A recent study is changing the game for parents of young children. Reading has long been hailed as the number one way to increase a toddler and preschooler’s vocabulary and language skills and set the stage for academic success, social interactions, and life in general. But, there’s a new tactic rising to the top of the list: reminiscing through “parent talk.”

What is “parent talk?”

Parent talk is the chit-chat adults often use to engage with little ones. Researchers from Florida Atlantic University, in collaboration with Aarhus University in Denmark, have been following the effects of parent talk in the lives of young children around the world for decades. 

The study compared three language-learning scenarios: reminiscing through the use of parent talk, book sharing (with wordless picture books), and the classic toy play with LEGO bricks. They observed Danish parents and their 3- to 5-year-olds during these activities and analyzed the details of the conversations. The results showed reminiscing is more effective at producing high-quality speech and language from parents. In fact, it scored as high if not slightly higher than reading, particularly when it comes to wordless picture books. They found that both reminiscing and reading books beat toy play in interactive quality.  

This research provides a new suggestion: take the time to walk down memory lane with your toddler and preschooler.

Flip through the mental photo album of past adventures, family history, and shared family moments. Pictures and photo albums can also be used as a tool, but just sharing stories and memories of family time provides a common language and a sense of belonging for the child. This boosts their confidence while simultaneously exposing them to new and more detailed language forms.

One more interesting find in the study: researchers saw no real difference between mom and dad engaging with parent talk. In Denmark, both parents’ engagement tactics and time spent reminiscing with their children produced similar results.

Of course, there is one caveat to this finding.

Reminiscing isn’t a magic wand that erases educational and societal gaps. The study acknowledges that the biggest impact on the quality of reminiscing through parent talk is the activity itself. This fact won’t level the playing field entirely. Parents with a higher education still tend to use more sophisticated language, which needs to be acknowledged.

The biggest takeaway from the study? Whatever parents are doing with their children, the more they talk and engage with them through language, the more robust and well-developed their child’s vocabulary will be. Adding family memories and building connections through family history will boost a child’s confidence and their desire to engage and develop language skills long-term.

My grandmother passed away last week. She was 85, and her health had been slowly declining for a few years. But it didn’t make the news any easier to hear when she passed.

When I was growing up, I spent a lot of time with my grandma. Sometimes it was because my parents were working and she took care of me. But most of the time, I wanted to be with her. We did fun things together like playing games, shopping, watching movies, and talking about life. She always made me feel special and loved. Nurturing was her superpower.

I know I was lucky to live close to my grandparents. We lived only 15 minutes away, so I got to see them a lot. But studies show that what matters most is the quality of time with grandparents, not just how often you see each other.

A recent study found that having a good relationship with grandparents, where you feel close and cared for, can make a big difference in how you feel as you get older. It can even affect things like how you feel about yourself and how well you get along with friends.

So, it’s not about seeing your grandparents every day, but about having a strong connection with them when you do see them. Just like how it’s important for parents to have a good relationship, it’s important for grandparents too. And when grandparents and parents get along, it helps everyone feel happy and safe.

Here are four things grandparents can do to make their time with grandchildren special:

  1. Talk to the parents first: Grandparents need to have a good relationship with their own children first. That way, they can all work together to make sure everyone feels happy and safe. And when grandparents spend time with their grandkids, they should follow the rules set by the parents.
  2. Listen to the grandkids: Instead of telling grandkids what to do, grandparents should listen to them and be interested in what they like. It’s more important to connect with them than to control them.
  3. Share family stories: Grandparents can tell their grandkids about their family history, but they should focus on the good stuff. It helps kids feel proud and connected to their family. And if those positive examples aren’t there, be sure to wait until the child is ready to understand the lessons learned from past generations.
  4. Keep in touch: Even when they’re not together, grandparents can stay connected with their grandkids by sending cards, making phone calls, or video chatting. It shows that they care and are always there for them.

I spent the night with my grandmother well into my late twenties, before my son was born, and before she moved into an assisted living facility. She wasn’t perfect, and she knew that, but she always made me feel loved and cared for. I’m really grateful for her, and I know other grandkids feel the same about their grandparents.

The first time my four-year-old son wrote his name at pre-school, I faced a parenting moment I didn’t expect. When I arrived for pick-up, he ran down the hall yelling, “Mom! I wrote my name! Mom! I wrote my name! You’re going to love it!”

I scooped him up as he shared his most treasured accomplishment with me. That’s when I realized my sweet, bright baby boy had written his name with what appeared to be scribbles on the page. “It’s wonderful! Can you tell me what the letters are?” I asked him, hoping he could clarify a bit. Of course, he clearly stated each letter with a giant smile. “See, Momma! I can read and write!”

I almost corrected him because it wasn’t perfect, but I stopped myself. This moment showed me how easy it is sometimes to focus too much on making things perfect, even in parenting. This isn’t just something I struggle with; many parents feel the same. We all want our kids to do well and be happy, but sometimes we might push them too hard to be perfect.

Research shows that when parents put a lot of pressure on their kids to be perfect, it can make them stressed and scared of making mistakes. This can make it hard for kids and parents to feel close and understand each other.

So, how can we help our kids grow without making them worry about being perfect? It’s important to cheer them on for trying and putting in effort, not just for getting things right. This helps kids see challenges as chances to learn and grow, instead of just tests they have to pass.

Here are some phrases you can use to encourage kids in their efforts, not just achievements:

  • “You should be so proud of yourself for _____.”
  • “Thank you for _____. Because you did that, it’s going to make a difference when we _____.”
  • “I’m proud of you for not giving up and to keep trying! ____ can be really tricky to get right. I know you’ll get the hang of it soon.”
  • “I’ve seen how much effort you’ve been putting into ____. What have you learned along the way?”
  • “I love the way you helped ____. I could see the way ____ appreciated it! Doesn’t it feel great to help others?”
  • “What you’re going through is hard right now. But you can do hard things. What can I do to help support you through this?”

It’s also good for us parents to show that we’re not perfect either. When we talk about our own mistakes and show that it’s okay to mess up sometimes, it teaches our kids to be kind to themselves when things don’t go as planned.

My son’s attempt at writing his name was a small thing, but it reminded me to appreciate his effort and all the little steps he took to get there. By doing this, we can help our kids feel confident and supported as they try new things.

Let’s try to be open about our struggles with wanting everything to be perfect. This way, we can create a space where our kids feel brave enough to try, make mistakes, and learn from them. Here’s to raising kids who are curious, confident, and not afraid to take on new challenges.

Parenting is a complex reality where influence meets responsibility. Parents shape a child’s present and future. 

After recent surges in adolescent mental health problems and suicide, the nation’s leading public health authorities have declared an emergency.

Gallup, a global analytics and advisory firm, launched a study in the summer of 2023 to better understand the fuel behind the teen mental health crisis. Before seeking to understand the current state of teen mental health, it’s important to review the decades of research that link parenting styles to teen mental health.

In the mid-20th century, a significant surge of empirical research on parenting and child development took place. Pioneering psychologists Eleanor Maccoby, Diana Baumrind, and G.R. Patterson laid the foundation, highlighting the pivotal role of firm but warm parenting styles in fostering socially competent and mentally healthy children. Baumrind’s concept of “authoritative parenting” emphasized the necessity of considering a child’s needs while maintaining parental authority in decision-making. The essence of authoritative parenting lies in the delicate balance of affection, responsive attention to a child’s needs, and setting expectations for responsible behavior. 

Research spanning over a thousand studies has consistently affirmed that authoritative parenting predicts fewer mental health issues and problematic behaviors in adolescents.

Conversely, both authoritarian and permissive parenting styles correlate with higher risks of mental health problems and behavioral issues. 

The significance of parental influence goes beyond theoretical frameworks. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY97) emphasizes that qualities such as responsiveness, routine experiences, and parental monitoring predict fewer internalizing and externalizing problems in youth. The longitudinal nature of studies like the NLSY97 reveals the enduring effects of parenting into adulthood. Better relationships with parents during adolescence significantly correlate with improved physical and mental health well into an individual’s late 30s. 

Internationally, studies echo these findings, emphasizing the universal benefits of firm and warm parenting. While genetic factors may play a role in parenting responses, empirical evidence highlights that changes in the parent-child relationship distinctly impact adolescent mental health, suggesting a deeper influence than genetics alone. 

Understanding the impact of parenting on teen mental health is crucial.

So, which parenting practices best predict mental health outcomes? According to the 2023 Gallup study, the most powerful parenting practices identified in the survey relate to regulation and enforcement. The results show it’s less likely an adolescent will be in good mental health when their parents are passive or set little to no boundaries. Likewise, it is more likely adolescents will be in good mental health when parents share expectations, build routines, and provide tasks and responsibilities to be completed. Also, daily displays of affection and responding quickly to a child’s needs both predict better mental health.

Parents carry a large weight on their shoulders. For some, this information and hypothesis may make the weight feel even heavier. Seeking connection over control and setting firm boundaries when needed will provide the best outcome for your relationship and your child long-term.

Lauren Hall is the President and CEO of First Things First and can be contacted at [email protected].

Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash

The well-known statistic still rings true: about half of all first-time marriages in the United States end in divorce.

This stat increases in likelihood of subsequent marriages, reaching 70% for third-time marriages, according to a research-based article released by Forbes earlier this year. 61% of dissolved marriages involve children under the age of 18 living in the home.

What happens to the children whose parents choose to part ways?

For many years, the kids almost always ended up living with just one parent, typically the mom. But recent studies reveal a new trend is dramatically on the rise in the U.S.–joint physical custody. This means a child resides with each parent for an equal or significant amount of time.

A 2022 study released by Demographic Research revealed that the number of divorces ending in physical joint custody rose from 13% in 1985 to 34% in 2010. “Although the increase is steepest among high-income couples, it’s happening across the socioeconomic spectrum,” says Daniel Meyer, a social work professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison who studies child custody.

How do the children fair who spend an equal or significant amount of time between two households?

A 2018 study released by the Family Process Journal reveals on average, children in shared arrangements tend to fare slightly better than those in sole custody on a variety of metrics, including life satisfaction, stress levels, and self-esteem. That being said, the majority of couples who share custody are usually better off financially, have higher levels of education, and have a more amicable relationship. This makes sense, considering it takes money to provide for a child and have consistent means of transportation.

While there are many advocates for joint physical custody and research shows the scenario is beneficial for children overall, it’s important to note in some situations—like if one parent is abusive or unstable, for example—sole custody is in fact what’s best for the child. 

Since the 19th century, full custody has been generally granted to the mom. However, in America’s earlier days, fathers were automatically given custody of their children because they were seen more as property. As women began to take on a more domestic role, these social dynamics shifted. Today, custody battles rage on for years, even as joint custody becomes more common. The reason? America is built on the premise there can be two parents, but only one household. Therefore, joint custody is difficult to measure and researchers are confident children in joint custody homes are often reported twice- because they are living in two households. Benefits, such as tax returns and medical insurance, can only be granted per household, which assumes all children are part of only one.

What does this mean for the future of families in America?

Here are three things to consider around this new “two household child” reality.

  1. Policies, procedures, and systems need to change for joint custody children and parents to receive the support and benefits they need. While a two-parent household is supported as the most beneficial for children and communities long-term, separation and divorce will inevitably continue. With a better understanding of joint custody and the value it can provide for children, it’s in our nation’s best interest to reevaluate the current workings around child custody and divorce proceedings. 
  2. Increased access to marriage education, therapy, and support could prevent some marriages from ending in the first place. Of course, custody wouldn’t be a topic of conversation if marriages were healthier. Supporting families begins with seeking to better understand what’s causing marriages to dissolve and providing assistance when possible. PewResearch and Forbes recently reported the number one reason for divorce was due to a lack of commitment in the relationship, with 75% of individuals saying they could no longer fulfill their wedding vows due to lack of desire and compatibility. Lack of commitment significantly surpassed infidelity and domestic abuse as reasons for divorce. 
  3. Joint custody may provide a sort of remedy to the “fatherlessness” crisis our country has faced for the last century. According to 2023 data released by the Census, the proportion of children growing up with a resident dad is at its highest since 1989. Slightly more than three-quarters of children today (75.9%), or 54.5 million of our nation’s 72.3 million, can count a resident dad as a housemate. Decades of research show children who grow up with their dads being consistently present in their lives are more likely to thrive physically, emotionally, and socially than children who grow up without their dads. 

There’s no point in ignoring the reality of two household children. While the complexities are obvious, it’s time to figure out a new path to support them. The answers will undoubtedly be complicated, but necessary nevertheless. 

Lauren Hall is the President and CEO of First Things First and can be contacted at [email protected].

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

The phrases “generational cycle” and “cycle breaker” have recently become large parts of the conversation about family health. Searches for “generational cycle breaker” have increased by 180% in the past year on platforms like Google and YouTube.

What is a “generational cycle?”

  • In the simplest form, it’s what one generation passes on to the next.
  • What gets passed on can be positive/healthy and negative/unhealthy. 
  • In a relationship context, it includes traits, habits, attitudes, and behavior patterns.
  • “Generational cycle” draws attention to the impact parents and caregivers have on children.

We’ve all recognized this dynamic with physical qualities and attributes. “She has her father’s eyes.” But these dynamics also impact psychological, emotional, relational, and familial attributes and qualities.

What is a “cycle breaker?”

  • Someone who recognizes they have inherited unhealthy qualities and attributes from their upbringing and environment.
  • These qualities and attributes may be demonstrated in their thoughts, emotions, and relationships with others, particularly in the family they have created.
  • A “cycle breaker” recognizes the unhealthy things they have inherited and deliberately acts to avoid passing these behaviors on to their children. They work to break the cycle.

It might help to think about baggage. There may have been substance abuse, poor communication patterns, destructive reactions to conflict, explosive anger, or simply hopelessness that has been a heavy part of the “baggage” passed down for multiple generations. 

We don’t know how many people have been affected by this harmful baggage. We do know it’s possible to put that baggage down and pass on something healthy and hopeful to the next generation.

This is why First Things First exists.

Our mission is to provide resources that guide people in their relationships so they can live better lives. Our vision is for every family to have healthy relationship skills to pass down from generation to generation.

We’ve been in pursuit of this vision for the last 26 years. There are three key factors in breaking and creating generational cycles.

  1. Even though they struggle under their weight, individuals are often unable to see the baggage they have inherited. Some outside influence– a mentor, spiritual guide, counselor, or coach –needs to come alongside them. People in these roles can help individuals identify and release their inherited baggage and pick up tools to help them build healthy relationships and enjoy a better life.
  1. Stopping negative generational cycles and starting new, healthy cycles is difficult. It’s a process. Hope, healing, and developing new thought patterns take time. Individuals need to accept and make peace with what was before they can embrace what could be. Plus, it’s all too easy to fall back into old patterns of dysfunctional behavior when it’s all you’ve ever known.
  1. Unhealthy relationships perpetuate negative generational cycles. It requires healthy relationships to create positive generational cycles. 

The COVID-19 pandemic generated a surge of interest in family dynamics and mental and relational health. This makes sense. Most of us were spending more time together than ever before. Dysfunction in homes was heightened by the loss of normal routines and stability. Looming uncertainty took a huge toll on individuals and families. No demographic was spared. 

If there was any silver lining, it was the increased awareness of necessary support systems to help families. Professionals and individuals alike were prompted to understand generational cycles. 

This year, First Things First is beginning a new three-year strategic plan to further our vision. Facilitating relationship education in our community is still the main focus of our organization, but we are expanding our collaborative partnerships and services to include coaching, case management, and access to free or reduced therapy. 

A couple of years ago, my two-year-old son and I spent a day swimming at my Mom and Dad’s house. We went inside to eat lunch. Within seconds, I turned around to see my toddler standing on a chair, reaching down into a fish tank with one of his stuffed animals. “Fishies need friends,” he repeated.

“I see you want those fishies to have a friend. It’s so kind of you to share. Your toy doesn’t belong in the tank. I’m going to pull you down off of this chair so you and the fishies don’t get hurt,” I said.

I then told my son the fish could see his stuffed animal better through the glass and it would keep his toy safe and dry. After he understood this and accepted it, I tackled the “climbing in the chair” debacle. “Chairs are for sitting, not standing. You may sit in this chair while you watch the fish.”

I turned around to see my Mom and Dad smiling at me. “That was really great, Lauren! No yelling or angry words. You’re so patient,” they said.

I was surprised and delighted with their feedback. “Yeah, I just try to empathize, redirect, set boundaries, and tell him what he can do,” I replied.

“Well, it worked great this time!” my mom said reassuringly.

It was the first time I realized I was choosing to raise my child similarly, but also differently from the way I was raised. While my parents were not overly strict or rough and I always felt loved, safe, and secure in our home, I do remember the occasional yelling, timeouts, etc. When I became a parent, I knew what generational values I wanted to pass down to my children. I also knew there were some different parenting tactics I wanted to try. So, I decided to research and find what works for me and my family.

A recent study revealed many parents in today’s generation are parenting similarly to how they were raised in some areas, and very differently in other areas. In January of 2023, Pew Research reported “roughly as many U.S. parents say they are raising their children similarly to how they were raised (43%) as say they are trying to take a different approach (44%).”

An open-ended question revealed five focuses for today’s generation of parents: Values and Religion, Behavior and Discipline, Love and Relationship, Education, Freedom, and Autonomy.

Of the parents who said they’re raising their children similarly to how they were raised, 63% mentioned a focus on instilling the same values and beliefs passed down in their family. Parents who say they are raising their children in a different way than they were raised were less likely to focus on this theme, although 13% mentioned it.

For those taking a different approach to parenting compared with their own upbringing, 44% of respondents mentioned a shift to focus on love and their relationship with their children as the most common theme. This theme was less common among parents raising their children similar to their own upbringing, although 16% mentioned it.

When it comes to behavior and discipline, about 29% of parents say they’re using the same tactics and expectations they experienced as a child. 32% of parents say they’re changing the way they discipline, with many mentioning using a more “gentle and feelings-based approach.” 

The last two focus areas, education and freedom/autonomy, provided the least responses from parents. Of parents who said they were parenting similarly to how they were raised, 5 to 9% mentioned the importance of passing down the same values in education and freedom/autonomy. 5 to 8% of parents who said they were parenting differently mentioned wanting to provide a better educational experience and give their children more freedom/autonomy than what they received.

In conclusion, many parents are passionate about passing down generational values and ethics to their children. Many parents also feel the need to focus more on building a relationship with their children, providing more love and connection than they experienced in their own childhood.

While each generation provides different challenges and mindsets, this study as a whole brings some clarity to the desire of parents and families today – to focus more on relationships and empower their children to do the same. That’s something hopeful we can all hold each other accountable to.

You’ve probably heard some alarming numbers about how much time teens spend in front of screens. (Anywhere from 7 to 12 hours a day, according to various studies.) More than that, you’ve witnessed it firsthand. How do you talk to your teen about screen time limits, and what should those limits look like?

Let’s lay a firm relational foundation first.

  1. Your example as a parent speaks louder than any words. How you interact with screens in your life will have a more significant impact on your teen than what you tell them. (If there is a disconnect between what you show/tell, your teen will spot it, and it will undermine your credibility.)
  1. Your relationship with your teen, in general, and ongoing healthy communication, in general, create the context to meaningfully talk to your teen about screen time. (And everything else.) As a parent, you want to build relationship capital with your teen. This means being available and approachable and investing time with your teen.
  1. Talking to your teen about technology will be an ongoing, evolving conversation. It’s not a one-time talk.

Smartphones and social media are all relatively recent developments. This means that research concerning the impact of technology is ongoing. Here are some things we can confidently say that should be part of your conversations with your teen.

Pay close attention to the general health of your teen.

Pay close attention to the general health of your teen.

  • No screens at bedtime. (Technically, no screens an hour before your teen needs to sleep.) If screens are affecting your teen’s ability to sleep, causing them to constantly be indoors, or contributing to a sedentary lifestyle, you need to help your teen find some balance. 

If this sounds like general engaged parenting, it’s because it is. Screens are here to stay and shouldn’t be your main focus as a parent. Your teen is where you should be focused. 

For instance, we know that increased screen time leads to increased caloric intake. Screens or no screens, you want to make sure your teen has a healthy, balanced diet. Is your teen getting restorative sleep, going outside and getting fresh air, and engaging in some form of exercise? What is the role of screen time in all of the above?

  • There seems to be a connection between social media use and anxiety and depression, especially for teenage girls. What researchers haven’t sussed out yet is the nature of the connection. Does prolonged use of social media cause anxiety and depression, or do anxious, depressed teens gravitate to social media as a coping mechanism?

Research is beginning to examine not just the amount of time, but how teens are using social media.

Remember the 3 Cs– Consumption, Creation, and Collaboration. Creating and collaborating can be incredibly positive for your teen. Simply consuming Tik Tok videos for hours on end is another matter. 

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends “joint media engagement” for parents and teens. This means spending time with your teen while using technology, so screen time can be a regular part of your relationship. Ask your teen to show you the videos that made them laugh and the social media posts that made them angry. Ask your teen how they feel about themselves while spending time on social media. Have fun and play some video games together.

Evidence increasingly suggests that the ways teens use technology is more significant than simply knowing how much they use it. This means you aren’t monitoring minutes; you’re cultivating a robust relationship with your teen as you use technology together. This will lead to more constructive conversations and fewer conflicts and confrontations.