Seeing and responding to our child’s distress

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The child’s ability to understand and embrace family values is an important goal of child development. The child’s capacity to do this starts with emotional safety in the home.

Related: Self-validation before self-control

There is no exact, step-by-step way of creating emotional safety in the home. We all are in a process of learning and discovery. With this realization, we grow as parents alongside our children as they grow in their development.

Related: 11 ways to parent outside the box

So what are we to guard against? Shame is among the most painful strong emotions humans can feel. Unlike guilt, which arises out of empathy, shame is borne about of a feeling of unworthiness or worthlessness.

Related: What makes emotional trauma? Fear, disconnect, and shame

Caring for our children when they feel distressed is vital. This may happen when our child is afraid, hurt, or angry for a variety of reasons including when we feel angry toward him or her. There are ways to guide our children toward developing our family values of trust, empathy, and affection.

Related: Principle of Parenting – How to guide for growth

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Everyone belongs in Nurturings

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Happy October! This month, we celebrate Attachment Parenting Month among other important observances such as awareness of ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences).

For many people, October brings with it a change in seasons. Transitions can be rejuvenating.

You may have noticed that API’s homepage has a new look with different verbiage and direction. Note the new logo and organizational name at the top of the homepage.

API has been a very effective organization within the parent education and support field for more than 25 years. We have raised awareness internationally to the importance of nurturing parent-child attachment to healthy child outcomes.

This October, we introduce you to the next stage in API’s evolution…Nurturings, a different kind of parenting resource that aims to spark flourishing for parents, children, families, and communities.

We’ve seen parents struggle with overwhelming disruptions in their everyday family life…such as, but not limited to, the pandemic…and become evermore stressed-out, seeking advice from the online treadmill that is, yes, helping us survive social distancing but that also drowns us in information. The result is parenting advice that promotes isolation and often frustration rather than flourishing.

Nurturings is designed to be a reliable guidepost to families while also empowering parents. We aim to deliver what you and every parent needs to flourish:

  • Lower and buffered stress;
  • Effective coping skills;
  • The space to learn and share broad research and experiences about healthy, effective parenting;
  • The ability to choose what fits your needs;
  • Encouragement as you progress in the areas of your parenting that matter most.

Everyone needs nurturance, and everyone belongs in Nurturings.

There are 3 core parenting rings to Nurturings:

1) Replenish – Feeling balanced is incredibly important for parents. Among the many ways that promote balance, that is so often overlooked in our society, is the clear need for deep social connections with like-minded parents.

2) Nourish – Gaining the knowledge base needed for effective parenting is as important as balance. We help nourish parents through infusions of researched parenting information delivered through peer-parent groups.

3) Practish – Yes, that misspelling was intentional…practish (rather than practice) because what we want to see is progress, not perfection. Sharing your experiences builds your local peer-parent group knowledge base and gives you validation and added insights for more confidence and lower stress. Full circle.

That’s what Nurturings is all about: Replenished and nourished parents practishing with one another and celebrating each other’s progress. Full circles of flourishing.

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New AAP Policy recognizes value of nurturing family relationships

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The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued a new policy, Preventing childhood toxic stress: Partnering with families and communities to promote relational health.

We applaud this bold recognition of the value of nurturing parenting, given AAP’s influence on its global network of pediatricians:

Source: AAP

Safe, stable, and nurturing relationships can act as a powerful, protective buffer against the biological harms of toxic stress on children. These relationships are also key to building resilience—being able to bounce back from adverse childhood experiences.

When children feel connected and supported in the early years, according to the newly updated AAP report, they are more likely to become healthy, competent and educated citizens later in life.

The policy statement, “Preventing Childhood Toxic Stress: Partnering With Families and Communities to Promote Relational Health,” was published in the August 2021 issue of the journal, Pediatrics. The statement focuses on just how important relationships and positive childhood experiences are in preventing and healing toxic stress.

This policy moves away from a problem-based model that focuses on a child’s past adverse experiences and instead presents a positive, strengths-based approach that fosters solutions at the family, community and societal levels.

Related: Youth empowerment as peace education

A Slow-Moving Public Health Crisis

The AAP calls for pediatricians, parents, and policymakers to recognize toxic stress as a slow-moving public health threat that can be tempered by a preventive approach aimed at developing and strengthening healthy relationships.

“The concept of drawing on positive relationships as a shield against the toxic stress caused by adverse experiences has never been more relevant,” said Andrew Garner, MD, PhD, FAAP, a co-author of the policy statement generated by the Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health, the Section on Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, and the Council on Early Childhood.

Related: ACEs too high with Jane Stevens

Forming Close, Healthy, and Nurturing Bonds

“Over the past few years, we’ve experienced a socially-isolating pandemic and reckoned with centuries of structural racism,” Dr. Garner said. “We must take steps to help kids form close, healthy and nurturing bonds, whether it is within the family, schools or community.”

The AAP recommends that pediatricians prioritize the trusted, respectful relationships that they share with patients and their families. They may refer families with strained relationships to evidence-based therapies, or work within their communities to make those therapies available if they are not offered.

New research also reveals that changes in the brains of parents who experienced trauma in their own childhoods may make it difficult for them to bond and nurture their children. These families can benefit from help from the community and others, especially after the pandemic.

Related: For better or worse, parenting changes your child’s DNA

“Families can help children adapt to harmful experiences and adversity by modeling their own skills at resilience,” said Michael Yogman, MD, FAAP, a co-author of the policy statement.

“This may mean demonstrating how to ask for help from family, friends, neighbors or others or demonstrating how to handle their own strong emotions,” he added. “Caregivers do not need to be perfect to help children feel safe, connected and supported.”

The AAP recommends that pediatricians watch for, screen, and address potential barriers to safe, stable, and nurturing relationships. Barriers include social determinants of health, such as inadequate housing, education inequities and food insecurity; the parents’ own adverse childhood experiences; intimate partner or neighborhood violence; parental depression; and/or substance use.

The pediatrician cannot do this work alone, however. The AAP calls for policy makers and community leaders to learn how relational health is influenced at all levels and support programs and funding that strengthen families.

This may include expanding family medical leave opportunities, increasing child tax credits, securing safe and affordable housing, supporting employment assistance and job training, promoting universal access to high-quality child care centers and schools, advancing preventive early childhood mental health services, promoting social emotional learning in schools, and expanding opportunities for playful learning in safe neighborhoods.

Related: A need for paid parental leave

The AAP also offers recommendations for families, caregivers, teachers, coaches, and others:

  • Learn about positive parenting techniques and developmentally appropriate forms of play, such as shared reading, as these foster the warm relationships that enhance literacy, executive function, and other core 21st-century life skills.
  • Learn how to handle their own strong emotions, so they can model this skill and be emotionally available when their children are distressed (“put your own oxygen mask on before helping others”).
  • Consider therapy to address unresolved trauma in the caregivers’ own history. Children are watching as caregivers strive to become slightly better versions of themselves each day, and the development of a “growth mindset” is a powerful predictor of future success.
  • Help children understand that there is nothing wrong with having strong emotions: the challenge is helping them to channel that energy into a constructive outlet like a passion, hobby, or activity that brings them joy while at the same time building generalizable skills.

Related: Manage your emotions: How to cool down before you blow up

Policymakers are encouraged to consider how adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress lead to long-term health problems from depression to diabetes and heart disease that are bankrupting the healthcare system.

“Our nation’s children are suffering both a mental health crisis and an educational challenge amid the pandemic,” Dr. Yogman said. “We must seize this opportunity and make sure that all children have someone they can turn to, that they can trust within a consistent, positive and nurturing relationship. This benefits our children, our society and our future.”

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Whistleblower: Infant formula companies boldly violating WHO code, smearing breastmilk

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“Imagine that the world had created a new ‘dream product’ to feed and immunize everyone born on Earth. Imagine also that it was available everywhere, required no storage or delivery, and helped mothers plan their families and reduce the risk of cancer. Then imagine that the world refused to use it.” ~ the late Frank Oski, MD, American pediatrician

That “dream product” this renowned child nutrition expert was referring to before his 1996 death from prostate cancer already exists—in breastmilk.

Breastmilk delivers lifelong health benefits to infants that far outweigh substitutes, doubling as both a source of superior nutrition and immunization to disease. Breastfeeding also plays a major role in establishing a foundation for infant mental health, secure mother-infant attachment, and strong family relationships.

Related: Breastmilk and baby’s gut health, the big picture and The link between breastfeeding and mental health

Yet, breastmilk is routinely pitted against the marketing prowess of multi-billion-dollar infant formula companies that in recent years at least have promoted its use as supportive to breastfeeding rather than an alternative.

This seemingly complementary role of formula to breastfeeding, as marketed, is a rather new change in course in the history of infant formula—mostly out of “regard” for the WHO’s International Code of Marketing Breast-milk Substitutes, enforceable by law in 136 of 194 developed countries.

Formula companies aren’t foolish when it comes to making money. Even formula companies in the 58 countries that do not prioritize the WHO code in their advertising legalese understand the potential damage to sales that could come with marketing formula as equal to or better than breastmilk in a culture that values advocating for higher breastfeeding rates.

Related: Nature’s case for breastfeeding

This month, the United Kingdom-based infant formula company Bobbie debuted a national U.S. marketing campaign on the first day of World Breastfeeding Week (Aug. 1-7, 2021) with a full-page ad in the New York Times that so flagrantly broke the WHO code that there should be outrage from all levels of U.S. breastfeeding support.

The silence is telling. Only one instance of social pushback against this formula company’s challenge to “breast is best” has made it to the top of search-engine lists:

Social media can be a powerful force for good when in the hands of empowered parents.

Well-supported breastfeeding parents are empowered. That support comes from many levels, from La Leche League International leaders to International Board Certified Lactation Consultants to media and culture to societal systems. In the United States, breastfeeding support has long been making gains on an uphill climb. We are not done by any means, as we live in a system that does not put family first.

Yet something has shifted in breastfeeding support internationally, and we are in danger of losing those gains.

Maybe we have become complacent. Maybe we have allowed our capitalistic economy to trump decades of research showing that breastmilk is truly best. In 2018, the U.S. threatened countries with economy-crushing tactics to avoid adopting a United Nations resolution to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding. This bewildering rejection of breastfeeding was justified by then-President Donald Trump as a show of support for mothers.

The news media was then relatively quiet in 2019, before COVID-19 struck in 2020—leaving billions of mothers around the world stranded from breastfeeding support, with the pandemic continuing to compromise face-to-face lactation support in the early weeks after childbirth when breastfeeding challenges are most likely to arise.

Infant formula companies filled the gap with questionable claims and overt WHO code violations:

  • In Paraguay, Danone specifically promoted its Nutricia infant formula as the safe infant-feeding method, purporting that COVID-19 could be transmitted to babies via breastfeeding. Danone extended this so-called support to “babies born in the pandemic” in Brazil, India, and parts of Europe.
  • In Mexico and Peru, Abbott claimed its brand Similac strengthens babies’ immune systems against viruses and bacteria.
  • In Southeast Asia, Nestle’s Indonesian brand Dancow ran ads portraying children drinking formula with the tagline (translated): “Mother, protect your sweetheart!”
  • Likewise, Danone’s Indonesian brand SGM promoted a “customer care line” via its Instagram and WhatsApp social media channels, and urged mothers to call with questions about child growth and development.
  • In both Pakistan and India, Nestle’s Lactogrow has been distributed in COVID-19 relief packages.

These and other instances are enough of a red flag that, globally, breastfeeding is on a slippery slope toward losing relevance—again.

Our grandmothers remember when breastfeeding rates dipped to near nonexistence in the U.S. between 1940 and 1970. Less than a century is not so long ago. We need a resurgence of impassioned support of breastfeeding, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic has allowed infant formula companies an opportunity to step up their marketing schemes against breastfeeding—which is as much against mothers and fathers, their infants’ health, and a confident beginning for the family.

Related: Interaction and relationships in breastfeeding families with Dr. Keren Epstein-Gilboa

After the struggles that breastfeeding had to endure to overcome formula companies’ misinformation in the 20th century, breastfeeding is not nearly as established as it needs to be in our society to be left to stand on its own against capitalism’s continued manipulation of the public when left unchecked.

We look forward to seeing, and sharing, empowered parents’ protection, promotion, and support of breastfeeding.

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In the news: Balance is as much a part of parenting as the rest

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The New York Times recently published an article entitled “I Love You. Leave Me Alone.” This headline has since been softened to “Why I Need to Hide From My Kids.”

Regardless, the article points to a problem of the pandemic – parents spending more time within physical (and emotional) proximity of their kids, without fully understanding their children’s developmentally appropriate needs for emotional care especially during stressful times, and without an established framework to ensure their own personal balance.

Balance can be an evasive state of mind, especially in families, especially when our goal is nurturing and engaged presence.

The NYT author opens the article with her own experience, describing how a dental procedure was her ticket to a day of glorious alone time in the midst of a balance-sucking pandemic with her preteen daughter who just wanted to spend time with her mom.

Related: Self-validation before self-control

Related: Engagement vs redirection in positive discipline

In many parts of the world, the pandemic has turned life upside-down for families. For more than a year now, parents have been grappling with how to best support their children through the stress of a constantly changing threat, sensitive culture, and reactive economy. Nurturing parenting helps children build resilience.

Related: ACEs Too High with Jane Stevens

It’s important that we remember that balance is as much a part of nurturing parenting as any of the other seven guidelines. Here are some tips to get you started on building balance into your nurturing:

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Ideas to help families in crisis in Afghanistan

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The fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban is so incredibly sad. In only a week, this extremist political faction has taken country of a country after 20 years of U.S. occupation and dashed the hope for a future based in democracy.

Related: Talking to our children about world tragedies

When last in rule, the Taliban was extremely hostile to anyone with views outside of their narrow law and especially oppressive toward women and children.

We have watched as this disaster unfolded in Afghanistan. To our horror, we saw throngs of people – including families with young children – crowding the tarmac of the last U.S. stronghold after evacuating the embassy – an airport in Kabul – with people hanging out of airplanes, so desperate to flee the country.

Related: Talking politics with your children

And now the reports of violence even as the Taliban “pledged” peace to the expats seeking to leave Afghanistan’s borders and the remaining Afghan citizens.

It’s hard to know what to do to help Afghan families in this humanitarian crisis. Here are links to some organizations mobilized to provide aid on the ground:

  • Afghan Journalists Safety Committee – seeking donations to establish safehouses for Afghan journalists, many of whom are women, having enjoyed greater freedom under the U.S.-backed constitutional government before the Taliban takeover
  • International Rescue Committee – seeking petitioners to send an email urging the U.S. President Joe Biden administration to take emergency action in Afghanistan
  • IRAP – seeking donations to offer assistance to Afghan refugees
  • LIRS – seeking volunteers and donations for emergency supplies to incoming Afghan refugees arriving in the U.S. cities of Fort Worth, Houston, Seattle, and Washington DC
  • Women for Afghan Women – seeking donations to support women living in Afghanistan, working to develop a grassroots approach in shifting cultural norms from oppression and violence to peace and equality
  • Women for Women International – seeking donations to support women’s mental and physical health in Afghanistan
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New study: Teens with secure family relationships bring more empathy to peer conversations

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Source: News release by the Society for Research in Child Development

Teens’ ability to empathize – to understand others’ perspectives and emotions, and to care for their wellbeing – is an important contributor to their relationships, including with friends.

Prior research shows that teens who have more secure family relationships report higher levels of empathy for others, but little research examines whether teens with more secure family relationships actually show greater empathy when observed in real-life interactions with peers, or whether their empathic capacities show different patterns of growth over time.

A new study – by researchers at the University of Virginia – tested whether teens’ secure, supportive family relationships at age 14 related to their ability to provide their friends with empathic support across adolescence and into early adulthood.

Findings indicate that secure attachment – reflecting on close relationships in an emotionally balanced, coherent, and valuing way – predicts teens’ ability to provide empathic support to their close friends.

“What’s especially interesting is that close friends also sought out more support from securely attached teens,” said Jessica Stern, postdoctoral fellow at the University of Virginia.

Related: The room of a teenage boy, a look at attachment parenting with teens

While having secure family relationships at age 14 predicted greater empathy with peers across adolescence, those teens who did not have secure family relationships in early adolescence showed a pattern of catching up, increasing their empathy toward close friends as they developed.

This study is among the first to examine associations of attachment with the development of empathic support using longitudinal methods and observations of empathic support for friends across mid-adolescence.

The findings were published in the journal Child Development. This research was supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the National Institute of Mental Health.

The study featured a sample of 184 adolescents (86 males, 98 females) recruited from a public middle school (7th and 8th grades) in suburban and urban populations from the southeastern United States. Adolescents in the study were 58% Caucasian, 29% African American, 8% mixed race or ethnic, and 5% other identity groups.

In the current study, teens at age 14 responded to an interview about their attachment relationships, unlike most prior studies which used self-report measures of attachment style and empathy. Teens who described their attachment relationships as supportive, who valued those relationships and reflected on them with coherence and emotional balance, were rated as more secure.

Related: How to heal attachment with your teen

At ages 16, 17 and 18, teens and their nominated closest friend participated in a video-recorded, 6-minute task in which teens helped friends deal with a problem they were facing. Friends’ bids for support, as well as teens’ ability to provide empathic support, were coded from videos of this task.

The findings suggest a strong association between a teen’s having a secure attachment – or perspective on attachment relationships as supportive – and the development of the capacity to provide empathic support to close friends across a 4-year period of adolescence.

Results also suggest that friends’ support-seeking develops alongside teens’ ability to deliver empathy, with support-seeking helping empathy to develop and empathy fostering support-seeking from friends as well.

“Investing in the quality of teens’ family relationships early in adolescence may be important for building empathy and positive interactions with peers,” Stern said. “Parenting programs, family therapy when needed, and school-based interventions that help young teens feel safe and supported in their relationships with adults – not only parents but teachers, mentors, and extended kin – may equip teens to ‘pay it forward’ in their empathy and care for others.”

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WBW 2021: Protect breastfeeding by protecting nurturing

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As we reflect on this year’s theme for World Breastfeeding Week, August 1-7 – “Protect Breastfeeding: A shared responsibility” – it is imperative that we understand that protecting breastfeeding requires us to normalize nurturing.

Nurturing parenting is invariably linked to breastfeeding. While not all mothers are able to breastfeed, we recognize that breastfeeding – and breastfeeding behaviors while giving a bottle – is one of nature’s best teachers of new parents in how to sensitively and consistently respond to their baby as well as learn to develop the reciprocity of a healthy relationship between parent and child.

Related: Nature’s case for breastfeeding

Largely due to cultural pressures, even when mothers are able to get breastfeeding off to a strong start, there is a sharp decline overall in breastfeeding rates in the weeks and months after childbirth. The World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), of which we are a member, has found that premature weaning tends to happen when mothers are without access to knowledgeable support while encountering problems with breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding problems are common, making widespread access to breastfeeding support paramount. International Board Certified Lactation Counselors, La Leche League leaders, and other trained advocates are key players in not only breastfeeding education but also nurturing parenting. The early days, weeks, and months of breastfeeding serve as a crucial time when mothers and fathers learn how to parent…to relate to their baby with nurturing behaviors, or not.

Related: Who will Baby attach to?

These early parenting lessons, which set the stage for years of a secure or insecure mother-infant relationship, are often absorbed in a time of relative isolation.

Traditionally, support to new parents was provided by the family…particularly the new mother’s mother and grandmother. However, as society has changed, mother support must come from a wider circle. This is where community support enters.

A new mother and father may have access to lactation consultants, depending on their geographic location. Some trained health care providers are able to provide ongoing support between medical appointments for acute breastfeeding problems; many are limited by their funding. La Leche League International fills the gap by training mothers with personal breastfeeding experience to volunteer in their communities by offering mother-to-mother support that complements professional care.

Likewise, we provide training to become a Certified Attached at the Heart Parenting Educator to provide holistic support to mothers and fathers in your community as they learn how to incorporate nurturing into the parenting of their children.

Related: Find a parent educator

As certified parenting educators, we offer basic support and community resource referrals to help parents make the best decisions for their families while educating them on the research-backed ways of bringing nurturing into their parenting. We help mothers view breastfeeding within the context of the whole mother-infant relationship and family dynamic, and how the give-and-take interaction that builds the foundation of secure attachment can be applied beyond breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding naturally promotes nurturing parenting. Overcoming the challenges that may come with breastfeeding sets the stage for building resilience through nurturing parenting for years to come.

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