New Report: Racism creates disparities in child outcome, even before birth

Zero to Three has recently released its new State of Babies Yearbook. This report aims to bridge the gap between science and public policy regarding the well-being of America’s babies.

The data in the Yearbook is clear: The circumstances into which a baby is born makes an important difference in his or her life start and direction.

On the surface, the data looks to favor some U.S. states over others.

Related: Parent support deserts in the USA

There’s a lot more going on than location–the influence of race and ethnicity, combined with interpersonal and institutional racism, are all critical factors on the quality of health care that mothers and children receive.

Even prior to conception.

Because of intergenerational inheritance of historical trauma, lived experience of racism–both by the parents as well as the generations preceding–weigh on a woman’s chance for a healthy pregnancy and birth.

Related: Historical trauma, breastfeeding, and healing with Camie Jae Goldhammer

This report is a wake-up call to those working for the improvement of maternal and child health and well-being.

Learn more about API’s commitment to justice and anti-racism.

How being stressed-out hurts the brain, and what parenting has to do with it: Video

There’s a lot of talk about family and personal stress during this worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, but stress is hardly a recent development. Neither are the roots of resiliency that some people tend to have.

Scientist-turned-journalist Madhumita Murgia created a TED-Ed short film back in 2015 to illustrate what exactly happens to the brain on stress and how to mitigate this multi-lifetime effect.

“How Chronic Stress Affects Your Brain” is available for public viewing at no cost. Some highlights:

  • Stress isn’t always a bad thing, unless you’re feeling regularly stressed-out
  • This chronic stress changes how our body’s systems work, including our brains…even shrinking certain brain regions while enlarging the brain’s fear center

Related: What happens to the brain when we ‘lose it’

  • These effects lead to it being harder to learn and remember things and control anxiety, and has been linked to eventual depression and Alzheimer’s dementia
  • Stress is inevitable in our modern lifestyles, but there are certain coping skills linked to greater resiliency including exercise and mindfulness

Related: Mindful parenting with Inga Bohnekamp

  • What’s parenting have to do with this? Turns out, parenting style changes how our genes are expressed…nurturing parenting sets up children for a lifetime of resiliency, negligent parenting sets up children for a lifetime of more susceptibility to stress’s effects

Related: ACEs too high with Jane Stevens

  • And these changes to our children’s genes are heritable, meaning that not only can we change the trajectory of our family tree by shifting to a nurturing parenting style but also that our children’s children and grandchildren benefit from this choice

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

Curious as to what nurturing parenting looks like? Check out API’s approach.

A resource for newly at-home parents: Transitioning Home workshops

Have you stepped out of the paid workforce to care for your children?

Some parents find themselves at home by choice, others by circumstance; some for a short time, others for the long-term. Either way, you likely have questions and thoughts that you’d like to share with someone who has been there, done that.

Family & Home Network is now inviting parents to join its signature 6-week online workshop, Transitioning Home.

Offered at no cost, but with limited seating to keep discussion groups small, these facilitator-led workshops meet weekly for conversation and reflection. There are optional readings and journal prompts between meetings.

Related: Transitioning home with Catherine Myers

This new handout offers a preview of one of the guided discussions in the Transitioning Home workshop series: Exploring Expectations.

Workshops will be held virtually through Mighty Networks. There are two options to join a Transitioning Home workshop: Sign up for Tuesdays at 1 pm EST or Thursdays at 3:30 pm EST. Start dates TBD, depending on enrollment. Evening workshops may be scheduled, depending on interest.

“Being at home certainly will change you, but it need not diminish you. It is as much about receiving as it is about giving, and the self you find at home may be a gift that cannot be purchased with the remunerations of the workplace.” ~ Nelia Odom

“Unfortunately, many aspects of mainstream culture create barriers to meeting children’s needs. Scientific studies are providing abundant proof of children’s needs—but it is difficult to change cultural practices, attitudes and policies.” ~ Catherine Myers

Change the world by ‘Breaking the Cycle’ with this free film viewing

Relationships rule the world. How the majority of people relate to one another shapes our society.

Right now, much of our society is stuck…in common-yet-dysfunctional relationship patterns that promote toughness (over tenderness) and isolation (over togetherness), and the results have been catastrophic on our well-being.

That’s why we celebrate the extremely timely release of “Breaking the Cycle.” This 6-minute educational short film is now available online for public viewing at no cost.

Produced by Kindred World, “Breaking the Cycle” was created by API Board of Directors member Darcia Narvaez, PhD, and API Resource Advisory Council member Lisa Reagan as part of The Evolved Nest project integrating research from across fields applicable to positive child development, parenting, and adult behavior.

President of Kindred World and founder of The Evolved Nest, Narvaez is a Professor of Psychology Emerita at the University of Notre Dame and has been ranked in the top 2% of scientists worldwide.

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

“Breaking the Cycle” illustrates humanity’s need, and capacity, to return Western society’s relational patterns from the current cycle of competitive detachment back to the healthy, peaceful cycle of cooperative companionship that ensured humanity’s survival for most of our time on Earth.

This powerful, and empowering, film is a call to each of us…to recognize the destructiveness of our current relational patterns (on others, to ourselves, and on our planet)…and then to do something about it!

We already know how to do it, and we have 95% of our human history as proof that it works. What we need is to prioritize the health of our parent-child relationships, in the home and beyond into our society’s framework. Change starts with awareness.

We invite you to watch “Breaking the Cycle” as your first step. Share far and wide. Host viewing parties. Here’s a guide to get the discussion going with others.

Learn more about breaking the cycle of competitive detachment in Narvaez’s book, Neurobiology and the Development of Human Morality: Evolution, Culture and Wisdom.

What about boys? Trinidad & Tobago advocates discuss ACE effects and buffers

On May 16, observed as World Day of the Boy Child, the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago’s Dr. Jerome Teelucksingh organized a virtual event with other Caribbean child advocates to discuss the effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) on boys and men, a problem found in many cultures around the world.

The recording of “ACEs and the Boy Child” is now available for public viewing at no cost. Here are some highlights:

  • Our culture has made monumental strides with girls and ACEs awareness, through the feminism movement, but we must be sure not to leave boys behind!
  • Our culture focuses a lot on adults’ mental health needs and less so on children’s mental well-being. Neglecting mental health in boys, however, comes out later as violence when those boys have grown into men.

Related: ACEs too high with Jane Stevens

  • When a child is exposed to chronic toxic stress, the amydala (the fear center of the brain) becomes overactive and the prefrontal cortex (the executive functioning region of the brain) remains under-developed, resulting in a child who has trouble focusing and learning, may be hyperactive, have oppositional issues, etc.
  • ACEs are listed as emotional, physical, or sexual abuse; emotional or physical neglect; mental illness in a parent; an incarcerated parent; domestic violence among the parents; a parent involved in substance abuse; and divorce in the family. Other possible stress events that researchers are considering for the ACE list include poverty, physical punishment such as spanking, child labor, generational trauma, and environmental issues. The original ACE study (1998) and many follow-up studies show a very strong correlation between number of ACEs with serious physical and mental health conditions in adulthood, as well as behavioral issues in the child while in school and the propensity for the physically abused child to become a violent adult.
  • ACEs aren’t about merely pointing out that certain childhood stresses have toxic effects on lifelong physical and mental health, but about identifying the reason for needed positive change in our children’s lives.

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

  • Healing from toxic stress is not related as much to what a child has been exposed to, but that he has the support he needs to process what he has been exposed to. Our main focus as parents and professionals must be on finding spaces and people where boys feel safe and emotionally supported to work through their questions and make sense of their experiences.
  • Masculinity is defined differently in different regions of the world, and that definition may or may not contribute to ACEs. Shame-based masculinity messages, as well as silent trauma accrued through punishments a child receives, affect the quality of nurturing that boys offer their own children when they become fathers.
  • The big takeaway for raising boys is to make sure our sons have a positive male role model in their lives; if not the father, a grandfather or neighbor or teacher/coach. It’s important that this role model embodies positive male character traits, especially humility.

Related: Nurturing doesn’t spoil kids

  • It’s also important to guide our sons to value people in working-class occupations, not celebrities or pro-athletes, because most men in our culture (and probably our families) are in working-class jobs.
  • Mothers are equally important in boy development. Our sons need to feel welcomed and loved by their mothers. It’s important to guide them with the assurance that they can talk to their mothers about any problems they encounter.
  • We must take care in disciplining our children, both boys and girls.

Nonviolent Communication can change your parenting world, here’s a free resource to get started

Gentle parenting can have a profound impact on us parents as people. One way is in our everyday language.

The way that many people in our society tend to relate to one another promotes divisiveness, reflecting our mainstream culture’s struggle with how to cultivate unity and acceptance of diversity.

Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is an approach to interpersonal communication that dovetails well with our parenting goal of high-empathy relationship-building. Many parents have commented to API on how learning NVC was a gamechanger not only in relating to and disciplining their children but also in how they individually related to others in their families, on the job, and through life.

Related: Practicing NVC

Related: Where to draw the line? Exploring boundaries, limits, and consequences

Our words and actions are the outward expression of our thought patterns. The NVC process aims to challenge our belief foundations regarding human dignity and respect so that our verbal and nonverbal language matches our goals for relating to others.

NVC offers a variety of online and in-person resources, as well as this free ebook.

API’s resources, including certified parent educators and local parent support groups, can help you take the next step in applying respect-centered language to your family relationships.

Editor’s Note: API’s role in “growing up” as a mother

Fifteen years ago, I celebrated my first Mother’s Day. I was 25, a few years out of college and into my journalism career, and in my fifth month of pregnancy with my oldest daughter.

While parenting was a future goal, this pregnancy came a few years earlier than I was planning. Neither my husband nor I had given any thought about our parenting approach, or even that there were different approaches to raising a child. I figured it would come instinctively.

Oh, it came alright…about three months early. My daughter was born about a month after Mother’s Day 2006, and I was unceremoniously propelled into full-on motherhood without a clue of what to do when.

But having a preemie proved to be a blessing in this way, in that I relied on the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) nurses to teach me everything I didn’t know about how to care for a newborn with special needs. Kangaroo Care, breastpumping, bottle nursing, consistent and present care, nighttime parenting, finding a like-minded parenting support network

This was only the beginning.

Today, my oldest daughter is a month shy of her 15th birthday. Her sister is 13, her brother is 9, and her angel sister has been in our hearts for three years. I have been a mother for 15 years. My children have grown leaps and bounds physically and in maturity, but more so have I.

API served as my foundation for learning how to be a mother, and motherhood served as my foundation for learning how to be the kind of person I always wanted to be.

I am a firm believer that women are meant to “grow up” as mothers at the same time that they are guiding their children to grow up as people. I know that I, at 40, am a long way from my 25-year-old self and feel that I owe most of my personal transformation to the life lessons learned through motherhood…with API as my own guide.

I’m excited to be back as Editor of API, to help parents by highlighting research-backed ideas as we nurture our children and youth for a more compassionate world. Check back often to API’s blog to get inspiration and support on your own parenting journey.

                      ~ Rita

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