Parents want their children to be more thankful, poll finds

Parents want their children to be more thankful, poll finds

The season of giving thanks can’t come quickly enough for some parents.

Four in five parents who responded to a poll from the University of Michigan Health say children today are not grateful enough.

Parents who responded to the poll say they are teaching their children the magic words, “please and thank you.” However, when it comes to actions over words, the children — and parents — could be falling short, said Sarah Clark, research scientist at the University of Michigan and co-director of the poll.

Nearly all parents say it’s possible to teach children gratitude, and three-fourths of parents say teaching gratitude is a priority. The most common ways parents teach children gratitude are “please and thank you,” followed by enforcing chores. Just over one-third of parents use strategies like donating toys or clothes and saying a prayer of thanks.

“My hope is a poll like this causes some parents to stop and think about, ‘Are we being purposeful about teaching our kids how to be grateful?'” Clark said.

The national sample includes parents of children 4 to 10 years old. The C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan conducts monthly polls to observe child health. The poll “purposefully” did not define gratitude; Clark said parents had to bring their own interpretation of the word.

The poll’s report also provided five strategies to nurture gratitude in children — including saying thank you, discussing gratitude, helping with family chores, volunteering and donating.

Expressing gratitude can improve mental health for both children and adults, studies have found. But children don’t develop gratitude automatically — parents need to model and create strategies to teach children these behaviors, Clark said. Volunteering and community service can help children see what they should be thankful for, and what they can do for others, the report said.

Emily Conder, a research scientist and doctoral student in Vanderbilt University’s psychology and human development department, published a study about how children can develop negative biases toward people after overhearing negative words. Children can model behaviors from indirect sources as well.

“It’s important to remember as parents that modeling comes from you and also comes from what’s on TV and what they’re hearing from other sources,” Conder said.

Parents can also play a role in how children process and express emotions, said Ashley Ruba, postdoctoral researcher in the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Child Emotion Lab.

She said when parents talk to their children about emotions, both positive and negative, children have a better understanding of what they are feeling and how to react.

“Gratitude can be socialized in a similar way … actually having conversations about things that you’re grateful for and why you’re grateful for these things,” Ruba said.

The emotional and physical toll of the pandemic burdens an already complicated stage of a child’s life. Young people’s depression and anxiety doubled during the pandemic, an analysis published in August found.

Ruba said social isolation and missing out on school can be scary for younger children. But strategies like discussing children’s feelings and keeping a gratitude journal can help.

What to Know Anxious Attachment and Tips to Cope

Anxious Attachment and Tips to Cope

Anxious attachment is one of four attachment styles that develop in childhood and continue into adulthood. These attachment styles can be secure (a person feels confident in relationships) or insecure (a person has fear and uncertainty in relationships).

Also known as ambivalent attachment or anxious-preoccupied attachment, anxious attachment can result from an inconsistent relationship with a parent or caregiver.

Adults who are anxiously attached may be considered needy or clingy in their relationships and lack healthy self-esteem.1

Through approaches such as therapy, it’s possible to change attachment styles or learn to have healthy relationships despite attachment anxiety.

What’s Your Attachment Style?

There are four main attachment styles. The following are some of the ways they may manifest in relationships:1

  • Secure attachment: Able to set appropriate boundaries; has trust and feels secure in close relationships; thrives in relationships but does well on their own as well
  • Anxious attachment: Tends to be needy, anxious, and uncertain, and lacks self-esteem; wants to be in relationships but worries that other people don’t enjoy being with them
  • Avoidant-dismissive attachment: Avoids closeness and relationships, seeking independence instead; doesn’t want to rely on others or have others rely on them
  • Disorganized attachment: Fearful; feel they don’t deserve love

History of Attachment Theory

British psychiatrist John Bowlby developed the foundations of attachment theory from 1969 to 1982.2

Attachment theory suggests that early life experiences, particularly how safe and secure you felt as a young child, determine your attachment style as an adult. These events shape your ability to develop trust, boundaries, self-esteem, feelings of security, and other factors at play in relationships.3

Developmental psychologist Mary Ainsworth built upon Bowlby’s theory with her “strange situation” test to determine the nature and styles of attachment behavior. The assessment consists of a mother leaving her infant alone with a stranger for a few minutes. The infant’s response is observed and coded when they’re reunited with their mother.2

Exploration of adult attachment began in the mid-1980s by researchers such as Mary Main, Phil Shaver, and Mario Mikulincer.

Attachment theory’s principles are currently supported by hundreds of studies on bonding between child and parent and between adult partners.4

How Closely Linked Are Childhood and Adult Attachment Styles?

While it’s generally accepted that early attachment experiences influence attachment style in adult romantic relationships, the degree to which they are related is less clear-cut. Studies vary in their findings on the source and degree of overlap between the two.5

Characteristics of Anxious Attachment

Anxious attachment is an insecure attachment. Insecure attachment can take one of three forms: ambivalent, avoidant, or disorganized.1

It’s believed that anxious attachment in childhood is a result of inconsistent caregiving. More specifically, the children are loved but their needs are met unpredictably. A parent or primary caregiver may respond immediately and attentively to a child sometimes but not at other times.6

This inconsistency can be a result of factors such as parental substance use, depression, stress, anxiety, and fatigue.

Children raised without consistency can view attention as valuable but unreliable. This prompts anxiety and can cause a child to perform attention-seeking behaviors, both positive and negative.

Adults with anxious attachment often need constant reassurance in relationships, which can come off as being needy or clingy.1

One study showed that anxious attachment can affect trust in a relationship. Further, those who are anxiously attached are more likely to become jealous, snoop through a partner’s belongings, and even become psychologically abusive when they feel distrust.7

Recognizing the Signs in Yourself

Some indications that you might be experiencing anxious attachment include:

  • Worrying a lot about being rejected or being abandoned by your partner
  • Frequently trying to please and gain approval from your partner
  • Fearing infidelity and abandonment
  • Wanting closeness and intimacy in a relationship, but worrying if you can trust or rely on your partner1
  • Overly fixating on the relationship and your partner to the point it consumes much of your life
  • Constantly needing attention and reassurance (can be viewed as needy or clingy)
  • Having difficulty setting and respecting boundaries
  • Feeling threatened, panicked, angry, jealous, or worried your partner no longer wants you when you spend time apart or don’t hear from your partner during what most would consider a reasonable amount of time; may use manipulation to get your partner to stay close to you
  • Tying self-worth in with relationships
  • Overreacting to things you see as a threat to the relationship

Recognizing the Signs in Someone Else

A partner who is anxiously attached may exhibit similar behaviors as those listed above, but you can’t know for sure how they are feeling unless they tell you.

Signs of Anxious Attachment in a Partner

  • Regularly seeks your attention, approval, and reassurance
  • Wants to be around you and in touch with you as much as possible
  • Worries you will cheat on them or leave them
  • Feels threatened, jealous, or angry and overreacts when they feel something is threatening the relationship

Strategies for Coping

While anxious attachment can be challenging in a relationship, having a loving, healthy relationship is possible. There are ways to address and get beyond attachment problems in your relationship, including:8

Short Term

  • Research: Learn about attachment styles, which ones best apply to you and, if applicable, your partner.
  • Keep a journal: Keep track of your thoughts and feelings in a journal. This is a helpful exercise for getting out your emotions, and it may help you recognize some patterns in your thoughts and behaviors. It may be worthwhile to bring your journal to therapy sessions where you can unpack its contents with your mental health professional.
  • Choose a partner who has a secure attachment: The chances of success in a relationship for someone with anxious attachment are higher if they are paired with someone who is securely attached.
  • Practice mindfulness: Regularly engaging in mindfulness exercises can help you learn to manage your emotions and your anxiety.
What is Emotional Dysregulation?

What is Emotional Dysregulation?

Emotional dysregulation refers to difficulty in managing emotions or in keeping them in check. These may also be thought of as mood swings or labile moods. It can involve experiencing intense emotions such as sadness, irritability, frustration, or anger that are comparatively more heightened than expected, relative to the situation that triggered them.

What is emotional dysregulation?

Emotion dysregulation involves difficulties with negative affective states e.g., sadness and anger.

Emotional dysregulation might affect children or adults. Adolescents may be particularly at risk due to this developmental period in a person’s life being recognizably a time of increased stress due to puberty and peer context. Although it is a common perception that children learn to manage their emotions as they grow up, for some effectively managing emotions continues to be problematic well into adulthood.

Those with emotional dysregulation might not easily recognize their own emotions and can become confused or guilty about emotions experienced such that behavior is not readily controlled and decision making becomes a challenge.

Experiencing intense emotions can lead to situations in which a sufferer is unable to calm down easily. People with emotional dysregulation might try to avoid difficult emotions and when experiencing them they can easily become impulsive. Another example is that those with emotional dysregulation might be overly negative. As a result, there is a risk for:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Substance abuse
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Self-harm

Other symptoms include high-risk sexual behaviors, extreme perfectionism, and eating disorders.

In children emotional dysregulation exhibits itself through temper tantrums, crying, and refusing to talk or to make eye contact.

Over time the condition may interfere with the quality of life leading to interpersonal problems, issues at home and work, or, in the case of children, at school.

Causes of emotional dysregulation

Scientists believe that in the experience of emotional dysregulation there is a problem with the emotional braking mechanism in the brain caused by a reduction in the response of certain neurotransmitters. This leads an individual to experience an ongoing “fight or flight” response whereby the pre-frontal cortex shuts down in times of heightened stress.

There a several possible reasons why a person may develop this condition and it is often co-morbid with another larger mental health problem (see below). Possible causes are:

1. Child neglect

In the case of neglect, there is a failure on the part of the caregiver to cater to the basic needs of the child. Here the caregiver does not provide adequate levels of physical and or emotional care.

2. Early childhood trauma

Whereby traumatic events are experienced early on in life during the critical period of a child’s development.

3. Traumatic brain injury

Brain dysfunction is caused by a dramatic blow to the head, for example.

4. Chronic invalidation

When a person’s thoughts and feelings are repeatedly ignored, rejected, or else judged.

Are video games good or bad for kids? A global debate hits home for the holidays

Are video games good or bad for kids? A global debate hits home for the holidays

So we’ve just been through Black Friday, and we’re on the eve of Cyber Monday. It’s all about shopping for those who can afford it, and at the top of many a list, here on the East End, as well as across America and worldwide, are all kinds of video games. It’s as good a time as any to consider the good, the bad, and the ugly of the decades-old video game craze.

For the uninitiated, some brief background: there are plenty of free video games – just download them on a PC or smartphone, and they’re yours. Purchase of video games since the early 2000s is mostly through online distributors over the broadband internet.

Increasingly common, as a method of selling games, is digital distribution by the ever-powerful, internet business titans such as Game, Amazon.com, PlayStation Store, GamesStop and a few others. Long gone are the optical discs, magnetic storage, flash memory cards, and ROM cartridges that first brought us video games back in the 1980s.

Interestingly, the progress of video game technology has had much to do with most of the advances of technology in general. In other words, video game R&D consistently brings overall internet technology to higher levels.

Now we have platforms entirely devoted to video games, such as Origin and Steam, to name only two. These offer centralized services, where one can purchase and download digital content for one’s own PC, or even specific video game consoles.

Yet, with all the truly incredible improvement in what is now a huge, global industry, we’re only beginning to understand the effect of this growth that still gains inadequate attention: the impact of video games on children’s brains, intelligence and mental health.

The Early Intervention Research Group reviews surveys and other data on this question. They find that children aged 2-4 spend an average of 20 minutes per day on video games; kids 5-8 play an average of 40 minutes per day; and 8-12 year-olds play video games an average of 80 minutes per day.

The Early Intervention Research Group finds that there is little research on the effect of popular video games on the developing brains of children. The research that has been done shows quite a positive and beneficial effect of video games and apps on brain development if the games are interactive and educational. On the other hand, video games that are exclusively entertaining or violent have a clearly negative effect of child brain development.

One highly regarded study finds that educational video games that involve movement and exercise, called “exergames,” can improve overall, main functions of the brain, and even improve kids’ decision-making.

Another study on “characters” in educational games concluded that creating a strong bond with in-game characters can improve a child’s learning.

Yet another study on educational games found they help kids learn coding, literacy and math skills.

The American Academy of Pediatrics urges parents to watch educational video games and other programs with their children, citing the above studies and others. The academy encourages “interaction” with children during their game time, with parents or other adults asking questions and praising correct answers, which significantly helps their children or students learn better from the program.

The respected nonprofit organization Healthy Gamer maintains a platform designed to help the internet generation to succeed. They define their mission as helping people on the internet take control of their mental health.

On their website, Healthy Gamer stands for the proposition that video games are not inherently evil. Excessive use of video games, however, can lead to addiction, and their worrisome and daunting list of video games’ negative effects can be summarized as follows: dopamine addiction, reduction in motivation, escapism and getting “stuck in life,” poor academic or professional performance, poor mental health, relationship issues, social disconnection, emotional suppression, repetitive-stress injuries, and exposure to toxic gaming environments.

With all these findings considered, still much is unknown. Most research has been with young kids and adolescents. Very little is known of the impact of video games on middle childhood (ages 6-12.) Pediatricians, educators and mental health professionals in the U.S. urge more studies for this fragile age group.

But there’s one Big Brother world power that’s not waiting for more research. In early October, the Chinese Communist regime, through one of its “newspapers,” pronounced video games to be “spiritual opium.” Is this a case of the proverbial, broken clock telling the correct time twice each day?

This pronouncement is the latest in China’s crackdown on technology companies, according to the Associated Press. Tech firms’ ubiquitous messaging, payments and gaming services, growing facts of life in the U.S. and Western society in general, have far too much influence on the Chinese people, their government has decreed.

The AP goes on to report that gaming giant Tencent, whose online multiplayer game Honor of Kings enjoys enormous popularity globally, as well as the gaming firm NetEase, issued curbs on gaming time for minors in China within hours of the Chinese Communist regime’s pronouncement.

Talk about getting the message.

Then, according to a “notice” from Beijing’s National Press and Publication Administration, minors in China can play video games only 8-9 p.m. on Fridays, weekends and public holidays. Children under the age of 12 are banned entirely from making in-game purchases.

With millions of children in China now prohibited from playing online games for more than three hours per week, the video game industry suffers its harshest restrictions ever, and many predict there’s more to come out of Beijing.

But when it comes to Western society, the technology sector well knows “how the West is won.” Yet another, new cutting-edge video game technology that utilizes “virtual reality” increasingly gains in popularity. Tech companies continue to think far out of the box, and astonishingly huge fortunes are made every day by entrepreneurs, tech geeks, college students and ordinary people with extraordinary ideas. But will the cost on our society and particularly on our kids at the altar of tech turn out to be far higher than all this is worth?

Our cherished, high-tech gaming adventure, or misadventure, may well bring us to a place envisioned by T.S. Elliot not too long ago: “And the end of our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time.”

The pandemic is changing the way young people eat and how they feel about their bodies: 4 essential reads

The pandemic is changing the way young people eat and how they feel about their bodies: 4 essential reads

Kids, like adults, cope with stress and anxiety in many different ways.

For example, while some children reach for more snacks to deal with uncomfortable feelings, others overexercise or restrict their eating in unhealthy ways. As a result, rates of obesity and eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia have both increased among young people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here are four recent articles from The Conversation’s archives that deal with kids, body weight and the COVID-19 pandemic.

1. Child obesity

Many programs over the past four decades have tried to get kids in the U.S. to eat healthier food and exercise more often. Despite these efforts, child obesity rates have continued to increase – particularly during the pandemic.

Amanda Harrist and Laura Hubbs-Tait, child obesity researchers at Oklahoma State University, designed an intervention that actually lowered kids’ body mass index, or BMI.

The key factor that made their program succeed where so many others before failed? A focus on acceptance from family and friends, they say.

In their study of over 500 first graders, Harrist and Hubbs-Tait found that lessons on diet and exercise alone do not help kids at risk for obesity to slim down. Just as important, they say, is teaching new family dynamics and reducing the amount of rejection children face. That means showing parents how to emotionally support and comfort their children who are overweight, and teaching classmates to be more accepting of one another.

“Knowing you can come home and talk about how angry and sad you are is essential to healthy physical and mental growth,” the pair write. “And children must also have friends and peers who accept them for who they are.”

2. Eating disorders

Physician Julia Taylor and psychotherapist Sara Groff Stephens specialize in treating eating disorders in teens and young adults, which spiked after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When it comes to eating disorders, they say, three groups of young people are often overlooked: young male athletes, LGBTQ youth and “normal”-sized adolescents. This last group includes young people who are average weight or even overweight, but may develop dangerously abnormal vital signs, electrolyte imbalances or severe gastrointestinal issues due to their unhealthy dieting.

“The recent COVID-related increase in patients presenting for care has reinforced that no group is immune from them,” Taylor and Stephens write. “Breaking down barriers for identification and treatment for all individuals – including boys, sexual and gender minority youth and kids across the weight spectrum – will improve outcomes for those who struggle with these significant illnesses.”

3. Weight stigma

The COVID-19 pandemic has been hard and stressful for everyone – and being critical of people’s bodies doesn’t help, argue Nicole Giuliani, Nichole Kelly and Elizabeth Budd, psychology professors at the University of Oregon who are also moms with young children.

The scholars believe health research and health initiatives place a disproportionate emphasis on kids’ weight. This draws attention away from better predictors of chronic disease such as smoking, lack of exercise or poor mental health. And it also reinforces weight bias, which they describe as “the belief that a thin body is good and healthy, while a large body is bad and unhealthy.”

Weight bias, in turn, contributes to bullying and teasing, which are common among youth and linked to disordered eating and depression, as well as poorer academic performance and health.

“To best support the physical and emotional health of children during this pandemic, we suggest reducing the emphasis on body size,” Giuliani, Kelly and Budd write.

They offer five tips for parents, which range from avoiding words like “fat,” “obese” and “overweight” to noticing when kids feel bad about their bodies after spending time on social media, and encouraging them to take a break.

4. Social media

Creating social access for autistic children, what does it take?

Creating social access for autistic children, what does it take?

Autistic children have indeed potential: most of their emotional abilities improve with age, concludes Postdoc researcher Boya Li in her second Ph.D. thesis on the emotional development of autistic children.

“The development of social and emotional skills is a totally different type of learning. You can’t learn it from books or from your teachers in the classroom, you have to learn it in daily interactions with other people. You can imagine that If you have limited access to social interactions, it is a lot harder to learn these skills. It’s very possible that when you walk into a school, you might see an autistic child sitting in the corner of the classroom, not really playing with other children or talking to teachers. Possibly, this child prefers to be alone at times, which is fine, but also this child needs friends and other social contacts, and social learning. How can we achieve that, and how does this affect their social-emotional development? For this, and in collaboration with the Center for Autism, we followed autistic and non-autistic children in their pre-school years, during three years.”

While Li’s Ph.D. confirms the challenges and difficulties many children with autism face in the emotional domain, her research also gives hope. “Most emotional abilities that I examined improved with age in autistic children. Some abilities even grew at a faster rate than in non-autistic children. I am really excited about this outcome, because now I can show that autistic children have the potential and the ability to improve. People often have a stereotypical view that autistic people cannot change, but also autistic children show a learning curve.”

Stereotypical view of autism

Li herself is also not unfamiliar with the stereotypical view on autism. When she started her Ph.D., she held a ‘medical view’ of autism, but her view has changed drastically by the end of the project. “When I look back at the chapters of my thesis, I feel a little ashamed of two chapters when detecting traces of this medical thinking, as if autism is a problem that should be cured. Just as a lot of researchers in this field, before I saw autistic children as children with deficits and impairments. My original goal for my Ph.D. project was therefore to detect these problems so my findings could help professionals and educators to find a intervention that could help them. But this is not how I look at the issue now.”

“Before I focused on how autistic children recognized facial emotions of non-autistic people and how they reacted in empathy provoking situations compared to a non-autistic person. All behavioral outcomes of autistic children were evaluated based on the standards established by non-autistic people. That is like using Dutch standard to evaluate behaviors of a Chinese child, or vice versa. This clearly doesn’t work. Maybe autistic children have indeed difficulties in recognizing other non-autistic people‘s emotions or reacting in a non-autistic way, but we never thought of the other side of the story.

NWO Schoolyard Project: The other side of the story

Li brings her vision into practice with the Bold Cities/ NWO schoolyard project that she recently joined. This project looks at the development of children with autism from a new perspective. “I love this project because it is a beautiful extension of my Ph.D. research. I want to look at the other side of the story, so not focusing on how autistic children should improve, but on how the other side, the environment of the child, could be improved. For example, we want to see whether there are barriers in the social environment that hinder autistic children from participating, like the attitude of people at school who might not understand autism.”

There is room for improvement in the physical environment of autistic children as well. “We know that autistic children have a different sensory experience. As you know most social interactions take place during breaks when children all rush to the corridor or to the playground. However, that time can be very arousing for autistic children. Instead of chatting and laughing with peers, they may experience anxiety or stress that makes them unwilling to participate. So with the Bold Cities/ NWO Schoolyard Project we want to improve situations like this. As cliché as it sounds, children are the future so we should do our upmost best to facilitate and support them, and to provide all children, with and without autism, the optimal learning environment.”