Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Early Child Care Linked to Increases in Vocabulary, Problem Behaviors in 5th and 6th Grades

The media is buzzing about these latest results from the ongoing NIH study of 1,364 children. It is worth reading if you currently use child care. As you can see from the excerpt below, "Parenting quality was a much more important predictor of child development than was type, quantity, or quality, of child care" and I believe that is the key.

The most recent analysis of a long-term NIH-funded study found that children who received higher quality child care before entering kindergarten had better vocabulary scores in the fifth grade than did children who received lower quality care.

The study authors also found that the more time children spent in center-based care before kindergarten, the more likely their sixth grade teachers were to report such problem behaviors as "gets in many fights," "disobedient at school," and "argues a lot."

However, the researchers cautioned that the increase in vocabulary and problem behaviors was small, and that parenting quality was a much more important predictor of child development than was type, quantity, or quality, of child care. The study appears in the March/April 2007, issue of Child Development. Jay Belsky, Ph.D., Director of the Institute for the Study of Children, Families and Social Issues and Professor of Psychology at Birkbeck University of London, was the first author of the current article.

To read the entire NIH News release, click on the title of this blog post.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

60 Years of Wisdom in Couple's Advice by Dr. Alan Singer

I can't tell you how inspiring it was to interview the Levys for this essay that was published on 3/21/07 in the Home News Tribune.

To see this essay on the SmartMarriages website click here.

Martin and Leah Levy recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. I interviewed them to learn a thing or two. In their home, the photos are grouped demographically. Photos of their children are in one room, photos of their grandchildren are in another, and the great-grandchildren are in a third. Leah is very organized and explains, "My granddaughter told me I am "squared off' because everything goes in an exact place."

I would be doing you a disservice if I paraphrased or interpreted what they said. Instead, I'll just quote the wisdom that comes from the 60-year partnership of this beautiful couple.
Martin and Leah described how they met and dated. Leah: "My mother picked my husband out. After a date, we came home and I'd go to sleep. He would talk to my mother for hours."
Martin: "I would tell Leah's mother everything we did on the date; she was like a mother to me. How many boys have two mothers?"

Leah adds: "My mother knew Martin was the best for me. Now, at my age with my illness, he is the best person that could ever be born. He treats me like gold. When we started out, I took care of him because he worked night and day. Now he cares for me."

Martin describes dating to his grandchildren: "You look someone in the eyes. If someone talks to you and looks you straight in the face, you know that they have a certain amount of honesty. I ask about their mother, their father, how they deal with their grandparents, and I learn about their family attitude. Generally, family matters are a good mark. I want to know if they have a love and closeness to their family, if they honor their grandparents and if they feel that they are special."

Martin told his grandson, "You look for a human being — someone that when you wake up in the morning and you see her disheveled, she still looks beautiful to you. Each morning I wake up and say to my wife, "Good morning, Mrs. Levy' " He told his granddaughter, "One bad thing in the world is that people talk to each other but they're not saying what they really want to say. They talk around the truth because they're hiding their own (Leah inserts: inadequacies). As they talk to each other, they blink their eye, shake their head. Things are bothering them, but they don't say it."

What are the key ingredients of a good marriage? Leah: "When you express anger in a marriage, you're really hurt, not angry. I learned with my husband as we matured, that instead of saying, "I'm angry with you,' I tell him, "You know something? You really hurt me.' When you tell someone you're angry, he gets angry back at you. When you say, "You hurt me,' he asks why and you explain it. Anger is not good."

Leah also stressed the importance of showing appreciation to her husband by preparing for his return from work. "Each night I dressed up like we were going out to dinner," Leah explained. "I combed my hair and put on a nice dress. He came in the door to a nice dinner that I cooked. Martin told me that he could bring any of his co-workers home for dinner without notice, because I would have a meal on the table and look beautiful. It's necessary in a marriage for a woman to show her husband that he's important enough that she prepares for his nightly arrival."

Martin: "The most important thing in marriage is to remember that your wife is a person. Many men take their women for granted. You don't like to be ignored, don't ignore her. Pay attention, and show you're conscious of who she is and that she means a lot to you." Martin concluded, "I tell my grandchildren — you and your spouse are human beings and cannot ignore each other. If you have a problem, tell the other person and never go to sleep unless you solve whatever problem you have, because when you wake up, tomorrow starts a new day."

With such wisdom, I assumed that friends who knew about their anniversary would ask for marriage advice. "Not really," says Martin. "People ask me advice if their air conditioner or heat stops working, because I was in that business for many years."

Be Counted columnist Dr. Alan Singer blogs at http://www.familythinking.com/. He is a marriage therapist in Highland Park and can be reached at DrAlanSinger@aol.com.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Despite 'Mommy Guilt' Time With Kids Increasing

Here is an excellent piece from today's Washington Post that describes the-Time With Children Study-that you can see below in my blog entry dated 3/12/07.

By Donna St. George Washington Post Staff Writer March 20, 2007

Cynthie Bush pulled on her coat and started to say goodbye. She and a friend were taking a night out -- three hours in all, for a quick dinner and a PTA event. It was not the kind of thing she did often, with two small children and a full-time job.

But before she could leave her Herndon home, her 4-year-old daughter began to cry for her. For a moment, Bush recalled, she wondered if she should cancel. Her days were already so full. She needed more hours with her children, not fewer. That whisper of worry and regret is familiar to a generation of mothers who juggle homework and housework, sports practice and dance lessons, in days that often include paid jobs and traffic-snarled commutes.

But for all the rush of modern life, recent research suggests that mothers are actually doing a better job than they may think, at least by historical standards. According to a University of Maryland study, today's mothers spend more hours focused on their children than their own mothers did 40 years ago, often imagined as the golden era of June Cleaver, television's ever-cheerful, cookie-baking mom.

In 1965, mothers spent 10.2 hours a week tending primarily to their children -- feeding them, reading with them or playing games, for example -- according to the study's analysis of detailed time diaries kept by thousands of Americans. That number dipped in the 1970s and 1980s, rose in the 1990s and now is higher than ever, at nearly 14.1 hours a week.

This is especially striking because it is at odds with how today's mothers view their own lives: Roughly half of those interviewed said they did not have enough time with their children.
"It's almost like it doesn't matter how much they do, they feel they do not do enough," said sociologist Suzanne M. Bianchi, the study's lead author.

"This is part of the burden of this generation of parents: enormously high expectations for how children develop, how they feel about themselves, how they achieve and how successful they are in the world," said William Doherty, a family studies professor at the University of Minnesota.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Parents Find Time to Spend with Kids Despite Work Pressures by Dr. Alan Singer

Reading a daily newspaper can be so depressing, don't you agree? Everything is bad for you. You can't even enjoy a guilt-free cup of coffee. But some recent research, on how parents manage to spend as much time with their children as 40 years ago, is very encouraging. So why don't we read more about it in the media? This essay was published in the Home News Tribune on 02/16/07.

New research gets copious media attention as trends come and go. Remember way back in the '80s when parents used to put their infants to sleep on their stomachs? Now in 2007, don't you dare! How about a decade ago, when large amounts of beta carotene could prevent cancer? Now in 2007, that's beta what? When a major myth is busted, why don't we hear about it at a level that matches the original media blitz?

The myth I want to focus on posits: If mothers work outside the home, children suffer because of less parent-child contact hours. To the contrary, researchers Suzanne Bianchi, John Robinson and Melissa Milkie found: "Parents are spending as much and perhaps more time interacting with their children today than parents in 1965, the heyday of the stay-at-home mother." The authors of this research have written a book titled "Changing Rhythms of American Family Life" and came to their myth-busting conclusion by analyzing four decades of time-diary surveys, where parents chronicle all of their daily activities.

"For married mothers," states Robert Pear (The New York Times, Oct. 17, 2006), "the time spent on child-care activities increased to an average of 12.9 hours a week in 2000, from 10.6 hours in 1965. For married fathers, the time spent on child care more than doubled, to 6.5 hours a week from 2.6 hours." How could their findings be correct? How can mothers who work more hours than ever before continue to spend as much time with their children as they did 40 years ago?

The authors explain, "By increasingly engaging in multitasking and incorporating their children in their own leisure activities, parents have deepened their time to circumvent the simple zero-sum trade-off between work and the other areas of their lives." Isn't it also counterintuitive to discover that mothers these days are getting as much sleep and leisure time as in earlier decades? One key factor that explains this paradox is that mothers are spending less time than their own mothers doing housework. Fathers have increased the time they spend on both domestic chores and fathering.

Referring to this research, Robert Pear continues, "Fathers have picked up some of the slack. Married fathers are spending more time on housework: an average of 9.7 hours a week in 2000, up from 4.4 hours in 1965." Lest I give you the impression that life is wonderful these days, there is clearly a downside to this good news. "Today's mothers feel more rushed," stress the authors, "as if they are doing everything at once, than their mothers did. This is common across all mothers, though more intense for those who are employed — especially when compared with fathers."

Nevertheless, why do I wish we would hear more media hoopla about this research study? Three reasons: First, this is a win-win situation for children. Parent-child contact hours are critical in child development. If these precious hours that parents and children spend together are stable and not declining, that is terrific. Second, it indicates that parents really care and are exerting themselves.

That brings me to my final point — resilience. Parents have been handed difficult circumstances (here we focused mainly on employment) and have landed on their feet. They have kept their eyes on the goal of secure and supportive family life and will not be deterred. That is a great accomplishment for parents of this generation, and it is also a great thing for their children to observe and internalize. It's good to know, that even though times have changed, the commitment of parents to their children has not.

Be Counted columnist Dr. Alan Singer is a Marriage Therapist in Highland Park and can be reached at DrAlanSinger@aol.com He blogs at www.familythinking.com

Some Discover Greater Joy in Coping with Great Grief by Dr. Alan Singer

This essay was published in the Home News Tribune last year on 02/28/06. It is not your average marriage and family topic. In fact, it deals with the worst possible tragedy; having a child murdered. My college classmate Arnold Roth is featured here and in honor of his visit to the U.S. this week, I posted this to the blog. It is an article about resilience and determination in the face of tragic loss.

As a master's degree student, I studied women in their 80s who had lost middle-age children. My research revealed that whether one's child dies in infancy or as a grandparent, the loss is unnatural and catastrophic. When the unimaginable happens, what comfort can one give to the parents?

The Jewish ritual mourning process designates time periods for reflecting on the full life and accomplishments of the deceased, and through this process the mourner heals. This cannot apply in the same way for the death of a young child. A child preceding a parent in death is simply unnatural; children bury their parents and mourn for them, not the other way around.

In my research, I discovered that being surrounded by supportive family and friends is likely the most important factor in how a mourner copes with tragedy. Another important factor is whether the mourner is able to "ventilate," releasing the pain he or she feels inside. Level of activity also plays an important role in healing. Active mourners not only are productive, but they also provide themselves with a distraction from the sorrow.

Beyond these factors, however, I discovered that among the group of elderly women, those who dealt with mourning a child most successfully were those who had a goal or flag that gave them something to live for. In the final or "acceptance" stage of mourning, this flag became a symbol of pride and identity that gave each woman the strength to wake up in the morning. To Ida, her grandchildren were her reason for living. To Shirley, it was her religious convictions, and for Betty, her inspiration and motivation came from a myriad of craft-making hobbies.

During the current intifada in Israel, far too many parents have suffered the loss of a child. The situation is unspeakable; how are these parents to cope? I met two Israeli fathers who are mourning their children when I recently visited Israel. Boaz Shabo lost his wife and three sons who were murdered in Itamar, leaving him alone to raise four other children. Arnold Roth lost his precious Malki, aged 15, among the 15 murdered at Sbarro's in August 2001. As I listened to their stories, I mourned with them. And I noticed a pattern in their response to suffering.

I would not have been surprised to learn that Boaz Shabo, as head of the household and protector of his family, cried out for revenge and retaliation. Would he not have been justified in organizing a call to arms? Nor would I have been surprised had he withdrawn from society, even resorting to alcohol or drugs. Internalizing misery and grief is certainly a common response to tragedy. But Mr. Shabo picked himself up from the floor of mourning and became a builder of institutions. He now works tirelessly for Hakav Hamached, an organization that assists young cancer patients and other terminally ill children, as well as for the Children of Terror Foundation, which gives children that have lost family members a respite in summer camp.

Arnold Roth responded similarly. And perhaps I find his ability to rise beyond his pain the most moving because he and I were classmates in college 28 years ago. He moved to Israel with his family in 1988, and they all paid an exorbitant price for their commitment to the Jewish homeland. Nonetheless, he told me, he and his family have never regretted their decision to move to Israel.

Malki was a gifted musician who played the classical flute. A devoted sibling, she was deeply involved in the care of her blind and severely disabled sister, Haya Elisheva. In memory of their daughter, Arnold and his wife Frimmet founded Keren Malki (the Malki Foundation http://www.kerenmalki.org/), an organization that provides special equipment to both Israeli and Arab families who care for children with severe disabilities at home, as members of the nuclear family. Like Mr. Shabo, Arnold did not take "Revenge!" as his mantra; instead, he sought to make the world a better place for others.

And so the generally advisable cliche of "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade" is particularly poignant in Israel today. The motto becomes: "When life hands you unspeakable tragedy, lift yourself up and build anew." At a time when each of these fathers was near-broken from his own loss, he embarked upon Tikkun Olam, fixing the world. Perhaps this building is their goal or flag that helps them cope.

If you rearrange the letters of the Hebrew word for sadness, you create the word window, a source of light. Through pain, one can see into the distance. In grief, one can gain outstanding insight.

Be Counted columnist Dr. Alan Singer blogs at www.familythinking.com and is a marriage therapist in Highland Park. He can be reached at DrAlanSinger@aol.com.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Family Size Tied to Brain Tumors, Study Suggests

Here is an interesting piece from the NYTimes Science section. You cannot jump to a conclusion from one study. But, there are important things to look for in research. Where was it published? Neurology...yes, not too shabby. Next, how big a sample size? 13,613 ....very respectable. I'll keep an eye out to see if any further work is published on this topic. In the meantime, I really like the last line that states, "This is a preliminary study and we are speculating that this is one of the possible interpretations of the association we found." That's a good way of saying that it looks interesting so far, stay tuned.

December 26, 2006 New York Times By NICHOLAS BAKALAR

The more siblings you have, the more likely you may be to develop a brain tumor, a new study reports. Researchers writing in the Dec. 12 issue of Neurology reviewed the records of 13,613 Swedish brain cancer patients and found that those with four or more siblings were almost twice as likely to develop a brain tumor as those with no siblings at all. The risk increased with the number of younger siblings and in children under 15, where it increased nearly four-fold for one type of tumor.

According to background information in the paper, the established risk factors for nervous system tumors are high doses of ionizing radiation, family history and some rare genetic syndromes. But these factors explain only a minority of brain cancers.
The authors suggest that infection may also be involved. Having large numbers of siblings increases the overall pool of infections, and children coming into close contact with one another share exposures to many infectious agents.

The associations persisted even after controlling for sex, age at diagnosis, parental history of cancer and socioeconomic status. The authors caution, however, that any conclusions about an infectious cause remain speculative because molecular studies have not identified a specific germ.

Dr. Andrea Altieri, the lead author, said the study did not prove that brain tumors were caused by infection or that living in a large family was in any way dangerous. “We are not suggesting that infection causes brain tumors,” said Dr. Altieri, an epidemiologist at the German Cancer Research Center in Heidelberg. “This is a preliminary study, and we are speculating that this is one of the possible interpretations of the association we found.”