How Babies Uncovered the Mystery About Our Common Fear of Spiders

A fear of spiders is something we are all born with, according to a new study.

Ghosts, skeletons, and vampires may give us the creeps this Halloween, but a fear of spiders is something we are all born with, according to a new study.
This fear, technically called arachnophobia (as the 1990 movie by the same name made famous), can cause crippling anxiety for some people and impact their daily life. For years, scientists have been trying to figure out why so many people are afraid of spiders, even in places where they hardly ever come in contact with them. While some experts assumed that we learn this fear from our surroundings as children, others believed it was innate.
Now scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences discovered that the fear is quite real and, in fact, hereditary. During their research, the scientists showed pictures of spiders along with more typically pleasing images, like flowers and fish, to a group of six-month-old infants. The scientists noticed that the children’s pupils dilated significantly when they looked at the spiders. Dilated pupils are a typical measure of the fight-or-flight stress response. The average pupil dilations were 0.14 mm when viewing the spiders, but only 0.03 mm for the flowers – a considerable reaction.
Remarkably, past studies found that babies did not have this same reaction when shown pictures of rhinos, bears, or other typically dangerous animals. This latest research, therefore, proves that babies as young as six months felt stressed out from looking at spiders long before they could have been taught to have this reaction from their parents or through experience.
The research team went on to conclude that arachnophobia has evolutionary origins. There is a part of our brain that causes us to identify certain objects as dangerous so we can react quickly in order to survive. This inherited stress reaction ultimately led to humans associate spiders with fear and unpleasantness, and that we must avoid them at all costs.
According to evolutionary biologist Gordon H. Orians in his book “Snakes, Sunrises, and Shakespeare”, many responses to our environment throughout history have been rooted in our survival mode. These experiences led to some of the ingrained, instinctual fears that are genetically programmed in us today.
Other common fears include snakes, microbes, pointed objects, leopard spots, rugged terrain, and eyes. Maybe it’s time to stop singing the “itsy bitsy spider” song to your littles, and definitely don’t dress up like a tarantula for Halloween.
In all seriousness, though, it’s crucial to understand where certain fears stem from so that we can address them properly with our children. Talk to your kids about their worries; if they bottle them up, it will only get worse. Let them know their concerns are common and that others experience them, too. Show that you understand what they’re going through by sharing your own personal anxiety stories, and reassure them that you’re there to support them whenever they become frightened.
It may take some simple distraction techniques to help kids overcome their fear instincts. If it becomes so bad that their fears interfere with their daily life, you may want to talk to your pediatrician.

Solving the Addiction Crisis Begins With Breaking the Stigma

The stigma around addiction has enormous consequences, not just for our health care system, but how our entire culture views addictive behavior.

This article is the second in a 12-part series about the U.S. addiction crisis. In the interest of compassionate conversation and eliminating stigma, we’ve chosen language that’s cultivated by the Research Recovery Institute and hope it inspires you to as well.
The U.S. drug crisis is impacting everyone, from young children to first responders to librarians. In grappling with this overwhelming life-or-death problem, we may have overlooked one group – drug users – and the way our language generates stigma that only fuels the epidemic.
In his report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health, former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy argues for a “cultural shift” in how we approach addiction. “For far too long,” Murthy writes, “too many in our country have viewed addiction as a moral failing.” The consequence of this definition is an “added burden of shame that has made people with substance use disorders less likely to come forward and seek help.”
The way in which addiction is framed has enormous consequences, not just for how our health care system treats addiction, but how our entire culture views addictive behavior.

“Choice” has consequences

When addiction is framed as a choice, drug treatment is not a medical necessity, but an elective procedure. Historically, that has meant that drug treatment and recovery programs were prohibitively expensive for many people.
Prior to 2014, only one in 10 addicts sought treatment. That low treatment rate was certainly related to limited access to care. It was also related to the stigma that those in the healthcare profession held toward addicts. One study found that healthcare workers have lower regard for their addicted patients than patients with other conditions.
The choice model doesn’t only impact treatment options for addiction. The phrase “war on drugs” suggests that drug abusers are bad guys who have taken the wrong side. Sentencing laws group drug users alongside others deemed to have moral failings sufficiently poisonous to require removal from society.
“Choice” makes it simple to deny treatment to or promote the incarceration of people who elect to become addicted. The choice metaphor has also allowed anyone who hasn’t made the same choice to ignore the problem. Choice implies blame, and this blame has helped us avoid taking any societal responsibility for the drug crisis.
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fists raised in solidarity with substance abuse disorder
 

Parent Co. partnered with Aspenti because they know that carrying the weight of the addiction crisis is everyone’s responsibility.

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How the disease model reduces stigma

The disease model of addiction shifts our national focus from blame to recovery. Under a disease model, addicts are not immoral. They are ill.
Under the Affordable Care Act, addiction treatment became an “essential benefit,” meaning that 2.8 million people suffering from addiction now have coverage. That coverage – especially in states that accepted Medicare expansions – is almost certainly saving lives, as it now covers not only inpatient detox, but also counseling and medication.
Under a disease model, addicts are not criminals. They’re citizens in need of assistance. Portugal, faced with similar drug problems as the U.S., redefined addiction as a disease both medically and legally, expanding medical treatment and decriminalizing drug use. Rather than jailing drug users, Portugal brings them to hearings with social workers.
When drug users are not afraid of arrest, they are also more likely to seek treatment. Now, the rate of drug-related death in Portugal is six per million. In the United States, it’s 312 per million.
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The language of addiction

Efforts to replace the language of choice with the language of disease are already improving access to treatment. But this is not the only language that needs to change.
We don’t talk about heart transplant patients as being “dirty,” but we do talk about drug addicts that way. We don’t talk about cancer patients “relapsing” when their cancers return, but addicts relapse all the time. We don’t demand that people suffering from cancer apologize for their cancers or that people who have had a heart transplant apologize for their diseased organs, even if these people exhibited many dangerous behaviors that contributed to their health problems.
The very word “addict” is a problem. We don’t describe people with cancer as “cancers,” or people who have had heart transplants as “heart transplants.” When we use the word “addict,” we reduce a person to an illness. That term creates stigma despite efforts to view addiction as a medical problem.
Look back to the preceding paragraphs and notice the use of “addict,” and “drug abuser.” Although those paragraphs argue for a compassionate response to addiction, they unintentionally heap blame and shame on people suffering from it.
The Recovery Research Institute‘s Addiction-ary promotes more specific and compassionate addiction vocabulary. Taking its cue from mental health advocates who have shifted the national conversation from “the disabled” to “people with disabilities,” the RRI advocates “person-first” language.
Terms like “abuser” and “addict” define a person in terms of addiction. This definition generates stigma that leads to lower quality care and even discourages people from seeking treatment. Changing our vocabulary to person-first language can help reduce stigma by textually reminding ourselves that people suffering from substance use disorders are just that: people. Not “junkies” or “abusers” or “addicts.” People.
The RRI also advocates avoiding language that implies blame. Instead of “lapse” or “slip,” the RRI recommends more medically-appropriate terms like “resumed” or “recurred.”
Using person-first, blame-neutral language is a good start. Yet one of the greatest challenges comes from a word we probably don’t even think about: “drug.”
The word “drug” is stunningly unspecific. Culturally, it carries many negative connotations, whether the subject is “illicit drugs” or “drug companies.” The word is so stigmatized that many will often reject drugs even when they would be medically beneficial.
Part of better addiction treatment and recovery is greater specificity. Instead of “drug,” the Addiction-ary suggests “medication” when referring to a properly used drug, and “non-medically used psychoactive substance” when referring to illicit or improperly used drugs.

Treating substance use disorder as a moral issue

Addiction is a moral issue, but not for people with substance use disorders. When our society views substance use disorder as a sign of a flawed moral code, we absolve ourselves of any societal obligation to help.
Murthy describes addiction as a “moral test,” not for people with substance use disorders, but for all Americans: “Are we as a nation willing to take on an epidemic that is causing great human suffering and economic loss? Are we able to live up to that most fundamental obligation we have as human beings: to care for one another?”
Person-first. Blame-neutral. Drug-free. Choosing our words more carefully and demanding that media, healthcare, and research organizations do the same will help decrease the stigma of substance use disorders and pave the way to recovery.
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Parent Co. partnered with Aspenti because they know that carrying the weight of the addiction crisis is everyone’s responsibility.

 
 

Helping Kids Let Go Of "Sticky Thoughts" Using Mindfulness

As a clinical psychologist, I see a lot of kids (and adults for that matter) get “stuck” on thoughts. This exercise can help release them.

As a clinical psychologist, I see a lot of kids (and adults for that matter) get “stuck.” Through experiences, the words of others, or just by temperament, they become stuck in their thoughts about themselves, others, and the world. A lot of prevalent clinical presentations (think anxiety, depression, and oppositional/defiant behavior) come down to this type of “sticky” thinking.

Psychologists have long used the Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) idea of “thought challenging” to “get rid of” these types of thoughts. After explaining an “unhelpful” or “negative” thought to a psychologist, one may be met with a barrage of questions: “How likely is that to happen?” “Is that a helpful thought?” or “Is it true?” While helpful for some, CBT can place a lot of attention on our less helpful thoughts, even while trying to eliminate them. The more we push them away, the tougher they get.

I think of it like a garden: A seed that is watered grows into a tree, right? It grows bigger, stronger, and more permanent. That’s also what happens when we “water” (pay attention to) our thoughts. The neural pathway associated with the thought grows in strength, accessibility, and permanency. So, what if by engaging in CBT, the very act of challenging our thoughts to try to reduce them, is actually watering them instead?

Cue mindfulness and acceptance and commitment therapy. Mindfulness is really growing in popularity, but it is often seen as a bit of a minefield, perhaps even a bit flakey or “hippie.” It can be especially hard to explain it to young people. Basically, mindfulness is about being in the present moment, becoming aware of what’s happening in your mind (and body), but not judging your thoughts or trying to “get rid of them.” It’s about not “fusing” too strongly with them.

An example of being fused with a thought is this: I have a good friend who has a seven-year-old son. This kid is a complete champ. The top reader in his class, popular, and an absolute flipping expert on dinosaurs. But he doesn’t try anything new. Like, ever. He is so fused with the idea that he is good at everything, that something inside him doesn’t want to change that idea, so he doesn’t try anything that he may not be immediately good at. This type of fusion can cause kids to become “stuck.” Not only is he stuck on the idea that he needs to be good at everything all the time, but he’s also stuck in life, unable to enjoy new and exciting activities.

Enter defusion! Defusion can be next to impossible to explain without just doing it, especially to kids. Rather than go too scientifically into what it is, I’m just going to list some activities to practice it with your kids. By hearing about the activities, I think you’ll then know exactly what defusion is. In short, it’s the act of becoming less attached (fused) with your thoughts. Noticing them, but having them mean less, and thus not watering them into big, strong, hard-to-move trees.

Here we go!

1 | Write down everything you think of in one minute

Set a timer and have your kid write down whatever comes to mind in this time. No checking for spelling or grammar or worrying about handwriting. It’s best to handwrite and not type if possible. This stream of consciousness activity is a real winner. Writing down everything you think of in a minute can be hilarious and surprising. It also serves to help us to see that we can move past thoughts that we have and not get stuck in them.

In reading back what your kid has written with her, you’ll hopefully be able to identify positive thoughts (I can’t wait to go to the zoo tomorrow), neutral thoughts (that curtain is green), and negative thoughts (I hate my sister). We can teach our kids that when any of these thoughts come up, it’s possible to notice them, be aware what we’re thinking, and then move on to another aspect of our lives . We can then move in a valued direction, rather than watering the thoughts that we don’t want to grow.

We can teach them that it’s not only possible, but that they have already done it through the writing exercise. This exercise is the first step towards learning to accept thoughts without becoming fused with them. Older kids may move on to “Mindfulness Meditation” in time.

2 | Name that story

When you notice a specific pattern in your kid’s thinking (whether this be through the writing exercise or just in general conversation), it may be a good idea to put a name to it. Does he often talk about how he is “hopeless” or “no-one loves me”? That may be his “not good enough” story. This helps separate his thoughts (story) from who he is. It also stops both him and you from becoming fused with the thought.

I bet you’ve found yourself fused with your kid’s thoughts before, right? This might have looked like a long argument, such as: “Lots of people love you. I love you. Daddy loves you. Mr Biggles the cat loves you.” Or trying to convince him that the rollercoaster ride is not that scary with: “Look how much fun everyone else is having on it.” This is you stuck on his sticky thoughts, on his story. This arguing is similar to a CBT practice.

Rather than engaging in an argument and trying to convince him that his thoughts are not true, next time why not try giving the thought a name, and asking him, “Wow, here’s your ‘I’m not good enough’ story again – what do you want to do with it?” and see how that goes? You may just find that when the seed stops being watered, it shrinks.

3 | I am!

Kids can get stuck on their “I am” stories, like my seven-year-old buddy. “I am good at everything; I am an achiever,” or “I am anxious” or “I am naughty.” An idea to move past these sticky “I am” thoughts is to have your child write out on some poster paper all of the “I am” statements she can think of. I am a friend, I am an animal lover, I am a good basketball player, I am cheeky, I am scared sometimes. She can even draw pictures that go with each “I am.” Then explain: “I worry sometimes that you are getting a bit ‘stuck’ on this ‘I am.’”

It may be that she’s stuck on having to be good at everything, or it may be that she’s stuck on being anxious and generalizes this to being “just who she is.” Learning to let go of stuck “I ams” is such a valuable life skill.

Mindfulness people would say that it’s important not to fuse too strongly to any particular thought or any particular aspect of who we are. It’s important to be flexible in our thinking and in our lives, to not water the seeds of unhelpful thoughts, and hopefully to see them shrink!

Why Confidence in Yourself as Parent is What Really Matters

Turns out that whether or not you think you’re doing a good job as a parent might matter just as much as your parenting skills.

Would you describe yourself as a good parent? Turns out that whether or not you think you’re doing a good job as a parent might matter just as much as your parenting skills.

Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” In parenting research terms, this is referred to as parenting efficacy. Research suggests that whether or not you believe you’re able to provide the social, cultural, and emotional support your kid needs in ways that lead to positive development impacts his or her development.

Parenting efficacy is the extent to which parents feel capable of effectively managing the challenges their kids encounter. Several studies suggest that this parenting efficacy has an impact on children’s adjustment. It involves issues such as how far parents are willing to go to solve challenges, their stress levels, how they promote their kids’ self-efficacy, and the overall satisfaction they derive from parenting. Parenting efficacy is also influenced by whether or not parents feel supported, and by the positive relationships and interactions they share with others.

According to Bandura’s theory of self-efficacy, people with high self-efficacy are motivated, more likely to take on difficult tasks and to invest the necessary effort to complete tasks, and are also more likely to persevere. In contrast, those with low self-efficacy have greater self-doubt, higher levels of anxiety, avoid difficult tasks, and are more likely to view difficult situations as threats rather than challenges they’re able to overcome.

High parenting self-efficacy is particularly important in early childhood because this is an unpredictable period during which kids learn most. Moreover, the relationships built in early childhood set the stage for successful parent-child relationships in adolescence and beyond. Several studies have linked low parenting self-efficacy to problem behavior during early childhood and to issues such as substance abuse and delinquency in adolescence.

The good news is that self-efficacy is not a fixed trait. In other words, it’s possible to strengthen your parenting efficacy. Here are a few tips to help you promote effective parenting practices.

1 | Be in the know

Research confirms what we already know – when you feel competent in your parenting role, you are more likely to be warm, sensitive to your kids’ needs, and engaged in their learning and development. It’s easier to think of yourself as a competent parent when you have the skills to respond to your child’s needs.

Keeping up-to-date with information from reliable sources can help provide you with useful parenting information. That said, not all the information will necessarily apply to your family. It’s important to pick what works for you and your kid. Focus on both your strengths and weaknesses to decide what matters most and how best to get to your parenting objectives.

2 | Monitor, don’t spy

You’re more likely to feel confident in your parenting skills when you know what your kid is up to. According to the behaviorist theory, kids imitate the models with whom they identify. These models could be their friends and parents, but they could also be TV personalities or other people in kids’ environment. Several studies suggest that kids exposed to violent models are more likely to be less empathetic, engage in aggressive behavior, or demonstrate fearfulness.

It’s important to know who your kid is hanging out with and what he’s watching, but this doesn’t mean you need to spy on him. Watching his favorite show together at least once, playing video games together, and organizing play dates is an easy way to monitor your kid’s activities without spying.

3 | Work on your stress and depression levels

Parenting self-efficacy and stress levels are inseparable. Research suggests that parents with high stress and depression levels are more likely to have low parenting self-efficacy, and the higher parents’ self-efficacy levels, the less likely they are to suffer from anxiety, stress, and depression.

Working on the issues underlying your stress and depression can help increase your parenting self-efficacy. It’s also easier to help your kid manage her stress and anxiety when you have learned to manage yours.

Other studies suggest that parenting self-efficacy is also higher when kids are less emotional. Indeed, there are many occasions on which misbehavior can be explained by kids’ inability to manage difficult emotions. Using appropriate strategies to talk to kids about emotions and help them learn to manage those emotions by themselves can help strengthen your parenting self-efficacy.

4 | Strengthen your support network

The more supported you feel in your parenting, the more likely you are to develop a high level of parenting self-efficacy. Couple support is one of the most important determinants of this self-efficacy. Sharing parenting tasks with your partner reduces the feeling that you’re overwhelmed or stressed, and increases your confidence in your parenting.

Parenting support may also be provided by family and friends. There’s evidence that this support enables parents to deal better with stressful events and to feel that they’re doing a good job as parents. Strengthening your support network also means knowing whether or not to avoid people who constantly criticize your parenting.

5 | Strengthen your kid’s self-efficacy

Strengthening your kid’s self-efficacy also strengthens your parenting efficacy. There are several easy habits that foster kids’ autonomy. When you provide unstructured but creative environments, you motivate your kid to solve problems by herself and you also foster her creativity.

6 | Create opportunities to bond

Strong families spend time together. Creating opportunities to bond strengthens family relationships. If you don’t already have one, start a family ritual. If done right, family rituals can help the whole family connect, reduce sibling rivalry, and strengthen your parenting self-efficacy.

No matter what parenting style you choose, remember that believing in yourself is a job already half-done.

What This Magic Ratio Says About Your Relationship

For every negative interaction during conflict, a stable and happy marriage has five (or more) positive interactions.

Whether it’s about not having enough sex, the dirty laundry, or spending too much money, conflict is inevitable in every marriage.
To understand the difference between happy and unhappy couples, Dr. Gottman and Robert Levenson began doing longitudinal studies of couples in the 1970s. They asked couples to solve a conflict in their relationship in 15 minutes, then sat back and watched. After carefully reviewing the tapes and following up with them nine years later, they were able to predict which couples would stay together and which would divorce with over 90 percent accuracy.
Their discovery was simple. The difference between happy and unhappy couples is the balance between positive and negative interactions during conflict. There is a very specific ratio that makes love last.
That “magic ratio” is 5 to 1. This means that for every negative interaction during conflict, a stable and happy marriage has five (or more) positive interactions.
“When the masters of marriage are talking about something important,” Dr. Gottman says, “they may be arguing, but they are also laughing and teasing and there are signs of affection because they have made emotional connections.”
On the other hand, unhappy couples tend to engage in fewer positive interactions to compensate for their escalating negativity. If the positive-to-negative ratio during conflict is 1-to-1 or less, that’s unhealthy, and indicates a couple teetering on the edge of divorce.
So what’s considered a negative interaction?

The one negative interaction

Examples of negative interactions include another predictor of divorce, The Four Horsemen, as well as feelings of loneliness and isolation. While anger is certainly a negative interaction and a natural reaction during conflict, it isn’t necessarily damaging to a marriage. Dr. Gottman explains in “Why Marriages Succeed or Fail” that “anger only has negative effects in marriage if it is expressed along with criticism or contempt, or if it is defensive.”
Negative interactions during conflict include being emotionally dismissive or critical, or becoming defensive. Body language such as eye-rolling can be a powerful negative interaction, and it is important to remember that negativity holds a great deal of emotional power, which is why it takes five positive interactions to overcome any one negative interaction.
Negative interactions happen in healthy marriages, too, but they are quickly repaired and replaced with validation and empathy.

The five positive interactions

Couples who flourish engage in conflict differently than those who eventually break up. Not only do the masters of marriage start conflict more gently, but they also make repairs in both minor and major ways that highlight the positivity in their relationship. Below is a list of interactions that stable couples regularly use to maintain positivity and closeness.

Be interested

When your partner complains about something, do you listen? Are you curious about why he or she is so mad? Displaying interest includes asking open-ended questions, as well as more subtle signals such as nods, making eye contact, and timely “uh-huhs” that show how closely you are listening.

Express affection

Do you hold hands with your partner, offer a romantic kiss, or embrace your partner when greeting them at the end of the day? Expressions of affection can happen in small ways both within and outside of conflict.
Within conflict, displays of physical and verbal affection reduce stress. If you’re having a difficult conversation and your partner takes your hand and says, “Gosh, this is hard to talk about. I really love you and I know we can figure this out together,” you will likely feel better because their display of affection is bound to reduce tension and bring you closer together.

Demonstrate they matter

Our motto for making marriage last is “small things often.” The small acts that demonstrate you care are powerful ways to enhance the positivity in your marriage.
Bringing up something that is important to your partner, even when you disagree, demonstrates that you are putting their interests on par with yours and shows your partner that you care about them. How you treat each other outside of conflict influences how well you’ll handle your inevitable disagreements.
For example, if your partner has a bad day and you stop to pick up dinner on the way home, you’re showing him that he is on your mind. Those small gestures accumulate over time and will provide a buffer of positivity in your marriage so that when you do enter a conflict, it will be easier to engage in positive interactions that outweigh the negative.

Intentional appreciation

How you think about your partner influences how you treat them. By focusing on the positives of your marriage such as the good moments from your past and your partner’s admirable traits, you put positive energy into your relationship.
Negativity is bound to enter your thoughts, especially during conflict. Intentionally focusing on the positive will counterbalance any of the moments when you struggle to find something good about your partner.
Now turn your thoughts into action: every time you express your positive thinking and give your partner a verbal compliment, no matter how small, you are strengthening your marriage.

Find opportunities for agreement

When couples fight, they focus on the negative parts of the conflict and miss the opportunities for what they agree on. When you seek opportunities for agreement and express yourself accordingly, you are showing that you see your spouse’s viewpoint as valid and that you care about them. An alliance in conflict, even minor, can fundamentally shift how couples fight.

Empathize and apologize

Empathy is one of the deepest forms of human connection. When you empathize with your spouse, you show that you understand and feel what your partner is feeling, even if you express empathy nonverbally through a facial expression or a physical gesture.
Saying things like, “It makes sense to me that you feel…” will help your partner see that you are on their team. Empathy is a profound connecting skill that all romantic partners can and should improve, and there is no limit to the amount of empathy you can express.
If your partner is upset with something you said or did, simply apologize. If you can find a moment during conflict to say, “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings. That makes me sad,” you will provide a positive and empathetic interaction that reinforces your bond.

Accept your partner’s perspective

An approach that drastically improves conflict is understanding that each of your perspectives are valid, even if they are opposed to each other.
While you may not agree with your partner’s perspective, letting them know that their perspective makes sense will show them that you respect them. One of the best ways to do this is to summarize your spouse’s experience during a conflict, even if you disagree. Remember that validation doesn’t mean agreement, but it does signal respect.

Make jokes

Playful teasing, silliness, and finding moments to laugh together can ease tension in a heated conflict. Most couples have inside jokes they only share with each other. This highlights the exclusivity a couple has.
However, a word of caution: remember to find a way to joke around that maintains respect and appreciation for your spouse and that serves to bring you both closer together.

Test your ratio

Is your relationship unbalanced? Observe how you and your partner interact. For every negative interaction that happens, are there more positive interactions? If not, take it upon yourself to create more positive interactions in your relationship, and also try to notice the small moments of positivity that currently exist there, and that you may have been missing.
Keep a journal for one week that notes the positive interactions, however small, in your marriage. As Dr. Gottman’s research has revealed, the more positive actions and feelings you can create in your marriage, the happier and more stable your marriage will be.
Remember to maintain the Magic Ratio in your marriage with our 5:1 Tumbler.
This post was originally published on The Gottman Institute blog.

The Snip: 7 Things We Didn’t Expect From a Vasectomy

My husband’s vasectomy was a relatively straightforward process, but there were still some things we hadn’t expected.

A long time before we were ready for children (possibly before we were married) my husband and I agreed that after three kids, he would have a vasectomy. This was an assumption that we both simply carried through our married life, and when our youngest daughter was a few months old, he went to our family doctor and asked for a referral. What followed was a relatively straightforward process, but there were still some things we hadn’t expected.

1 | We didn’t expect questions about why

For many people, the assumption that the final child is followed by a vasectomy isn’t a given, and when it came up in casual conversation my mother-in-law asked what prompted the decision for him to have the operation rather than me. There are, of course, many reasons: it’s more effective, less risky, a much shorter recovery time, and generally just simpler for the male to be the one to take care of permanent birth control. It never even occurred to me that he might object to this plan and ask me to undergo major surgery instead.
“Gabi did the pregnancies and births three times, so it only seemed fair that I do this,” replied Andrew, my husband.
Fair is a bit of an understatement – I would have gone for “the least he could do” – but it was a sufficient answer for my mother-in-law.

2 | I expected questions about our family that he didn’t get

Andrew made the appointment for the initial consultation and went to see the doctor. Aside from some general health questions, it was as straightforward as signing a consent form and booking in the surgery for three weeks later. The doctor did ask how many children we had, but Andrew tells me it was more small talk than something the doctor might have had an opinion about – we also have a friend who had the operation in order to remain happily childless. But I had been prepared for him to ask about our kids’ ages, our ages, whether I was on board with this decision or not. Nope. The doctor treated Andrew as a man who had total autonomy over his body and his relationships.

3 | We didn’t expect recovery to be so quick

The appointment was made for a Friday morning, which was usual practice for the surgeon. He explained that this was so that his patients could take Friday off and return to work on the Monday. The doctor said there would be no need for prescription strength pain medications, just paracetamol (Tylenol) or ibuprofen would be fine.

4 | We didn’t expect the operation itself to be so quick

The whole thing was over and done with in less than an hour. I drove him home, but the doctor did say that some of his patients drive themselves. If you’re a man worried about having surgery, let this be a reassurance that a vasectomy performed by an experienced surgeon really is quite simple. And maybe skip the next paragraph …

5 | We didn’t expect recovery to take so long!

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. On the Friday morning, we arrived earlier than needed and pulled up to a cafe near the surgery. As soon as I opened the car door, our three-year-old vomited on the pavement. And as it turned out, she spent the rest of the day vomiting. That evening, our five-year-old son started. And in the middle of the night, my poor husband stumbled to the toilet, the feeling of being kicked in the balls compounded by an untimely dose of gastro (or stomach flu, as it’s sometimes called). So in the end, he wasn’t back at work on Monday as the surgeon had anticipated. And every male who has heard this story since has winced in sympathy.

6 | He didn’t expect the little things (but should have)

Things like shaving his pubic hair beforehand. The awkwardness of a female nurse applying numbing cream before the anaesthetic. The itching as the hair grew back, which by the end of the week was more irritating than any residual pain from the operation itself. The three to four months of continued condom use before he could take a semen sample back to check if the surgery had worked. Having to abstain for at least four days before producing this sample. These were the things that made sense, but he simply hadn’t thought about beforehand.

7 | I expected a change to his hormones and libido that didn’t happen

It’s not that I expected a permanent adjustment, mind you. But you’d think if there’s any time the phenomenon of morning wood might take a break, it would be the morning immediately after a vasectomy and a gastro bug. Nope. While Andrew himself wasn’t ready for sex for a week or two after the operation, his hormones continued exactly as normal. This probably added to his discomfort a bit, but it might be reassuring to know that you can expect your sex life to bounce back pretty quick. Certainly quicker than after having another baby!

14 Ways "Black-Ish" Normalized Postpartum Depression

A recent episode of the ABC sitcom “Black-ish” focused on postpartum depression and mental health. This is incredible progress.

I was very pleased to watch television this week and see a mental health focus for an entire episode of the ABC sitcom “Black-ish.” This is incredible progress. As a licensed mental health therapist, I understand well the stigma facing mental health and how much awareness and education is needed.

In the “Black-ish” Season 4 Episode 2 – Mother Nature, Bow is feeling overwhelmed after the birth of her son and learns she is suffering from postpartum depression. Dre urges her to get help and stands by her side while she works through it. Meanwhile, the kids baby-proof the house in an effort to help their parents out.

Here are 14 ways this episode of “Black-ish” normalizes mental health for new mothers experiencing postpartum depression.

1 | Honoring mothers is not dishonoring fathers

In the first two minutes of the episode, we see Andre Johnson Sr., or Dre (played by Anthony Anderson), recognizing the pride a man feels when having a newborn baby. He also honors women for the feat of carrying a human being inside their body, and now holding and nurturing that child for the rest of their lives.

“Mother nature has given women everything they need to sustain life with comfort and ease.” A man honoring and praising a woman for her motherhood does not take away from his honor or manhood, it enhances it.

2 | Your family may notice you acting differently but may not understand you are dealing with a mental health issue

Dr. Rainbow Johnson (Bow), played by Tracee Ellis Ross, is visibly showing signs of depression – easily distracted, lack of motivation, frequent crying, low energy, insomnia, etc. As narrated by Dre, the family is aware that something is “wrong” and take steps to help Bow, but are initially unaware she is struggling with a mood disorder.

3 | Having a mental health diagnosis is not a sign of weakness

Dre’s mother, Ruby Johnson (played by Jennifer Lewis) makes the following statement when referring to Bow’s change in behaviors, “This is what new motherhood looks like…she’s just weak.”

There’s often a perception that acknowledging the presence of a mental health diagnosis or even getting help or treatment is a sign of weakness. It is not!

In the last scenes of the episode Ruby ends up apologizing to Bow and tells Bow she’s not weak. Ruby admits being weak for not being there to help Bow through this experience.

4 | Having experienced postpartum depression during a previous pregnancy is a risk factor, but is not the only indication

Dre makes the statement that Bow didn’t experience the symptoms she’s displaying presently after the birth of her other children, and he doesn’t understand why this pregnancy is different.

While previous experiences with postpartum depression are a strong indication of present or future indications, they’re not the only factor that must be considered. Factors such as previous experience with depression, a family member who’s been diagnosed with depression or other mental illness, medical complications during childbirth, mixed feelings about the pregnancy, whether it was planned or unplanned, and others. In Bow’s case, the fact that the baby came early, Bow’s age (meaning it was a high-risk pregnancy), and other factors make experiencing postpartum depression very likely.

5 | Postpartum depression is not the same as having “baby blues”

One of Dre’s co-workers attempts to diagnose Bow as having the “baby blues,” which is used to describe the feelings of unrest, tiredness, worry, and fatigue many women experience after having a baby. It’s normal for a mother to experience worry or concern over being able to provide care for the newborn baby, and this is present in approximately 80 percent of mothers.

However, postpartum depression is extreme feelings of sadness and anxiety that affect the mother’s self-care or that of her family. This affects approximately 15 percent of births. A new mother should not try to diagnose herself but consider speaking to a mental health professional to get an evaluation if she or another family member is concerned.

6 | New mothers can experience postpartum depression and not know it

Dre takes the advice of his co-workers and reads through a magazine targeted to women where he discovers his wife may be experiencing postpartum depression. The suggestion from the magazine encourages Dre to be gentle with his approach in discussing this with his wife.

While magazine or online questionnaires are no substitute for mental health treatment or assessment, the advice given in this occasion was helpful. Having a discussion with a new mother about the possibility of her having postpartum depression should be done very delicately and in a supportive manner.

7 | Mothers should not try to self-diagnose themselves

Bow makes this statement, “I do not have postpartum depression. I am a doctor and I would know.”

While the character of Rainbow Johnson is a medical doctor, she does not specialize in mental health or psychiatry. Postpartum depression doesn’t discriminate in race, profession, socioeconomic status, or anything else. A diagnosis of postpartum depression is not an indication of weakness or failure in the new mother; rather, it’s an indication of something that affects many women. Luckily, there’s help for it.

8 | A woman experiencing postpartum depression is not someone who needs to be fixed

In one scene, Dre asks Bow over and over if she’s okay and tries to engage her in activities. Bow responds, “Please stop trying to fix me.”

It’s important to recognize the new mother not as something that has been broken and needs fixing, but as a human being who is experiencing a mood disorder and needs lots of support. This mindset of the mother being “broken” may cause her symptoms to worsen. She may feel like her body is failing if she can’t breastfeed, or her skills as a mother are failing if she is unable to console her child, or any other self-defeating thought.

9 | Just because someone else did not seek treatment after giving birth does not mean this is healthy for everyone

Dre’s mother, Ruby, discusses Bow’s ability to parent with Dre, comparing Bow’s present actions with her own experience after giving birth to Dre. She says, “I didn’t go to some quack doctor because I was mentally ill with some made-up disease.”

Dre quickly corrects her and explains that postpartum depression is not made up, stating that many women experience it. The Center for Disease Control estimates 11 to 20 percent of new mothers experience postpartum depression. Just because your mother, sister, grandmother, aunt, best friend, or whomever didn’t receive treatment for postpartum depression doesn’t mean that is the best course of action for you.

10 | Recovery from postpartum depression is not instantaneous, it takes time

One of Bow’s children asks, “Why isn’t she getting better?”

Sometimes the expectation for the new mother, or her family and friends, is that she will get better quickly. This process takes time and can be incredibly frustrating for the new mother. Support, encouragement, and space will be vital to her during this time. The best thing family and friends can do is to keep communication open and provide the new mother with what she asks for.

11 | Experiencing postpartum depression is not a reason to allow people to walk over you; establish and reinforce boundaries

One of the scenes shows Ruby and Bow discussing why Ruby made the decision to give Bow’s child baby formula instead of the breastmilk Bow had pumped. Bow assertively tells Ruby she has crossed a line.

It’s important to seek the counsel of a mental health professional regarding healthy behaviors and practices, but at the end of the day you are a mother and it is your child. No one should ever make you feel bad for wanting to raise a healthy baby and no one should violate your wishes as the child’s mother. This may mean setting boundaries with your family, in-laws, friends, significant other, or other people.

12 | The new mother needs support and unconditional love from her significant other

If the new mother is fortunate to have the support of a significant other, that person should be prepared to fully support and love the new mother unconditionally.

In the scene when Bow tells Ruby to get out of her house, Dre supports his wife, even to the point of asking his own mother to leave their house. Bow needs this support during this time. Ruby also calls Bow crazy and says she is overreacting.

Name-calling and unrealistic expectations will only backfire and make things harder for the new mother. The feelings the new mother is experiencing are real, and they should be honored and given space to be worked through.

13 | Everyone around the new mother will feel powerless to help and that’s okay, because it’s not about them

Dre is speaking to his father, played by Lawrence Fishburne, about Bow’s seemingly lack of progress. He states, “I feel powerless.”

It’s not uncommon for men to feel like the woman needs fixing and it’s their job to fix her, but the new mother just needs time, support, and unconditional love to help her during this time. Let’s us not forget this woman just carried a human being inside her body and now that human being is a newborn baby who is crying and solely dependent on the new mother for everything. No pressure at all, right?

14 | Counseling or therapy and medication management are proven treatments for postpartum depression

There still continues to be a stigma around mental health. It is everyone’s responsibility to become informed and to inform others so we can break the stigma.

In the last few scenes of the episode, Bow talks about the therapeutic homework her therapist assigned to help her through this experience. Bow also expresses initial frustration at her therapist, which is normal for anyone entering therapy. Bow’s continuation with therapy and her medication helps her eventually work through and improve her mood.

If you or a loved one may be experiencing postpartum depression, please contact a mental health professional for an evaluation.

New Research Says Gamers Learn Better Than Non-Gamers

Your kids may be right: playing video games may not be a waste of time but may help learning and memory function.

Your kids may be right: playing video games may not be a waste of time but may help learning and memory function.

A new study out of Germany says that gaming helps cognitive learning and problem solving. In order to investigate memory formation and sensory processing, researchers at Ruhr University Bochum’s Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience pitted video gamers against non-gamers in a learning competition. “The video gamers performed significantly better and showed an increased brain activity in the brain areas that are relevant for learning,” according to the study.  Sabrina Schenk and Dr. Boris Suchan led the team, who used 3T Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to examine 34 subjects’ brains as they performed a weather predication task using cue cards.

Schenk and Suchan explained, “The participants were shown a combination of three cue cards with different symbols. They should estimate whether the card combination predicted sun or rain and got a feedback if their choice was right or wrong right away. The volunteers gradually learned, on the basis of the feedback, which card combination stands for which weather prediction. The combinations were thereby linked to higher or lower probabilities for sun and rain. After completing the task, the study participants filled out a questionnaire to sample their acquired knowledge about the cue card combinations.”

The MRI imaging showed brain activation in the hippocampus (the area connected to memory and learning), the occipital visual areas, and in areas related to attentional processes. “Our study shows that gamers are better in analyzing a situation quickly, to generate new knowledge and to categorize facts – especially in situations with high uncertainties,” said Schenk. (And the researchers questioned if video game playing couldn’t help older adults who need memory improvement.)

Before you and your kids celebrate the benefits of video games too much, you should take note of another study, published in August in Nature and Molecular Psychiatry, that states that action video game players may actually reduce grey matter in the hippocampus (which would negatively affect memory). Gregory West, of the University of Montreal and lead researcher on this study, said in an interview with Parent.co, “There are many different types of video games that we now know can have a differential impact on the brain. Our research specifically examined only two types of video games: first person shooting/action RPG shooting games and 3D-platform games….We showed a causal relationship between playing these games and changes in grey matter within the hippocampal memory system.”

West and his colleagues have studied video games for a number of years. He said originally he was interested in the positive cognitive affects of action video games, particularly on visual attention, motor control, and the brain’s reward system. Then, starting in 2015, they found evidence that linked action video game consumption to negative effects on memory (because of hippocampus grey matter reduction), so they started analyzing what types of video games caused what types of effects.

“3D-platform games, such as Super Mario 64, promote the hippocampal memory system,” West said. Logic and puzzle games do, too. West recommends parents limit young children’s game playing to these types of games because he says there is no research examining how action video games impact developing hippocampus. (The University of California, San Diego Cognitive Science Department says the hippocampus continues its physical development into the first two and a half years of life.)

One of the questions West has about the German study and its results is that the researchers seem to “lump together games that ask players to perform very different tasks into one category of ‘action video games’.” he said, “For example, StarCraft is highlighted as an example of a type of video game their participants often played. However, StarCraft is, in fact, a real-time strategy game that has very different content compared to a first person shooting game. Because of this, it is difficult to determine what type of gameplay experience is responsible for their observed results.” (Dr. Suchan did not respond to our inquiry about this.)

One thing that all researchers and gamers can agree on is that playing video games affects our lives, our abilities, and our brains in a variety of ways. Therefore, with some parental oversight, let the games begin.

On Halloween, by a Candy-Loving, Dentist's Daughter

I’ll admit, as a dentist’s daughter and a lover of candy, I’m a little Jekyll and Hyde over the matter.

Halloween (and in particular the candy procured) is one of my favorite Holidays – which is curious considering my dad, his dad, and my dad’s two brothers were all dentists. Of course, growing up the candy-loving daughter of a dentist had its daily challenges. Simply biting down on a blow-pop induced heart-wrenching guilt. (That sticky sugar just sits between your teeth!) But – oh holy day! – on Halloween, my dad the dentist smiled his pearly white smile, and allowed me to guiltlessly celebrate the holiday in all of its sugar-laden, cavity-inducing glory.
Even as an adult, there are many reasons to love Halloween – the crisp fall air, the childhood excitement, the silly and scary decorations, and obviously the candy – plus, there is no atoning for our sins and no sitting through sermons. It’s a holiday of untainted indulgence, until I learned information that shook my moral compass: A nationwide program called Halloween BuyBack is working with dentist offices nationwide for children to trade in their candy in exchange for money. I’ll admit, as a dentist’s daughter and a lover of candy, I’m a little Jekyll and Hyde over the matter.
To better grasp this internal conflict, it helps to understand that a comically tortured relationship with candy runs in the family: My dad used to keep a personal stash of sugary orange circus peanuts and sticky black licorice in his office cabinets – right next to boxes of “Stillman, DDS” engraved toothbrushes. He is now retired from his practice, but according to the website halloweencandybuyback.com, it doesn’t matter: This year an estimated 22,000 dental offices will be participating. I checked the website, and there a six dentist offices within five miles of my house alone. That certainly makes it convenient for my family, but do I make my kids bring in their loot?
While the child in me sees Halloween BuyBack as a Halloween horror story, the mom in me sees the obvious benefits. Like so many parents these days, my husband and I are stringent when it comes to our kids’ sugar intake. We are aware that too much sugar may lead to childhood obesity and childhood tooth decay, not to mention that my kids are like suped-up wind-up-toys when they get a pinch of the white stuff. We never give them soda. Juice is for special occasions. Dessert is a treat, and often taken away for bad behavior. Yes – when it comes to sugar, we are a million times stricter than my parents ever were, despite my dad’s dental profession.
Yet, like my parents allowed for me, Halloween has always been a free-for-all for my kids. So when I brought up the cash for candy concept with my third grader, he looked at me like I offered him broccoli for dessert. “No way!” He said incredulously.
With logic on my side, I tried to talk sensibly: First of all, he could not possibly eat all the candy he’d collect, even over several months, even with my help! And then there’s the “selfless lesson” because it’s for a good cause – the candy goes into care packages for US Troops. Lastly, it’s bad for you! It will rot your teeth and your body!
But honestly, my heart wasn’t in the argument. Nostalgia (and hypocrisy – I’m eating sour skittles as I write this) get the best of me. I remember the thrill of dumping my precious treasures into my desk drawer after a long night of hitting every house in my neighborhood. When I was little, I would have screamed like I saw Freddy Krueger at the thought of someone ripping my hard earned candy from my sticky fingers, and no amount of cash would have lessened the blow. (Keep in mind, this is coming from someone who asked the Tooth Fairy for gummy bears.)
But I’m an adult now. The teacher of healthful living, and selfless giving. So this year, I’ll try to be a better person. I’ll let my kids run house to house until their little arms ache under the weight of all that delicious, teeth-rotting junk-of-the-Gods. Then, that first night, I’ll let them gorge until they feel physically ill (like roll around on the floor, clutching their belly, ill). The next day – candy hangover in full effect – I’ll have them fill a ziplock bag to take to their local dentist office. I’m not sure who this will be harder on, them or me.
In the weeks following, they’ll each get a piece for dessert or as a treat in their lunch, until they forget it about it altogether. The rest is mine, all mine (duh!). And yes, Dad – I promise I’ll floss.

Recent Study Says These 3 Things Can Raise Kids' IQ

Many factors affect kid’s IQ, including their genetics and environment. But a 2017 analysis identified a number of things that can help raise it.

Most parents think their kids are pretty smart. We watch with delight as our kids learn to engage us with their curious baby eyes and expressions. We marvel in their ability to learn new skills. Sure, other people’s kids learn these skills, too, but we can’t help thinking our baby is the cleverest and maybe the most beautiful to boot.
By school age, though, the differences in children’s abilities begin to show. We get feedback about our child’s abilities when we are exposed to a larger pool of children. Maybe, like me, your little Einstein didn’t get selected for the special enrichment class for gifted children. Or perhaps your child’s class report comes back with grades in the average range and not above average.
There are many factors that affect children’s IQ, including their genetics and environment. A 2017 analysis identified a number of things that can help raise children’s IQ. The analysis was extensive and only included high quality research trials of typically developing children aged from preschool to pre-adolescence. Thirty-six studies met the stringent criteria for the analysis, of which 18 had significant research outcomes.
Studies included in the analysis targeted five potential methods of increasing children’s IQ. These methods were multivitamin supplements, iron supplements, iodine supplements, learning to play a musical instrument, and training. Executive function training helps develop skills such as memory, impulse control, and flexible thinking.
The analysis determined that only three of the methods targeting IQ actually raised children’s IQ. These were:

Multivitamin supplements

The analysis found that multivitamins can help improve IQ, but only when given to children who are vitamin deficient. There were no benefits for children who showed no signs of deficiency.

Iodine supplements

Iodine was also successful in helping raise IQ, but only when given to children deficient in iodine. Again, there was no benefit to children with adequate levels of iodine.

Learning to play a musical instrument

Learning to play musical instruments has been repeatedly shown to develop executive function skills (memory, impulse control, and flexible thinking). The analysis found that learning to play a musical instrument raised children’s IQ.
Iron supplements and executive functioning did not show consistent and reliable results in the analysis. This means they cannot currently be considered to help raise IQ.

What does this mean for parents?

If you are concerned about your child’s IQ or you notice inconsistencies in your child’s academic performance, it’s important to remember that IQ continues to develop over time and can fluctuate due to a variety of factors.
In an interview with the BBC Professor Joan Freeman, a developmental psychologist who specializes in gifted children, said, “Given different environments and opportunities, IQ can develop and grow. Something as simple as a bad cold can make IQ go down temporarily.”
Also, IQ is not the only factor in success or personal earnings. The tests only measure a person’s cognitive ability, and being successful is about much more, says Freeman:
“IQ tests don’t measure other qualities, such as personality, talent, persistence, and application. You might not have a high IQ, but if you have a gung-ho personality, then you may use what you have more effectively than someone with a high IQ…. I regard IQ like a muscle. You may be born with the muscles of an Olympiad, but if you don’t use them, they will diminish.”
If you would like to help your child increase their IQ through supplements, examine your child’s diet as a first option. It can be hard to get children to eat a wide variety of food. If you decide to check you child’s iodine and vitamin levels, consider whether the stress of those tests is worth it.
Iodine can be measured with a urine test, but vitamin levels often require a blood test. Many children find blood tests distressing and even traumatizing. As a parent and a mental health professional, I would prefer to give my child a multivitamin tablet and see if it helps rather than have them undergo a blood test. Always discuss the pros and cons with your doctor.
Learning a musical instrument is a natural option for many families who enjoy music. If music has not been a part of your life, you may not know where to start. There are many ways to immerse your child in music. Schools offer music programs with instrumental lessons. Consider enrolling your child in a school that has a robust music program or, if you can afford it, private lessons.
Children under the age of five can have difficulty learning an instrument due to a range of factors, including their size and developmental capacity for regular practice. Consider instead exposing them through playing different types of music in the home, experimenting playfully with musical instruments, or attending an early learning music group with other young children as an entry point.
Your child has many qualities of which their IQ is only one part. Remember that IQ alone will not determine how successful your child is. Qualities such as persistence, parental support, encouragement, and age-appropriate opportunities will also raise IQ and support future success.
These things also happen to lie at the heart of good parenting.