The Importance of Staying Calm
You’re having one of those days: you’re sleep-deprived, stressed, and shouting. Often, this behavior indicates that your executive functioning—or “your ability to exercise self-control, pay attention, problem-solve”—is not at an ideal level, says assistant professor of public health AliceAnn “Ali” Crandall (BS ’00).
In a study published in Family Relations, Crandall and coauthors from Johns Hopkins University and Virginia Tech found that mothers with higher levels of executive functioning tend to create better environments for children. Executive functioning is like an air traffic control tower, says Crandall: “If the air traffic control system isn’t working well, [it’d be] utter chaos.”
Children thrive on having established routines and relationships, and they’re more likely to have problematic behavior without them, Crandall notes. Mothers with high executive functioning are better able to provide that structure. Crandall says that if you know your limitations, such as getting angry when you’re tired, you can take steps to overcome them. And, she adds, remember that “it’s hard for us at the best of times to pull it all together.”
Crandall suggests the following to strengthen executive functioning:
• Take a Time-Out: If you feel your emotions taking over, step away from the situation for a moment to calm down.
• Live Healthy: Eating well, exercising, drinking enough water, and getting enough sleep are hard as a parent, but healthy habits are important in strengthening executive functioning.
• Understand Your Limitations: Through trial and error, learn to avoid your personal pitfalls and challenges.
The Importance of Expressing Emotion
Phrases like “boys don’t cry” and “be a man” used to dictate masculinity for most men, but cultural understandings of masculinity are changing, says sociology professor Kevin M. Shafer and his colleagues in the Journal of Marriage and Family.
Historically, some men adopted toxic masculinity, which Shafer says, includes “beliefs that men are superior to women, homophobia, emotional detachment, and unwillingness to get help.”
Overall, says Shafer, “dads are doing way better” than fathers from 50 years ago. Today’s fathers are generally better at nurturing and being role models for their children. He found that kids benefit academically, emotionally, and socially when men adopt a healthy, nontoxic masculinity.
But Shafer says there are still fathering practices taking place that have a negative effect on the family. For example, his research has found that men who exhibit high levels of toxic masculinity are more likely to engage in physical punishment. “Kids who . . . experience corporal punishment do worse on every decipherable measure,” says Shafer.
Shafer offers these tips to adopt a more positive masculinity:
• Embrace Nontoxic Masculinity: This means “being vulnerable, embracing one’s feelings, not being hesitant to ask for help, and creating an equal partnership with one’s partner,” Shafer explains.
• Be Creative: Find firm but loving ways to respond to misbehaving children. If your child steals your car keys to avoid being driven to school, don’t shout or hit; walk your child there instead.
• Show Your Feelings: Spend time with your kids in activities “from caregiving to recreation,” says Shafer. “Make sure they know you love them through words and actions.”