Relationships and Regulation

The relationships that form as a new baby joins a family is significant for a number of reasons. The bonding and attachment is the foundation for later learning for that new baby. A baby that cries, and is comforted by a family caregiver, learns to trust that as they have needs, those needs will be met. A cry is a baby’s way of alerting a caregiver that they need something. They may be hungry, wet, or sick with a stomachache. The cry that is ignored can create emotional upset for that child. And overtime a neglected response can produce negative emotional consequences for a child.  

As parents provide care and attention to their child, it becomes a back and forth with the child. Parents quickly learn to read the cue’s their child sends through movements; facial expressions and vocal responses including cries for attention and support. Be sure to listen as Lori and Mackenzie talk about how important the attachment connection is for healthy growth and development! In addition, they will visit about the importance of: routines; communication; emotional support including affection, time and autonomy.

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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Establishing the Environment

Everyone needs a feeling of safety, no matter the age or stage in life. The home is usually the first foundation of safety for most families. And new parents spend a great deal of time moving throughout the home, making sure the environment their children are exposed to is safe!

A classroom teacher has the same responsibility for maintaining safety. Securing the environment helps children feel comfortable, secure, and capable of success!  As children feel more secure and safe in their environment, whether at home, school, or even after-school, they will begin to assert their own independence.

As children grow, we want them to use their budding independence to learn new skills; practice making new friends; and have confidence at school. Parents can support their children’s autonomy in the following ways:

  • Create consistency in routines and rules. The structure that children grow to expect is a protective factor for their growing independence.
  • Establish expectations for your children and communicate those expectations and consequences to them! When children know what to expect, they can make good decisions knowing their parents will help and support them.
  • Reinforce the good behaviors children exhibit with praise and positive discipline.
  • When consequences are required, communicate honestly and provide rationale for behaviors that are expected. Use natural and logical consequences to help children to make good choices.
  • Take an active interest in your child’s activities and interests.
  • Showing love, warmth, and responding to them with positive feedback will also help them develop their independence.

Be sure to listen to the Science of Parenting podcast to learn more about establishing safe and secure environments at home and away!

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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Tuning in With Temperament

The cell phone is ringing; you are listening to your son practice the piano; dinner is slowly cooking stovetop and the dog is barking at something outdoors. All these competing sounds begging for your attention, all at the same time. This can cause anyone to feel overwhelmed. And when we feel the tug for attention, we may snap in response to a question from our child, or co-parent, or barking puppy!

The need to get re-regulated is necessary so that we can give the attention necessary to our children and the tasks at hand. Our Science of Parenting co-hosts Mackenzie  and Lori have an entire season dedicated to discussing how to define “regulation”, and how to effectively help ourselves and our children when we become dis-regulated”.  Our personal temperament can play a role in helping us to stay regulated, especially when we feel those competing tugs! Don’t forget you can listen here and be sure to follow us on social media including facebook and twitter!

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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Regulation in Stages

Living life is a series of experiences that can trigger our emotions – both positive and negative, depending on the situation! No matter our age, we all find ourselves in situations where our emotions are on display. The emotions can be happiness, excitement, scared, frustration, or even anger. The older we are, the more life experiences we have had. Experiences often teach us how to navigate those emotional situations. The people in our life are also valuable resources to help us manage whatever emotion we may find ourselves in.  

New parents may be curious about how to help their infants when they express those big emotions from hunger, thirst, or even signaling a diaper change is needed! Infants attune their attention to their caregivers and will find they learn to trust that caregiver, to provide the attention to meet their needs. Attachment is at the core of this understanding. According to Alan Sroufe, Developmental Psychologist at the Institute for Child Development at the University of Minnesota “Attachment is a relationship in the service of a baby’s emotion regulation and exploration”.

As a parent, it may be difficult to remain calm and regulated upon hearing a screaming baby. The noise alone can trigger upset in the entire home. Parents soon learn to recognize the different noises and can quickly anticipate the baby’s needs. As children age, parents will again have to navigate the tide of emotions and work to bring everyone back into regulation.

Parents can support their child through these three broad categories:

  • Provide love, warmth, connection, and responsiveness
  • Structure a safe environment for the child who is trying to get re-regulated
  • Teach self-regulation skills, and be a good model of self-regulation skills.

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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I’m the Adult Here: My Regulation

Every day brings a new set of demands for busy families. The schedules we keep tell a story of the priorities that challenge us minute-by-minute. Do you ever feel like you are a juggler in a big ring circus? Trying to keep all the cups spinning with a smile on your face? If you ever feel like this, you are not alone. On any given day, parents who have this list of demands will likely feel overwhelmed and need to call upon a strategy or two to let their brains wind down and relax.

The ways in which we learn to relax or prioritize our “to do” list can help others in our family also learn to manage themselves, too! Our children watch us for signs of how to respond when we are feeling emotionally charged. They watch to see how we speak to others, and sometimes we laugh when we hear our children repeat the same language we have used!

Sometimes using the technique of “mindfulness” will help us to re-store our thinking to a calmer attitude. Mindfulness may take the form of several minutes of stillness followed by thoughts of quiet and peace. It may take the form of rest. Parenting is full of daily decisions that are best managed when well rested and supported by our network of social supports!   

Keeping your mind and body regulated is the first step in handling that to do list! For more information on emotional and behavioral regulation, be sure to listen to season 9 of the Science of Parenting! And be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter

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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What is Self-Regulation?

Have you ever been involved in a conversation that was difficult? Where you had trouble keeping your cool? Where you wanted to scream and shout so someone could hear and understand you and your point of view?

Well, all of us from time to time have had this experience. And so it is with parenting too! Sometimes we find ourselves wanting to scream so that others will hear us and our message. Or perhaps your child is the one screaming to be heard. Either way, the emotions that come with the shouting can produce upset for everyone. It is during this upsetting time that the adult in the conversation can practice the STOP. BREATHE. TALK. technique.

This technique is especially useful because when everyone is shouting, no one can be heard, and the communication is shut down. Stopping and taking a few cleansing breaths can be the beginning of repair in the conversation. Then, intentionally thinking about what you want to say in a calm voice, one free of the emotional shouting that produces additional upset, can yield the desired action from yourself or your child.

Modeling this technique for others helps all family members learn to adjust their words and actions so that everyone can be heard and understood.

Learn more about Stop. Breathe. Talk. in Episode 3 – Take a Break and Take a Breath podcast. Be sure to follow the Science of Parenting team on social media, including Twitter and Facebook.

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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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.

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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About Those “Easy” Kids

Researchers Thomas and Chess have provided so much information to help parents learn more about how a child’s temperament impacts their behaviors and how they experience the world. We understand that we cannot change temperament, that it will always be an integral piece of who we are, and what we can change is our approach to others.

As we have seen, the nine temperament traits fall into patterns, and we notice that a large majority of children’s temperament may fall into the ‘flexible’ pattern. This pattern may include temperament traits such as easy to soothe, less active, and intense as well as less demanding in general. While this pattern may not cause many parent/child power struggles, it is still important for us to teach this child to raise their voice.

As a flexible child, they may go with the flow and easily agree to others’ ideas. We need to help them be brave enough, use their voice, and say what they need to say! As adults, we need to watch for times when we see them go along with a suggestion even when they don’t want to. We need to protect their right to have their own voice be heard, and perhaps to help them sound their voice!

Giving the flexible child a voice to be heard is just one way to help children appreciate the gifts their temperament provides. What are some other gifts temperament gives our children?

Join us each week as we continue to talk about parenting with temperament in mind.

Lori Korthals, 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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Baby Steps

Quiet and Shy – and I’m OK! 

Season three of The Science of Parenting podcast has explored the many facets of temperament! The information shared each week celebrates the unique and rich gift each trait expresses! Every day brings new opportunities to master challenges and milestones. As parents watch their children grow and develop, they consider the temperament that a child possesses and other factors like family structure, siblings, and so much more.  

The child who is slow to warm up – or seems inhibited when interacting in their environment may need assistance from others to explore their surroundings. Parents must consider that their own temperament and their own actions are cues to their children about how to behave. Keeping the lines of communication open and asking questions of our children can help them explore “new situations.” Asking our child to tell us: 

  • how they are feeling;  
  • what questions do they have about the new situation;  
  • what do you think might happen if you explore further;  
  • how can I help you manage this new challenge;  
  • could we set a goal – or simple steps to begin this new challenge?  

These few questions can be the start of helping your inhibited or shy child gain the self-confidence needed to interact and explore their environment.  

In the podcast, Lori and Mackenzie talk about these slow to approach kiddos and talk to expert Robert Coplan on helping those shy kids navigate the world.

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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Bring Out the Best

“Hey, you’re in a good mood today!” Has anyone said that to you lately? Our mood is a temperament trait! The Science of Parenting team has been exploring many temperament traits, and MOOD is just one that may resonate with many parents. Having children with a happy disposition or in a good mood is a joy. Finding ways to comfort our child when the mood is negative can be a challenge. Parents may find they need to adjust their own schedule or expectations if a child’s mood is one that is emotional or negative from time to time. Learning to soothe a child takes skill, patience, and time. It also takes the same to help children learn to self-soothe. 

Have you heard a child become whiney as they are learning to tie their shoes? Or do they have an “I Can” attitude when it comes to this new skill? Which mood will surface? 

Listen in on the Science of Parenting podcast, as our hosts discuss developmental milestones and how children’s mood may be expressed as they grow.   

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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Rhythm of Life

Maintaining a manageable schedule when a newborn arrives is one of the first pieces of advice new parents receive. “Be sure to stay on schedule.” The schedule is something that may include feeding, sleeping, diapering, etc. The idea of a schedule seems important, yet it is something that may be out of your control if your child is not one to eat when you are ready; or sleep when they are tired! Although we cannot control our children, we can influence their environment, which can help them sleep and eat!  

Parents seek control because they feel confident when they can anticipate their baby’s needs. Children who can eat and sleep on our schedule help to keep things moving smoothly in our very fast-paced world. Many new moms and dads will have lengthy conversations about preparing for leaving the house with a newborn. Do we have formula or a safe place to breastfeed? Do we have diapers? Has the baby slept, been fed, or still sleepy? What do we need to anticipate to make our outing manageable? The schedule we keep can help us answer those important questions. So, it stands to reason that temperament may have to be considered when discussing these pivotal moments in the day. 

Helping our children get into a rhythm can be very helpful. Some children feel more secure when they know what to expect, and they are familiar with their body’s natural rhythm. How we help our children develop their own rhythms may look like the following: we adjust our own expectations for our children; we may put aside our plans or schedule to help our child manage their needs – like eating or sleeping or toileting. We may need to limit the competing distractions that children experience, anything from other siblings, television or screen time; and any loud noises that prevent them from eating on a schedule, or relaxing before sleep. We may provide the nutrition needed for healthy bathroom experiences and reminders about taking the time to go to the bathroom! Listen in as our hosts, Lori and Mackenzie, discuss this very important temperament trait.

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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Dealing with Difficult Behaviors

Sometimes we label things so that we can understand them better. In fact, the labels can be limiting if we are not careful to explore our own use of the labels. Have you ever heard someone say, “Wow, that child is difficult!”? Or, have you heard, “I’m so glad my child is not as difficult!”? Well, what does difficult mean? In terms of temperament – it may mean that a child has their own idea, of how they interact with their environment. They have an idea and want to put that idea into action! Often the “difficult” behaviors that may be observed, may also be accompanied by strong emotions as well. 

A child with strong ideas, and a willingness to act, may need boundaries and structure! When we acknowledge our child’s skills and temperament, as the adult, we can accommodate their needs by setting an environment and boundaries so that they can succeed.  

If our child gets dis-regulated, or frustrated because they experienced a challenge to their “action plan”, we may need to wait for them to calm down, and get – re-regulated before we can have a discussion about how to meet that same challenge in the future. Our child’s ability to make a good decision when they are experiencing big feelings is much more difficult, than when they are calm and ready to listen to reason.  

We can accommodate and put the “difficult” label aside! 

In this episode, Lori and Mackenzie discuss this and feature an interview with Dr. Sean McDevitt, Ph.D.

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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Proceeding with Caution

I almost jumped, but then I hesitated! 

Have you ever challenged yourself to jump off the diving board at the pool? You may climb the steps with confidence, walk to the end of the board, and peer overboard. Once you take in the view from up high, you may have second thoughts. You may hesitate to jump. But why? You were excited by the thought of jumping, but at the last minute, you may have discovered you were fearful.  

This is how many people and even children react to situations in real life every single day. Each of us may have those self-doubts that creep into our consciousness every day. We may have every intent to do something, but when it is finally time, we hesitate, or put off, what may be a difficult decision. We may not even know why we do it, but the hesitation or withdrawal is another temperament trait.  

As parents, we want our children to find success in their own growth and development at home, school and in their community. Some children, as our Science of Parenting Team has explored, will be very excited and jump right into new situations, while others will act with caution. Which one is right? They both are. Acceptance, accommodation and celebration will be useful approaches to helping children learn to use their temperament traits in ways that meet their own needs.  

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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Finding Focus

What…did you say something? I was distracted.

Each week, we have been exploring temperament traits and discovering how those traits may or may not show up in children. Each of us is born with unique genetic features and within the same family, we can look alike but behave differently and have very different temperament traits. The differences between individuals can make parenting joyful AND challenging.

For children who find themselves easily distracted, we may celebrate their perceptiveness. In other words, they may be on high alert to everything going on around them. This attentiveness may make it more difficult for them to settle, quiet themselves, or find peace easily. They may be so alert that napping is difficult. Eating and other routines may be interrupted because so many competing distractions make it hard to focus on any task at hand.

Parents with children who are very perceptive may need to keep what I call “shiny objects” at a minimum. In other words, if we expect children to sleep, we may have to be intentional about minimizing the distractions in the bedroom, or limiting the noise, or reducing the stimulation that can interrupt a child’s natural desire to sleep or rest easy.

The constant stimulation that may occur in a household may be energizing for some family members, while being a total distraction for others. As you learn more and more about your child and their temperament, are there certain boundaries you can establish that will help your child feel comfortable and able to focus? Using praise and recognition when a child manages to stay focused or not get distracted is one approach.

Looking around your home environment may provide some solutions for reducing the stimulation that can be the cause of distractibility.  Another idea is to review daily routines and trying to honor the schedule and routine that assists your child’s ability to focus and become less distracted. I know that when I have many competing thoughts it is hard to prioritize and make good decisions. How many times are children faced with trying to make a good decision, when they are plain distracted? Join the Science of Parenting podcast hosts as they explore distractibility in children.

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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Learning to Adapt

Have you ever had an interaction with someone and they said, “No, do it my way”? And then did you resist, or were you able to try it a new way?

How we adjust to requests to “try something new” may be an indication of our ability to adapt. Like we adjust when working with other adults, parents may need an open approach when learning just how adaptable their own children are. Parents may perceive their easily adaptable child as compliant and even refer to the child as an “easy baby.”

The opposite can also happen. The child who is very focused on completing tasks their “own way” without help or assistance from others can be referred to as stubborn. Think for a minute of the child learning to feed themselves, or the older child learning to tie their shoes. It can take less time for a parent to simply feed the child rather than let the child learn to use a fork or spoon to self-feed.

Learning any new skill means we must adapt what we once knew to learn the new skill. In fact, childhood is a series of adjustments so that we can grow and develop. It really takes all kinds of patience and adaptability on the part of parents and caregivers to provide space for children to learn and grow.

Celebrating a child and their adaptability is as important as not shaming or blaming a child when they are slower to adapt or adjust. Continuing to communicate with our children and acknowledging that play is the way children learn can help all of us manage our expectations for child growth and development. Join the Science of Parenting podcast team as they discuss childhood adaptability.

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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