Posts Tagged ‘ parenting ’

Pediatricians Urged to Promote Listening to Combat Toxic Stress

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

A meeting of a sub-group of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that studies childhood resilience and the effects of toxic stress heard from a number of experts who all urged doctors to practice versions of the same advice–make understanding of the parent-child relationship a priority, and do that by modeling and teaching parents good listening skills.  Too many doctors, the group heard, work with stressed out kids (on a rushed timetable, at that) without offering holistic support for the families, which includes understanding the mechanisms of how stress affects parents as well.

Toxic stress is chronic, unrelenting stress that can have serious and ongoing health effects on kids (and parents).  More on the AAP’s prescribed “two generation approach” to helping families cope from The Boston Globe:

People need to feel safe to be able talk about what is important.  This includes both the clinician and the parent. When the pediatrician feels stressed by a waiting room full of patients that the current system of care demands he must see, he is not able to be present with a parent in the way that careful listening requires.

It  is like a set of Russian dolls. The society values the clinician’s time, offering the opportunity to listen to the parent, who listens to the child. And as many at the symposium recognized, it is not just pediatricians, but also child care workers, teachers, home visitors and others who have the opportunity to support stressed parents. All policy needs to be focused on protecting space and time to listen. Listening is not high tech. But it is this space and time, where parents feel safe and valued, that we have the opportunity to grow healthy brains and minds….

….when parents, who may be stressed and overwhelmed, feel heard, recognized and understood, they are better able to do the same for their child. When  parents listen to their child, are fully present with their child, they offer the opportunity build resilience and the capacity to manage adversity. It is not about giving information, or even about teaching skills. It is about supporting parents’ efforts to connect with their most competent self.

Image: Stressed-out mother, via Shutterstock

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Gay Dads’ Brains Adapt to Parenthood Just Like Straight Parents’ Brains

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Research has shown that a mom’s brain activity changes once she brings a new baby into the world. A new study published on May 26 concluded that gay dads’ brains also adapt to parenthood, in fact, their brain activity resembles that of new moms and dads. These findings could mean that adoption agencies will be more willing to work with gay couples. More from TIME:

A study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences sought to determine whether mothers’ brains became hyper-reactive to emotional cues, like hearing their child cry after birth, because of hormonal changes or parenting experience. Researchers videotaped 89 new moms and dads taking care of their infants at home. They then measured parents’ brain activity in an MRI while the parents watched videos in which their children were not featured, followed by the footage shot in their home with their kids.

The 20 mothers in the study—all of whom were the primary caregivers—had heightened activity in the brain’s emotion-processing regions; the amygdala, a set of neurons that processes emotions, was five times more active than the baseline. The 21 heterosexual fathers had increased activity in their cognitive circuits, which helped them determine which of the baby’s body movements indicated the need for a new diaper and which ones signaled hunger.

The 48 gay fathers’ brain waves, on the other hand, responded similarly to both the heterosexual mom and dad. Their emotional circuits were as active as mothers’, and their cognitive circuits were as active as the fathers’. Researchers also found that the more time a gay father spent with the baby, the greater a connection there was between the emotional and cognitive structures.

Ruth Feldman, the study’s author and a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, wrote that changes in the amygdala occur in women due to pregnancy and childbirth hormones. Men’s brains, which are usually interpreting their child’s needs, only activate the emotion-processing amygdala when the mother isn’t around. For gay fathers, this means that their amygdala is working like a mother’s would all the time.

The researchers also tested levels of oxytocin, the bonding hormone, in all the parents and found no difference among the three groups. Feldman, an adjunct professor at Yale University, said this means all three groups are biologically ready for parenthood.

“Fathers’ brains are very plastic,” Ruth Feldman, the head of the study, said. “When there are two fathers, their brains must recruit both networks, the emotional and cognitive, for optimal parenting.”

Many U.S. adoption agencies do not accept applications from same-sex couples, and in some states it is against the law for a gay couple to apply jointly for custody of a child. This study suggests that, biologically, gay couples are fit to be parents as straight couples are, and could change the debate as to whether gay men should be allowed to adopt children.

Find out what kind of parent you are or shop newborn baby gifts.

Baby Names: Is It Too Popular?
Baby Names: Is It Too Popular?
Baby Names: Is It Too Popular?

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Four in 10 Infants Don’t Have Strong Parental Attachments

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

In a study of 14,000 U.S. children, 40 percent lack strong emotional bonds — what psychologists call “secure attachment” — with their parents that are crucial to success later in life, according to a new report. More from EurekaAlert.org:

In a report published by Sutton Trust, a London-based institute that has published more than 140 research papers on education and social mobility, researchers from Princeton University, Columbia University, the London School of Economics and Political Science and the University of Bristol found that infants under the age of three who do not form strong bonds with their mothers or fathers are more likely to be aggressive, defiant and hyperactive as adults. These bonds, or secure attachments, are formed through early parental care, such as picking up a child when he or she cries or holding and reassuring a child.

“When parents tune in to and respond to their children’s needs and are a dependable source of comfort, those children learn how to manage their own feeling and behaviors,” said Sophie Moullin, a joint doctoral candidate studying at Princeton’s Department of Sociology and the Office of Population Research, which is based at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. “These secure attachments to their mothers and fathers provide these children with a base from which they can thrive.”

Written by Moullin, Jane Waldfogel from Columbia University and the London School of Economics and Political Science and Elizabeth Washbrook from the University of Bristol, the report uses data collected by the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, a nationally representative U.S. study of 14,000 children born in 2001. The researchers also reviewed more than 100 academic studies.

Their analysis shows that about 60 percent of children develop strong attachments to their parents, which are formed through simple actions, such as holding a baby lovingly and responding to the baby’s needs. Such actions support children’s social and emotional development, which, in turn, strengthens their cognitive development, the researchers write. These children are more likely to be resilient to poverty, family instability, parental stress and depression. Additionally, if boys growing up in poverty have strong parental attachments, they are two and a half times less likely to display behavior problems at school.

The approximately 40 percent who lack secure attachments, on the other hand, are more likely to have poorer language and behavior before entering school. This effect continues throughout the children’s lives, and such children are more likely to leave school without further education, employment or training, the researchers write. Among children growing up in poverty, poor parental care and insecure attachment before age four strongly predicted a failure to complete school. Of the 40 percent who lack secure attachments, 25 percent avoid their parents when they are upset (because their parents are ignoring their needs), and 15 percent resist their parents because their parents cause them distress.

“This report clearly identifies the fundamental role secure attachment could have in narrowing that school readiness gap and improving children’s life chances. More support from health visitors, children’s centers and local authorities in helping parents improve how they bond with young children could play a role in narrowing the education gap,” said Conor Ryan, director of research at the Sutton Trust.

Susan Campbell, a professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh who studies social and emotional development in young children and infants, said insecure attachments emerge when primary caregivers are not “tuned in” to their infant’s social signals, especially their cries of distress during infancy.

“When helpless infants learn early that their cries will be responded to, they also learn that their needs will be met, and they are likely to form a secure attachment to their parents,” Campbell said. “However, when caregivers are overwhelmed because of their own difficulties, infants are more likely to learn that the world is not a safe place — leading them to become needy, frustrated, withdrawn or disorganized.”

The researchers argue that many parents — including middle-class parents — need more support to provide proper parenting, including family leave, home visits and income supports.

“Targeted interventions can also be highly effective in helping parents develop the behaviors that foster secure attachment. Supporting families who are at risk for poor parenting ideally starts early — at birth or even before,” said Waldfogel, a co-author of the report and a professor of social work and public affairs at Columbia.

Use our milestone tracker to keep tabs on Baby’s progress. 

Development Milestones: What to Expect at 6 Months
Development Milestones: What to Expect at 6 Months
Development Milestones: What to Expect at 6 Months

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Mom Creates Harness So Kids Get a Chance to Walk

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

Mom Debby Einatan was heartbroken when she first received news that her son Rotem, then 2, had no consciousness of his legs due to cerebral palsy. His condition inspired her to create a harness, called the Firefly Upsee, that allows wheelchair-bound small children to walk with a parent or adult. More from TODAY Moms:

On April 7, the Firefly Upsee Harness will be available for $540 plus shipping and fits children ages 3 to 8. Upsee includes double rubber shoes, a pair for parent and child each. The harness, which parents wear around their waists, consists of a soft material and resembles a wearable baby carrier.

Physical therapist Joseph Schreiber says the Upsee may be helpful for children to play and move more efficiently.

“It is always wonderful to see children, especially those with special needs, participating in a wide variety of fun and age-appropriate activities,” Schreiber, pediatrics president for the American Physical Therapy Association, told TODAY Moms in an email.

He recommends parents consult with physical therapists before purchasing a product such as Upsee to make sure it is safe and the right choice for the child.

Elnatan says being upright and bearing his or her own weight gives the child access to the world.

“[The child] can reach out and touch, something which is hard to do from a carriage or wheelchair,” Elnatan says.

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Life with Cerebral Palsy
Life with Cerebral Palsy
Life with Cerebral Palsy

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Strict Parenting May Raise Your Child’s Obesity Risk

Friday, March 21st, 2014

Parents who are “authoritarian,” very strict and unyielding when it comes to rules and boundaries, are more likely to have children who struggle with weight issues than parents who are “authoritative,” meaning that rules and boundaries are clear, but more open to discussion and explanation.  Time.com has more on a new study, which was conducted by Canadian researchers:

Until now, there hadn’t been a close look at how overall parenting style—how permissively or authoritatively parents interact with their kids on everything from homework to chores and getting along with their siblings—might affect children’s weight. “We looked at the general way that parents can affect their child’s obesity even if they are not trying to control specific health-related behaviors,” says the study’s lead author, Lisa Kakinami, a postdoctoral fellow at McGill University.

She and her colleagues followed a group of more than 37,000 children in Canada aged zero to 11 years, and asked parents about their interactions with their youngsters. The team queried parents about things like how they responded when their child did something they shouldn’t, and how much they praised their kids when they did something positive.

Based on their responses, Kakinami and her colleagues focused on two of the four well-established groups of parenting styles: authoritative, in which parents set rules and boundaries but explain their reasoning and show understanding when the rules are broken; and authoritarian, in which parents set strict rules but aren’t as open to discussing and explaining them to their children. (The others, at the opposite end of the spectrum, are uninvolved, in which parents communicate very little with their children and are virtually absent as authority figures; and permissive, in which parents make few demands and expect little self-control from their kids.)

Kakinami found that children of authoritarian parents were 30% more likely to be obese at 2 to 5 years old, and 37% more likely to be obese if they were 6 to 11 years old compared with children of authoritative parents.

While the study wasn’t designed to tease apart what might be contributing to the higher body mass indices (BMI) in the authoritarian households, pediatricians have some theories. “When a parent says absolutely ‘no,’ that becomes forbidden fruit, and kids may then value that more,” says Dr. Stephen Daniels, chair of pediatrics at the University of Colorado, who was not involved in the study, about certain kid-favorite foods such as sweets, soda and fast food that are high in calories.

Kakinami says there were hints that other factors may be at work as well. Authoritarian parents were less likely than authoritative moms and dads to praise their children or give them positive feedback for good behavior, regardless of whether it was related to their health. “The main difference in authoritative vs. authoritarian styles is the warmth expressed between the parent and child,” she says. “Authoritative parents ranked higher on praise than authoritarian parents.” And when their children misbehaved, authoritarian parents were “most likely to respond emotionally and punish the child but not tell them what they had done wrong.”

Image: Strict parent, via Shutterstock

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