Episode 58: The Impact of Parental Self-Regulation on Children’s Growth and Development
In this week’s episode, we welcome Dr. Kate Bauer, an Associate Professor of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Michigan School of Public Health and currently serves as the Fulbright Canada Research Chair in Food Security at the University of Guelph. Dr. Bauer discusses the impact of parental regulation on a child’s development from early childhood to adolescence. She offers valuable perspectives on how parents can effectively manage self-regulation to strike a balance between guiding children and nurturing their ability to make independent decisions. Join us for an enlightening discussion on parenting strategies that support healthy development.
Healthy Habits, Happy Homes Podcast
Season 6, Episode 4
Guest: Kate Bauer
November 14, 2023
Marciane Any 0:04
Hello, welcome to The Healthy Habits, Happy Homes podcast hosted by the Guelph Family Health Study.
Tamara Petresin 0:14
If you’re interested in the most recent research and helpful tips for healthy, balanced living for you and your family, then this podcast is for you. In each episode, we will bring you topics that are important to your growing family and guests who will share their expertise and experience with you.
Marciane Any 0:30
Our quick tips will help your family build healthy habits for a happy home.
Welcome back to The Healthy Habits Happy Homes podcast. I’m Marciane.
Tamara Petresin 0:45
And, I’m Tamara.
Marciane Any 0:46
And, today we’re really excited to have Dr. Kate Bauer join us. Dr. Kate Bauer is an associate professor of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. And, last year she served as the Fulbright Canada Research Chair in Food Security at the University of Guelph. Dr. Bauer’s research focuses on social and behavioural determinants of children’s eating and growth, with particular attention to supporting effective parenting and healthy food environments for young children. Welcome, Dr. Bauer.
Kate Bauer 1:22
Thank you, I’m so excited to be here.
Marciane Any 1:24
To get us started. Can you tell us a bit about yourself, your current role and how your education and experiences have led you to where you are now?
Kate Bauer 1:33
Sure, gosh, I could talk about this for an entire podcast. Let’s see, I can talk about where I am now and go backwards a bit. So, as you mentioned, right, I’m a faculty member at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. I study families and children and children’s healthy eating. And, really I’m interested in both, you know, sort of, how parenting affects children. So, a little bit of the “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” of parenting, but even more so, I’m interested in: how do we support effective healthy parenting, right? So, I try to come at my research from the perspective that all parents want what’s best for their children, and most parents, sort of, know what is best or better for their children, right? There’s a lot of information out there about, you know, screen time and healthy eating habits and things like that. But, then there’s all this other stuff that gets in the way. So, like, today, we’re going to talk about self-regulation capacity as something that potentially gets in the way of healthy parenting. I also study things like food security. So, how does the experience of parents being stressed, not being able to access enough food, sort of, trying to navigate the system? How does that affect parenting and how they feed their children? I have another line of research that’s thinking about weight bias and how does bias directed parents affect how they parent their children and how they relate to their child around food? So, really, broadly, again, my real interest is, you know, how can we set up our policies, our environments, our communities to encourage healthy food and weight-related parenting? I got here, in some ways, it was sort of a direct route. And, in some ways, it was sort of circuitous. So, I was a psychology major in undergrad. I went to a small liberal arts college. And, I always thought I wanted to do psychology, and I actually applied for a clinical PhD programs, right out of undergrad, and got denied from all of them. Recently, I realized, I actually applied to a PhD. program at Michigan and got denied. And, I also recently realized that, like, 10 years ago, I applied for a different job at Michigan and got denied. So, apparently, I had to try three times to become employed by the university. But, yeah, so undergrad in psychology, and my first job was actually in Boston, at a hospital. It was working on a research study to help pregnant women quit smoking. And, so, I was doing all these home visits, I was a research assistant collecting data for moms, I will always tell people, like, I had to collect infant urine. So, I changed a lot of diapers and squeezed out diapers to get the pee out. So, I did the job, you know, those RAs who are out there, like, measuring kids, collecting survey data, like, I have been there. And, I thought what I was doing was psychology, right? It’s like counselling, you know, moms around health. And, I realized, this was now 25 years ago, eventually I realized what I was doing, you know, there was some psychology to it, but it actually was public health. I had never heard of public health as a field. And, I really realized that, oh, that’s actually what I want to do. I want to think about the intersection of psychology and sociology and families and, you know, policies and children’s health behaviours. And, also at that time, you know, there was an increasing emphasis on nutrition and obesity. And, you know, for the first time we were talking about children’s weight and everything, so, things just, sort of, came together, to where… let’s see, I ended up getting a master’s degree in public health, I then wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do. So, I worked for the US National Centers for Disease Control, the CDC, for a few years, I actually, in that role, coming back to pee and poop, I worked [laughter] in their recreational water division. So, we did monitoring of swimming pools, and, like, you know, like bacterial outbreaks in swimming pools. So, I actually have a, I have a research paper published, one of my first, on the the prevalence of poop contamination in swimming pools across the United States. I did not continue in that field. But, anyway, then, I eventually realized after working for the CDC, and a little time at a local health department, I was much more interested in the research side of public health and wanted to be the one asking the questions, versus, you know, the, sort of, day-to-day management of projects. Now, I sort of regret that because I feel, like, I don’t know day-to-day management is hard. But, being a professor is pretty hard, too. So, anyway, I went back and got my PhD in epidemiology. And, that’s where I met, you know, your esteemed director, Dr. Jess Haynes, she and I did our PhDs together. And, yeah, you know, since then really have, again, focused on children and families and nutrition. And, I think, you know, even more so as time goes on, really thinking about social and policy levers to impact parenting. So, that is either the long or the short story, I’m not sure. [laughter]
Tamara Petresin 7:20
That’s, yeah, that’s amazing. I mean, clearly, you bring a wealth of knowledge and experience with you. We’re very lucky to have you on. And, if anybody’s interested about the contaminants of pool water, they can look up that, too.
Kate Bauer 7:21
Let me tell you. Do not swim in a hotel pool. My family is going to a hotel next week, my daughter has a sporting event, and I am like, “You are not bringing your bathing suits, because we are not kidding in that pool. Don’t even think about it.” [laughter]
Tamara Petresin 7:49
You know too much now. Too much. Yes. So, you mentioned, too, that today, we’re going to talk about parental self-regulation. So, as a researcher, what really motivated you to study this particular aspect of parenting and its impact on children’s growth and eating?
Speaker 1 8:05
Yeah. So, over the past few years, there’s been in general a rise in the role of self-regulation, sometimes, it’s also called executive function. So, let me take a minute to sort of define things. So, by self regulation, what I’m talking about, is our ability to control our emotions, our thoughts and our behaviours to achieve what we’ve set out to achieve. A goal-directed behaviour. And, so, executive function is part of that. Executive function is, some, you know, I feel like increasingly, we’re hearing about executive function in terms of, like, kids with ADHD, or, you know, teenagers sometimes struggle with executive function, or adults, right, and they sort of get distracted. And, so, the idea of executive function is, it’s this set of cognitive processes, and it determines, you know, how flexible are you in your thinking? How much can you resist impulses to, sort of, stay on track? What is your working memory like? Are you able to, sort of, take in new information and update it? And, again, this is all with the goal of staying on task. Okay. So, broadly, there’s been an increasing recognition that individuals who struggle with self-regulation, have poor quality diets, and are at greater risk for obesity, and also actually have, sort of, less success in weight-management programs or post-bariatric surgery. And, you can imagine why, right? Like, if you struggle with impulse control, you may be more likely to, you know, a good show comes on TV and you’re like, “Oh, I’m going to do that instead of go for a run,” or with food prompts, right? And, there’s a lot of things that go into this, but, some people have a harder time, you know, saying, “Oh no, I really, you know, I don’t want to eat that right now, I want to, you know, save my hunger for lunch or whatever.” And, some people are, like, can’t, sort of, resist the impulse and others can. So, anyway, there was this growing body of research among both adults and children, that their personal self-regulation capacity impacted their diet and weight. The implication of that was that, could we do things to strengthen people’s self-regulation, as an intervention strategy to improve nutrition and weight? So, this is all going on. And, honestly, you know, a couple of colleagues and I were chatting a few times and this idea of parent self-regulation came up, right? And, that, if we know that individuals with weaker self-regulation struggle with their own dietary and weight goals, is there reason to believe that parents with lower self-regulation have more trouble setting up home environments that support their children’s healthy eating or engaging in, you know, food-parenting practices that support children’s healthy eating? So, this really was intriguing to me this question, because, again, it goes to the heart of what I care about, which is, you know, it’s not about teaching parents, or it’s not all about teaching parents what’s right and wrong, in terms of, you know, raising healthy kids, it’s really about how can we develop supports for parents that increase their capacity to accomplish the things they want to accomplish? And, with all these ideas together, I started thinking about, well, self regulation is one of those things, right? You know, yes, it’s an individual level characteristic, but it’s something that we can do better supporting, by setting up our environments by giving people different kinds of supports, by providing, you know, health and nutrition information in different ways. So, yeah, it just sort of evolved through conversations with colleagues and where, you know, the literature was heading in general. And, we started some pilot work; we started collecting some data and saying, you know, is this, do we have something here? Is there some validity to these hypotheses? And, we learned very much so. And, then, you know, it’s sort of built, and we now actually have a few funded projects to collect really in depth data to tease apart the questions of, “In what ways does parents self-regulation, impact parenting, and ultimately, children’s obesity risk?”
Marciane Any 12:42
Wow, I took so many notes, thank you for explaining that, like: the self-regulation, the executive function. I’ve heard that word, executive function, but I’ve never really understood what it meant. So, thank you for breaking that down. How does it influence a child’s development from early childhood through adolescence, this executive functioning and self regulation of the parents?
Speaker 1 13:07
Yeah. So actually, once we started exploring this idea of, just, as parent self-regulation actually have an impact on children, we realize that, predominantly in the developmental-psychology literature, there were a good number of studies trying to understand the question of, how does parents self-regulation impact children in general. So no one was really looking at diet outcomes, but they have looked at other outcomes among children, like children’s own self-regulation development, right, which you can then say, eventually impacts their own diets. They were also looking at, you know, children’s, sort of, behaviours and, you know, pro-social behaviours and ability to, you know, behave well in social settings in classroom settings. And, from developmental psychology, we, we got evidence, we could see in these studies, that parents with stronger self-regulation themselves, engage in, sort of, more positive parenting in general, right? So they were less likely to engage in harsh or potentially violent parenting. They are better able to set up scaffolding for their child, right? They’re better able to, sort of, break activities down and they have more patience with their children. Better, you know, influence better academic outcomes in their children. And, so again, there’s, sort of, this background body of research, related body of research, that says, parents’ self-regulation matters to child development; it both helps children develop their own self-regulation capacity, and it helps children in these other aspects of life where emotional and behavioural control is really important. So, again, that, sort of, led us to, well, it seems like these things really probably matter to child diet and weight, but no one is studying it. So, this seems like an area ripe for new research.
Unknown Speaker 15:22
Yeah, definitely. And, it’s so interesting, too, because it seems like it’s pretty well established that parental self-regulation does matter to child development. And, so, just like going through the parental self-regulation part and maybe going a bit backwards, I’m sure that through your research, too, you’ve likely uncovered various factors that impact parental self-regulation itself. So, what are some of those factors that parents should be aware of when they’re trying to foster a positive impact on their child’s development?
Speaker 1 15:48
Yes. So, self-regulation is very much a nature and nurture thing. So, about half of our variation, like, between person variation in self-regulation is due to genetics and heredity. So, you know, there’s definitely something biological, definitely something genetic that gets passed down between families. You can also think, right, as we’re talking about, you know, as we’re saying, that, sort of, some of that familial influence is passed down by modelling behaviour, or, you know, the ability of parents to scaffold healthy development in their children. Right? So, if parents are, themselves, you know, emotionally, I was gonna say, labile, I think that’s the right word. You know, have difficulty, sort of, controlling emotions, may have outbursts, they may be, you know, rigid in their thinking, those are the things they’re modelling for their children. And, you know, right, when we’re young, in particular, and we see our parents behaving in a certain way you believe that’s, you know, the way to behave. So, that is definitely a way that parents pass self-regulation down to children. And, then, obviously, those children become parents. So, that’s another pathway through which our own self-regulation forms. There’s also the social and economic influences. So, it’s been found that lifetime experience of poverty and economic hardship is a real risk factor for weakened self-regulation. Right? It comes down to this idea, sort of, you know, this weathering hypothesis that if you are constantly, or your whole life, have been struggling, have been stressed, have been, you know, always sort of on the lookout, worried, you know, are you going to have enough food to eat? Are you going to be able to have secure housing? All those things that really wears away at our ability to self-regulate. And, it’s not to say, you know, that’s anyone’s destiny or anything like that. But, just on average, right, it’s really, really hard to, to grow up in poverty and to try to live in, to try to parent in poverty, and that impacts our self-regulation. And, then, in general, right, so, things like stress, you know, like, if you’ve got a loved one who’s going through a difficult time, or, again, you’re worried about your housing, you’re worried about your employment, that definitely weakens your capacity to self-regulate behaviour. It’s kind of one of those “duh” comments, right? Because we all know, if you have a lot going on, you’re upset about something, you’re stressed, you’re under pressure, right? I think we can all feel like we become more impulsive with our behaviour, or our emotions are much more on the surface, right and we’re, sort of, quicker to have outbursts. You know, your brain, you, just, it just makes it hard to focus when we’re stressed. And, so, for that reason, right, stress in general is a real barrier to self-regulation, but also things like physical activity and sleep can improve self-regulation. So, definitely sleep, I mean, right? And, again, another “duh” comments, right? Like, when you’re exhausted, your ability to manage your emotions and your behaviour goes way down. We even know, you know, if you have a, sort of, highly palatable food put in front of you, when you’re tired, you’re going to be more likely to eat it and you’re going to be more likely to eat more of it. So, you know, if you are someone who feels like they struggle with self-regulation, with impulse control, with behaviour, you know, sort of, following through on the behaviours that you set for yourself, I honestly think sleep and making sure you’re getting enough sleep and finding ways to reduce stress in your life are probably some of the best things you can start with.
Marciane Any 20:01
Thank you for sharing all of that. I think, you know, I don’t have kids yet, but even just from a older-sibling perspective, when I don’t get sleep, yes, I’ve had to apologize for certain ways I’ve talked to them that I’m, like, I’m sorry, but, and I think even the other factors that you talked about too: stress, and if a family is in poverty, there’s so many factors that affect it. And, you know, I can tend to be a guilty soul. And, I’m sure I’m not the only one out there, there’s probably a good number of parents who are out there. And, so, I think even just acknowledging those factors, too, just give parents, like, a little more grace on yourself, because, you know, stress really does wear at us, as does and worry. And, if you are in this constant, like, survival-mode state, it makes sense that, like, self-regulation would be more difficult. So, I just hope our listeners can, like, give themselves some grace, if that is anything.
Speaker 1 21:01
Absolutely, I mean, I read somewhere, I’m not going to get this quote, right, that, you know, poverty and trying to raise a family in poverty is harder than any job you could ever have. Right? You’re constantly trying to do what’s best for your kids and trying to do better for yourself. And, you know, at least in the US, and somewhat in Canada, our systems are really not designed to help people get out of it. And, we put up tons of barriers and tons of expectations of families, so they can get the resources they need. And, it is absolutely exhausting. But, that’s a whole different podcast, probably.
Marciane Any 21:43
I know. That’s its own podcast in and of itself. Wow. Well, the next question we have for you is, as children grow older, they start to explore their own independence and make decisions for themselves. So, how does parental self-regulation play a role in their emotional and cognitive growth?
Speaker 1 22:04
Yeah, you know, I think we touched on this a little earlier, but it plays a big role. So, some of that self-regulation is going to move from parents to children through genetics and biology. But, a lot of it is going to move through the way we set up environments for children and how we model behaviour. So, you know, again, parents who struggle with self-regulation, emotional self-regulations, they may have outbursts, too, they don’t have as much patience, patience with their child. You know, first of all, that’s, again, modelling that behaviour for your child. And, it’s also, probably not meeting the needs of the child, right? If, let’s say a child is struggling with something themselves, and they’re tantruming, you know, maybe they’re hungry, maybe they’re tired, maybe they’re frustrated, right? Little kids get frustrated a lot, because they have big goals they can’t, always accomplish; they don’t have the, you know, the physical or intellectual ability to accomplish all that they want. And, so, if a parent, you know, we talk a lot in feeding about responsive feeding and responsive parenting, it’s about responsive parenting, right. So, if a parent is struggling to control their thoughts, feelings, behaviours, then it’s less likely they’re going to respond, sort of, appropriately, or in ways that a struggling child needs them to. And, then, there really becomes this disconnect. And, you know, any parent, and I have two kids myself, knows that things just tend to cycle or spiral out from there, right? A parent is struggling, a child is struggling, neither is meeting the other’s needs. And, it tends to not go well. So, and I do want to say, you know, yes, for all the parents out there, I don’t want to make anyone — this is not about individual, like, being better or controlling themselves better, right? Like, we all fluctuate in our ability to self-regulate. And, we actually even fluctuate with different self-regulation skills. You know, some people are really good at controlling emotions and don’t have outbursts, but they may not be very flexible in thinking right? They may not be able to problem solve and overcome challenges in the way that someone else can. And, so, you know, I, this is not, A. it’s not a parent’s fault, and it’s also not set in stone, that we can learn skills and strategies so parents can regulate those thoughts and behaviours and emotions better, and respond to their child better and, sort of, help that child scaffold their own self-regulation skills better over time.
Tamara Petresin 25:01
Yeah, for sure. I think that’s really important to mention, too, that we all fluctuate in our abilities to self-regulate, you know, even think something like stress can be so like mobile, right, you can have, like, higher stress months, lower stress months, and all those things would affect your ability to self-regulate, for sure. And, it’s important, too, to keep in mind that it’s not set in stone, and it can get better. So, I guess related to that, too, in terms of parents, and maybe if they want to, or they’re curious in how to regulate themselves better and respond better in these situations, h How can parents empower children to make healthy choices and develop a strong sense of their own self regulation? Hmmm.
Kate Bauer 25:35
All right, there’s a lot of links in that question. So, I mean, what our research, where our research is focusing really is on the parent self-regulation. So, I would say that is step one, right? It’s sort of that old, you know, I mean, it’s like the old airplane adage, it applies to parents so much is, like, put on your own oxygen mask before helping your children. So, probably one of the best things that parents can do, and this is not research tested yet, is take time for themselves, right? Like, if you need to get more sleep, that’s, like, one of the best things that you can do for your child. If you, you know, we hear a lot about parents, you know, find using yoga, or using meditation, or finding something else that brings them joy and calmness, and lets them have some sense of control over their world. Those are all really good things that help with our self-regulation. I don’t know, I just think about even myself in my own life, and, sort of, all the things I’ve got on my plate. And, something that I want to do better is asking other people for help, right? Like, I think a lot of women, in particular, feel like they need to do everything and need to be that Superwoman. And, our plates are just too full. And, that’s sort of a real risk factor in a way for, you know, weakening our self regulation, capacity and, and bringing to the surface, some of those more impulsive or less adaptive behaviours. So yeah, so that’s what I would say, parents take care of themselves first. And, then, I think, you know, in the moment with parenting, again, it’s about if you feel like it’s possible, really helping your child to verbalize and understand their thought process, right, and talk it through with them. And, I know this is frustrating. But, you know, “We can’t do this right now. I know you really wanted this,” like, I think there’s, again, that scaffolding and, sort of, naming, trying to name especially for little kids what’s going on in their heads and what they want. And, I don’t know, I, you know, I’m not a developmental psychologist, to be honest. But I have seen with my own children and my own parenting, like, we just tried to be really transparent, right, about, like, “This is what I’m struggling with,” or, “I see you struggling with this, let me help you.” Or “No, you know, we, we can’t get what we want all the time.” And, like, we’re not gonna tantrum about it, we’re gonna find more productive ways and, sort of, supporting our kids, to making sure they’re getting enough sleep, making sure they have sufficient downtime, and that they’re not being, you know, pushed to their limits. Like, school can be really overwhelming for kids. You’re expected to be there six, seven hours a day, and control your feelings, control your thoughts, right? You’re not allowed to blurt answers out, you’re not allowed to, like, poke that other kid who’s bugging you. You have to, like, control your body, or whatever, not fight that other kid. And, that’s for little kids. And, so, you know, making sure that, I think, in after-school time that kids, you know, you help your kids find ways to, sort of, de-stress and understand that, you know, we all like… Okay, I’ll just say this about screens. You know, I know we all in general, believe or know that kids and grownups should be reducing screen time. But, I also feel like, you know what? If that is your kids, or your way of chilling out, and, like, gaining some control over your day, and just, sort of, letting go of all of those, everything you’re holding in, right, everything you’ve been forced to, like, resist all day, then I think that’s okay. When my kids were little, I would be totally fine with them watching a couple of shows after school, because I was like, that’s the way that I chill out by turning off my brain. Why do I expect my kids to go to like seven hours of school, and then some lessons and then be well-behaved at dinner, and then do bed time? Like, it’s just too much! I just think, you know, we all need to be easier on ourselves and easier on our kids.
Tamara Petresin 30:10
Yeah, definitely it does sound like taking some of that pressure off to be, like, perfect. Like, I feel like there’s a lot of that expectation to with parenting, like, perfect parenting and mothering ideals and stuff. I mean, I think social media obviously, doesn’t really help with that. But, it sounds like, overall, just taking off a bit of that pressure would just do so much good.
Kate Bauer 30:29
Yeah, I have to say, as now my kids are 15, and 11, there are our general things that matter for our children, right? Obviously, we want to raise our children in safe, secure environments, where we can, sort of, minimize our children’s stress, like they never have to worry, hopefully, if there’s enough food to eat, or they never have to worry about bills, or whatever. But, I honestly feel like, above and beyond that, it’s just like, I said to some neighbour friends a few years ago who had much littler kids than me, I was, like, I think that once you, sort of, meet kids basic needs, we have control over, like, 5% of the variability in their outcomes, right? Like, if that, like, we are not, as parents, totally determining our kids trajectories. They come out who they are. And, what we need to do is set up their environments as much as we can for success. But, recognize that a lot of this extra stuff that parents put pressure on, our kids are going to be fine, they’re going to be just fine. And, so take a little time, moms and dads and other caregivers, to take care of your own needs. Because, you know, we’re in this for the long run. And it does not make sense to drive yourself crazy. It just, our kids will be fine. That’s the motto.
Tamara Petrisin 32:02
Yeah, definitely. Yeah, I think it definitely sounds like striking that balance with what works best for your family, I think, is really important to consider
Marciane Any 32:09
With that being said, like, there’s so many different parenting styles out there. And,, they can vary widely from some relying on more control, while others might encourage more autonomy among their kids. So, how can parental self-regulation, like, strike this balance between providing guidance, but also fostering independence in a child’s decision making?
Kate Bauer 32:35
So, that’s a really interesting question to think about how our self-regulation strengths and weaknesses, sort of, map on to our different parenting styles. So, we can think about, you know, generally we think about four different parenting styles with: authoritative, where we set up rules and expectations for our children, but we’re still responsive to specific situations and their needs. And, we allow, you know, back and forth, there’s authoritarian where we set up more, you know, these strict rules and expectations, and there’s less of letting the child’s, sort of, requests or needs determine those limits. We can think of lax, or very permissive, where we’re, like, super responsive to our children and don’t have many rules. And, then we can think of, I can’t think of the name of the last one, but, right, [laughter] where, where we, sort of, don’t have rules, and we’re not responsive, and we’re disengaged. Okay. So, that’s the very quick and probably incorrect overview of parenting styles. So, if we were to think about parents self-regulation, capacity, right, I think about, again, you know, parents who have higher self-regulation capacity are, you know, they’re better able to control their emotions, right? So, particularly in high-stress, emotionally difficult situations, not that they never show emotions, but that they are able to take that step and, sort of, think before they speak or before they act out their emotions. Maybe they’re not yelling at their kids as much from stress. Maybe they’re not crying or getting mad or sad or something like that. We can also think about, again, controlling behaviour, so things like yeah, not, like you may really feel like disciplining your child or, you know, establishing that sharp boundary. But you know, if we are doing more authoritative parenting, again, we have that ability to sort of stop and be like, “This is my desired behaviour. But, maybe I can be flexible in this situation. And, maybe I can be responsive to what my kid needs in this situation and, sort of, attend to them and check in with them and ask what’s going on.” So actually, right, I can see a lot of similarities of how these concepts of self-regulation map on to parenting and over-archingly, if we are able to think flexibly, adjust, plan, incorporate new information, not act only on emotion, not act only on impulse, probably we’re going to fall more into that authoritative parenting style. Where again, it’s fine to have rules. It’s good to have rules, children need rules and boundaries. But, we’re not just sort of blindly implementing those rules, we’re able to take a breath, assess the situation, and adapt. So, yeah, I think that if we were to strengthen our self regulation, whether it’s through again, getting more sleep, reducing our stress, doing meditation, maybe going to therapy, whatever it is, I think we’d move more into that authoritative parenting style, which, in general, is recommended.
Marciane Any 36:12
Thank you for that. That was, as you were talking, you know, and you were, like, you know, to be flexible and be responsive, check in, I was, like, ah, sounds familiar. Like, exactly. I was like, Ooh, full circle.
Kate Bauer 36:27
They are kind of one of the same.
Marciane Any 36:30
Like, it was really interesting, because you, like, brought a memory back to my mind. Like, one parenting doesn’t ever stop. So, thank you, parents for still parenting me as a grown adult. Because, I saw this very plainly, like, used by my mom and her recent visit to Canada. We were doing something and, you know, I had planned a trip and, like, all these fun things, and I’m exhausted because life doesn’t stop as well. And, plans, kind of, like, switched last minute. And, I, kind of, like, glitched a little. I was, like, what do you mean, and it made me, like, stressed. And, I started, like, acting, like, in those times, I start to go more inward and more quiet. And, then it’s like ah, like Buzzkill. Like, the mood is, like, going down. So, my mom noticed that and noticed that I was kind of, withdrawing a bit, and it was, like, all right, she needs space. And, my boyfriend was there, as well. So, she’s like, let’s just give her space. Like, let’s just let her walk. And, then after a while, she came back and was, like, “Hey, like, I see what you’re trying to do. And it’s okay, like, in us being flexible. Because, you know, plans change, we also, like, are encouraging you to be flexible, too, that it’s still okay, and we saw your effort. So, like, this doesn’t reflect badly,” (I was taking it personally), so she’s, like, “This doesn’t reflect badly on you. Let’s just do the new plans.” I was, like, I’m 26-years-old, my mom is still, you know, parenting, me and all that stuff. But, you know, through her being able to self-regulate, she was able to, like, help me. And, it’s just, like, that, just brought that memory back to mind. And, I am taking notes for the future.
Kate Bauer 38:16
Yeah, that’s really great. Because, I also tend to be someone, you know, particularly on trips like that, or people visiting, I, you know, I want it to be great and perfect. And, I inevitably plan too much and get too tired. And, that’s a really good … right? And, it doesn’t have to be your parents, it has to be, I don’t know, I’m just thinking about, you know, our good friend, again, Jess Haynes, like, when we hang out with each other, you know, we’re just easy on each other. And, so, the agenda doesn’t go the way you want or, so, you’re done for the day, and you go home. And, it’s really important to be around people who, you know, they know you and they know that you get stressed or struggle with that flexibility. And, they can, sort of, step in. And, this is actually… it brings up a another aspect of self-regulation and child nutrition that we’re looking at, is how co-parents or partners, like significant others, regulate each other. Right? So, I mean, so far, a lot of what I’ve been talking about as moms because we do tend to do research with moms and moms tend to be the one to like sign up for studies and everything. We are, actually, also in our studies, starting to also survey co-parents, so someone mom identifies that parents their child with them, if that person exists, and assess that person’s self-regulation, and, ultimately we’re gonna be looking at, you know, how does it work in couple dyads? If both struggle with weaker self-regulation, what about where couples are mismatched? Right? So is one partner able to, sort of, shoulder the self-regulation needs of the family, you know, if the other can’t, or, if there’s conflict or there’s disagreement between self-regulation strategies, does that end up in a more chaotic home environment? And, I don’t have an answer yet. And, there’s very little information on this question, but, it’s something that we get a lot of, like, okay, so mom has weaker self-regulation, you know, because of her genetics, or because of her early childhood experience or whatever. Can another parent or another caregiver in the home, sort of, make up for that? And, so hopefully, we’ll have the answer to that question.
Tamara Petresin 40:37
Right. That’s super interesting. Now, I’m, like, we’re gonna have to have you back. [laughter] We’ve got to dive into that on the next podcast, maybe! And, you brought up food and eating now, too, so it actually segues perfectly to the next few questions we had for you, too. So, how does parental self-regulation influence a child’s relationship with food and eating patterns? And, are there any specific behaviours or practices that parents can adopt to positively shape their child’s eating habits?
Kate Bauer 41:10
Yeah, what we have found so far, is that, and all of our research so far is cross-sectional, right, so it’s at one point in time, and yet, we know that families are really dynamic. And, you know, that there’s, sort, of these bi-directional relationships. So, if there’s, sort of, chaos or stress in the home, that’s probably going to influence parent and child self-regulation, which then, sort of, cycles and probably leads to more chaos and poor functioning. But, anyway, so, just with that disclaimer, that we don’t know, you know, cause and effect, chicken and egg, what we are seeing is that parents with weaker self-regulation capacity, report less frequent family meals; they report less structure and, sort of, consistency and rules around or expectations, I guess, you could say around family meals. So, we did an early study that showed that now some of our more recent data, fresh off the off the press, actually it’s not even off the press, [laughter]. We’re actually seeing even stronger associations between parents self-regulation, and their child’s sleep environments. So, questions around, “Do you have a regular bedtime for your child? Do they do you have a, you know, a set bedtime routine? Is the child’s you know, going to sleep without a screen?” You know, all these behaviours that we try to support parents engaging in, we see that that moms with weaker self-regulation are less likely to report those things. And, again, you know, you could think about cause and effect or even potentially, you know, what we might call a confounding factor. See, this is a little epidemiology lesson, right? So, maybe there’s something else going on the home, that’s super stressful, that’s, you know, emotionally exhausting, maybe there’s economic challenges, maybe there’s housing challenges. And, so, maybe those things are both weakening mom’s self-regulation capacity, and lending themselves to a more chaotic sleep environment. We still have to test that which is actually making me think I need to adjust some of my analyses. So, that may certainly can be the case. And, it could also be that, like, right, when you have a more difficult, challenging child, you know, that bedtime is just harder. And, that, also, then, right, think about the arrow going the way to moms, that makes mom struggle a bit more too. So, there’s a lot of potential explanations for the direction of things. But, that, again, was something that really popped out in our findings in our data in the past month or so. This sleep environment seems to be less ideal for children. And, then, finally, we’ve been looking at screen time and, sort of, mom’s use of screens around her children and limits on child screen time. And, again, as you would maybe expect, moms with poor self-regulation or weaker self-regulation capacity, they’re using screens around their child much more themselves, like, they tend to be on their phones more; they tend to use screens to, sort of, calm their children or distract their children, and they tend to not have limits on children’s screen time. And, that makes perfect sense, right? Because putting limits, I know, you all have been taught this, right? Putting limits on children’s screen time is really hard. And, actually, I will tell you, one of my master’s students is looking at some data. So, we have a question in our study of how important are these different parenting behaviours to you? Right? Because, self-regulation is about goal-directed behaviour. So, if I don’t even care about getting a family meal on the table, if I don’t even care about setting limits for my child, my self-regulation doesn’t matter to that, because it’s not something I’m trying to achieve. So, we, sort of, adapted a measure, a parent, we call it our parenting-priorities measure, and we asked all of our parents, among these 13 common parenting priorities, how would you rank them? And, so we obtained those parenting priorities, we, sort of, looked in the literature and we did, sort of, a, honestly, we put it on Facebook on two different parenting groups of, like, “What are what are your priorities, what’s important to you?” And, so we got things ranging, there’s, sort of, a cluster of priorities around, my child feels love, my child feels safe, my child feels happy, there’s a cluster around, you know, my child is kind to other people, my child does well in school, my child has a spiritual background. I have to say, as someone, myself who’s not spiritual, I didn’t even think of putting that as a parenting priority. And, that’s why we have to ask for other people’s perspectives, right, that, a good number of parents said, I want my, it’s very important to me that my child has a spiritual or religious foundation. Within all those parenting priorities we interspersed, “It’s important to me that my child eats a healthy diet. It’s important to me that my child’s screen time is limited.” So, I’m saying all this, because we just started looking at this data, and limiting screen time is the lowest priority for parents. Like, it’s really interesting, right? Because, we, there’s so much attention to, like, the harms of screens, and, like, don’t give kids phones. And, this is not to say anything about those, but current parents of preschoolers who at least are in our study, are saying, there are so many other things that are important to me, like, you know, it’s not saying it’s not important, you know, on an absolute level, but relative to other things, like making sure my child is safe, and making sure my child feels loved and making sure my child is kind and, you know, fair to other people, TV and screens go way to the bottom. Okay, so that was a bit of a variation. But, even despite the low priority of limiting screens, we still see that self-regulation seems to impede parents ability to limit their own screen time and set limits on their children. So, I think all together, is a cluster of things, right? If you think about, in a family, with a mom with weaker self-regulation, there’s more, you know, chaotic and less structured meals, she is relying on screens more, she’s, sort of, encouraging screens for her child. And, then, you know, you think about bedtime, and there’s a real — less routines, less consistency. And, so, we know all those things together are hard on kids, right? And, it’s not setting them up for success in the best way we could. So, I can’t remember your original question at all. But, that, that is what we found. [laughter]
Tamara Petresin 48:51
That’s Oh, that’s all good. Yeah, no, I think you you’ve definitely answered it. I mean, I thought that was so interesting, talking about the priorities thing, too, because I think we do, I mean, I’m not a parent yet, either. But, I think, just in generally speaking, like, from my experience, talking to parents, and working with parents, I think we do get lost in a lot of those kinds of things like screen time and family meals. And, of course, they’re important. Of course, we know there’s a lot of research to support, you know, that it sets your family and your child up for good health and all those things. But, just thinking back to those priorities of, like, I want this human to be a good human. Right? And, like, taking it back to that. And, I think that’s so interesting that you went ahead and asked those questions to have, like, what are parents priorities? And, it’s just, I think it’s actually kind of amazing how many of them said, like, I want my kid to feel loved and safe and to be kind to others.
Kate Bauer 49:37
It’s good. It’s right. I don’t know, maybe his my bias lens, but, I do think someone should say, I prioritize my child feeling safe and secure over, you know, they eat a healthy diet or they have academic achievement, you know, and maybe that’s, I get that that’s, I don’t know, that’s a certain culture and other parents have different priorities. But, I was, sort of, pleased to see that that we’re not, like, overly obsessing about things that we, again, I think as long as you establish a foundation for your child that they feel safe and secure, I think we’re will be in good shape. Yeah, it all comes around. It comes full circle.
Tamara Petresin 50:20
Yeah, I mean, at the end of the day, too, even what you were mentioning to, like, you know, the moms that maybe have poor self-regulation, but also have a lot of stress, like, they’re worried about, are they gonna be able to put food on the table? Like, it all makes a lot of sense, right? That, then that does equal more screens? Because, if that’s how mom’s gonna get a break, like, you know what I mean, you have to do what you have to do. And, I think it just comes back to the fact that, you know, everyone is hopefully trying their best, right, and you have to do what’s the best for yourself and your family to be able to get by?
Kate Bauer 50:47
Yeah. And if you, again, if you had a choice of, you know, let mom take some time for herself and do what she needs to do to keep herself sane and to keep her, you know, stress levels down and emotions in check, I’d rather have that and have the kid on a tablet, then have mom feel like, “Oh, my God, they can’t watch any T.V.” And, that’s just stressing her out more like, that doesn’t make sense to me.
Tamara Petresin 51:16
I think it’s just, kind of, coming back to like the big picture, because it’s just so easy to get lost in all those little things.
Kate Bauer 51:25
And so then I think, I mean, this is a whole other conversation, right? But like, well, I think I know the answer. So, I was gonna say, as people who care about nutrition and feel really strongly that the importance of not only, you know, quality diets, but healthy relationships with food and healthy relationships with our body, you know, how do we encourage that and support that, when rightfully so, parents are dealing with a lot of other stuff, right, and it’s not rising to the top? And, I think that, I mean, this is just my perspective, because it’s what I do, I think that comes back to what are those upstream things that can reduce mom’s stress, and make healthy food available and make it the easy choice for families? And, then it just doesn’t have to be a thing? Right, then it’s just the default. And, it doesn’t have to be another thing on parents plates to try to get right.
Tamara Petresin 52:21
Yeah, it’s like, it’s almost like tackling some of those factors like stress and lack of sleep, like all those things that influence our self-regulation. And, then, those things obviously trickle down with the parenting and other areas of our life, too. Even as a non-parent, I’m, like, I know, my self-regulation, if it’s not great, might influence my partner in our home, too, right. [laughter] It’s fascinating. So, to close out the podcast, we like to give families three take-home tips. So, what are three take-home tips about self-regulation that you can share with our listeners to help them navigate parenthood, while prioritizing their child’s wellbeing and development?
Kate Bauer 53:02
Yeah, that’s a great question. I’ll try to come up with three. I’ll go one by one. So, my first tip, as we’ve talked about a lot today together, is the importance of parent’s self regulation, right? And, the importance of, yes, we all vary in our ability. And, a lot of that is not under our control. It comes from our genetics; it comes from our early childhood environment. But, there are things that we can do to help ourselves manage our thoughts, emotions and behaviours better, if you feel like that’s something that’s getting in your way. So, again, ensuring that you have enough sleep, and that you’re getting regular activity, that you’re cognitive stuff, like, you know, you’re engaged, and you’re thinking and you’re social. And that, you know, it’s easier said than done, but thinking about ways that you can get some stress out of your life, or find support for things that are really stressful, because that does really wear away at our self-regulation capacity. And, I think I was gonna say, particularly with young children, but honestly, even, you know, my teenager, the days that I’m frustrated, and I’m quick to yell or I have no patience, do disrupt things. You know, they’re normal. I’m a human, but, I’d rather have less of them. So, yes, moms, dads, other caregivers, take time for yourself, it will benefit the whole family if you are able and give yourself more time to engage in behaviours that you know, sort of, give you more patience set you up for success. Don’t get you stuck in difficult situations. Tip number two. Oh, I have a, sort of, an extension of that. So, in addition to doing things that can strengthen our self-regulation, we also know that there’s ways that individuals who struggle with weaker self-regulation can set their own environments up for success. And, these are strategies, often, kids with executive-function problems, try to work with teachers or parents or coaches. But, there are things like, again, I, you know, I said earlier, setting your environment up for success. So, if you know that you’re someone who, you know you’re exhausted at the end of the day, you come home, you had a plan for cooking dinner, you just don’t feel like it, everything’s going wrong, you know, something good to think about is what is my plan B? Do I have something else frozen in the freezer? Do I have something else that I can just heat up, even if it’s, you know, packaged food or leftovers or something like that, right,? Like, giving yourself alternatives and allowing yourself that flexibility to, you know, do the alternate, like Marciane was talking about her trip and her mom’s visit, and like, giving her said that flexibility to be, like, “We’re just gonna do something else. This isn’t working.” And, that’s okay. And, I think, you know, parents giving themselves that grace, and also, you know, not being — trying not to be so rigid in their home, that there’s only one way, you know, it’s either this full gourmet dinner or bust because that’s not realistic. And, you know, think have a plan B, think of a plan C, I always tell parents, you know, a turkey sandwich and some baby carrots is a pretty darn good family meal. Oh, my gosh, we even have cereal nights. I mean, I don’t know, like, you know, you know, it’s about eating together and, and having low stress and it’s all good, it’s not worth stressing yourself out if you have had a tough day. And number three, in terms of self regulation. I don’t know, I’m just going to say, even though we don’t have data on this is, like, you know, get — and this is not a new thing — but like, get your partner involved, get your child involved, like, if you’re someone, and communicate, right? If you’re someone who has difficulty being flexible, if you’re someone who, you know, can’t adjust or can’t, sort of, quickly incorporate new circumstances or new information, pass that off to your partner, like, there’s no reason, particularly for moms, that they need to be in control of everything. Like, that’s just, it’s not helping anyone. So, I think if we all share the emotional and physical load of parenting, we’ll be able to weather those self-regulation weaknesses a little better.
Tamara Petresin 57:43
Yeah, definitely. Thank you so much for sharing those three tips. I mean, they’re definitely, with the podcast, we’re, you know, mostly talking about in the context of parenting, but I think even, you know, without that, too, the parenting, aside, too, these are just such great tips on how to work on our own self-regulation in other contexts. So, I think that’s just so amazing. I definitely… I wrote down all three. So, I’m like, work on the flexibility thing myself, as someone who can be a bit rigid. Yeah, I’m gonna try and find some ways to think about that. But Plan B and Plan C. That’s yeah, that’s a good tip.
Kate Bauer 58:17
I know. I always think about, I’m, like, what is the — and that’s sort of a cognitive behavioural therapy thing, right — like, what is the worst that can happen right now? And usually, it’s not that bad. Right? Yeah. So what? So what? I mean, especially, I mean, things like dinner. Did we have family dinner tonight? So what?
Tamara Petresin 58:37
Yeah, all about coming back to that big picture and striking a balance and doing what works best for your family. So thank you so so much, Dr. Bauer, for taking the time to chat with us about parental self-regulation, and the impact on children’s growth and nutrition, and for sharing your vast knowledge and research and expertise with us on The Healthy Habits, Happy Homes podcast.
Kate Bauer 58:55
Thank you so much. It was really fun to be here and I am happy to come back and chat some more.
Marciane Any 59:02
You’ve provided us with such helpful tips and we really hope our listeners can take away some of these useful tips that you’ve shared, and we’ll see you all next time.