1. Study looks at how both nature and nurture may be influencing eating behavior in young children

    October 16, 2017 by Ashley

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

    For most preschool-age children, picky eating is just a normal part of growing up. But for others, behaviors such as insisting on only eating their favorite food item — think chicken nuggets at every meal — or refusing to try something new might lead to the risk of being over- or underweight, gastrointestinal distress, or other eating disorders later in childhood.

    Parents and other caregivers often deem children as being “picky eaters” for a variety of reasons, but there is not a hard-fast definition in place for research. Nutrition and family studies researchers at the University of Illinois have collaborated for the last 10 years to understand the characteristics of picky eaters and to identify possible correlations of the behavior.

    In a new study, the researchers wanted to see if chemosensory genes might have a possible relationship to picky eating behavior in young children. They found that certain genes related to taste perception may be behind some of these picky eating habits.

    “For most children, picky eating is a normal part of development,” says Natasha Cole, a doctoral student in the Division of Nutritional Sciences at U of I and lead author of the study. “But for some children, the behavior is more worrisome.” Cole, also part of the Illinois Transdisciplinary Obesity Prevention Program at U of I, hopes the research can help identify the determinants of picky eating behavior in early childhood.

    Leading up to the taste perception genes study, the U of I researchers identified common characteristics of picky eaters, ages 2 to 4 years, and divided these “types” of picky eaters into distinct groups. Further research from the team looked at how parenting styles may affect picky eating behavior and whether children exhibit picky eating behavior both at home and in childcare — homecare or center-based — situations.

    “This has kind of been an evolution of the research, seeing an interaction rather than just seeing the child as on its own, which, when we first started trying to define a picky eater, we were just looking at the child,” explains Soo-Yeun Lee, a professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at U of I. “As we were moving into different parts of the research we realized, it’s not just the child, it’s the caregiver and the environment, as well.”

    Now, they are looking at the influence of “nature and nurture” on a child’s picky eating behavior.

    “Natasha is actually taking a deeper look at the child and genetic predisposition,” Lee says. “She is looking at sensory taste genes and also at some of the behavioral genes that have been highlighted in the literature. She has been looking at the whole field of picky eating research, and classifying it based on ‘nature vs. nurture.’ Nature is the genetic disposition and nurture is the environment and the caregivers.”

    The idea, Lee explains, is based on an orchid/dandelion hypothesis. “There are some genes — the behavioral genes — that make the child more prone and more sensitive to being more behaviorally problematic when external influences are present that may not work out their way. That’s the orchid concept. This may be a sensitive child who may not be as resilient with negative feedback or negative mealtime strategies given by parents, versus a dandelion child who is very robust and resistant to whatever, nurture or not, is given to them.

    “There is that fine line, and it’s not just the nurture, the environment, that’s influencing that, but it’s the child’s susceptibility to the environmental cues as well,” she adds.

    For the study, the researchers collected information about breastfeeding history and picky eating behaviors, such as limited food variety, food refusals, and struggles for control, for 153 preschoolers, as reported by their caregivers. Saliva samples were also taken for DNA extraction and genotyping.

    The researchers looked at genetic variation in single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs, pronounced “snips”) from five candidate genes related to taste perception. Of the five, they found that two had an association with picky eating behaviors in the preschoolers. One (TAS2R38) was associated with limited dietary variety, and the other (CA6) with struggles for control during mealtime.

    Interestingly, both the TAS2R38 and CA6 genes are possibly related to bitter taste perception. So it is not surprising that the children who are genetically “bitter-sensitive” may be more likely to be picky eaters (i.e. turning down Brussel sprouts or broccoli). Other chemosensory factors, such as odor, color, and texture, may affect eating behaviors as well. Further studies are needed to see how children’s food preferences are affected by the look or smell of their food.

    Along with continuing to look at genetic associations with picky eating, Cole is also interested in understanding how picky eating behaviors start even in children before 2 years of age. Most picky eating research has focused on children over 2 years, but eating habits begin to form before then. She and the research team recently published another study that reviews the research literature on picky eating in children younger than 2 years. The study discusses picky eating associations from an ecological model, starting with the child, and moving out to the child’s environment.

    “By two years, children know how to eat and have pretty set habits,” Cole says. “There is a huge gap in the research when children transition from a milk-based diet to foods that the rest of the family eats.”

    Cole adds that the research involving children under 2 years shows that 22 percent of those children are perceived as picky eaters by their parents or caregivers. Surprisingly, she also found that each additional month of the child’s age was associated with an increase in food-related fussiness. “So a child could go from rarely being a picky eater to being a frequent picky eater in less than a year,” she says.

    Collecting and integrating this comprehensive information from “Cell to Society” is critical to better understand nature-nurture interactions, as many questions in this area remain unsolved, explains Margarita Teran-Garcia, an assistant professor in nutritional sciences, human development and family studies, and the Carle Illinois College of Medicine at the U of I, and co-author of the paper.


  2. Study suggests online parent training can help young kids with ADHD

    by Ashley

    From the Lehigh University press release:

    Parents of children with ADHD can feel desperate for resources or treatments to help their children who struggle with inattention, distractibility and impulsiveness affecting school and home. Researchers at Lehigh University have discovered that brief online or in-person behavioral therapy for parents is equally effective in improving children’s behavior and parental knowledge — a potential game changer for parents strapped for time and access.

    They report these findings in a new paper published in The Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology.

    Few Use Behavior Therapy, Despite Recommendations

    While the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends behavior therapy support as the first line of treatment for preschool-age children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), limited availability of clinicians, cost and challenges in transportation and child care — as well as reliance on pharmacological drugs — mean few families access such therapy for themselves and their children. A 2016 report from the Centers for Disease Control found that about 75 percent of young children with ADHD received medicine as treatment and only about 50 percent of young children with ADHD with Medicaid and 40 percent with employer-sponsored insurance got psychological services, which may include behavior therapy. ADHD occurs in 2 to 15 percent of young children, with 11 percent of children in the U.S. receiving an ADHD diagnosis at some point in their lives.

    The research by George DuPaul, professor of school psychology, and Lee Kern, professor of special education, at Lehigh University is the first to look at online ADHD behavior therapies in this age group (3-5 years old). It was conducted with a $1.2 million grant from the Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education.

    Parents learned effective ways to anticipate and prevent child behavior problems, teach their children better ways to communicate their needs, and how to best reinforce their children’s positive behaviors with about 15 hours of parent education that can be delivered equally successfully in a typical face-to-face format or online,” DuPaul said of the findings. “The fact that parents can learn these strategies on their own schedule via an online platform has the potential to significantly improve current practice and present savings in terms of time and cost to families for whom access is an issue.”

    Training Benefits Parents and Children

    For the study, researchers created a program of parent education and support that was shorter in duration than most similar trainings. They recruited 47 families in the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania who had 3- to 5-year-old children who met diagnostic criteria for ADHD. Families were randomly assigned to one of three groups (face-to-face parent education, online parent education or a wait-list control group), with parents taking part in 10 weekly education sessions.

    “We collected parent questionnaires, tested parent knowledge and observed parent-child interactions in family homes before and after parent education was delivered to evaluate whether our program made a difference relative to families who did not receive parent education,” DuPaul said.

    In addition to finding online training was similarly effective to face-to-face training, researchers found parents participating in the streamlined 10-week format were more likely to be engaged and to complete training than those participating in longer formats. Both in-person and online training formats had high attendance and significantly improved parent knowledge of interventions and adherence to treatment protocols.

    In addition, children in the study were better able to regulate their behavior, demonstrating reduced restlessness and impulsivity and improved self-control, affect and mood compared to the control group.

    Though behavioral parent training is known to have positive results for children with ADHD, fewer parents and mental health and medical practitioners know about it than medication prescribed for ADHD, which can come with side effects and is not recommended as a first-line treatment for preschool-age children, DuPaul said.

    Thus the study provides options both relative to medication and among behavioral therapy in terms of the effectiveness of both in-person and electronically delivered formats.

    “I hope these findings add to the existing evidence that behavioral parent training is an effective approach for young kids with ADHD even when applied over a relatively short time, and show that both in-person and online formats can be effective in parent and child behavior change,” said DuPaul, who hopes the research also spurs more development of alternative ways of delivering interventions to parents.

    “The implications are substantial given barriers that many families experience with face-to-face behavioral parent training,” the study states.

    In addition to parents, the findings will be useful for others who interact with young children at risk for ADHD, from mental health practitioners and pediatricians to preschool teachers and early childhood education professionals, DuPaul said.


  3. Study suggests school year ‘relative age’ may cause bias in ADHD diagnosis

    October 15, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Nottingham press release:

    Younger primary school children are more likely to be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) than their older peers within the same school year, new research has shown.

    The study, led by a child psychiatrist at The University of Nottingham with researchers at the University of Turku in Finland, suggests that adults involved in raising concerns over a child’s behaviour — such as parents and teachers — may be misattributing signs of relative immaturity as symptoms of the disorder.

    In their research, published in The Lancet Psychiatry, the experts suggest that greater flexibility in school starting dates should be offered for those children who may be less mature than their same school-year peers.

    Kapil Sayal, Professor of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry at the University’s School of Medicine and the Centre for ADHD and Neurodevelopmental Disorders Across the Lifespan at the Institute of Mental Health in Nottingham, was the lead author on the study.

    He said: “The findings of this research have a range of implications for teachers, parents and clinicians. With an age variation of up to 12 months in the same class, teachers and parents may misattribute a child’s immaturity. This might lead to younger children in the class being more likely to be referred for an assessment for ADHD.

    “Parents and teachers as well as clinicians who are undertaking ADHD assessments should keep in mind the child’s relative age. From an education perspective, there should be flexibility with an individualised approach to best meets the child’s needs.”

    Evidence suggests that worldwide, the incidence of ADHD among school age children is, at around five per cent, fairly uniform. However, there are large differences internationally in the rates of clinical diagnosis and treatment.

    Although this may partially reflect the availability of and access to services, the perceptions of parents and teachers also play an important role in recognising children who may be affected by ADHD, as information they provide is used as part of the clinical assessment.

    The study centred on whether the so-called ‘relative age effect’ — the perceived differences in abilities and development between the youngest and oldest children in the same year group — could affect the incidence of diagnosis of ADHD.

    Adults may be benchmarking the development and abilities of younger children against their older peers in the same year group and inadvertently misinterpreting immaturity for more serious problems.

    Previous studies have suggested that this effect plays an important role in diagnosis in countries where higher numbers of children are diagnosed and treated for ADHD, leading to concerns that clinicians may be over-diagnosing the disorder.

    The latest study aimed to look at whether the effect also plays a significant role in the diagnosis of children in countries where the prescribing rates for ADHD are relatively low.

    It used nationwide population data from all children in Finland born between 1991 and 2004 who were diagnosed with ADHD from the age of seven years — school starting age — onwards. In Finland, children start school during the calendar year they turn 7 years of age, with the school year starting in mid-August. Therefore, the eldest in a school year are born in January (aged 7 years and 7 months) and the youngest in December (6 years and 7 months).

    The results showed that younger children were more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than their older same-year peers — boys by 26 per cent and girls by 31 per cent.

    For children under the age of 10 years, this association got stronger over time — in the more recent years 2004-2011, children born in May to August were 37 per cent more likely to be diagnosed and those born in September to December 64 per cent, compared to the oldest children born in January to April

    The study found that this ‘relative age affect’ could not be explained by other behavioural or developmental disorders which may also have been affecting the children with an ADHD diagnosis.

    However, the experts warn, the study did have some important limitations — the data did not reveal whether any of the young children were held back a year for educational reasons and potentially misclassified as the oldest in their year group when in fact they were the youngest of their original peers.

    The flexibility in school starting date could explain why the rate of ADHD in December-born children (the relatively youngest) were slightly lower than those for children born in October and November.

    And while the records of publicly-funded specialised services which are free at the point of access will capture most children who have received a diagnosis of ADHD, it will miss those who were diagnosed in private practice.


  4. Study looks at factors that affect which child parents spend more money on

    October 12, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Society for Consumer Psychology press release:

    Imagine a parent who is shopping and has a few moments to spare before heading home. If the parent has both a son and daughter but time to buy only one surprise gift, who will receive the gift?

    Findings from a new study available online in the Journal of Consumer Psychology suggest that a mother would have a high likelihood of buying something for her daughter, while a father would choose a gift for his son. While more than 90 percent of people in the study said they treat children of different genders equally, researchers discovered that most parents unwittingly favor the child of the same sex when it comes to spending money.

    “We found that the effect was very robust in four different experiments and across cultures,” says researcher Kristina Durante, a professor of marketing at Rutgers Business School in New Jersey. “The bias toward investing in same-gendered children occurs because women identify more with and see themselves in their daughters, and the same goes for men and sons.”

    In one experiment, the researchers recruited participants who had a child of each gender. The participants were told that they would receive a treasury bond of $25 for one of their children, and they could choose who received it. The majority of mothers chose to give the bond to their daughters, while the fathers preferred their sons. To test if the gender bias occurred in a different culture, the researchers conducted the experiment among parents from India, and the results were the same.

    Participants also favored children of their own gender when deciding who would receive more in the family will. The researchers conducted another experiment at a zoo where participants with a child of each gender were given one raffle ticket after filling out a survey. They had to decide whether to enter the raffle for a girl’s back-to-school backpack or a boy’s backpack. Mothers chose the girl’s backpack 75 percent of the time and fathers picked the boy’s backpack 87 percent of the time.

    The findings have implications for children as they are growing up in different families, Durante says. If mothers make most of the decisions about a family’s spending, then daughters may receive more resources such as healthcare, inheritance and investments than their brothers. If fathers are in control of the family finances, then sons may be more likely to benefit in the long-run. This unconscious gender bias may also have ramifications far beyond the family, Durante says.

    “If a woman is responsible for promotion decisions in the workplace, female employees may be more likely to benefit. The reverse may be true if men are in charge of such decisions,” says Durante. “If this gender bias influences decisions related to charitable giving, college savings, promotions and politics, then it can have profound implications and is something we can potentially correct going forward,” says Durante.

    Find more online at: https://www.journals.elsevier.com/journal-of-consumer-psychology/forthcoming-articles/do-mothers-spend-more-on-daughters


  5. Study looks at how economic factors affect parenting styles

    October 10, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Yale University press release:

    Settling on a parenting style is challenging. Is it better to be strict or more lenient? Have helicopter parents found the right approach to guiding their children’s choices?

    A new study co-authored by Yale economist Fabrizio Zilibotti argues that parenting styles are shaped by economic factors that incentivize one strategy over others.

    Zilibotti and co-author Matthias Doepke, a professor of economics at Northwestern University, assert in a paper published in the journal Econometrica that economic conditions, especially inequality and return to education, have influenced child-rearing strategy.

    “All parents want their children to succeed, and we argue that the economic environment influences their methods of childrearing,” said Zilibotti, the Tuntex Professor of International and Development Economics at Yale. “For instance, greater occupational mobility and lower inequality today makes an authoritarian approach less effective than generations ago. It’s not that parents spare the rod because they are more concerned about their children’s wellbeing now than they were 100 years ago. Rather, parenting strategies adapted to the modern economy.”

    Zilibotti and Doepke assert that parents are driven by a combination of altruism — a desire for their children to succeed — and paternalism that leads them to try to influence their children’s choices, either by molding their children’s preferences or restricting them. These motivations manifest in three parenting styles: A permissive style that affords children the freedom to follow their inclinations and learn from their own experiences; an authoritative style in which parents try to mold their children’s preferences to induce choices consistent with the parents’ notions of achieving success; and an authoritarian style in which parents impose their will on their children and control their choices.

    “There is an element of common interest between parents and children — a drive for success — but there is tension where parents care more about their children’s wellbeing as adults,” Zilibotti said. “We postulate that socioeconomic conditions drive how much control or monitoring parents exercise on their children’s choices.”

    The researchers apply their model across time periods and between countries. Parenting became more permissive in the 1960s and 1970s when economic inequality reached historic lows in industrialized countries and parents could realize a return on letting children learn from their own experiences, they argue. Across countries, they document a link between parenting, on the one hand, and income inequality and return to education, on the other hand. Using the World Value Survey, where people are asked which attitudes or values they find most important in child rearing, they identify permissive parents with those emphasizing the values of imagination and independence in rearing children, whereas authoritarian and authoritative parents are those who insist on the importance of hard work and obedience, respectively. They show that parents in more unequal countries are less permissive. The same pattern emerges when they consider redistributive policies. In countries with more redistributive taxation, more social expenditure, and even stronger civil right protection, parents are significantly more permissive.

    The researchers assert that their theory can help explain the recent rise of “helicopter parenting,” a version of the authoritative style in which parents seek to influence their children’s choices with a combination of persuasion and intensive monitoring. They argue that the style gained purchase in the United States as economic inequality increased, inducing a shift to more intensive parenting to strengthen children’s drive for achievement and prevent them from risky behaviors. Meanwhile, they argue, more permissive parenting remains popular in Scandinavian countries, where inequality is lower than it is in the United States.


  6. Study looks at postpartum depression risk, duration and recurrence

    October 9, 2017 by Ashley

    From the PLOS press release:

    Postpartum affective disorder (AD), including postpartum depression (PPD), affects more than one in two hundred women with no history of prior psychiatric episodes, and raises the risk of later affective disorder for those women, according to a new study published in PLOS Medicine by Marie-Louise Rasmussen from Statens Serum Institut, Denmark, and colleagues.

    PPD is estimated to affect more than 5 percent of all women following childbirth, making it the most common postnatal complication of childbearing. In the new study, researchers analyzed data from the Danish national registries on 457,317 women who had a first child (and subsequent births) between 1996 and 2013 and had no prior psychiatric hospital contacts or use of antidepressants. Postpartum AD was defined as an antidepressant prescription fill or hospital contact for depression within six months after birth.

    In the Danish cohort, 0.6% of all childbirths among women with no history of psychiatric disease led to postpartum AD. A year after their first treatment, 27.9% of these women were still in treatment; after four years, that number was 5.4%. For women with a hospital contact for depression after a first birth, the risk of postpartum AD recurrence was 21%; the recurrence was 15% for women who took antidepressants after a first birth. These rates mean that, compared to women without history of AD, postpartum AD is 46 and 27 times higher in subsequent births for women with postpartum AD after their first birth.

    “These population-based figures provide valuable guidance to physicians treating women with PPD,” the authors say. “It underlines the seriousness of single initial episodes and highlights the necessity of both primary and secondary preventive measures of which several exist.”


  7. Anxious moms may give clues about how anxiety develops

    October 8, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Penn State press release:

    Moms may be notorious worriers, but babies of anxious mothers may also spend more time focusing on threats in their environment, according to a team of researchers.

    In a study, researchers used eye-tracking technology to measure how long babies spent looking at happy, neutral and angry faces. They found that the babies with anxious moms had a harder time looking away from an angry face — which they could view as a threat — than babies whose moms were not anxious.

    Koraly Pérez-Edgar, professor of psychology at Penn State, said the findings — recently published in the journal Emotion — could help give clues about which children are at risk for developing anxiety later in life.

    “Once we learn more about the pathways to anxiety, we can better predict who’s at risk and hopefully help prevent them from needing treatment later on,” Pérez-Edgar said. “Treatment is difficult for the child and parent, it’s expensive and it doesn’t always work. If we can prevent anxiety from developing, that’s a whole lot better. Let’s find out which kids are at the highest risk and intervene.”

    Previous research has found that focusing too much on threat could potentially increase anxiety, and some forms of therapy focus on turning attention away from threat as a way to lower anxiety.

    “Paying too much attention to threat, even as infants, could possibly set up this cycle. The more you fixate on threat, the more opportunity you have to see the world as a threatening place, which could help lead to more anxiety,” Pérez-Edgar said. “Additionally, we think that risk factors in biology and potentially mom’s anxiety could also make that more likely.”

    To examine the relationship between a mother’s anxiety and her baby’s attention to threat, a research team led by Pérez-Edgar; Kristin Buss, professor of psychology at Penn State; and Vanessa Lobue, assistant professor of psychology at Rutgers University, recruited 98 babies between the ages of 4 and 24 months.

    The babies’ mothers answered questions about their anxiety levels, and the babies were placed in front of a screen that was equipped with an eye tracker — a strip that ran along the bottom of the monitor and followed the movement of the babies’ irises using infrared.

    As each baby focused on the screen, their gaze was measured while happy, neutral and angry faces appeared one at a time. Once the baby was focused on a face, a second image was flashed in their peripheral vision to distract them.

    “By the time you’re a few months old, a reflex develops where you’ll automatically turn and look if something pops up in your peripheral vision,” Pérez-Edgar said. “This became a conflict for the babies, because they were focused on the face but then had this reflex to turn and look.”

    The researchers found that the more anxious a baby’s mother was, the more time her baby spent looking at the angry faces before turning to look at the image in their peripheral vision. This suggests that the babies with anxious moms had a harder time disengaging from a potential threat in their environment.

    Additionally, the researchers found that the age of the baby did not matter. The babies with anxious moms spent a longer time looking at the angry face whether they were four or 24 months old, suggesting a potential genetic element.

    “It doesn’t seem like the babies are learning to pay more attention to threat from their anxious moms. If that were true, the older babies might have more trouble turning away because they’ve been around their moms longer than the younger babies,” Pérez-Edgar said. “This seems to suggest that there may be a shared genetic or biological component.”

    Pérez-Edgar said the results give powerful clues about where to keep looking to learn more about how anxiety develops in children. In a future study, Pérez-Edgar, Buss and Lobue will take a closer look at how mother’s anxiety affects babies over time, instead of at one instance.


  8. Physical abuse and punishment impact children’s academic performance

    by Ashley

    From the Penn State press release:

    A Penn State researcher and her collaborator found that physical abuse was associated with decreases in children’s cognitive performance, while non-abusive forms of physical punishment were independently associated with reduced school engagement and increased peer isolation.

    Sarah Font, assistant professor of sociology and co-funded faculty member of the Child Maltreatment Solutions Network, and Jamie Cage, assistant professor in Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Social Work, found that children’s performances and engagement in the classroom are significantly influenced by their exposure to mild, harsh and abusive physical punishment in the home. Their study was recently published in Child Abuse and Neglect.

    While corporal punishment and physical abuse have been linked with reduced cognitive development and academic achievement in children previously, Font’s study is one of the few that simultaneously examines abusive and non-abusive physical punishment as reported by both children and caregivers.

    Even if physical punishment does not result in serious physical injury, children may experience fear and distress, and this stress has been found to negatively impact brain structure, development and overall well-being.

    “This punishment style is meant to inflict minor pain so the child will change their behavior to avoid future punishment, but it does not give children the opportunity to learn how to behave appropriately through explanation and reasoning,” stated Font.

    In this study, over 650 children and their caregivers were examined in three areas of physical punishment: mild corporal punishment, harsh corporal punishment, and physical abuse. The groups reported their use or experience with physical punishment and researchers then measured cognitive outcomes, school engagement, and peer isolation in the children. The data was analyzed to determine trajectories between cognitive and academic performance and how initial and varying exposure to physical punishment and abuse influences them.

    “We found that while all forms of physical punishment and abuse are associated with declines in school engagement, only initial exposure to physical abuse has a significant negative influence on cognitive performance, and only harsh corporal punishment notably increases peer isolation in children and was observed in both child and caregiver reports. This suggests that preventing physical abuse could promote children’s cognitive performance, but it may not be enough to get children to be involved and well-adjusted in school,” said Font.

    Considering that mild physical punishment can develop into physical abuse and that even these mild punishments have consequences on children’s cognitive and social school functioning, parent education on alternative forms of punishment may be one solution to prevent physical abuse.

    Programs that reach parents during services that they regularly use may be one way to give them alternative punishment technique education. This could be a medical professional informing parents during a child’s health visit or staff members of an Early Head Start program providing parent education during the child’s enrollment. “Further research and efforts in these types of interventions needs to continue so we can learn more,” Font said.

    This research was made possible support from the Population Research Institute, part of the Social Science Research Institute.


  9. Study suggests warmth, not lavish praise, helps children develop self-esteem

    October 3, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Amsterdam press release:

    How do children construct views of themselves and their place in the world? Children’s social relationships turn out to be critical. For example, children develop higher self-esteem when their parents treat them warmly. But they develop lower self-esteem when their parents lavish them with inflated praise. These and other findings are included in a special section edited by Eddie Brummelman (University of Amsterdam) and Sander Thomaes (Utrecht University) and soon-to-be published in the journal Child Development. In a series of articles, now available online in ‘early view’,’ the researchers share the results of research on the origins of the self-concept in children.

    Who am I and what is my place in the world? Children are born without an answer to these pressing questions. As they grow up, though, they start to formulate answers seemingly effortlessly. Within a few years, they recognise themselves in the mirror, refer to themselves by their own name, evaluate themselves through the eyes of others and understand their standing in a social group.

    Research by Christina Starmans from the University of Toronto shows that even toddlers have an idea of what it means to have a ‘self’. Young children see the self as something that is unique to a person, separate from the body, stable over time, and located within the head, behind the eyes. Research by Andrei Cimpian (New York University) and his colleagues shows that even toddlers have the cognitive ability to form self-worth (i.e., how satisfied they are with themselves as individuals).

    Social relationships

    Over time, pronounced individual differences arise in children’s self-concept. Some children like themselves, whereas others feel negatively about themselves. Some children see themselves as superior and deserving special treatment, whereas others consider themselves to be on an equal plane with others. Some children believe they can grow and build their abilities, whereas others believe their abilities are fixed and unchangeable. Where do these individual differences come from? What leads children to see themselves the way they do? ‘Surprisingly little is known about the origins of children’s self-concept’, says Brummelman. ‘It is important that we shed more light on this important subject. With this collection of articles, our aim is to showcase emerging research on this subject.’

    ‘What these articles reveal is that children form their self-concept, at least in part, based on their social relationships‘, Brummelman continues. For example, research by Michelle Harris (University of California) and her team shows that children develop higher self-esteem when they receive warmth from their parents. Warm parents show an interest in their children’s activities and share joy with them, which makes children feel noticed and valued. Brummelman’s own research shows that children may develop lower self-esteem and sometimes even narcissism when their parents give them lots of extremely positive, inflated praise, such as ‘Wow, you did incredibly well! Such inflated praise may give children a sense of grandiosity but at the same time also make them worry about falling short of the standards set for them.

    Encouragement

    Previous research has shown the importance of having a growth mindset – the belief that you can develop your skills through effort and education. Children with a growth mindset are eager to take on challenges, persist when the going gets tough, and see failure as opportunities for growth. In a theoretical article, Kyla Haimovitz and Carol Dweck (Stanford University) describe how parents can foster a growth mindset by praising children for effort instead of ability (for example, ‘You worked so hard!’) and by teaching children that failure isn’t harmful but actually benefits learning and growth. Parents can encourage children to ask themselves: why did I get such a low grade, and what can I do differently in future?

    All 10 articles in the special section study various dimensions of children’s self-concept, including self-esteem, self-compassion, mindsets and self-perceived ability. ‘What these articles show is that children construct their self-concept based on the social relationships they have, the feedback they receive, the social comparisons they make, and the cultural values they endorse. This underlines the deeply social nature of children’s self-concept’, says Brummelman.


  10. Study suggests how parents manage conflict has impact on kids

    October 2, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Arizona press release:

    Few parents want their children to hear them arguing, but since conflict is a normal part of any relationship, it can be hard to shield little ones from every spat.

    That’s OK, as long as parents handle disagreements in a constructive way, says University of Arizona researcher Olena Kopystynska.

    Kopystynska, a graduate student in the UA’s Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, studies conflict and conflict resolution. In a new paper, forthcoming in the Journal of Family Psychology, she looks at how the way parents handle conflict with each other affects their parenting styles and how emotionally secure their children feel after being exposed to conflict between their parents.

    Kopystynska’s study focuses on constructive versus destructive styles of conflict management. In constructive conflict management, there is calmness and respect, despite a difference in opinion; the conflict stays focused on one topic; and progress is made toward a resolution. When conflict is handled destructively, there is anger and resentment, and the argument often strays off topic to things that may have happened in the past.

    Kopystynska and her colleagues found that when even one parent handles conflict with a partner destructively, it can leave children feeling more emotionally insecure about their home life.

    “Children are very good at picking up on little nuances of how parents interact with each other, so it really matters how parents express and manage their daily life challenges because that determines children’s confidence in the stability and safety of their family,” Kopystynska said. “If parents are hostile toward each other, even children as young as 3 years old may be threatened that their family may be headed toward dissolution. They may not necessarily be able to express their insecurities verbally, but they can feel it.”

    Stressors Can Feed Strife

    Kopystynska’s study is based on national data collected for the Building Strong Families Project, which targeted low-income families — a population that could be at high risk for conflict, given the many stressors associated with financial strife. Parents in the study were mostly unmarried and had just conceived their first child at the start of data collection, which was done in three waves.

    Kopystynska focused on the third wave of data, collected when the children in the study were 3 years old. Mothers and fathers were surveyed at that point about their perceptions of their conflict management behaviors with each other, and how their children react emotionally when they witness conflict between their parents. While similar studies have relied only on data from mothers, the inclusion of fathers helps provide a more complete picture of what’s going on, Kopystynska said.

    Kopystynska and her co-authors identified four different profiles of the couples surveyed: couples in which both partners handled conflict constructively; couples in which both partners handled conflict destructively; couples in which the mother was more constructive and the father more destructive; and couples in which the father was more constructive and the mother more destructive.

    The researchers further looked at supportive and harsh parenting behaviors, as measured through direct observations of each parent separately interacting with his or her child. Supportive behaviors might include making positive statements, being sensitive to the child’s needs and engaging the child in cognitively stimulating ways. Harsh parenting might include forceful or intrusive behaviors or expressions of anger and dissatisfaction toward the child.

    Researchers found that fathers’ parenting styles did not seem to be affected by how they managed conflict with their partners. In other words, fathers interacted with their children similarly in all profiles. Yet, mothers in the profile in which fathers handled conflict constructively and mothers handled conflict destructively tended to be harsher with their children than mothers in the profile in which both parents handled conflict constructively.

    As far as the impact on children’s emotional insecurity, researchers found that when one parent handled conflict destructively and the other constructively, children’s emotional insecurity was higher than what was reported for children whose parents both handled conflict constructively.

    “What we found is that when parents are using constructive conflict management, the children feel less insecure about their family climate, and when at least one parent argues destructively, there are some levels of insecurity about the family relationships,” Kopystynska said.

    ‘Arguing Constructively’

    Worth noting, Kopystynska said, is that despite a common misconception that most low-income families are at risk for dysfunctional behaviors, very few couples in the study were entirely destructive in their conflict management styles. In fact, only 3 percent of couples in the sample included two partners who handled conflict destructively, suggesting that most couples in the sample participated in healthy and positive conflict patterns.

    “There is often a belief out there that if you are a low-income family, you probably have a lot of dysfunction, but over 50 percent of the couples we looked at were arguing constructively,” Kopystynska said. “Considering all the stressors they’re dealing with, the majority of them still have a good, functional relationship, at least when it comes to conflict.”

    The fact that the group in which both parents were arguing in destructive ways was so small might help explain one surprising finding of Kopystynska’s study — that emotional insecurity levels were lowest for children of these parents. Also contributing to that finding could be the fact that those couples may have broken up and physically separated from each other by the time the data was collected, meaning that children may not have been as directly exposed to their parents’ interactions, Kopystynska said.

    “Parents who were in the concordant destructive group were less likely to stay together, so they were probably not in the same home, so children were probably not exposed to that interparental conflict,” said Kopystynska, whose co-authors on the paper were UA faculty memebers Melissa Barnett and Melissa Curran, along with Katherine Paschall of the University of Texas, Austin.

    In general, Kopystynska said, it’s important for parents to be aware of how they interact with each other, and remember that conflict shouldn’t necessarily be avoided but handled in a way that makes a child feel less threatened.

    Not all conflict is bad — it’s about how you manage it,” Kopystynska said. “Given that children are going to encounter conflict out there in the real world, exposure to some conflict can be beneficial. However, it’s really how parents handle that conflict that sets the tone for how safe children feel, and may further promote similar conflict management behaviors for when children are confronted with conflict of their own.”