Tag Archives: parenting

People may need people and a sense of purpose for health and happiness

People and other species are social creatures whose survival may have been dependent on being part of a group rather than being isolated. Loneliness has been associated with increased inflammation and a reduced resistance to infection by viral diseases. Genetic changes have been found to occur in isolated individuals that lead to the increased inflammatory response in comparison to individuals who have more social support. Our instincts have developed to trust that being part of a group increases our chance of survival. Having a role that fulfills a valued purpose for the group is associated with an increased sense of happiness.

Fitting into groups well can take social skills that need to be nurtured from birth. Infants learn body language at an early age by interacting with a parent who responds to the baby’s cues. If the baby smiles the mother smiles back and the baby learns to smile more readily. If the baby has a mother that doesn’t notice body language though, then the infant may stop smiling as often. Infants and children depend on their caregivers for everything and try to please with their smiles, eye contact, or baby coos. If the infant isn’t receiving eye contact in return however they may stop trying or are scolded they may learn to look away and to avoid eye contact.

Children ideally need emotional support in order to develop trust in themselves and in others. Parents who have limited skills in understanding and accepting their own emotions may not be able to teach their children what they don’t understand themselves. Children who have some role model in their lives who understands emotional skills may cope better than children who don’t.

The topic is discussed in more detail in the book Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents, by Lindsay C. Gibson, PsyD, (New Harbinger Pub., Inc., 2015, Oaklnad, CA) [1] (This book is not a twelve step book and is not affiliated with the Adult Children of Alcoholic or Dysfunctional Parents twelve step group.) An excerpt from page 108:

“Why is emotional connection so crucial?

According to neuroscientist Stephen Porges (2011), mammals have evolved a unique coping instinct in which they are calmed by proximity or engagement with others. Instead of just having the involuntary stress reactions of fight, flight, or freeze, like reptiles do, mammals can calm their heart rate and reduce the physical costs of stress by seeking reassuring contact with others of their kind. Certain vagus nerve pathways in mammals have evolved to allow stress hormones and heart rate to be reduced by confronting in such forms as physical closeness, touch, soothing sounds, and even eye contact. These calming effects conserve valuable energy and also create pleasurable social bonds that promote strong groups.

For all mammals, including humans, something magical happens when this desire to seek comfort switches on. The danger might not go away, but individuals can stay relatively calm as long as they feel tied into their herd, pack, or circle of loved ones. Most mammals have stressful lives, but thanks to their instinct for engaging with others, calming comfort and restored energy are just a friendly contact away. This gives mammals a tremendous advantage over other animals when it comes to dealing with stress in an energy-efficient way, since they don’t have to go into fight, flight, or freeze every time they sense a threat.” [1]

So a sense of connection to others can help reduce the negative inflammatory effects of the stress response. Some stress can be healthy to help get us moving to meet whatever challenge has occurred. Stress may become more overwhelming however if the person is isolated or never learned social skills or trust enough to ask for help or seek out help. Children in situations with emotionally immature caregivers may learn that people around them can’t be trusted or that trying doesn’t lead to success so why bother trying — they can learn  a sense of helplessness and hopelessness rather than finding strength from others.

The book Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents, by Lindsay C. Gibson [1] describes  four different types of emotionally immature caregivers, how growing up with them might affect children and how the children might overcome the lessons they learned later in life as adults who only just discovered that emotions aren’t dangerous things to never be discussed or worse that one might be punished for exhibiting. Some emotionally immature people may feel threatened by strong emotions and may react negatively to children who are simply being children. The child in that situation learns to not trust themselves and may not learn that emotions are normal rather than upsetting or frightening.

Severe childhood trauma can lead to changes in the brain that cause ongoing symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). A new strategy for treating PTSD has been developed which involves electrical stimulation of the vagus nerve called Vagal nerve stimulation (VNS).  Which the excerpt from the book [1]  suggests is the nerve pathway that naturally is stimulated when social contact is sought during a stressful situation.

Stress and trauma have been too readily available lately. More police officers were shot today in the U.S. in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Three are injured, one critically, and three officers were killed Sunday morning. The gunman was a former marine who drove there from his home in Missouri. The gunman was killed at the scene. Further information about his possible motives are not known at this time. Whether there were any accomplices is not known but it is believed he was a lone gunman and there has been no further shooting in the area.

My condolences and best wishes to the families, friends, and coworkers of the slain officers, may they rest in peace, and to the community of Baton Rouge

Emotionally immature parents may raise emotionally immature children who grow up to raise their own emotionally immature children. Help break the trauma cycle by reading the book Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents: How to Heal from Distant, Rejecting, or Self-Involved Parents, by Lindsay C. Gibson [1]. Whether you are a parent or a teen or an adult learning more about emotional maturity and immaturity can help understand your own emotions and others. Whatever we grow up with will seem normal to us and as adults we tend to seek out similar relationships to those we were familiar with as children — but sometimes what seems normal to some people isn’t normal for everyone else and there is no need to continue living in abusive situations just because it seemed like a normal part of life as a child.

Lack of emotional skills may increase the risk of acting inappropriately when under severe stress. People need the support of people to help reduce negative effects of stress and increase a sense of connection and purpose. People need to learn emotional skills from people who have emotional skills  — or sometimes from a book. [1]

Disclaimer: Opinions are my own and the information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes.

 “Kanga did it,” or Blaming others does not get the hallway repainted

Subtitle: Hashtag RecordICouldBreak: “The Little Red Caboose,” (goes chug, chug)

Sub-Subtitle: Secrets from a Dysfunctional Family with Poor Communication Skills

When I was young, around four years old, a mystery occurred in my family. We had a long hallway running down the middle of a ranch style house, a hallway maybe 20 to 25 feet long, with at least one 12 foot stretch that had no doorways breaking up the wall. One morning, this long expanse of beige wall suddenly had large swirling swirls of color swirling all the way down the hallway, The swirls didn’t go all the way up the wall, they were about three feet in diameter swirling circles of color.

My mother was upset.

She demanded to know who had decorated the hall.

No one was confessing.

Just wait until your father comes home,” might have been said. I’m not sure.

Eventually my younger sister volunteered the sad news that “Kanga did it.”

Now you can’t pull the wool over this (formerly) four year-old’s eyes. Her stuffed Kanga was only about a foot or two tall, not three feet tall, and there was the absence of opposable thumbs, and furthermore, Kanga was the mother figure from the children’s book series called “Winnie the Pooh,” and I knew Kanga would never have drawn on the walls.

Now my mother probably managed to figure these facts out for herself but arguing with a two year old about facts is a challenge that not everyone can handle with equal parenting skills. There was never an admission of guilt that I can recall.

The hallway had to be repainted.

The story lived on in family lore and tended to surface whenever a mystery occurred –- “Kanga did it.”

Now I told that story to tell another, with the PSA warning, do not try to tell anecdotes in 140 characters or less, unless it is a very, very, very short anecdote.

A few days ago on the social media platform, Twitter, a hashtag game topic was trending that caught my attention: # RecordICouldBreak. Now it was obvious that the theme was about setting sporting event or world records, or Ripley Believe It or Not type records, but my immediate thought was regarding an alternative meaning of the word record. In the old days (lol), music was recorded on plastic discs with sound imbedded in grooves which a sensitive needle could bump over and transform back into sound when spun on the appropriate piece of equipment. These discs were called records and were played on record players. Though archaic at this point music records do still exist and still have a fan base as the sound quality is slightly different than from CDs or iPods and there is still a lot of music that hasn’t been transferred from the older originally  recorded forms to the more modern digital forms of music.

So back to the point, we sisters had a little portable record player and a few records specially made for it, and my younger sister would play the song, “Little Red Caboose,” over and over and over and over and over again. It became excrutiating, tortured ears and tortured brain cells.

The record disappeared.

She was devastated.

I rejoiced.

But, you can’t pull the wool over this (formerly) six year old’s eyes. That record rarely left the little record player and my younger sister was rarely without either the record or the portable record player – how could the record just disappear?

I think my mother may have disappeared hidden it. The record did eventually turn up again, and by that point in time my sister had lost interest in the song. The record got played but not repeatedly.

Sounds and the sound of silence were important to both of my parents, but more so to my father. Like fingernails on a chalkboard can be painful, too much rambunctiousness from the children seemed to be painful to him. Classical music was usually what was playing in the background while I was growing up. He watched television but in a way that I eventually learned was quite unusual. He would watch sports with the sound off and ballet and nature documentaries with the sound on.

I think I came to equate sports and ballet as very similar types of events – both involved players running around in odd costumes but ballet had better music and golf had the funniest costumes.

Later in life I learned that sports and ballet are not viewed quite the same by the majority of the population. I also learned just how long football season lasts – too long in my opinion. The sound is jarring and frequently has a negative tone.

I think my father and I are somewhere on the autistic spectrum.

I don’t like the modern CGI films and special effects which seem as violent to my eyes and brain as strobe lights – which cause migraines for me. I learned to shut my eyes at concerts that have bright light shows. To my eyes and brain, the modern special effects and enhanced photography is too bright and too 3-D compared to the gentleness or awesomeness of actual nature.

Come to find out, I prefer those nature documentaries from the 70s that my father watched and which seemed so boring at the time. Ballet specials weren’t available very often on the two or three television channels that our TV set received compared to nature documentaries or other types of sporting events. So I grew up thinking that sound was an optional choice when watching TV. We didn’t even have a working TV set for a few years of my youth and when we did have one, we children were each allowed to pick out one show to watch per day after school and then we were expected to go do other things like play outside or do homework. We also had to sit several feet away from the TV set – in case there were invisible TV radiation bugs coming out of the (new-fangled invention) set.

Come to find out, excess TV viewing during childhood may be unhealthy due to an overstimulation of the dopamine receptors of the brain. Excess TV viewing during childhood is associated with an increased risk for developing behavior problems such as increased attention and aggression. [2] The rapid changing visual images and rapid music and chatter may be causing the brain to become over-stimulated and to then crave increased stimulation all the time.

So to make a long double story short, I don’t like the song “The Little Red Caboose,” – like fingernails on a chalkboard, and if given the opportunity I might enjoy breaking that record. (But let’s keep that a secret from my little sister. – No, I’m joking, she would laugh.)

And if my name were Aesop, the moral of the double story might be that open communication may be healthier for children than silence, or denial of the truth, or turning denial of the truth into a family joke.

Or it might be that taking personal responsibility for one’s actions is more important than maintaining silence.

Kanga didn’t really swirl huge swirls of color down the hallway – I’m pretty sure about that, but maybe the record did get temporarily lost, just color me skeptic.

My mother’s feelings were hurt when I tried to talk to her about family dysfunction a few years ago.The word dysfunction is possibly too strong a word. We had a wonderful childhood in many ways and a very functional household overall. She was an extremely smart and effective mother who taught us many household skills and creative art techniques, but effective social interaction wasn’t something she grew up with either, so how could she have been expected to pass on something she hadn’t learned as a child either? (My dad is unique, communication as a mechanical engineer is at a level that doesn’t apply to a discussion about effective social communication. Nuff said.)

Silence may be golden, especially for autistic ears and brains, but truth and taking personal responsibility can also be healing.

The real moral of the double story might be that ideally children shouldn’t be too afraid of their parents to tell the truth or to share other concerns with them.

  1. Some tips on effective parenting communication is available in a pdf handout from the center for Effective Parenting, Department of Pediatrics of the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences, Parent/Child Communication, by Kristen Zolton, M.A. and Nicholas Long, Ph.D.: [http://www.parenting-ed.org/handouts/communication-parent%20to%20child.pdf] The examples given in the section listing negative styles of communication suggests that my family stories may have involved “Dwelling on the past,” “Putting children down,” through the ridicule of turning a toddler event into a family joke, and “Lying,” about the disappeared record, and “Denying children’s feelings,” by not talking about the disappearance of the record, and possibly “Using threats,” – wait until your father comes home – and then what? He’ll interrogate Kanga? That type of threat turns dad into a scary ogre type of person.
  2. The American Pediatric Association recommends no television viewing for children under age two and a limit of two hours per day for children older than age two. Longer than two hours of television viewing per day between the age of 2 1/2 to 5 1/2 has been associated with fewer social skills and increased attention and aggression problems. They also recommend not having a television in the child’s bedroom or allowing them to fall asleep with the television as it has been associated with sleep problems. Too Much TV Linked to Behavior Problems, More Than 2 Hours of Television a Day Harms Children’s Social Skills, Study Shows, by Jennifer Warner, WebMD Health News, Oct. 1, 2007,[http://www.webmd.com/parenting/news/20071001/too-much-tv-linked-behavior-problems]

Additional note:

Other valuable lessons I learned from my parents:

  • You win some and you lose some in the game of life. Learn from the lessons and keep showing up for the next round of the game, as long as life allows.
  • Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” — I would never break a record, not even The Little Red Caboose. I would donate things that I no longer wanted to a resale shop.

/Disclaimer: This information is provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of fair use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health guidance. Please see a health professional for individual health care purposes./