1. Study suggests shared custody equals less stress for children

    September 15, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Stockholm University press release:

    Children who live full time with one parent are more likely to feel stressed than children in shared custody situations. The benefit holds regardless of the level of conflict between the parents or between parent and child. These are the results of a new study from Stockholm University’s Demography Unit.

    “The explanation may be that children, who spend most of the time away from one parent, lose resources like relatives, friends and money. Previous research has also shown that children may worry about the parent they rarely meet, which can make them more stressed,” says Jani Turunen, researcher in Demography at Stockholm University and Centre for research on child and adolescent mental health at Karlstad University.

    The fact that children who live full time with one parent are worse psychologically than children in shared physical custody has been previously shown, but this study is the first to look specifically at stress. Shared physical custody is not to be confounded with shared legal custody. Shared legal custody only gives both parents the legal right to decisions about the child’s upbringing, school choices, religion, and so on. Shared physical custody means that the child actually lives for equal, or near equal, time with both parents, alternating between separate households.

    The data for this study are from the Surveys of Living Conditions in Sweden, ULF, from 2001-2003, combined with registry data. Sweden is a country that is often considered a forerunner in emerging family forms and behaviors like divorce, childbearing and family reconstitution.

    “This means that the results of this study are relevant to today’s situation in many European countries, since their situation today might be comparable to the one in Sweden 15 years ago,” says Jani Turunen.

    In the survey, a total of 807 children with different types of living arrangements answered to questions about how often they experience stress and how well, or badly, they get along with their parents. The parents have answered how well they get along with their former partner.

    The study shows that children living with only one of the parents have a higher likelihood of experiencing stress several times a week, than children in shared physical custody. This generally applies even if the parents have a poor relationship, or if the children don’t get along with either of them.

    “There has previously been a concern that shared physical custody could be an unstable living situation, that can lead to children becoming more stressed. But those who pointed to it earlier have built their concerns on theoretical assumptions, rather than empirical research,” says Jani Turunen.

    What probably makes children in shared physical custody less stressed is that they can have an active relationship with both their parents, which previous research has shown to be important for the children’s well-being. The relationship between the child and both of its parents becomes stronger, the child finds the relationship to be better and the parents can both exercise more active parenting.

    “In other words, living with both parents does not mean instability for the children. It’s just an adaptation to another housing situation, where regular relocation and a good contact with both parents equals to stability,” says Jani Turunen.


  2. Burdens of spousal caregiving alleviated by appreciation

    September 12, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University at Buffalo press release:

    The fact that spouses often become caregivers for their ailing partners is quite common in American life — and few roles are more stressful.

    Yet helping behaviors, which are at the core of caregiving, typically relieve stress, according to Michael Poulin, an associate professor in the University at Buffalo Department of Psychology.

    When discussing spousal care, the draining demands of caregiving and the uplifting effects of helping stand in apparent contrast to one another.

    But recent research shows that the time caregivers spend actively helping a loved one can improve the caregiver’s sense of well-being — and now, Poulin, an expert in empathy, human generosity and stress, is part of a research team that has published a study exploring why that’s the case.

    Their research points to the specific conditions necessary to alleviate the burdens of spousal caregiving.

    Spending time attempting to provide help can be beneficial for a caregiver’s mental and physical well-being, but only during those times when the caregiver sees that their help has made a difference and that difference is noticed and recognized by their partner,” he says.

    “These conclusions are important because we know that spousal caregiving is an enormous burden, emotionally, physically and economically,” he says. “If we can find ways for community resources to help create those conditions we might be able to make a difference in the lives of millions of people.”

    The findings of the study, led by Joan Monin, Yale School of Public Health, Stephanie Brown, Stony Brook University, Kenneth Langa, University of Michigan, and Poulin, appear in the American Psychological Association’s journal Health Psychology.

    Poulin says more than 30 years of research shows that being a caregiver is among the most stressful, emotionally burdensome and physically demanding roles a person can take on. Spouses who are caregivers show decreased immune function, increased signs of physiological stress and are at greater risk for physical and mental illness.

    Yet other studies, including much of Poulin’s own research, suggest that the act of providing help to somebody is typically stress-relieving and is associated with better emotional and physical well-being.

    “The problem is that when you’re a caregiver, not all of your time is spent helping,” says Poulin. “Sometimes all you can do is witness the person’s state while being passively on duty.”

    But previous research confirmed that the act of helping in this context was associated with improving the caretakers’ well-being, a finding that was true even when general caregiving was broken downs into tasks, like feeding or bathing.

    “This is what we wanted to get at,” says Poulin. “We knew that something about being helpful is good in these circumstances. But why? Is it just being active? Is doing something better than doing nothing? Or is it that doing something to improve another person’s well-being is what matters?”

    The research team conducted two studies with spouses caring for partners with chronic pain.

    In the first study, 73 participants reported caregiving activity and their accompanying emotions in three-hour intervals. This allowed the researchers to look at the amount of help given and how much that help pleased the spouse and subsequently affected the caregiver.

    The second study involved 43 caregivers who completed a diary at the end of the day that detailed the help they provided and the appreciation they received.

    The findings suggest that spouses caring for a partner feel happier and report fewer physical symptoms when they believe their help is appreciated.

    “Importantly, this study adds to a growing body of evidence showing that it is important to target emotional communication between spouses in daily support interactions to improve psychological well-being in the context of chronic conditions and disability,” the authors write in their paper.

    It’s an important point to consider, not just today, but for the future, notes Poulin.

    “As the baby boomers continue to age, this phenomenon of spousal caregiving will continue to increase,” he says.


  3. Study suggests parents have more conflicts with their in-laws than do childless couples

    September 10, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Suomen Akatemia (Academy of Finland) press release:

    Intergenerational relations include various forms of help and support but also tensions and conflicts. Although relations with in-laws are the subject of many anecdotes and proverbs across cultures, they remain little studied in contemporary societies. A new study investigates how being a parent is associated with conflicts between family generations. The research is part of the Generational Transfers in Finland — research project lead by Professor Anna Rotkirch and funded by the Academy of Finland.

    Using survey data from Finland with over 1,200 respondents, the authors studied conflicts that couples reported having with their own parents and their in-laws.

    Overall, Finns reported higher conflict occurrence with their own parents than with their in-laws. Compared to childless couples, couples with children were as likely to report conflicts with their own parents. However, they were more likely to report conflicts with their parents-in-law. The results took into account how frequently family members were in contact with each other and how emotionally close they felt, as well as other sociodemographic factors.

    Previous studies have shown that in-laws become more “kin-like” to each other when a grandchild unites kin lineages. Treating an in-law almost as biological kin can make the adults involved feel closer to each other and help each other more, what has been called a “kinship premium.” This study documented evidence also of a “kinship penalty.” As in-laws become more kin-like through the presence of a grandchild, their mutual conflicts increase.

    Childcare provided by grandparents is of great help to parents of young children, but may also be a source of conflicts. “Daughters-in-law were more likely to report conflicts when their mother-in-law provided more grandchild care,” says researcher Mirkka Danielsbacka. “This indicates that the increase in conflicts between in-laws are related to grandchild care.”


  4. Life at home affects kids at school, some more than others

    August 31, 2017 by Ashley

    From The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) press release:

    Some children are more susceptible to changes than others. They carry the relationship with their parents to school with them. Genetics can help explain why.

    “When the situation changes at home for these children, the relationship with their teacher changes too,” says researcher and PhD candidate Beate W. Hygen at NTNU Social Research and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) Department of Psychology.

    This means that when things are going well at home and in the parent-child relationship, the relationship between the child and the teacher is correspondingly good. However, the teacher-child relationship deteriorates when the child’s home life becomes more difficult.

    Genetic explanation

    “Some children seem to soak up environmental factors at home. This in turn affects the relationship with the teacher. For other children, the conditions at home don’t have much influence on their relationship with the teacher,” says Hygen.

    The explanation may be partly genetic. Hygen is the first author of a recent article that considers whether certain environmental factors affect children’s social development differently depending on what kind of genetic variants the child has.

    Hygen says the researchers are finding a link between children’s susceptibility to such factors and differences in a gene that regulates how individuals are affected by oxytocin. The differences found by the researchers were located in a variant of a receptor gene called OXTR, rs 53576. You can read more about this gene at https://www.snpedia.com/index.php/Rs53576

    Oxytocin is well known, even outside research circles. It is often called the “love hormone,” because it’s triggered when we’re together with someone we love, like a romantic love or our child. But oxytocin levels also increase when a relationship appears to be in danger, so the nickname isn’t totally accurate.

    Oxytocin release, the level of oxytocin in the brain and how oxytocin affects us play a significant role in our human relationships and how we interact and engage with others.

    Study looks at ambience

    Genetic differences in how we are affected by oxytocin can thus create differences in the way we relate to each other. Biology largely determines how we behave, but this study shows that this happens in conjunction with our surroundings.

    Previous surveys that have studied conditions at home versus in school have usually primarily looked at the parents’ situation. Social learning models, Hygen says, approach the issue from a starting point of “if there’s just yelling and negativity at home, some children can take these experiences into other relationships, such as with their teachers.”

    But the researchers in this survey start with the child itself and ask the question, “How vulnerable is the child to environmental factors?”

    “The most susceptible children will bring their home situation — both good and bad — into the school setting,” says Hygen.

    The Norwegian researchers examined 652 children in two age groups: 4-to-6 year olds and 6-to-8 year olds. This data is part of the long-term Tidlig Trygg i Trondheim study conducted by the Regional Centre for Child and Youth Mental Health and Child Welfare (RKBU) of Central Norway. The survey goes into detail about the home ambience. The study aims to identify risk and protection factors for psychosocial development and development of mental health problems in children.

    The researchers also asked the children’s teachers to assess the relationships they had with the children. This last component might be a source of error in the study, the researchers said.

    Different result in the United States

    The Norwegian researchers collaborated with American researchers, who conducted the same analysis in the US. The American researchers included 559 children from different locations in the United States. They did not find the same connection between home and school relationships.

    Hygen believes she has an idea why the Norwegian and American researchers have gotten divergent results.

    “In the United States, the stability of the relationship between teacher and child is often not the same in this age group,” she says.

    Norwegian children in the 6-to-8-year age group often have the same teacher for several years. In the United States, teachers change more often, and a change in the child’s relationship with their teacher over time may therefore be due to a change of teacher, not necessarily an improvement or worsening of the relationship with the same teacher.

    So, according to Hygen, researchers are less sure whether they are able to accurately measure relationship improvement or deterioration in the US, and the more frequent teacher changes may explain why the study doesn’t capture the effect of changes in the parent-child relationship.

    The researchers also assume that the quality of teachers varies a lot more in the United States than in Norway, since the funding of the school system differs from state to state. Greater social inequalities in the United States, which can influence relationships between teachers and children, may also affect the US results.

    The study has been published in the professional journal Developmental Psychology.


  5. Links between parents’ earnings, gender roles, mental health

    August 27, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign press release:

    The sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s suggested that women and men would have equal shots at happiness — whether they were their families’ primary breadwinners or stay-at-home parents.

    However, the reality has been far more nuanced for many families in the U.S. And new research out of the University of Illinois suggests that some mothers’ and fathers’ psychological well-being may suffer when their work and family identities — and the amount of financial support they provide — conflict with conventional gender roles.

    Researchers Karen Kramer and Sunjin Pak found that when women’s paychecks increased to compose the majority of their families’ income, these women reported more symptoms of depression.

    However, Kramer and Pak found the opposite effect in men: Dads’ psychological well-being improved over time when they became the primary wage-earners for their families.

    The data sample comprised more than 1,463 men and 1,769 women who participated in the National Longitudinal Surveys of Youth. A majority of the individuals in the study, all born between 1957 and 1965, were members of the baby-boom generation. Participants’ psychological well-being was measured in 1991 and 1994 using a seven-item scale that assessed their levels of depressive symptoms.

    Kramer and Pak found that although women’s psychological well-being was not affected by exiting the workforce to become stay-at-home moms, men’s mental health declined when they stayed home to care for the kids.

    “We observed a statistically significant and substantial difference in depressive symptoms between men and women in our study,” said Kramer, who is a professor of human development and family studies.

    “The results supported the overarching hypothesis: Well-being was lower for mothers and fathers who violated gendered expectations about the division of paid labor, and higher for parents who conformed to these expectations.”

    While women’s educational and career opportunities have multiplied in recent decades, societal norms and expectations about gendered divisions of labor in the workplace and the home have been slower to evolve, according to the researchers.

    Mothers and fathers who deviate from conventional gender roles — such as dads who leave the workforce to care for their children full time — may be perceived negatively, potentially impacting their mental health, Kramer and Pak wrote.

    The researchers also explored whether parents who held more egalitarian ideas about men’s and women’s responsibilities as wage earners and caretakers for their families fared better — and Kramer and Pak found gender differences there as well.

    Women in the study who viewed themselves and their spouses as equally responsible for financially supporting their families and caring for their homes and offspring experienced better mental health when their wages and share of the family’s income increased.

    However, regardless of their beliefs, men’s mental health took a hit when their earnings as a proportion of the family income shrank — suggesting perhaps that “work identity and (the) traditional role of primary earner are still critical for men, even when they have more egalitarian gender ideology,” the researchers wrote.

    Kramer is to present the paper at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, August 12-15 in Montreal.

    Pak is a doctoral student at Illinois.


  6. Parents’ disagreements about bedtime can affect coparenting relationship

    August 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Penn State press release:

    Positive parental teamwork is key to promoting healthy child development, but when mothers have stronger opinions than fathers about how to tend to their infants in the middle of the night, the coparenting relationship can suffer, says a group of researchers.

    In a study, researchers asked mothers and fathers how they felt about responding to night wakings — for example, whether they should attend to their crying infant right away or let him or her self-soothe — and their perceptions about their coparenting. The researchers found that when mothers had stronger beliefs than the fathers, the mothers also reported feeling worse about their coparenting relationships.

    Jonathan Reader, a doctoral candidate in the College of Health and Human Development and lead author on the paper, said the study was an important step in learning more about how parents can work together to promote child well-being.

    “Setting limits about how to respond to night wakings is stressful, and if there are discrepancies in how mothers and fathers feel they should respond, that can reduce the quality of that coparenting relationship,” Reader said. “We found that for mothers in particular, they perceived coparenting as worse when they had stronger beliefs than the father.”

    While previous research has examined how a mother’s beliefs about infant sleep affects her baby’s quality of sleep, few studies have explored the father’s beliefs or how their beliefs about sleep affect coparenting quality.

    The study’s participants — 167 mothers and 155 fathers — answered questions about how they feel they should respond to night wakings, for example, “My child will feel abandoned if I don’t respond immediately to his/her cries at night,” when the baby was one, three, six, nine and 12 months old.

    At the same time, participants also answered questions about coparenting, for example, “My partner and I have the same goals for our child,” and if they were experiencing depressive or anxiety symptoms.

    After analyzing the data, the researchers found that mothers generally had stronger beliefs about how to respond to night wakings than fathers, although both parents started to become less concerned about how to set limits as the infant got older. But when mothers had stronger beliefs, their perceptions of coparenting went down.

    “During the study, we saw that in general mothers were much more active at night with the baby than the fathers were,” Reader said. “So perhaps because the mothers were the more active ones during the night, if they’re not feeling supported in their decisions, then it creates more of a drift in the coparenting relationship.”

    Reader said the findings, published recently in the Journal of Family Psychology, underscore the importance of early and frequent communication between parents.

    “It’s important to have these conversations early and upfront, so when it’s 3 a.m. and the baby’s crying, both parents are on the same page about how they’re going to respond,” Reader said. “Constant communication is really important.”

    Douglas Teti, department head of the Human Development and Family Studies department in the College of Health and Human Development and who also participated in the study, added that the health and mindset of the parents are just as important as that of the baby’s.

    “What we seem to be finding is that it’s not so much whether the babies are sleeping through the night, or how the parents decide to do bedtime, but more about how the parents are reacting and if they’re stressed,” Teti said. “That seems to be much more important than whether you cosleep or don’t cosleep, or whatever you choose to do. Whatever you decide, just make sure you and your partner are on the same page.”

    Moving forward, Teti said the next step is more research into how best to develop and enhance the coparenting relationship, with attention paid to infant sleep.

    “We want to learn more about how to put families in a position where they know that not every baby will be sleeping on their own by three months, and that’s ok,” Teti said. “Most kids learn how to go to sleep eventually. Parenting has a lot to do with it.”


  7. Study suggests how we balance work, family life may be learned from our parents

    August 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Queen Mary University of London press release:

    The extent to which we prioritise work versus family life may be shaped by our childhood experiences in the family home, according to a study co-authored by Dr Ioana Lupu from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL).

    Previous work-life balance research has focused more on the organisational context or on individual psychological traits to explain work and career decisions. However, this new study, published in Human Relations, highlights the important role of our personal history and what we subconsciously learn from our parents.

    “We are not blank slates when we join the workforce — many of our attitudes are already deeply engrained from childhood,” according to co-author by Dr Ioana Lupu.

    The study argues that our beliefs and expectations about the right balance between work and family are often formed and shaped in the earliest part of our lives. One of the most powerful and enduring influences on our thinking may come from watching our parents.

    The research is based on 148 interviews with 78 male and female employees from legal and accounting firms. Interviewees were sorted into four categories by the researchers: (1) willingly reproducing parental model; (2) reproducing the parental model against one’s will; (3) willingly distancing from the parental model; (4) and distancing from the parental model against one’s will.

    The study shows a number of differences between women and men who grew up in ‘traditional’ households where the father had the role of breadwinner while the mother managed the household. Male participants who grew up in this kind of household tended to be unaffected by the guilt often associated with balancing work and family.

    Male participant in the study: “I’ve always had a very strong work ethic drilled into me anyway, again by my parents, my family. So, I never needed anyone looking over my shoulder or giving me a kick up the backside and telling me I needed to do something — I’d get on and I’d do it. So, I found the environment [of the accountancy firm] in general one that suited me quite well.” (David, Partner, accountancy firm, two children).

    Women on the other hand were much more conflicted — they reported feeling torn in two different directions. Women who had stay-at-home mothers “work like their fathers but want to parent like their mothers,” says Dr Lupu.

    Female participant in the study: “My mum raised us…she was always at home and to some extent I feel guilty for not giving my children the same because I feel she raised me well and she had control over the situation. I’m not there every day … and I feel like I’ve failed them in a way because I leave them with somebody else. I sometimes think maybe I should be at home with them until they are a bit older.” (Eva, director, accountancy firm, two children).

    Women who had working mothers are not necessarily always in a better position because they were marked by the absence of their mothers. A female participant in the study remembers vividly, many years later how her mother was absent whereas other children’s mothers were waiting at the school gates.

    Female participant in the study: “I remember being picked up by a child-minder, and if I was ill, I’d be outsourced to whoever happened to be available at the time . . . I hated it, I hated it, because I felt like I just wanted to be with my mum and dad. My mum never picked me up from school when I was at primary school, and then everybody else’s mums would be stood there at the gate . . . And it’s only now that I’ve started re-thinking about that and thinking, well isn’t that going to be the same for [my son] if I’m working the way I am, he’s going to have somebody picking him up from school and maybe he won’t like that and is that what I want for my child?” (Jane, Partner, law firm, one child and expecting another).

    An exception was found in female participants whose stay-at-home mothers had instilled strong career aspirations into them from an early stage. In these cases, the participants’ mothers sometimes set themselves up consciously as ‘negative role models’, encouraging their daughters not to repeat their own mistake.

    Female participant in the study: “I do remember my mother always regretting she didn’t have a job outside the home and that was something that influenced me and all my sisters. […] She’d encourage us to find a career where we could work. She was quite academic herself, more educated than my father, but because of the nature of families and young children, she’d had to become this stay-at-home parent.” (Monica, director, AUDIT, one child)

    “We have found that the enduring influence of upbringing goes some way towards explaining why the careers of individuals, both male and female, are differentially affected following parenthood, even when those individuals possess broadly equivalent levels of cultural capital, such as levels of education, and have hitherto pursued very similar career paths,” says Dr Lupu.

    She says the research raises awareness of the gap that often exists between unconscious expectations and conscious ambitions related to career and parenting.

    “If individuals are to reach their full potential, they have to be aware of how the person that they are has been shaped through previous socialisation and how their own work?family decisions further reproduce the structures constraining these decisions,” says Dr Lupu.


  8. Family factors may influence a child’s temperament

    August 5, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Wiley press release:

    A new study indicates that a child’s temperament may be influenced by maternal postpartum depression, maternal sensitivity, and family functioning. Maternal depression was associated with difficult temperaments in infants when maternal sensitivity was low, but not when maternal sensitivity was high. Family functioning similarly moderated these links.

    The findings suggest that family factors play a critical role in shaping the trajectory of an infant’s behavioral style as it unfolds over development.

    For example, even when dealing with depression, mothers who consistently and appropriately respond to their infants’ needs, which are hallmarks of sensitive parenting, may more effectively teach their infants how to regulate their negative emotions than mothers who respond less sensitively. Similarly, a highly functioning family unit characterized by effective communication and high interpersonal involvement among family members may support an infant’s emotion regulation even when the mother is depressed.

    “Maternal postpartum depression was only associated with persistently difficult infant temperament when other family risk factors were present,” said Dr. Stephanie Parade, lead author of the Child Development study. “This work underscores the importance of supporting families in the postpartum period.”


  9. Study suggests well-being soars amongst mothers who get to choose whether to work

    July 5, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Arizona State University press release:

    The center of a mother’s life tends to be her children and her family, but if mom is unhappy about staying home with the kids or about working outside the home then she (and anyone close to her) may suffer, according to new research from Arizona State University.

    In “What women want: Employment preference and adjustment among mothers,” published in the early on-line edition of the Journal of Family and Economic Issues, researchers studied more than 2,000 mostly well-educated mothers and considered their well-being in terms of not just whether they worked outside of the home, but also if they wanted to work or not.

    The study showed that the best adjusted mothers were the ones who pursued the lifestyle they wanted.

    “It’s not about simply being employed versus being a stay-at-home mom that makes the difference,” said Suniya Luthar, an ASU Foundation professor of psychology and leader of the research group. “We found that women who were living in synch with their own preference exhibited overall positive adjustment. Conversely, the ‘misaligned moms’ experienced considerable distress and unhappiness.”

    In the study, the researchers examined the well-being of mothers in four groups: Those who were employed and wanting to work (Work-Want Work); not employed and not wanting work (Home-Want Home); employed because they need the money (Work-For Money); and not employed but wanting to work (Home-Want Work). Overall, mothers in the first two “aligned” groups reported much better adjustment across multiple indicators than did the second two groups that are “misaligned.”

    Mothers who regretted staying at home consistently fared the worst psychologically, exhibiting lowest levels of fulfillment, highest levels of emptiness and loneliness, and reports of greater child maladjustment and more feelings of rejection toward their children.

    “It makes sense,” said Luthar. “For those women who wanted very much to apply their educational degrees and career skills at work, but for whatever reason needed to stay home, it’s understandable that they’d struggle with feelings of emptiness and lack of fulfillment.”

    The reasons for not working in this group were clarified by Lucia Ciciolla lead author of the article and former ASU student who now is an assistant professor at Oklahoma State University. A third co-author is Alexandra Curlee, an ASU student.

    “When the Home-Want Work group was asked about why they did not pursue work, the most common reason that they gave was the lack of appropriate childcare,” said Ciciolla. “These data are important in showing that there are many mothers who would prefer to work but are unable to with associated ill-effects on psychological and emotional functioning. We believe that for mothers to be successful in both career and parenting roles, there must be practical and structural support (appropriate childcare and flexible hours) that makes it possible.”

    The researchers also examined major factors associated with the well-being of mothers in the four different groups and there was remarkable consistency in what seemed to matter most.

    “Findings across all four groups suggest that feeling emotionally supported is a fundamental need that is universal among mothers, regardless of their employment status,” Ciciolla said. “Unconditional acceptance and authenticity in relationships were consistently found to be important across multiple measures of maternal well-being.”

    In addition, friendship satisfaction emerged as a key factor in promoting life satisfaction and mitigating loneliness for the majority of mothers, and for stay-at-home mothers was also consistently associated with fulfillment. Partner satisfaction was associated with few outcome variables outside of life satisfaction.

    “The reality is that caring for children is emotionally and psychologically challenging work, so it is essential that moms get ‘refueled’ themselves,” Luthar explained. “Feeling emotionally supported and satisfied with friendships is critical for well-being regardless of one’s employment status or preferences on that front. All moms need to be nurtured themselves, and this must happen on an ongoing basis.”


  10. Quality of early family relationships affects children’s affect regulation

    June 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Suomen Akatemia (Academy of Finland) press release:

    The birth of a child is often a long-awaited and deeply meaningful event for the parents. However, the transition to parenthood also forces the parents to revise their interparental romantic relationship and to answer the new questions arising from parenthood. At the same time as the parents learn how to cope with the new situation, the infant undergoes one of the most intense developmental periods in human life. Previous attachment research has demonstrated the importance of the mother-infant relationship to children’s emotional development, but there is still relatively little research on the role of fathers, the marital relationship and the family as a whole.

    This doctoral study in the field of psychology set out to investigate, firstly, how families change and reorganise during the transition to parenthood and, secondly, the consequences the early family relationships have on children’s emotional development in middle childhood. More specifically, the aim was to study the effects of early family relationships on children’s emotion regulation, psychological defense mechanisms, and the related biases in their social-emotional information processing (i.e. attention biases to emotional facial expressions). In all, 710 Finnish families participated in the longitudinal study conducted during pregnancy, at the child’s ages of two and twelve months and in middle childhood.

    As a central result of the dissertation, seven unique family system types were identified using statistical analyses. The family system types were called cohesive (35 %), authoritarian (14 %), enmeshed (with declining 6 % and quadratic 5 % subtypes), escalating crisis (4 %), disengaged (5 %) and discrepant (15 %). Despite the uniqueness of each family type, the problematic family types predicted children’s inefficient emotion regulation in middle childhood in a similar way.

    Difficulties in emotion regulation also explained why the problematic family types increased the children’s depressive symptoms indicating that family-related difficulties in managing their own negative emotions pose a risk for the children’s mental health. Furthermore, children who had grown in problematic families relied more on psychological defence mechanisms (e.g. denied their own painful emotions and blamed others instead). Family-related alterations in affect regulation were also present in the laboratory experiment: children from enmeshed families tended to direct their attention towards threat-provoking stimuli (i.e. angry facial expressions) whereas children from disengaged families tended to defensively avoid such information.

    Altogether, the results support the theoretical viewpoint that children adapt their affect regulation to fit the demands of their family environment. This may be based on both psychodynamic processes and the effects of the children’s stress regulation system, which has been developed during the evolutionary process. The family as a whole is important for the development of children’s emotion regulation. Therefore, mothers and fathers as well as the interparental romantic relationship and parenting should be considered in health services directed to parents-to-be. Finally, it is noteworthy that the early family relationships accounted for at the most only 10 % of the children’s affect regulation in middle childhood. The relatively modest size of this effect corresponds to the results of previous longitudinal studies.

    The findings of this seven-year longitudinal study shed more light on the understanding of early family dynamics and on the identification of early family related risks. The knowledge may also help to develop focused therapeutic interventions for children who have experienced early family problems and suffer from depressive symptoms. Such children may benefit from strengthening the experience of emotional security, learning more efficient emotion regulation and interventions to correct their biases in the processing of social-emotional information.