New study: Teens with secure family relationships bring more empathy to peer conversations

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.”

WBW 2021: Protect breastfeeding by protecting nurturing

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.

New study: Spanking harmful to child development, over time promotes misbehavior

Spanking and other forms of physical punishment toward children are now banned in 62 nations around the globe.

Yet, this increasingly disproved child-raising practice remains legal in all 50 U.S. states with 19 states allowing physical punishment in schools. American children are far from an isolated group – 63% of children ages 2-4 worldwide are regularly subjected to physical punishment by parents or other caregivers.

Related: “I was spanked, and I’m fine!”

A new study by an international group of scientists located in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States underscores what much research previously has already discovered – that physical punishment of children does more harm than good. In fact, this new study details that physical punishment not only is not effective against preventing child misbehavior, but predicts increases in misbehavior over time.

The study, a review of previous research, only examined studies involving physical punishment that did not constitute child physical abuse. The majority of studies reviewed – 61 of 69 – were conducted in the U.S.

Related: What pro-spanking research misses

The study found that physical punishment of children correlates strongly with an increased risk of behavior problems in that child as well as an increased risk that the child could experience future abuse or neglect. These negative outcomes occurred no matter the child’s gender, race, or ethnicity, or the overall parenting style of the child’s caregivers. A higher frequency of physical punishment increased the elevated risk of these outcomes further.

Published in The Lancet on June 28, this new study was funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the UK Economic and Social Research Council.

Related: Stop hitting! An interview with Nadine Block, cofounder for the Center for Effective Discipline and Spankout April 30th

Related: Stop hitting kids in school, an interview with Nadine Block

U.S. Economist: Don’t neglect the power of healthy families for a healthy economy

Much talk surrounding the foundations of a robust national economy ignores the role of healthy families, especially those in which one parent may not participate full time in the paid workforce.

University of Chicago (U.S.) economist James Heckman, however, is known for his research into how a nation that invests in policies that promote healthy families is investing in its future economy. While he supports expanding early child care and education programs, he does not disregard the critical value of a healthy childhood environment in the home.

Related: API’s Eight Principles of Parenting – Provide consistent and loving care

This Q&A-style article from AEI dives headlong into Heckman’s research-backed support for family-based, healthy child development in light of overcoming inequality and facilitating social mobility, reducing the need for government-sponsored welfare programs, and empowering the next generation of workforce. Heckman’s ideas are an unique approach to typical economy-strengthening discussions. Here are some takeaways:

  • Conditions that each person is born into plays a fundamental role in the trajectory of that person’s life. This goes beyond genetics and encompasses even what happens earlier in the family tree before his/her birth.

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

  • Biological brain development may be at the core of child development, but which way that brain development goes depends on that child’s interaction with parents, siblings, other people and society. Families can nourish brain development. They can also suppress it.

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

  • Nourished brain development creates a foundation of early skills that facilitate the accumulation of skills (learning) through life – through education, interaction with others, work experience, etc. Among these early skills are self-control, perseverance, and the ability to guide oneself. Once a person has these skills, it’s easier for him/her to learn and gain other skills. A good start to a life is almost self-propelling.

Related: Nurturing doesn’t spoil kids

  • While the brain never loses the ability to learn, it’s much harder the older you get. Babies learn the easiest, so that’s where the investment into his/her life has to happen because that’s what is setting the foundation of his/her life. This is not something you can hold off on and come back to later; if a baby doesn’t get the right foundation, he/she can still learn when older but it will be much harder because the foundation is shaky.

Related: Dear little me, a letter from my grownup self

  • Research is seriously lacking in the economic returns of a family’s impact on child outcome. Research shows high returns (13% per annum) on early childhood programs, but Heckman predicts that the returns on a healthy family’s impact on child outcome would far outpace (an estimated 30-40%) that of early childhood programs. Early childhood programs are only successful when they “turn on” the parents – the program empowers the parents, the parents get engaged. Reaching the mother, specifically, is the key.

Related: What really matters when it comes to daycare

  • Parent education and support are important for all families, though the disadvantaged will accrue the most benefits. What defines advantages in parenting? Rather than higher income, good parenting involves attachment, interaction, and engagement with the child – this is what builds the foundation of learning starting in infancy.

Related: A need for paid parental leave

  • When considering universal child care, especially in a society where mothers are encouraged and expected to work full time outside of the home, there is real danger of high-quality parenting being replaced by mediocre child-raising in child care centers. This has happened in Canada and elsewhere. Our society has to guard against this.

Related: Parental presence, real-life

  • While some high-quality child care programs are very generous in their investment into the child’s future, child care centers can’t compare to the value of a parent in that child’s life. The key is to support parents to provide the home life that best supports their children.

Raising an introverted child in an extroverted world? We have a resource for you

Many of us living in westernized nations find ourselves in a mainstream culture that caters more to extroversion than introversion, as this NPR article points out about the U.S., despite that personality research reveals that the global population splits fairly evenly between a tendency toward introversion or extroversion.

Extroversion and introversion are two of many character traits that are inborn – meaning an individual’s brain is hard-wired to gravitate toward more stimuli (extroversion) or less stimuli (introversion) to contribute toward their well-being. These character traits tend to gain attention when one of these temperament types is prized by the mainstream culture and the other is misunderstood.

Sometimes, this NYT article points out, extroverts and introverts may find themselves in the same family. Misperception of the other temperament can create challenges in the family dynamic including in the quality of parent-child relationship.

Nurturing parenting means loving each of our children as individuals with unique character traits. This can be difficult to do in a mainstream culture that increasingly blames behavior on disorders and difficult temperament. “Difficult” and “different” are not synonymous with “disordered.”

Among API’s resources is an issue of the Attached Family magazine, “Loving Uniquely,” which celebrates the differences between children and how parenting is rarely one-size-fits-all even within the confines of a family. We delve into temperament and how it intersects with parenting and the development of attachment style, and we challenge the notion that every hard-to-handle child needs a diagnosis.

Gain online access to this print issue to read these features:

  • “What is a Spirited Child?” with Dr. Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, author of Raising Your Spirited Child
  • “The Orchid Child” with API’s Sheena Sommers looking at the research behind genetic susceptibility
  • “Differences, Not Disorders” with Dr. Barbara Probst, author of When the Labels Don’t Fit
  • “The New Gender Gap” with Drs. Betsy Gunzelman and Diane Connell discussing how boys are falling behind in our society
  • “Avoiding a Meltdown” with API’s Leyani Redditi reminding parents of the most overlooked causes of tantrums

Plus:

  • API’s Art Yuen reviews the research at the intersection of parenting and infant temperament
  • Father of child temperament, Dr. Jerome Kagan, weighs in
  • A quiz to parents on whether your child of any age is spirited
  • API Leaders discuss how to handle a violent tantrum and the toddler who wants to touch everything
  • Quick tips on dealing with public tantrums
  • API’s Lisa Lord shares her personal story on raising a challenging child
  • API’s Rita Brhel offers insight to food texture issues
  • Results of API’s Reader Poll on child spiritedness
  • Additional resources from around the world on loving our children uniquely

Why self-care may not be working for you

Among API’s Eight Principles of Parenting is #8 – Strive for balance in your personal and family life.

This, many parents agree, may be the hardest principle of all to follow. It’s not that we don’t want to. Sometimes, balance seems impossible to attain in our child’s current developmental stage or a particular calendar season.

Related: The chaos theory, the search for personal balance amidst parenthood

Other times, we may really be trying…giving a list of ideas a fighting chance…but it just doesn’t seem to be making any difference. You’re drained, stressed, and it’s spilling over into your family life.

Paces Connection recently shared about what may be happening when it seems that self-care isn’t working. Here are some take-aways from the article:

  • Self-care is not the same as self-improvement. Self-improvement is about changing who you are. Self-care is about restoring yourself to who you currently are. Self-care has no agenda. It may look like a hobby, spending time out in nature, alone or with other people, but the common denominator is that the goal is not self-improvement and no real goal other than to re-center the self.

Related: The self-care challenge

  • Self-care is most nurturing when it combines physical care with emotional/spiritual care.
  • People with a history of trauma need to give themselves extra time and gentleness with discovering what works best for their self-care. Those who have experienced physical abuse, for example, may have difficulty with a massage.

Some classic self-care techniques to try:

  • Mindful meditation – sitting in the quiet, allow yourself to identify and feel your emotions without holding them back or acting on them. Warning: This may trigger panic attacks in some people. What then? Try looking out the window for a few minutes and simply observe what you see and hear. Absorbing handwork, such as sewing or gardening or carpentry, can also serve as a meditation alternative.

Related: Mindful Parenting with Inga Bohnekamp

  • Yoga or Dance – movement is often soothing to a stressed body. Warning: This is not time to focus on using exercise to improve your body image! Instead, combine this non-competitive physical activity with mindful meditation and emotion processing.
  • Journaling – writing allows the brain to connect new ideas, explore feelings, and philosophize. Warning: Do not let yourself fall into the trap of confusing journaling with writing! The end goal with journaling is not to get published or even be read by anyone. It’s to let your thoughts out of your head. Also, remember how the most nurturing self-care is both physical and emotional/spiritual? Typing may not yield the same restoration as handwriting.

Related: Writing for balance, an attachment parenting tool

  • Self-empathy – this piece of self-care can be done anytime, anywhere. Just as you empathize with your children or others, it’s important that you empathize with yourself. Basically it means not dismissing the feelings you have about yourself, but rather understanding that whatever your feelings, they are OK to have and have a reason. Warning: Don’t be hard on yourself if you are in the habit of dismissing your feelings. Acknowledge the habit and try again. The more you practice, the more solid those new brain connections become to change your habit of dismissing or self-empathizing.

What happens when nurturing is removed from a generation’s parenting style: Nazi Germany

Living where we live, wherever each of us lives, it can be difficult to consider how very differently parents in other parts of the world relate to their children.

You may be living somewhere that nurturing parenting is a foreign concept to anyone outside your family. You may be living somewhere that has a strong, supportive nurturing parenting group.

Looking around the globe, researchers have found that parenting styles vary – sometimes starkly – between geographic location, ethnicity, faith, and other cultural differences. Studies tend to agree on three main factors that define these differences in parenting style:

  • Emotional warmth – how loving, warm, and affectionate parents are toward children;
  • Autonomy – how much children are given a sense of control over their lives;
  • Structure – how much children’s lives are predictable and organized.

Related: The 4 parenting styles, what works and what doesn’t

These factors combined have significant influence on child development, including parent-child secure attachment; in other words, the psychological connectedness felt by the child toward the parent, which is then applied to every relationship in that child’s life including in his or her adulthood.

Being able to relate in a healthy, positive way with another human – as the result of secure attachment – is obviously an important piece to that child’s lifelong well-being.

Related: Why early attachment matters for childhood and beyond

So how does a secure parent-child attachment happen? It comes down to the primary caregiver’s sensitivity to her baby/child’s desire for physical and emotional closeness and comfort particularly when baby/child is angry, sad, scared, or otherwise distressed.

How this happens in the (typically) mother-child relationship between birth and age 3 years is foundational, although ideally this sensitive responsiveness would continue through the child’s entire development.

Related: Who will baby attach to?

Related: The chemistry of attachment

This way of relating to our babies and children may be very different than the mainstream parenting culture where you live. It does require a shift in thinking away from the past few generations of advice that derived from the counter-biological idea that parents shouldn’t develop healthy emotional bonds with their children.

If we look at parenting during the Nazi regime in Germany, we see how this “anti-attachment” style of parenting influenced a nation into embracing the Holocaust. A similar trend was started in the United States in the 1920s.

Related: Nurturing doesn’t spoil kids

The research that established the importance of a secure parent-child attachment began in the 1940s, but it wasn’t until the development of brain-imaging technology in the late 1990s that science was able to reinforce the validity of nurturing parenting.

Related: For better or worse, parenting changes your DNA

The invention of the Internet has expanded the reach of science-based, nurturing parenting education and support. However, while the latest trends spread like wildfire, ideas that challenge the status quo – despite those ideas being rooted firmly in research – can take longer to catch hold. Parenting is such a highly personal decision, often embedded with generations of influence.

Related: Historical trauma, breastfeeding, and healing

Part of the difficulty of encouraging more parents to incorporate nurturing back into their parenting style is that many Westernized cultures also extol the thought that the outcome of child-raising is pinned squarely, and almost exclusively, on the mother.

While the mother tends to be the parent with whom a baby/child bases his/her formation of relationship-building skills (secure or insecure attachment), unequivocally the more secure attachments a child develops, the better.

Related: Creating a village

Related: How secure sibling attachments happen

Dads, with Thiago Queiroz

API knows many gems of local parenting support leaders. This Father’s Day, I’m excited to introduce you to Thiago Queiroz–a father who has been absolutely on fire for supporting parents in his native Brazil since his oldest of 4 children were born 8 years ago.

Many parents have been able to “meet” Thiago through his part in the American documentary, Dads. Directed by Bryce Dallas Howard, daughter of Hollywood film director, Dads illustrates what she refers to as contemporary fatherhood, asking celebrities and everyday men what being father means to them. Premiered at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival where it was named second runner-up for the People’s Choice Award for Documentaries, Dads released in 2020 on Apple TV+.

Thiago is passionate about supporting parents, but especially fathers. We congratulate him on his work in normalizing nurturing among fathers through his portrait on Dads. Let’s get to know Thiago a bit more:

Q: To begin, please share about your family:

A: I’m married to Anne, and we now have 3 kids: Dante (8 years old), Gael (6 years old), Maya (2 years old), and my wife is also pregnant again. The baby is called, Cora and she’s expected to be born by the end of the year.

I’ve been an API Leader for around 8 years here in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Q: What brought you to API?

A: When my first son was born, I was feeling a bit lost, trying to understand how I could raise my child. My own parenting references were not of the attached kind, and the only thing I felt was that I wanted to do it differently with my child.

Related: Fatherly pushes for universal paid paternity leave, provides resource for U.S. dads

Also, for being a father in Brazil, I didn’t have any references of fathers who were actually involved in raising their kids, because our society only expects moms to really take care of their kids, while the dads are seen as unable to take care of a baby. That didn’t make any sense for me at that time (and still doesn’t), so I started researching different views on child rearing.

Gladly, I found API and getting to know [API’s 8 Principles of Parenting] was one of the best things that happened to me, because I started to understand how we can build strong emotional bonds with our children and more important: I understood how I, as a father, could do so many things with my baby toward a strong secure attachment.

Afterwards, I started helping API, so I translated its Principles into Portuguese and became a leader.

Q: So, how did you learn about the Dads film and come to be part of its cast?

A: Back in 2017, I received an email from the production team, which was interested in getting to know different dads around the world, for a new documentary on fatherhood they were going to work on. I honestly didn’t know much about the project itself, but since one of my missions is to advocate for responsible and attached fatherhood, I offered myself to help in any way I could.

I never heard from them again until mid-2018, when they sent me another email saying they really wanted to film my story and were going to fly a crew down to Brazil to film me and my family.

From that point on, everything was just too fast: They arrived one week later, because they were in a hurry to finish the documentary. There was only one story left to film, which was my story, because one of the stories they filmed (also from a Brazilian dad) didn’t actually work out and had to be removed from the film. So, yes, everything was just too fast!

Q: What was it like for your family to be included in Dads?

A: We’ve never participated in anything like that, so everything was new to us. The crew spent a whole weekend here with us, filming us and interviewing me and my wife. Even though we had a lot of people here, they were so professional we barely noticed them filming our daily routines.

So it was normal life for us, waking up Saturday, getting kids breakfast, taking care of our children, playing with them until I could put them in bed, so most of the time the crew was quietly shooting our normal activities.

I also host a fatherhood podcast with a couple friends (it’s called Tricô de Pais), so the crew filmed a recording session of my podcast, which was really nice, too.

On Sunday, they filmed a bit more of our routines and started the interviews with me and my wife, which was very funny because here only me and my wife speak English, not the kids, so they were really amazed in having all the different people with us, speaking a weird language.

It was an amazing experience!

I still didn’t know much about the project, because I only wanted to help promote an attached fatherhood. So only Sunday night, the producers showed me a bit about the documentary and only then I realized it was a huge thing – a film directed by Bryce Howard and with Will Smith on the casting. We were totally blown away with that and really happy to see how far the message of a more loving fatherhood could be spread.

Q: What are your thoughts about Dads as a film?

A: I think the film is extremely important in today’s society. We need to have more examples and role models for diverse and loving fatherhoods (yes, in plural!). Fatherhood is not a simple thing and being able to show the world how different men can care and love their children is not only important but urgent.

Q: What responses have you received from others who’ve viewed Dads?

A: The responses were amazing. I keep receiving messages from dads all over the world on my Instagram page (@paizinhovirgulaoficial), saying they learned a lot and also cried a lot watching my story on the film. It’s so important to have this feedback, because those similar experiences are exactly what connect us.

Related: Dads, talk about being a father

So having a mainstream documentary on fatherhood is a huge thing, especially when this documentary takes the subject very seriously, not portraying fathers as buffoons or mothers’ helpers.

Q: What is it like to challenge the status quo of fatherhood in Brazil?

A: It’s very challenging, because people around me, especially men, don’t understand why I should be taking care of my kids so closely and lovingly if “there’s already a mother doing this.”

Related: Tips for new fathers in bonding with their newborns

We live in a society which has a strong “macho” culture, so it’s difficult to find peers who understand the importance of creating strong and safe bonds between fathers and children.

Q: So, what tips can you offer men to rise to this challenge of choosing to be nurturing fathers?

A: My tip is, look out for other men like you. We might not be many yet, but we really need to get together and start talking about toxic masculinity, for instance, and how it affects the way we parent our children.

Related: Dynamics of disappearing dads with Meryn Callander

Being a nurturing dad is the best gift you can give to your child, but also to yourself, your wife, and society. Let’s find our peers and overcome these challenges, inviting other men to reflect on this, too.

Q: Thank you so much, Thiago, for your time and insights! Is there anything else you’d like to share?

A: Please watch Dads, and if this film touched your heart and makes sense to you, I suggest watching The Mask You Live In [directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom], which is another documentary on manhood. It’s impossible to become truly a nurturing dad without rediscovering yourself as a man.

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