Posts tagged: Anxiety

Parenting

Business Logo for Psychological and Neuropsychological IssuesThe October issue of the Monitor on Psychology offered seven strategies to improve parenting.  These strategies are culled from a century of research in child psychology.  This effort is especially gratifying to the author, as the bulk of important psychological research goes unnoticed and unheeded.  Please view these suggestions as ways to improve parenting, rather than a critique on the status of parenting in America.

Few activities are as bound to one’s self-worth as parenting.  Some parents will assume they employ all these techniques perfectly.  Some parents will dispel them as psychological nonsense.  Perhaps it is true that good parents often worry about their parenting skills, and poor parents believe their parenting skills are axiomatically above reproach.  This is reminiscent of how peak performers in any field tend to function.  They systematically review and analyze their performance, whereas the losers tend to blame anything but themselves.  It is hoped the parental reader will keep an open mind.

Please also keep in mind that consistency is the linchpin of any behavioral intervention.  It is probably better, most times, to employ a bad behavioral intervention consistently, than a good intervention inconsistently.  Interventions that are inconsistent leave the child confused and liable to act out in unpredictable ways.  Consistency between the caretakers must occur before the parents can employ behavioral interventions in an effective fashion.  If the parents are not in agreement about the intervention, the intervention is doomed to failure.  The child will receive a different message from each parent; again causing confusion and unpredictable acting out.  Additionally, if the child is getting what they want by pitting one parent against the other, what they are being taught is how to use deceit in order to manipulate people towards their own ends.

That being said, the first strategy is to embrace praise, but the praise should not be indiscriminate.  Dr. Eyberg named this type of positive feedback as “labeled praise.”  The praise should be specific to the situation, realistic, and followed with a smile or gentle touch.  False praise for poor performance robs the child of the “learning that comes from failure.”  The second strategy is to ignore minor behavioral problems that do not result in physical or emotional injury.  Ignoring screaming pleas and only responding to prosocial ways of attracting attention teaches the child there are easier and more reliable methods to receive a parent’s attention.  Third, read up on child development.  New parents are often surprised by behaviors that are normal for the child’s developmental stage.  This helps to lower the parents anxiety through increasingly realistic expectations.  Fourth, use time-out in a brief and immediate fashion.  Time-outs will not work if the parents give positive reinforcement for antisocial behaviors.  The child will not stay in the corner if their aggression is rewarded at other times.  The fifth strategy is to prevent misbehavior by planning and structuring activities.  Teaching children to cope with situational demands and stay busy will help combat boredom and the disruptive behaviors that ensue.  Sixth, the parent must take care of themselves first and foremost.  There is a strong link between parental and child stress, as well as how the child will learn to cope with stress in their adult life.  Lastly, psychologists advise making time for your children.  This is not a suggestion to give up your work to sit and stare at your child.  About an hour a week, divided or whole, appears to be sufficient to satisfy the needs of most children that have been researched.  The parent should not be teaching or correcting during this time, but simply sharing an activity.

Please note that these strategies are not only effective with “normal” children, but are employed with good effect in child clinical populations.  The main difference is that these strategies are utilized in a much more rapid and rigid format.  The rules remain the same.  The primary task is to model and reward behaviors that will serve the child well in adulthood, while coping with the extraordinary responsibility and stresses of being a parent.  No one is a perfect parent, as no one is perfect at anything.  Perfection is an idealistic goal that is never attained.  It is the process of working towards this ideal that generates excellence.  So, if your worried about your performance as a parent-you’re probably a pretty good parent already.

Got Gut?

Business Logo for Psychological and Neuropsychological IssuesThis article will effect you at the gut level.  I have a gut feeling that you will learn something from this article.  Reading this article feels like a sock in the gut-and so on.  Popular expressions are replete with references to the gut.  Things felt at the “gut level” are believed to be especially true.  It is as if the gut contains a sort of ancient wisdom.  What the gut does contain is bacteria-lots of it.  Research increasingly suggests that the interaction between this bacteria and the brain plays a larger role in mood and behavior than previously imagined.

Dr. Siri Carpenter addressed current GI research in the September issue of the APA “Monitor.”  She wrote that about 100 million neurons are embedded in the lining of the gut.  Even if the neural connection between the brain and gut (vagus nerve) is severed, the gut will continue to function without regulation from the brain.  The gut produces neurochemicals that affect brain function in the absence of any direct neural connection.  It may be true that the gut influences the brain more than the brain influences the gut.

Most of the research cited by Dr. Carpenter is, as usual, confined to rodent populations.  Scientists have been able to make the same group of mice be calm, anxious, adventurous or timid by adjusting the bacteria in their gut.  They have even transplanted gut bacteria from one group of mice to another; in effect transplanting the behavioral features of each group as well.  The change in rodent group behavior does not necessarily require transplanting all the bacteria within the gut.  The addition or subtraction of only one bacterial strain may profoundly alter rodent behavior.

The influence of the gut on the brain is only one side of the street.  Many studies with monkeys and humans have demonstrated that elevated stress may suppress beneficial bacteria in the gut.  Chronically stressed monkeys exhibit an overall decreased diversity of bacteria in their gut, which allows the harmful bacteria to flourish.  These stressed-out monkeys are more susceptible to infection and inflammation within their gut.  Once an infection has begun, the gut produces cytokines that promote inflammation.  These inflammatory chemicals disrupt brain biochemistry in a way that may increase vulnerability to anxiety and depression.  The “Monitor” article explained that more than half the people who suffer with GI disorders also suffer with clinically significant anxiety or depression.  Many clinicians believe the prevalence of depression or anxiety in GI disorders is closer to seventy five percent.

This research may have a profound effect on the way clinicians treat both chronic GI distress and psychiatric problems.  Psychology may become the treatment of choice for Irritable Bowel Syndrome.  Some forms of depression and anxiety may be treated with an infusion of probiotic bacteria.  While empirically validated treatments may be years away, it does present interesting options for the present.  Those who suffer with chronic GI distress should consider treatment of their depressive or anxiety disorder symptoms, since a change in brain chemistry may decrease their physical suffering.  Conversely, people who suffer with chronic anxiety and/or depression might consider a healthy change in their diet before making a trip to the shrink.  If the options seem confusing…just listen to your gut.

All rights reserved

Switch to our mobile site