How Kids Can Cope With Stress in Our Unpredictable New Reality

This practice gives kids strategies for developing self-awareness, improving mental focus, handling emotions, and increasing kindness and empathy.

In the aftermath of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, six of the largest school districts in the United States closed, and 1.7 million American students missed school. This figure doesn’t take into account school interruptions after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and elsewhere where officials have no clear timeline for school re-openings for over 350,000 students.
According to some experts, such school closings could have disastrous consequences the likes of which we’ve seen only after Hurricane Katrina. I worry about the students in Texas, Louisiana, Florid, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands who have been displaced by these recent storms, because they may experience the kind of stress my New Orleans students had to handle in 2005 and 2006. Officials on the ground are already reporting a mental health crisis in Puerto Rico. And, as if the hurricanes aren’t enough, scenes of assault weapons spraying bullets on a crowd in Las Vegas pop up in our children’s news feeds and cause more anxiety.
After Hurricane Katrina forced evacuations and devastated New Orleans, I returned home and volunteered to teach creative writing in a public school. My plan was to help children write stories to express their emotions and creative voice. I quickly discovered, however, that many of my students had high levels of anxiety and poor academic success. They had difficulty focusing in class, following my instruction, and sitting still to write. They also fought with each other on the playground. As I got to know them, I learned why.
Many of these children were growing up in poverty, and their families had limited resources to evacuate during the storm. Some had stayed in New Orleans and witnessed trauma. After Katrina, their families moved to other cities – often living in shelters – and my students had missed school. Like many displaced children, they exhibited depression, anxiety, and behavioral disorders. Some also faced other adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), including abuse, neglect, exposure to unsafe environments, and a broken family structure.
Research has shown that children who experience stressful events at an early age may have behavior problems and below-average academic and literacy skills. They are also at increased risk for developing health problems as adults. The good news is that children often respond well to interventions, including classroom mindfulness activities. With a mindfulness program, teachers have reported improved classroom behavior of their students especially in the areas of paying attention, self-control, participation, and respect for others. As a long-time practitioner of mindfulness, I decided to teach my students mindful techniques at the start of each writing class.
Mindfulness is a method of paying attention – on purpose, with kindness and patience – to what’s going on inside and outside of you in each moment. This practice gives adults and children strategies for developing self-awareness and acceptance, improving mental focus, handling difficult emotions, and increasing kindness and empathy. In my writing class, I taught my students many of the mindfulness exercises I still use today as a way of preparing them for the day, and for writing. Here is a sample:

Mindful breathing

Feel your breath come into your nose or mouth, into your lungs, and into your tummy. Feel your lungs release each breath before you take another. Put all of your attention on the air going in and out. If you start thinking about something, shift your attention back to your breathing. This exercise helps you focus on where you are and what you are experiencing in your body in the moment.

Squeeze and release

After taking three mindful breaths, focus your attention on your feet. Squeeze all the muscles tight and then release. Move your attention up your body, squeezing and releasing all your muscle groups until your reach your head. End with three more mindful breaths. This exercise, too, brings your awareness to the physical sensations in your body. You can try it lying down to help you relax.

Mind bubbles

Try this one as a way to release the stressful thoughts that are bothering you. Think of your worries as bubbles that pop. Take three mindful breaths and imagine holding a bubble wand. Breathe in and notice your worry. Breathe out and blow your worry through the wand to form a bubble that floats away and pops. This is a way to see your thoughts as temporary and release them. Repeat the visualization until you feel ready to continue your day. This exercise may not take away immediate problems, but it gives you a tool to release troubling thoughts so you are better prepared to face your life.

Finding the pause

Breathe normally, and at the end of each breath, notice the short pause before you breathe in again. Relax a different part of your body during each pause. Continue as long as you wish, relaxing your whole body a little more with each pause. This exercise helps you handle your emotions and problems with more confidence.
I taught my students these or similar techniques, which we used before writing. In the absence of a controlled study, I can only report that I saw many changes in my students over the school year. At the start of my class, the majority of my students could not write a complete grammatical sentence much less a story with an intact narrative thread.
By the end, every student contributed at least one complete story to our classroom collection, which we printed and bound. They also performed on stage, many reading their writing aloud to a packed auditorium. They also improved in paying attention and controlling their behavior. We simply got along better by the end of the year, and my students were calmer, at least in our classroom.
For the teachers and school administrators who have been affected by the 2017 storms, I wish them courage as they face the challenges of returning to school. They too had to evacuate or shelter in place and may struggle to create a safe environment for their students who could be traumatized. I hope they can put interventions in place that allow for healing and growth during this tough time.
No matter how bleak or surreal our daily reality becomes, our kids don’t deserve to fall into a desensitized-yet-anxious funk we often feel, especially after a series of crises. We owe them a way to cope. Mindfulness is a helpful tool.
For more on mindfulnes, visit Barefoot Books. Whitney Stewart is the author of “Mindful Kids: 50 Activities for Kindness, Focus, and Calm“.
 

What Do I Tell My Granddaughter When Tragedy Strikes?

What do I tell her when she sees I am a million sad miles away when she is showing me her latest gymnastic move and I miss it or asks why my eyes are red?

Tragedy struck again. Once more I planted myself by the television, flipping through the various news channels to hear the latest updates, with tears in my eyes and a pierced heart. It hurts, like a throbbing finger slammed in the door, especially when you know it’s inevitable that there will be another tragedy, another natural disaster, another act of hatred that will leave you teary eyed again.
What do I tell my seven-year-old granddaughter when she comes into my bedroom or sits next to me on the couch as I watch the news and catches snippets of the horrible events before I can find the remote to turn the channel? What do I tell her when she sees that I am a million sad miles away when she is showing me her latest gymnastic move and I miss it or asks why my eyes are red?
I remember when I was a child, eavesdropping on the whispered, somber conversations of my parents when tragedies unfolded in the news or with a family member. Not knowing what to do with the sadness that overtook me, I’d curl up in my bed and feign a stomachache so I could stay in the safety of my room cloaked under my covers with my teddy bears as my protectors.
My mother didn’t associate my fake illness with the enormity of what was going on around me. She didn’t realize that even if I hadn’t snooped and heard her conversations or listened to the news, I reacted to her own feelings/struggles as she tried to make sense or deal with a situation,meven when she tried to mask them.
What I needed then was for her to sit with me, push my bangs out of the way, and look deep into my eyes to explain what happened in terms I could comprehend. I needed her to not leave me out of the conversation and to answer all of my questions.
For by being left out, by everyone thinking that it was best if I knew nothing or as little as possible, I thought the worst. And for a child that is the worst. That feeling of dread stays with you, lingering through your teen years, through adulthood and through parenting your own children until you finally realize how damaging it is to your well-being.
Our children, like us, have a range of emotions that traverse through their bodies. Their sorrow, anger, frustration, uncertainty, and fear are on a different scale than ours, but it’s there and it will manifest into something else – a temper tantrum or clinginess if they are wee ones, or rebellion, addictions, or depression if they are older.
So what do I tell my seven-year-old granddaughter?
I first remind myself that there are no perfect words to say when tragedy strikes. If I am having a particularly difficult time, I google it on the computer and read some of the excellent suggestions on other blogs and parenting sites. A trip to my neighborhood library and a talk with my librarian has also helped me find the right book to address topics I have trouble discussing.
As a former preschool teacher I remember having to talk to a class of five-year-olds about 911, some of whose parents were caught in the aftermath and couldn’t get home. In the weeks following, children’s books played a vital role in helping them cope with their emotions.
I then explain to my granddaughter what happened in a way she can understand and ask her what she’s heard, what her friends may have told her, and clear up any misconceptions knowing how what transpires from her ears to her heart might unsettle her.
And I wait for her deluge of questions to come. They always do, sometimes hours later, when her parents are out running errands without her, or when I’m cooking dinner.
I try my best to answer them. I remind her of the good in the world, of the first responders and heroes and sheroes that helped save many people’s lives, and how we come together regardless of race or religion to help others each time a tragedy happens. I also encourage her to write to express her feelings.
One story she wrote was about the recent hurricanes in which she wished she had a magic wand to stop the flooding. Writing was cathartic for her and she felt empowered thinking of a way she could save others even if it was make-believe.
And always I reiterate to her, over a bowl of her favorite ice-cream or while we’re baking chocolate chip cookies, that although terrible things may happen in the world that shakes us up, we never let go of our hope for the world.
There will never be a script to read when it comes to helping our children deal with a tragedy. So my suggestion is to speak from the heart because when you do those words will be just right – your child can then express what is in his or hers.
There is nothing wrong with wishing upon a star with your own imaginary magic wand for a miracle, like the one my granddaughter wished she had in her story. Just like the lyrics to the song by the late Louis Armstrong: “What a wonderful world” this would be if we could.

This Simple Biohack Will Make You Want to Take Your Shoes off A.S.A.P.

I’m not some crunchy hippie mama telling you to go hug a tree to take all your worries away. I’m talking about the science-backed practice of “grounding.”

Did you know that there’s a super health booster out there that you’ve probably never thought of?
Research has revealed that it helps improve sleep, balance hormones, relieve stress, reduce inflammation, lower pain levels, and prevent or help heal many health conditions.
It’s not a special diet, supplement, or some gimmicky gadget. It’s free, it’s deceptively simple, and it’s literally right at your feet.
It’s the Earth itself.
I’m not some crunchy hippie mama telling you to go hug a tree to take all your worries away. I’m talking about the science-backed practice of “grounding.”

What is grounding?

Grounding, or earthing, refers to contact with the natural surface of the earth, typically by going barefoot. You’ve experienced this if you’ve ever walked barefoot into your front yard or visited a beach and enjoyed squishing your toes in the sand. Feels good, right?
But why is it taboo to go barefoot anywhere else?
Of course, there’s the possibility of stepping on something sharp, so some kind of foot protection is understandably necessary sometimes. But what’s keeping you from slipping off your shoes to enjoy a nice grass or dirt surface when you can?

Are the best shoes no shoes at all?

You may have never given it a second thought, but wearing shoes isn’t exactly natural. In fact, today’s restrictive shoe design can hinder normal foot development in kids.
As for adults, the muscles of our feet, ankles, and lower legs are generally weak and malformed from a lifetime of footwear. Cutting ourselves off from the healing power of direct contact with nature isn’t helping either.
The concept of barefoot running, in particular, was made popular by Christopher McDougall’s book “Born to Run”. Many athletes and enthusiasts have followed this philosophy for optimal training and health. They may get some stares jogging along with dirty naked feet, but maybe they’re not so crazy.
According to the Journal of Environmental and Public Health, “Mounting evidence suggests that the Earth’s negative potential can create a stable internal bioelectrical environment for the normal functioning of all body systems.
“Through this mechanism, every part of the body could equilibrate with the electrical potential of the Earth, thereby stabilizing the electrical environment of all organs, tissues, and cells.”
You don’t have to run to experience grounding, however. Walking on, standing on, or simply touching natural ground carries plenty of benefits.

A few of the many science-backed benefits

Improves circulation

One study shows that just one hour of earthing improves circulation of body fluids, including blood flow. This allows for better nutrient and oxygen delivery and faster clearing of waste materials, which all lead to lower blood pressure, improved heart health, better digestion, clearer thinking, and increased energy.

Improves sleep and relieves stress

This study revealed that eight weeks of sleeping on a conductive mattress pad improved dysfunctional sleep patterns and reduced cortisol (stress hormone) levels. Participants reported better sleep, lower stress levels, and less pain.

Reduces inflammation

More studies associate earthing with a reduction in inflammation. Excessive inflammation is responsible for many ailments, including chronic illnesses, impaired immunity, and cancer.
Grounding’s ability to affect multiple inflammatory markers means it is useful to prevent and/or treat many conditions such as digestive issues, arthritis, asthma, hormone imbalances, and more. It has even been shown to reduce redness and pain while helping wounds and injuries heal faster.

Reduces muscle soreness and speeds recovery

You know that annoying soreness you get after an intense workout that can last for days? That’s DOMS – delayed-onset muscle soreness. There are all kinds of methods for speeding recovery, including stretching, icing, massage, and foam rolling. Apparently, simple grounding can help with this, too.
A small pilot study showed that subjects who underwent grounding after an intense workout reported less pain, recovered faster, and displayed differences in multiple inflammatory markers as shown by blood tests.
Wow.
This is all pretty unbelievable, right? How can something so simple and uncomplicated yield such amazing results? How does this work?
The Journal of Environmental and Public Health explains further: “It is an established, though not widely appreciated fact that the Earth’s surface possesses a limitless and continuously renewed supply of free or mobile electrons. The Earth’s negative charge can create a stable internal bioelectrical environment for the normal functioning of all body systems which may be important for setting the biological clock, regulating circadian rhythms, and balancing cortisol levels.”
By being in contact with the ground, we are able to absorb Earth’s ions into our bodies, which balance out the other harmful charges we carry around.
In other words: Good energy in, bad energy out.

How much grounding time do you need?

This is an emerging “technique” with no set prescription and varies based on individual needs. Positive effects are instantaneous, but obviously, the more the better.
Keep in mind these studies have involved earthing sessions ranging from one hour to overnight, but any time spent connected to nature is going to help. There is no time too short, and certainly no time too long.

Some tips on how to do it

Exercise outside

Sans shoes, of course. Walk or jog in a grassy area or on the beach if you’re lucky. Do a workout on your lawn. Try some yoga or stretching on the ground. Gardening counts, too. Try it without gloves for more skin-to-earth contact.

Just get out!

You don’t have to be active to reap the benefits of grounding. Simply stand or sit on the ground or in a chair with bare feet touching the ground while you read, talk on the phone, watch the kids, do work, etc.

Take a hint from your kids

What kid doesn’t love running around the yard barefoot? Join ’em, or at least take your shoes off while you supervise (making sure the area is clear of hazards, of course).

Connect from inside

It’s not always practical to spend time outside, depending on weather, ground conditions, and your living situation.
You can still do this indoors with an earthing system, which transfers energy from the ground outside via a cord connected to a conductive mat, sheet, or band indoors. This makes it easy to ground yourself while you sleep. You can also use it while you do things like work on your computer, read, or watch a movie.
All in all, whether you’re going for grounding or not, spending time outdoors is a surefire body and brain booster for your whole family. Simply slip off your socks and shoes when you can, and let nature do its thing!
To learn more, check out the book “Earthing: The Most Important Health Discovery Ever”.
What do you think of this? Share your thoughts below.

Your Family’s Insider Guide to Conquering 6 National Parks

Sure, you could do what everyone else is doing on their trek to these popular National Parks. Or you could be a little more adventurous.

[su_dropcap style=”simple” size=”5″]H[/su_dropcap]eading to our nation’s national parks with children often creates a dilemma: Stick to the highlights of the park, which are often kid-friendly and easily accessible yet overrun with other tourists, or head to less popular areas which are often less accommodating for children?
If you look hard enough, there are a few spots in and/or near every park that will take you away from the crowds for a family-friendly adventure.
 

tip #1

Rise early or come late

Parks gates often remain open even when the park is officially closed. Buy a day pass online ahead of time and enter the park while other visitors are busy with breakfast or dinner – you’ll be rewarded with more wildlife, great lighting, striking stars, and few people.

 

Shenandoah

Virginia

Safari LTD cayote toy shennedoah national park
Autumn colors in Shenandoah National Park, above the clouds.
 
Learn some history – The Fox Hollow Trail is an easy, 1.2-mile self-guided hike located near the Dickey Ridge Visitor Center. While it’s not known for it’s views, the trail passes by the cemetery and homesite of farmers who lived in the region.
Explore underground – One of the largest series of caverns in the east, Luray caverns will fascinate any young explorer who has wondered what goes on beneath her feet. The stalactites and stalagmites are sure to impress. Because this activity is completely underground, a guided tour is a perfect outing if the weather for your trip turns out to be less than hoped for. Strollers are usable on the paved walkway, but must be carried in sections.
Spy some wildlife – Shenandoah is home to black bears, bunnies, woodpeckers, deer, and more. The completely stroller-friendly Limberlost trail is a 1.3-mile chance to catch a view of some of Shenandoah’s year-round residents. Head out in the early morning or dusk for your best chance at viewing wildlife.
Find a waterfall – If you have older children with you, the Doyles River Trail offers a pleasant out and back hike with two waterfalls to encourage your kids down the trail. The hike is 2.7 miles round trip, 3.2 if you head down to the second falls. With just over 1,000 feet in elevation gain, this trail is more difficult than others, but should be doable for older children or experienced hikers.
Have a snack – The Route 11 Potato Chip Company factory cooks up some of Virginia’s most iconic snacks. With unique flavors ranging from Chesapeake Crab to Mama Zuma’s Revenge, everyone will find something to enjoy. The factory offers plenty of chips to sample and large windows in the retail store that allow you to see the entire chip making process.
[su_spacer size=”40″][/su_spacer]
Safari LTD. toys of animals found in America's national parks
 
safari Ltd. logo

Parent Co. partnered with Safari LTD because they believe preserving the environment is second nature to kids who grow up surrounded by its beauty.

[su_spacer size=”40″][/su_spacer]

tip #2

Backtrack

Some national parks with limited road access, like Glacier, have a predictable traffic pattern. Talk to a ranger ahead of time to find out which direction people usually view the park, then do the opposite.

[su_spacer size=”40″][/su_spacer]

Yellowstone

Wyoming | Montana

safari ltd toy of american bison
"Explosion" of the Great Fountaun Geysir at Yellowstone National Park
 
See geysers as they erupt  – The boardwalk by Old Faithful is far from a secret. But joining a ranger walk is the often overlooked secret to getting the best views of geysers erupting. Ranger walks are offered daily in the summer and fall. If you head to the park in the off season, look for members of the “Geyser Gazer Club” standing by with clipboards. They will be happy to share their information with you.
Swim in a hot spring – The Boiling River, in Montana’s small claim to the park, is a perfect swimming hole for anyone who has been tempted to test the waters in Yellowstone. From the parking lot, there is a short, flat three-quarters-of-a-mile hike to the swimming hole. Hop in where river meets the significantly colder waters of the Gardner River. Park officials recommend avoiding going under water.
Find Paradise – Yellowstone’s famous thermal waters extend pass the park. Paradise Valley, Montana, is home to one of the state’s most loved resorts, Chico Hot Springs. The restaurant offers finer dining than you will expect to find in this rural locale. On the drive there, play John Mayer’s album “Paradise Valley,” named after the time he spent there. Consider going in winter; nothing beats swimming in warm water as snow falls around you, and Chico offers a fantastic winter getaway package.
See real dinosaur fossils – If your vacation is taking you to Glacier National Park as well, don’t overlook a stop at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman. The museum features rotating exhibits and a large collection of T-Rex and Triceratops fossils. The second floor hosts an excellent Yellowstone-themed playspace for young kids. In the summer, be sure to check out the living farm to get a taste of what life was like for early settlers. If you are a member at your local science museum, you may get in free.
Take a bike ride – If you’ve packed your bike trailer or have enthusiastic cyclists in your family, check out the trail to the Lone Star Geyser. The geyser erupts about every three hours, so pack a picnic lunch and enjoy the area for a while. Before you leave, ask at the Old Faithful Visitor Education Center if they can estimate the timing of the next eruption.
[su_spacer size=”20″][/su_spacer]

tip #3

Try to visit parks during the shoulder seasons

Spring, winter, and fall are the least busy times for the parks. If the summer is your only window, try visiting parks during the first or last week of the summer holiday.

[su_spacer size=”40″][/su_spacer]

Glacier

Montana

safari ltd. grizzly bear glacier national park toy
Grinnell Glacier at Glacier National Park, Montana.
 
Catch a waterfall unlike any other – The Two Medicine area of the park used to be one of the most popular sites, until the Going to the Sun road was completed. Now it’s one of the least visited. It is home to Running Eagle Falls or “Trick Falls,” named so because the waterfall appears to come directly out of the rock in summer. In spring, two waterfalls appear to join together. The trail is wheelchair and stroller accessible.
Eat a huckleberry macaroon – Montana is known for its huckleberries, and while you can try them anywhere in and near the park, Polebridge, known for its bakery, features the most iconic. From there, head to Bowman Lake in the northern end of the park.
Take a boat ride  – Most visitors to the park stay to the western side, but families should not miss St. Mary Lake on Glacier’s eastern side. The western end of the lake hosts several family-friendly trails, including Baring Falls (0.6 miles) and many picnic spots. Book a spot on a lake cruise for an unforgettable view of the park.
Find a wild horse – If you head south after your trip to Glacier, stop by Wildhorse Island State Park, the largest island in Flathead Lake. Salish-Kootenai Indians historically used the island to pasture horses. It is now famous for its wildlife viewing, including five wild horses. Accessing the park requires a boat.
Take it easy – Many of the hikes in Glacier require backcountry courage or a willingness to put up with a crush of crowds. The Rocky Point Trail along Lake MacDonald is an easy trail that takes you away from other sightseers. Just under two miles, the trail offers views of the lake, and in the spring, plenty of wildflowers.
[su_spacer size=”20″][/su_spacer]

tip #4

Learn about the parks before you go

The National Parks Foundation website has a great directory of all the parks to help your family get excited about your visit – their various guides offer additional in-depth resources.

[su_spacer size=”40″][/su_spacer]

Arches

Utah

safari ltd red tail hawk, arches national park
Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park, Utah at sunrise.
 
Go exploring – The short, 0.3-mile Sand Dune Arch trail provides a completely different experience for kids than for adults. While adults may be tempted to view the arch and finish the trail in under 20 minutes, children will enjoy exploring all the nooks and crannies along this sandy playground.
Take a drive – If kids need a break from hiking and exploring, let them rest in the car while you check out the Potash-Lower Colorado River Scenic Byway. With petroglyphs and dinosaur tracks along the road, there are plenty of places to pull off that will entertain curious adventurers.
Go off the beaten trail – While the initial portion of the Windows Primitive Trail is quite popular, the less traveled backside of the loop provides even better views. A 1.2 mile loop is doable with children, and allows for easy views of the arches that many consider to be the heart of the park.
Go stargazing – The crowds in Arches are hard to avoid during the day, but the park offers some of the darkest skies in Utah for stargazing at night. Roads are currently closed at night from Sunday through Thursday until November 30th, but if you visit on a weekend, head to a picnic area or viewpoint. Bring blankets and hot chocolate for an unforgettable night.
Head to a museum – If you have any dinosaur enthusiasts in the family, be sure to check out this prehistoric paradise at Moab Giants. Complete with a museum, aquarium, outdoor dinosaur trail, and dinosaur themed play area, kids will not forget this piece of Moab.
[su_spacer size=”40″][/su_spacer]

Acadia

Maine

safari ltd toy humback whale acadia national park

View from rocky summit of Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park.

 
Pick blueberries – If you head to Maine in July or August, be sure to pick blueberries for the ultimate “Blueberries for Sal” experience. Numerous trails in the park offer places to pick fresh blueberries, so bring a bucket and some hungry mouths. Because it’s a popular activity, park officials ask that people be aware of their impact on the land and be careful to stay on rock to minimize trampling.
Take a bike ride – Acadia is home to 45 miles of carriage roads that are closed to motor vehicle traffic. Witch Hole Pond is not the most trafficked of these roads, but it was made famous when the Obamas biked around in 2014. The 3.3 mile trail has an initial steep ascent, but then levels off after a quarter of a mile.
Learn about lobsters – Take a cruise on the Lulu Lobster Boat to learn firsthand about lobstering in Maine. This small lobster boat can also provide better views of seals along the coastline than larger boats can.
Enjoy a bite to eat – You can bribe kids to finish nearly any hike with the promise of food at the end. The Jordan Pond House is known for it’s popovers and lemonade. To work up an appetite, check out the less busy Jordan Stream Trail nearby.
Surf and turf – The Ship Harbor Nature Trail  offers forest and water views on a 1.3-mile walk. This trail is shaped like a figure eight, with the first loop wheelchair and stroller accessible. The hike winds through a spruce and fir forest before coming out at a rocky coastline. If you visit in the winter, bring your snowshoes.
[su_spacer size=”40″][/su_spacer]

Everglades National Park

Florida

American alligator Safari ltd toy Evergaldes national park

Everglades national park
See seashells by the seashore – If you have a shell enthusiast in the family, be sure to check out the Bailey Matthews National Shell Museum north of the park on Florida’s gulf coast. The museum hosts numerous exhibits, daily beach walks, and family arts and crafts. The children’s learning lab features interactive displays, games, and a live tank.
Take a guided birding walk – The Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary north of Everglades park is owned by the Audubon society and offers a variety of family friendly activities including guided walks. The sanctuary provides a 2.25-mile boardwalk from which to view wood storks, and even the rare blooming ghost orchid.
Find hidden treasure – If coastal explorations have put your children in a pirate mood, try your hand at looking for hidden treasure while geocaching. The Park Employee for a Day Geocache Trail is a series of hidden case studies to find and weigh in on. If you are already an avid geogacher, note that only park employees are allowed to place caches in the park.
Get on a boat – Hop on a boat for a chance to see manatees, bald eagles, ospreys, alligators, and more. The Everglades National Park Boat Tour company offers two tours: the Ten Thousand Island Cruise and the Mangrove Wilderness Tour. Both offer unique views of the area, but the Ten Thousand Island Cruise is free for kids four and under.
Go for a ride – Take the 15-mile loop through the Everglades and you might have a chance to see alligators, herons, snakes, and other wildlife. You have two options for getting around on this road – either a tram ride with Shark Valley Tram Tours, or by bike. Either way, you and your family can enjoy the road less traveled.
 
safari Ltd. logo

Parent Co. partnered with Safari LTD because they believe preserving the environment is second nature to kids who grow up surrounded by its beauty.

Think Beyond the Maxipad: How to Help Your Modern Teen Manage Her Period

Today’s teenagers have a wide variety of options when it comes to managing their periods.

Women and girls have been dealing with periods since the beginning of time. From mystical powers to a well-understood scientific annoyance, the miracle of becoming a woman has a fascinating evolution.
Women in ancient Egypt are credited with making the first tampons out of rolled papyrus and other types of grasses.
Ancient Greeks are said to have made their tampons out of lint wrapped around small pieces of wood.
In Roman times, periods were associated with mystery, magic, and even sorcery. A Roman author wrote, “Hailstorms … whirlwinds and lightening even, will be scared away by a woman uncovering her body while her monthly curses are upon her.”
Early Mayans believed that menstruation originated as a punishment after the Moon goddess slept with the Sun god. Do not mess with Goddesses.
In Europe in the 1800s, British Medical Journal published a statement saying that menstruating women were medically unable to successfully pickle meat. Seriously, who pickles meat anyway?
And one more fun fact: When Judy Blume released “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret,” it was the first book to mention a girl getting her first period. This book was published in 1970! We sent a guy to the moon only one year before we were okay mentioning periods in a book written for girls. Periods have been misunderstood, shamed, and secreted away for thousands of years.
Considering the first period products were rolled grasses, we have not come that far. A tampon is slightly more comfortable than a piece of wood wrapped in lint but woman can still die from Toxic Shock Syndrome, pads are still bulky, and who hasn’t had an unplanned bikini wax from those sticky wings?
I do believe the teens of modern day are leaving a mark of their own on the history of periods. They are bringing humor and an openness never before seen in the history of menstruation. Teens are refusing to hide in shame, or stop doing things they love. Instead of quietly unwrapping a pad in the school bathroom, teens are proudly grabbing their period bags and walking with heads held high into the bathrooms. Not only are teens laughing about the good, the bad, and the ugly of periods, they are changing the demand in the market. They want comfort, coverage, convenience, and environmental consideration.
Here are four products that are slightly more comfortable than what Ancient Egyptian teenagers used.

1 | The menstrual cup

Once teens get past the “where do I put that thing” horror, the cup reveals itself as an environmentally friendly alternative to pads and tampons. These reusable, bell shaped cups are made out of silicone and are worn internally and collect rather than absorb menstrual flow.
Menstrual cups have actually existed since the 30s but have taken a long time to become mainstream. Leave it to teenagers to buck the system!
Note: There is a learning curve to using cups. They require teens to get up close and personal with their body and they are not easy to get in or out.
Cups cost between $30 and $40 dollars but can be reused for many years. There is virtually no risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome. They can be worn for up to 12 hours at a time, while swimming and sleeping. They come in many colors and sizes specifically designed for teens.
Check out The Lily Cup, Femmy Cycle, and the Lena Cup.

2 | Period panties

Period Panties are basically super absorbent underwear that take the place of a tampon or pad. They are super thin (so no diaper butt) and come in many styles/colors/designs to fit any booty perfectly.
This underwear needs to be rinsed in cold water after use and then simply run through a regular load of laundry. The only catch is that they need to be hung to dry.
Period panties are a great option for teens who aren’t quite ready to explore all of their lady bits and aren’t ready for adventures in inserting and retrieving. Period Panties even have a line of swim wear so every teen can rock the pool or beach with confidence.
Teens may like Knixteen, a period panty designed specifically for teens. Their website states that their panties are to be worn in the days leading up to their periods as a backup – with a pad or tampon on the heaviest days – or as an option on the lightest days. They are priced at $17 per pair.
Knixteen has a teen-friendly website that answers period questions and even allows teens to send an email to their parents with size and style to make ordering and conversations about periods even easier.
Be sure to check out THINX, too. These cost a bit more per panty but can be worn instead of a pad or tampon. They offer period panties of all sizes and shapes and they are also doing great things around the world with their THINX Foundation. They are partnering with grass roots organizations to educate and empower girls and women across the globe about female health and reproduction, eliminate the shame associated with menstruation, and lower our combined carbon footprint. Girls across the world should have the power to manage their monthly periods with dignity.

3| Sea sponge

If you and your teen are super adventurous you can try a Sea Sponge. Yep. An actual sponge harvested from the Mediterranean Sea. These gals come in many different sizes and can even be trimmed for a perfect fit. These sponges are 100 percent natural and environmentally friendly and can be rinsed and reused many times.
The downside is that teenagers in particular aren’t as comfortable with their bodies and have difficulty retrieving the sponge after use.

4| Reusable pads

Washable pads are made of absorbent cotton and are used much like a disposable pad. They can be rinsed and then washed for multiple uses. Lunapads have great starter kits and accessories in fun colors and patterns.

What to Do If Climate Change Flares up Your Kids' Anxiety and Depression

There are ways to handle climate change and natural disaster topics carefully so that our kids don’t form a major case of eco-anxiety.

Hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, fires, droughts, rising sea levels. These are not topics for the faint of heart. But the reality today is that these types of natural disasters are on the rise due to climate change, and more people are being impacted as our population booms, especially in coastal areas. We can’t necessarily hide this news from our children. They will learn about climate change in science class, on television, and at museums – as they should. They also absorb the adult conversations going on around them, so when a major event hits like hurricane Harvey in Texas, our kids will hear about it.
As these disasters become more frequent due to the warming climate, mental health becomes one of the critical concerns that we need to pay attention to. Of course, those directly impacted will suffer most dramatically. Following Hurricane Katrina, nearly half of those impacted by the storm developed an anxiety or mood disorder and one in six developed post-traumatic stress disorder.
But when these events occur, we all suffer in a broader sense. What if it happens to us? Susan Clayton, professor of psychology at Wooster University in the UK, assesses that natural disasters significantly impact the mental health of millions of people. She sees three types of disasters that people worry about: the natural disasters themselves like floods and storms, slower changes such as an increasing global temperature, and the destruction of communities that can result. All of these can cause stress, anxiety, and depression as we try to either envision ourselves in a particular situation or adapt to the changes as they occur.
With all of these impending disasters looming as temperatures continue to skyrocket (15 of the 16 hottest years on record have occurred since 2001), it is no surprise that more and more people are developing eco-anxiety. This is a relatively new psychological condition in which a person experiences chronic fear of environmental destruction.
Children are particularly at risk for heightened anxiety and depression from a natural disaster. The American Public Health Association is working hard to study and educate people about the impacts of climate change on mental health. According to this organization, up to 45 percent of children suffer depression after a natural disaster. Some of the behavioral and psychological changes in children include an inability to speak, bed-wetting, stress or fright when not in danger, and self-harm.
For children who are just learning about these events, they worry that something bad could also happen to them. They have active imaginations and want to always feel safe. Climate change can instigate feelings of vulnerability and powerlessness that take the shape of anxiety. Surveys indicate that not only is global warming on our children’s minds, it is scaring them. One report found that approximately half of the children surveyed, ages seven to 11, were anxious about climate change and often lost sleep over it. Another study showed that children ages 11 to 14 were more concerned about climate change than they were about their homework. Wow!

What you can do to ease your child’s fears

It is never a good idea to shelter our children from the world because when they do learn what is really going on, they will most likely struggle even more so. However, there are some ways to handle the climate change and natural disaster topics carefully so that our children do not form a major case of eco-anxiety before they graduate from elementary school.
1 | Have an informative, well thought-out discussion with them about climate change and its potential effects. Ask them what they already know and how they feel about it. Explaining that climate change is a long process and we have some time to fix the problem can be reassuring to children. Point out positive examples of how scientists and others are finding solutions like electric cars and solar panels.
2 | Make learning about climate change and weather fun for your kids. Look for creative kid-friendly resources to teach about climate change on a level that they will grasp. Read books, attend science education events, and visit museum exhibits to learn more. Do your own experiments at home and encourage them to choose science projects for school related to solving climate change.
3 | Show your children that they can play a role in helping the planet by working together as a family to reduce your family’s carbon footprint. Some ideas include replacing incandescent light bulbs with fluorescent or LED bulbs, turning of lights and other electronics when you are no longer using them, eating less meat, and carpooling to school and extracurricular events. Just be sure to instill the message that the goal is not perfection; they should do what they can and not stress about it.
4 | Spend time outdoors appreciating and enjoying everything nature has to offer. A growing number of studies from around the world show that spending time in nature can lift mood and improve mental health. So, when you participate in activities like hiking, biking, camping, boating, and swimming, you are essentially combating your child’s anxiety or depression with a boost of green therapy.
5 | Support environmental organizations by volunteering or sending donations as a family. Consider a donation in lieu of a child’s holiday or birthday gift. Empower your kids by letting them choose which organizations to help.
6 | Avoid watching excessive television coverage of extreme weather events. The dramatic, intense images of tornadoes, flooding, and other harsh weather associated with climate change can be petrifying to children. Seeing images of people bleeding or crying could definitely cause nightmares for anyone.
7 | Reassure and comfort your children everyday so they feel loved and protected no matter what challenges they face. Build a strong relationship in which they can talk to you about their fears so that they will ultimately be more resilient.

Embracing The Stigma of a Child Who's Labeled

Fear of stigma can prevent amazing parents from seeking out professional help for a child truly struggling with a mental or behavioral health issue.

Children’s mental health is something we hear a lot about. We have learned how environments that are rich in free play, down time, and rest are necessary for kids to have a healthy mental and emotional balance. We have heard all about mindfulness and yoga for building children’s ability to stay focused and calm. And everyone knows what a fidget spinner is.
Yet children who experience mental health concerns that include outlandish behaviors or social and emotional difficulties are still highly likely to face negative judgements from their peers and many adults in their lives.
I am talking about stigma. It is quiet but strong, like a current that flows beneath the surface of many diagnoses identified in childhood, such as ADHD, Autism, Depression, Anxiety, and Sensory Integration Disorder.
These “labels” alone are seemingly wrapped in a shroud of negative and unfair beliefs about what they actually are, and why they occur. Even the fear of stigma can prevent amazing parents from seeking out professional help for a child truly struggling with a mental or behavioral health issue. This makes it hard to find help, answers, and the much-needed proverbial light at the end of the tunnel for so many overwhelmed moms and dads.
If you are one of these parents, you are not alone.
Some of the concerns that stigma can bring up for parents worried that their child may be experiencing behavioral or emotional symptoms go like this:
People will assume my child is stupid. People will think we are just making excuses. My kid will use this as an excuse to never to do anything again. Grandparents will think we are doing something wrong. If I put my child on medication, people will think I am a bad parent. We should be able to do this on our own. My kid will think something is wrong with him. Everyone will think something is wrong with him. It is my fault.
I am a therapist who has worked with many remarkable kids and families who have voiced these fears and concerns to me in despair over how to come to terms with what their child is going through. I have thought these things myself for my own son.
Even the most insightful and intuitive parents will grit their teeth, try to work with their child, tirelessly give and bend and hold firm and cry and pray that their child will eventually calm down, figure it out, grow out of it. They avoid talking about a cause, the root of the frustrating and heartbreaking rollercoaster the whole family rides on every day. The fear of others’ judgment, in addition to the very personal ongoing struggle, can be paralyzing.
Before my son was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of six, I knew he had it. He refused to follow directions, he threw a tantrum with any transition: going somewhere, leaving somewhere, anytime he had to get dressed or go to bed. He ignored regular toys, preferring to take objects apart. He broke almost everything he touched. He ran instead of walked. Screamed instead of talked. Cried instead of called. He also laughed with a deep joyful belly laughed, and hugged with his whole little body.
His attention span only lasted one second, but he could do really big things with that second. Like climb the neighborhood trees and jump from extreme heights, strip naked on the driveway and cover himself in blue chalk, dart away from me in Target, and steal my heart with a funny dance and a joke. It is always a wild ride with my remarkable child – a frustrating and terrifying one at times – but overall, one I know I will look back on as being something unique and beautiful. Maybe even epic.
About the time things were the hardest they had been, his emotions the highest, my tolerance the lowest, when I thought I was going to break and things couldn’t get any worse, I realized that I had a choice. I could keep trying to fix him myself by forcing him fit into this idea I had of who he should be (one that looked like all my friends’ children, who knew how to sit still and follow directions), or I could put myself aside, quiet my fears and the societal expectations, and really look deeply into my kid. I could work to see every aspect of who he is and what he needs through a lens of love and acceptance and, yes, imperfection.
I chose the latter, and made an appointment to see a psychologist. I knew it was time to put a name to what my son was going through so we could face it together. I wanted him to know that there was something giving him trouble, and it was not his fault. Maybe I needed to know, too, that it wasn’t mine.
Oddly enough, even as a therapist myself, I still panicked. I sat in the psychologist’s office, on the other side this time – the parent, not the expert – and I worried that she was going to look at me say, “Your son just needs a better mom, that’s all. One who can make him listen to her.” She would laugh at me say, “You need more rules, more boundaries,” or, “Remember that time you let him wear his pajamas for a week and never brushed his hair because he would scream every time you tried? You taught him to act like that!”
But she didn’t. She understood. She validated that he was telling me what he needed all along, soft jammies and messy hair, that it was okay, and that I was a good mom for hearing him.
She diagnosed him with ADHD after all, not with a negligent mother (phew!). While we still talked about some better ways for me and my husband to work with him and strategies as a family to make things work for all of us, she told me something else that I didn’t even know I needed to hear:
“You are doing a great job. And your son is an amazing kid.”
That was two years ago, and I have never looked back. I still worry sometimes that people will hear that my child has ADHD and judge him or treat him differently. But what I’ve found is that the more I tell people, the more I normalize it, and the more others embrace him. The stigma starts to fade away and the real, vibrant, colorful, incredible picture of my boy takes its place.
And let me tell you, it is awesome.
The other remarkable thing that has happened since we have embraced my son’s ADHD is that he has learned to embrace himself. He is eight years old now, and there are some tough days when he hates his ADHD and cries, wishing it would go away. But most days, he is a happy, confident kid. He has found he possesses some incredible talents that may even exist because of his ADHD.
Having the label has helped in ways we never anticipated, like the fact that there are so many genius actors, singers, writers, and artists out there who have ADHD and speak out about their own struggles as kids. Most will tell you their diagnosis has not only benefitted them as adults, but has also contributed to their unique creativity and success.
My son looks for these connections, and when he finds them, like in Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian in the world, and in his favorite author Dav Pilkey, the mastermind behind the “Captain Underpants” series, he feels inspired and dives deeper into his own passions like art and writing, and, yes, video games.
There is no guarding against the judgements of others. We cannot control what people will think of us or our kids. I can tell when someone disagrees with me medicating my child. I don’t care. I can hear the tone when someone doesn’t actually believe in ADHD and feels certain I am feeding my kid a diet of candy and video games. It hurts, but I ignore them.
At the end of the day, what I really care about is that I did everything in my power to set my kid up for success. He deserves to know that he is good, to have confidence in himself and control over his body and his emotions. I believe it is my job as his mom to make sure, in a world that often tells him he isn’t good enough, that he believes he is.
It is also my job to make sure he feels loved and that he is known for all of what makes him who he is, ADHD and all.

Which Everyday Sounds May Put Your Kid's Hearing at Risk? [Infographic]

Consistent exposure to everyday noises can slowly damage our hearing. See the risk level of different common sounds in this handy infographic.

The loudest sound accurately measured by humans was caused by the explosive volcanic eruption of Indonesia’s Krakatoa Island on August 27, 1883.

Krakatoa’s blast registered at 173 decibels 100 miles away from the volcano – which, even at that distance, is substantially above a human’s pain threshold.

This mammoth instance of noise is a rare anomaly. However, consistent exposure to everyday sounds – subways, music, sporting events, lawn mowers, traffic, vacuums, even babies crying – can slowly damage our hearing. See how these, and other common sounds, affect your hearing in the infographic below.


percentage of children teens and adults with hearing loss

[su_highlight background=”#ED1C7C”]About 1/6 of teens and adults have hearing loss, and 12.5% of children have dulled hearing in one or both ears.[/su_highlight]

*Source  °Source


 
It’s unrealistic to think we can sterilize these noises from our lives. But we can take steps to protect our hearing, and especially the hearing of our children and infants when possible. Many devices we use today have the ability to reach noise levels 100 times more intense than the level at which hearing damage begins. Babies and children are at a higher risk for hearing damage because their shorter ear canals amplify sounds more than an adult ear. Teach children to turn down music, move away from extremely loud sounds, and wear hearing protection to events with sustained periods of noise.
babies and young children experience higher sound intensity

[su_highlight background=”#ED1C7C”]Small ears can perceive sounds to be up to 20DB louder than adults due to their shorter ear canals[/su_highlight]


 
vintage illustration of ear anatomy

[su_highlight background=”#2A2A2A” color=”#FFFFFF”]The mechanics of hearing[/su_highlight]

Sound waves cause your [su_highlight background=”#ff6600″]1[/su_highlight] eardrum to vibrate → this vibration travels through the [su_highlight background=”#ff6600″]2[/su_highlight] three small bones of your middle ear → is converted from air vibrations into fluid vibrations within the cochlea → the fluid of your [su_highlight background=”#ff6600″]3[/su_highlight] cochlea causes small hair-like projections, called stereocilia, to sway with the vibrations →  the swaying of the stereocilia sends signals to the brain which are translated into a noise.

[su_spacer size=”20″][/su_spacer]

Ems for kids protective earmuffs for hearing protectionParent Co. partnered with Ems for Kids because they believe every parent should know what risks they’re taking.


[su_spacer size=”60″][/su_spacer]

[su_highlight background=”#2A2A2A” color=”#FFFFFF”]Everyday sounds that can damage our hearing.[/su_highlight]

[su_spacer size=”20″][/su_spacer]
[smartslider3 slider=31]
[su_spacer size=”60″][/su_spacer]

[su_highlight background=”#2A2A2A” color=”#FFFFFF”]Everyday sounds that are fairly safe for our ears.[/su_highlight]

[su_spacer size=”40″][/su_spacer]

[smartslider3 slider=30]
[su_spacer size=”60″][/su_spacer]

[su_highlight background=”#2A2A2A” color=”#FFFFFF”]Three ways to protect your hearing[/su_highlight]

[su_spacer size=”40″][/su_spacer]

[su_highlight background=”#ED1C7C”]1[/su_highlight] Wear protective earmuffs at loud events

Protective earmuffs can reduce a sound’s intensity by 25 DB.

hearing protection and sound

[su_spacer size=”40″][/su_spacer]


[su_highlight background=”#ED1C7C”]2[/su_highlight] Limit your exposure time

Sounds that register above 85 DB can damage our hearing. Sound intensity doubles with every 3DB increase.

Permissible time before hearing damage begins

intensity and time

[su_spacer size=”40″][/su_spacer]


[su_highlight background=”#ED1C7C”]3[/su_highlight] Move away from the noise

You will reduce noise pressure levels by 75%, or 6 DB, every time you double your distance from a sound.

distance and sound
[su_spacer size=”30″][/su_spacer]


Ems for kids protective hearing earmuffs

Parent Co. partnered with Ems for Kids because they believe every parent should know what risks they’re taking.


I'm Pregnant With My Third, Is That a Disaster for the Climate?

Every kid adds an additional 20 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions to be produced each year. But does having fewer children help solve global warming?

I’m pregnant with an eco-disaster.

My belly is currently growing larger with not my first, not my second, but my third child. My husband and I have already produced enough offspring to sufficiently replace each of us, making the decision to have one more seem, in this day and age, almost self-indulgent and excessive.

I am bringing into the world a demand for an additional 20 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions to be produced each year – assuming this child is like most other Americans. We’ve chosen to create another life, which means more than just additional sleepless nights for us. There will be consequences which ripple from the glaciers in Antarctica to the shores of Pacific islands.

As excited as we are for our third child, I cannot go more than a few days without being reminded by the media that the best way to fight climate change would be – or would’ve been – to have fewer children. Having one less child than I do, or choosing to have none at all, would have reduced my carbon footprint by 58 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, according to the authors of one recent study published in Environmental Research Letters. Researchers argue this move far outstrips every other green practice, be it buying a hybrid car, eating a plant-based diet, or purchasing green energy.

This concern about population size is warranted. The planet is expected to house over nine billion people by 2050, tripling the world population from a century earlier. This explosive growth has taxed the earth’s resources like never before, and coupled with our fossil fuel reliant energy systems, has jeopardized the stability of our earth’s climate. People living in the developed world, like me and my children, are responsible for a much larger share of carbon emissions than those in the developing.

But taking a family-planning approach to climate change is a distraction, one I worry could lead us further away from solving the crisis.

Despite the emerging warnings about the consequences of reproduction, most Americans – 95 percent – want children, only one percent less than did in 1990, according to survey data. Americans describe their ideal family size as 2.6 children, the same size it has been for the last 40 years. And when families are done having children, they primarily cite financial reasons – the economy or the cost of raising a child – not environmental ones.

On the whole, couples will tend to have the family size they want, or at least the one they can afford, without regard to the environmental impact. The decision to have children remains too deep, too intimate to invite climate scientists into the bedroom.

So what do warnings about the environmental consequences of reproducing and recommendations to have fewer children accomplish?

While each of my three pregnancies seems to last a lifetime, I have spent most of my life not having children. Living in the developed world, I have found that not having children is relatively easy – a quick trip to the doctor’s office and a small pill have guaranteed that I am pregnant with my third, not my seventh, child.

By contrast, going vegan, buying a hybrid car, building a composting toilet, or recycling rainwater would’ve been considerably more difficult endeavors. Less subjective ones, as well. I could easily tell friends we had planned on having four children, but decided to stop at three because of the environmental consequences, when the truth was we made that decision upon realizing how much work children are.

Despite recent attention to reducing fertility rates, the number of births in the United States has generally been below the replacement rate since 1971. Nevertheless, our impact on the environment has grown. Recommendations that tell young adults that the best thing they can do is exactly what they are already doing provide a false sense of accomplishment when no substantial changes have been made. Instead, they risk perpetuating an unsustainable status quo.

Having one less child than we might have otherwise will not solve the pressing need for widespread reduction in our per capita carbon emissions. The carbon footprint of an individual should not be ignored, but the choices any individual person or family makes will have little impact on global average temperatures.

With the United States withdrawing from the Paris Accord, the most pressing action for adults to take is not reduce the number of the children they have, but rather to lobby their elected officials to take seriously the threat of climate change and to pursue policies that will reduce our country’s carbon emissions. The best way to reduce a carbon footprint is not accomplished at the individual level, but at the societal level. One family recycling, composting, or foregoing one more child will not have the same impact as comprehensive policy changes.

Children are the reason we must act to stem the impact of climate change. If we devalue them, we risk devaluing what we are fighting for. If I am forced to choose between my air conditioning and my children, I would gladly give up any semblance of human comfort for their protection. Choosing between fossil fuels reliance and future generations should be equally as easy.

With great fecundity – or even mildly above average fecundity – comes great responsibility. My husband and I chose to bring an additional life (who brings with him or her additional consequences) into this world. I have no illusion that the life of my unborn child is justified by the possibility that she might be the one who grows up to “solve” climate change for humanity. I do not believe my child’s life needs to be justified. But each of my children do serve as a constant reminder that my duty to preserve and protect our planet’s future, and in doing so to create a better world for all children, is greater still.

Who’s the Boss? Ask the Baby, Says Study

According to new research, babies as young as 17 months can identify the dominant individuals in social situations.

In the animal kingdom, species often interact and behave according to a social hierarchy. Within the group, social messages are communicated in a wide variety of subtle ways. Dominant animals often exhibit aggressive or overly assertive behavior. They typically hunt and eat first, and they eat more. Less dominant animals wait to eat, eat less, and often show other signs of submission.
Humans are not so different. We also operate according to a social hierarchy in which there are dominant and nondominant members. The next time you’re wondering who’s who, just ask the wee one in the bunch. According to new research published in “Cognition”, babies as young as 17 months can identify the dominant individuals in social situations.
“I think these results are really interesting and provocative,” says Kristin Shutts, associate professor of psychology and member of the Social Kids Lab at the University of Wisconsin. “There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that very young children – even infants – can attend to and understand cues regarding which individuals are more dominant or powerful than others.”
The research, led by University of Washington psychology professor Jessica Sommerville and graduate student Elizabeth Enright, built on previous evidence that infants have an understanding of dominance, as well as evidence that infants expect equal distribution of resources.
It was unknown, however, whether infants would combine this information. After learning that someone was dominant, would infants still expect equality or would they expect the dominant person to receive more?
To test this question, the researches ran five studies with 80 children between 17 and 18 months old (16 toddlers per study). In each study, they measured toddlers’ looking time. Participants were shown one video repeatedly until they habituated (became bored and looked less than they initially had been looking) and then they were shown new test videos. In these paradigms, infants and toddlers typically look longer at what they find unexpected or out of the ordinary.
Adults behave in the same manner. For example, a magic trick or a car accident catch and hold our attention because they’re unexpected. When toddlers watched videos in which non-dominant characters in the videos received rewards, which was not expected, they looked for about seven seconds longer than normal. Measuring a baby’s “looking time” is a common metric used in studies of cognition and comprehension in infants, according to the researchers.
“This tells us that babies are sorting through things at a higher level than we thought. They’re attending to and taking into consideration fairly sophisticated concepts,” Sommerville said in a press release. “If, early on, you see that someone who is more dominant gets more stuff, and as adults, we see that and say that’s how the world is, it might be because these links are present early in development.”
What is it about the social hierarchy that makes it so naturally ingrained that even an infant recognizes it? “This is still an open question, and there might be a variety of different reasons for why toddlers already recognize social hierarchies,” said Enright. “One reason might be that they see social hierarchies all the time. For instance, they might see an older sibling able to get what they want and exert dominance over a younger sibling. They might see a parent reinforce rules over themselves and younger siblings.”
Additionally, Enright explains, social hierarchies are not unique to humans. Many other species not only have social hierarchies, but also recognize social hierarchies. So it may not be surprising that these hierarchies could be ingrained and recognized early.
Understanding social hierarchies can actually aid child development. Parents set rules and are in charge of their children, teachers have authority over their classrooms, older children can make decisions over younger children, and the list goes on and on. As a toddler and young child, it is beneficial to recognize these social hierarchies in order to understand the social world.
When these children are in daycare and more structured settings, says Enright, knowing who’s in charge is important. Similarly, among peers it is beneficial to recognize social status and notice the potential consequences of status (the “boss” of the playground might get more resources, like toys and snacks).
This early understanding raises some interesting questions: “Have children of this age already observed and learned from their environment that people who control one resource are likely to have or receive further resources? Or do children come into the world with an expectation that possessing better or more resources is a key part of being in charge?” Shutts asks.
We don’t currently have the answers. Additional research with younger infants, with infants in different cultural contexts, and with experiments that present other kinds of dominance information will be key to figuring this out.
“These are early days when it comes to understanding what young children perceive and understand about social hierarchies,” says Shutts. “But this new set of studies is an important piece of the puzzle.”