Recently, I posted a tweet at @DrWendyWalsh that said “In order for kids to understand love they have to be allowed to hate their parents.” This confused a lot of people, so let me explain.
Enforced love to parents such as constant complying, forced apologies, and directives to “change that tone” and “don’t give me that look,” doesn’t teach kids how to love. It teaches them to how fake it. It directs them to push their true feelings underground where they will come up in the most unexpected ways. Well meaning parents might think they are training their kids to put on a public face when they are feeling bad, or perhaps parents simply can’t stand the idea that their kids don’t love them, but being a good parent means being a strong emotional container for the whole family. It means being the strong, stable mast while the sails blow out of control. In order for kids to truly feel loved, sometimes they need to be allowed to hate their parents. As one teenager once told me, “My parents are the only safe place for me to be real, because I know they’ll love me no matter what.”
Now I’m not suggesting that parents have no boundaries, or that they have no rules. But our job is to shape our kids behavior, not their emotions. A good parent can tolerate it when their child is mad at them. A strong, loving parent who gets the kid eye-roll or sneer, or even the scream of “I hate you!” after a rule has been enforced simply says, “I know you’re mad at me, but I still love you.” That’s the best medicine a kid can ever get from a parent. The knowledge that they are loved no matter what. And that’s how children learn how to love themselves and love others. That is true love.
Infants and toddles are little sponges, absorbing the interior worlds of the adults around them as their try to make sense of it all. In attempting to shelter small children from adult emotions, some parents try to hide their feelings and put on a happy face, even when their world feels out of control. Bad move.
As it turns out, babies have a sixth sense and see through faking adults very easily. As young as 18 months, babies know what feelings and reactions should go with which events. In fact trying to shield them from the truth, can confuse them rather than comfort them.
In a new study in Infancy: The Official Journal of the International Society on Infant Studies, researchers Sabrina Chiarella and Diane Poulin-Dubois were able to show that toddlers can tell when a person’s emotions make sense to a given situation. They accomplished this by hiring actors to create appropriate or misfired facial expressions in reaction to certain stimuli, say, a sad face in response to a new toy or a happy face in response to physical pain. By 18-months of age, the babies cleared showed confusion by checking back with the face often and not mirroring the emotion displayed.
The take away for parents? Don’t be afraid to show your true emotions, but do take the time to explain what’s going on to your child and always assure your child that everything is going to be okay. Babies can understand most of their home language by the age of ten months, even though they can’t talk themselves.
We’ve all heard tragic stories about online bullying and teen suicide. But, a new study suggests Twitter can be used to in suicide prevention. Researchers from Brigham Young University created an algorithm that scanned through millions of tweets across the nation looking for terms like suicide, dying, and other key words linked to depression or bullying. What they found was amazing. The suicide talk showed up in state-by-state numbers that closely mirrored each state’s actual suicide rates. In other words, early warning signs are available, if only every person were identifiable on Twitter.
The researchers suggest that, at the very least, suicide hotline groups could use the algorithms to respond via twitter instead of waiting for an old fashioned telephone to ring. Or, schools could have students register their twitter accounts (no privacy concerns, as tweets are public anyway) and the technology would give school counselors a ping when a student’s Tweets become concerning.
In the meantime, it’s important that all parents follow their teen on twitter and friend them on Facebook. Adolescents will write things on social media that they won’t say out loud. Following them as a quiet observer can help parents get inside their kids heads. However, I don’t suggest interacting with them much on social media unless you are prepared for the other kind of suicide — social suicide!
When a child is adopted by a step-parent it can feel like a double edged sword. Under most laws, in order for such an adoption to happen, one biological parent has to give up rights. To a child in the midst of this kind of legal posturing by adults, it can feel like abandonment by one parent and that they are being sold to the highest bidder. But what if the courts decided families can forgo any feelings of loss by simply adding legal responsibility to an additional adult?
That’s the case with the brand new California law signed into legislation by Governor Jerry Brown on Friday. Authored by Senator Mark leno, the bill finally takes into account the fact that family structures have been changing for decades. It also covers same sex couples who may have a biological egg or sperm donor who also has an interest in the child’s welfare.
Not surprisingly, in the era of a shrinking but vocal, hyper-conservatism, some Republicans see the law as an attack on the traditional family. According to the LA Times, “The measure was opposed in the Legislature by the conservative Capitol Resource Institute, which called it detrimental to children. The group said children thrive in homes with their biological mother and father, or with adoptive parents being male and female role models.”
If only they knew that a “traditional” family, one where a heterosexual woman and a heterosexual man live in the same house with both having a biological connection to all the offspring in the house, is a relatively new invention in human’s evolution. For thousands of years, our hunter/gatherer ancestors roamed in multi-generational tribes where most people were related and all these “alloparents” helped raise the offspring. While there was plenty of monogamy, as there is today, there was also some polygamy and some serial monogamy, that resulted in step-children. An offspring’s survival was directly related to the number of adults who took an interest in raising them.
In my opinion, this law is returning to something more natural to our biology and human culture. Kudos to California.
The fatty acids DHA and EPA found in fish oil may do far more than prevent heart disease and enhance immune systems. A groundbreaking new study out of Oxford University in the UK makes a strong correlation between low levels of omega-3 and problems with reading and focus in kids. The study took blood samples from just under 500 British school children, aged 7-8 who were reported to be below grade level in reading. The researchers found astonishingly low levels of the important long chain omega-3 fatty acids vital to brain structure and memory in nearly all the children. And the blood levels of the long chain omega-3, DHA, directly predicted how well the young students were able to focus and learn.
DHA and EPA are found primarily in seafood and must be taken in consistently through diet. In the UK, the dietary guidelines for children include consuming fish three times a week. Most of the slow readers in the study ate fish less than twice a week and ten per cent of them didn’t eat fish at all.
If parents are concerned about mercury levels in today’s harvested seafood, then a supplement should be given to children. To avoid the sour faces and turned up noses associated with the fishy taste, try your local health food store in the refrigerator section for flavored liquid fish oil.