Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Looking Beyond "Quality versus Quantity" Time with Kids

As a person trained in the methodology of family science, there is nothing that bothers me more than when the media misinterprets a research article. Researchers know this happens frequently and are often leery of publicizing their work (even interesting work) because of this issue. Case in point—the recent study that was all over the media concerning the amount time parents spent with their children.

You probably read the headlines—“Parents, give up the guilt, study says quality time matters more than quantity.” It is quite telling that almost every article that discusses this study includes the word “guilt.” This tells me that this is an emotionally charged issue, not just for the readers, but perhaps for the journalists writing the articles.

First, before I delve into this further, let’s look at the basics of the study:

  • the study examined children ages 3-11 and adolescents ages 12-18
  • the outcomes that were assessed in the children included emotional adjustment, academic achievement and behavior
  • the authors looked two types of time: (1) accessible time—time in presence of mother, but not engaged in an activity; (2) engaged time—basically any time engaged with the mother in an activity
  • the data came from time diaries from one weekday and one weekend day.  The authors “created” weekly sums by extrapolating 2 day sums to a full  week (they say this is a common practice)
  • they also looked at children and adolescents’ time spent with their father (alone) and both parents
  • as usual, the study include other structural factors—mothers’ education, family income, family structure (i.e., two-parent, single parent, step-family, etc)

 First, the main finding that prompted all the headlines was this one: the sheer amount of time mothers spent with their children was not associated with any of the child outcomes. It did not matter when the authors looked at engaged time or accessible time; the amount of time was not related to outcomes. This was for children only; there were some relevant findings concerning time spent with adolescents (I’ll save that for another post).

Okay, that is interesting but does it imply the headline that “quality trumps quality.” In contrast to virtually every media outlet around (except notably the Brookings Institute), I say “no.” This finding does not imply that quality trumps quantity when it comes to time spent with children. As the authors themselves point out, they did not specifically assess “quality” time.

“although we examined engaged time, in which children and mothers were interacting with each other, we did not focus on quality time – the amount of time in particular quality activities with children, such as reading or eating meals together versus watching TV or cleaning with them – neither did we assess the quality or tone of mothers interaction with children, such as warmth, sensitivity or focus.”

To adequately assess the question of quality time versus quantity of time, a study would have to specifically measure these two concepts distinctly and compare them. This study did not do that. Although this study did separate out engaged and accessible time, it did not define either of these as “quality time.” From this study alone, we have no better understanding of what “quality time” actually looks like or what types of activities might be more beneficial for children. This was not the goal of the study, yet the media has extrapolated from this study that “quality trumps quantity.” Yet another disappointing example of how the media often overlooks the details of a study to get a flashy headline.

As I mentioned, the word “guilt” was included in almost every story written about this article. What does this tell us about the state of parenting today? Apparently, we as parents (perhaps including the journalists) are dealing with a lot of guilt. I understand this. I am a stay-at-home parent so I spend a lot of time with my kids and I still feel guilty at times. Yes, I put my kids in front of the TV sometimes just so I can have a few moments of peace or time to cook dinner. Is the answer to this to believe whatever the media tells us to moderate the feelings of guilt? I believe not.

How about taking a different approach? How about we “own” these feelings of guilt and use it as an opportunity for self-reflection. How are our children doing? Are they misbehaving at school or acting particularly rebellious at home? If so, maybe this is a sign that we do need to spend more time with them. However, it’s not because we feel guilty; it’s because our children need us. If our children are overall adjusted and seem to be functioning well, then maybe our guilt it just societal-driven and not based on anything real.

We all face many pressures as parents in today’s culture. I think the key is to take some time to really look at your specific family and decide whether your choices to work or stay at home or work part-time are really meeting the needs of everyone involved. If so, then have confidence in your parenting and the idea that you are doing best you can. Please do not buy into this media-contrived idea of “quality vs. quantity.” This is not the answer; parenting and life are much more complicated than that. 

ResearchBlogging.orgMilkie, M., Nomaguchi, K., & Denny, K. (2015). Does the Amount of Time Mothers Spend With Children or Adolescents Matter? Journal of Marriage and Family, 77 (2), 355-372 DOI: 10.1111/jomf.12170

This post originally appeared on The Thoughtful Parent blog*****************************************************
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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Preparing for Back to School: Making this Year a Positive Experience for Your Children

By: Dyan Eybergen

Helping Kids to Feel Good About Their Learning Experience
Parents who encourage and model positive opinions about education can teach kids to manage school stress and enjoy the experience.
As curriculum requirements continue to increase in all levels of education, students are experiencing considerable amounts of school stress. Most of this stress is caused by having too much homework. Some of it may be attributable to a lack of organizational skills or the cognitive maturity to learn new and difficult concepts, causing the student to feel overwhelmed. Some students may not feel supported by the teacher or their parents. They may feel inadequate socially or ashamed and can't ask for help.
Whatever the reasons, school stress can lead to a general feeling of apathy toward school and anything associated with it. When a student hates school enough to not want to go anymore, parents will have a real challenge encouraging that student to stick with it. Parents need to take on a proactive approach of instilling a positive attitude in their children about school, before it's too late.

Use Words That Project a Positive Attitude
Education is vital to the development of every child. Its importance cannot be underrated. When referring to school, its administration or teachers, use positive language. When parents show respect toward those in the teaching profession they teach about the value of educators to their children. Remembering to thank teachers for their contribution to a child's education demonstrates a positive attitude about school and learning. Even when parents disagree with a teacher or school administrator, they should always use positive and respectful communication techniques to facilitate cooperation and resolution to a problem.
Take an Active Interest in the School
Parents can take an active interest in their child's school by first developing a working relationship with the child's teacher. The child feels supported through such relationships, which helps manage school stress. If a child knows that there is a team approach to his/her learning curriculum, he/she will feel less overwhelmed about learning challenging concepts.
Parents can further participate in the school community by joining the PTA, volunteering in the classroom or library or by donating their time to fundraising campaigns.

Inform Children of Expectations
Younger children should be introduced to the school environment in a visual way. Making introductions with teachers and the classroom milieu prior to the commencement of school will give children a sense of familiarity when they do start. Older children need to understand what they can expect from school rules and class instruction. They need to understand how they will be graded and the degree of effort they need to put forth to succeed. Parents also need to communicate their expectations for each of their children and base those on each the child's unique capabilities. When students understand what is expected from them they are more able to concentrate their efforts toward a known goal.
Model the Importance of Homework and Homework Routines
Parents who support the classroom's learning environment at home help students learn and expand their knowledge. It's essential that homework routines be established so as to teach organization, time management and problem solving skills. Solid homework strategies will also help students manage school stress, especially for those who experience anxiety in response to having to write a test or complete an assignment. Homework routines combat test anxiety by giving students confidence in their knowledge of test material. If the stress of homework and writing tests are managed effectively, students are less apt to have bad feelings about school.

Children who are taught respect for education and are supported in their efforts to succeed feel better about their school experience than children who are left to struggle on their own without parental involvement. When children are exposed to positive language about school and education and see their parents take an active interest in their school community, they will learn to appreciate school by that example. It's not to say that they will never have times of disliking school when its demands feel too much, but they will continue to have enough respect for the value of education to not give up on it.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Preparing For Emergencies With A Newborn

As a mom, it's not fun to think about awful things happening, but it's wise to prepare for the worst.  Consider teaching your newborn to take a bottle at least once in a while in case something unfortunate happens.

A friend of mine had the sudden inspiration to pump a lot of milk soon after her daughter was born.  Weeks later, she found herself in the hospital having an emergency gall bladder removal.  Her baby couldn't be with her and fortunately she had the milk for her family to give her, which ended up being exactly the right amount. 

Weeks ago, I had what I thought was painful acne on one side of my abdomen, side, and back.  I finally went to my doctor a few days later and he confirmed that it was shingles.  I would need to take anti-virals for a week to prevent problems that would last for months or years.  He suggested I not breastfeed during that time.  I was devastated and in pain, having no idea how I would get my daughter to take a bottle.  She took one months ago, but we haven't been able to get her to do it since then.  She won't go to sleep or stay asleep without nursing.  He also suggested I only nurse on the side that wasn't affected because shingles is the chicken pox virus and she could get it.  This was another thing I knew my daughter wouldn't accept without a long night of thrashing around.  If you've had shingles, now imagine a baby kicking you repeatedly and clawing at your skin.  When my doctor said, "It will be OK", I kind of wanted to smack him. 

I was lucky though. I called the pharmacist and asked, "Isn't there something I can take while breastfeeding?"  He said, "Yes, you can take Valtrex."  Upon further research, it wasn't recommended you stop breastfeeding just because you might give your baby chicken pox.  I took my chances and so far, so good.  No chicken pox.

It's upsetting to think that something worse could have happened and that my baby would be traumatized in the event of my sudden absence.  I think of my family and how upset they would be already, but also having to convince our inconsolable baby to eat in a different way.

There are also other events that could happen.  Imagine you're just leaving your baby with family while you run an errand and your car breaks down.  Does your baby have a way to eat at home?

Or Heaven forbid you have another child who is hospitalized and you need to be with them, but your baby isn't allowed to come with you.  There are many different scenarios.

I feel like a dodged a bullet.  She's now eating more solid foods, so I wouldn't have to worry about her starving, but I cringe to think that I wasn't prepared. 

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Friday, July 24, 2015

Talk to your Teen: Stop Teen Texting and Driving

The stats on teens, texting, and driving are in, and they are troubling. Over 80 percent of accidents are caused by distracted driving. Of those distractions, texting is the number one culprit. Texting behind the wheel is now the number one killer of teens, edging out alcohol, with over 3,000 teens killed, according to That's 11 teen lives lost a day.

Let that sink in… Eleven teen lives lost a day! Fortunately, knowing there is a problem is the first step to solving it. The following tips can help you keep your teen safe.

Tip #1: Speak Up

This isn't the time for a brief warning, it's the time for a serious talk. Have the talk before your child gets their license and issue a reminder each time they ask for the keys. In the words of NY traffic attorney Zev Goldstein at, “Your goal is not to chastise your child for texting, but to open up the dialogue. Let your teen know your concerns and show them the stats to back up the dangers of texting and distracted driving.”

Don't back down. Require a written commitment from your teen that they won't text and drive. Be clear that these expectations cover all cell phone use while driving, including web surfing, talking, texting, or sorting through a music playlist. Put the agreement in writing.

Tip #2: Make the Consequences Clear

If your teen is caught texting and driving, prompt punishment is necessary. Make the consequences clear before they get the keys. Set the consequences so they fit the crime, and enforce them promptly for any infraction. The most obvious consequence is the loss of driving privileges. This should be for a determined length of time. Further consequences can include loss of the cell phone and other privileges.

A teen that doesn't text and drive should be rewarded. Praise often and let them know you are proud of them.

Tip #3: Use Available Technology Wisely

You aren't alone when it comes to keeping your teen safe. App developers have been working on the problem and they have several apps available for parents.

There are apps that monitor your teen's phoneuse, so you can check in real time to see if they are texting and driving. Your teen can't disable the app, so everything is logged. Some states, like Iowa, now offer the app for free to parents of new teenage drivers, and some insurance companies are also giving access to safety apps to their customers.

Other apps are available to help your teen avoid temptation. These allow your teen to put their phone into a driving mode when they get in the car. Text, emails, and phone calls are temporarily turned off and held until they get to their destination.

Tip #4: Rally Your Kids to the Cause

Finally, get your teens behind the cause. Encourage them to attend teen rallies and safe driving events, or to to help educate other teens about safe driving. If your state doesn't have texting laws in effect, encourage them to write to their lawmakers. Most importantly, encourage them to be a strong voice amongst their peers. If the teens speak up about how uncool it is to text and drive, other teens will listen.

The future of digital safety and the use of phones in cars looks promising. State lawmakers are working to enact safety laws, while app, phone, and car developers are all working to roll out products that make it more difficult to text and drive. Yet, the biggest change needs to happen in the mindset of our teens – it is up to the parents to set clear expectations and to be role models of safe driving practices.

Fay D. Wein is a content and communication specialist, and loves cooking, blogging, and spending time with her family.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The impact of stress and what to do about it

A couple of years ago when my wife was picking me up from a meeting, I broke my foot just by pivoting on a flat surface. It’s actually quite embarrassing. However, at this point in my life I was starting my second year of graduate school, my hours at work were in limbo, and I just came from a meeting where I was voted onto the board. I understand now, looking back, that I was under a lot of stress and was vulnerable to injury.

Stress is a word that receives a lot of attention, and usually negatively. People often say exhaustedly “I’m so stressed,” with their face in their palms, and then wonder what life would be like stress-free.

Actually, it doesn’t matter if the stress is positive, such as a wedding or buying a house; or negative like a deadline. To the body, stress is stress, even if it is expected. Stress is cumulative, a build up of the everyday wear and tear.

As stress builds up, there are some common symptoms: headaches, flushed face, stiff neck, difficulty breathing, stomach pangs, shaky legs, feet & hands, cramps, and pounding heart, just to name a few. When these symptoms hit, there is a loss in energy, increase vulnerability to illness and injury, and is often referred to as burn out, or rust out. It’s important to realize that burn out, while similar, it is also unique.

A common stress problem solving thought is to ‘remove’ the stressor. But if the stress is originating from parenting, work, relationships, health, and life milestones (i.e. graduation, marriage) – these are typically out of an individual’s control, and can’t be removed. There may be little things that contribute to the cumulative stress that can be lessened, but for the most part, it is best to change priorities and find activities that help you recharge and rejuvenate.

Activities that recharge and rejuvenate don’t need to be elaborate or lengthy; they can be little and short. Just a couple of ideas: going for a walk, reading a book, yoga, meditation, mindfulness, gaming (video or board), taking a bath, and the list could go on because each of us has different ways of recharging. Get creative; make it a priority to take care of yourself. Sometimes you may need to accommodate, such as going on a walk with your children or doing a yoga exercise with them.

But what is actually the most simplistic, yet shocking way, of dealing with stress, is changing our perception of stress. Changing it from being this yucky-negative thing to realizing and understanding that stress is something that everyone goes through, that we can learn from it and it helps us build our character. It is possible to have successful stressful situations.

In the end, research has shown that if we view stress through a positive perception, that alone can increase longevity, not to mention increase our overall wellbeing and health.

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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Finding the Right Balance: The Role of Risk-Taking in Child Development

As the mom of two young boys, I have had to come to terms with a certain amount of risk-taking over the past few years. Now, I don't mean anything crazy, but it does seem that certain children, regardless of gender, seem to love testing the boundaries of what is safe. Maybe your children are like this too. They love to climb on everything, jump off of anything, go fast in almost any form or fashion, and test the limits of their physical space. My experience with my boys prompted me to consider what this risk-taking behavior is all about. Luckily, there is some good research out there to help understand kids' seemingly innate need for risk.

A recent analysis of 21 studies of this topic revealed some interesting results. Kids who engaged in more "risky" play were found to be more active, and perhaps most interesting, were more socially and psychologically healthy. They also found kids involved in risky play had no higher rate of injury than other children. The "risky" play identified by the researchers involved activities that included playing at heights, playing with potentially dangerous items (e.g., water or fire), going fast, and rough-and-tumble play.

With these findings in hand, the researchers are now trying to figure out why risky play seems to offer such benefits. They theorize that much of the risky play helps children develop a strong sense of their own body, how it works in the world, and its limits. This may affect their psychological development as well. If parents protect them from unreasonable risks, but offer them some leeway in regards to tolerable risk, then the kids come to understand that the parents trust the child's ability to keep themselves safe (at least to a point). One researchers describes it this way,
"And though it may seem counterintuitive that children given more leeway don't seem to experience more injuries, other work has found similar trends. If a child feels confident enough to get up high, that's probably because they feel confident at that height and probably aren't going to fall."
Of course, this research comes on the heels of a trend in parenting over the past decade that has promoted the case for protection, and some would argue the overprotection, of children. The authors of the risk-taking studies reiterate that reasonable risks are the key to understanding these findings. They are not encouraging parents to let their young children roam freely and not monitor their activities. Instead, parents can closely observe their children and their abilities to gauge what seems like a reasonable risk.

I have seen this first-hand in my experience with two young boys. They each have their own individual skills and abilities when it comes to physical risk-taking. My toddler, while somewhat small for his age, is quite coordinated and so I allow him to climb on playground equipment that seems "risky" for his two-year old body. I'm sure I have gotten some disapproving glances at the playground, but I feel confident in my (and his) ability to judge what he can do. Of course, I always stay close by just in case he were to slip.

The ironic issue of this research emerging on risk-taking, is that equally compelling research is also coming out on the destructive effects of "helicopter parenting." Although this research has yet to prove a causal link, the correlations between hovering, overly intrusive parenting and poor outcomes like depression, anxiety, and lack of self-reliance are strong enough to make us pay attention.

Of course, the realm of physical risk-taking and the realm of decision-making about life choices are two different arenas. However, I would argue that overprotection by parents in one arena may lead to helicopter parenting in the other. It's not hard to see how overprotecting a toddler from risk-taking could easily turn into over managing a teenager's life, including extracurricular activities and college choices.

Overall, it seems both the issue of risk-taking and helicopter parenting comes down do, as one researcher put it, kids' "basic psychological needs for autonomy and competence." Kids need to feel like their choices, abilities, and skills matter. They need to develop within themselves their own ability to manage their bodies and their choices. We, as parents, can guide and support, but as with much of children's development, we cannot do it for them.

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Praise, Persistence, and Grit: Key Research Findings for Kids

How many times a day do you find yourself saying, “good job” to your young child? I know for me, this clique phrase slips out numerous times a day. We all know that praise and encouragement (especially for good behavior) can be a strong motivator for children, especially around the preschool years. Preschoolers are in a stage of development where they are learning what it means to be them—self-concept.

New research is showing that the particular ways in which parents praise their children can influence, at least to some degree, how children come to understand themselves and their efforts. The key, it seems, is to help kids develop a “growth mindset” rather than a “fixed mindset” when it comes to how they think about their intelligence and ability to grow and learn. A “growth” mindset is one in which the child believes their efforts and trying new skills are what helps them learn and conquer new challenges. In contrast, some kids learn to think that their skill and intelligence are “fixed” and cannot be expanded with effort.

According to researchers, the preschool years are a key time to help kids understand this difference and how parents’ use praise may play a role. The commonly used comment, “good job” is generic praise in that it doesn’t inform the child what specifically they did well. On the other hand, “process praise” like the comment, “good job sharing with your friend” is the type of praise that helps the child understand what they did right so that they know what to focus on in the future.

In research studies, this difference in the types of praise used by parents was predictive of children’s “motivational framework” years later. That simply means that the children had more of a mindset of growth. Process praise that emphasized the child’s effort, strategies, or actions helped the child understand that their intelligence is not fixed but they can achieve new skills by trying.

This growth mindset is all part of a larger set of “non-cognitive skills” that help kids learn and achieve. These skills, like resilience, self-control, and persistence have little to do with their innate cognitive ability. Many researchers in the last few years have begun to emphasize these skills. In his recent book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character, Paul Tough explores many of these traits. He cites many research studies that illustrate the value of helping kids deal with failure and overcome it to move on with a task or class. Perhaps most importantly, he explains the difference between helping kids develop self-esteem and character,

I think there is a real difference between developing self-esteem and developing character, and in the past few decades we’ve become confused about that. Yes, if you want to develop kids’ self-esteem, the best way to do it is to praise everything they do and make excuses for their failures.

But if you want to develop their character, you do almost the opposite: You let them fail and don’t hide their failures from them or from anybody else – not to make them feel lousy about themselves, but to give them the tools to succeed next time.
What a gift we can help our kids develop! I think this message is so powerful because it can apply to so many aspects of life. In school, kids need these skills to persist in a hard class or sport. Consider later in life, when your adult child is faced with a tough job situation or even a difficult personal relationship. I can easily see how these character traits like persistence, dedication, and passion can serve them well. Even in their own personal development as a person, these traits are crucial to overcoming bad habits or staying healthy.
So the next time your are tempted to say, “good job” to your persistent preschooler, try pointing out how well she/he stuck with the task at hand. The language we use really can make a difference in our children’s future mindset.


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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

5 Ideas to Keep Kids Occupied During the Witching Hours: Without using Electronics for Entertainment

by:Dyan Eybergen

When my boys were young I use to pride myself on "only" using the electronic babysitter of TV and videos for the Witching Hour: that time between 5 and 7 pm, when the wheels seem to come off the cart for every child and their behaviour. It was often convenient to plop them in front of the Disney Channel so I could get supper on the table and prepare for the evening's bedtime routine. It wasn't the only source of entertainment I resorted to with my children; but I admit, I used it on many occasions in that space of an hour or two. That was a long time ago when all we had to contend with in the fight against the use of electronics was the television and VCR. Nowadays, it's not uncommon to see toddlers using iPads in the grocery cart or gaming on mom or dad's cell phone in a restaurant.

According to the American Accreditation Health Care Commission (URAC) too much screen time can make it hard for children to fall asleep; can raise a child's risk of attention problems, anxiety, and depression; and can increase the potential for weight gain and obesity due to inactivity. The URAC'S guidelines suggest that children under the age of 2 should have no screen time at all and children over 2 should be limited to 1-2 hours a day.

Here are 5 ideas for keeping kids occupied (and out of trouble) during those Witching Hours:
  1. Get the children involved in domestic activities. Even a toddler can help put napkins on the table or move a dust cloth across a coffee table. It may not be as efficient as you would like but it is a practice in teaching helping skills and increasing self esteem.
  2. Give your child age appropriate puzzles, Lego®and crafts to work on where they can foster their imagination and express their creativity.
  3. Put on some music and encourage your child to dance and sing or play old fashion musical chairs or name that tune.
  4. Insist on quiet time where your child can curl up on the couch to look through picture books/photo albums; practice counting or identifying colours and shapes,or look out the window and cloud/star gaze.
  5. Listen to books on audio.
Parent modeling will go a long way in teaching children how to entertain themselves so evaluate how much time you are spending in front of your electronic devices. For more ideas on how to keep children entertained during the Witching Hours and beyond, check out the article: 50 Things to do Instead of Screen Time in Calgary's Child Magazine.



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