Tag Archive for healthy development

Mom’s Village & Your Child’s Cognitive Abilities

Several studies published in 2021 (reviewed in Small measures can be a big help for children of mothers with depression — ScienceDaily.) suggest the importance of a mother’s support in raising children. Specifically, these studies looked at 120 families with 9- to 10-month-old infants in Sweden and Bhutan and 100 refugee families in Turkey with children between 6- and 18-years-old. The common finding for the families in all three countries was that children’s attentiveness, social understanding, and ability to make decisions fell behind when their mothered suffered from mental health struggles like depression. That’s the bad news.

But there is good news. When a mother receives support from her partner or if she had a large family or a large social network that “rallied round and supported” her, the child’s development returned to the developmental norm. In other words, a mother’s strong, supportive “village” helps her become the best mother she can be and keeps her child on track developmentally.

Where does this strong, supportive “village” come from?

  • A supportive spouse who invests in the life of the mother and his family is part of a strong supportive village.
  • A healthy extended family is another crucial aspect of the supporting village. Extended family willing to support, assist, and help while maintaining healthy boundaries is priceless for any parent raising a child
  • Social groups like those found in religious life or an active community life rounds out a supportive village for mothers. These groups allow for regular times of meeting with other supportive people in a common phase of life or who share common interests. They allow for the development of relationships that support us in our life transitions, struggles, and celebrations. (For more ideas on building a village for your family see It Takes a Village…Yeah, But How?)

If we want strong, healthy families to support our children’s attentiveness, social understanding, and ability to make wise decisions, we need to build a village for every mother, parent, and family. If you’re a family, you can begin by reaching out to build that village today. If you are part of an extended family, strengthen your relationship with your family. If you are a church or other religious organization, intentionally work to create a supportive community for families within your community. Our families, our children…our future…depends on it.

Building Your Children’s Impulse Control for a Lifetime

We all want our children to develop the ability to control their impulses, to practice “response inhibition” at the appropriate times. After all, good impulse control contributes to better academic success, goal achievement, occupational success, and social relationships. A study published in 2021 suggests an interesting way to help children gain impulse control that will last a lifetime-participation in physical exercise. There is an age caveat though.

Exercise in childhood (between 7- and 12-years of age) resulted in growth and connectivity in brain areas associated with response inhibition. Those changes produced greater response inhibition throughout the life span. However, exercise during adolescent years (12- to 18-years-old) did NOT impact the brain in ways that enhanced impulse control.

The bottom line? Get your 2- to 7-year-old active. Involve them in an activity like swimming, dance, gymnastics, martial arts, or some other sport like soccer, basketball, or baseball. Pick an activity they enjoy. You might even participate with them to reap the relationship benefits. They may not be a star and they may not stay involved forever. But even a single year of involvement will promote an active lifestyle and nurture brain development that will promote a lifetime of healthy impulse control.

Improve Your Family’s Brain Health

I must be getting older because I’m drawn to a study when it says it there’s “growing evidence” that people can do things to “slow down cognitive aging.” That’s why I looked at this study. The authors looked at the data of 2,171 participants with an average age of 63 years and made an interesting observation about keeping the brain young and promoting brain health. Specifically, they were exploring the impact of having “supportive social interactions that included listening, good advice, love and affection, sufficient contact with people they’re close with, and emotional support” on brain health. They discovered that the greater the availability of one of these “supportive social supports” was associated with cognitive resilience. Cognitive resilience is a measure of the brain’s ability to function better than one would expect for a person’s chronological age. So, which social support helped keep the brain healthy and young? Having someone you can count on to listen when you need to talk. In other words, have a listen ear available is the one social support that helps keep the brain young and healthy. In fact, as early as a person’s 40’s and 50’s the lack of an available listener contributed to a cognitive age 4-years older than those with “high listener availability,” (AKA, an available listening ear).

Why do I bring this up in a blog about family functioning? Cuz family is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to listening. If you want your spouse and your parents to have better brain health-a younger, healthier brain in spite of aging-remain available to listen to them. The simple act of being available to listen can help your spouse and your parent have a healthier brain. Isn’t that a great way to honor your parent and spouse, a wonderful gift to share with them? Listening not only promotes their brain health, but it reveals your love and affection for them as well. As an added benefit, your children will model your behavior. As you listen to your spouse and your parents, they will learn to listen to their future spouse and their parent (YOU!). And, but listening to you, they will promote your brain health. Sounds like a “win-win” to me. The whole family benefits.

To help you give your spouse and parents the full benefit of your listening ear, check out the tips in The Gracious Art of Listening and The Art of Listening Is More Than Responding. Then, after you’ve read the tips, lean in a little, open your ears, open your heart, and listen to promote your family’s brain health.

Children Help Without Nagging? How Can It Be?

Can you imagine your child helping with the household tasks without even being asked? It can happen. But getting children to help without being asked is a process, a challenging process that many parents choose to forego or don’t want to accept.

This process begins when we, as parents, recognize and acknowledge our children’s desire to help. In fact, children do love to help their parents. Their desire to help may come at the most inopportune moments, like when we’re in a hurry or doing a more complex task. As a result, we are reluctant to acknowledge their desire to help and even more reluctant to invite them to participate in the task. But, if we want children who help without being asked, that is exactly what we need to do—recognize their desire to help and invite them to become involved in the task. If the task is too complex, let them work on an aspect of the task they can manage. Or, even better, do the task together, hand over hand, teaching them while giving give them a sense of involvement.

Yes, this may mean the task takes longer to accomplish. It may also mean a little more “mess” to clean up…but you can clean up together (AKA—spend more time together). Involving your child may require modifying tools and even the process of the task as well (You’ll find some great tips on modifications at How We Montessori.)

It will require some extra effort on your part, but involving your children is an investment in your children’s future and the future of your home.

  • They will remember the time they spent with you “getting things done,” adding to their sense of agency and their fond memories of family.
  • Your relationship will be strengthened by accomplishing tasks together and the conversations you share while doing so.
  • Moreover, as they practice the task, they will learn to do it more independently. They will master the task, giving them a sense of industry as well.
  • Involving your children in tasks also teaches them. It teaches them to identify themselves as a “helper” rather than an “entitled recipient.” It teaches them that they have a valued and significant role in keeping the household running smoothly. They are part of the family team.

When all is said and done, if you want your children to complete tasks around the house independently, you must answer a question and accept a challenge. 

  • The question: Are you willing to acknowledge your children’s desire to help and even involve them in household tasks even though it will initially slow you down and make more work?
  • The Challenge: How will you live out the answer to that question? How you choose to live out the answer to that question on a daily basis will ultimately determine how much your children help to complete household chores without even being asked.

Book Review: Hunt, Gather, Parent

Michaeleen Doucleff, the author of Hunt, Gather, Parent: What Ancient Cultures Can Teach Us About the Lost Art of Raising Happy, Helpful Little Humans, was looking for guidance on raising her strong-willed, rambunctious 3-year-old. As any good investigative journalist would do, she began to research the “options.” And the most effective ideas and parenting guidance she discovered came from sources flung to the far ends of the world. With daughter in tow, she visited a variety of indigenous peoples—a Mayan village in Mexico, Inuit families in the Arctic Circle, and Hadzabe families in Tanzania—to gain some very useful parenting advice. And I loved it. Some of the reviews I read were critical of various aspects of this book. For instance, they accused her of a gender bias, espousing parenting techniques of indigenous peoples as though they have no counterparts in Western parenting guidance (in fact, they are similar to Montessori or RIE parenting), and “framing tribal parents as eternally happy, and Western parents…as miserable victims of circumstances.”

I don’t know about all that…but I do know our society gets so caught up in finding fault and criticizing where a work (in our opinion) falls short , where we think it won’t work, or simply what’s wrong with it…rather than looking at the good gifts the work offers for many situations and people. And Hunt, Gather, Parent offers many excellent gifts. It offers wonderful advice to parents about effective ways of raising their children, advice that both fathers and mothers can apply.

This advice is founded, in part, on a parent’s perspective of children. Are children simply miniature adults that we can expect to behave appropriately? Or are they children who need to learn how to behave, manage emotions, and do tasks we call chores? Hadzabe parents offered Ms. Doucleff an excellent answer. In addition to this, Michaeleen Doucleff learned practical ways to remain calm when her child engages in tantrum behavior, how to encourage cooperation rather than control, and how to meet personalized needs rather than expect developmental milestones. She also talks with a variety of experts along the way to learn more about what she was witnessing and putting into practice.

All in all, this book is filled with gifts for every parent—great ideas and practical takeaways every parent will find helpful, all wrapped in a warm storytelling style. Use what you can, and you will not only find your children’s behavior improving, but your relationship with your children improving as well. And isn’t that what we all want?

Death by Marriage

Don’t get me wrong. I love marriage. I am an advocate for marriage. A happy, healthy marriage is a little taste of heaven. Studies even suggest that people sharing a happy, healthy marriage live longer, have fewer strokes, and survive major operations more often, and more ( 10 Science-Based Benefits of Marriage for Your Health – Healthy Hints). But those are the consequences of a healthy marriage. An unhealthy marriage, one in which partners are “dissatisfied,” can kill you, especially if you’re a male.

A study published in 2021 followed 8,945 men for 32 years while assessing their medical data, lifestyle choices, and marital satisfaction. After 32 years, 5,736 of the men had died. Men who were dissatisfied with their marriage were 19% more likely to die than those who reported being satisfied with their marriage. This increased risk of death was similar to the increased risk of death for smokers compared to non-smokers or for physically inactive people compared to active. More specifically, fatal strokes were 69% more common among those who reported an
unsuccessful (AKA—dissatisfying) marriage compared to those reporting having a very satisfying marriage. In other words, an unhealthy marriage is a health risk factor.

Rather than risk death by marriage, commit to improving your marriage and act on that commitment.

  • Read a good book on marriage with your spouse. More than simply reading it, put the ideas and principles discussed in the book into action. A great book to start might be John Gottman’s The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (read a review here).
  • Find a good marital therapist. Many couples wait until they are at their whit’s end to find a marital therapist. By that time, they harbor resentment, and one person has often already decided to leave.  Find a marital therapist before it gets to that point.  Start working to improve your marriage when you find yourselves feeling just a little disconnected and don’t know how to fix it.
  • Attend a marriage education seminar or workshop every year. Take the ideas and principles you learn in the workshop and apply them for the rest of the year. Make them the habits of your successful marriage.

These ideas are ways for you to learn about one another and strengthen your marriage. Each one can teach you to turn toward one another and work as a team. They can help you rediscover and express what you admire in your spouse. And they can help you learn the importance of daily habits to keep your marriage strong. That may not fix everything immediately. You may still argue and have bad days. But you will find your marriage on an upward path of growing health, happiness, and life…rather than stumbling down the path of death by marriage.

Is Free Play REALLY Better for Kids?

What happens when children get to play together without interference from adults?  Amazing things happen…like problem solving, creativity, independence, and learning limits (Read Make Your Child “a Head Taller Than Himself”). I’m not just making this up either. A recent study published in the School Community Journal explored the impact of children’s participation in recess and The Let Grow Play Club.  Study participants included 460 Kindergarten through fifth graders attending an elementary school in Long Island, NY. One hundred of these students were chosen to participate in The Play Club for one hour every week while the rest participated in regular school recess (40-minutes long). Results were obtained through observation, student interviews, and teacher interviews. What were the results? Good question.

In student interviews, the students actually noted that the Play Club helped them “stay focused” during school, increased their energy level and mood, and gave them the opportunity to socialize and make more friends.

Teacher interviews suggested that students who engaged in the Play Club were better able to focus and concentrate during school. Teachers also noted an improvement in social skills like negotiation and problem-solving without adult intervention. They were better able to make adjustments to meet challenges that naturally arise during play. Overall, they exhibited greater creativity.

Observations supported the interviews, revealing the same results.

You may be thinking, “But I’m not a teacher. I’m a parent. What does this have to do with me and our home?”  Well, play can have the same positive benefits in the home setting that it has in the school setting. If you want to give it a try, encourage your kids to go outside and play with their friends. If they have trouble doing so, help them come up with ideas. If they still have trouble, you might try the Let Grow Independence Kit and involve the neighbors in developing your children’s free play in the community. In the Let Grow Independence Kit, children can choose activities to do in their home. They will learn new things and have fun. In fact, a random sampling of kids and parents who have used the Let Grow Independence Kit revealed a “flourishing of idiosyncratic interests the kids would never have had the opportunity to pursue otherwise.” In other words, you might just be surprised at how much your children learn through play and what they develop an interest in during play. But don’t take my word for it. Let the children play…and watch what happens.

Romance & Breast Cancer

What does romance have to do with breast cancer? According to research published in Psychoneuroendocrinology, there is a definite relationship. Researchers from Ohio State University found a “clear trend” between romance and breast cancer after reviewing the data obtained through questionnaires and three separate blood samples taken from 139 women diagnosed with breast cancer. A “clear trend”? Yes. The more satisfied a woman felt about her romantic relationship, the lower her perceived stress and the lower her inflammation.  Elevated levels of inflammation are associated with cancer recurrence and other illness such as arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes.  In fact, women’s inflammation markers were even lower at individual visits in which they reported satisfaction with their partner than during individual visits in which the same women reported less satisfaction. In other words, this research suggests a “clear trend” that a strong, healthy marriage reduces the chances of breast cancer recurrence and promotes positive overall health by reducing a woman’s perceived stress and inflammation markers in the blood.

Of course, this “clear trend” is not a cure-all. But it does provide us with important information. A healthy marriage can promote your spouse’s physical health. With that in mind, here are a dozen ways to build a healthy marriage, to keep your marriage strong and intimate.

  • Share time together. Intimacy and health within any relationship, especially marital relationships, are built upon time spent together.
  • Dream together. What do you want to do in five years? Ten years? What dreams do you want to fulfill with one another? For one another?
  • Share physical affection that includes non-sexual touch and sexual intimacy. (Is Your Marriage Like Chocolate Without Icing?)
  • Express gratitude. Even if you think your spouse simply did what they are supposed to do, thank them anyway. Gratitude builds relationship.
  • Expand your “love maps” of one another.  Learn about one another’s world of ideas, friends, and activities.
  • Express adoration and admiration for one another. Keep the adorable parts of your spouse in mind and make it a habit to compliment them often. (Here is an adoring Math Equation to Strengthen Your Marriage.)
  • Talk about problems as they arise and working to resolving them with your spouse’s best interest in mind. After all, to “shut up and put up” will destroy your marriage.
  • Apologize when necessary. Notice it says “when” not “if.” You will make mistakes. We all do. Be willing to eat a little humble pie and apologize for your mistakes and wrongdoings.
  • Forgive graciously. As Desmond Tutu’s book is famously titled, there is “no future without forgiveness.”
  • Honor your spouse by serving them. There is no greater way to show the full extent of your love than through the simple, daily, menial tasks of life.
  • Start a hobby you can both enjoy. This can help you enjoy time together.
  • Encourage your spouse’s dreams. Ask your spouse about their dream. Then do what you can to support that dream. Encourage them. Accompany them. Finance them. Dream with them.

Engaging in these activities will help you build a stronger, healthier marriage with your spouse. And that will promote your spouse’s health. That’s the power of love!

Early to Bed for Children Reduces…What?

My mother and my adult daughter were talking about childhood bedtimes recently. My daughter remembered having to go to bed during the long days of summer while the sun was still shining. Of course, I was the bad guy, the parent who made her go to bed in the daylight.

My mother found that amusing. It reminded her of how much I had complained as a child about going to bed during the long months of summer while the sun was still shining. Somehow, though, I was still the bad guy, the one who complained about going to bed early. In both cases I was the bad guy ( in good humor, of course).  But, no fear. I reminded them that research is on my side. (You can imagine the rolling of the eyes as I bring this gem into the conversation.)

Research published in Acta Paediatric found that an early bedtime reduced the risk of obesity in a study of 1,258 six-year-old Indigenous Australian children. To summarize, the lead author simply noted that “establishing consistent and early bedtimes may reduce the risk that your child will be overweight or obese.”

I guess I can thank my parents now for setting an early bedtime for me as a child. And, my daughter can thank her mother and me for doing the same. Perhaps they can both acknowledge that I am not such as bad guy after all. I am just a guy looking out for my children’s future health. After quoting the authors statement, my daughter and my mother both said, “Go to bed. Just go to bed.” And wouldn’t you know, the sun was still shining!

Sure, Children Lie…But Parents?

It’s true. Children lie. But parents? A collaborative effort of four universities from four different countries (Singapore, Canada, US, and China) conducted a study exploring the impact of parental lies…so they must have known parents lie. I had to ask myself…what kind of lies might parents tell their children? As soon as I asked, I began to recall some lies I have heard parents tell their children. “Tell them I’m not home.” “If you don’t behave, I’ll call the police.” “Tell them I’m sick and we’ll go to the park.” “I’m too tired to play” (while working on a home project). “You aren’t tired.”

Yes, parents lie sometimes. But, when parents lie, it seems to carry dire consequences. Which brings me back to the collaborative study exploring the impact of parental lies. The clinicians involved in the study found that lying led to short-term compliance but long-term problems. Sure, the little white lie got the children to behave in the moment, but it led to negative consequences as the children grew up.  Specifically, the more a person reported being lied to as a child, the more likely they lied to their parents as they got older. They also reported greater difficulty managing various psychological and social challenges. They exhibited more disruptive behavior, conduct problems, selfish behaviors, and manipulative behaviors. They reported feeling guilt and shame more often as well.

With so many behavioral, social, and emotional challenges arising in our children from parental lies, you might want to try an alternative.

  • Acknowledge your children’s feelings and your own feelings rather than dismissing them with a lie. (“You can’t be tired.” “You have no reason to be upset.” “I’m not angry!!”) Let your children know it is ok to have various feelings. Then teach them how to respond to those feelings in an appropriate manner.
  • Give your children information. Rather than lie, explain…truthfully. Our children can learn from the truth.
  • Offer choices. No need to lie and tell them the green shirt with the hole in it is dirty when in truth you simply do not want them to wear a shirt with  hole in it. Give them the information. Explain why you do not want them to wear it. Then offer them a choice of other clothes they can wear.

How else might you avoid telling your children lies?

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