1. Study suggests preemies’ dads more stressed than moms after NICU

    December 13, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Northwestern University press release:

    For the first time, scientists have measured the stress levels of fathers of premature babies during the tense transition between the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and home and discovered fathers are more stressed than moms, according to a new Northwestern Medicine study.

    Fathers and mothers of these very low birth weight babies had high levels of the stress hormone cortisol in their saliva prior to being discharged. But the fathers experienced an increase in their stress levels as measured several times over the next 14 days at home while the mothers’ stress levels stayed constant.

    “Dad goes from a situation where the baby and mom are cared for by experts in the hospital to having to simultaneously care for his baby, partner and work. He is supposed to be the ‘rock’ for his partner but the stress can really set in,” said lead author Dr. Craig Garfield, associate professor of pediatrics and of medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

    The study was published Dec. 1 in the Journal of Perinatal and Neonatal Nursing.

    Garfield and his team measured the parents’ stress levels in two ways: salivary tests that measure cortisol levels and paper surveys. They tested the participants the day before they were discharged from the hospital, then one day, five days and 14 days after coming home.

    “One day of being stressed at home is not a big deal,” said Garfield, who also is an attending pediatrician at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. “But if their levels are still high after two weeks, that’s more concerning.”

    During the 14 days after arriving home, the fathers’ cortisol levels steadily increased while the mothers’ stress levels returned to “pretty much back to where they started,” Garfield said.

    Interestingly, the fathers’ stress levels based on salivary test results were higher than they reported feeling in the survey. This could indicate that the fathers weren’t in touch with how stressed they really were, Garfield said.

    To help relieve fathers’ stress and ease the transition, Garfield recommends parents place more emphasis on the dad becoming comfortable and gaining confidence with the baby while still in the NICU. Moms need to remember that dads need time to relax, too, Garfield said.

    “Dads should be telling the mom to go take a walk, take a shower, see a friend,” Garfield said. “But moms can also say, ‘Why don’t you go to the gym, see your friends, meet someone after work?’ as ways to reduce some of the stress.”

    “Babies thrive when parents thrive, and if parents are stressed out, that can impact their parenting of the child, the relationship between the mom and dad and can alter infant attachment,” he said. “This all is just much more pronounced with medically vulnerable babies leaving the NICU and going home with mom and dad.”

    While the study didn’t examine stress levels in parents of full-term babies, Garfield said those parents still report feeling stress when returning home.

    “While finally bringing a baby home is really wonderful, it can also be stressful because of sleep deprivation, the lack of control and having to respond constantly to the baby’s needs,” Garfield said.

    The study was funded by the Agency for Health Research and Quality grant number #R21 HS20316 .


  2. Study suggests teens get more sleep when school starts later

    December 9, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Penn State press release:

    A later school start time could mean teens are more likely to get adequate amounts of sleep, according to Penn State researchers.

    In a national study of urban teenagers, researchers found that high school start times after 8:30 a.m. increased the likelihood that teens obtained the minimum recommended amount of sleep, benefiting their overall health and well being.

    “Teens starting school at 8:30 a.m. or later were the only group with an average time in bed permitting eight hours of sleep, the minimum recommended by expert consensus,” said lead author Orfeu Buxton, associate professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State. “Later school start times were associated with later wake times in our large, diverse sample.”

    Buxton and colleagues report their findings Dec. 1 in Sleep Health, the Journal of the National Sleep Foundation, which devoted an entire special issue to the topic.

    Teens with the earliest high school start times — 7:00-7:29 a.m. — obtained 46 minutes less time in bed on average compared with teens with high school start times at 8:30 a.m. or later.

    School start times after 8:30 a.m. were associated with increased time in bed, extending morning sleep by 27-57 minutes compared to those teens with earlier school start times.

    A common argument against later school start times is an assumption that teens will just stay up later.

    “The presumption is if you let kids start school later they will simply go to sleep later and still not get enough sleep,” Buxton said. “But that’s a hypothetical scenario. There wasn’t data to back that up.”

    While researchers did find that teens with the earliest school start times were going to bed earlier than those with 8:30 a.m. or later, the teens with earlier start times still did not get the recommended amount of sleep. Only those teens with schools that had a start time of 8:30 a.m. or later actually got the recommended amount of sleep, Buxton said.

    One theory is that, despite going to bed earlier than their peers, teens with the earliest school start times didn’t get enough sleep possibly due to anticipation of an early wake time the following morning, according to Buxton.

    In addition, the investigators considered other research that looked at teens’ “sleep debt,” where teens make up for lost sleep on non-school days, leading them to wake up consistently and significantly later than those on school days.

    Both anticipation and sleep debt can misalign teens’ circadian clocks from expected early wake timing on school days, interfering with having consistent sleep.

    Four hundred and thirteen teenagers completed an online daily diary each evening, beginning after 7 p.m., during seven consecutive days, including school days and non-school days during both the academic year and the summer, which was defined as September through May and June through August, respectively.

    From each diary entry, researchers looked at the participants’ reports of the previous night’s bedtime, the time the teen woke up in the morning, whether or not the teen went to school, and the school start times.

    Data collection included daily diary data from a subsample of the parent study, the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, which follows a longitudinal birth cohort of children born between 1998 and 2000 in 20 United States cities.


  3. Mothers of teens with autism report higher levels of stress, but optimism can be a buffer

    December 7, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of California – Riverside press release:

    Anyone who has ever survived being a teenager should be well aware that parenting a teenager can be no easy feat. But factor in a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or intellectual disability (ID), and you’ll likely have the recipe for a unique set of challenges to the entire family unit.

    According to autism expert Jan Blacher, a distinguished professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Riverside, the effects of those challenges went largely understudied for years while medical professionals blamed mothers of children diagnosed with ASD for their kids’ disorders.

    Beginning in the 1950s, doctors turned to psychiatrist Leo Kanner’s “refrigerator mother” theory as evidence that a lack of maternal warmth could essentially cause autism. It wasn’t until the mid-1960s when psychologist Bernard Rimland, among others, began to discredit Kanner’s theory, instead popularizing the idea that autism could be rooted in neurological development, or even genetics.

    Decades later, the race to find autism-linked genes continues. But it doesn’t yet benefit families of kids with ASD, said Blacher and her research colleague, UCLA’s Bruce L. Baker.

    Within those families, the impacts of raising children with autism hit mothers especially hard, resulting in what Blacher and Baker refer to as “collateral effects.”

    In a study recently published online in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, the researchers found that mothers of teenagers with ASD or ID reported higher levels of stress and other negative psychological symptoms — think depression or anxiety — than mothers of teenagers with typical development, or TD.

    Those levels climbed even higher when teenagers with ASD or ID also showed signs of clinical-level disruptive behavior disorders.

    To find out how such disorders affected mothers, Blacher and Baker surveyed 160 13-year-olds and their families. Eighty-four of the study’s teenage participants were classified as having typical development, or TD; 48 as having ASD; and 28 as having ID.

    As the director of UCR’s SEARCH (Support, Education, Advocacy, Resources, Community, and Hope) Family Autism Resource Center, Blacher works with kids of all ages with ASD. She said this study, however, is special because it focuses on a pool of adolescents who are the same age.

    “Usually when studies have looked at the impacts of autism on families, the children involved have reflected wide ranges of ages,” she said. “Here, we’ve eliminated the variance related to developmental stage.”

    Blacher and Baker first assessed mothers and their 13-year-olds during in-person visits at their research site, and later asked mothers to complete separate questionnaires privately to measure youth behavior problems and parental well-being.

    “ASD group mothers scored highest on each of the two distress indicators,” the researchers wrote, adding that ASD group mothers’ levels of stress and psychological symptoms did not differ significantly from those of ID group mothers.

    The findings harken back to research demonstrating that parents of children with ASD have reported levels of stress consistent with those of individuals who experience post-traumatic stress disorder.

    What’s more, mothers’ levels of parenting-related stress and other psychological symptoms were amplified by the presence of one or more clinical-level behavior disorders, Blacher and Baker said.

    “The most common disruptive behavior disorder is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, but children with autism can also show signs of oppositional defiant disorder, depression, and anxiety,” Blacher said. “The disorders that are most disruptive to parents are those we describe as ‘acting out’ disorders and involve behaviors like not following rules, hitting, screaming, arguing, lashing out, and breaking things.”

    Still, the researchers emphasized that parents who face childrearing challenges need not resign themselves to lifetimes of mounting stress. The mothers they studied who demonstrated more resilience had one thing in common: an optimistic outlook on life.

    Using the Life Orientation Test, which assesses individuals’ optimism or pessimism, Blacher and Baker found that mothers who were more optimistic — believing that good rather than bad things would happen to them — experienced fewer negative impacts associated with parenting a child with ASD or ID and comorbid behavior disorders.

    In those cases, a more positive outlook on life became a buffer against parenting-related stressors.

    “It’s in the face of stress when optimism really becomes important,” Blacher said. “A mom that has a high level of optimism is going to be able to better weather stress and be better prepared mentally for the challenges ahead.”


  4. Study suggests eye contact with your baby helps synchronize your brainwaves

    December 6, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Cambridge press release:

    When a parent and infant interact, various aspects of their behaviour can synchronise, including their gaze, emotions and heartrate, but little is known about whether their brain activity also synchronises — and what the consequences of this might be.

    Brainwaves reflect the group-level activity of millions of neurons and are involved in information transfer between brain regions. Previous studies have shown that when two adults are talking to each other, communication is more successful if their brainwaves are in synchrony.

    Researchers at the Baby-LINC Lab at the University of Cambridge carried out a study to explore whether infants can synchronise their brainwaves to adults too — and whether eye contact might influence this. Their results are published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

    The team examined the brainwave patterns of 36 infants (17 in the first experiment and 19 in the second) using electroencephalography (EEG), which measures patterns of brain electrical activity via electrodes in a skull cap worn by the participants. They compared the infants’ brain activity to that of the adult who was singing nursery rhymes to the infant.

    In the first of two experiments, the infant watched a video of an adult as she sang nursery rhymes. First, the adult — whose brainwave patterns had already been recorded — was looking directly at the infant. Then, she turned her head to avert her gaze, while still singing nursery rhymes. Finally, she turned her head away, but her eyes looked directly back at the infant.

    As anticipated, the researchers found that infants’ brainwaves were more synchronised to the adults’ when the adult’s gaze met the infant’s, as compared to when her gaze was averted. Interestingly, the greatest synchronising effect occurred when the adults’ head was turned away but her eyes still looked directly at the infant. The researchers say this may be because such a gaze appears highly deliberate, and so provides a stronger signal to the infant that the adult intends to communicate with her.

    In the second experiment, a real adult replaced the video. She only looked either directly at the infant or averted her gaze while singing nursery rhymes. This time, however, her brainwaves could be monitored live to see whether her brainwave patterns were being influenced by the infant’s as well as the other way round.

    This time, both infants and adults became more synchronised to each other’s brain activity when mutual eye contact was established. This occurred even though the adult could see the infant at all times, and infants were equally interested in looking at the adult even when she looked away. The researchers say that this shows that brainwave synchronisation isn’t just due to seeing a face or finding something interesting, but about sharing an intention to communicate.

    To measure infants’ intention to communicate, the researcher measured how many ‘vocalisations’ infants made to the experimenter. As predicted, infants made a greater effort to communicate, making more ‘vocalisations’, when the adult made direct eye contact — and individual infants who made longer vocalisations also had higher brainwave synchrony with the adult.

    Dr Victoria Leong, lead author on the study said: “When the adult and infant are looking at each other, they are signalling their availability and intention to communicate with each other. We found that both adult and infant brains respond to a gaze signal by becoming more in sync with their partner. This mechanism could prepare parents and babies to communicate, by synchronising when to speak and when to listen, which would also make learning more effective.”

    Dr Sam Wass, last author on the study, said: “We don’t know what it is, yet, that causes this synchronous brain activity. We’re certainly not claiming to have discovered telepathy! In this study, we were looking at whether infants can synchronise their brains to someone else, just as adults can. And we were also trying to figure out what gives rise to the synchrony.

    “Our findings suggested eye gaze and vocalisations may both, somehow, play a role. But the brain synchrony we were observing was at such high time-scales — of three to nine oscillations per second — that we still need to figure out how exactly eye gaze and vocalisations create it.”


  5. Study suggests infants understand that more desirable rewards require more effort

    December 4, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Association for the Advancement of Science press release:

    Infants who observe someone putting more effort into attaining a goal attribute more value to it, a new study finds. Past work has shed light on ways in which infants come to realize the differences in the value of an object; for example, if a person consistently chooses one item over another, infants will attribute more value to the selected item. Yet, it remains to be determined whether infants can grasp concepts of reward and associated “cost.” Here, Shari Liu and colleagues presented ten-month-old infants with animations in which a character was faced with varying costs in order to achieve a goal; for example, in one scenario, the character had to jump over either a low wall or a much higher one to get its reward. If the cost of acquiring the reward was too much, the character would refuse to expend the effort to retrieve it. The researchers monitored as infants watched these test events, observing the lengths of their gazes. The researchers ran two additional and similar experiments in which the character had to climb a ramp or jump a gap to retrieve the reward, to ensure that it wasn’t just speed or height that mattered, to infants’ perception of cost, but indeed the effort exerted. Regardless of whether a character cleared higher barriers, climbed steeper ramps, or jumped wider gaps to reach one target over the other, infants gazed longer at the scenario in which the character went after the less desirable reward, which indicated they were surprised by the choice. They expected the character to prefer the goal it attained through costlier actions. Thus, it appears that infants are able to assign greater value to rewards that are more costly to attain.


  6. Brains of children with a better physical fitness possess a greater volume of gray matter

    December 3, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Granada press release:

    Researchers from the University of Granada (UGR) have proven, for the first time in history, that physical fitness in children may affect their brain structure, which in turn may have an influence on their academic performance.

    More specifically, the researchers have confirmed that physical fitness in children (especially aerobic capacity and motor ability) is associated with a greater volume of gray matter in several cortical and subcortical brain regions.

    In particular, aerobic capacity has been associated with greater gray matter volume in frontal regions (premotor cortex and supplementary motor cortex), subcortical regions (hippocampus and caudate nucleus), temporal regions (inferior temporal gyrus and parahippocampal gyrus) and the calcarine cortex. All of those regions are important for the executive function as well as for learning, motor and visual processes.

    This study has been published in the Neuroimage journal and is part of the ActiveBrains project, which is a randomized clinical trial involving more than 100 overweight/obese children led by Francisco B. Ortega. Said project is being carried out mainly at the University of Granada’s Sport and Health Institute (IMUDS, from its abbreviation in Spanish) and the Mind, Brain and Behavior Research Center (CIMCYC).

    “Our work aims at answering questions such as whether the brain of children with better physical fitness is different from that of children with worse physical fitness and if this affects their academic performance,” Ortega explains.

    “The answer is short and forceful: yes, physical fitness in children is linked in a direct way to important brain structure differences, and such differences are reflected in the children’s academic performance.”

    Besides, the UGR research associates motor ability with a greater gray matter volume in two regions essential for language processing and reading: the inferior frontal gyrus and the superior temporal gyrus. However, muscular strength didn’t showed any independent association with gray matter volume in any brain region.

    According to Irene Esteban-Cornejo, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Granada and main author of this paper, gray matter volume in the cortical and subcortical regions influenced by physical fitness improves in turn the children’s academic performance.

    Moreover, “physical fitness is a factor that can be modified through physical exercise, and combining exercises that improve the aerobic capacity and the motor ability would be an effective approach to stimulate brain development and academic performance in overweight/obese children.”

    This scientific paper means an important contribution to human knowledge which should be taken into account by educational and public health institutions.

    “We appeal both to politicians, who make educational laws that are increasingly more focused on instrumental subjects, and to teachers, who are the final link in the chain and teach Physical Education day after day. School is the only entity that gathers every children in a mandatory way for a period of at least 10 years, and as such, it’s the ideal context for applying such recommendations,” note the researchers.

    In their own words, the authors of this study are “at the disposal of educational and public health institutions for talking about possible measures and putting them into action.”


  7. Study suggests babies understand when words are related

    December 1, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Duke University press release:

    The meaning behind infants’ screeches, squeals and wails may frustrate and confound sleep-deprived new parents. But at an age when babies cannot yet speak to us in words, they are already avid students of language.

    Even though there aren’t many overt signals of language knowledge in babies, language is definitely developing furiously under the surface,” said Elika Bergelson, assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University.

    Bergelson is the author of a surprising 2012 study showing that six- to nine-month-olds already have a basic understanding of words for food and body parts. In a new report, her team used eye-tracking software to show that babies also recognize that the meanings of some words, like car and stroller, are more alike than others, like car and juice.

    By analyzing home recordings, the team found that babies’ word knowledge correlated with the proportion of time they heard people talking about objects in their immediate surroundings.

    “Even in the very early stages of comprehension, babies seem to know something about how words relate to each other,” Bergelson said. “And already by six months, measurable aspects of their home environment predict how much of this early level of knowledge they have. There are clear follow-ups for potential intervention work with children who might be at-risk for language delays or deficits.”

    The study appears the week of Nov. 20 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    To gauge word comprehension, Bergelson invited babies and their caregivers into a lab equipped with a computer screen and few other infant distractions. The babies were shown pairs of images that were related, like a foot and a hand, or unrelated, like a foot and a carton of milk. For each pair, the caregiver (who couldn’t see the screen) was prompted to name one of the images while an eye-tracking device followed the baby’s gaze.

    Bergelson found that babies spent more time looking at the image that was named when the two images were unrelated than when they were related.

    “They may not know the full-fledged adult meaning of a word, but they seem to recognize that there is something more similar about the meaning of these words than those words,” Bergelson said.

    Bergelson then wanted to investigate how babies’ performance in the lab might be linked to the speech they hear at home. To peek into the daily life of the infants, she sent each caregiver home with a colorful baby vest rigged with a small audio recorder and asked them to use the vest to record day-long audio of the infant. She also used tiny hats fitted with lipstick-sized video recorders to collect hour-long video of each baby interacting with his or her caregivers.

    Combing through the recordings, Bergelson and her team categorized and tabulated different aspects of speech the babies were exposed to, including the objects named, what kinds of phrases they occurred in, who said them, and whether or not objects named were present and attended to.

    “It turned out that the proportion of the time that parents talked about something when it was actually there to be seen and learned from correlated with the babies’ overall comprehension,” Bergelson said.

    For instance, Bergelson said, if a parent says, “here is my favorite pen,” while holding up a pen, the baby might learn something about pens based on what they can see. In contrast, if a parent says, “tomorrow we are going to see the lions at the zoo,” the baby might not have any immediate clues to help them understand what lion means.

    “This study is an exciting first step in identifying how early infants learn words, how their initial lexicon is organized, and how it is shaped or influenced by the language that they hear in the world that surrounds them,” said Sandra Waxman, a professor of psychology at Northwestern University who was not involved in the study.

    But, Waxman cautions, it is too early in the research to draw any conclusions about how caregivers should be speaking to their infants.

    “Before anyone says ‘this is what parents need to be doing,’ we need further studies to tease apart how culture, context and the age of the infant can affect their learning,” Waxman said.

    “My take-home to parents always is, the more you can talk to your kid, the better,” Bergelson said. “Because they are listening and learning from what you say, even if it doesn’t appear to be so.”

     


  8. Study suggests mom’s response to child’s negative emotions affect child’s ability to self-regulate

    November 28, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences press release:

    Handling a poorly timed tantrum from a toddler — such as in the middle of the grocery store — is never an easy task. It could serve as a teachable moment for a mom to help her child learn to manage his own emotions. After all, research shows that how parents react in these types of situations can play an important role in a child’s emotional development.

    But how does that child’s negative behavior — that tantrum in the frozen food aisle — affect a mother’s own stress level, and therefore, her ability to parent?

    When children become upset, showing negative emotions or behaviors, some parents become distressed themselves, while others are able to talk their child through the difficult situation. Studies have shown that a mothers’ reaction — positive or negative — to her child’s negative emotions and behavior can predict whether her child develops the ability to effectively regulate his emotions and behavior.

    In a new study, researchers at the University of Illinois explored potential predictors of mothers’ supportive or non-supportive behavior during emotional challenges. The long-term goal is to help parents find strategies to manage their own emotions when their children display aversive behavior.

    “By maternal support, we mean behaviors like validating the child’s experience, as well as comforting the child and providing reasons for parental requests. Depending on the context, support might also mean distracting the child away from the situation that is causing him or her to feel frustrated or distressed,” explains Niyantri Ravindran, a doctoral student in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at U of I.

    “Many studies have already shown that maternal support is really helpful for children. In contrast, research also suggests that ignoring the child’s behavior, threatening or punishing the child, or telling the child that he is overreacting may prevent children from learning to effectively manage their emotions,” she adds.

    Because maternal support is so important, Ravindran, along with Nancy McElwain, a professor of human development and family studies at U of I, examined maternal dispositional distress reactivity — how distressed moms get when their children display negative emotions — to see if it predicted how much support moms show their children in those situations.

    For the study, 127 toddlers and their mothers participated in a 5-minute snack delay task. The children could see a snack contained in a clear lunchbox, but were told they must wait while the mother filled out some paperwork before they could have the snack.

    The task was frustrating for both mothers and toddlers; the mothers needed to focus on the paperwork and keep the child from opening the lunchbox, while the child had to sit and wait for the snack.

    The researchers observed and coded the mothers’ supportive behavior as well as the toddlers’ negative emotions and disruptive behavior in 15-second increments.

    “Children’s disruptive behavior was often minor — they tried to grab the mom’s pen or get her attention. Other times, they tried to open the box. There was a range of behaviors that we observed — all were very typical for toddlers, but some behaviors were more stressful than others for the moms,” Ravindran says.

    In terms of the mothers’ behaviors, the researchers noted that moms responded in a variety of ways to their children’s disruptive behavior, including distracting them away from the snack, validating their feelings, or providing reasons why they could not have the snack yet (supportive behaviors). At other times, moms ignored their child, physically moved the child or took the snack box away from the child, or interrupted the child (non-supportive behaviors).

    Mothers also filled out questionnaires about how they usually respond to potentially stressful situations with their children. For example, mothers rated their tendency to become upset themselves when their child falls down, gets hurt, and becomes upset.

    But, overall, the researchers saw something interesting happening.

    “We found that mothers’ self-reported distress was related to lower levels of observed supportive behavior during the 5-minute snack delay task, but only following instances when their children showed higher levels of aversive behavior than they typically showed during the task,” Ravindran explains.

    “So for mothers who reported higher distress levels, when their child acted disruptive in one 15-second interval, the mothers showed less support in the next 15-second interval. There is a time lag between the child’s behavior and the mom’s response,” she adds.

    McElwain adds that this time lag is important. “If the association was in the same interval, questions would remain about the direction of the association: Is the child showing disruptive behavior because the mom is less supportive, or is the mom less supportive because the child is being disruptive? But because we found there was an association from child’s behavior in one interval to mom’s behavior in the next interval — time-lagged association — we are able to make the inference that the child’s behavior leads to the mom’s behavior. For moms who have high dispositional distress, you find that link.”

    What Ravindran would tell parents, based on the study, is to be mindful of whether they are experiencing distress when their child is exhibiting negative emotions or disruptive behavior. “I would encourage parents to develop strategies to manage their emotions in those moments. Becoming more aware could also affect your parenting,” she says.

    McElwain points out that the study is not meant to identify “good or bad” parents. “We are saying that parenting is challenging, and these moments when young children are distressed and are acting out, are especially challenging. Being aware of that and being able to identify how you are feeling while also validating the child’s emotions is important for both you and your child,” she says.

    As challenging as toddlers’ tantrums and meltdowns can be for parents, the researchers point out they are excellent opportunities for parents to teach their children about emotions.

    “The toddler years provide many opportunities for parents to talk to their children about emotions,” McElwain says. “Although talking with a toddler about his or her emotions in the midst of a tantrum is often not possible, parents might talk with the child afterwards in a simple and brief way about what happened.

    “The goal shouldn’t be to shame or punish, but to provide the child with clear labels that describe his or her emotions and the causes for those emotions. By putting labels to feelings, children will be better able to ‘use their words’ when frustrating situations arise,” she adds.


  9. Study suggests spanking linked to increase in children’s behavior problems

    by Ashley

    From the Association for Psychological Science press release:

    Children who have been spanked by their parents by age 5 show an increase in behavior problems at age 6 and age 8 relative to children who have never been spanked, according to new findings in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

    The study, which uses a statistical technique to approximate random assignment, indicates that this increase in behavior problems cannot be attributed to various characteristics of the child, the parents, or the home environment — rather, it seems to be the specific result of spanking.

    “Our findings suggest that spanking is not an effective technique and actually makes children’s behavior worse not better,” says psychological scientist Elizabeth T. Gershoff (University of Texas at Austin), lead author on the study.

    Historically, trying to determine whether parents’ use of spanking actually causes children to develop behavior problems has been difficult, because researchers cannot ethically conduct experiments that randomly assign parents to spank or not.

    “Parents spank for many reasons, such as their educational or cultural background or how difficult their children’s behavior is. These same reasons, which we call selection factors, can also predict children’s behavior problems, making it difficult to determine whether spanking is in fact the cause of behavior problems,” Gershoff explained. “We realized that the statistical method of propensity score matching could help us get as close to an experiment as possible.”

    Gershoff and coauthors Kierra M. P. Sattler (University of Texas at Austin) and Arya Ansari (University of Virginia) examined data from 12,112 children who participated in the nationally representative Early Childhood Longitudinal Study. When the children were 5 years old, their parents reported how many times they had spanked their child in the past week (if any). The researchers classified any child whose parent provided a number other than zero as having been spanked.

    The researchers then matched children who had been spanked with those who hadn’t according to 38 child- and family-related characteristics, including: the child’s age, gender, overall health, and behavior problems at age 5; the parent’s education, age, and marital status; the family socioeconomic status and household size; and factors related to parenting quality and conflict in the home.

    Pairing the children in this way yielded two groups of children whose main difference was whether their parents had spanked them, effectively accounting for other factors that could plausibly influence the behavior of both parent and child. This approach allowed the researchers to approximate the random assignment of participants to groups, a hallmark of experimental design.

    To gauge children’s behavior problems over time, Gershoff, Sattler, and Ansari examined teachers’ ratings when the children were 5, 6, and 8 years old. Children’s teachers reported the frequency with which the children argued, fought, got angry, acted impulsively, and disturbed ongoing activities.

    The results were clear: Children who had been spanked at age 5 showed greater increases in behavior problems by age 6 and also by age 8 when compared with children who had never been spanked.

    Gershoff and colleagues conducted a similar analysis with only those children who had been spanked by their parents, comparing children who had been spanked in the week before the study (which suggests frequent spanking) and those who had not. Children spanked in the past week at age 5 also experienced greater increases in problem behavior at age 6 and 8 compared with children not spanked as frequently.

    “The fact that knowing whether a child had ever been spanked was enough to predict their levels of behavior problems years later was a bit surprising,” says Gershoff. “It suggests that spanking at any frequency is potentially harmful to children.”

    “Although dozens of studies have linked early spanking with later child behavior problems, this is the first to do so with a statistical method that approximates an experiment,” she concluded.


  10. Study links teenage depression to father’s depression

    by Ashley

    From the University College London press release:

    Adolescents whose fathers have depressive symptoms are more likely to experience symptoms of depression themselves, finds a new study led by UCL researchers.

    While the link between mothers’ depression and depression in their children is well-established, the new Lancet Psychiatry study is the first to find an association between depression in fathers and their teenaged children, independent of whether the mother has depression, in a large sample in the general population. The effects of fathers’ and mothers’ depression on their children’s symptoms were similar in magnitude.

    “There’s a common misconception that mothers are more responsible for their children’s mental health, while fathers are less influential — we found that the link between parent and teen depression is not related to gender,” said the study’s lead author, Dr Gemma Lewis (UCL Psychiatry).

    “Family-focused interventions to prevent depression often focus more on mothers, but our findings suggest we should be just as focused on fathers,” she said.

    The researchers drew on two large longitudinal studies of children: Growing up in Ireland, and the Millennium Cohort Study in England and Wales, using data from 6070 and 7768 families from the two studies, respectively. Parental depressive symptoms were assessed using a questionnaire when the children were 9 and 7 years old in the two cohorts, and then adolescent depressive symptoms were assessed when the children were 13 and 14 years old. The study samples were population-based, meaning they included people who experienced symptoms of depression but had not sought treatment.

    After adjusting for confounding factors such as maternal depression, family income and parental alcohol use, the researchers found that for every 3-point (one standard deviation) increase on the Mood and Feelings Questionnaire (MFQ; a commonly-used measure of depressive symptoms) on the part of fathers, there was an associated 0.2-point increase in the adolescent’s MFQ score. The findings were replicated in both independent study samples.

    Incidence of depression increases markedly at the beginning of adolescence, so the researchers say that understanding the risk factors at that age can be key to preventing depression later in life.

    “Men are less likely to seek treatment for depression. If you’re a father who hasn’t sought treatment for your depression, it could have an impact on your child. We hope that our findings could encourage men who experience depressive symptoms to speak to their doctor about it,” said Dr Lewis.

    Previous studies have shown links between paternal depression and poor behavioural and emotional outcomes in their children, but no large study in the general population (as opposed to a clinical population) has looked at the link with adolescent depression while taking into account maternal depression as well.

    “The mental health of both parents should be a priority for preventing depression among adolescents. There has been far too much emphasis on mothers but fathers are important as well,” said the study’s senior author, Professor Glyn Lewis (UCL Psychiatry).