Before very recently, I didn’t either.
It makes intuitive sense that health outcomes would be worse for a child who has experienced trauma. They are likely to cope with the experiences by adopting unhealthy habits such as smoking or drinking, and these behavioral coping mechanisms have costly effects on health. Interestingly, the toxic stress itself can have a lasting impact on the brain and body. It disrupts neurodevelopment and the stress response system, creating a hyper vigilant state of being accompanied by skyrocketing, unnecessary levels of stress hormones like cortisol.
In 1998, the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACEs) study was published. Looking at over 17,000 participants at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in San Diego, the researchers found a very strong correlation between childhood trauma and adult health outcomes. The researchers included 10 highly stressful events for their measure of ACEs including:
A dose-wise relationship was found, meaning that for every ACE a person experienced, the worse their health outcomes were as an adult. This relationship holds true for over 40 different health outcomes from heart disease to depression. Shockingly, ACEs predict the development of 7 out of 10 of the leading causes of death and having an ACE score of 6 results in a 20 year reduction in lifespan compared to a person with 0 ACEs, on average.
Yikes. This study discovered some pretty dreadful information, especially considering over 60% of the population has experienced at least one ACE.
“Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are the single greatest unaddressed public health threat facing our nation today.”
Robert Block, former President of the American Academy of Pediatrics
This summer, I worked on a research project with the OPEC team at the Hallie Ford Center (funded through the SURE Science program at Oregon State University) that assessed how Oregon healthcare systems are incorporating ACEs science and parenting education into practice. Healthcare systems are an excellent avenue to help families develop this important concept of resilience that I mentioned above. By screening all families for ACEs, practitioners can identify those who are at risk and connect them with helpful resources such as parenting education, therapy, support groups, or stress reduction techniques. These connections can help families both cope with trauma that has occurred and prevent additional ACEs from happening.
As a piece of my research, I had the privilege to interview some of the leaders in the area of ACEs. The interviewees included family care practitioners, researchers, and parenting education professionals. Here are a few selected quotes that highlight some of the emerging themes.
Why ACEs? Why trauma informed care?
“CCOs started looking into ACEs because they wanted to provide preventative care and get to the root of illness and then the more they looked into ACEs they realized what a strong correlation— actually causation there is between ACEs and physical and mental health and well being.”
“How do we cut cost and improve health? Well we go upstream and prevent ACEs as much as possible to improve the health of the community.”
“We get the majority of our parenting information from how our parents treated us… if that’s a negative experience, how do we change the trajectory to help prevent that from happening again?”
“Trauma informed care is looking at the underlying cause to the problem, not just treating the physical symptoms.”
What does this look like in practice?
“Our intervention is primarily doing what we already do as pediatricians: giving advice about positive parenting and doing this even more intentionally for families who have trauma histories.”
“Asking, listening, and accepting as a powerful form of doing is a very important idea.”
Addressing the commonly held belief that families will fight the process:
“We have screened over 440,000 people at Kaiser and have had 0 patient complaints.”
“What I’ve found over and over again in parents who have had these experiences is that there’s a worry in the back of their mind that they will pass this on to their kids, and so they’re usually more relieved than anything else when we ask about ACEs…Families often see their pediatrician as a trusted bridge to services so if we have these conversations in a meaningful way with them then they view it as a way they can get the help that they need. They don’t fight the conversation.”
Recognizing a stigma:
“Many of the these things are too uncomfortable to think about or have been taught very successfully to us as small children that “Nice people don’t talk about it, and my God don’t ask questions about it.”
From these insights, it became clear that this ACEs screening and intervention can be transformative for the way pediatric and family healthcare is approached. It enables the important shift from “What’s wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?”. Despite the benefits of screening for ACEs, I identified some major barriers to implementation including a lack of time, a lack of resources to provide to families, the absence of a universal screening process, and provider discomfort. Those practices who were able to overcome these barriers and implement ACEs screening were met with positive results. They were able to support families with connections and resources and help them to build resilience.
Well, resilience can be strengthened in many ways, especially through the secure and consistent attachment of one meaningful adult relationship. By helping families build these positive relationships with their children, parents can become that person who acts as a buffer against hardship and stress. Parents can also benefit from the knowledge of ACEs science because they can recognize the severe impact that ACEs can have on their family and start finding resources to help them.
If we can create a society that is aware of the lasting health outcomes resulting from ACEs, then we can ignite people to change and work toward preventing ACEs from occurring in the first place. Although the conversation of ACEs is commonly seen as taboo in our society, it is important that we address it. We need a multi-generational approach where resilience is built and toxic stress is reduced.
If organizations and people come together to address ACEs, we can improve the health and well being of families and children for years to come.
There are some excellent resources where you can learn more about the science of ACEs, toxic stress, and resilience:
If you join the Ford Family Foundation Select Books program, you can be delivered a free copy of the book “The Deepest Well” by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris. Nadine explores the science of ACEs and how she utilizes ACEs knowledge in her practice.
How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime”
Ted Talk by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris on ACEs
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention- CDC on ACEs
An interesting video on ACEs-
“Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study.”
Building Resiliency: Preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)
Trauma Informed Oregon
Center on the Developing Child- Harvard University: Aces and Toxic Stress Frequently Asked Questions
Center on the Developing Child- Harvard University: Information about Resilience
Center on the Developing Child- Harvard University: Information about Toxic Stress
This article discusses parent perspective on ACEs screening.
Felitti, V. J., Anda, R. F., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D. F., Spitz, A. M., Edwards, V., . . . Marks, J. S. (1998). Relationship of Childhood Abuse and Household Dysfunction to Many of the Leading Causes of Death in Adults. American Journal of Preventive Medicine,14(4), 245-258.
Photo 1 by Bess Hamiti on Pexels.com
Toxic Stress. (n.d.). Retrieved October 30, 2018, from https://developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/toxic-stress/
Violence Prevention. (2016, April 01). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/
We were watching Finding Nemo the other day, and I yawned…about 500 million times. As I stared at Marlin doing everything in his power to find his little Nemo, I started thinking about what I do when I am desperate for parenting answers in my own life. I sat back and wished that life would just emulate Pixar magic, and we could all live happily ever after as clownfish in our sea anemone homes. Yet, this is not the case, especially for parents searching for sleep advice that will give their children the rest they need for normal and healthy development, while simultaneously providing a needed extension of their own REM sleep.
While we may have many personal reasons for wanting to figure out ways to ensure the right amount of sleep for our kids, the most important reasons center around the wellbeing of our children. Listed below are a few key reminders for why sleep is so important for children:
In parenting, there comes a time when you are faced with the stark realization that you may not have all the answers. This moment typically occurs after a few sleepless nights with a newborn, when your head is spinning, and the only thing that you find remotely comforting is the warm glow of Google’s homepage lighting up as you frantically type into the search bar “How to get a 3 month old to sleep more than 4 hours at a time.” You quickly realize that this is NOT comforting at all, as you attempt to decipher multiple websites, blog posts, and parent-discussion forums online. After scouring an overwhelming number of search results, you are typically faced with the following sound and totally reliable advice:
If your baby is not sleeping through the night, it might be because you are putting him to bed too late causing him to be overtired (and messing with an already imperfect sleep schedule). Or, it could be that you are putting your baby to bed too early, and maybe she isn’t tired (I mean, really, what were you thinking trying to catch up on that Netflix series that you stopped watching, ohhh approximately three months ago).
Well folks, these are the options we face according to Dr. Google: a baby that is overtired and needs to go to bed a wee bit earlier, OR a baby that just isn’t tired, and should stay up later to party with you all. night. long 🎉 Clear as mud right?
While it is abundantly clear that this format of contradicting parenting advice runs rampant across every online search engine, there is good news here that I am happy to share.
→ ZERO TO THREE Understand the role parents and caregivers play in building healthy sleep habits for children.
Bookmark this site. Zero to Three is one of the most reliable sources for online parenting information and resources. The site shares the science of early learning in quick and easy-to-digest posts that can be filtered and searched according to your many parenting needs.
→HEALTHYCHILDREN.ORG Sleep is just as important to your children’s development and well-being as nutrition and physical activity.
HealthyChildren.org is the ‘sister site’ of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and is backed by over 65,000 pediatricians. Even better, the majority of resources are available in both Spanish and English. We like this site for the variety of articles that all go toward promoting healthy development of children. For children ages 0-12 months, there is an external link with super special parenting advice for young ones.
The Bedtime Calculator is based on the sleep duration recommendations of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine for children and adults.
Sometimes, we just need to know the basics (like how much sleep a child age 2 really needs). This calculator isn’t ‘pretty’ per se, and it is deeply embedded in the article (*hint: you will have to scroll a few times), but it is fun to put in the age of your child and what time you would like said child to wake up, and see just what time the experts (at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine) recommend you go to bed. For the calculator, there is a minimum age of 1 year, but if you note the bullet points directly under the sleep calculator there is a great summary of sleep recommendations for children 4 months old and up. Happy calculating!
At the end of the day (literally), there are countless parenting resources out there. If you decide to jump in and start deciphering the madness, remember these few tips (and questions to ask yourself) for deciding if the information is reliable:
For a comprehensive guide on how to spot credible parenting advice, check out this one-pager from MommaDATA.org which includes a helpful list of questions to ask yourself as you determine the quality of online parenting resources.
If there is one thing to take away from this article, please remember that despite all of the information that is available to you online, you can (and should) trust your own instincts and follow advice that works best for your child, and for yourself.
If Finding Nemo can teach us anything on our path to finding sleep, it is to remember that if we just keep swimming we will eventually find ourselves ready to tackle a new day of being the best parents that we can be.
HealthyChildren.org. “Sleep.” 1 August 2018 <https://www.healthychildren.org/English/healthy-living/sleep/Pages/default.asp>.
MommaDATA.org. “How to Spot Credible Parenting News or Advice” 6 August 2018
SleepEducation.org. “Make Time to Sleep.” 1 August 2018 <http://www.sleepeducation.org/healthysleep/Make-Time-2-Sleep-Bedtime-Calculator>.
WebMD. “Good, Sound Sleep for Your Child.” 6 August 2018 <https://www.webmd.com/children/features/good-sound-sleep-for-children#1
Zero to Three. “Sleep.” 1 August 2018. <https://www.zerotothree.org/early-development/sleep>.
To Cite This Post:
Lewis, K. (2018, August 7). While My Kids Find Nemo, I’ll Find Sleep [Blog post]. Retrieved from<https://orparenting.org/2018/08/07/while-my-kid-finds-nemo-ill-find-sleep/>.
Karley Lewis is a member of the OSU Parenting Education Team at Oregon State University, which supports the Oregon Parenting Education Collaborative (OPEC). She holds a Masters degree in Psychological Science from California State University, Chico. Karley is a new-ish mom who is having fun trying to learn the ropes of parenting. In her free time, she enjoys hanging out with family, playing a mean game of coed softball, painting and exploring the food and fun of Corvallis. To contact her, please email: email@example.com. *Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of the Oregon Parenting Education Collaborative or Oregon State University.
⇒ Download our corresponding research handout:
Spotlight on Parenting Research: Boost Math Skills by Engaging Children in the Home
If you are like me, you may have started to read parenting books while pregnant. Then, if you are like me, you may have tossed all of your parenting books out the window when you realized there was nothing in the book to prepare you for your new and exciting (albeit sleep deprived) journey into parenthood. Regardless, most parenting books do a thorough job of explaining the importance of reading to your child, which is good because there is no question about the benefits of reading to your child (especially at an early age). There is actually a shocking amount of information on Google (approximately 390,000,000 entries – in case you are wondering) regarding the importance of reading. I especially love the tips for parents that insist you do not worry about reading every word on the page, and instead encourage your child to turn the pages at their own free will. Can I just say…this is incredibly difficult for my neurotic mindset. Let me finish the last word on the page, child!
While there is a lot of support for parents in promoting early literacy, there is less information and less support when we think about early math, but as it turns out, math is important too (shocking!). Mention math to parents and you may be witness to a heavy sigh that inherently drums up dormant childhood nightmares of long division, imaginary numbers, probabilities and the all time fan favorite…fractions. Math can be really hard, but let’s just take a second and transport ourselves back to the kindergarten classroom.
Remember that time when you were treated to an activity with those small dixie cups and piles of colorful (and delicious) M&Ms? We sorted, we counted, and then we ate. Life was good. Let’s just live in that little memory bubble for the duration of this post…and also, let’s just pretend that I don’t pull out my phone to do basic math… hah, just kidding. Everyone does that.
Researchers at Purdue University have recently finished up a study looking at the benefits of early math and literacy skills for preschool children. Participants included 114 preschool aged children and their parents. Parents were asked to report how often they engaged in early math and literacy activities with their child by answering questions such as “…how often did you and your child engage in the following activities?” and then rating on a scale of never (0) to multiple times per day (5). In both fall and spring, researchers visited classrooms to measure children’s early math and literacy skills. The idea was that researchers could test whether engagement in early math and early literacy activities in the home (with parents) was having any impact on how children performed on assessments measuring these different skill sets. According to lead researcher, Amy Napoli, a doctoral student at Purdue University, “Exposure to basic numbers and math concepts at home were predictive, even more so than storybook reading or other literacy-rich interactions, of improving preschool children’s general vocabulary.”
While researchers acknowledge that more work needs to be done in this area, these findings indicate that young children benefit when parents engage them in activities that promote early math skills. In fact, engaging in math activities may actually help children with both math and literacy skills. According to the researchers, this is likely due to the amount of language inherently tied up in exposing children to early math. For example, when you ask children to place all of the lion cookies on one side of the plate, and all of the monkey cookies on the other, and then ask them to count the cookies on either side, you are asking them to engage both language and math skills – bingo!
By incorporating basic math in our conversations, young children are practicing complex language skills and we are opening up more opportunities for dialogue and communication.
Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if there were a few child books that also included math concepts too? You’re in luck, there are. Here are a few to try out:
Also, check out this resource from National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) website for a few activities to try out in the home or on the go.
Reading is super important (do it often!), but math is too, and it can be fun to think of new ways to include math concepts in your conversations and the activities that you do with your child. *Bonus: maybe along the way, you can rekindle your love for math – just kidding: there aren’t enough M&Ms in the world for that. #BEthePARENT
Holland, S. [simoncholland]. (2015, August 12). Just sent my daughter & her math homework into a clothing store at the mall because people there are always asking if they can help you [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/simoncholland/status/631621918915821568
Napoli, A. R., & Purpura, D. J. (2018). The home literacy and numeracy environment in preschool: Cross-domain relations of parent–child practices and child outcomes. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 166, 581-603.
Purdue University. “Engaging children in math at home equals a boost in more than just math skills.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 November 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171110164020.htm>.
To Cite This Post:
Lewis, K. (2018, January 30). Parents: Reading is great (!), but math is your friend, too [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://orparenting.org/2018/01/31/parents-reading-is-great-but-math-is-your-friend-too/
Karley Lewis is a member of the OSU Parenting Education Team at Oregon State University, which supports the Oregon Parenting Education Collaborative (OPEC). She holds a Masters degree in Psychological Science from California State University, Chico. Karley is a new-ish mom who is having fun trying to learn the ropes of parenting. In her free time, she enjoys hanging out with family, playing a mean game of coed softball, painting and exploring the food and fun of Corvallis. To contact her, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of the Oregon Parenting Education Collaborative or Oregon State University.
For better or for worse, I entered motherhood with zero expectations for the impressively large changes that such a tiny little human being could have on my life. Now, when I look back at the time that our daughter was born, I am immediately overwhelmed with feelings of joy, pride, hope, and yes, even a touch of nervous anxiety. When friends ask me to share the details of my parenthood journey, I am likely to focus in on the fun times because, after all, these happy memories are the moments of our social media glory. Her first smile, her first words, the first time she looked me directly in the eye and said ‘mum.’
Unless you were a close friend, I probably wouldn’t tell you about the neverending days holed up in the hospital to treat my daughter’s jaundice, or about those many sleepless nights leading to zombie-esque days (hello coffee!). I wouldn’t tell you that I struggled to maintain friendships or how it felt mind numbingly confusing to figure out how to juggle major career decisions with a brand new baby at home.
For me, the opportunity to be a parent is the single largest blessing and challenge in my life. For most of us, that’s how life goes. The things you work the hardest for are often the most rewarding. And friends, parents are the hardest workers I know. Pre-children, I actually had no concept of this. My parent friends would say ‘parenting is hard,’ or that they ‘couldn’t come out to our barbeque because it was scheduled during nap time’.
Don’t get me wrong, I was ‘ understanding’ in every sense of the word, but let’s be real, I did not understand. Parent friends of my past, please hear me: I get it now (better late than never?).
A quick search for popular ‘parenting’ blogs on the internet will yield a number of fantastic posts that provide an honest glimpse of parenthood. Some are shockingly raw, and some, a bit over the top, but as a new parent, it has always helped me to know that I am not the only one tripping over my metaphorical shoelaces on this adventure we call parenting.
Parenting in today’s modern era has afforded me a number of resources that were not available to my own parents. I use the Glow Baby app to track her every nap, feed, poop and pee (gross!). I also use the Notabli app to privately share the cutest of photos with all of her nearest and dearest. We have this cute little owl in her bedroom that plays songs for a designated amount of time and then lights up her room with a brilliant starry night sky. We also use a fun and research-based app called Vroom to get inspired to do daily brain building activities. Despite all of these devices meant to ease the burden of parenting, it is still really hard sometimes! Do you ever wonder how those parents on the Oregon Trail made it here with their little ones (despite the fact that the classic computer game always had my wagon sinking in the river, probably karma for shooting all of the buffalo when I had the chance)?
What I didn’t expect when my daughter was born, was to become addicted to my old friend Google. I would be ashamed to share many of the questions that I have googled after becoming a new parent. This reality hit me hard the other night when I entered the following search terms into that blinking and ever ready text box: ‘12 month bedtime routines, Screaming, Crying / No cry it out’. Is that how you spell desperation? As my husband walked into her room to attempt take five of a game we play called ‘calm her down and sneak out of the room.’ I told him, “Wait! just let me Google this first.”
He looked at me warily, with tired eyes and calmly said
“There is nothing left to Google.”
That’s when I first figured it out. Google is not the answer to every life question. Google cannot calm a crying baby or ease the pain of teething for your little one. Google can however confuse the heck out of you. Millions of forums with parents debating the age old ‘cry it out’ question will likely leave you staring blankly at your phone screen until the wee hours of the morning.
Deep breath. I’ve decided to break my Google addiction and to narrow my focus to websites that provide quality parenting information only. Don’t get me wrong, Google is not the enemy, but it is also not the answer to all of life’s problems. I want to think of it as a magical tool used to locate high quality resources floating beneath the layers and layers of misinformation tangled in the interwebs.
I am now very fortunate to spend my workdays searching for high quality parenting information as part of the OSU Parenting Education Team. The OPEC website will soon be launching a page of dedicated high quality parent resources so that the next time you are up at 3am desperately asking Google how to navigate the teething process, you will have some framework to know which sites to trust and which sites to trash. Even if you say no to Google, let’s face it…Google happens. It happens late at night when you change a diaper and it happens early in the morning when your child refuses to eat.
To develop these parenting resources, the OPEC team is looking to hear from parents and anyone who supports parents to learn what kinds of resources would be most helpful. We are launching a new campaign called #BEthePARENT that will center on the development of parenting resources that will help you to be the be the parent that you want to be. You are invited to be part of this journey by giving us your honest feedback. We will listen, and we will create.
Most importantly, parents should know that every child is unique. I don’t mean this in some phony bumper sticker kind of way. I mean it to say that you know your child best, so it’s not always necessary to depend on outside information (research-based or not) to get your answers. If you ever feel lonely or disconnected on your own parenting journey just remember that there are many parents out there going through similar situations. You can also take a parenting class to connect and learn more from other parents and instructors.
Now to cheese it up: Put the phone down, say goodbye to Google, take a deep breath and be the best parent you can be.
Karley Lewis is a member of the OSU Parenting Education Team at Oregon State University. She holds a Masters degree in Psychological Science from California State University, Chico. Karley is a new-ish mom who is having fun trying to learn the ropes of parenting. In her free time, she enjoys hanging out with family, playing a mean game of coed softball, painting and exploring the food and fun of Corvallis. To contact her, please email: email@example.com.
*Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of the Oregon Parenting Education Collaborative or Oregon State University.
Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. This simple phrase is a common component of mindfulness, which has become a powerful tool in teaching parents and young children how to regulate their emotions and behaviors. Mindfulness is defined as maintaining a state of awareness and attention to your thoughts and emotions and being fully present in each and every moment. Being mindful means that we try not to let what happened in the past or what will happen in the future distract us from experiencing what is going on right now, in the present moment. Mindfulness can be particularly beneficial for parents because it allows us to be in tune with ourselves, which helps us to develop better relationships with our children. We also become more aware of certain emotional cues that may produce unwanted reactions in response to our children’s behavior. Many say that mindfulness, or really being present, is a parent’s greatest gift to his/her children.
For adults, the most common way to cultivate mindfulness is through meditation-based exercises. During these activities, adults practice focusing their attention on their moment-to moment experiences, which often involves concentrating on the breath as it moves in out and out of their bodies. When a thought comes into the mind, adults are instructed to acknowledge the thought, but then redirect their attention back to the breath. These types of purposeful and reflective mindfulness exercises train our brains to rely less on automatic and emotional reactions (which we then often ruminate over!), and instead choose kinder and more compassionate responses.
Research suggests that adults who practice mindfulness incur many benefits, including reductions in overall stress levels and improvements in physical health, brain functioning, memory, attention, and social-emotional skills, such as coping, empathy, and emotion regulation.
In recent years, scholars have begun to explore the benefits of practicing mindfulness for young children. It was once thought that mindfulness was too abstract and complex for children to understand; however, new research suggests that when presented with developmentally appropriate activities, children as young as four years old can grasp the core aspects of mindfulness and enjoy mindfulness exercises. This research also demonstrates that children who participate in mindfulness exercises show improvements in their self-regulation and social-emotional competence. Specifically, mindfulness exercises have been shown to help children develop the skills needed to pay attention, remember and follow instructions, adapt to changing situations, wait their turn, regulate emotions, and engage in prosocial behaviors. Although most of these studies have taken place in preschool settings, parents can engage in mindfulness exercises with their children at home too. Below, we provide some ideas for parents for practicing mindfulness with their young children.
Breathing meditation can be done anywhere (e.g., in the car, waiting in line), but the easiest place to get started is in a quiet comfortable space at home. To begin, either sit in a comfortable position with your child or lie down. Then, ask your child to close his/her eyes and take deep breaths, in and out, through his/her nose and concentrate on the breath. You may want to have your child place his/her hand on the belly to feel as it goes up and down with his/her breath. For young children, placing a stuffed animal on the belly when they are lying down can also help them visualize the breath going in and out of their bodies. Practice breathing in and out with your child and explain why breathing is so important to us (e.g., it brings oxygen to our lungs, can help us feel relaxed, and can help us calm down if we are feeling upset). When you first begin to practice mindful breathing with your child, he/she may only be able to concentrate for a short amount of time (e.g., 30 seconds for a 4-year-old); however, over time and with continued practice, your child will be able to concentrate for longer periods of time.
Walking meditation can be a fun and engaging mindfulness exercise for children as you are on your way to school or a neighbor’s house or if you’re on a hike! Paying close attention to how we feel as we walk and what is going on around us can help us bring awareness to the present moment. To start a walking mediation, ask your child to pay attention to how his/her feet feel as they are walking on the ground (e.g., does the ground feel hard under your feet or soft? Bumpy or smooth?). Next, ask your child to pay attention to the sites and sounds he/she sees and hears (e.g., do you hear birds? Cars? Wind?). For some children, it can help to make walking meditation more of a game. For example, you could pretend to be turtles walking silently and slowly, paying attention to your legs as they move up and down. After a few minutes, try walking even slower! Or, you could pretend to be foxes, walking as slowly, steadily, and silently as you can as you search for food or hide from a mountain lion. As you are walking like foxes, ask your child to pay close attention to his/her feet to make sure he/she is walking as quietly as possible and listening to the sounds around him/her.
Yoga is another mindfulness activity that children of all ages can enjoy and benefit from. When practicing the poses with your child, it is important to help him/her focus on their breath (e.g., let’s hold the pose for three long breaths, 1 – 2 – 3). There are many yoga poses that children enjoy, including, but not limited to, tree pose, frog pose, and downward dog. To get into tree pose, ask your child to stand up tall with his/her feet about shoulder width apart. Then, ask your child to put his/her right foot on his/her left ankle or calf. Finally, ask your child to “grow his/her tree” by slowly moving the arms above his/her head like branches. To get into frog pose, ask your child to stand up tall with his/her feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Then, ask your child to turn his/her feet outward slightly and squat down so their bottom almost touches the ground. To get into downward dog, ask your child to stand up tall with his/her feet about shoulder width apart. Then, ask your child to bring his/her hands to the ground and walk them out a bit in front of his/her feet. The goal here is to have children’s bodies look like an upside down “v.” A fun yoga exercise to do with your child after a few poses is lion’s breath. This can be done standing or sitting in a comfortable place. Ask your child to take a deep breath in, and when it is time to breathe out, ask your child to open his/her mouth wide, stick out his/her tongue, and loudly sigh out the breath.
We hope these recommendations are helpful as you begin to practice mindfulness at home with your child! Remember, the benefit of mindfulness for parents and children is just a deep breath away!
Corthorn, C., & Milicic, N. (2016). Mindfulness and parenting: A correlational study of non-meditating mothers of preschool children. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 25, 1672-1683.
Flook, L., Smalley, S. L., Kitil, M. J., Galla, B. M., Kaiser-Greenland, S., Locke, J., et al. (2010). Effects of mindful awareness practices on executive functions in elementary school children. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 26, 70–95.
Greenland, S.K. (2010). The mindful child: How to help your kid manage stress, and become happier, kinder, and more compassionate. New York, NY: Atria.
Power, T. (2009). The ABCs of yoga for kids. Pacific Palisades, CA: Stafford House.
Razza, R. A., Bergen-Cico, D., & Raymond, K. (2015). Enhancing preschoolers’ self-regulation via mindful yoga. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 24(2), 372-385.
Zelazo, P.D., & Lyons, K.E. (2012). The potential benefits of mindfulness training in early childhood: A developmental social cognitive neuroscience perspective. Child Development Perspectives, 6, 154-160.
Dr. Sara Schmitt is an Assistant Professor at Purdue University. She joined the Human Development and Family Studies faculty in the fall of 2013 after receiving her Ph.D. from Oregon State University. Her research is broadly focused on optimizing young children’s development in multiple contexts. Dr. Schmitt studies factors that support children’s school readiness, with an emphasis on self-regulation, executive function, social competence, and early academic skills. She incorporates mindfulness practices into her research and also into her personal life.
Irem Korucu is a graduate student in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at Purdue University. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and master’s degree in Developmental Psychology from Koc University, in Turkey. Her primary research interests focus on children’s social, emotional and socio-cognitive development, self-regulation, school readiness as well as the influence of family processes and parenting on these domains. She is also interested in intervention development and evaluation in early childhood.
Resources for parents, family members, and educators of young children
If you have young children in your life – whether you are a parent, grandparent, foster parent, family member, caregiver, early childhood educator, home visitor, or parenting educator – these resources are for you! Parenting is hard work and all families can use support from time to time. These websites offer families support by sharing information on child development and parenting strategies, providing families with resources related to quality child care, and more. Use them to support your own family or share them with the families in your life!
University of Wisconsin Extension
What we like about this website: The University of Wisconsin Extension website includes newsletters for parents and families in English and Spanish. Newsletters are divided into categories, including, “Preparing to Parent,” “Parenting the First Year,” “Parenting the Second and Third Years,” “Parenting the Preschooler” and others. Newsletters offer month by month parenting resources, strategies, and more!
NAEYC for Families
What we like about this website: The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) is a leader in ensuring quality childcare. Their families page provides resources for families related to finding quality childcare as well as information on supporting children’s healthy development. Sign up for the families newsletter or read timely articles.
Zero to Three
What we like about this website: Zero to Three provides a range of resources and articles for parents and families of young children, including age-based tips from birth-36 months, and articles on special topics (e.g., grandparents and extended family, military and veteran family support, positive parenting approaches).
Vroom: Every parent has what it takes to be a brain builder!
What we like about this website: Vroom provides tools and activities to support children’s brain development in innovative ways. Families can download a free app that provides daily tips, subscribe to the Vroom newsletter, or browse articles on brain development and activities to try at home.
What we like about this website: This website hosted by Oregon State University’s Extension program offers “Kid-Approved Healthy Recipes” in English and Spanish. An A-to-Z list of recipes is provided that can be sorted by categories like “5 ingredients or less,” “30-minutes or less,” or “kid-approved.” You will also find free coloring sheets and a monthly family newsletter on this website.
by Kathy Gunter Ph.D and Emily Tomayko Ph.D.
The holidays are a time for families to create new traditions and share long-treasured observances. It is also a great time to share activities that promote holiday (and everyday) health behaviors that will enable everyone to enjoy those family traditions in good health for years to come.
A great deal of media attention and research has focused on the rise in childhood obesity and the negative health effects associated with excess weight. It is now quite clear that the risks for many chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, sleep problems, asthma, and depression, are increased for children who are overweight or obese compared to healthy-weight children. There is also mounting evidence that overweight children struggle academically and socially in comparison to healthy-weight peers. Today 1 out of 3 children and teens in the U.S. are overweight or obese. For most growing children, weight loss is not the recommended approach. Instead, physicians and researchers recommend curbing children’s weight gain through healthy eating, increasing active play, and reducing sedentary time—all things that parents can do with their children to ensure they grow into a healthy weight and develop behaviors that support health. For children who are already at a healthy weight, encouraging these behaviors early will promote lifelong health.
We are both obesity prevention researchers and parents (of a “tween” for Kathy and a toddler for Emily), so we think about these issues daily. What strategies can parents adopt at home to reduce these risks for their children? And, more importantly, how do parents address healthy behaviors in the midst of a holiday season where the work, school, community, and media environments encourage sitting, eating and drinking, rather than playing actively and enjoying enough (but not too much) of our traditional family recipes? Research shows that there are many aspects of the family home environment that influence our children’s risk for obesity. The good news is that the influence can have beneficial rather than harmful effects. In this month’s blog, we share simple strategies that can produce big rewards this holiday season and beyond. What a great gift for your family – the gift of health.
When the weather gets a little cooler, it’s hard not to think of our favorite holiday foods: pies, holiday cookies, Nana’s green bean casserole, or the peppermint mochas (Kathy’s personal challenge!). And it is okay to indulge a little, but over-indulging and sitting more (like interacting with new electronic gadgets or watching favorite holiday movie classics) promote unhealthy behaviors. Here are a few tips to promote healthy eating and activity for families over the holidays:
One of the best, and probably most challenging, things a parent can do for their child’s health is to model these healthy behaviors—both during the holidays and throughout the year. Parents want the best for their children’s health, but shouldn’t shortchange their own health in the process. Cheers to health and happiness for all families this holiday season!
For some more information check out the following resources:
Let’s Move: http://www.letsmove.gov/
Kathy Gunter is an Associate Professor in Kinesiology and Family and Community Health in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University.
Emily Tomayko is an Assistant Professor in Nutrition in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University.
For the September and October OPEC blogs, we are going to be sharing the voices of Oregon State University students who took a course on “Parenting Research and Application” (HDFS 312).
Students were asked to respond to two questions in their final discussion for the class:
We shared student responses to question 1 in September and are now following-up with their responses to question 2.
Parent education NEEDS to be invested in. Parents are raising the next generation who will care for our communities and these young children need to be shown love and responsiveness by their parents. Raising children is difficult but the more knowledge we have about their development and the needs that each age has the easier it is to understand their behaviors and react appropriately. There are no classes or textbooks that are mandatory before having children, but the more knowledge we acquire the better we can prepare for what is required of us as parents and what to expect from our children.
Yes. I believe that all high school students and college student should take required credit courses on human development and parenting. This introductory knowledge would open young adults up to better understanding their phases of growth and the emotions and turmoil that they may have experienced during youth or puberty. It would also play an important role for them if and when they themselves become parents because they will remember their semester learning about babies, young kids and young adults and this could be a positive influence when deciding which parenting style to adopt based on information provided in school.
Yes, absolutely. I think parenting education is valuable at every stage of development. For parents of newborns it would be very beneficial to understand that picking up your crying child does not spoil them but provides them with secure attachment. Some parents may not realize this. As pointed out through this course many of us parent like we were parented. Gaining greater insight as a parent can certainly do no harm. I know I did. The section we read on “fair ways to fight” definitely made me reflect on my own style of “fighting.”
I do think we should invest in parenting education. I think it is awesome for parents to want to learn more about what exactly their children are going through at what moments and what they can do to help further their growth processes. There’s so much to learn and it is impossible for every parent to know it all, but parenting education could open so many doors to opportunities some parents never even would have known about.
I think that investing in parenting education would be the best thing we could do for families. I believe that if parenting education was more known and accessible that education for children would be more of a positive outlook. I think there is nothing wrong with raising awareness for parenting education, and I think parents would only benefit from these programs.
I do think that we should invest in parenting education. Based on what we have learned through this class about the difference that parenting education can make, it does not make sense to continue shoving parenting education aside. It has such a negative connotation tied to it because it implies that a person does not know how to parent if they need parenting education. It is important to let people know that attending parenting education classes will only help them in their parenting and open them up to new ideas and methods because, let’s face it, no parent gets through life without having problems with their child.
Parenting education can provide support for new and experienced parents. All parents want what is best for their child. Wanting the best and doing what is best, are two different approaches. By investing in parenting education, parents are given helpful tools to encourage character in their children.
Yes I think that we should have parent education. There is a lot of research showing that parent education helps the development of children and prevents juvenile delinquency later in life. It helps the parents understand social, emotional, physical development through every stage. There are so many ego centered and dramatic things that children do that a lot of people have a hard time understanding, but that all comes with knowing the different developmental stages that they go through. Children are ultimately our future and how they grow up really shapes them. These are people who we will be putting into our society and they need to be nurtured, respected, and understood.
Based on what I have both learned, and experienced, we definitely do need to invest in more in parenting education. The committee I am currently apart of are working on a grant proposal to fund additional trainings for us facilitators to meet the needs in our area, specifically our alcohol and drug addiction and recovery population. As stated in the lecture, every child deserves an effective parent, but how can a parent know what is and isn’t effective when raising their child? New parents aren’t give a manual after leaving the hospital. When I am at my wits end, I have sought help from Google and blogs written by fellow parents in the same predicament. The desire for parent education is out there, the only difference parent education classes bring to the table, is that it isn’t on a web page.
I think we should invest in parenting education because parenting is not an innate ability. It’s common to hear from young parents that they’re just “winging parenthood,” but that’s not necessarily the most correct thing to do. Raising a child is not a hobby; it’s a lifestyle and a job. In order to get a good job in the real world, you need to go through years of education. Parenting should be seen similarly, and I’m honestly super happy that I chose HDFS as my second major because it’s given me tips on how to raise my own future children.
Absolutely, I think all parents should take the time to get educated about their child’s development. If you think about it, how can parents raise a child not knowing how their child’s brain works? what affects them positively or negatively? It seems like a gamble that I’m glad I didn’t play.
We really need to invest in Parenting Education now or we will end up paying for it down the road. Children need effective parents and so does our society. When we invest in such programs, it will pay back in huge dividends and in many, many positive ways. Children who have been raised to be loving, secure, respectful members of society, likely give back to society. Children need to be socialized and Parenting Education programs can help teach and guide parents to do just that. I hope that the Federal Government will look to the parenting education and application research and see that the 150 million dollars spent per year on the Healthy Marriage Initiative would be better spent on Parenting Education, and not just exclusive to those who are married with children. The Healthy Marriage Initiative leaves out an astounding 40 percent of children being raised by unmarried parents. Research shows that as long as children’s needs are being met (and these are well defined) the family structure does not matter.
Of course we should invest in it! Because the problems in our communities will never get better (only worse) if we don’t address them at the core…the family. Research has proven that prevention and early intervention can improve the lives of children, who will grow up to be the parents of the future.
Since long before I enrolled in this class I have thought that parenting education would be immensely helpful in our society. In the past 8 weeks, I’ve only grown more supportive of this idea–the profound influence that we have on our children and their lives is far too important to take for granted. Not to simply target populations of parents that have no frame of reference on parenting or know what they are doing, parenting education is something that everybody in our society could benefit from. Individuals should not have to attend college in order to have a more in depth understanding of parenting techniques and child development when it is such a ubiquitous experience in our global population. There are plenty of people in this world who do not have access to basic resources and knowledge needed to be a successful parent–it should be expected for those of us who will have children or work with children to know everything we can in the face of their development and progression as a human. To put it simply, our knowledge or lack thereof does not end with us, it is recycled continuously through our next of kin–future generations deserve to have opportunity at being a responsible, respectful, and contributing member of society.
It is of no question that the investment of parenting education is exceptionally important. We invest in knowledge by investing in each other. We mustn’t forget that we all start somewhere; the power of knowledge is real. The parent who wishes to acquire more knowledge for the benefit of their child is not a bad one.
I absolutely think we should invest in parenting education. Especially for those enter into parenting either be accident, or find themselves in a stressful situation. Not every parent has a co-parent to rely on, or extended family or friends to help them out along the way. I think it is important to offer classes, support groups, and facilities where any new parent can feel comfortable going to to get information, advice, and tools to help them out.
Yes, I think that we should. More than that, let people know it’s available. Get the word out. People, even parents, will not really know anything about child development and parenting unless they’ve learned it, been taught, or sought out the information themselves. I believe the best chance at reducing child abuse/neglect, reducing teen pregnancies, encouraging child development, and building stronger parenting skills MAY be found in parenting education. Education is the answer to many problems. “When you know better, you do better”. If we can measure the effectiveness of these programs, it’s worth it.
I do believe we should invest in parent education. Especially because of family of origin. So many of us base our future parenting skills on how we were parented. So if we can educate parents about child development and get them the best knowledge on how to raise children then we would have a better probability of raising competent children who will turn into successful adults.
Based on what I’ve learned, I definitely think we should invest in parent education. If a parent is not educated when they have their children, it will affect their children in different ways. If their parents are prepared and are ready to be parents, then it’ll be a chain reaction and they will be able to raise their children like they know they can. I think that investing in parent education is also like investing in educating children, and that is always important.
I absolutely believe we should invest in parenting education. Building a better world for our children starts with how we raise them now, and every parent can benefit from learning new skills and techniques that can help them make the best decisions at each stage of child development.
I definitely think we should invest in parenting education even if not financially, emotionally and mentally. Parenting education is primarily understanding your kids and ways to communicate with them so it shouldn’t take up much financial resources but it takes time. Once parents understand to be flexible and authoritative, their relationship with their kids will be amazing and it will even set out examples for their kids to follow when they become parents later on.
I will soon be working as a parent educator and I think it is 100% necessary to invest in parenting education!! This is the core of our society and communities, if we have healthy successful parenting, we are going to have more resilient healthy children who can better contribute to the community. Parenting education should not only be available for at risk and high risk families, it should be for all parents. It’s okay to lean how to play an instrument or do a sport, and start from not knowing how, and taking classes and learning and improving, and I think that it should be the exact same way with parenting. Parents need to learn how to parent just like they need to learn how to do a new hobby. Learning is important for success.
I really do think we should invest in parent education. There are so many people that are uneducated when it comes to parenting which leads to neglect of the child or abusive behavior from the parent since they weren’t educated on how to deal with their child a proper way. I am also in support of anything that will help the world population go down, teen pregnancy plays a factor into that and if we can lower that rate then it would be a huge help. Parent education is important and raising a child is a 24/7 responsibility so why not get educated in something that will be apart of you the rest of your life?
I believe fully we should invest in parenting education! When you want to go hunting or drive a car you must take classes and prepare since you could potentially harm someone, shouldn’t ti be the same for parenting? Not only can potential parents harm someone, but they are responsible for every aspect of their initial development and deserve all the support and education possible in such an endeavor.
For the September and October OPEC blogs, we are going to be sharing the voices of Oregon State University students who took a course on “Parenting Research and Application” (HDFS 312).
At the end of the term, students were asked: What is the most useful piece of advice/information you have learned from this course that you think would be helpful to parents/caregivers?
Here’s what they said!
The most useful piece of information I learned is…
…that there is not one “right” way to parent. While there are many methods and techniques to be a great parent, each child is different and it is important that parents realize that they must work with their child and really understand who their child is. The best way to do this is through creating strong, open communication lines. That is the glue that holds together parents and children. –Cheyenne Fasana
… that the first years of your child’s life is the most critical. I have learned so much about how important it is to talk to your child and to let them talk to you. I have also learned that parent education isn’t as well known or accessible as I think it should be. I have learned so much from this course, and I have already shared so much of this information with family and friends, I can’t wait to keep spreading what I know. –Anonymous
… that parents are their child’s biggest role models. Each child learns so much in a very fast amount of time, and parents have the biggest hand in what they learn. Parenting is hard work, but it can also be extremely rewarding and fun if you teach your child how to swing the ropes of life properly. It’s scary to think that a child is so dependent for many years on a parent, but with the right tactics and the ambition to ask for help, a child can be successful. –Brooke Meyer
… that there are so many different resources available to parents if they need it. A parent who is having their first child is able to find any sort of class that they might need if they feel like they need help preparing and that is a really great thing. –Anonymous
… that I think it is important for parents to know is that there is no such thing as “bad parenting.” Sometimes people may make a bad parenting decision, but that doesn’t mean they are a bad parent. It’s life, and we all make mistakes when it comes to raising children. Every parent has been there, every parent has a “bad parenting” moment. Also, I think all parents should partake in all of the numerous parenting sites/ classes that are available to them! There is so much to learn about your child that can help them in more ways than you may even know. –Morgan Cross
… that there are many forms of discipline. As parents, when we become upset with an action that our child does, we need to stay calm and avoid using inconsistent, irritable, low involvement, rigid and physical punishment. When disciplining, we need to be disciples and remember that our children follow our example. When children are loved unconditionally and reinforced by desirable behaviors, children are going to want to do what is asked of them because they love and respect their parents just as their parent’s love and respect them. -Karalee Behling
…the stages of child development. I believe that if more people understand the natural tendencies for infants, toddlers, preschoolers, school ages up to young adulthood, more parents would find solace in knowing that each is a natural phase of growth and approach the ebbs and flows eager to guide their children through the phase as gracefully as possible. –Anonymous
… the use of natural consequences in parenting versus other forms of discipline. I think as a parent it is so hard to follow through at times and let your child experience that consequence. We do not like to see our child upset or suffer. I think it’s an important concept that stepping back and letting your child experience that consequence provides a learning opportunity for them, and that’s not a negative thing. –Anonymous
… explained in First Compassion, Then Teaching by H. Wallace Goddard. Goddard describes that sensible rules should include at least the following, ”(1) Be careful about the rules you make. (2) Consistently enforce the rules you make. (3) Use consequences (4) Keep the relationship positive. (5) Give children lots of real choices.” I feel like these rules serve as simple reminders, or guidance, to parents and caregivers. -Stephanie Khauv
… how to pick out proper child care and cognitive development of an infant. To me infants are the most challenging to figure out. It is important to know how their mind develops and how you can nurture, and communicate with them at an age when communication is challenging. I really found all of this class useful. I think that any information about children and life is something that every person could use. –Anonymous
… the tips for healthy fighting. Looking over the list I was able to see what strategies my family used when I was young and what I want to improve with my children. I didn’t realize how important it is to truly listen to your child. Also the week we learned about different parenting techniques and how some parents ignore their children and that could make them sexually active at a younger age. SCARY! I’ll remember that forever. –Anonymous
…that more than any other type of parenting style, I learned that when we use an authoritative style of parenting, children are more likely to grow to be caring, respectful, contributing members of society. This means parents need to be nurturing, develop a secure attachment as well as be high in responsiveness and high in expectations- but with reason and explanation. These valuable and effective skills can be acquired from the many evidence based Parenting Education Programs in existence today. Nobody is born knowing how to parent; parenting is a learned skill. Parenting Education is for everybody and our children and society highly benefit from it now, and most assuredly in the future. –Angelynn Proctor
… the breakdown of the different parenting styles. While mentioned in numerous of my previous HDFS classes, I think the intensive and descriptive teaching on each style and it’s effects on the both the child and child-parent relationship has really helped me understand parenthood. Not only in the context of my own desire to have children one day, but also in my career and my relationship with other individuals. In the last couple weeks, I have been unconsciously analyzing myself, my family and friends, my clients even–and making connections between their personality/behavior and the relationships they share with their parents. With my youngest clients especially, this has been incredibly beneficial as I work with both the child and their parents. In order to successfully help families work together when their conflict resolution skills breakdown, it’s incredibly valuable to be able to understand the root of certain tensions and problems within the family dynamic. –Anonymous
… that in a world in which poverty is continuing to rise and resources are rapidly disappearing, the importance of communal effort is paramount for the well-being of our children. People need to know they are not alone in their struggles. The saying “it takes a village” is of much significance in the realm of parenthood. Advocacy for our youth and the betterment of our adults is vital in diminishing the gap of dysfunction and instability. The benefits of such programs far outweigh the negatives. One should not feel shamed in asking for assistance; after all, it is for the sake of raising confident and resilient children. It is of no question that the investment of parenting education is exceptionally important. We invest in knowledge by investing in each other. We mustn’t forget that we all start somewhere; the power of knowledge is real. The parent who wishes to acquire more knowledge for the benefit of their child is not a bad one. -Amanda Sampson
As an educator, I think it is important to start as young as possible when it comes to teaching kids any and all skills they will need when they start school. That includes academic skills, sharing, following directions, following the rules and being respectful to others. Ask questions, share advice and never be afraid to discipline your kids in a loving and respectful manner. –Anonymous
…to seek more information. Always learn new things and best practices, especially when it comes to caring for children and encouraging their development. After loving them and caring for them, there is so much that can be done to ensure they grow into loving, caring, productive human beings. You have to seek out this information. Some aspects of parenting are ingrained, but parenting and child development is so much more complex that it appears. If we are to give children their best chance and give society a fantastic addition, learn all that you can about parenting and child development. -Anonymous
…probably the information on parenting children with special needs. I want to be a teacher, so it was really great to read all the content on the subject. I especially liked the topic of not labeling a student as a “blind student” that their disability does not make define them. This is definitely something I will make sure to be aware of in my classroom. –Anonymous
… to take your time and be patient with kids, especially when you’re raising them to build their own personality with their morals and ethics. A lot of parents nowadays are way too busy working to provide for their family, which is justified because of the rising costs of living, it’s still important to not forget about your kids and just let daycare teach them what they need to know. It’s important as parents to have a basic foundation with your children so you can have open communication with your kids as it will make parenting a lot easier when they understand you. –Tracy Tran
… the perspective of the children, and how we need to acknowledge this and accommodate for it. Kids and adolescents are more likely to act in certain ways because of where they are in their development. –Anonymous
…is the social bond that you need to develop with you and your young child. Doing beneficial activities together help increase the bond between the parent and child. Examples would be like playing friendly games together or washing the dishes, cooking dinner together. –Anonymous
The best thing you can do for your kids is to be there for them. From talking to your baby as you feed him, to being there to answer questions as he cooks a meal for the first time, to listening to him talk about a problem at school as you drive together — these are the moments that give your children a strong foundation from which to succeed. Never underestimate the incredible impact responsive parenting has on raising a healthy, happy, well-adjusted child. -Michelle Tennant
I think one of the most pertinent things from this course was the unit on facilitating optimum cognitive and psychosocial development in adult children. Understandably the focus of parenting is often on the younger years when things are new and parents struggle the most, but support often waivers after adolescence leave parents to try and figure things out on their own while not obtaining new information and fresh ideas. This unit allowed for a perspective that isn’t usually covered and is too often overlooked. –Nichole LeSage
The information provided in this course is all useful. If there was one particular piece that I would hope parents could utilize the most, it is that there is no set path to raising a child once the secure foundation has been provided. Just as every mother will encounter a different birthing experience, every mother will raise a different and unique child, even if they have more than one. A method or technique used with one, might not work with another. Just be patient, and try something different, and never be afraid to ask for help. –Anonymous
Watch for Part II in OPEC’s October blog!
by Shauna Tominey, PhD
One day when my daughter was about three-and-a-half, we were walking together toward our car talking about her day at preschool. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a man making his way toward us from across the street. His clothes were torn and unkempt. His hair was wild and his beard was littered with debris.
I tightened my hold on my daughter’s hand, quickened my step, and avoided eye contact as I hurried by, giving all of the signs I could that I would not engage. I breathed a sigh of relief as he passed without so much as a glance.
As we reached the car, my daughter asked:
“Mom, did you see that man?”
“His leg was hurt.”
“How do you know that?”
“He walked funny and had a cane. I hope he is okay.”
The tension I felt making a beeline for the car melted away in that moment. With her words, my daughter taught me an important lesson about empathy.
In my haste to protect my daughter from a perceived threat, I put my own sense of empathy on hold. Although I convinced myself that this man might be a threat to our safety (he wasn’t), the real threat was that he made me feel uncomfortable.
In exchange for saving myself that discomfort, I gave up an opportunity to be the parent that I want to be – the kind of parent who models empathy and kindness, even when it is uncomfortable to do so. Even if all I had to offer was a connection through eye contact or a smile, I could have made another choice – the choice my daughter made to consider the feelings of another human being.
For children and adults alike, empathy matters. Empathy relates to many positive outcomes, ranging from increased pro-social behaviors and cooperation1 to better learning and higher academic outcomes.2
In my past position as the Director of Early Childhood at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence and in my new role as an Assistant Professor of Practice/Parenting Education Specialist at Oregon State University, a significant part of my life has been and still is devoted to teaching empathy. What I learned from my daughter is that I have more to learn. When it comes to showing empathy and kindness, we can all be better and do better.
So what can we parents/caregivers and educators of young children do to model and teach empathy? Here are a few ideas!
At this time in our world when societal tensions are high, laying a foundation for empathy feels especially pressing.
A few weeks ago, my daughter overheard a man asking people walking by to buy him a sandwich because he was hungry. She stopped and opened her lunch bag. I had seen this man before with his bloodshot eyes. On other days, I had chosen to walk around him.
Standing with my daughter that day, I made a different choice. The choice to be the model that I want to be. My daughter held out her applesauce and spoon and I said, “my daughter heard you say you were hungry and wanted to share her lunch with you.”
Much to my surprise, the man got down on his knees, looked my daughter in the eyes and gently said, “Thank you. You did the right thing today by sharing. Your mama taught you right. I’m not going to take your lunch because you’re a growing girl and you really need it. I’m already grown. I’m big and I need a big sandwich, but don’t you worry about me. Someone is going to share a sandwich with me soon. Just know that you did the right thing.”
He stood up, gave me a big grin, and gave my daughter a big thumbs up. I apologized for not having money with me to buy him a sandwich. He smiled back, “Don’t worry about that. Just keep teaching your daughter what you’re teaching her.”
I will never forget the lesson in empathy and kindness I learned that day both from my daughter and from our new friend, “Mr. C.” Sometimes as parents, we step out of our own comfort zones for our children. This was one of those times for me and I am grateful that I did.
Mr. C. now smiles and waves whenever we pass his corner. He never asks for money, but always gives my daughter a big thumbs up. I smile and wave back and stop and buy him a sandwich when I can.
I find myself wondering daily: what can I do today to teach my daughter about empathy? Although this is an important question, maybe I should also be asking myself: what will I learn from my daughter about empathy today?
How to Help Your Child Develop Empathy
How Parents Can Cultivate Empathy in Children