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While browsing today’s newly released studies from the journal, Pediatrics, one new title caught my eye – Mother-Child Bed-sharing in Toddlerhood and Cognitive and Behavioral Outcomes (Barajas, Martin, Brooks-Gunn, & Hale, 2011).

This particular paper comes out of a multi-year longitudinal study in New York looking at predominantly low-income families.  Families were assessed on a generally yearly basis from birth to age 5.  In this particular paper, the researchers examined whether co-sleeping in the toddler years was associated with behavioral problems at 5 years.

Overall, the authors found that while co-sleeping predicted behavioral problems, once other mother and child characteristics were accounted for, the association between co-sleeping and behavioral problems went away.  In plainer English, although co-sleeping initially seemed to predict behavior problems in kids, other factors better explain later behavior problems.

I found the overall premise of the study to be quite interesting.  Co-sleeping is a hotly debated topic in the parenting community.  Safety advocates are quick to point out potential hazards with co-sleeping, such as unintentional injury to the child.  In contrast, within the attachment parenting community, co-sleeping and family beds are generally widely encouraged.  Attachment parenting advocates claim that co-sleeping improves the bond between mother and child by allowing the mother to be more immediately responsive to the child’s needs.

I found it interesting that the authors seemed to zone in on negative behavior outcomes.  Granted, they concluded that co-sleeping does not significantly contribute to later negative behaviors in kids, but the focus seemed somewhat negative overall.  If attachment parenting gurus are on to something, then wouldn’t it be expected that co-sleeping would be linked to more positive behaviors and outcomes later?  I would love to see a study on that topic.

Obesity and CPS

I just read a somewhat unsettling article on Yahoo! News today about whether parents of extremely obese children should have their children removed and placed in foster care for neglect.  Check out the article here:

http://news.yahoo.com/parents-lose-custody-super-obese-kids-200342454.html

Apparently the hubbub is being sparked by an editorial appearing in this week’s issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), in which a respected pediatrician advocates state involvement in cases of severe obesity in kids.

It’s a provocative issue – on the one hand, some of the cases detailed in the Yahoo! News article do demonstrate improvements in weight after removing kids to foster care with foster families who implement diet and exercise restrictions.  On the other hand, no mention is made of the long-term psychological effects of separating kids from their parents.  And, as any good student of psychology knows, relationships with caregivers are important and disruptions have long-term consequences.

Certainly in cases of clear verbal, physical, and emotional abuse we’ve reached a point in society where it is considered acceptable and commendable to step in and protect the child from abuses.  The question is – is having an obese child a sign that you are abusive or neglectful as a parent?  I’m sure it depends on the case and the details.  Certainly there are likely families with extremely obese children where a change of environment may be the best solution.  But who makes those decisions?  If obesity were the only significant issue, I would find it difficult to advocate for removal from the home.   Ultimately, I would hope that if it comes to it, most families in this situation would be given support and interventions to help improve health and maintain the family intact.

Interesting things to ponder on a Thursday morning…  What do you think?

So, I’ve been busy lately.  Life got in the way of blogging recently, so I missed this story when it was first hitting the news and the blogosphere.  But hey, better late than never, right?

So, there’s been a bit of buzz surrounding a new study just released in this month’s issue of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.  Here’s the link to the abstract:  http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/128/1/e78.abstract.

Basically, Giles et al. (2011) found that mothers who reported a significant amount of depressive symptoms at multiple data points during toddlerhood had children with higher rates of internalizing (e.g. depression, anxiety, social withdrawal) and externalizing (attention problems, behavior problems, etc.) problems at age 5.  BUT, for recurrent depressed moms who had their child in at least 1/2 day per week of formal daycare, there were significantly fewer behavioral problems at age 5.

There have been a number of studies demonstrating the link between depression in moms and negative outcomes in kids.  Being depressed during your child’s early years has been shown to lead to problems with getting in sync and attaching well to your child.  It’s very interesting that the new study finds that having your child in a situation where he/she would be likely to form attachments with other caregivers can protect against some of the negative outcomes.

I would be very interested to see more studies on this topic.  As other writers have pointed out, the quality of the childcare itself was not assessed in the study.  It would be interesting to know if things like certain child/teacher ratios predict better outcomes.  Or if informal care through easily accessible means, like having a friend take your child for a few hours or using a childcare service at your place of worship also has the same effect.

Living to 100

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about aging and the future.  I think part of it is that moving into the child-raising stage of my life is making me more aware of my own mortality and putting some things in life more into perspective.  And, with the current economic climate, I think I also have some general concerns about what life and our finances will be like when we reach retirement age.

In the midst of stewing for a bit about whether we’re actively doing enough to prepare for the future, I had to take a continuing education class on aging.  “Great,” I thought, “more grist for the worry mill about all the negative things I have to look forward to when I’m old.”  I will admit it – I sometimes tend to buy in to the cultural bias that aging is bad.  And I’m also a little uncomfortable with the whole notion of death and dying, but that’s a whole separate post.

Without much premeditation, I went to my favorite online course provider and dutifully ordered the aging course in the length I needed to fill my requirement.  I somehow fortunately stumbled upon a course on aging from a positive psychology perspective.  For those who are unfamiliar, positive psychology, a movement started by Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania, focuses on studying things like optimism and happiness – all the positive things in life that psychologists sometimes forget about in their unending studies on depression, anxiety, neuroticism, etc.

I have to say, my perceptions and attitudes about aging were really challenged in a good way.  The bit that is sticking with me the most was the notion that people who live to be very old (i.e. 100 years +) tend to always have a purpose in life.  It doesn’t seem to matter so much what the purpose is, you just need to have one.  Centenarians also tend to not have disabilities until their 90s, tend to be self-reliant, and tend to be generally cheerful, optimistic people who focus on the good and stay active and engaged in life well into their later years.  They place importance on relationships and build new friendships throughout their lives.  They are altruistic, connected to their communities, and manage their health well.

After reading all of this, I thought, “man, I really want to be like that when I’m old.”

Certainly, genetics also plays a huge role in the human lifespan, but there is something to be said for the notion of self-fulfilling prophecies when it comes to aging.  If you think that aging is a horrible process, then it really may not be pleasant for you.  But, fortunately, attitudes can be changed for the better.

Many of these findings about longevity have come from the New England Centenarian Study at Boston University, among other studies.  From their research findings, lead NECS researcher, Thomas Perls, M.D., has even devised a life span calculator that you can use to predict your own estimated life span:

The Living to 100 Calculator

My estimate was 91 – not too shabby and plenty of room for improvement.

I was quite inspired by this quote from Stephen Vincent Benet:

Life is not lost by dying; life is lost minute by minute, day by dragging day, in all the thousand small uncaring ways.

It’s a good reminder to sit up, engage in life, and enjoy each minute to the fullest – regardless of how many total minutes we each get.

Earlier this week, I ran across this interesting article on the American Psychological Association website (from the July issue of the Monitor on Psychology):

http://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/07-08/golden-rule.aspx

The article summarizes recent research on a new construct in psychology – the idea of “self-compassion.”  Having self-compassion is essentially defined as being able to be kind to yourself when you make mistakes, understanding that you’re only human.  Kristin Neff, Ph.D., the psychologist who devised the construct and coined the term, argues that it consists of being able to be easy on yourself, being able to see your experiences in light of the general human condition, and being aware enough of yourself and your condition to be able to be kind to yourself.

Neff originally set out to discover an alternative to the popular notion of “self-esteem.”  While high self-esteem has long been touted as a positive quality that we must encourage in our children, it’s also been associated with negative qualities such as increased narcissism.

Interestingly, Neff and others have so far found no negative outcomes associated with increased self-compassion.  They have looked at whether people who are too easy on themselves become complacent or over-indulgent, but so far nothing negative has been shown to be associated with self-compassion.  I’m interested to see whether psychotherapy that focuses on increasing self-compassion will be shown to be effective in treating problems like anxiety and depression.

I think we moms should sit up and pay attention to research findings like this for a couple of reasons.  First, given the overwhelmingly positive findings around the benefits of having self-compassion, we should be encouraged to work on giving ourselves a break more often.  I know as a mom it’s really easy to compare, to be hard on ourselves, and to focus on ways we don’t measure up.  For a neurotic perfectionist like myself, being kinder to myself is sometimes a tall order.  But, not only may we feel the effects of positivity in our own lives, our children’s lives are also going to be positively affected.  And second, helping our children develop a healthy sense of self-compassion will likely serve them well in life, too.  I know I would much rather see my child develop into someone who can own his mistakes and use them for growth rather than being someone who beats himself up constantly for small errors.

Certainly this line of research is still fairly new, and more work needs to be done to determine whether and how we can best do all of this.  But until then, it’s something to keep in mind, because certainly a little self-compassion goes a long way.

Happy 4th of July!

I just wanted to take a moment to wish all of my friends here in the US a very happy Independence Day!  Hope you are all enjoying the day!!

Because we’re masochists, my husband and I decided to take our toddler to one of those indoor bounce house places today to take advantage of a half-price sale on admission.  I had tried taking the kiddo to a similar place when he was still a beginner at the whole walking thing.  At that point, he had a difficult time staying upright or doing much of anything beyond sitting and crawling a few feet in the bouncers.  So, we mostly played with a few toys on the floor while socializing with friends.

Today was a little different.

Now that my little munchkin can move around with ease, he sees the structures and wants to climb, but he’s still too little and unsteady to do it on his own.  So, this means that mommy gets to climb in and do all of the bounce house activities, too.

I kind of figured this might be the case, so I was glad that it worked out for my husband to be off today to come and help out.  Of course, wouldn’t you know that all the fun toddler bouncers had weight limits that were just below my husband’s weight and mostly just above my weight.  So guess who got to climb through all the structures?

Yeah.  Mommy.

In his defense, my husband did try to go through the obstacle course with us, and it was a little unnerving just how much the two of us displaced air in that bouncer.  Yikes.

It’s all well and good until the kid wants to go down the slides.  I don’t know what they were thinking when they made the ladders on these bounce houses, but man, it is HARD to balance on the narrow little foot rests, hold on to the handles, and still carry a 24 lb. excited, squirming toddler in one arm.  I just spend the entire harrowing climb praying that I make it to the top without falling and injuring both of us.

But, it is all worth it to see the smiles when he enjoys the rush of sliding down the slide.  And, for some reason, he decided that he had to slide backward on his belly, so I got to see his cute little face the whole way down.  Too precious!

I just hope I still feel the same way tomorrow when I have trouble getting out of bed from all the sore muscles.  I’m not sure some of these have ever been used….