Better than a time machine

By Rita Brhel • 3 min read

flower-1445014-mYour life experiences have made you who you are. They shaped you into the person you are today.

For some of us, this may not be a bad thing. Despite life’s challenges, we have overcome. And we are now free to share and inspire and support others on their journeys to hopefully do the same.

For others, if there was an option to go back in time and make a different choice at a critical point in time, we would gladly do so – no matter how much change would occur after that choice, because any change to our lives would be better than where we’re at now.

Of course we don’t have a time machine. We can’t go back in time and make different choices. We have to live with what our lives have become, for better or for worse.

And for many of us, what set the stage of our life’s challenges date back clear into childhood. It wouldn’t have made any difference what choices we had made. The choices that mattered, that determined our life course, were those of our parents.

And according to a recent study by Johns Hopkins University and published in the December 2014 edition of the journal Health Affairs, the choices of parents are affecting nearly half of all children’s lives — and not in a good way.

The study found, from analyzing data from the 2011-12 National Survey of Children’s Health, that 48 percent of all children in the United States have experienced an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE), basically a fancy name for childhood trauma.

My colleague, Jane Stevens of ACEs Too High, can more fully explain the science behind the ACE. While not every hurt qualifies as an event severe enough to detour a child’s emotional development, what does qualify as an ACE is scientifically shown to be traumatic enough to a child to cause lasting effect, including:

  • Living in extreme poverty
  • Experienced parental separation or divorce
  • Lived with someone with alcoholism or substance abuse
  • Witnessed or a victim of neighborhood violence
  • Lived with someone who is mentally ill or suicidal
  • Witnessed domestic violence
  • Had a parent who served time in jail
  • Been a victim of racial or ethnic discrimination
  • Experienced the death of a parent.

So, to review, 48 percent of all U.S. children – nearly every 1 in 2 children – have experienced one of these childhood traumas. In addition, 23 percent of U.S. children have experienced two or more of these traumatic events.

Those are startling statistics.

Even more so, that list of childhood events that qualify as a traumatizing ACE don’t even seem that bad in some cases. Probably anyone reading this knows someone who has experienced separation or divorce, for example. It’s so common that it now seems deceivingly benign. But an ACE is nothing to underestimate.

Besides being emotionally traumatizing in the short-term, research reveals that ACEs predispose children to eventually develop chronic disease as adults, such as cancer, heart disease and mental illness, as well as being a perpetrator or victim of violence. The more ACEs a person has, the greater his or her risk.

On an individual level, these outcomes of ACEs are devastating. On a societal level, ACEs are responsible for a great chunk of workplace absenteeism and for much of the costs in health care, mental health case and criminal justice.

And ACEs are unlikely to occur alone – having one ACE means you’re more likely to have two or more. So the children involved in the Johns Hopkins study who were found to have just one ACE are not in the free and clear: Follow-up studies are likely to find that these children acquired additional ACEs with age.

At this point, I want to make something clear: I believe that the vast majority of parents are doing the very best they can with the resources and support that are available to them.

And at any one time, numerous parent support organizations are working to expand their services to be able to offer and provide more and better, free or low-cost support to mothers and fathers who are actively striving to improve their parenting skills and family relationships.

We are not able to jump in a time machine, turn the clock back and undo a choice that we made at a critical point in our child’s life, but we can resolve to start right now — in this moment — to move toward making better choices in the future. And there are organizations, like Attachment Parenting International, available to help you do this.

And for those of you who are not parents, it is a sound investment to donate — little or small — to parent support organizations, for a better future not only for today’s children but for tomorrow’s society.

Parents: Are you flourishing?

By Rita Brhel • 1 min read

red-day-lily-1393671-mWe, as parents, often ask ourselves whether we feel our children are doing okay – if they are flourishing? We are more likely to closely monitor this in our children and make adjustments accordingly so that our children can flourish.

But we are less likely to ask ourselves if we are doing okay.

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How Our Childhood Affects Our Health as Adults

By Rita Brhel • 3 min read

hospital-handIt has been awhile since I’ve written. I feel too young to be writing it, but I have been dealing with some serious health issues. After being ill for a long time, I stubbornly visited a new doctor who referred me on to a specialist and now I have a diagnosis for what’s been ailing me for years and increasingly getting worse until this summer, when I was too sick and weak for many weeks to even sit at my home computer: an autoimmune condition called Sjogren’s Syndrome, primary type.

The diagnosis is a relief in some ways: I now have an explanation for a collection of confusing symptoms and I have a starting place for learning how to manage those symptoms and work toward wellness — well, at least more wellness than I’ve been having lately. But in other ways, it’s a hard thing to swallow. I was hopeful for a diagnosis that included some sort of easy fix, like a diet or magic pill that took it all away. The treatment for Sjogren’s is far from that.

My doctor feels that I may have had Sjogren’s for much longer than I thought I did, that my recurrent kidney stones starting way back in college may have been my first sign of things to come. But knowing what I know from my journalistic connections through Attachment Parenting International, I wonder if there weren’t tell-tale signs even earlier.

Last spring, I had the opportunity to talk with a fellow health journalist, Jane Ellen Stevens, editor of ACEs Too High, a news site that reports on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and our society. ACEs refer to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Kaiser Permanente’s Health Appraisal Clinic in San Diego, California, USA. The ACE Study investigated associations between childhood maltreatment and later-life health and well-being.

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Sensitive Responsiveness and the Bigger Picture

By Rita Brhel • 2 min read

handsIs it enough that our children survive? Is it enough that our children grow up into adults who can be functioning members of society–who can choose to marry and have children, who can get and keep a job and pay their bills? Should we be thinking about the bigger picture?

And what is that bigger picture?

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What’s the Big Deal with Attachment Parenting?

By Rita Brhel • 4 min read
Photo courtesy of Free Images. Photo by Teresa Howes of Mt. Brydes, ON, Canada

Photo courtesy of Free Images. Photo by Teresa Howes of Mt. Brydes, ON, Canada

I hear, from time to time, that Attachment Parenting is not the only way to form a secure attachment with your child.

“Attachment” is very literally the relationship style between parent and child, and “secure” or “insecure” describes the quality of that relationship style. Secure attachment develops out of an appropriate and sensitive responsiveness to a child by a consistent, loving caregiver. Consistency and sensitivity, especially in moments of distress, are key.

The hallmark of a secure parent-child attachment is trust but also includes affection and empathy. Children with insecure attachment are more likely to have difficulty with social skills, behavior and emotional self-regulation, language development and school readiness, as well as more likely to develop low self-esteem and obesity, to name a few. Adults with insecure attachment continue to struggle with relationships and stress-coping.

Often, the question above is being asked by someone referring to the stereotypical “attachment parenting” lifestyle—the vision coming to mind of a mother giving birth at home, wearing her baby in a sling, breastfeeding through toddlerhood and other child rearing techniques that constitute choices some parents make but are not what define Attachment Parenting.

Attachment Parenting is a term that covers any parenting philosophy with the goal of forming secure parent-child attachment. The attachment parenting lifestyle is included under the Attachment Parenting umbrella, but it’s far from the only option.

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Different, Not Disordered: an interview with Dr. Barbara Probst

By Rita Brhel • 13 min read

Dr. Barbara ProbstWe often hear the importance of treating children fairly, but at Attachment Parenting International (API), we advocate rather to love each of our children uniquely. Because every child—just like every adult—is one of a kind, each individual parent-child relationship forms to the distinctive shape of each other’s differences in temperament, interests, opinions, aversions, conversions and other subtle nuances of what makes each person and their interactions unique.

API celebrates every person’s unique traits, but some children’s differences set them apart from societal expectations enough that daily interactions—whether at home, childcare or school—can be challenging. Rather than viewing our children through the lens of understanding, however, our society’s response is often to see these differences as “symptoms” of a disorder and to follow up with treatments that may not resolve the problem.

I am excited to share a discussion with Barbara Probst, PhD, LCSW, author of When the Labels Don’t Fit, on her approach to facilitate understanding among parents and teachers in order to discover a new relationship with sometimes-challenging children based on appreciation and respect instead of illness.

RITA: What inspired your alternative approach to “treating” children whose differences often lead them to being diagnosed with disorder?

DR. PROBST: I feel quite strongly about the way our culture seems to be viewing every difference, difficulty, struggle and quirk—every extreme or unusual behavior—as a disorder, especially when it comes to kids!

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Pocket Full of Feelings: An Interview with Dr. Ann Corwin

By Rita Brhel • 5 min read
Ann_small (2)

Dr. Ann Corwin

Part of the core of Attachment Parenting is teaching our children about emotions—what they’re feeling and what to do about it, as well as how to empathize with others—a skill referred to as “emotional literacy” by parenting consultants like Ann Corwin, PhD, MEd, of Laguna Niguel, California, USA.

We know more than ever that emotional literacy is critical for healthy human development. Unfortunately it’s a skill that was not regularly nurtured in past generations, and many parents are learning about difficult emotions like jealousy and disappointment alongside their children. It was evident as I talked with Ann, mother to two grown children, that her life’s passion is in empowering parents in strengthening their relationships with their children and that emotional literacy is very much central to her work.

RITA: Thank you, Ann, for your time. Let’s start by learning how you came into your line of work?

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Are You an Attachment Parent?

By Rita Brhel • 3 min read

By Jennifer Scoby, Reprinted with permission by Attachment Parenting International, Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

624188_take_my_handAttachment Parenting International is often contacted by confused parents like a mother who recently asked, “I no longer breastfeed my baby, but I try to babywear and I like the idea of having a securely attached relationship and using positive discipline. Is it OK to do some of Attachment Parenting but not all of it?”

Many parents could be disillusioned about what it fundamentally means to practice Attachment Parenting and where they fall into the parenting philosophy spectrum. How many parents out there wonder where they fit in?

As far as we’re concerned, you can babywear, breastfeed, cosleep, be a stay-at-home parent and more but still not be practicing Attachment Parenting if you don’t let yourself get emotionally attached to your baby or child. Or you can choose to do almost none of the above parenting techniques and still practicing Attachment Parenting as long as you form a genuine emotional connection with your child.

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Children Are People, and We Don’t Hit People

By Rita Brhel • 1 min read
children's toy

It’s time to acknowledge that children are people.

That may sound silly, but there are parents who swear by discipline methods that don’t reflect their child’s value as a person.

This reminds me, there’s new study led by George Holden of Southern Methodist University has found—based on real-time audio recordings of parents who volunteered to wear a wire during their daily interactions—that of parents who use corporal discipline, spanking and slapping is a very frequent child-rearing practice. Read about the study here. While in other studies, which were based on parent self-reports, it was found that the average parent spanked only as a last resort for severe misbehavior, Holden’s audio recordings revealed that spanking was used as a first-line discipline method for even trivial misbehavior and that children tended to misbehave again within 10 minutes of being punished.

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Emotional Eating: An Interview with Dr. Marian Tanofsky-Kraff, obesity researcher

By Rita Brhel • 5 min read

fried-fish-and-chips-1441540-mFeeding a child involves more than providing nutrients. From birth on, there is a very strong emotional component. This is easiest to recognize with babies and toddlers, who rely on comfort sucking as a way to cope with stress. But we continue to see it far beyond these early years, such as in how we crave a cookie or soft drink while unwinding after a hard day.

This tendency to comfort ourselves through food is called “emotional eating.” We all do it sometimes, but some people rely on emotional eating as a primary coping mechanism, and this can lead to problems such as binge eating or obesity. Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are also related because those affected find a level of comfort through controlling their food intake. The common link is an unhealthy relationship with food.

Attachment Parenting International addressed this topic during Attachment Parenting Month 2009, when the theme “Full of Love” sparked discussions on how family relationships, particularly secure parent-child attachment, can promote a healthy relationship between children and food, and lower the risk of obesity and other eating disorders. I interviewed Marian Tanofsky-Kraff, PhD, as part of the effort.

Dr. Tanofsky-Kraff is an associate psychology professor at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, as well as an obesity researcher at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, both located in Bethesda, Maryland, USA. Previously, she was a binge-eating disorders research associate at the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders in New Haven, Connecticut, USA. Her research program evaluates interpersonal psychotherapy with adolescent girls at high risk for obesity.

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