January 31, 2012
Babies, Breastfeeding, Family, National Childbirth Trust
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From a health point of view, breastfeeding has lots of benefits in terms of increased immunity for the infant and less likelihood of obesity later on. However, there is a question over whether breastfeeding actually affects a mother’s attachment to her child (the strong emotional bond between a mother and he child). Many breastfeeding advocates say that not breastfeeding your child leads to a weakened emotional bond between the mother and her baby but is this really true? Many mothers who give up breastfeeding early on or who are unable to breastfeed from the start may feel guilty enough about it without being told it will worsen the emotional bond with their child. Many of my friends had problems breastfeeding their first child for various reasons, having a premature baby, having a baby with tongue-tie (a condition where the underside of the tongue is too tightly bound to the floor of the mouth for the baby to breastfeed easily), getting mastitis (inflammation of breast tissue) or not producing enough milk. I heard many comments when my son was a baby about breastfeeding leading to a better bond with your child but I felt pretty sceptical about this. Especially as when I was breastfeeding, my son’s face was turned inwards so there was little eye contact.
So what does psychological research say about breastfeeding and attachment? Britton et al. (2006) found no direct link between breastfeeding and the security of attachment (the strength of the emotional bond between a mother and child). However, they did find that the more responsive and sensitive a mother was to her baby, the more securely attached the baby was later on. Interestingly, although the study did not find the actual act of breastfeeding led to the secure attachment, it did find that mothers who chose to breastfeed were also more likely to responsive to their infants. Note that not all mothers who chose to breastfeed were responsive to their child. Furthermore, mothers who choose to bottle-feed for reasons outside their control may be just as responsive.
The idea that breastfeeding does not affect the emotional bond between a mother and baby relates to a study by Harlow (1969). He took baby monkeys and raised them in a laboratory, giving them a wire monkey to feed from and a cloth monkey to get comfort from or hold onto. The monkeys formed strong attachments to the cloth monkey, but not with the wire one. Harlow concluded that you need comfort more than food for a secure attachment.
January 30, 2012
Gender role, Parents, psychology, Sandra Bem
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I am as guilty as the next person for gender-stereotyping my son. He has lots of trains, fire engines and cars and I have just painted one of the walls in his bedroom blue with pictures of planets. However, according to Sandra Bem, it is not good for children to be gender-stereotyped too much. Children who are too gender stereotyped find it difficult to express themselves fully, have lower self-esteem and are more likely to suffer from mental health problems later. Girls may feel that they have to be passive, caring and helpful and boys may feel that they have to be competitive, aggressive and active even this goes against their natural inclinations. Obviously, it is better for children to feel they can be themselves and explore any interests irrespective of gender stereotypes. I certainly wouldn’t want my son to feel he couldn’t be caring and helpful.
Gender stereotypes may also be one of the reasons boys are doing worse at school than girls. Apparently, doing your homework and being conscientious is now considered to be for girls. Haywood and Mac an Ghaill interviewed boys in a secondary school in the West Midlands and found that the boys saw academic achievement as feminine. Gender stereotypes may also affect which subjects at school children choose to engage with. Cvencek and others investigated whether children had gender stereotypes about mathematics. They showed children two pictures, one of a girl doing maths and one of a boy doing maths. They found that the children were more likely to rate the boy as enjoying the maths than the girl.
So what can parents do to stop their children becoming too gender stereotyped? Parents can choose toys for both genders for their children. To address this, I have got my son a kitchen, dolls’ house and baby doll in addition to his more boyish toys. I am pleased to report that he has played with the kitchen extensively but the dolls’ house and baby doll were not great successes. He seems naturally more inclined to play with his train set but I have tried my best.
Parents can also buy toys in neutral colours and paint their childrens’ rooms in neutral colours, which I have already failed to do if you count my son’s blue space wall. I think it is pretty hard to resist your son’s desire for a Thomas the Tank Engine bedroom or your daughter’s requests for a princess or fairy bedroom. Finally, parents can try to be less gender stereotyped themselves. Men can do more cooking and women can do more lawn mowing, which is perhaps easier said than done. I have to say, my husband and I had more equal roles before I had my son. I seem to do more cooking and cleaning now due to working part-time than before my son. However, my husband and I do try to share roles as much as possible.
You might be wondering whether there are negative effects to avoiding gender stereotypes . Will your boy get teased if he chooses to play with dolls at school? Sadly, Sroufe et al. (1993) found that pre-teenage children who do not conform to gender stereotypes are less popular with their peers. However, I would still try to avoid gender stereotypes at home. I know my three year old son has already learnt gender stereotypes from others outside the home and he will quite clearly tell me that dolls are for girls and that he doesn’t like pink. I question him on these comments because I want him to learn that long-term he can like whatever he wants regardless of gender.
January 28, 2012
Carol Dweck, Child, parenting, psychology
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Carol Dweck investigated the difference between praising children for their intelligence and praising children for effort. She found that it is much better to say ‘You must have really worked hard’ than ‘You’re really smart.’ Now as I am a sucker for trying to follow psychological research, I have been trying this technique out with my son recently. He has been bringing home pictures from preschool everyday this week and I have tried not to say ‘What a beautiful picture, darling’ and instead replaced it with ‘You must have really worked hard on that picture’. I have to say I feel a little bit foolish and wonder if I should really be encouraging a 3 year old to play rather than work hard. However, the research into praising effort over achievement seems pretty convincing although it was with primary school children rather than pre-schoolers. Dweck gave two groups of children a task to do, one group was praised for their ability and the other group was praised for effort. When the children were asked to carry out another more challenging task, the children who had been praised for their ability were less keen to carry it out than the children who had been praised for effort. The children who had been praised for their ability were worried about not living up to expectations and failing at the more challenging task whereas the other children did not have these concerns. The children who had been praised for their ability were also much more likely to feel despondent after a setback than the children praised for effort. Dweck suggests that when children are praised for ability they begin to see their ability as fixed and become more worried about failure. On the other hand, children who are praised for effort believe that through their efforts they can always do better. Dweck says that you can develop a growth mindset in even very young children, for example, you can get them to believe that they can replace naughty behaviour with good behaviour. Young children who are taught that they can change find it easier to make mistakes and also learn from them. So perhaps I need to focus on praising my son’s efforts at good behaviour rather than his hard work for now. Although the other day I asked him whether he was ‘more good or more naughty’, which on reflection suggests that goodness and naughtiness are fixed. I think I just need to go a step further and ask him to try harder at being good. Wish me luck.
January 27, 2012
Children, Computer games, Parents
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I know a day will come in the future when I am asked to buy a computer console, however, I feel resolute that I don’t want to buy one. I don’t like the idea of my son wasting hours playing computer games, not to mention the damage that he might possibly be caused by playing them. Remember the Columbine High School Massacre, where two boys killed 12 students and a teacher at their school, well this was linked to the boys playing the violent computer game Doom. Now I know that if any of you are computer games fans, you will whole-heartedly disagree with the idea that computer games have any negative effects at all. Your argument will be that only certain people (aggressive people or psychologically damaged people) are affected by computer games. Certainly, this is probably the case with the two boys responsible for the Columbine High School Massacre. On the other hand, psychological research shows that playing violent computer games does make children more aggressive even when they are normally non-aggressive children. They are also less likely to empathise with others. Well, that’s alright then you might say, I just won’t let my child watch violent computer games. Don’t be too confident, many studies show parents aren’t always aware what their children are playing. However, maybe there are benefits to computer games after all. Recent research suggests that playing video games, which promote helping, such as ‘Lemmings’ where you have to guide little lemmings to safety can actually make you more helpful and caring. I still need convincing about buying a computer console though as other research points to the addictive nature of computer games. Games designer Adrian Hon, chief creative officer of SixToStart admits that computer games are designed to be psychologically addictive. He referred to Skinner’s work with rats in the 1950s. Skinner found in his work with rats that when they were rewarded at variable (random) intervals with food for pressing a lever, that the rats would press the lever obsessively. Rewards such as extra lives or points are also given randomly in computer games, which makes them so addictive. Some children report playing computer games for 12 hours consecutively although the average is about 13 hours per week for boys and five hours per week for girls according (Gentile, Lynch, Linder, & Walsh, 2004). I think my mind is made up for the moment, no computer console but as we have a PC, I don’t think computer games are completely out.
January 25, 2012
Child, Parent, Personality psychology, Temperament
Image by epSos.de via Flickr
What is your child’s personality? Psychologists refer to children’s personalities as temperament as if they were dogs but aside from this they have a lot to tell us. First of all when we understand that temperament is inbuilt to a certain extent and that we can’t really change it, we realise we don’t need to blame ourselves for every behaviour problem. Finding out about your child’s temperament may also give you an insight into how they will turn out as adults as many studies have shown that childhood personality affects adult personality. It may also help you accept the less charming aspects of your child’s personality. For example, understanding that my son’s strong will is related to the temperament trait of persistence, which can be a positive attribute as an adult, makes me feel more accepting. It also makes me feel a little more tolerant when he shouts that he wants everything now. Persistent children get frustrated easily apparently. Finally, we can manage our children’s behaviour better if we know their temperament.
Thomas and Chess (1977) came up with nine dimensions for temperament: activity level: how much your child moves about, quality of mood: whether your child is generally happy or whiny, sociability: whether your child willingly meets new people and situations or withdraws from them, rhythmicity: whether your child’s eats, sleeps and goes to the toilet at regular times, adaptability: how easily your child adapts to new routines, responsiveness-sensitivity to the environment such as loud noises, intensity of reaction: how strong your child’s emotional reactions are, distractibility: how easily your child can be distracted from an activity they are engaged in, attention span/persistence: how long a child with continue with an activity they are engaged in.
The advice is to try and adapt to your child’s temperament. For example, with children who are low on adaptability, it is best to establish routines and to prepare them far in advance for any changes to the regular routine such as going on holiday. This is all easier said than done. My son shows intense reactions to things. When he is happy is very, very happy but when he is angry we all know about it. I am trying to take the advice though and empathise with his feelings. When he throws everything on the floor, I resist the temptation to drag him to his room and lock the door. I say things like ‘I know you are feeling angry but you must not throw things. Why don’t you try counting to ten and taking a deep breath.’ Then I realise I am talking to a three year old. He counts to ten with me, laughs at me taking a deep breath and then gets angry again. I think I managed to stop a full on temper tantrum though. I just need to sharpen up my knowledge of relaxation techniques for three year olds.
January 24, 2012
Children Happiness Parents Mums
Does having children make you happy? The commonly held view is that children bring joy to your life. Anyone who is a parent knows that any joy and rewards received are mixed with the sweat and tears of parenthood. Research shows that parents are less likely to report that they are very happy compared to their childless peers. They also report less marital satisfaction and are more likely to be depressed. To add a sting to the wound, one study found that older parents whose children had left home reported the same level of happiness or less than childless couples. Based on this research I should never have had a child but I certainly have no regrets. I guess that is the thing about having children-most people don’t regret having them but they may regret not having them. The problem with these studies is that they focused on how happy people reported themselves to be at a single moment in time. When people were asked in a different study how rewarding parenting is they responded in a very different way. People were much more likely to rate childcare as’ pleasurable’ when this word was placed alongside the word ’rewarding’.