Saturday, March 26, 2011

Why research backed advice?

This question comes from James in Raleigh, North Carolina:

Hi Dr. Pandit, I am wondering why your blog and research-based advice is so much better than what my mom and grandma taught me about raising kids. I mean, isn’t research just a bunch of hooey? What about some common sense?

If we consider how we know what we know - we can easily compare the ways and see why it is best for parents as well as health professionals to use the findings of sound research. The following is a list of ways of knowing - I am not sure if all people could keep abreast of the research in every field - but certainly as professional psychologists, we would not want to base our therapies on common sense alone.

From all of the data we collect, we want to be able to predict someone's thoughts, feelings, and behavior in psychology. This gives us the ability to formulate interventions and therapies based on typical human behavior. Some of the ways we know things are by: word of mouth (folklore), personal experiences, expert opinion, and research evidence.

Some advantages of research evidence are:   

1. Often based on observations of many people

2. Observations made by a less biased observer than by the friend or acquaintance

3. Attempt to use reliable, valid methods of measurement

4. May allow for unambiguous specification of causal factors

Research in psychology is science. After data is collected it is put through statistical analysis which are mathematical procedures.  Nothing is based on opinion - with the exception in some cases of the original hypothesis. So the hypothesis or prediction to be tested,  might be driven by common sense, but it must be subjected to vigorous testing.

Consider the ways we know things:

Breaking a mirror leads to 7-years bad luck.
A black cat crossing your path signifies bad luck.
I have a feeling that something bad is going to happen on my trip next week.

You read in the newspaper that more Americans are overweight now than ten years ago.
You recently saw a TV commercial for a new diet product that was endorsed by a very slim soap opera star.

You have heard the Slim Fast slogan so many times that you believe it must be true.

SUVs use more gas and spew more emissions than many other vehicles. Because emissions contribute significantly to air pollution, those who drive SUVs must be less concerned about polluting the environment.

I have observed that using note cards can be an effective means of studying for an exam.
I have observed that using note cards can be an ineffective means of studying for an exam.

Studies have shown that smoking has been linked to lung disease.
Studies have shown that elaborative rehearsal leads to better retention than rote rehearsal.

Warm regards,
Dr. Pandit

Got questions? Please email me your questions about kids from birth to adulthood:

Thursday, March 17, 2011

ADHD and Fetal Exposure to Teratogens

This question comes from a young couple in Georgia –
Dear Dr. Pandit, My husband and I are both taking a class in child development because we are expecting our first child.  This week we were discussing teratogens.  Someone in class said that ADHD is caused by teratogens. Is this true? If so, what kind of substance is causing ADHD? Or is it just anything that is a harmful substance?  With both of us in school it is stressful enough, and now with this to worry about, I am having trouble concentrating on anything else!

from Just Pregnant in Georgia

Hello Just Pregnant!
Your question kind of leaves me wondering who you might have for a professor -  teratogens (harmful substances that a fetus may be exposed to), can be anything from drugs to air pollution to the stress an expectant mom is under during her pregnancy.  There isn’t any research that confirms a teratogen as a cause for ADHD, however I do know of some studies that have linked both smoking and stress to ADHD. Smoking during pregnancy is associated with low birth weight, preterm delivery, infant death, childhood asthma, and learning difficulties. In one study, Thapar and colleagues (2003) recruited 1,452 twins between the ages of 5 and 16 years and collected the following information: family history of ADHD, parent and teacher ratings of children’s ADHD symptoms, maternal smoking during pregnancy, conduct disorder symptoms, and aspects of family adversity like poverty and single-parent households. Although family history mostly accounted for ADHD in children, smoking during pregnancy remained a significant predictor, even after controlling for conduct disorder and family factors.
Linnet and colleagues (2003) reviewed literature on the relationship between prenatal exposure to nicotine, alcohol, caffeine, and psychosocial stress and a child’s developing ADHD symptoms. The review included 24 studies on nicotine, 9 on alcohol, 5 on psychosocial stress, and 1 on caffeine. Smoking during pregnancy showed a moderate risk for ADHD symptoms in childhood. Results from studies on psychosocial stress were inconsistent, but indicated a possible link between high levels of maternal stress during pregnancy and ADHD in children. Taken together, these findings suggest that prenatal exposure to nicotine and to maternal stress may contribute to the development of ADHD symptoms in childhood. But consider that more research is needed in order to rule out other maternal lifestyle factors that might explain these associations. If you want to be safe for now – avoid smoking and perhaps learn some meditation techniques to deal with stress more effectively.  Keep me posted on your stress reduction. 

Warm regards,
Dr. Pandit

Monday, March 7, 2011

My 4-year-old won't eat her dinner - please help!

I received this note from a young mother recently….

Hi Dr. Pandit!  I saw your blog on my friends Facebook  page and decided to check it out because I am having so much trouble with my daughter! She refuses to eat dinner with us and she is only 4 years old, so I don’t think it is any kind of anorexic tendencies – lol! I leave the food out for her after we eat, but she always complains that she wants to eat something else. When I say no – she starts crying and saying that she is so hungry and her tummy hurts real bad. I’ve tried everything including cooking her favorite foods with no luck. Please help!!
A frustrated Mommy in Ohio.

My response:

Hi Frustrated Mommy! Don’t despair! I hear this one often from parents of growing toddlers.  First off – don’t worry about your daughter not getting enough to eat – we all eat when we are hungry and children are no different in that respect! Next, put the plate of food away in the refrigerator, and do not act like you are upset at all that she doesn’t want to eat. Do not compromise!  Do not make her anything else to eat that she may like better.  If she complains of her tummy hurting, or being hungry – tell her that you will warm up her dinner – but that she cannot have anything else to eat.  Be firm, and usually after a few evenings of this, the bad behavior will stop.

Please be aware that toddlers who experience parental warmth and gentle encouragement are more advanced in self-control.  So be kind above all else during this process - being firm but also loving. The capacity for self-control begins between 12 and 18 months as toddlers first become capable of compliance, and by showing a clear understanding of caregivers’ wishes and expectations. Most young children will voluntarily obey simple requests and commands.  But more often, toddlers’ control over their own actions continues to depend on constant parental oversight and reminders. Compliance is far more common than opposition to adult directives, and quickly leads to toddlers’ first conscience-like talk.  Remember that you don’t often learn new things in one day, and you should not expect your toddler to do so either!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Should I help my toddler to do things - or let her discover her own way?

When given simplified tasks based on familiar experiences, preschoolers show the beginnings of logical thinking.  Preschoolers have some logical understanding, which suggests that they attain logical operations gradually.  So logical thinking is flexible development in which a related set of competencies develop over an extended time period. Scaffolding your child’s development is an effective way of helping them succeed on tasks and concepts that are new to them. So what is scaffolding?  Think of it as a way to apprentice your young child – to help them to do things with your help – that they could not do alone.

Researchers found that mother-child discussion about essential and distinguishing features of the animals, and mothers’ specific instructions contributed to their child’s skill  in drawing.  Interestingly, children often incorporated features of their mother’s drawings into their own pictures. This finding highlights a source of learning that children may not have when drawing by themselves. Although some aspects of mother-child discussion (such as talking about essential features) seemed to influence children’s drawings, other interactions did not have an effect. For example, general discussion about adding more details and basic labels for pictures did not result in more sophisticated drawings, perhaps because children are unfamiliar with these ideas.  

Another interesting finding was that children who were at a basic level of drawing, who drew mostly simple animals, were more likely to modify their drawings following mom’s advice than were more skilled artists. One explanation for this is that the more skilled children may have the cognitive and motor skills necessary to integrate features of another person’s drawing into their own drawings. They have already mastered the skills for drawing basic forms, and are ready to draw more complex features.

Questions? Email:

Braswell, G. S., & Callanan, M. A. (2003). Learning to draw recognizable graphic representations during mother–child interactions. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 49, 471–494.