Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, a professor of human sciences and psychology, answers alumni questions about the many ways in which children shift the balance of a household and family.
Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan, a professor of human sciences and psychology, and a faculty associate of the Crane Center for Early Childhood Research and Policy, has researched and written about the effects of Facebook on parents, the dynamics of parental and family relationships and their effects on children (and vice versa), and expectant parenthood. Combine that with a passion for teaching — she’s won multiple awards, including an Alumni Award for Distinguished Teaching — and formidable media savvy, and we knew we’d found the perfect person to answer your questions about parenthood.
My wife and I are in our 20s and have been married for a year. We are enjoying our time with just each other, but some of our best friends already have 1-year-olds, and we like the idea of our children growing up together. What do you think about balancing these priorities? — Joe Rosati ’11
It is most important that you and your wife discuss your plans and come to an agreement about what is best for you. I would not advise allowing the timelines of other couples or the wishes of friends and family to strongly influence your decisions. If you choose to start a family sooner, your children would be closer in age to those of your friends, but there is no guarantee that the children would develop close relationships. Also, parenting does not need to spell the end of time for each other. The best parents are those who are committed to their children yet mindful of the importance of meeting their individual and relationship needs to maintain their psychological health.
My child was born with colic. We barely made it through! My husband and I are now gun-shy about having another baby. Any advice on making this decision? — Rachel S. ’10
The decision to have a second child can be tough, especially when your early experience of parenting your first child was challenging. Experts do not agree on what causes colic or on how to fix it. The good news is that no particular genetic predisposition to colic has been identified. In fact, having your second child might convince you just how different children can be. That said, there are no guarantees that your second child would not be just as challenging as your first. Research shows only children are typically well adjusted, despite the stereotypes. If you do decide to embark on a second parenting adventure, use all the knowledge you gained from your experiences with your first child to prepare, and marshal the support of family and friends.
I hear regressions are normal for 3-year-olds when a new baby arrives. What can parents do to make a smooth introduction? — Tzyy Wang ’00
According to popular wisdom, this transition is a crisis for the older child, often accompanied by a decline or regression in behavior, such as an independent toddler suddenly becoming clingy. However, research suggests that most children do not experience high levels of distress when a new baby arrives. In fact, parents often are pleasantly surprised that the older sibling has fewer difficulties than they expected. When children do struggle with the addition of a new baby, often that has to do with the specific child and family circumstances (Are multiple transitions, such as moving or changing day-care arrangements, happening at the same time?). If the older child develops persistent problematic behaviors, seek advice from your pediatrician or a psychologist.
What are age-appropriate chores for a 6-year-old? — Supen Bowe, ’02
To ensure a household runs smoothly, it is important that everyone pitch in. The opportunity to take part in household work can make children feel confident and independent and help them strengthen their problem-solving skills.
Typically developing 6-year-old children could put away clean laundry, sweep or vacuum floors, set and clear the table, make their bed or rake leaves. Be specific about the steps involved in completing chores. You may need to show your child how to complete the chore before they are comfortable doing it on their own. You will also need to relax your standards, because young children likely won’t complete chores to an adult standard. Many experts caution against making allowance contingent on completion of regular chores by young children, because chores are required of all household members. When children are older, however, offering money may be appropriate if they take on extra chores or go above and beyond in their contributions.
Without even realizing it, parents often steer girls toward stereotypically feminine chores (meal preparation and cleaning) and boys toward stereotypically masculine chores (yard work and repairs). Parents who want to raise sons and daughters who will make equal contributions to their own future households would do well to ensure that all children gain experience completing “masculine” and “feminine” chores.