1. Study suggests engaging children in math at home equals a boost in more than just math skills

    November 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Purdue University press release:

    Preschool children who engage in math activities at home with their parents not only improve their math skills, but also their general vocabulary, according to research from Purdue University.

    “Exposure to basic numbers and math concepts at home were predictive, even more so than storybook reading or other literacy-rich interactions, of improving preschool children’s general vocabulary,” said Amy Napoli, a doctoral student in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies who led the study. “And one of the reasons we think this could be is the dialogue that happens when parents are teaching their children about math and asking questions about values and comparisons, which helps these young children improve their oral language skills.”

    The findings are published online in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.

    “It’s never too early to talk about numbers and quantities. One of the first words young children learn is ‘more,'” said David Purpura, an assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, and senior author of the study.

    There are a number of ways parents can encourage math learning at home, such as talking about counting, connecting numbers to quantities and comparing values — more and less. It also helps to focus on counting as purposeful, such as “there are three cookies for a snack” rather than “there are cookies for a snack.”

    “This focus on math typically isn’t happening at home, but this shows that when parents do include math concepts it can make a difference,” said Napoli, who is working on tools to help parents improve math-related instruction at home. “When working with families, there is a math-related anxiety aspect and that is probably why more parents focus on literacy than on math. But, if you can count, then you can teach something to your child.”

    This study evaluated 116 preschool children, ages 3-5. The researchers assessed the children’s math and language skills in the fall and spring of the preschool year and examined how what their parents reported about math and literacy activities at home predicted children’s improvement over time. Napoli and Purpura do caution that these findings are only correlational and the future experimental work is needed to evaluate the causal nature of these findings. This research is ongoing work supported by Purdue’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies.


  2. Study suggests parents help shape how much pain preschoolers feel after vaccination

    by Ashley

    From the York University press release:

    While vaccinations protect children against various illnesses, the pain can sometimes be too much to bear. It’s no wonder most children and parents dread their vaccination appointments. Now new research from York University’s OUCH Cohort at the Faculty of Health found that the amount of distress and pain felt by a preschooler during a vaccination is strongly related to how their parents help them cope before and during an appointment.

    Professor Rebecca Pillai Riddell in the Faculty of Health, York Research Chair in Pain and Mental Health and senior author of the paper, has been following the OUCH Cohort children for over a decade. In the study, researchers used the data from 548 children who had been followed during infant and/or preschool vaccinations. Infants were included in the study if the infant had no suspected developmental delays or impairments, had no chronic illnesses, had never been admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit, and was born no more than three weeks preterm.

    The research, led by graduate student Lauren Campbell, examined children who were expressing the most pain during preschool vaccinations. The goal of the study was to find out what would best predict the children who had the highest pain and did the poorest coping during the preschool vaccination by watching both the child and the parent over repeated vaccinations over childhood. Researchers evaluated various pain behaviours such as facial activity (grimacing), leg activity (crunching of legs), crying and consolability to measure the level of pain in children. They also looked at what the child and parent said that related to coping with the pain.

    The results suggested that a preschooler’s ability to cope is a powerful tool to reduce pain-related distress but they need parents to support their coping throughout a vaccination appointment to have an impact in reducing pain-related distress.

    “When children were distressed prior to the needle, that made them feel more pain after the needle,” says Pillai Riddell.

    The data confirmed that engaging in coping-promoting behaviours like encouraging a child to take deep breaths was important. Using distractions such as pulling out an iPhone or distracting children with plans about what they will do after the appointment also improved children’s coping.

    However, Pillai Riddell says it may be even more important to avoid negative or distress-promoting behaviours.

    “Telling kids that ‘it’s ok, it’s going to be fine’ over and over again actually makes children feel anxious. Parents only say things are ‘okay’ when things are not ok. Ensuring you don’t criticize a child, such as saying: ‘strong girls don’t cry’, ‘big boys don’t do that’ is important. Also, don’t apologize to a child by saying things like: ‘I’m sorry this is happening to you,’ is also key, says Pillai Riddell. “These are all distress-promoting behaviours and increase pain and distress.”

    The study, published in Pain, found that not only is a parent’s behaviour during vaccinations critical to a child’s pain coping responses, but that the behaviour may also impact their reactions in the future. Moreover, the research may better inform medical care and may predict suffering by children during vaccinations into adulthood.

    “People who have negative reactions with doctors when they are young, may avoid preventative care in the future. If you didn’t like a needle when you were five, that can stick with you.”


  3. Study finds that keeping harsh punishment in check helps kids with ADHD

    November 13, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Ohio State University press release:

    Cutting back on yelling, criticism and other harsh parenting approaches, including physical punishment, has the power to calm children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to a new study.

    Researchers from The Ohio State University evaluated physiological markers of emotional regulation in preschool children with ADHD before and after a parent and child intervention aimed at improving family relations. Changes in parenting — including less yelling and physical discipline — led to improvements in children’s biological regulation.

    “This is the first study to show that improved parenting changes kids biologically,” said Theodore Beauchaine, the study’s senior author and a professor of psychology at Ohio State.

    “The idea is to change family dynamics so these highly vulnerable kids don’t run into big problems down the road, including delinquency and criminal behavior.”

    The study appears in the journal Clinical Psychological Science.

    Parents of 99 preschoolers with ADHD received parenting coaching — half during 20 weekly two-hour sessions and half during 10 similar sessions. The parents learned skills including problem-solving, positive parenting techniques and effective responses to their children’s behaviors. Meanwhile, their children met with therapists who reinforced topics such as emotional regulation and anger management.

    Before the training began, parents (usually moms) and their children engaged in play sessions that included an intentionally frustrating block-building exercise. Parents dumped a large container of blocks on the floor and were told not to touch the blocks and to coach their children on how to build progressively complex structures.

    During the exercise, the children were tethered to equipment that recorded their heart activity. Abnormal patterns of heart activity are common among children who have trouble controlling their emotions, including some children with ADHD, Beauchaine said.

    After parent coaching was complete, the researchers had families return to the lab for retesting to determine if the training sessions led to changes in parenting and heart activity among children.

    Reductions in negative parenting were found to drive improved biological function in children. Increases in positive parenting had no effect.

    The researchers also observed each parent and child during a 30-minute play session in the family home and video-recorded positive and negative parenting approaches. Positive parenting included praise, encouragement and problem-solving. Negative parenting included critical statements, physical discipline and commands that gave children no opportunity to comply.

    Less-harsh parenting also was linked to improved behavior in children, a finding that bolsters previous research in this area.

    “Negative interactions between parents and children have a big effect on kids,” Beauchaine said.

    Greater improvements in parenting were seen in those who had 20 weeks of classes, versus 10. Regardless, the intervention was relatively short, Beauchaine said.

    “Just 20 weeks to observe this much change is somewhat surprising,” he said.

    Children in the study all struggled primarily with hyperactivity and impulsivity, as opposed to inattention. Most of them — 76 percent — were boys, which is similar to ADHD rates in the general population. Families were participants in Beauchaine’s work with collaborators at the University of Washington. One limitation of the study is that it did not include a control group of parents and children who did not receive lessons.

    Beauchaine said it is important to recognize the tremendous parenting challenges that moms and dads of children with ADHD face.

    “A lot of times, these young kids and their parents don’t like each other much. We strive to change that. It’s challenging for parents, because these kids can be hard to raise,” he said.

    “The idea is not to blame parents or kids, but to look for ways to help them both.”


  4. Study suggests mindfulness may help mothers cope with stress when their babies have a heart condition

    November 12, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia press release:

    Mindfulness may offer an active coping mechanism for mothers faced with the stress of having a newborn diagnosed with congenital heart disease (CHD). Mindfulness, which aims to increase a person’s awareness and acceptance of daily experiences, is currently used in a variety of healthcare settings as a potentially effective skill for stress reduction, emotion, affect and attention regulation.

    A team of nurse-researchers from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing (Penn Nursing) published a study in the Journal of Pediatric Nursing in which they gathered perspectives on coping mechanisms from focus groups with 14 mothers of critically ill infants, and explored the feasibility of mindfulness as a stress-reduction technique.

    “Mothers of infants with complex congenital heart disease are exposed to increased stress, which has been associated with numerous adverse outcomes,” said Barbara Medoff-Cooper, PhD, RN FAAN, principal investigator and nurse scientist in the Cardiac Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and at Penn Nursing. “The coping mechanisms these mothers use critically impacts the family’s adaptation to the illness, and most likely infant outcomes as well.”

    “Thus far, parental interventions in the CICU generally are informative or educational, aiming to increase parental abilities to actively manage the caretaking demands of an infant with CHD,” said Nadya Golfenshtein, PhD, RN, lead author of the study and a researcher at Penn Nursing. “Mindfulness can be a helpful tool that assists mothers during an incredibly stressful time for them, and for their family by allowing them to pause and be present in the moment rather than wishing something different was happening or worrying about tomorrow.”

    The researchers collected data during focus groups between July 2015 and March 2016. The sessions included a short introduction to mindfulness as a stress reduction intervention, led by a moderator who is a psychotherapist experienced in group formats.

    “In the study, mothers described the post-diagnostic period, surgery and the cardiac intensive care unit stay as extremely stressful,” said Amy J. Lisanti, PhD, RN, CCNS, CCRN-K, nurse researcher at CHOP and NRSA postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. “Many expressed concerns regarding the post-discharge period when they would need to independently handle their infant’s condition. Their increased stress often led them to feel out of control, lethargic and not like themselves. They acknowledged the importance of stress reduction, recognizing that relief from stress could help them sleep better, recharge energy, focus and think clearly.”

    After experiencing a brief guided session of mindfulness in a focus group, one mother said, “Most meditation is about clear your mind and lose focus, but this is to focus on now. I think it works for me, I was never able to do the clear mind thing. This is more accessible to me.” Another noted, “This is something I’m doing for myself, remembering I’m part of this too. Sometimes you are on autopilot, making sure everyone else is ok. Yes, this is a moment when I’m doing something for myself.”

    The mothers agreed that mindfulness should start early, preferably immediately after the prenatal CHD diagnosis. That way, they felt, that they would have time to learn and practice the skill by the time the baby is born. There was also a general agreement that the worst time to begin the practice is around surgery, as that is an overwhelming time and mothers are too busy to learn a new skill. The mothers preferred engaging in mindfulness in a private, quiet room as the sounds of the CICU stress them and may prevent them from relaxing.

    “We hope to design a program that draws from these findings and more research on mindfulness meditation is needed in a larger cohort of mothers,” added Golfenshtein.


  5. Study suggests younger siblings impacted more by parental favouritism

    November 10, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Brigham Young University press release:

    A new study by BYU School of Family Life assistant professor Alex Jensen revealed that the perception of favoritism may have more effect on a child-parent relationship than was previously considered.

    Specifically, Jensen found that favoritism is linked more to younger siblings’ parent-child relationships than with the older siblings’. If the younger sibling feels like they’re the favorite and the parents agree, their relationship is strengthened. If they don’t feel like the favorite and the parents agree with that, the opposite happens. Surprisingly with older siblings, whether they feel favored or not, it has no major impact on the relationship.

    What could be the reason behind this difference? Jensen says social comparison — one sibling comparing himself to the other — is the culprit.

    “It’s not that first-borns don’t ever think about their siblings and themselves in reference to them,” Jensen said. “It’s just not as active of a part of their daily life. My guess is it’s probably rarer that parents will say to an older sibling, ‘Why can’t you be more like your younger sibling?’ It’s more likely to happen the other way around.”

    The data in the study were collected from a longitudinal study with more than 300 families, each with two teenage children.

    To measure levels of favoritism, researchers looked at responses from both the children and their parents. The children were asked what their relationship with their parents is like while their parents were asked how much warmth and conflict they experienced with their children. They found that children, on average, have more warmth and more conflict with their mothers, but the rates of change in relationship for both mother and father were similar.

    The study looked at families with two children, but Jensen believes that the data would show similar results for larger families as well.

    “If you had to ask me, ‘Do we see the same thing with the second born and third born?’ I think probably so,” Jensen said. “The youngest kid looks up to everybody, the next youngest kid looks up to everyone older than them, and it just kind of goes up the line.”

    While parents may think treating their children equally is the best way to mitigate any negative effects, Jensen says this is not the case.

    When parents are more loving and they’re more supportive and consistent with all of the kids, the favoritism tends to not matter as much,” Jensen said. “Some parents feel like ‘I need to treat them the same.’ What I would say is ‘No you need to treat them fairly, but not equally.’ If you focus on it being okay to treat them differently because they’re different people and have different needs, that’s OK.”

    The study was published in the Journal of Adolescence. Susan M. McHale, a professor at The Pennsylvania State University, was the coauthor.


  6. Study suggests childhood spankings can lead to adult mental health problems

    by Ashley

    From the University of Michigan press release:

    Getting spanked as a child can lead to a host of mental health problems in adulthood, say University of Michigan researchers.

    A new study by Andrew Grogan-Kaylor and Shawna Lee, both U-M associate professors of social work, and colleagues indicates the violence caused by spanking can lead adults to feel depressed, attempt suicide, drink at moderate-to-heavy levels or use illegal drugs.

    “Placing spanking in a similar category to physical/emotional abuse experiences would increase our understanding of these adult mental health problems,” Grogan-Kaylor said.

    Spanking is defined as using physical force with the intention of causing a child to experience pain, but not injury, to correct or control the youth’s behavior.

    Researchers note that given that both spanking and physical abuse involves the use of force and infliction of pain, as well as being linked with similar mental health outcomes, it raises the question of whether spanking should be considered an adverse childhood experience. This involves abuse, neglect and household dysfunction, which includes divorce and an incarcerated relative.

    The study used data from the CDC-Kaiser ACE study, which sampled more than 8,300 people, ranging in age from 19 to 97 years. Study participants completed self-reports while seeking routine health checks at an outpatient clinic.

    They were asked about how often they were spanked in their first 18 years, their household background and if an adult inflicted physical abuse (push, grab, slap or shoved) or emotional abuse (insulted or cursed).

    In the study sample, nearly 55 percent of respondents reported being spanked. Men were more likely to experience childhood spanking than women. Compared to white respondents, minority respondents — other than Asians — were more likely to report being spanked.

    Those reporting exposure to spanking had increased odds of depression and other mental health problems, the study showed.

    Author Tracie Afifi, associate professor at the University of Manitoba, says that it’s important to prevent not just child maltreatment, but also harsh parenting before it occurs.

    “This can be achieved by promoting evidence-based parenting programs and policies designed to prevent early adversities, and associated risk factors,” said Lee, who is also a faculty associate at the U-M Institute for Social Research. “Prevention should be a critical direction for public health initiatives to take.”


  7. Study suggests removing digital devices from the bedroom can improve sleep for children, teens

    November 9, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Penn State press release:

    Removing electronic media from the bedroom and encouraging a calming bedtime routine are among recommendations Penn State researchers outline in a recent manuscript on digital media and sleep in childhood and adolescence.

    The manuscript appears in the first-ever special supplement on this topic in Pediatrics and is based on previous studies that suggest the use of digital devices before bedtime leads to insufficient sleep.

    The recommendations, for clinicians and parents, are:

      • 1. Make sleep a priority by talking with family members about the importance of sleep and healthy sleep expectations;

    2. Encourage a bedtime routine that includes calming activities and avoids electronic media use;

    3. Encourage families to remove all electronic devices from their child or teen’s bedroom, including TVs, video games, computers, tablets and cell phones;

    4. Talk with family members about the negative consequences of bright light in the evening on sleep; and

    5. If a child or adolescent is exhibiting mood or behavioral problems, consider insufficient sleep as a contributing factor.

    “Recent reviews of scientific literature reveal that the vast majority of studies find evidence for an adverse association between screen-based media consumption and sleep health, primarily delayed bedtimes and reduced total sleep duration,” said Orfeu Buxton, associate professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State and an author on the manuscript.

    The reasons behind this adverse association likely include time spent on screens replacing time spent sleeping; mental stimulation from media content; and the effects of light interrupting sleep cycles, according to the researchers.

    Buxton and other researchers are further exploring this topic. They are working to understand if media use affects the timing and duration of sleep among children and adolescents; the role of parenting and family practices; the links between screen time and sleep quality and tiredness; and the influence of light on circadian physiology and sleep health among children and adolescents.


  8. Study suggests babies can use context to look for things

    November 7, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Brown University press release:

    Just six months into the world, babies already have the capacity to learn, remember and use contextual cues in a scene to guide their search for objects of interest, such as faces, a new Brown University study shows.

    “It was pretty surprising to find that 6-month-olds were capable of this memory-guided attention,” said lead author Kristen Tummeltshammer, a postdoctoral scholar at Brown. “We didn’t expect them to be so successful so young.”

    In the experiment described in Developmental Science, babies showed steady improvement in finding faces in repeated scenes, but didn’t get any quicker or more accurate in finding faces in new scenes. Senior author Dima Amso, an associate professor in Brown’s Department of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences, said the finding that infants can recognize and exploit patterns of context provides important new insights into typical and possibly atypical brain development.

    “What that means is that they are efficient in using the structure in their environment to maximize attentional resources on the one hand and to reduce uncertainty and distraction on the other,” Amso said. “A critical question in our lab has been whether infants at risk for neurodevelopmental disorders, especially autism spectrum disorders, have differences in the way that they process visual information, and whether this would impact future learning and attention. These data lay the developmental groundwork for asking whether there are differences in using previously learned visual information to guide future learning and attention across various neurodevelopmental populations.”

    Find the face

    To make the findings, Tummeltshammer and Amso invited 46 healthy, full-term infants, either 6 or 10 months old, to their lab to play a little game of finding faces. Seated on a parent’s lap, the babies simply had to watch a screen as they were presented with a series of arrangements of four colored shapes. In each arrangement, the shapes would turn around with one revealing a face. An eye-tracking system would measure where the baby looked.

    Eventually the babies would always look at the face, especially because after two seconds, the face would become animate and say words like “peekaboo.” In all, each baby saw 48 arrangements over eight minutes, with little breaks to watch clips of Elmo from “Sesame Street.” That, Tummeltshammer said, was to help keep them (and maybe their parents) engaged and happy.

    The trick of the experiment is that while half the time the shape arrangements were randomly scrambled and the face could be revealed anywhere, the other half of the time the same arrangements were repeated, meaning a baby could learn from that context to predict where to look for the face. In this way, the babies beheld faces both in novel and repeated contexts. If babies could notice the repeated context pattern, remember it and put it to use, they should be quicker and more accurate in finding the face when it came up in that kind of scene again.

    By several measures reported in the study, the babies demonstrated that capacity clearly. For example, as they saw more scenes, babies consistently reduced the amount of time it took to find the face in repeated-context scenes, but not in new-context scenes. Also they became better at ignoring non-face shapes in repeated-context scenes as they went along, but didn’t show that same improvement in new-context scenes.

    Babies even learned to anticipate where the faces would be on the screen based on their experiences in the experiment.

    Tummeltshammer said there was little difference between the 6-month-olds and the 10-month-olds, suggesting that the skill is already developed at the younger age.

    In new research, Tummeltshammer said, she and Amso plan to experiment with more realistic scenes. After all, babies rarely need to look for faces among cleanly defined abstract shapes. A more real-world challenge for a baby, for instance, might be finding a parent’s familiar and comforting face across a holiday dinner table.

    But even from this simpler experimental setting, the ability is clearly established.

    “We think of babies as being quite reactive in how they spread their attention,” Tummeltshammer said. “This helps us recognize that they are actually quite proactive. They are able to use recent memory and to extract what’s common in an environment as a shortcut to be able to locate things quickly.”

    A James S. McDonnell Scholar Award and the National Institutes of Health (1-F32-MH108278-01) funded the research.


  9. Study suggests teens don’t just think about themselves

    by Ashley

    From the University of Leiden press release:

    Parents often see that when their sweet, socially-minded children become adolescents they change into selfish ‘hotel guests’ who think only of themselves. But adolescents become increasingly better at weighing up one another’s interests. This discovery has been made by development psychologist Rosa Meuwese. PhD defence 31 October.

    ‘Adolescents don’t have a great reputation in terms of their social behaviour,’ Meuwese says. ‘You often hear parents say that their sweet, socially-minded children turn into selfish, lazy hotel guests who only think of me, myself & I. But out of sight of their parents, adolescents learn a lot about social behaviour from their peers.’ That may not be much of a consolation for their parents, but if they have a better understanding of the purpose of these social experiences in the development of the adolescent brain, it can help them to trust in the social journey of discovery that their adolescent children are undergoing.

    Carefully weighing up

    Meuwese looked at how the social brain of adolescents develops in their relations with their peers. She used four different methods to study the development of prosocial — socially desirable — behaviour in adolescents: she studied their behaviour, brain structure, brain function and the quality of their friendships. She had around a thousand school pupils in the Leiden area play a betting game on the computer. The participants could choose: one euro for yourself and one euro for someone else, or a distribution that was in some cases more social and in others less social. The experiment showed that young people’s choices are governed less by a set norm but that they weigh up the situation increasingly carefully. ‘Unlike what many parents see in their children, adolescents do consider the interests of others,’ Meuwese concludes.

    Winning for your friend

    Another thirty pupils played a betting game while being monitored in an MRI scanner. The participants could choose heads or tails and win or lose for themselves and a friend. ‘We first asked all the children who in their class they liked, and who they didn’t like. We also asked them who their best friend was.’ Meuwese expected to see more brain activity in the reward area of the brains of children who were popular with their classmates when they win money for a friend. ‘That appears to be a sign of being prosocial.’ Instead, she found a different connection: children who were not liked by so many of their classmates and who were sensitive to reward, showed greater activity in the reward centre when they won for themselves. ‘That’s a logical outcome, but we hadn’t expected it to be so strong.’

    Social brain development

    During their social development, adolescents become better at weighing up their own interests against those of someone else. Their social skills don’t decline, but are rather refined through interaction with their peers. Meuwese saw in adolescents with a lot of friends, or very good friends — she refers to that as a high friendship quality — that the social brain develops more rapidly. The social brain develops with increasing age. ‘But a favourable social environment, such as a good friendship, may have a positive effect.’ Meuwese believes that children and young people should receive much more training in social skills. ‘It would be useful to teach psychology at secondary school. It would give adolescents a better insight into the impact of their decisions on other people, which would have a positive effect on their friendships and consequently on their social development.’


  10. Study looks at how family and friends affect drinking behaviour in young people

    November 6, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Research Society on Alcoholism press release:

    The etiology (i.e., underlying causes) of a behavior, such as alcohol drinking, can change during adolescence and young adulthood. Prior alcohol research has shown that, in general: shared/common environment influences are strongest in early adolescence, declining in strength until young adulthood; unique environmental influences are moderate, but stable, during adolescence and young adulthood; and genetic influences are weakest during early adolescence, steadily increasing in strength until young adulthood. This study examined the relations between genetic and environmental etiologies of alcohol use and the influence of peer use, parental autonomy granting, and maternal closeness on this behavior.

    Researchers analyzed the first three waves of data collected during the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health for 2,447 twin and sibling pairs (30% male pairs, 32% female pairs, 38% opposite sex pairs) ranging in age from 13 to 27 years. Wave 1 was collected from 1994 to 1995, Wave 2 from 1995 to 1996, and Wave 3 from 2001 to 2002.

    Results supported previous findings showing that genetic and environmental influences on alcohol use change during adolescence and young adulthood. In addition to genetic and environmental influences that were common to these age groups, there were genetic and environmental influences that were important only during adolescence. Friends’ drinking behavior was a more pervasive influence on adolescents’ drinking than parenting practices. The authors suggested that interventions and prevention programs geared toward reducing alcohol use in younger populations could benefit from a focus on peer influence.