Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Little Boys Need Help with Big Emotions

If you are a parent of a young boy you know that, despite the cultural stereotypes, boys feel strong emotions just as much as girls. Unfortunately, in our society we often (perhaps unwittingly) encourage boys to hide their emotions or “be a man.” I think more awareness to this issue has emerged in recent years, but it is still an important topic to consider.

New research is shedding light on the importance of helping young children, especially boys, learn how to cope with their powerful emotions. Researchers at the University of Illinois investigated how parents reacted to their toddlers’ negative emotions (e.g., anger and social fearfulness). Two possible parental reactions that were examined included:

-         minimizing the child’s emotions (e.g., saying, “stop acting like a baby”)
-         punishing the child for their emotional outburst (e.g., sent to room or having a toy taken away)

The results indicated a clear association between parents punishing their child for their emotions and a greater chance of the child being withdrawn or anxious at a later time point. Perhaps most importantly, this finding was stronger for little boys, especially those who experience more frequent negative emotions. Researchers point out that when parents punish children for negative feelings, they soon learn to hide their emotions and can become withdrawn or anxious.

As parents of young children, we deal with the negative emotions of our children every day. As an adult, this is mentally and emotional taxing. Sometimes it may seem easier to punish or scold your child for his or her outburst rather than helping them cope with the emotions. This research clearly shows, however, than remaining calm and talking with your child to help them understand their strong emotions will aid them more in the long term. Toddlers are sometimes overwhelmed by the strength of their emotions and they need our help. We have the opportunity (as challenges as it is) to model for them how to cope with difficult emotions.

ResearchBlogging.orgEngle, J., & McElwain, N. (2011). Parental Reactions to Toddlers' Negative Emotions and Child Negative Emotionality as Correlates of Problem Behavior at the Age of Three Social Development, 20 (2), 251-271 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9507.2010.00583.x

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

"Diaper Need" is About More than Just Diapers

Well, I am actually back to writing (at least periodically) here at The Thoughtful Parent. I hope there are still some readers out there. After adding baby #2 to our family in April 2013, time for blogging pretty much disappeared for awhile. I hope to start posting regularly once again. Now on to the research...

Once again, one of my favorite authors and bloggers, Dr. Claudia Gold, has turned my attention to a unique line of research that is both socially significant and practical. Several recent studies in major journals have shown the impact of "diaper need" on mothers' mental health. As you might expect, "diaper need" is defined as a mother not having reliable access to clean diapers for their baby. These studies have indicated that "diaper need" is one of the most important impacts on mothers' mental state. This is disturbing when you find out that as many as one-third of mothers in poverty report being uncertain of their diaper supply. Additionally, government assistance programs like Food Stamps do not cover diapers (I didn't know that!).

Now this may seem like an unlikely line of research, but when you think about it, you wonder why researchers haven't considered this issue earlier. We mothers all know how it feels to be at home with a baby who is fussy or colicky and we aren't sure how to soothe him or her. This alone is stressful. Now add to the picture the fact that your child may be crying because of a soiled diaper that you cannot replace. How distressing is that?

This issue really goes to the core of the mother-child relationship. What research as told us time and again is that when a mother feels she cannot adequately soothe or comfort her child, this becomes very distressing and can complicate or diminish her own mental health. The mothers' depression or anxiety may then further inhibit her from adequately responding to the baby's needs in a positive way. You can see how this could be a vicious cycle.

There are some excellent programs out there to help mothers in need. Explore the National Diaper Bank Network to find a local diaper bank and other resources. Providing diapers to mothers who may not have adequate access to them is just one simple step in a long-term process of helping establish close, affectionate relationships between mothers and their babies.


  • Diaper need impacts the physical, mental & economic well-being  of children & parents.
  • Most child care centers require parents to provide  a day’s supply of disposable diapers.
  • 31% of infants & toddlers with at least one parent who works full-time  live in low-income families.
  • Medicaid covers over 1/3 of all births in the U.S. each year,  yet government programs do not provide diapers as a basic need for babies.
  • Diaper Banks Help Meet Diaper Need  by Providing Diapers to 1.2 Million Infants & Toddlers Each Year.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

What Temperamentally Sensitive Babies Can Teach Us

Did you hear this great NPR story about babies sensitivity level and their later resilience? Scientists are learning to understand the difference between babies with varying degrees of nervous system sensitivity. Knowing this can help them understand how some kids are able to be more resilient in the face of challenges, such as poverty, while others are less so. It turns out that babies with sensitive temperaments are more vulnerable to outside influences (particularly parental responsiveness) in both good and bad ways. In the best of situations, with responsive, attentive caregivers, these sensitive children tend to thrive and often have fewer later behavior problems than even their less-sensitive peers. In less-than-ideal settings in which caregivers are not responsive to their needs, these sensitive children often exhibit problematic behavior later in life.

I've written about this topic here several times, but I continue to be amazed by this research. It has the potential to be so hopeful. Babies with sensitive temperaments are often fussy and irritable as infants and yet, with the proper care, they can grow to thrive. Although we often think of temperament as an innate, unchangeable characteristic, this research clearly shows that how temperament plays out over a lifetime is largely up to one's environment, especially parents and caregivers.

Photo credit

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Tips for a Child-Centered Disney Vacation

So you may read the title of this post and think it sounds ridiculous. How can a Disney World vacation not be child-centered, right? Well, having just returned from a Disney family vacation, you would be surprised at how not so child-centered it can be; but only if you allow it.

My husband and 3 year-old son joined our extended family for a trip to Disney World around the holidays. Disclaimer 1: We are not huge Disney fans, but our other family is and we went to join them for a family celebration. In general, I enjoy Disney movies and my son watches some of them. However, I'm not a fan of some of Disney's marketing practices (like marketing to newborns) and I do think it contributes to the vast over-commercialization of childhood. That being said, we decided this was a good time to join our family on the trip and for our son to see Disney with his extended family.

Disclaimer 2: My background is in Sociology so I tend to approach large social gatherings (like Disney World) from perhaps a more analytic/social science perspective and that's part of the goal of this post. My other goal with this post is to really offer some tips for those who may be planning a trip to Disney (or other similar amusement parks) with young children on how to enjoy the trip and not overwhelm your child.

1. Lower your expectations. For many families, a visit to a park like Disney World comes with a lot of anticipation and high expectations. Most families save money for months for a trip like this and if the kids know about the trip ahead of time, they are probably dizzy with anticipation. If you are traveling with young children (under 6), I encourage you to dial down your expectations of how much you will be able to reasonably see.
We visited Disney World at a very busy time (near New Year's) and it was evident that high expectations were clearly at play. Those of you with young children know that they are easily over-stimulated and do not usually handle waiting well. These factors combined with large crowds make for a difficult combination in a place like Disney World. I saw many miserable kids waiting in lines or sitting in strollers for long periods of time. Many families seemed reluctant to cut the day short because they wanted their children to see one more thing or ride one more ride. I would encourage parents to not be afraid to leave if your child gets overwhelmed and just can't cope with over-stimulation any more.

2. Let the kids play. When your arrive at a park like Disney (especially at a crowded time), there is a tendency to make a mad dash to do as many attractions/rides as possible. Of course, the rides and shows are the main point, but try to allow your children some time to just hang out and play. On our visit we found several play areas for young kids and let our son run free for awhile. This does a world of good for keeping young children in good spirits. In fact, our son said several times, while waiting to get on a ride or other event, "I just want to go play." This speaks volumes, doesn't it?

3. Allow kids have (age appropriate) input in the agenda. With time and financial constraints at work in a place like Disney World, it is easy for adults to completely run the agenda and not let the kids have some sort of say in what happens. Of course, young children cannot completely dictate the schedule, but allowing them even a little input in what you do each day can really keep them on track. My son is only 3.5 but we would ask him which order he would like to do things or pick one ride he wanted to ride again, etc. This really helped him stay motivated when we were doing something he was not as excited about.

4. Take the time to see a few characters (of your child's choice). I think many parents do wait in line (sometimes very lengthy lines) to see the Disney characters that their child wants to see. This may seem like a waste of time, but I think it really was worth it to take the time to do this. For very young children with vivid imaginations, the idea of having a favorite character come to life right in front of them is really special. I really enjoyed seeing my son get excited to see a couple of his favorite characters (especially the ones that aren't masked and can talk). Personally, I felt like this was more enjoyable than many of the rides. Depending on your child's interests and personality, this may be worth the extra time.

5. Come prepared. This is probably an obvious one for most parents, but coming prepared with plenty of snacks, drinks, etc. is crucial to helping your child enjoy the day. If the park is crowded like it was when we went, your child may spend quite a long time sitting in a stroller or waiting in line. Having snacks and drinks handy for these times was essential. You are allowed to bring snacks and water into the park in a bag or backpack so you don't have to rely solely on expensive park food.

*Most importantly, don't forget this is supposed to be fun.* With all the build-up that comes with a trip to Disney World (or similar park), it's important to remind yourself that is supposed to be fun, not work. Some parents I saw looked like they were on a mission to get as many events accomplished in one day as possible. Personally, this sounds like a recipe for disaster to me. A trip like this is tiring, especially with young children, but try to remember to just enjoy the time spend with your family and not put too much pressure on yourself.

In the end, I was glad we took this trip to Disney World, even though we are not huge fans. It was great to spend time with family and nice to see my son enjoy the park with the innocence of a young child.