Elephant Parenting

elphants standing on brown soil

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It feels like I am constantly struggling with whether my response was the correct one. On the one hand, a particular reaction was perhaps not the best. On the other, that one reaction is probably not going to permanently damage the kiddo for all eternity.

So, then the question is… What is important? I completely agree with this:

If you’re wondering what ‘elephant parent’ means, it’s the kind of parent who does the exact opposite of what the tiger mom, the ultra-strict disciplinarian, does… Parents who believe that they need to nurture, protect, and encourage their children, especially when they’re still impressionable and very, very young.

The “especially when very, very young” is appropriate. I envision it as an adding of responsibility over time. Let the kid be a kid. As the kid matures, add more to their plate over time such that they are growing into the roles.

Of course, parents disagree over what is and isn’t appropriate. They probably did or would do something different. Is it better? Maybe for their kid. Maybe it was a mistake. Maybe it didn’t really matter.

The troll: Roll Tide! (It is funny because the University of Alabama mascot is an elephant. And the college town where I live currently hates their football team more than their “official” rivals.)

Chores

bloom blossom cleaning dandelion

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Fleur has long shown an interest in what we are doing. I call it “nosy” while my wife calls “curious”. Given her newfound mobility, she follows us around and tries to get into what we are doing. That includes the chores. She especially gets upset if she is kept apart from us while doing the chores. Her wanting to participate makes me hopeful getting her involved soon will benefit both us (more slave labor) and her:

Giving children household chores at an early age helps to build a lasting sense of mastery, responsibility and self-reliance, according to research by Marty Rossmann, professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota. In 2002, Dr. Rossmann analyzed data from a longitudinal study that followed 84 children across four periods in their lives— in preschool, around ages 10 and 15, and in their mid-20s. She found that young adults who began chores at ages 3 and 4 were more likely to have good relationships with family and friends, to achieve academic and early career success and to be self-sufficient, as compared with those who didn’t have chores or who started them as teens.

 

The Recency Effect in children

When Fleur is done with dinner, she often exerts her displeasure at not having food in front of her. Such bad parents that we did not ensure she has just the right amount of food. Basically, if she has more than she wants to eat of something, then she throws it on the floor.

My wife often just gives something else. I prefer to provide options between two different kinds of food. So, this finding that children have a preference for the Recency Effect caught my eye.

Suspecting she might be picking left or right, the first several times I did switch them to see if she picked the same one. (She did.) My goal was to better understand her preferences.

Now, I know I need to design my choices for whether she is picking the second choice being a victim of this bias. Of course, she is not having to overburden her working memory capacity in these decisions. So, it probably does not apply.

Human brains more responsive to musical tones than macaque monkey ones

monkey eating bananas

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I’ve written before about singing to Fleur to get her attention and how music is good for the brain. If this fMRI data on human brains compared to macaque monkey ones holds up, then there might be a developmental difference in brains that allows us to be more attuned to musical tones.

“When the researchers looked more closely at the data, they found evidence suggesting the human brain was highly sensitive to tones. The human auditory cortex was much more responsive than the monkey cortex when they looked at the relative activity between tones and equivalent noisy sounds.”

The researchers wondered what kind of auditory experience our ancestors had that caused this difference. The same structure also responds to speech, which might explain some of our qualities of speech. Music and talking are intertwined. So, child development being responsive to music makes sense in that they are wired to learn and we adults are doing so with both music and speech.

I am not my kid. I am not my kid. I am not my kid.

This idea that kids’ behavior is a reflection on the parent creates such a fear-based parenting culture, but all kids mess up. It’s part of learning self-control and how to behave in a given situation.

Washington Post, Phyllis Fagel, “8 ways to change a child’s ‘bad’ behavior

toddler with red adidas sweat shirt

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This resonated with my having very recently read some parenting group conversations on handling bad behavior. And had some in-person conversations with friends.

Some parents certainly seem to take bad behavior as a personal attack on themselves. Some people seem to judge the behavior of kids as a personal reflection of the parent. Bad behavior means the parent is a failure.

It made me super uncomfortable as a teenager and young adult for people to compliment my parents on how well behaved I was. Their experience with me was such a small slice of life. They were making this judgement on me behaving my best in an easy environment to do so. Sure, if I had managed to stay well behaved in a super challenging situation, then I guess it would be warranted. Not so sure in the moment I would have agreed.

I do need to remember to take into account the kids being their own entities before reacting to behaviors.

We are being watched

cropped-2018-12-02-15.10.42I noticed a while back Fleur would track my own attention habits. She also lingered on things, even returned to them well after I stopped.

Yu and IU colleague Linda Smith evaluated attention span in infants at play. The team employed head-mounted cameras to track the eye movements and gazes of three dozen parents and infants aged 11 to 13 months, who were turned loose in a play space and asked to simply play as they would at home with brightly colored plastic objects.

This kind of “free play” data enabled Yu and Smith to chart childhood concentration and learning in ways that traditional experiments involving a single child at work on a computer or other task could not, notes cognitive neuroscientist Sam Wass, of Cambridge University and the University of East London. “They show that what the parent is paying attention to, minute by minute and second by second, actually influences what the child is paying attention to,” he notes. “These kinds of social influences on attention are potentially very important [and] most scientists tend to ignore them.”

When parents paid attention to a toy during play, the infants also continued to focus on it—even after the mom or dad had turned elsewhere. The authors likened this effect to the way a parent will initially hold the back of a bike while their child learns to peddle before letting go and sending them off on their own.

We also try to label things to which Fleur is paying attention. And have also noticed the problem the article describes of not having much success getting her to shift her attention to something.

Smile timing

Fleur makes us work at times to get great smiles for photos. As she has gotten older, it seemed like she has gotten more crafty about getting more. Then I ran across this nugget of confirmation bias:

The research team found that by timing their smile precisely, babies can elicit maximum smiles with little effort on their part.

My wife fills up her phone trying to get the perfect smile because the toddler is manipulating the adults to get entertained enough to bestow upon us a photo worthy one.

Proud of her.