More Veggies, Please

We all know that veggies are good for us and many parents would like to encourage their children to eat more, so what does research say can get the job done? We found 5 studies that may help.

Don’t Serve Foods That Compete With Vegetables:

Researchers found that when veggies were served with more popular items, like chicken nuggets, children choose to fill up on the popular item and not the vegetable. To get kids to eat more vegetable, pair veggies with less popular foods or serve the veggie first and then introduce the popular item a little while later.

Disguise Vegetables in Popular Foods:

Researchers found that preschoolers ate nearly twice as many veggies and consumed 11% few calories when pureed vegetables were added to kids favorite foods each day. Similar results were found when “vegetable-enhanced entrees” were served to adults.

Some argue that hiding vegetables is deceptive and/or suggests that whole vegetables are not acceptable, but others argue that recipes are modified regularly to suit the needs and tastes of individuals.

Lead By Example, Create Healthier Food Environments and Encourage, Don’t Force:

Mother’s who led by example and brought home healthier foods into the home had children with healthier diets. This finding seems pretty straight forward, however many of us know all to well how hard it can be not to grab a bag of chips at the grocery store or abstain from dessert.

The study also looked at encouraging healthier choices as opposed to forcing healthier food choices. Encouragement came in the form of:
– Maintaining regular meal and snack times.
– Offering smaller portions of healthy foods.
– Having children pick our their own fruits and vegetables at the store.
– Having children select new healthy foods they can cook.
– Not overtly restricting certain foods when other children are eating the same foods around the child being restricted.
– Not forcing or yelling at kids to eat healthy foods but rather respectfully encouraging them to make healthier choices.

Incentivizing Children – Paying Kids to Eat Fruits and Veggies:

New federal rules have prompted schools to serve an extra $5.4 million dollars of fruits and vegetables each day, but children throw away approximately $3.8 million of that daily. Researchers conducted a study to measure if children would eat fruits and vegetables in exchange for small rewards such as a nickel, quarter, or raffle tickets for larger prizes. It worked. Children increased their consumption by 80% and food waste declined by 33%.

This study demonstrates that incentivizing children to eat healthy has positive outcomes. This strategy, which can also be labeled as bribery, has received a bad wrap from some experts. They say it crushes internal motivation and can produce a boomerang effect, where once the bribe disappears the behavior deteriorates even more. Researchers in this study discovered that once the incentives disappeared children returned to their previous levels of fruit and veggie consumption. This illustrated that there were no lasting improvements, but no boomerang effect either.

Repetition, Role-Modeling and Rewards Reduces Fussy Eating Habits:

Researchers found that introducing Repetition, Role Modeling and Rewards, aka the three ‘R’s’, could help parents to get their fussy eaters to try more veggies and even like them. The three R’s are described as:
– Repetition = Repeatedly exposing children to certain foods.
– Role Modeling = Having the adult eat the veggie first and show how yummy it is.
– Rewards = Praising children for trying and eating new vegetables.

Spoiled Rotten or Just Right

Are American kids spoiled?

That’s a big question and experts weigh in on both sides. Those who agree, say our children are the most priveledged and indulged in the history of the world and have high levels of entitlement and irresponsibility to match. Those against argue that despite our children’s immense privilege, they demonstrate enviable generational traits like empathy and tolerance and that it is ‘traditional mentalities’ that pinpoint each subsequent generation as more spoiled than the previous.

No matter which side the experts come down on, parents do not want their children to be spoiled. None of the character traits of spoiled children are desirable – selfish, ungrateful, controlling, easily bored, temperamental, to name a few. Parents are smart to want more than a spoiled disposition for their children as research demonstrates that spoiled children are less happy and satisfies, even as adults. Despite not wanting spoiled children, a poll commissioned by CNN and Time found that two thirds of parents think their children are spoiled. So, what is a parent to do?

Well, we waded through opinions and sorted through facts to present both sides of the argument. We also include a progressive and a development take on the subject so you can decide for yourself.

Yes, American Kids Are Spoiled.

The argument in favor of American kids being spoiled give two main reasons. The first that youth today are the most materialistically privileged children in the history of the world. The second, that our child centered parenting style has some faults, which contribute to spoiled children.

There is little denying that our children today have access to and consume more material possessions than any other generation. The culture they are growing up in promotes consumption and materialism. Our children are indoctrinated into this culture before they have the capacity to understand it or have perspective. An illuminating and sobering statistic is that only 3.1% of the world’s children live in the US, but the US consumes more than 40% of the world’s toys. From toys children move on to consume unprecedented levels of electronics, gadgets, sporting goods, clothing, and just about everything else. Experts say this culture of consumption promotes spoiled traits such as ungratefulness, lack of appreciation, selfishness, entitlement, lack of perspective and more.

The second reason supporting the argument points to our child centered parenting style. Although benefits such as nurturing, understanding, and empathy come out of this style, it can quickly veer into indulgence that creates spoiled character traits. This indulgence shows up in many ways, including:
– Protecting our children from challenges and/or hardships, which creates children who have a limited ability to deal with life’s frustrations and difficulties.
– Expecting little from our children in terms of day-to-day responsibilities, like helping with household chores or work within our communities. This instills a sense of irresponsibility. It encourages incompetency, selfishness and entitlement.
– Expecting our children to be special and teaching them that they are special. This promotes narcissism.
– Paying so much attention to how our children feel that we sideline other values like responsibility to others, facing up to our actions and taking responsibility for them.

No, American Kids Are Not Spoiled.

“The Myth of the Spoiled Child” is a book by Alfie Kohn that debunks the theory that American children are more spoiled than previous generations. It is probably the most well known argument against the theory. Kohn, focuses on debunking commonly held assumptions such as:
– Parents today are too permissive and don’t set limits. Kohn argues there is no evidence to support that permissive parenting is the dominant style today. He describes parents today as emphasizing collaboration (more than control), and love and reason (more than power), which is not the same as being permissive.
– Parents do too much for their children leaving them unprepared. Again Kohn argues the evidence is thin. He goes further saying that being highly involved enough may do more harm.
– Kohn argues that hardship doesn’t necessarily create a backbone. He says that prior experience with success is more likely associated with further success than is failure. So is it so bad we hand out a trophy to each kid? Maybe not, depending on the context.
– Kohn argues that contrary to popular belief, self-discipline is overrated and he puts forth the idea of reflective rebelliousness. He says that children learn to make good decisions by making decisions and seeing how they pan out rather than by following directions.
– Kohn does not like the idea of praising children, which he feels sets children up to value themselves and their actions only when others value them. He prefers the idea of independently minded children.

Another interesting argument debunking the idea that American children are spoiled examines our species and society from an anthropological angle. It says that a defining characteristic of Homo sapiens is our prolonged juvenile period. We grow up slowly in order to acquire language, build complicated social structures and learn about our complicated world. These traits are what define us as humans. Our world is rapidly growing more and more complicated and so our juvenile period is increasing. Skills that were once prioritized and associated with adulthood are being replaced with more pertinent skills. For example, being able to do household chores, like laundry, is being overshadowed by the importance of, say, social media.

Spoiled Is Not Even The Question.

There are other experts who argue that the word “spoiled” is an antiquated term that should be replaced with the more specific terms, “overindulged” and “overprotected”. These terms reflect the two avenues that generally cause “spoiled” children. Parents who have a hard time saying no and/or setting limits tend to create “overindulged” children. Parents who can’t step back and let their children experience the ups and downs of life tend to create “overprotected” children. Parents who see their own parenting style reflected in these terms can take constructive steps to pull back and change the areas that they are going overboard in.

What Experts CAN Agree On.

The overwhelming majority of child development experts believe that it is not possible to spoil an infant. In fact, research shows that parents who respond quicker to their infants needs, including when infants cry, produce infants that are happier and more independent by their first birthday. This is because meeting an infants need to be held, comforted, fed, and changed helps them feel secure. This security also enables them to more easily explore their boundaries and deal with challenges and eventual limits. Experts are reluctant to pinpoint when the issue of being “overprotected” or “overindulged” starts, but many agree that setting developmentally appropriate limits during toddlerhood can be helpful. Of course a parent must recognize that a toddler’s job is to explore and push boundaries so setting limits must incorporate that developmental drive. For example, if your child wants to climb everything in site, teach them to climb when it is safe and appropriate, but limit climbing at other times.

Mistaken Labels.

As we think about our children or judge others children it is important to make room for different temperaments and children with special needs.

Children have different inborn temperaments, which influences their behavior. A child with an easy-going temperament has a very different reaction to being told “No” than a child that is high-strung, with big reactions. Parents must work with, not against, a child’s temperament. Having a child with a more “spirited” temperament does not mean that they should get their way more; it just takes more work and effort to direct them. (Parent Think has an upcoming article on “spirited children”.)

Where Do You Stand?

So, after reading the arguments in favor and against “Are American Kids Spoiled” where do you stand?If you feel like you are on the right track then stay the course. If you feel your children are “overprotected” and/or “overindulged” then fine tuning your interactions with your kids is the way to bring about change.

Research shows that parents who have clear expectations and set limits consistently while maintaining a nurturing and respectful relationship with their children, have children who are happier, livelier, more emotionally regulated, resilient, socially adept and flexible than kids from either authoritarian or permissive homes.

Squirm to Learn

If you have a child with ADHD you have to let them squirm if you want them to learn.

That’s right, the prevailing wisdom, of trying to keep them still to stay focused, has been turned on its head. New research indicates, that the movements that children with ADHD exhibit, are vital to how they remember information and work out complex cognitive tasks. Mark Rapport, one of the research study’s authors and head of the Children’s Learning Clinic at the University of Central Florida, said in a statement “The message isn’t ‘Let them run around the room,’ but you need to be able to facilitate their movement so they can maintain the level of alertness necessary for cognitive activities.”

In fact, Mark Rapport’s previous research had already demonstrated that the excessive movements, which are hallmarks of ADHD and appeared ever-present, were actually present when children with ADHD needed to use their executive brain functions, particularly their working memory.

By contrast, children in the study that did not have ADHD but moved more during the research study, performed worse.

If your child has ADHD it could be worthwhile to talk with your school about using techniques and devices that could provide the movement your child needs with minimal disruption to other students. Devices that have been used are activity balls, wobble cushions, bouncy bands for chairs and more.

More about ADHD:
– ADHD affects 5-10% of school age children.
– ADHD is characterized by three groups of symptoms, inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
– Children with ADHD can have trouble controlling their behavior and emotions, which can lead to lower social skills, isolation, dependence on others, and poor school performance.
– There is a strong relationship between ADHD and sleep problems, but it is not known if sleep problems cause ADHD or vice versa. (Sleep problems include trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, restless sleep, snoring or gasping during sleep.)
– What is know is that children with ADHD have higher rates of daytime drowsiness, sleep apnea (a pattern of interrupted breathing during sleep), restless leg syndrome and periodic leg movement syndrome, all of which affect the quality and duration of sleep.
– Children who are tired behave differently than adults who are tired. Adults become sluggish, whereas children speed up, become inattentive, hyperactive, impulsive and oppositional, all characteristics of ADHD.
– Sleepiness may explain why stimulant medications used to treat ADHD are effective in 80% of children diagnosed with ADHD. Just like adults who need coffee to counteract sleepiness, children who are tired may need stimulants to improve focus and attention.
– Many with ADHD are able to harness its positive aspects and use them to their advantage. These qualities can include creativity, intuition, imagination, know-how, industriousness, the ability to multi-task, the ability to hyper focus, the ability to tolerate and take risks and the ability to be clear and level headed during chaotic and unpredictable situations.
– According to Psychology Today “people with ADHD are 300% more likely to start their own business”.

Parent Stress

The Stress of It
Parenting Children with Special Needs

Stress is something most parents experience, but the stress of raising a child with special needs increases. Three important studies have sobering conclusions:

– A 2009 study found that mothers of adolescents and adults with autism had stress levels comparable to soldiers in combat and others who experience chronic stress.
– A USF study found that mothers who had reared children with special needs for 15 years had shortening of their telomeres due to stress, which affects cellular replication and keeping a person young.
– A 2009 study found that chronically stressed mothers have a shortening of their life expectancy by 9 to 12 years.

Some of the disabilities that have been shown to impact parental stress and health are autism, ADHD, bipolar, Down Syndrome, sensory processing issues, disruptive behavior, anxiety, learning disabilities and serious medical conditions. Special needs children who exhibit behavioral issues typically cause the greatest levels of chronic stress.

The stress of raising children with special needs generally comes from the following areas:

– Financial Stress: The cost of raising special needs children varies greatly depending upon the need, but there are almost always additional costs. These expenses come from medical visits, prescriptions, specialized caregivers, therapies, equipment, special education and more. One of the greatest financial impacts comes from parents having to miss or quit their jobs to care for their children. Some parents will have to shoulder this financial responsibility for the child’s entire life, which includes having to prepare for the financial demands after they are deceased, but their child is still alive. (According to the journal JAMA Pediatric, it costs $2.5 million to have a child with autism and intellectual disabilities over the child’s lifetime.)
– Medical Stress: Not only are medical visits and prescriptions costly, but parents often have to become their child’s medical caregivers, case managers, and advocates in fields that are usually complex, not well understood and provide uncertain outcomes. It also takes a lot of time and effort to connect to the right doctors, therapists and other medical professionals, and attend appointments and ongoing therapies.
– Daily Stress: Mothers of special needs children report spending at least two hours more each day caregiving than parents of developmentally typical children. This is because their children’s needs demand more attention. Special needs children also tend to have disturbed sleep so parents of special needs children often have less sleep than parents of developmentally typical children. This explains why mothers of special needs children report being twice as tired as mothers of developmentally typical children. Parents must also consider and manage the impact of their child’s condition on siblings and their relationship with their partner. These stressors can be fore life if their special needs child cannot learn to function independently.

The realities of raising a special needs child can be intense and finding ways to manage the stress associated with it is challenging. Much of the advice for helping typical parents manage stress is not applicable for parents of special needs children. For example, one strategy for developmentally typical parents is to take a break and find time for themselves. Parents of special needs children often can’t enlist the help of a typical babysitter or family and friends because their child’s needs are too demanding and hiring special caregivers can be cost prohibitive, if they can even locate them. So what is a parent of a special needs child to do? They have to be more creative and diligent in finding ways to help themselves. They must prioritize themselves when they can and it is safe, despite their child’s needs. This is known as the ‘oxygen mask’ theory, that to help others you must help yourself first.

Some strategies to get started are:

– Take practical steps if you can, like hiring a babysitter or specialized caregiver.
– Be creative in getting help. For example, if you can’t lean on family to watch your child, ask them instead for a cooked meal or find other parents of special needs children and swap time with them if possible.
– Locate other special needs parents for support, information and helpful strategies and life tips.
– Reframe your stress. Studies have shown that thinking about stress in positive ways can impact how stress affects our bodies. For example, when hotel housekeepers were told their jobs actually made them physically more fit instead of taking a toll on their bodies, they actually lost weight and body fat, experienced lower blood pressure and liked their jobs more as opposed to housekeepers in the control group who experienced none of these benefits.
– Be realistic. Raising special needs children is different from raising developmentally typical children so you can’t compare your situation or child to it.
– Try to focus on the good. Research shows that mothers of special needs children are just as likely to have positive experiences each day and are just as likely to volunteer or support their peers.
– Find compassion for yourself, your situation and your child.

With nearly a quarter of US households having a family member with special needs, the stress of parenting special needs children affects many. It is important for these parents to be proactive in reducing, managing and reframing (when they can) their stress.

Intense Parenting

Some studies report that parenting children makes people happier and increases wellness, while other studies report the exact opposite. Researchers wanted to figure out why this discrepancy exists and in doing so uncovered how our personal parenting style may be at the root of it. Researchers found that certain parents have a more intense approach, which causes them to feel lower life satisfaction and higher rates of depression and stress. They coined this approach “intensive parenting”.

Researchers found that in their study, “intensive parenting” was exclusively the domain of mothers and not fathers. There may be some fathers who also follow that approach but the researchers just didn’t come across any.

The researchers asked questions structured around 5 categories to determine if a person’s style fell into “intensive parenting”. The five categories are:

1. Essentialism – The perception that mothers are more “necessary and capable” than fathers. (For this category, one question was “Do you think moms are ultimately more important than dads?” The possible answers were “1. Yes, they’re more natural parents. 2. No way, dads are crucial. 3. Perhaps, depending on the individual.)

2. Fulfillment – The belief that a parent’s happiness is derived primarily from their children.

3. Stimulation – The idea that the parent should always provide the best and/or intellectually stimulating activities to further their child’s development.

4. Challenging – The perception that parenting is exhausting, challenging and just about the hardest job there is. (For this category, participants in the study ranked statements like “It is harder to be a good mother than to be a corporate executive.”)

5. Child-centered – The idea that children’s needs and wants should always come before the parents.

Researchers found that out of the 5 categories listed above, categories 1, 4, and 5 contributed the most to depressive, stressed, and decreased life satisfaction rates. The findings are broken down below, starting with the most affected categories to the least affected:

-Parents who scored high on the “challenging” (#4) category were more depressed, stressed, and less satisfied with their lives.
-Parents who scored high on “essentialism” (#1) were more stressed and less satisfied with their lives, but not more depressed. This may suggest that feeling essential could be a buffer against feeling depressed.
-Parents who scored high on “child-centered” (#5) were less satisfied with their lives but not more stressed or depressed.

Researchers did not examine the effects upon children who have intense parents but countless studies have demonstrated that having depressed and stressed out parents is maladaptive. Researchers were not clear on what causes certain parents to be “intense parents” but it could be personal beliefs and values.

So, if you feel stressed out, depressed and decreased life satisfaction examine your parenting style and make changes to a more carefree and happier you!

A Mother’s Love

This Mother’s Day, if you are one of the 85+ million Mothers in the US, we hope your day will be special. We wish you a belly full of chocolate and vases full of flowers, but the real impact of Motherhood will be forever held in your brain, but felt in your heart.

Neurological brain changes are what largely account for our emotional changes after becoming parents and our deep and profound love for our children. In fact, becoming a parent looks a lot like falling in love, at least in brain images.

Below, on the top strip, on can see a Mother’s brain while interacting with her child and on the bottom strip, an adult’s brain on romantic love. As is evident, the same general areas are activated in both types of love.

The areas that become particularly affected when we become parents are those that involve vigilance, where our focus and attention are given, and the areas that incentivize us to prioritize our infant. Many studies have documented that when a Mother simply looks at her infant the reward centers in her brain light up.

The greatest brain changes occur with a mother’s first child, but scientists are not sure if a mother’s brain ever reverts after the first experience. Fathers who are very involved in childcare also experience similar brain changes, except male brain changes are driven by different systems than in a female brain.

Happy Mother’s Day. Feel the love.

Infant Intentionality

Intention is the understanding that what we do has meaning and impacts us on a physical, mental and emotional level. So, if we reach for an object, we want to possess it. If we smile after obtaining the object we are happy. If we cry after we hug someone and walk away, we are saddened by that moment and so on. This information, understanding someone’s intention, is critical insight that helps us make sense of our social world. New research is attempting to put together the essential building blocks of how infants learn intention. We did our best to whittle down the information to it’s most rudimentary components and focus only on this system, and not others that may come into play. No matter, it is still exciting information about a critical aspect of our socialization.

Building Block 1: Infancy
Within a few months, infants recognize when we are reaching for something and will look in the same direction as the person who is reaching for the object. This is called recognition of self-produced, biological motion.

Building Block 2: 6 months
By 6 months, babies have sufficient expectations about what people are doing and they continue to build up these references as they grow. Babies are learning this because their own experience of reaching for objects is informing their knowledge and because they are keen observers of others. Infants also understand that inanimate objects do not possess motion.

Building Block 3: 9 months
By 9 months, babies understand that people have motion goals and persist past obstacles, accidents and failures until their goal is reached. They also have already linked an emotion with reaching that goal, be it happy if accomplished or disappointment if not. This linkage, a mental state (happy, disappointment, etc.) with a physical state (self-produced, biological motion) is key.

Building Block 4: 10 months
Around 10 months, babies start to understand that there are separate goals adults want to accomplish even though their actions are one continuous stream of movement. For example, they understand that even though a Mom may clean up, change a diaper, change the laundry, and get a snack in one continuous stream of action, that each action has its own separate goal. They also look to the adult’s face during play suggesting that they are seeking information about the adult’s emotional state.

Building Block 5: 14 months
By 14 months, babies begin to understand much more sophisticated aspects of intentional action, like how people make decisions to carry out their actions and obtain their goals in different types of situations. Babies are also able to understand that if someone else uses a set of actions to accomplish their goals, then they too can use the same actions to accomplish their own goals (a.k.a. rational imitation). This level of understanding begins to impact how babies learn (imitate) their culture.

More Facts:
– Infants do not need to be explicitly taught intention; they learn it on their own from being expert observers, and their own burgeoning ability to reach for objects.
– Babies understand that language is an exchange of information, that there is intention within it.
– Babies learn that what someone is paying attention to is a clue to their intention and that intentions belong to individuals (not everyone has the same intention). For example, not everyone is reaching for the bottle.

Helping Siblings Become Lifelong Friends

Sibling conflict can be a challenging and consuming aspect of family life. Parents who hope their children will have a close relationship as adults may worry that these fights will chip away at that reality, but new research says that the ratio of playing together versus fighting together is key. The more good times than bad times, the more likely it is they will have close adult relationships. Siblings who don’t fight, but also don’t play together, generally don’t end up having a warm relationship.

Dr. Laurie Kramer, who studies sibling relationships at the University of Missouri, says that helping siblings create opportunities to enjoy one another’s company should be a parents focus. Outings to a favorite location, or a share activity, on a regular basis, will help kids reinforce positive time together. Dr. Kramer also emphasizes that siblings should learn to initiate play and decline play in amicable ways among siblings with comments such as “It makes me happy to see you sharing with each other”.

Dr. Kramer also warns against using popular books and videos to teach sibling harmony. Of the 261 that she surveyed, the first portion of the story focused on the conflict while the remainder of the story focused on the resolution. When Dr. Kramer used these books and videos in her research, sibling behavior deteriorated so quickly that the study had to be stopped. Instead of focusing on the resolution, children were focusing on new and ingenious ways to taunt, belittle and blame each other, which were highlighted in the first half of the stories.

Dr. Kramer’s work also questions the popular belief that sibling conflict is rooted in the struggle to compete for parental resources, particularly parental affection. This belief was first promoted by Freud and is perpetuated in virtually all parenting manuals today. Dr. Kramer’s empirical research is based off of polls taken about what kids say they fight about and fighting for parental attention ranks dead last on their list. This may explain why even when siblings get lots of parental attention they may still fight.

Although Dr. Kramer believes that helping siblings bond over good times versus bad times is more effective in predicting close adult relationships, she does believe helping children resolve conflicts is important. The ability to resolve conflict can be personally rewarding, promote self-esteem and a useful lifelong skill. Helping children narrate each side of the argument and asking children to help formulate “a plan” of action can go a long way. For example, if children are fighting over a toy, a simple narration could be “you both really want that toy” and the plan of action could be “each of you has it for 15 minutes”.

Additional ways to support your children’s relationship:

– Help children see things from other’s perspective.
– Teach them how to move through conflict and to view conflict as solvable.
– Teach them to respect their siblings for who they are.
– Teach them to identify and manage their own emotions and behaviors.
– Praise them for problem solving, showing patience, sharing, being flexible, using nice words, and any other positive behaviors.
– See your parental role as that of a coach not a referee.

Regardless of what approach parents use, they should feel secure in the knowledge that fighting is a normal part of sibling relationships. In fact, young siblings argue 3.5 times per hour, but again as research indicates, a parent’s focus should be on promoting good times between siblings if the goal is encouraging a close relationship as adults.

More Facts:

– Siblings make 700% more negative and controlling statements about one another than compared to their interaction with friends, per observational studies.
– Siblings that can manage conflict, engage in fantasy play and have elaborate play episodes develop the most positive sibling relationships.
– Although parents vocalize the importance of helping their children learn to resolve conflict, many do not help their children accomplish that. In a study, parents stated that when their children fight they help their children learn conflict resolution, when microphones were put into the homes, researchers noted that typically parents did nothing to help their children.