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    Physical punishment has a cascading effect on children’s behavioral problems and literacy

    Research has consistently shown that children who are physically disciplined by their parents, such as getting hit or slapped, have more externalizing problems (like aggression) and more disruptive behaviors in the classroom. Their academic performance is also lower than that of children who are not physically disciplined. Even in studies that do not focus on physical punishment, children who behave in problematic ways in the classroom tend to do less well academically, in general, than their peers.
    However, this research raises the proverbial chicken-and-egg question: Does disruptive behavior in the classroom interfere with the learning process? Or do learning challenges lead children to act out? For example, when children act out in school, they are sometimes separated from other children and removed from the classroom, which may give them fewer opportunities to learn. Under this scenario, which has been referred to as the adjustment erosion hypothesis, negative behavior comes first, followed by academic challenges. An alternative idea, called the academic incompetence hypothesis, suggests that when children have difficulties learning, they can become disruptive, perhaps out of frustration.

    “We found that children who were physically disciplined by their parents in kindergarten had more externalizing problems in first grade, slower rates of literacy learning from K-8, and ultimately, lower overall literacy skills by eighth grade.”

    Many studies lack the data to determine when problems start, how children’s behavior changes over time, or even if these challenges start as a result of disciplining practices at home. To examine these questions, my colleagues and I conducted a study, focusing on children’s literacy as an important indicator of academic performance. Literacy is the foundation for acquiring knowledge, especially as children shift from learning to read to reading to learn.
    We analyzed data from a large U.S. sample that tracked children from kindergarten through eighth grade. While controlling for factors that have also been associated with children’s behavior and learning, such as socioeconomic status and parents’ education, we found that children who were physically disciplined more frequently by their parents in kindergarten had more externalizing problems in first grade, slower rates of literacy learning from K-8, and ultimately, lower overall literacy skills by eighth grade when compared to children whose parents did not use physical discipline early on. Our findings support the adjustment erosion hypothesis and show that parents’ physical discipline practices have long-lasting, cascading effects on children’s behavior and learning.
    Why might physical discipline in early childhood lead to children’s problem behavior and lower literacy over time? As children transition into a new educational system, as they do when they start kindergarten, they may be particularly vulnerable to the challenges at home. We know from a number of studies that in times of stress or change, children need support. If parents are sensitive to their children’s needs, and offer a supportive and predictable caregiving environment, children feel comforted, safe, and less stressed.

    “Promoting a positive environment at home should start as early as possible.”

    They also regulate their feelings better, meaning that when a child gets distressed, as all children do, they are better at recovering from their negative feelings. However, if children are parented harshly or inconsistently, they can feel unsettled, and this adds to the stresses they are already experiencing. When some children feel heightened levels of stress, they act out. Moreover, when children are hit by their parents, it signals to them, even unintentionally, that aggression is a way to control others. So harsh discipline in the home may set up children to struggle with getting along in the classroom environment and ultimately, with learning important skills such as reading.
    We also know from our research that promoting a positive environment at home should start as early as possible. Early in infancy, when children are so dependent on support, they need a safe and responsive caregiving environment. For example, when babies are very young and cry, they are signaling that something does not feel right. Caregivers need to respond by picking them up and trying to figure out what they need. Babies cannot be spoiled by caregivers responding their needs.
    As children get older, they start to test limits and boundaries. Sometimes they engage in behaviors that could harm themselves or others. Parents can learn strategies that are more authoritative in which they set clear boundaries (e.g., telling that that “it is not okay to push your sibling”), teach them better ways to regulate their feelings (e.g., using words, not physical force), and provide comfort when children are distressed. Using more authoritarian methods such as hitting a child to “teach them the rules” may work in the short term but does not work over time.
    Early parenting behaviors are important for children to help them feel safe, learn how to explore safely, and regulate their feelings so they do not resort to acting out at home or in the classroom. Promoting better ways for children to manage their behavior can also help them in the learning environment, which can set them up for success.
    Header photo: CDC. Unsplash. More

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    Raising Kids With The Entrepreneurial Spirit

    We are all hopeful that our children will grow to be confident, motivated and resilient adults, but how do we best set them up for success early in life? Raising our kids with the entrepreneurial spirit can help give them the can-do growth mindset, analytical skills, and leadership abilities that allow them to thrive in any given situation. Today, I will share with you some expert tips for a few ways parents can encourage an entrepreneurial spirit in children from an early age.

    What is The Entrepreneurial Spirit?

    The entrepreneurial spirit meaning is best described as all of the key traits that make an entrepreneur successful. That is to say, the vision, confidence, drive, determination, persistence, and the ability to adapt, grow, and change based on the market. Being an entrepreneur takes a special ability to think for one’s self, to be willing to take calculated risks, and to go after big dreams with a passion that is unstoppable. Leadership qualities are a must and they love a good challenge. A true entrepreneur is full of new ideas and knows how to seize new opportunities. A few entrepreneurial skills include intellectual curiosity around even ordinary things, creative thinking, and developing innovative products. They can be a measured risk taker who knows how to use right people to create a positive business community that takes a good idea to fruition.

    Hosts of the Top 100 podcast The Product Boss, co-founders of The Product Boss Mastermind courses

    Encouraging The Entrepreneurial Mindset

    Raising a child with the entrepreneurial spirit does not mean they have to be an entrepreneur business leader when they grow up. It just means that they have the self-motivation and drive to chase their dreams and be self starters.

    With this in mind, I am so happy to share with you some fabulous tips for raising entrepreneurs from two amazing moms and successful entrepreneurs, Minna Khounlo-Sithep and Jacqueline Snyder, also known to the world as The Product Boss. Together, they use their expertise to help small businesses with savvy strategies to achieve success through their coaching platforms, top-ranked podcast (The Product Boss Podcast), and social media shopping initiatives that promote small businesses.

    With close to 30 years of combined experience in the business venture space, they’ve learned the value of entrepreneurial drive and have been consciously motivating their kids to follow in their footsteps over the years.

    The Product Boss ladies have shared their top three tips for encouraging those “kidpreneur” tendencies and fostering feelings of independence and ingenuity below.

    Ice Cream Shop- pure joy!

    1. Give playtime a purpose 

    While they are young and imaginations are still running wild, encouraging your kids to open up their own shops at home is always a fun and enriching experience for everyone. Whether they decide they want to open up a restaurant, a veterinarian office or a bakery, all of these add a sense of purpose and drive to their free time that didn’t exist before. Getting that first-hand experience, even if just artificial, plants the seed early that one day they too can create a life and career that they dream of if you mix those passions with a little hard work. 

    2. Keep them interested and involved 

    If you’re a small business owner yourself, getting your kids interested in your work is a natural next step. Keeping the business conversations going when the kids walk in, asking them to offer their two cents on career-related predicaments, having them help out on certain activities in your work they might enjoy, and discussing your career goals at length with them are all fantastic new ways to keep them invested. Before you know it, your kids are dreaming up their own aspirations, careers and lives soon to unfold. 

    3. Hold them accountable and offer choices

    It’s never too early to begin to instill a hard work ethic in your kids. If they say that they want that new toy, ask how they will go about earning it. Can they set up a lemonade stand? Can they earn money from completing various household chores? When children aren’t simply given everything they ask for and, instead, are encouraged to go out and work hard for what they want, they begin to see the world in a new light. In addition, giving them these decisions early on sets them up as independent thinkers. It also helps improve low confidence levels and indecisiveness. Setting these standards from the jump and holding them accountable for their actions is the best way to set them straight on their entrepreneurial path. 

    If you enjoyed these tips and would be interested in more tips on how to become a successful business owner, check out the The Product Boss Podcast, A Top 100 Podcast On Apple Podcast Business Charts. You can listen on Spotify or various other podcasting services.

    Additionally, I want to share some of my favorite entrepreneurial spirit quotes with you today for a little extra inspiration.

    Entrepreneurial Spirit Quotes

    “You have to see failure as the beginning and the middle, but never entertain it as an end.” –Jessica Herrin

    “You just have to find the solution for a problem in your own life.” -Brian Chesky, Co-founder of Airbnb

    “Don’t worry about being successful but work toward being significant and the success will naturally follow.”-Oprah Winfrey

    “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” -Walt Disney

    “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” -Mark Twain

    “Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” – Steve Jobs

    “There is no greater thing you can do with your life and your work than follow your passions – in a way that serves the world and you.” –Richard Branson

    “We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.” -Bill Gates

    Spirit Of Entrepreneurship Conclusion

    I hope you enjoyed these tips to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit in your children so that they stay curious, optimistic, eager to find better ways. Developing a positive attitude and the desire to find new solutions will serve them in all areas of life. After all, who doesn’t want to help their kid become more confident and motivated? How will you encourage your young entrepreneur?

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    New Podcast For Kids- Molly of Denali More

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    Ten ways to protect your child against bad experiences

    Adversity, such as abuse, neglect, and poverty, damages children. But protective experiences can build resilience against adversity and promote positive development.
    We identified 10 relationships and resources proven to counter the impact of adverse experiences. They have hidden magic that can transform an otherwise miserable childhood. Perhaps a child has been abused and has an alcoholic or depressed parent – or both. Down the street lives a grandmother who provides safe harbor. Maybe a caring teacher or an athletics coach takes the child under her wing. These are just a few of many protective antidotes that can diminish the toxicity of adverse experiences. They mean that a child’s outcomes may turn out to be much better than expected in the face of difficult circumstances.
    This list of PACEs – Protective and Compensatory Experiences – is based on more than common sense. The impact of such experiences is often identifiable through changes to the brain and in behaviors. For example, experiments with mice graphically demonstrate what can happen when a PACE repairs some of the damage caused by bad early experiences.
    PACEs and genetic changes
     A new mother mouse placed after the she gives birth in an unfamiliar environment with inadequate bedding typically becomes abusive to her pups. She may step on her young, and stop licking or grooming them because she is stressed. These pups grow up and act in a depressed manner, and are more likely to be harsh and fail to nurture their own pups. However, when the pups are fostered by non-stressed, nurturing mothers, over time, the epigenetic change driving their abusive behaviors can be reversed.

    “When children experience multiple forms of adversity, the impacts are magnified. Multiple protective experiences may also have a cumulative effect.”

    We do not yet have data for humans on the epigenetic impact of switching from an adverse to a protective experience. However, infants raised initially in Romanian orphanages who were later fostered in nurturing homes showed developmental benefits that likely mirrored the neurobiological improvements observed in mice.
    Our colleague, David Bard, professor of pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, has demonstrated how positive parenting practices in thousands of U.S. families have buffered children against the impacts of adversity. Activities such as reading to children; ensuring they have routines; and taking them to shops, museums, and playgrounds were associated with better learning in preschool and fewer behavioral problems at school than would otherwise have been expected.
    Top 10 protective and compensatory experiences
    From research evidence, we have assembled a list of the top 10 types of relationships and resources that provide the PACEs that bolster children against adversity. These are detailed more extensively in our new book, Adverse and Protective Childhood Experiences: A Developmental Perspective.

    Receiving unconditional love: Not only do children need to be nurtured and loved, that love should feel unconditional. This does not mean that children never get in trouble or parents never get mad. The crucial point is that whatever a child does, the parent stays on the child’s side. As an infant, it means that when you cry, you get a response; your parents make eye contact with you and cherish you; and they sing, play, and talk with you. As a child, you can count on your parent’s eyes lighting up when you walk into the room; mom or dad always has your back. And when you grow older, it means that your parent sets limits and explains how things are done. There are many ways to express unconditional love.
    Having a best friend: Close friendship offers protection from peer rejection, bullying, and victimization. This happens not just because a child has someone to talk to, but because it helps the child learn how to deal with conflict and grow a relationship over time. Children have a sense of being important and they have someone to go to.
    Volunteering in the community: Volunteering helps children learn about the needs of others and gives them the opportunity to see a world outside their own. When they understand that helping is not done out of pity, it allows them to accept help from others when they need it.
    Being part of a group: Being in a group gives children a sense of belonging outside the family. It allows children and teenagers to learn about themselves in different contexts, and provides opportunities for friendship and leadership. Taking part in school clubs and sports is linked to academic success, psychological well-being, and lower rates of substance abuse.
    Having a mentor: Having an adult other than a parent who can be trusted and counted on for help and advice helps protect against psychological distress and academic difficulties, and reduces the incidence of high-risk activities. Even if children have exemplary parents, an adult outside the home can be an alternative role model to whom children can aspire and is a reminder that someone else loves them.
    Living in a clean, safe home with enough food: These primary needs are crucial. Good, regular nutrition is important for brain development and protects against health problems; eating dinner regularly with your family reduces the risk of weight problems. Chaotic, unpredictable home environments are associated with harsh and inconsistent parenting. Children who live in unclean, cluttered homes have worse outcomes than those living in clean, organized homes.
    Getting an education: Just like living in a clean, safe home, the opportunity to learn and be educated in an environment with boundaries and rules also protects children from risk. High-quality early childhood programs make a lasting difference to outcomes for children from low-income families.
    Having a hobby: Whether it is playing an instrument, dancing, doing judo, reading, or playing chess, any recreational activity helps teach self-discipline and self-regulation, and can provide children and youth with a routine and a sense of mastery, competence, and self-esteem.
    Engaging in physical activity: Being physically active helps children handle the physiological effects of stress on the body, and improves mood and mental health. In so doing, it reduces the likelihood that children will grab a bag of chips or lash out to relieve stress.
    Having rules and routines: Security comes when children know what to expect and when caregivers enforce clear rules and limits. Children cannot parent themselves; they need high expectations, consistency, and parents’ involvement. In early childhood, this means that parents should establish and enforce bedtime and other routines, redirect children when they misbehave, and as children grow up, explain the effects of their behavior on others.

    Photo: Anna Earl. Unsplash.
    We know that when children experience multiple forms of adversity, the impacts are magnified. Likewise, multiple protective experiences may have a cumulative effect for children, though the power of this accumulation requires further study.
    PACEs matter for all children
    Adverse experiences can happen anywhere to anyone — the rich as well as the poor. All children should have access to experiences that bolster and protect them. Children from more well-to-do families who face adverse experiences, such as family break-up, mental illness, and substance abuse, are more likely to have compensatory experiences. These might be opportunities to participate in clubs, have tutors, go to drama classes, choose to play an instrument, and have teachers and coaches who really care about them.

    “Down the street lives a grandmother who provides safe harbor. Maybe a caring teacher or athletics coach takes the child under her wing. These are just a few of many protective antidotes that can diminish the toxicity of adverse experiences.”

    In contrast, children in families living in high-crime and high-poverty neighborhoods might lack access to protective experiences because their families have insufficient money or time. These children face a double jeopardy – more adversity and less compensatory protection. Their difficulties have increased in recent decades as many PACE resources, such as youth sports and activities, have become increasingly expensive.
    The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized how alone many parents are as they try to help their children gain access to PACEs. Parents have struggled to support their children’s learning at home, grappling with isolation; lack of routines; inadequate opportunities for exercise and hobbies; and in some cases, lack of enough food to keep children healthy.
    The pandemic reminds us that promoting childhood development is about much more than preventing adversity. We need to think more about how to ensure that children have the good things in life so they are less likely to be hindered by what can go wrong.
    Header photo: Anna Samoylova. Unsplash.  More

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    20 Date Night Ideas For Parents

    Date nights are all about enjoying each other’s company.  In the beginning, couples are often so excited to do things together that date is just a formal excuse to see each other.  After marriage and kids, date night takes on a new meaning.  They become a chance to reconnect with just the two of you as a couple and do fun things together. They are no longer about getting to know each other as much as they are about getting to have fun together.  As a parent, it is important to set aside date nights in order to make sure you don’t lose the magic that started everything in the first place. I hope you enjoy these date night ideas for married couples.

    The Parent’s Guide To A Successful Date Night

    Kids change your marriage, that’s a fact. Most married folks know and embrace this, seeing the introduction of new life into the world as a more than valid reason to cut back on things like nights out drinking, frivolous purchases, sleeping past seven in the morning… and date night.

    You’re a parent. You love your kids. And you love your spouse.

    But don’t you miss your date nights?

    Don’t feel bad about screaming, “Yes!” right now, whether it’s inside your head or out loud in the driveway, with the windows of the minivan rolled up.

    You’re an adult. You need a little romance, some kickback time, and the company of other adults. Not only are you allowed; you’re required. Date nights are actually super important to keeping a happy marriage. A romantic evening helps recharge your batteries and fill your love tank.

    The Importance of Date Night to Parents

    Whether you have an eighteen-month-old or an eighteen-year-old, there’s always an excuse to not take a night off and spend time with your spouse. The baby has been fussy all week; I couldn’t inflict him on a babysitter. The teenager’s been acting out all week; I couldn’t possibly trust her alone in the house for a night. But let’s face it. You should prioritize yourself and your marriage. You need a healthy adult relationship, and that means protecting the sanctity of date night.

    As busy parents, it is too easy to grow apart.  You know what they say about an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  So, go ahead, have fun on a date night with your partner and don’t feel guilty about. Feel good about it!

    When To Schedule A Date Night For Parents

    Believe it or not, the time when date night feels the least possible is the best time to make it happen. If the kids are sick, work is busy, your kitchen remodel isn’t going as planned, or any other of life’s countless, unexpected bumps in the road has you thinking, “I can’t possibly afford a night off,” remember you can.

    More importantly, you need to.

    When life gets stressful, we tend to convince ourselves that everything is life-and-death, forcing our attention and energy to be consumed by even the tiniest issues in front of us. So, if you’re feeling like life’s too crazy for a break, you’re probably just too stressed out to realize that life is just being life, and a break is exactly what you need.

    Besides that sage advice, set a regular date night too.  At least once a month, everyone can and should make that happen- even married couples.

    Date Night Ideas For Married Couples

    After being married for years, it is easy to get in a rut. Take turns planning out date nights and surprise each other sometimes. Having a regular date night helps ensure that it actually happens and that you don’t let other things get in the way. Always turn off your app notifications on your cell phones for date night and ignore anything that isn’t the babysitter.

    Try Doing New Things

    Try doing new things for your date night that you have either never done before or not in years. Only you can keep things from getting stale! Step out of your lazy, comfort zone and try something new and exciting. Make new memories and enjoy a change of scenery.

    Try going to a golfing range together. Maybe one of you can lean in and teach the other a few good moves… I mean swings.

    Try visiting some tourist attraction in the area that you have never been to since you aren’t a tourist!

    Try a new restaurant or exotic cuisine.

    Get out in nature together. Go for a hike or an canoeing trip.

    Arrange to go horseback riding.

    Take a dance lesson together.

    Do a movie night at the big screen in an actual movie theater.

    Enjoy an evening stargazing.

    Try a spa day and get a couples massage.

    Picnic in the park. Enjoy an afternoon or evening lounging on the grass at your local park and tantalizing your tastebuds.

    Go on a double date. When was the last time you did that? It could be a lot of fun if it has been a long time since you have done it. You could even use a little creativity and pick a funky venue and go roller skating or bowling!

    My husband and I enjoying an evening on the back porch together.

    Date Night Ideas During Quarantine

    Don’t take this easy out too often, but date night at home may be a fun way to ease into date night ideas for married couples. Sometimes a dinner reservation might be hard get (especially during a pandemic) so there’s no rule against hiring a babysitter or using a baby monitor and staying in. Home date night ideas are a great way to enjoy some quality time to connect when you can’t get out. The important thing is make sure you two still get some alone time.

    A candlelit dinner with a glass of wine while the kids are asleep, playing with the babysitter, or watching TV upstairs can be just as romantic as an expensive Italian restaurant—not to mention cheaper, and healthier. The meal can be homemade or takeout as you both prefer and I know I prefer.

    Play board games together (like Monopoly or Trival Pursuit) and make up a few of your own rules about what happens when you land on certain squares!

    Recreate your favorite coffee or ice cream shop at home. Make a huge ice cream sundae with all the toppings together and eat it together too. Don’t forget to feed each the first and last bites! Have fun trying to recreate some fancy coffee drinks or your favorite beverage if that is more your thing than sweets. The idea is to have fun making something you both enjoy and then have fun enjoying it together.

    Grab a bottle of wine and swap stories. Remember when you first met? Tell each other the details you remember about the other person. Remember when you first kissed? Share how you felt. Share some of your favorite memories of trips you took together or things you did together. Dream about fun things to do together in the future.

    Play cards together (strip poker could spice things up after a few friendly rounds of cards).

    Make a scavenger hunt for your partner. Give them a clue that helps them find another clue that helps them find another until finally, they get a reward for all their hard effort!

    Cook together. Slow down, relax, and enjoy cooking, working together, and tasting what each is making.

    Garden together. Planting flowers together can be a lot of fun and then you can think of the fun you had with your honey every time you look at your nicely landscaped beds. Plus, you may need to go clean up together after working in the dirt!

    Go on a virtual date. There are lots of museums with virtual tours so this is the perfect time for you and your sweetie to see those works of art together or discuss history and science.

    Try a Date Night Box subscription. There are some companies like, Crated With Love, that take all the work out preparing for date night and deliver curated fun. It’s an easy way to have fun after a long day.

    Date Night Can Help Keep The Spark Alive

    Take a look at your spouse; you’re still just as wild about each other as you were when you got married, right? You still make each other laugh, still support each other through stressful times, and still want to be the first person each other sees in the morning and the last they see at night. So why aren’t you putting the same effort into your marriage now that you’re parents, as you did when you were newlyweds?

    It’s a scary thought, but many couples end up drifting apart once their kids are grown and out of the house, realizing that years of what they thought was happy, healthy marriage, was just collaborative child-rearing. Getting too comfortable might not be a good thing if you start taking each other for granted.

    You need to ensure that you’re both parents and romantic partners. Kids will never be “in the way,” but you’re likely using them as a mental block to stop yourself from indulging in some well-deserved adult time. That is why regular date nights are so helpful to putting the emphasis back on the two of you.

    Make a point to take a half hour before bedtime to spend time with your spouse, either talking in bed before turning the lights off or sipping a glass of wine on the back porch as the sun goes down. Communication is essential to staying connected to your spouse and each feeling seen and heard.

    Adding a little moment of romance to your daily routine will make carving a few hours for date night to go see a movie or cook a romantic meal together feel more natural—and essential—to your relationship.

    It is all about staying connected and not taking each other for granted. Your partner is special and they need to know you still feel that way. Take the time to show each other through regular date nights for married couples.

    If you are already overdue for a date night, consider taking a day trip together or even an overnight trip so you can catch up on some romantic couple time! Then you may be hungry for more date nights after that.

    Related Posts:

    Finding Time For Your Spouse

    Marriage Advice From Those Married Over 10 Years More

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    Care for children by caring for parents, says neuroscience

    Early emotional experiences leave children with much more than memories. Neuroscience suggests how these experiences can literally shape the ways in which children – and the adults they become – think. These early experiences contribute to the development of the biological mechanisms that process and interpret past and future experiences. They can influence brain circuitry that makes meaning from what has happened and predictions for what happens next, sometimes throughout children’s lives.
    These insights from neuroscience place parents – not only their actions but also their well-being — at the heart of children’s brain development for two reasons.
    First, parents are usually the source of their children’s earliest experiences and those who are likely to influence brain development. The nature of this relationship highlights the importance of understanding these experiences.
    Second, parents also provide a buffer between the world and young children’s brain development. If parents can manage the stresses the world throws at them, then children may learn how to manage challenges better. Children are also more likely to be protected from biological responses to adverse events. In contrast, when parents are overtaxed and have difficulty regulating themselves, children may be more vulnerable to external stressors.
    This understanding of how moms and dads influence children’s brain development makes a fresh and compelling case for supporting parenting. It also demands action to help ensure that parents are supported and buffered. It means that, if we care about children, then we as a society should care a lot for their parents.

    “A parent is an extension of a child’s developing neurobiology – like an interpersonal scaffolding that affords a long childhood.”

    This understanding of children’s neural development springs from observing how the brain functions. My colleagues and I have looked at a key communication inside a particular part of the brain — between the subcortical brain regions and the medial prefrontal cortex. These areas support and link emotional learning with subsequent emotional behaviors.
    Subcortical brain regions learn at a deep level about positive and negative events, and they create emotional memories. Meanwhile, the medial prefrontal cortex is involved in managing behaviors, as well as in planning and decision making. These two areas are connected and therefore, communicate with each other. The patterns individuals establish in making meaning seem to influence how they interpret what happens and how they make decisions.
    We have observed how these regions of the brain are influenced by early experiences. We can also see how they are then used in later life. This helps us understand how childhood experiences may play out and influence subsequent adult behaviors.
    Forming the neurobiology of the childhood brain
    What happens in the early building of these brain regions? They develop rapidly during early childhood so they are very vulnerable to environmental influences, whether nurturing or maltreating. These areas of the brain learn about security and threat, create emotional memories, and are involved in managing behavior and decision making. Intriguingly, we have also found that these areas are very sensitive to parents and to the messages or cues parents send to children.
    Photo: NeONBRAND. Unsplash.

    Why does it serve human welfare to be so heavily influenced by these early experiences? Because, as a species, humans have evolved to learn from our early environments so we are ready for what we encounter once we reach maturity. The human brain develops very slowly compared with other species – it’s on a “slow cook” setting. This is a great adaptation that gives us a lot of time to learn from our environments.
    Some have said that childhood is a dress rehearsal for the performance of adulthood. The longer the dress rehearsal, the longer we get to stay immature, and the more efficient and powerful the adult brain becomes to help us tackle the drama on life’s stage.
    A child’s brain is primed to learn from its closest environment, especially early in life. That makes family and parents a big influence on emotional development. Human children spend a very long time with their parents, compared with other species. This time affords them a lengthy period of brain plasticity — the first two decades of life — during which they can do the massive amount of learning required for the sophisticated set of behaviors human adults need.
    The role of parents’ neurobiology
    Although parents are not the sole source of input, they provide the bulk of that learning. Part of that learning, especially early in life, springs from the way parents regulate their children’s stress biology (consciously or not). The neurobiology involved in social and emotional behavior is enriched with stress hormone receptors that prompt the body to respond biologically to what is happening. However, the mere physical presence of a parent can reduce the release of these stress hormones in a child.
    Mom or dad can also decrease the firing of a child’s amygdala, one of the brain’s subcortical structures that is involved in learning about fear. A parent is an extension of a child’s developing neurobiology –like an interpersonal scaffolding that affords a long childhood. However, this scaffolding can also create a perilous situation when it is difficult for a caregiving environment to be an effective buffer of threat or may even be a source of threat, rather than security, to the child.

    “[We must] ensure that parents are supported and buffered. It means that, if we care about children, then we as a society should care a lot for their parents.”

    The power of parents as buffers has been demonstrated in studies with rodents. In an experiment that associated a meaningless stimulus – such as peppermint odor – with a mild shock to the foot, young rats learned to dislike the odor (as you and I would) and their amygdala responded to that learning. However, when the rat’s parent was present, the developing rodent, despite smelling the scent and experiencing the shock, did not avoid the smell. Functionally, the presence of the parent blocked the young rodent’s amygdala from reacting. Indeed, the rodent actually showed a preference for the odor. This sounds bizarre, but we have duplicated these findings in experiments with preschool-age children.
    These reactions occur because early in life, humans are primed, as dependents on their parents, to form preferences for things associated with them – regardless of how pleasant or unpleasant the stimulus. For example, my father smoked cigars. I know the smell is unpleasant. However, that odor was learned in the context of my attachment to my father, so  I remain drawn to this stimulus. Most people can probably think of things associated with the home (“the nest”) to which they are attracted, regardless of whether they are pleasant or unpleasant. This response is part of a young animal’s survival strategy.
    Usually this system works well — it keeps us close to our parents, the nest, and the developmental benefits mom and dad bring. However, this system may also explain why, even in the context of harsh early environments, children still form attachments to their parents and things associated with them. This understanding helps explain why children often resist being separated from a parent even where there is maltreatment. It highlights the difficult and complex issues involved in separating any child from his or her parent.
    The adult brain and its inheritance from childhood
    Next, let us think about the adult brain: How do these brain circuits, shaped by early experiences during childhood, work later in life? Studies show that these neural circuits are activated when adults are trying to manage strong emotions, say, after a really bad day at work or when someone needs to calm down. The same neurobiology – between the prefrontal cortex and the subcortical regions – is involved when we lack complete information and need to fill in the gaps to understand fully what is happening.
    Taken together, these observations of the brain suggest that early experiences may influence future behavior by providing a template for understanding how the world works. One person’s templates differ from another’s. Such templates are presumably supported, at least in part, by subcortical regions and the medial prefrontal cortex.
    In situations of incomplete knowledge, a template influences an individual’s predictions of what a situation means and guides the response. Thus, matching what behavioral psychologists described more than 60 years ago, neuroscience can provide a biological model of how early experiences with parents and other caregivers form templates that influence how adults operate socially and emotionally, sometimes throughout their lives.
    To care for children, care for their parents
    All this demonstrates how important it is that parents themselves feel supported and are well-regulated. When parents are overly distressed, they may find it difficult to effectively buffer their children’s stress biology. However, when parents themselves are well and feel relatively secure, they are probably more effective than any other intervention in managing their children’s emotional reactions.
    Parents are powerful; they are the conduits of the emotional world to their children. This is easy to see in everyday life: If parents react well to something, their child often will do the same. If parents respond in a calm way, their child will likely follow that lead. In certain senses, parents are an extension of their children’s developing brain. For that reason, we should consider: How can we support families so parents regulate themselves well to help their children become well-regulated?
    Certain policies around parenting place children’s mental health at risk. For example, imagine the problems caused by the policy of separating children from parents who tried to cross from Mexico to the United States without visas. There are other areas of policy to consider. For example, how should we shape employment practices to ensure that mothers and fathers are sufficiently present in their children’s lives to provide a calm buffer against adverse experiences? How can we ensure parents’ mental, physical, and economic well-being so their wellness protects their children?
    Childhood adversity is the leading environmental risk factor for mental health problems. Many of these problems are preventable – they are not genetically determined from birth. That’s why, if we are serious about caring for children, we must care for parents.
    Parents ask me, “What is the best parenting advice you can offer?” I tell them, “Do what you can to take care of your well-being, to make sure you are feeling safe, and to manage your own emotions in a healthy way. When you feel this way, that gets translated to your children in a powerful way.”
    Header photo: Gita Krishnamurti. Unsplash.  More

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    Do you want your child to obey you? Give them due process

    As children move into their preteen years, they increasingly differentiate between rules and obey the ones they think are legitimate. One of the most promising ways to bolster parents’ legitimacy is to treat children fairly.
    Parents often try to make their children comply with rules through punishments, but in our study, parental practices of procedural justice predicted obedience more strongly than did punishments. Procedural justice practices include allowing children to give their side of the story, explaining to them why they are being reprimanded, and talking politely.

    “Research shows that parents’ legitimacy increases when they are fair judges.”

    The study assessed a diverse group of 697 Brazilian 11-, 12-, and 13-year-olds once a year for three years. Disciplinary practices were classified into constructive practices (e.g., removing privileges, reprimanding verbally, grounding) and harsh practices (e.g., threatening, physically punishing , yelling). Harsh practices actually increased disobedience, possibly because they diminished perceived parental legitimacy. In other words, when parents punished their children harshly, instead of promoting obedience, it made the parents look less credible.
    This study also allowed children to differentiate between issues. It is well established that, as children develop, they discriminate between domains over which parents have authority and grant more legitimacy to issues of safety and morality than to issues of convention or personal preference. In the study, the children were presented with 10 common household rules and asked if it was legitimate for their parents to have that rule. The issues with the highest legitimacy across all three years were substance use and truth telling. The issues that declined the most in legitimacy were media use, curfews, homework, and dating. And the strongest predictor of individual obedience was issue-specific legitimacy. Thus, children obeyed the rules over which they thought their parents had legitimate authority.
    The study also asked about parents’ global legitimacy, in other words, whether youth thought their parents had the right to make the rules and whether they trusted their parents to make the right decisions. Youth’s evaluations of global legitimacy also strongly predicted their obedience.

    “One of the most promising ways to bolster parents’ legitimacy is to treat children fairly.”

    Prior research has established that authorities with high levels of procedural justice are typically legitimized. In other words, if your child thinks you are a fair judge, he or she may obey you because he or she sees you as a legitimate authority figure. However, harsh disciplinary strategies may backfire for the same reasons. Instead of eliciting a healthy fear, they may unintentionally undermine parental legitimacy.
    Based on this study, parents should:
    Avoid harsh discipline because it tends to backfire in the long term.
    Emphasize procedural justice (hear youth’s perspective, be polite, provide explanation).
    Stick to issues of morality and safety – it may be a losing battle to enforce other rules.
    Header photo: Brian Evans. Creative Commons.  More