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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Friday, June 20th, 2014
The Swedish town of Hallstahammars is reportedly considering a school-sanctioned ban on homework, in an attempt to encourage students to learn efficiently, which means minimizing the stress that can come with an unmanageable homework load. More from ABC News:
Leena Millberg, the head of schools in Hallstahammars, said officials for the municipal government are still investigating if the proposal to ban homework makes sense. However, the students of Hallstahammars shouldn’t jump for joy just yet. Millberg said if the proposal does go through it’s likely that the school day would be lengthened.
“When children learn to read, for example … we often give them homework to train,” Millberg told ABC News. “If we want to do that in the school day, we may need to make the school day a bit longer.”
The debate is not unique to the town hall of Hallstahammars, according to education experts.
Arguments for and against homework have raged on and off for decades according to Harris Cooper, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, who has researched how homework impacts families.
“It comes in waves,” said Cooper. “Generally it comes into public consciousness, giving kids too much or too little, depending on broader societal [news].”
Cooper said when a country’s reading or math comprehension is ranked lower than expected it can lead officials to want to ramp up homework. However, when studies show children are overworked or stressed, Cooper said officials will look at pulling back on assignments. In 2012, French President Francoise Hollande proposed banning homework in the country, though that proposal did not go through.
Cooper said he did not know of a country or region that has fully banned homework from schools. “Homework has been with us for a century,” said Cooper.
Image: Girl doing homework, via Shutterstock
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Monday, March 24th, 2014
When it comes to getting pregnant, there’s the old saying, “Stop worrying. It will happen once you stop trying.” Well, now there is a new study to back it up. During the study, those with high alpha-amylase levels (a sign of long-term stress) had double the risk of infertility. The New York Times reports:
Over four years, 401 women who were stopping contraception and trying to have a baby underwent saliva testing for two stress-related substances: the enzyme alpha-amylase, and the hormone cortisol. The women provided a saliva sample upon enrollment in the study, and then another at their first observed menstrual period, so that comparisons between the women could be made from the same starting point.
Researchers analyzed the samples and then followed the women to see how long it took them to become pregnant. Women who became pregnant during the first month of the study (before they could give a second saliva sample) were also included in the analysis.
The scientists defined infertility as a failure to become pregnant after 12 months of unprotected intercourse. During the study, published Monday in Human Reproduction, 347 women became pregnant and 54 did not.
There was no association of cortisol with fertility. But those whose alpha-amylase levels were in the highest third, a sign of longstanding stress, had more than double the risk of infertility. The scientists controlled for age, race, income and other health and socioeconomic factors.
The lead author, Courtney D. Lynch, director of reproductive epidemiology at Ohio State University, said that if a woman was having difficulty becoming pregnant, it would be harmless, and might be helpful, to consider stress-reduction techniques.
“Yoga, meditation, mindfulness have been successful in other health outcomes,” she said, “and might be helpful for fertility as well.”
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Image: Young caucasian girl sitting and checking pregnant test over white via ShutterStock
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Wednesday, February 5th, 2014
Infants, who are far from having the ability to express their emotions, nonetheless are able to sense–and feel–when their mothers are experiencing stress, according to a new study conducted by researchers in New York and California. More from The Huffington Post:
“Your infant may not be able to tell you that you seem stressed or ask you what is wrong, but our work shows that, as soon as she is in your arms, she is picking up on the bodily responses accompanying your emotional state and immediately begins to feel in her own body your own negative emotion,” study researcher Sara Waters, of New York University, said in a statement. Waters worked with researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, on the Psychological Science study.
For the study, researchers examined emotion and heart rate in babies whose mothers were put through a stressful task. The study included 69 mothers and their 12- to 14-month-old babies, all of whom had cardiovascular sensors attached to them to record heart rate.
The researchers separated the mothers and babies so that the mothers could give a five-minute speech and go through a five-minute Q & A session. Evaluators were assigned to review each mother’s speech and Q & A session, giving either positive, negative or no feedback. The mothers who received the negative feedback had more negative emotions and fewer positive emotions, as well as increased cardiac stress, after undergoing this experience.
Then, the researchers reunited the mothers with their babies. Within minutes of going back to their mothers, the babies seemed to “track” their mother’s stress response, in the effort of an increased heart rate. And the greater the other’s stress response, the greater the baby’s response seemed to be.
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Image: Stressed out mom, via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, January 14th, 2014
Holding babies, particularly those who are born prematurely, directly against a mother’s body in a technique called “skin-to-skin contact” or “kangaroo care” may have benefits for babies that last years into their development. More from LiveScience:
In the study, the researchers asked 73 mothers to give their babies skin-to-skin contact for one hour per day for two weeks. For comparison, the researchers also looked at 73 premature infants who only spent time in an incubator — the standard form of care for premature infants.
At age 10, the children who had received maternal contact as infants slept better, showed better hormonal response to stress, had a more mature functioning of their nervous system and displayed better thinking skills.
The results show that adding “maternal-infant contact in the neonatal period has a favorable impact on stress physiology and behavioral control across long developmental epochs in humans,” Ruth Feldman, a professor of psychology at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, and her colleagues wrote in their study, published Jan. 1 in the journal Biological Psychiatry.
About 12 percent of infants in the United States and other industrialized societies are born prematurely, which is defined as at least three weeks before their due date. Rates of preterm birth are significantly higher in developing countries. Premature babies face a higher risk of lifelong problems such as intellectual disabilities, breathing problems, hearing loss and digestive problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Image: Mom holding infant, via Shutterstock
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