Summer 1999

Working mothers

A recent study published in the journal Developmental Psychology finds that mothers working outside the home does not adversely impact children ages birth to three. This is important research because of the emphasis that much research has placed on bonding and attachment during these years.

Dr. Elizabeth Harvey took measures of children’s compliance, behavior problems, cognitive development, self-esteem and academic achievement. Children whose mothers worked long hours did show some effect with regard to lowered academic test scores, however, these scores returned to normal in time. Dr. Harvey studied a total of 12, 600 people over a period of nearly 20 years.

Sibling Rivalry

Researcher psychologists Lisa Perozynksi and Laurie Kramer recently published a study regarding the beliefs and practices that parents have regarding sibling conflicts. They studied 2 parent, 2 sibling families with the second born child between the ages of three and five years. The observed families in their homes and had them complete a survey . Essentially the researchers studied the parent’s confidence in what they do when sibling rivalry arises. Some parents use child centered approaches and some use more authority based techniques, while others use no intervention at all. The research found that there was a significant difference in the way fathers and mothers respond. It appears the when pushing and shoving are part the children’s behavior, fathers believe that authority works best. For verbal conflicts, mothers felt more able to improve the children’s communication than did fathers. Father felt more confident in using control strategies.

However confident the parents were, they did not act in accord with their beliefs. This is a consistent finding with other research that shows attitudes do not always reflect behavior. Parents most often ignored sibling conflict and in fact, use “passive nonintervention” (ignoring the children when they are fighting) more than three times as frequently as the use of control or trying to improve their children’s communication.

This study did not study the effectiveness of ignoring conflicts. However, in many instances, attending to siblings conflicts too much can cause more conflicts. Often, letting them work it out on their own is the best approach. This is because the basis of many sibling conflicts is the need for parental attention.

Smoking pregnant mothers beware

According to an article in the March Archives of General Psychiatry, smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of mothers giving birth to offspring who will grow up and become adult criminals. However, this article does not say that smoking during pregnancy causes criminal behavior in adult hood. Many press releases such as this confuse the publicabout what scientists term causation and association. It would be very difficult to prove that smoking during pregnancy caused adult criminal behavior, though it would be much easier (well, not that easy) to find an association. In this study, smoking was associated with children who grew up to be criminal.

There are many ways to stop smoking, by the way. Here are some behavior modification tips:

Find yourself seven 3 x 5 cards. Once you’ve decided to quit, on each card, write one, very clear reason you want to stop smoking. Each day, while your going through withdrawal, carry that card with you and read it every time you have an urgency. The first seven days of quitting are often the difficult because of the nicotine withdrawal. Drink more water than you would usually during the first month of quitting.

Visit your dentist and have your teeth cleaned to help reduce all the “taste triggers” that smoking has produced. Also, find a mouth wash you enjoy and use it regularly.

Develop some kind of exercise plan, whether it is walking or weightlifting. Find something you will enjoy and keep to it. This also helps reduce the urges.

Secretin and Autism

Secretin is a hormone and as with all hormones, it is naturally produced by the body. According to an article in the recent Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmocology, Secretin has been reported by many to alleviate some of the main symptoms of autism. The authors did a study using Secretin, in its manufactured form, with children who were diagnosed with autism. Six children were given Secretin, four of which were followed by the authors for two months. One child out of six had significant improvements as reported by the child’s therapist and mother. Three other children had subtle improvement in the areas of language and relatedness. Other children show either no improvement or became worse. The authors caution readers to expect modest results though many have heard about parental testimonials about Secretion’s dramatic effect on their autistic children.

Fact: 2.3 million marriages and 1.2 million divorces occurred in the United States in 1996. People married at the rate of 6400 marriages per day and divorced at the rate of 3200 per day. 35 percent of all Americans in the US between 25 and 34 have never married.

Joint Custody with a Jerk: Raising a Child with an Uncooperative Ex. by Julie Ross and Judy Corcoran,
St. Martin’s Press: New York. 1996. 14.95

This book is intended for parents who have a difficult custodial arrangement, not necessarily a joint custody arrangement. For example, this book might also be valuable for those who have problems with a parent who does not have custody but has visitation rights.

This book is written in with valuable advice in dealing with difficult situations with the “other parent.” Written by an experienced parent educator, this book covers most of the usual tough times that parents who have post divorce conflicts go through. Chapters cover topics that will help parents find their priorities in dealing with ex-spouses. For example, one technique that the author discusses very clearly is the “think - feel - do” cycle.” Most people who are having trouble with others, sometimes lose sight of their participation in the trouble in that they believe that events cause them to have feelings (the ex-spouse does something and you feel angry). However, Ms. Ross rightly points out that between the event (ex-spouse doing something) and your reaction (anger, for example) are thoughts! The events do not trigger the feelings by themselves. It is our thinking about the events that can literally make us sick. Ms. Ross devotes time to explaining how people who feel caught up in post-divorce conflict can change things for the better by only paying attention to their thinking.

A majority of this book helps parents learn how to break down problems and decide who is responsible for them. It also has excellent advice on how to manage problems once it is decided who is responsible. This book is a good “coach” for those who are having problems with their former “significant other.”

When Men Batter Women: New Insights into Ending Abusive Relationships by Neil Jacobson and John Gottman,
Simon and Schuster: New York, 1998 25.00

It is alarming that one out of five children live in violent homes. The work of the late Neil Jacobson and John Gottman breaks new ground in our understanding of such family violence as it relates to couples. This book reviews their research on couples who were brought into the laboratory. These couples had histories of violence in the home. Drs. Jacobson and Gottman studied the way these couples argued and took physiological measures using instruments such as polygraphs. They discovered two types of male batterers and they called them pit bulls and cobras. Their book illuminates these two types and offers distinctions between them. For example, before they hit a spouse, a cobra type, the laboratory studies demonstrated, even in the middle of a heated argument, will have a reduced heart rate, the opposite of what would be expected in an argument full of fierce emotion. Cobra types, the authors tell us, are preparing at this time to focus and strike deliberately. Of course, couples in the laboratory studies were not allowed to become violent; arguing was the focus of study.

The authors also delve into the many myths of battering and family violence. For anyone with questions about this topic, this is a true education. Even professionals who treat couples for battering may not be fully aware of the many dimensions that are involved. The message is clear; there is never a good reason for a male partner to hit his female partner. However, what is clear is that males who do batter justify it with rationalizations and often fuel it with alcohol. I highly recommend this book to anyone who cares and wants to understand this very real problem.