots of routines at once, it’s great to even just start with one. Remember to give yourself some grace during these unprecedented time. You are the expert on yourself, your kids, and your family, only you know what’s best for all of you during this time. You’re doing great work.

Hear more about the research and reality on routines in our bonus podcast episode.

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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Limiting Media Blasts When it’s Overwhelming

The new “normal” during the COVID-19 pandemic is round the clock briefings on how fast and furious the virus is spreading. The details can be too much for many, including children. Even adults can be overwhelmed with the hourly updates provided by every news outlet, on radio and even on social media.

Because there is so much “unknown” about this virus and it’s impact, helping children to feel safe, and secure is important. Talk with your children about the fact that this medical situation is new and that many health professionals are working to find solutions. Share only sound bites of information in doses that they can understand. They may have worries about their grandparents becoming sick; Children may wonder if their parents who may still have to go to work daily, will come home with the virus.

Have a family meeting and talk to your children. What questions do your children have about what they are hearing, and take steps to answer honestly, within reason, for what they can understand. If you are all home together, practicing social distancing, be sure to limit the amount of media that your children have access to. This may be the time to put the tablets and mobile phones away and find alternative board games, books, music and puzzles to complete.

If your children ask for television, perhaps family movie afternoon or evening could turn into some family fun. Limiting the hourly news feed will give everyone in the family the break they need and a chance to focus on fun as a family.

For additional information about how to tell your child about closure and postponements of some of their favorite activities, be sure to read, watch, or listen to “Talking to Your Kids Who Are Missing Out on Big Moments.”

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.

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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Tips and Tools for Living and Working in the Same Place

I wanted to take a quick moment to share a couple of great tools while we navigate these ‘everyone is together all the time’ waters.

Balancing Workplace and Home

First is a great article with four quick tips from our Behavioral Health Specialist Dr. David Brown. In this article, Try to Balance Workplace and Home When Workplace and Home Are the Same, he shares four ways that we can set boundaries between work and home while they both exist in the same space.

  • Setting Boundaries
  • Setting Routines
  • Enjoying the Advantages
  • Accessing Resources

Online Opportunity for Couples

Second I want to invite you to join our Human Sciences specialists LIVE as they share tips, tools and tricks to elevate and improve your adult relationships during this time. For the next seven Wednesdays, 12:30-1:00 p.m. CST via Adobe Connect, specialists will share tools from ELEVATE, a relationship education curriculum developed by the National Extension Relationship and Marriage Education Network. For more information, see the news article Empower: Helping Couples Take Care of Themselves During COVID-19.

Finding Answers Now

For all things Human Sciences specifically related to times of disruption (like COVID-19), refer to the Finding Answers Now site.

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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Talking to Your Kids Who Are Missing Out on Big Moments

With all that’s going on to prevent the spread of COVID-19, many important events have needed to be adjusted, postponed, or even cancelled. Some of these events may be things that we and our kids, have been looking forward to for quite some time.

I’ve seen countless stories on social media about kids and parents alike who are sad or frustrated about events getting cancelled – like prom, commencement, family reunions, state level sports competitions, weddings, the big spring theater production, holiday gatherings, and other “rites of passage”. These big feelings associated with missing out are completely understandable and valid!

Part of the reason we have these big feelings about this is that many of these events would meet the research definition of a ritual. According to a literature review by Fiese and colleagues, rituals are defined across three important characteristics. They are…

  • Symbolic – rituals are a representation of “who we are”. (In other words, the event’s meaning may be more about what it represents than what we actually do during it).
  • Enduring and affective – rituals create an emotional and impactful memory that we can look back on.
  • Meaningful across generations – Rituals give us something to look forward to that those before us and after us will also participate in.

When we look at the event cancellations that have left us with shoulders dropped and tears in our eyes, we may find that it’s because they are tied to an important ritual or rite of passage. Our kids may have been looking forward to a ritual like walking across that stage at graduation – it represents an accomplishment and transitional phase in their life; it is a significant event that has an emotional impact; and it is something that parents, siblings, friends, and additional generations take part in.

It’s completely understandable that parents and kids alike are having big feelings about these unexpected changes. As adults, we recognize that while it may be disappointing to miss these events, that we will be okay in the long run. Hopefully we are using healthy coping strategies to adjust to these changes. However, our kids don’t necessarily have the same skills that we do, so it’s important to help them navigate these cancellations and adjustments.

Here’s four steps for helping your child navigate tough feelings of disappointment or frustration about cancellation of these rituals:

  1. Find out what “rituals” or big moments specifically your child is reflecting on. There may be different events that are more important to them than you might realize. Maybe they care more about missing out on senior activity day than about prom. (Hint: that’s okay!)
  2. Ask how they are feeling about it, and then accept and acknowledge those feelings. Some kids might feel anger, disappointment, frustration, sadness, or even relief about events getting cancelled. Whatever it is they are feeling – that’s okay. Listen to your child, and try to avoid dismissive statements like “there are way worse things in the world”, “suck it up”, or “it doesn’t matter in the big scheme of things”. While some of these statements may have some truth to them, it is not very helpful or supportive. Instead, try to focus on statements like “it’s okay to feel _______”, “I know this is something you were looking forward to”, or “this is really hard”.
  3. Provide some extra attention, talk about concerns, and provide the factual reason why the big moment was cancelled or postponed. Gently remind your child of the factual reasons why the event was postponed. Also remind them that it’s not their fault, or your fault, or the school’s fault. Try to give them the extra time to express their concern or frustration.
  4. Think creatively about how we can still create some of those feelings associated with this big moment or ritual. Think about how you can use your knowledge of the definition of rituals to still create a special memory, even if it looks different than originally planned. Maybe you can reenact the moment, do something virtually, commit to celebrating at a later date, or even asking your child what they’d like to do instead.

To gain a broader understanding on rituals and the impact of missing out, please listen or watch The Science of Parenting’s mini episode, “Missing Out on Big Moments.”

Watch the video:

Or Listen (also available on most podcast apps, including Apple and Spotify!):

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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Parenting in the Midst of COVID-19

If you’ve been following us, you know that our passion is providing parents like you with research-based information for your family. With concern around COVID-19, we’ve identified some trustworthy resources to help you navigate this ever-changing situation.

Watch our “Parenting Through COVID-19” Podcast video:

Or Listen (also available on most podcast apps, including Apple and Spotify!):

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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