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    Fathers’ adverse childhood experiences are linked to their children’s development

    New research from Romania has demonstrated a clear correlation between adverse childhood experiences in fathers’ lives and their children’s development, including sleep disruption, inattention, anger, and anxiety. Fathers’ symptoms of depression partially accounted for the correlation between their early experiences and their children’s inattention and anger. Fathers’ negative parenting practices partially accounted for the link with children’s inattention.
    Adverse childhood experiences include growing up in poverty; absence or death of a parent; violence; caregivers’ drug or alcohol addiction; physical or emotional neglect; peer victimization; or physical, psychological, and sexual abuse.
    Based on the study, the researchers concluded that fathers should be involved in programs that support children with problems such as anxiety, anger, inattention, and sleep disturbance. Other studies have shown that parents with a reported history of prior maltreatment have the capacity for improving their parenting practices. Fathers should also receive direct support to address depression and negative parenting practices.
    The study featured 118 fathers of 6- to 17-year-olds. All fathers were in stable, committed relationships with the mother of their children. Fathers completed a series of psychological questionnaires and evaluations of their own children. They were asked about their own childhood experiences, their assessment of their children’s mental health (inattention, sleep disturbance, depression, anger, anxiety), their own parenting practices, and their relationship with their children’s mother.
    The correlations in this research do not imply causation, but they do correspond with earlier research, particularly on mothers. Mothers’ depression and negative parenting has been shown to explain the link between their own adverse childhood experiences and their children’s development – including communication, problem solving, motor skills at age 2, health, and hyperactivity. Many studies have confirmed that individuals who were maltreated in childhood are at risk of repeating these negative behaviors toward their own children.
    Fathers’ symptoms of depression have also been linked to their children’s anxiety, depression, substance addiction (for up to 20 years), psychiatric disorders, lower academic performance, hyperactivity, social problems, and emotional difficulties. The global socioeconomic changes that have been occurring for the last 40 years suggest that the traditional mother-focused models of developmental influence are old fashioned. The presence and involvement of fathers in their children’s lives is strongly associated with their offspring’s social well-being, academic achievement, and behavioral adjustment. Moreover, longitudinal studies have confirmed that, in child development, fathers matter in ways similar to mothers. More

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    “Why are we still at home?” Fostering children’s questions during COVID-19

    Mom, why do penguins have wings?
    Because they were born with them.
    But, why do they have them, if they can’t fly?
    Because their wings help them swim.
    Because they’re like flippers in the water.
    Why are they like flippers?
    They just are.
    This type of conversation is nothing new to parents of young children. The constant “why’s” of childhood can be exasperating, as children repeatedly push for more and more information. But despite the challenging nature of these moments, these “why” questions are actually quite important for children’s learning: They show adults what children want to learn (Callanan & Oakes, 1992), reveal what they are naturally curious about, and help them gain information about the world around them. In the example above, the child learned that penguins’ wings are not meant to help them fly at all, but to help them swim. In this case, the child’s causal questions, aimed at gaining explanations, were persistent: She wanted specific information and was unsatisfied with her mother’s initially circular answer.
    Research suggests that children demonstrate these persistent questioning behaviors often, sometimes even coming up with their own answers and explanations when parents don’t give a satisfying answer (Kurkul & Corriveau, 2018). Even infants do this. Although babies can’t ask verbal questions, they use pointing gestures to request information from adults (Kovacs et al., 2014). Infants are also persistent — they continue pointing when an adult provides an unsatisfying answer to their nonverbal query (Lucca & Wilbourn, 2019).

    Although asking questions is commonplace in childhood, the “new normal” brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic may affect children’s inquiries. As many news outlets and school announcements remind us, we are currently living in “unprecedented times” in the wake of the virus. How does a worldwide pandemic affect children’s questions?

    The research is clear: Children ask questions about the world and persist in asking their questions when they aren’t satisfied with the answers. Why? Because children are curious and know that adults can provide them with rich information. Children’s questions become even more incredible when we open our eyes to the complexities that allow questions to flow so seamlessly from their mouths: They must identify where they need information, come up with a question to address the gap in their knowledge, and direct their query to an appropriate, knowledgeable person.
    Although asking questions is commonplace in childhood, the “new normal” brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic may affect children’s inquiries. As many news outlets and school announcements remind us, we are currently living in “unprecedented times” in the wake of the virus. How does a worldwide pandemic affect children’s questions?
    During stay-at-home orders, children may have fewer experiences with other children and adults. Research suggests that as preschoolers develop, they become more skilled at directing their questions to appropriate people (Choi et al., 2018). For example, they learn over time that some questions will be answered better by adults than by children. Without practice asking questions and evaluating responses from different children and adults, children may not be as well prepared to ask and answer questions.
    Additionally, children are missing out on many of the stimulating experiences they had before the pandemic, experiences that prompt curiosity and questions. For example, one study found that children asked fewer questions when viewing replicas or drawings of animals than when viewing live animals in a zoo (Chouinard et al., 2007). Questions about penguins’ wings, for example, might just not get asked. Television or videos don’t promote that much inquiry, either: Young children do not learn as much from television as they do from live interactions (Anderson & Pempek, 2005). Nor do electronic toys or tablets seem to spur children’s questions as often as real interactions do (Neale et al., 2020).
    How can we expose children to objects and events to stimulate their questions during quarantines? Here are several ideas you can try:
    Demonstrate how to ask questions. Even during a pandemic, children mimic what they see. Parents who ask questions have children who ask more questions. Instead of asking simple yes/no questions, try asking open-ended questions that use why and These are questions that get children thinking. Kids learn words more successfully when the words are presented as parts of questions rather than as statements.
    Curiosity spurs questions. Look at what your child is looking at. If you ask them a question, they might then ask you one. On a walk or in a park, ask questions about what you see. There is so much to query, for example, why do leaves fall off trees? Even watching a snow plow salt the roads can spark children’s curiosity. Why does salt make the snow melt? These experiences can elicit genuine, causal questions from children. Sometimes, children just need to be given the opportunity to ask. And we need to have the impetus to use the web to find the answers.
    Parents’ attention enables questions. Preliminary research in our lab suggests that children are more likely to ask questions when their parents are undistracted than when the adults are using their cell phones. It’s difficult to separate work and home during the pandemic, but try to reserve some time each day that is off limits for phones. Putting your phone away can signal to children that you are available, listening, and ready to respond to their questions.
    Children are curious. They want to know.  And digital babysitting leaves that thirst for knowledge unsatiated. Although the pandemic certainly raises obstacles to some of the experiences that typically stimulate children’s questions, parents have the power to increase children’s inquiry, even at home.
    Header photo: Tinuke Bernard. Unsplash. More

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    Playing and the COVID-19 pandemic

    In her creative homemade short film, The Lucky Ones, Rachel Morrison reflects on her favorite memories as a 5 year old of ice cream for breakfast and bevies of balloons. Then she segues into scenes of her 5-year-old son with cape and swords running through dunes at a nearby beach. She describes how much he, even at the young age of 5, acutely feels the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic and misses his friends and teachers. This quite blissful introduction abruptly shifts as Morrison reflects on how those playful memories of her 5-year-old self were actually intimate moments with her mother in the hospital battling cancer. The pangs of isolation undercutting these reflections pivot back to her son: What will he remember of this unusual pandemic? His play on the beach with swords and capes interwoven with so much time spent with a sibling and parents, or something else?
    This poignant short film captures so much about play and its evolutionary buffer. Play cements pleasant memories. Play is primal. Play is not only an expressive outlet for curating and preserving our own well-being, but also connects us with others. Play positions us for resilience and survival.

    “As a society, we undervalue play.”

    If this is true, why aren’t we hearing more about the value of play for children during this pandemic? Moreover, how might play be an avenue for learning or serving as a buffer against even more anticipated learning loss as the pandemic continues?
    One reason is that as a society, we undervalue play. Play’s long-term benefits for economic health and general well-being are neither easy to quantify nor quantified the way, for example, we quantify metrics on the benefits of formal and structured early education (as James Heckman, an economist at the University of Chicago, has done). Some early childhood experts are even complicit: Good intentions to elevate information and education about the types of parent interactions and environments that support early childhood development have unintentionally contributed to imposing more stress on structure and deliberateness at the cost of spontaneity.
    Another reason is that we view play as a luxury, something that is frivolous and for the rich or lazy. We’ve been wired to see play as an “extra” rather than as a core ingredient. Unlike breakfast, a good night’s sleep, and tooth brushing, play is not considered a building block to healthy living.

    “Play, and the habit of spontaneous play, can help support parents and children through this pandemic.”

    Two years before the pandemic, in 2018, the American Academy of Pediatrics for the first time published a public statement on the benefits of childhood play. They did this in part due to concerns about recommendations that tilted toward overstructured, overly formalized, and overly controlled environments for children. Managing the tension of spontaneous, unstructured play with the directive that parents hear about routine, predictability, and daily practice of positive interactions with children has and can be confusing (as I’ve previously written). Some progress has been made in addressing this tension (e.g., through initiatives such as Playful Learning Landscapes, an effort reinforce learning more naturally through public spaces and parks as locations for unfettered play).
    Photo: Paige Cody. Unsplash.

    COVID-19 has had and will continue to have devastating impacts on children of all ages. Parents’ loss of jobs and income, lockdowns in homes with adults who are sometimes abusive and neglectful, separation from school and early care and education, distance from peers, and disruption of monitoring by health and other professionals will have long-term negative consequences. We have many reasons to be worried about the next generation and the likely increases in socioeconomic and racial disparities. Could play be the silver lining in this gloomy scenario?
    Indeed, evolution might have positioned children well: No pandemic can fully kidnap their innate imagination and impulse to play (though it can drain their capacity to embrace and enjoy it). For younger children, whether turning basements into beaches or backyards into butterfly gardens, or conjuring a new influx of imaginary friends, playful activities are stepping stones to learning in all the ways educators, economists, and developmentalists tout as predictors of long term well-being. The social skills developed with imaginary friends, and the math skills incorporated into cooking and designing beaches are seedlings of the cognitive and emotional foundations children need to thrive. Considerable research shows a variety of ways that, for example, rough-and-tumble play improves children’s social cognition, social competence, and spatial ability, and imaginative or pretend play can improve children’s creativity and psychological and moral development. In fact, childhoods that are deprived of play might be harmful to children.

    “The role of intuitive play, and its place in daily habits, is more important now than ever.”

    For older children, increased time in the digital world can lead to reduced physical activity and isolation. The counterbalance can be found in the ways the digital world has sparked creativity—songs, videos, new ways of communicating across large groups of peers.
    The role of intuitive play, and its place in daily habits, is more important now than ever. Conventional modes of learning have been taken away from many families, with emotional and economic stress escalating as new struggles of getting food on the table, and balancing children’s schooling and work have increased. Conventional places to play may be constrained and unsafe, whether at home, at school, or in publicly available spaces.
    The underlying message of the AAP in 2018 is one worth revisiting now: Play, and the habit of spontaneous play, can help support parents and children through this pandemic. This might be the moment to validate that intuitive play counts as play and play counts as learning. The good news is that this message does not have to emerge from a new committee of scientists or public health experts to inform strict protocols to succeed.
    Header photo: Segun Osunyomi. Unsplash.  More

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    Making arrangements for children during Christmas and COVID

    Child arrangements during Christmas and COVID
    As we approach the end of what has been a truly eventful year, most of us are hoping the Government will relax lockdown rules so we can spend Christmas with family and friends. 
    Time with loved ones has never felt so important, but, for separated parents, Christmas can be a time of tension, as plans need to be agreed about where and how children will spend the festive season.  
    Never mind the need to factor in the impact of COVID19 and, as yet unknown, lockdown restrictions.
    So, we asked our Regional Director for Yorkshire, Rachel Roberts, to share her advice on child arrangements during Christmas and COVID.
    COVID, child arrangements and Christmas 
    When Boris Johnson announced the first lockdown back in March, one of the things we noticed at Stowe was a sharp increase in enquiries from separated parents who were struggling to agree how to manage the impact of the pandemic on the current child arrangements in place. 
    This increase in enquiry levels continues as lockdown rules have become more complicated and there have been increased periods of self-isolation as children returned to school.  
    As we approach Christmas, we are seeing a flurry of clients getting in touch for help to try and resolve arrangements for the festive season. This happens every year, but this year, with the impact of Covid and parents often having different ideas around what degree of mingling with other households is likely to be acceptable, the number of concerned parents making enquiries is higher than ever. 
    Before I turn to my tips on how best to manage arrangements, there are a couple of key points from the Government and family law sector that are certainly at the forefront of my mind when advising clients.
    In September, a leading family judge made it clear that parties should only be bringing disputes over children to court where absolutely necessary. The judge went on to criticise parents for asking the court to micro-manage children arrangements. 

    The view from the court is clear – where possible you should be sorting these things out yourself.

    It is too early to tell what lockdown restrictions will be in place at Christmas. However, to date, the Government has been clear that none of the restrictions prevents children from moving between separated parents, provided they are not self-isolating. 
    It seems unlikely that this will change, and CAFCASS (the government body that advises the court on children disputes) has stressed the need for children to maintain their usual routine.
    All that said, it is naive to think that difficulties will not arise, and the following guidance may help avoid unhappiness at Christmas.
    Tips for making child arrangements this Christmas 
    Preparation is key

    With the added unknown of potential lockdown restrictions, trying to put in place arrangements for Christmas in advance is tricky.
    If you do not have plans in place now is the time to start. Talk to your ex-partner and agree on arrangements that work for you all.
    Some clients I have worked with agreed that the children would spend Christmas Eve at one home and then return to the other for lunch on Christmas Day through until the 27th.
    Other clients decided that they would spend the whole festive period with one parent and the next year spend it with the other, alternating between the two.
    It is a personal choice based on what works for your family, but also the age of the children, location and how amicable you are.
    And this year, more than any other, be prepared to be flexible as plans may need to change. 

    Focus on the children 

    First and foremost, put the children at the heart of the plans you make. A different type of Christmas can still be a good Christmas. Talk about the positive: two Christmas Days, two sets of presents etc.
    Make sure you share your plans with the children. Depending on the age of the children, ask them what they would like? Older children need to feel they have a voice. 
    Once in place, sharing plans with the children means they know where they will be throughout the holiday, and the routine will make them feel safe and secure.
    Creating a visual plan can help as dates can be difficult for a child to understand. One client created a Christmas themed wall planner for their younger children. A tech-savvy teenager may prefer a joint Google calendar.

    Be fair to the other parent

    If this is your first year as a separated parent, this will all feel very raw and difficult. It is likely that you will both be dreading not spending Christmas entirely with your children. 
    Even though it can be difficult, try to think about the impact of any plans on your former partner. Ask yourself if you would be happy with the proposed arrangements next year? If the answer is no, then maybe they should be reconsidered. 

    Stick to the plan

    This year will require a certain level of flexibility and last-minute changes as lockdown restrictions are not clear, but where possible, it is important that, whatever arrangements you come to, you both stick to the plan. 
    Last-minute changes can cause feelings of disruption and uncertainty for children. And, whilst flexibility is an essential part of positive child arrangements, it is important to maintain consistency and provide stability.

    Get advice early, if needed

    Christmas is chaotic and organising a co-parenting schedule on top of everything else is never going to be easy, especially if communication between you and your ex-partner is difficult. 
    If you are struggling this year, take advice from a family lawyer who can try to assist in negotiating an agreement. 
    If you cannot reach an agreement, mediation can help as the presence of a 3rd party often eases tensions and result in finding common ground. 
    Mediation is still taking place via video conferencing, and many of our clients have reported that it is easier than being in the same room as their former partner.
    Court proceedings are possible but should be used as a last resort, and, due to the current strain on courts from the pandemic, it is highly unlikely that you have any prospect of a contested hearing before Christmas. 

    Hopefully, these tips, combined with some careful planning, compromise and putting the children first,  will help you and your ex-partner move forward towards a harmonious Christmas.
    Get in touch 
    If you would like any advice on child arrangements during Christmas and COVID, or other family law issues, please do contact our Client Care Team to speak to one of our specialist divorce lawyers here. 
    This article was first published in 2018 and has since been updated.  More

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    Children’s play in the COVID-19 pandemic

    Why do children need play now more than ever, and how can parents engage their children in high-quality play activities?
    “While I am preparing dinner, I see my oldest daughter (Sefae, age 7) playing outside. She is wearing one of our face masks and pretends to be a shop owner. All the supplies are neatly placed on a picnic table. One of her friends, also wearing a face mask, joins her and helps with pricing the items. After a while, some other kids from the neighborhood join them in the role of guard or customer.”
    “During dinner, I ask my daughter what they were playing. Sefae: ‘We opened a new shop and we had a lot of customers. Yasmine and Max were the guards and made sure nobody was stealing and that all the customers kept some distance from one another. We had to wear face masks because of corona.’”

    “Join your child and play along!”

    So speaks one of the authors of this piece. For young children, play provides an important context to explore the world, gain new knowledge, and develop language and social abilities. In the example above, we can see how Sefae and her friends are playing as if they work in a shop. In this imitation of a real-world activity, they learn about different roles and the discourse associated with these roles. They also negotiate rules, communicate with one another, and practice their social skills. We also see how they incorporate elements of their new reality — wearing face masks and practicing physical distancing — as a way to deal with or understand the changes in their environment.
    In the current COVID-19 pandemic, play has become more important than ever before. First, children are increasingly confronted with insecurity and changes. For example, they see people wearing face masks, find that new rules apply in school, and might notice how their parents or caregivers struggle with issues like health or financial instability. Play can be an important activity for children to cope with, process, and understand these changes. Second, as schools close or teachers have to quarantine, there is less time for children to engage in high-quality play activities. Such play activities can provide a unique learning context for the development of different cognitive domains.
    What are high-quality play activities? One important aspect that contributes to high-quality play is the role of adults. Research shows that guided play activities in which adults play along, ask questions, follow-up on what their children say, and broaden the activity support children’s learning. This is not easy! Most parents are great as parents, but they might not be fully equipped to design meaningful play activities, connect these activities to learning, and participate in a responsive and sensitive manner.

    “For young children, play provides an important context to explore the world, gain new knowledge, and develop their language and social abilities.”

    How can we make sure children keep playing during this pandemic? Here are four evidence-informed suggestions:
    First, during role play, children reenact the world around them (as shown in the example of Sefae and her friends). The social roles of customer, shop owner, or guard were played out using different props. In research on play, props are one of the most critical elements of children’s play (Leong & Bodrova, 2012). But before you rush online to buy new toys and props, bear in mind that straightforward, realistic toys are not necessary for successful role play. Most realistic toys are suitable for only one type of play scenario, thus resulting in limited use. In contrast, using common household objects — combined with a young child’s imagination — opens a world of endless possibilities. The imagination of a child can transform a piece of cardboard, a broom, or a wooden stick into meaningful props. Parents should encourage children to use materials that offer open-ended opportunities for transformation and provide them with a variety of props.
    Second, besides role play, parents have numerous opportunities to engage their children in object-oriented play. Playing with objects is an accessible activity that benefits young children’s cognitive development. For example, research has shown that playing with blocks provides a unique context in which children learn spatial language (words like in, out, on top, and behind). To guide object-oriented play, parents can provide objects and materials (e.g., blocks, cars), play along, talk, give suggestions, and ask questions (e.g., “How can we make our building higher?” “Can you pass me that big block?” “What do we need to build a (…)?”). Furthermore, schools can support parents in increasing the quality of play activities at home, for example, by providing ideas for play scenarios. Some pictures that depict different stages of a building under construction can help parents guide their children and increase the level of quality of play activities.
    Third, parents are allowed to participate in their child’s play. In fact, young children often need some guidance from adults. Before starting a play activity, parents can discuss what cultural activity the children want to imitate or what materials they would like to play with. You can ask which roles are involved in this activity, who will play what role, and what kind of behaviors are suitable for these roles, as well as which props or materials are needed. Parents can also discuss different scenarios, for example, “What will happen?” or “What would you like to build?” During a play activity, parents can broaden or deepen the activity by introducing new props, materials, roles, language, and behaviors, thereby enriching children’s experience. However, before parents join children in play, they should observe what the children are doing, what is happening, and what the conversation is about. Then, they can decide how to raise the play activity to a higher level without disturbing the child’s play. In other words, look carefully, but don’t just stand on the side and watch: Join your child and play along! Occasionally, parents can take a picture during a play activity and send it to their child’s teacher. Teachers can use these pictures as a starting point for classroom talk or to connect play at home with play in school.
    Finally, as in the example of Sefae, during mealtimes, parents can have interesting and stimulating conversations with their children about their play activities. For example, they can ask: “What were you playing?” or say: “I noticed that you were talking about (…); is that correct?” or invite: “During your role play you were (…); can you say more about that?” These small conversations can give parents more insight in their children’s world, thoughts, knowledge, and concerns, and can support children’s language development (Snow & Beals, 2006). And children’s answers might provide parents with interesting leads for planning the next day’s play activity.
    Header photo: Henry Burrows. Creative Commons.  More

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    Ending the practice of spanking young children may require more individualized, belief-based dialogue with parents

    Near-scientific consensus that physical punishment is damaging to children has led to interest in how to educate parents about its potential harms. Efforts to reduce parents’ use of physical punishment, often called spanking, with young children through on-line education are likely to succeed only if they directly address parents’ beliefs.
    This is what we learned from an experiment we undertook to examine how parents who approve of physical punishment remain committed to spanking even after being shown scientific evidence linking the practice to many negative outcomes for children, including aggression and mental health issues. The study, of parents of 2- to 8-year-olds from 41 U.S. states, was published in the Journal of Family Psychology.
    Discomfort makes parents mistrust science
    In our study, parents were given written scientific evidence about spanking in the form of an on-line news article, which included quotes from an expert on physical punishment. They also received written opinions from lay commentators who advocated for physical punishment. Parents who approved of physical punishment rated experts as less trustworthy than lay commentators, thereby avoiding the psychological challenge and discomfort – often called cognitive dissonance — that occurs when beliefs contradict scientific evidence. They may do this by questioning the trustworthiness of the science and preferring alternative perspectives that fit their views.

    “Parents do not discount all science related to parenting, just science that conflicts the views they hold.”

    However, in our study, parents who approved of physical punishment were not anti-science in principle. Their distrust of science was specific to this topic. For example, parents had no trouble valuing messages from experts on a neutral topic — the importance of car seats for children — even when they had discounted the expert on physical punishment. These findings suggest that parents do not discount all science related to parenting, just science that conflicts the views they hold.
    Photo: Average Joe. Creative Commons.

    Findings suggest more workable approaches
    The Internet has become a leading source of information for parents around the world. Our study helps us understand why efforts to significantly reduce spanking by disseminating information on-line about the dangers of physically punishing children may prove difficult without directly addressing common misperceptions about physical punishment. First, the on-line world makes it very easy for users to avoid information that contradicts what they already believe. Second, it gives users competing lay and pseudo-scientific commentary that can confirm existing views in what are often referred to as echo chambers.
    The good news is that parents who approve of physical punishment don’t distrust science per se — they are generally open to scientific findings, as the comparison involving child car seats showed. However, it is easy for parents to discount scientific findings when they can easily find others on-line who validate their support for practices such as physical punishment.
    Paediatricians can be influential
    Given the challenges of on-line parent education, a more productive way to educate parents about the harms of physical punishment may be to do so through experts they already trust, such as their children’s pediatricians. Pediatricians are widely trusted by parents. In the United States and Canada, they are encouraged to offer anticipatory guidance – a type of proactive counselling on childrearing topics such as children wearing bicycle helmets and ensuring that guns are stored safely — even if parents don’t raise the issue. The risks of physical punishment should be a subject that is frequently discussed with parents, along with suggestions for disciplinary methods to use instead of physical punishment. Pediatricians say the best time to discuss this is when children are infants so parents can reflect on the options available long before their children misbehave. However, pediatricians are not always trained for the task and may need advice on how best to raise these issues and participate in these discussions.
    Beliefs underpin parental resistance to science
    At some level, most parents who physically punish their young children believe in the practice. Some use this kind of punishment because their parents used it on them and they believe it worked. Some see it is as a last resort, when parents feel they have no other option. They may feel they need spanking in their toolbox to drive their message home on occasion. Simply telling parents not to hit their children without providing a realistic and credible toolbox of alternatives is unlikely to win over converts. Experts may seem to be taking away parents’ last resort without offering them something they know will work in what can be a stressful situation. Also, if experts offer parents alternatives that seem too difficult or time consuming, parents may display solution aversion: When a solution is regarded as unworkable or too scary, people recoil from it and stick with what they know.
    Tempting though it may be to simply rely on making scientific evidence about physical punishment widely available, to have a wider impact, we need more individualized approaches that address parents’ beliefs. Resistant parents are not intrinsically anti-science. But on the issue of spanking, they need workable options other than physical punishment. When the going gets tough, they need something they can really believe in.
    Header photo: Guian Bolisay. Creative Commons.  More

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    The Five Pillars of Home Education

    The five pillars of parenting, which I write about in Extraordinary Parenting: The Essential Guide to Parenting and Educating From Home, help all parents, whether they are educating their children at home full-time, homeschooling due to the current pandemic, caring for toddlers or preschool-age children, or simply want to support their children’s learning outside school hours.
    Pillar one: Relationships
     Much has already been written on this blog on the importance of parent-child relationships in nurturing children’s developing brains and supporting their health, happiness, and resilience into adulthood. This is doubly so with home education: A positive relationship based on collaboration, parental empathy, and playfulness forms a solid foundation for the highs and lows of educating at home. This type of relationship also creates an atmosphere in which children feel they can make mistakes and take risks, free from the comparison and competition that can be rife in school settings.
    Understanding that children’s challenging behavior is a form of communication and seeking to meet the needs behind that behavior are important for parents supporting their children through the rich terrain of home education. Marshall Rosenberg’s pioneering work on nonviolent communication is a good place to start. Parents who homeschool can build a relationship with their children that doesn’t rely on punishments, praise, or rewards, and instead seeks to develop children’s intrinsic motivation.
    Pillar two: Rhythm
    In his 2010 book, Simplicity Parenting, educator and school counselor Kim John Payne made a powerful case for simplifying children’s daily lives and reducing the number of activities – -and the sheer amount of stuff — in their lives for a slower, more balanced, and more psychologically healthy childhood. He advocated building a predictable but flexible rhythm, rather than a strict and brittle routine, which allows children to feel secure and thrive.

    Living in a society in which most children go through the school gates every day can leave us with a very specific idea of what learning looks like. It’s easy to forget that, at its best and most effective, learning — for adults and children alike — looks a lot like play and playful experimentation.

    Parents and children can work together to build a rhythm that ensures a predictable flow through the day and enough time for learning activities (for formal academic work at home, children need much shorter lessons than they do in school, so plan accordingly), time outdoors, play, rest, and time as a family. During each day, certain times can act as anchors — meals, a walk, time together in the morning to do project work or read as a family, time for everyone to pitch in with chores. This rhythm brings a reassuring pattern to each day without putting too many brakes on the creativity that can come from blank space on the calendar.
    Photo provided by the author.

    Pillar three: Home environment
    Many pedagogies speak of the importance of a prepared environment, from Maria Montessori’s insistence that the environment should facilitate maximum independent learning and exploration to the Reggio Emilia notion of the environment as the third teacher (alongside the child and the teacher), designed to suit the child’s needs and encourage collaboration, relationships, and exploration.
    At home, parents have the advantage of not teaching in a classroom — in fact, research suggests classrooms should be more like homes. A 2015 study by Barrett et al. on the impact of classroom design on students’ learning found that the aesthetics of the spaces significantly affected children’s ability to take in information: Classrooms with too much color and information had a negative impact, distracting children and making it hard to focus, and classrooms that were bare had similar effects. Natural light and fresh air were the most important ingredients for happy, focused students, as well as space to move around and furniture that fit their needs. These are all things parents can provide at home, meeting children’s needs for independence, creativity, movement, play, and rest in a comfortable space.
    Movement is especially important, with research showing that it is a key factor in how children integrate social and academic learning and transform it into memory. Parents can bring movement into their children’s daily rhythm with far more ease than schools.
    Pillar four: Encouraging natural learning
    Living in a society in which most children go through the school gates every day can leave us with a very specific idea of what learning looks like. It’s easy to forget that, at its best and most effective, learning — for adults and children alike — looks a lot like play and playful experimentation.
    Humans are born learning; all we need to do is look at a baby to see that this is true. In the first year or two of life, babies learn one or more languages; figure out how to crawl, walk, run, and climb; discern when something is funny and when something is unacceptable; determine how to respond empathetically to others’ emotions; and learn how to play. Home education can allow for a return to this more natural, playful style of learning, whether children are learning math through baking, studying a foreign language by playing Minecraft with a friend in another country, or chatting with a neighbor.
    Children have their own passions and interests that they want to explore, and home education provides the time and space for them to learn through hands-on experiences, as well as enabling far deeper exploration of different subjects than would be possible at school. Rather than trying to replicate a full school timetable of compartmentalized subjects, parents can facilitate multidisciplinary projects and investigations. They can also allow children the space to tinker, lead their own learning, and find the state of flow we know is conducive to happiness and positive self-worth.
    Pillar five: Self-care
    Stress can harm parents’ ability to respond to their children, and parents and educators alike have seen how children pick up on adult moods. We know that stress in teachers negatively affects class attainment, and stress in parents has been linked to poor behavioral outcomes in children. Home educating can be very fulfilling and enjoyable, but it can also be exhausting, especially when combined with other responsibilities, such as paid employment, housework, and caring for other children or elders. The importance of self-care for parents and caregivers cannot be overstated.
    Self-care can be broadly described as taking care of our own emotional, physical, and intellectual needs – for example, engaging in regular exercise (including taking a walk), taking time to enjoy a hobby (any activity that brings a state of flow is ideal), reading a good book, reducing time spent on social media or reading the news, having a phone conversation with a good friend, and practicing meditation. Self-care differs for each individual. If parents don’t have much or any time apart from their children, choosing activities that can be done alongside the children is most effective. Doing so also gives parents the opportunity to model self-care and show their children what it means to prioritize one’s own needs.
    Home Education Is Not Just For Pandemics
    Educating children at home can benefit both children and their families. Following the initial COVID-19 lockdowns over the spring and summer, many parents decided to remove their children from school permanently and take charge of their education themselves. In doing so, they noticed their children were less anxious and more interested in learning, and that sibling relationships once again blossomed with more time together. Evidence from families all over the world shows that children can learn perfectly well without school, and in many cases are happier, show more self-direction and intrinsic motivation in their learning, and develop a wide range of skills and interests.
    Header photo provided by the author.  More

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    Parental beliefs about online education: Reflections on the Italian experience during COVID-19 quarantine

    Italy was the first western country hit by COVID-19 and one of the countries in Europe with the highest death rates. National lockdown restrictions came into force in March 2020 and schools were closed until the end of the academic year. Now new lockdowns are feared. Teachers’ and parents’ engagement in online schooling and remote learning has emerged as one of the most significant challenges for the country.
    Children experiencing lockdown measures at home are likely to have accumulated multiple stresses related to their lack of or low engagement in school-based instructional and social activities. With schools closed, parents have become full-time child care providers and home-school teachers, responsible, more than ever, for supporting their children’s educational and developmental needs.
    Now Italian young people, their families, and their teachers are facing the challenge of in-person or blended (partly in-person, partly online) education.

    “How well both parents and their children believe they are capable of handling challenges associated with online education was associated with higher child autonomy around online education, better academic performance, and fewer child emotional difficulties.”

    Last summer in Italy, we conducted an anonymous survey of parents with 6- to 18-year-old children about their beliefs about online education. Here are some preliminary data:
    250 parents, 83% of whom were mothers, answered the survey.
    The average age of the children was 11 (SD = 3.84) and 53% were boys.
    The parents were from the center and south of Italy.
    48% lived in an independent house, while 52% lived in an apartment.
    90% said they had WIFI in their home during the lockdown.
    Our study was inspired by Albert Bandura‘s studies on self-efficacy beliefs, which showed that people’s actions are strongly influenced by how much they believe they are capable of reaching a goal or effectively handling a challenging situation. We conducted a pilot study to examine parents’ self-efficacy beliefs toward the challenges of online education during quarantine (we asked, for example, “During quarantine, how well did you believe you were capable of supporting your child doing homework during online education?”). We also examined parents’ perceptions of their children’s beliefs about feeling capable of handling the challenges (we asked, for example, “During quarantine, how well do you think your child felt capable of asking for support to do homework from you/a classmate/a teacher during online education?”). Hereafter I refer to those constructs as parents’ and children’s efficacy beliefs toward online education.
    First, both parents’ and children’s efficacy beliefs toward online education were associated with higher autonomy on the part of the children around online education (e.g., “During quarantine, how often did your child attend online education autonomously, without you having to remind him/her it was time to do so?”). Similarly higher parents’ and [children’s?] efficacy beliefs correlated with better academic performance and fewer emotional difficulties on the part of the children at the end of academic year.
    Second, parents’ support for their children’s academic activities before the COVID-19 pandemic started, as well as parents’ and children’s familiarity with online communication platforms before the pandemic, were associated with higher parental self-efficacy beliefs toward online education.
    Greater parental difficulty in supporting their children in respecting homework deadlines and understanding teachers’ instructions about homework, as well as an overall parental feeling of powerlessness in understanding how they could support their children’s learning, predicted lower parents’ and children’s efficacy beliefs.
    In addition, higher parents’ and children’s beliefs in understanding others’ needs (empathic self-efficacy), handling anger and sadness in challenging situations, and expressing positive emotions (regulatory emotional self-efficacy) were associated with higher parents’ and children’s efficacy beliefs toward online education, as well as with youth’s autonomy toward online education.
    Parents’ hostile rumination (e.g., “I will always remember the injustices I have suffered”) and irritability (e.g., “I often feel like a powder keg ready to explode”) were associated with lower parents’ self-efficacy and children’s autonomy toward online education.

    “Facilitating family-school communications in the time of COVID-19 might decrease parents’ sense of powerlessness when supporting their children’s learning development.”

    Children’s negative emotions (e.g., anger and sadness), low effortful control (e.g., the ability to inhibit an action when there is a strong tendency to perform it), and higher problematic behaviors (e.g., aggressive behaviors, anxiety and symptoms of depression) before the COVID-19 pandemic were also associated with lower parents’ and children’s efficacy beliefs toward online education.
    In conclusion, Bandura’s self-efficacy theory supports the importance of taking into account how well both parents and their children believe they are capable of handling challenges associated with online education. Our preliminary findings show a correlation between these beliefs and developmental outcomes for Italian children during the difficult months of the lockdown.
    Facilitating family-school communication in the time of COVID-19 might decrease parents’ sense of powerlessness when supporting their children’s learning development. It could also increase their sense of efficacy around the challenges typically associated with online education.
    If parents and teachers know which parents’ and children’s characteristics are associated with better child outcomes, they might be able to think more effectively about how to manage their own and their children’s behaviors to maximize the chances of success for the children.
    Header photo: Nenad Stojkovic. Creative Commons.  More