Parenting Tip of the Week - The Importance of Skin-to-Skin Contact


Babies learn about the world around them in many ways. One critical way that babies learn is by being held or touched by their parents, especially when making skin-to-skin contact. Today’s Parenting Tip aims to help parents understand the importance of touch and contact for developing babies and how it supports healthy child development.

Why is Skin-to-Skin contact so important?

In the early stages of life, “somatosensory processing” is a critical way that babies learn about the world. Somatosensory processing is a fancy way of saying that our brains can process and interpret external sensations. The somatosensory cortex is an area in our brains that receives and responds to sensory input, including pressure, temperature, itch, or tickles. For children, touch is the first of the five senses to develop so these sensations are particularly important for developing children.

Because of this, touching is a crucial component to bonding between new parent and child. According to many different research studies, skin-to-skin contact between babies and parents is especially important. This contact helps reinforce feelings of safety and nurturing in children, leading to positive outcomes for children including:

  • Improved physical health, especially in the cardiovascular and respiratory systems,
  • More success with breastfeeding, and
  • Improved attachment between parent and child.

In addition to having health and attachment benefits, skin-to-skin touching can also help improve the way that children process information about the world around them.

According to a study from the University of Washington, stimulating the somatosensory process in babies supports early learning. In a study published in January of 2018, researchers used brain imaging tools to observe what happens in a baby’s brain when they experience different kinds of touch. Their results showed that touch helps children learn what different parts of their body are which helps developing babies learn by imitating their parents what things like their hands or feet are used for.

What does this mean for parents? Not only does it mean that you can’t “spoil a child” by holding them too much, but actually that holding your babies helps prepare them for a lifetime of health and learning! This contact is just as important for Dad as it is for Mom, so both parents are encouraged to make skin-to-skin contact when holding their babies.

Doctors recommend that skin-to-skin contact begin immediately after birth and beyond. Parents should hold their baby for an hour or more, but the skin-to-skin contact doesn’t have to occur only when babies are held. Parents can also practice infant massage to promote bonding and development in their children. For more information on infant massage, check out this great article from the Mayo Clinic.

Oops. Delaware Schools do have to report terroristic threats to the education department, after all

Delaware News Journal | Jessica Bies

In this 2016 photo, Mount Pleasant High School students evacuate the school and wait in the bleacher stands outside while Delaware State Police search the school after receiving a bomb threat. (Photo: CARLA VARISCO/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)

In this 2016 photo, Mount Pleasant High School students evacuate the school and wait in the bleacher stands outside while Delaware State Police search the school after receiving a bomb threat. (Photo: CARLA VARISCO/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)

One week after it announced schools would no longer be required to report offensive touching or threats to kill and seriously injured students or employees to the state, the Delaware Department of Education has reversed course. 

The department said last week that it was updating its regulations on how schools report crime and misconduct to be more consistent with state law.

In 2012, lawmakers had eliminated both terroristic threatening and offensive touching from Delaware's mandatory reporting requirements, meaning schools were no longer required to report such offenses to the police.

Consequently, the Education Department announced schools would not need to report them to the state, either. 

PREVIOUS STORY: Delaware schools no longer required to report 'terroristic threats'

That appears to have been a mistake. 

On Wednesday, the Education Department sent an "IMPORTANT" update on Regulation 601, announcing that it would not be updated after all. 

Emily Cunningham, the department's chief of staff and a policy analyst, said in the email that the Education Department has since realized that the regulation was already amended, in 2013, to be in compliance with the mandatory reporting requirements. 

Terroristic threats and offensive touching, previously listed as "school crimes" had been reclassified as "incidents of misconduct." 

"The legislation took effect on August 16, 2012," Cunningham said. "Since that time, all of these incidents have been reported to DOE as incidents of misconduct and not crimes. However, even though the law repealed only terroristic threatening and offensive touching as mandatory criminal reports, law enforcement may be contacted." 

"We apologize for any confusion."   

Cunningham said the reversal wasn't because of public pushback or parent feedback. It was merely an oversight, she said in another email. 

"The department did not change its mind; the change had simply already been made in 2013, and therefore, the change wasn’t necessary," Cunningham said. 

Parents, living in a world where school shootings like the one in Parkland, Florida, have sparked debates over school safety and threat assessments, had questioned why the regulation was being revised. 

"Are you kidding me?!?" one parent said on Delaware Online's Facebook page. "This just hides and buries more violent students in their early warning phases." 

Another parent said: "Why is this even an issue? Reporting is part of the intelligence gathering processes. This policy is on the losing side of fighting the war on terror!" 

Many parents understood why the law was originally changed in 2013. Legislators wanted to give school administrators more discretion over what to report to the police, especially when threats were made by students with disabilities or those too young to understand the implications or realistically follow through on what they said.   

But a terroristic threat could also be classified as a felony, depending on the content and whether it forces an evacuation or lockdown. Since the shooting in Florida, several students have been arrested and charged after allegedly making threats to school safety. 

In March, for instance, a seventh-grader at Millsboro Middle School was arrested for threatening his principal and a staff member, state police said. Additional information from the school resource officer revealed that the boy had also made threats toward the school. 

In February, a bystander at James H. Groves Adult High School in Dover overheard a 19-year-old student say he would "shoot up the school" and reported the statement to school officials. Police were called, and the teen was arrested and charged with terroristic threatening. 

In Delaware last year, schools reported 315 reports of terroristic threatening of a student and 292 reports of terroristic threatening of an employee, according to data from the state Education Department. 

Offensive touching, which is the most-often reported offense in Delaware schools overall, could include intentionally touching someone, knowing that the person is likely to be offended or alarmed, or intentionally striking another person with saliva, urine, feces or any other bodily fluid. 

There were 4,162 incidents of offensive touching of a student and 1,307 incidents of offensive touching of an employee, according to last year's data. 

Schools are also required to report violent felonies as well as instances of criminal mischief and vandalism, felony theft, possession/use of alcohol, drugs and inhalants, bullying, sexual harassment, fighting and teen dating violence, state regulations say. 


7 Signs Your Family Is Feeling Too Much Stress

PARENTS | Bonnie Gibbs Vengrow

Is your whole family frazzled? Our experts highlight seven ways to determine if your family is overly stressed—and what you can do about it.


As a parent, you already know that stress is as much a part of life as bedtime battles and picky eating. But what you may not realize is that your frustrations can impact your children's own stress levels, and before long, your once-peaceful house is filled with shouting, meltdowns, and one-word answers.

Can you rid yourself completely of stress? Doubtful—but there are ways to minimize it. Here, experts highlight seven ways to tell your family is overly stressed, plus advice on what you can do about it.

1. No one is sleeping. When your stress levels are at an all-time high, sleep is one of the first casualties. (Oh hello there, insomnia!) This lack of shut-eye can make you crankier, anxious, and, yup, more stressed. If you and your family are feeling the strain, "put the kids to bed a half hour earlier and put yourself to bed a half hour earlier as well," advises Tanya Altmann, M.D., a pediatrician in Calabasas, California, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, and author of What to Feed Your Baby.

2. You're yelling at each other more. Wondering if the pressure is starting to get to your family? Use your ears—oftentimes the more stressed we feel, the more we yell and fuss. Softening your own voice can help bring down the volume, as can taking a time out together, Dr. Altmann says. "You can say, 'Mommy needs one, and we're going to lie here and hug and take deep breaths and start over," she adds. "It's just as much for you as it is for them."

3. You've cut down on family dinners. Sad truth: When you or your partner are stressed-out and cranky, your older kid may skip out on mealtime to avoid talking to you, says Mary Alvord, Ph.D., a psychologist in Rockville, Maryland, a public education coordinator for the American Psychological Association, and author of several books on relaxation and building resilience.

To make dinner more enjoyable again, she recommends having everyone write down something positive they observed about another family member and drop it in a basket in the middle of the table. During meals, pull from the so-called "compliment basket" and read the observations aloud. "It can help kids look forward to meal time, and it's a great way to give praise for specific things, which is better than general praise," Dr. Alvord says.

4. Your child is withdrawing. During times of high stress, some children shut themselves off from others. Older kids might lock themselves in their room more, for example, while younger ones may stop asking to have playdates with friends.

Sound familiar? A check-in could be in order. "Talk to your kids. Talk and keep talking. Keep the conversation open," Dr. Alvord says. "And if you're stressed, say it—'I'm going to take a hot bath and chill out for a bit.' Problem-solve out loud so they know how you handle stress."

By the same token, be sure you're modeling good coping mechanisms for your children. If yours are less-than-positive—think overeating, drinking, oversleeping—try adopting healthier habits, like deep breathing, mindfulness, and regular exercise, she adds.

5. You're struggling at work. Missed a deadline? Blew a major presentation? Stress may be the culprit, as it robs you of your ability to concentrate and stay organized. Dr. Alvord recommends identifying your biggest pain points, and brainstorming solutions with your partner. "If getting out the door in the morning is hard, for example, you may want to do more prep the night before for the next morning," she says.

6. Everyone is under the weather. No matter your age, chronic stress can take a toll on your body. Younger children may complain about stomach aches and nightmares, while teens often get headaches, and adults typically feel stress in the neck, shoulders, and back. Everyone, meanwhile, experiences sleep issues.

So it's no wonder that when your family is overstressed, your immune systems are lowered and your chances of illness may increase. Besides going to bed earlier, be sure to regularly wash your hands, exercise, and eat healthy. And it may sound obvious, but try to remove stress wherever you can. One good way to do that is to decompress regularly as a family, Dr. Alvord says, which could be anything from playing a board game to watching a movie to going on a walk around the block.

7. You and the kids are running around—all the time. Rushing from one after-school activity to the next can make your family feel anxious, which in turn can cause muscle tension, headaches, stomach aches, and host of other not-so-pleasant issues. If you find yourself feeling overstressed in the moment, try hitting the pause button, Dr. Altmann says. "Let's say your family is running around like crazy because you'll be late to a sporting event and can't find your kid's cleats," she says. "Stop what you're doing, and take 10 deep breaths. It's better to arrive a few minutes late with everything you need than to not be able to play because your child doesn't have all of their equipment."

A longer-term strategy? Finally get serious about striking that life balance in your family. "If you find that your child is doing too much of anything, you have to question if that's healthy," Dr. Alvord points out. "Parents need down time, and kids need down time."

Parenting Tip of the Week - Structure and Routine During Summer Break

Parenting Tip of the Week | Prevent Child Abuse America

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Just like adults, kids need consistency and structure to thrive. Today’s Parenting Tip has some ideas for how parents can reinforce structure and routine and keep stress levels low by creating a summer routine of your own.

The Importance of Structure and Routine

Change can be stressful for children. Unfortunately, growing up comes with constant change that can be difficult for your child. Moving, new siblings, new teachers, the list goes on and on. Summer break is another example of change that can cause confusion or stress in children.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, keeping a consistent routine has benefits for both children and parents. Structure not only helps children deal with stress but can also help teach children responsibility and self-control.

There are three keys to creating to structure: consistency, predictability and follow-through. For example, take nap time. Enforcing a consistent time and keeping on a regular schedule will help children know when to expect nap-time to occur, meaning less frustration, confusion and stress (for everyone!).

For school aged children, their school environment provides a lot of the structure and routine that children need to thrive. This summer break, try some of these simple suggestions to help create a consistent summer routine for your children.

Creating a Summer Routine

  1. Create a daily schedule and put it in a place everyone will see it. Create a schedule for your family (an example provided by the CDC can be found here) and hang it where your child can see it each day. Try to keep times consistent, for example having lunch every day at 12:00, nap time every day at 2:00, etc.
  2. Include chores alongside fun activities on the schedule. Letting your child know what you expect is critical to your relationship. Keeping chores as a consistent part of the schedule can help cut down on the frustration of doing chores since your children will know what to expect ahead of time.
  3. Have your child check off each activity as the day goes on. This will help your child look forward to exciting activities and feel accomplished when each is done! Keeping fun items alongside boring ones like chores can help your children stick to their routines.
  4. Keep it positive! Reward your child for following a daily routine with good behavior. For example, you can use stars for every item your child does in their routine without complaint, and give a certain reward, like a trip to get ice cream, after your child has accumulated a certain number of stars. For more inspiration, check out this sample reward chart.

How do you get your kids onto a summer schedule? Let us know by tweeting us @PCAAmericaor by leaving a comment on our Facebook page!

Parenting Tip of the Week- Preventing Heatstroke in Hot Cars


Parenting Tip of the Week.jpg

July is almost here, kids are home from school, temperatures are rising across the country, and most families are thinking of fun ways to spend time in the summer. One thing families should also be thinking about is keeping kids safe from heatstroke and hot cars.

Hot cars are dangerous, so remember to never leave a child (or pet!) in the car on a hot day. On an 80 degree day, temperatures inside a parked car climb to over 100 degrees in fifteen minutes, even with the windows cracked. Parents of young children should be especially careful as infants and toddlers are especially vulnerable to heatstroke.

And while many may comment and say that there is no need for a reminder such as this, unfortunately, these stories happen more often than you might think. This month, the National Safety Council released a report showing that 47 children died from hot car exposure in 2017, an increase from the reported 39 children in 2016.

Preventing Heatstroke

Many of these cases have similar details. In some a car was accidentally left unlocked in a driveway and a child climbed inside to play hide-and-seek. In others a parent thought that they would just be inside the store for a few minutes. These cases all share another similarity though: they can be prevented. As a parent, what can you do to help prevent this kind of situation from happening in your own family? Here are five suggestions to add to your routine to help you prevent a similar tragedy from occurring for your own family.

  1. Always lock the doorsand keep keys and fobs out of reach – Make sure that your car doors are locked and that your keys and fobs are put them somewhere that children can’t get to them. This can help prevent curious kids from getting in a car and getting locked inside.
  2. Take your child inside to the store with you, even if it’s just a quick trip and even if it isn’t a hot day. This can help build up the routine to help keep you from forgetting. We know it can be stressful shopping with children, though, and so we’ve created some tips to make that feel easier too!
  3. “Look when you lock.” – Open the rear door of your car or turn around in your seat to look behind you just to make sure everyone is out of the car before you lock. Try to make a habit of doing this even when traveling alone (and it could always help you to remember your purse, sunglasses, or something else, too!)
  4. Keep something necessary for shopping or work in the back seat. Put your purse or wallet on the seat next to your car-seat. This gives you another reason to turn around and look back, helping to build up the habit of looking even on routine days where your child isn’t in your care.
  5. If you see a child in car alone, call 911 – Even on a 75 degree day, the inside of car can reach 100 degrees within ten minutes, and a child’s body can overheat 3 to 5 times faster than an adult. If you see a child left in a car alone, call 911 for assistance. It’s far better to be safe than sorry!

By following these tips, you can help prevent heatstroke and avoidable accidents that have lifelong consequences. For more information, visit Safe Kids Worldwide’s “Take Action to Prevent Heatstroke” landing page.

Bill would help oust Delaware teachers who pose clear threat to kids


The News Journal | Jessica Bies

A new bill would let the state Education Department immediately suspend educators' licenses if they are arrested or indicted by a grand jury for a violent felony, or where there is a clear and immediate danger to student safety or welfare. 

Currently, the education department cannot take away teachers' licenses unless they are fired or they resign/retire after official notice of allegations of a sexual offense against a child. 

That can be a lengthy process that involves hearings and appeals, especially if the teacher hasn't been convicted of a crime yet. In the meantime, those educators are still in the classroom, said Earl Jaques, D-Glasgow, which leaves students in danger. 

"This way, we can move a little quicker," said Jaques, who is one of the bill's sponsors and chair of the House Education Committee. Though first introduced Thursday, he fully expects the bill to get approved by the end of the month, before the legislative session ends. 

Upon request, the state Education Department provided four real-life examples of educators whose licenses have not been suspended, despite serious allegations of misconduct. For legal reasons, DOE could not provide the educators' names: 

  1. A male educator has been accused three separate times by three female elementary students of touching their thighs and making sexually inappropriate comments. No criminal charges have ever been brought and he has not been fired. After the third incident, he resigned but then was hired at another school in Delaware and is currently teaching. Under the current law, the state has no grounds to conduct an investigation or revoke his license. 

  2. One educator was accused of not reporting child abuse as required by law. The educator took a disability pension and was still technically employed by the school district, so the state didn't have jurisdiction and couldn't legally investigate. 

  3. A principal who stole money from a parent-teacher association took a plea deal and was put on probation; thus no action was taken with regard to his/her licensure.

  4. An educator was charged with a felony for pushing an autistic student and causing him physical injury. The educator’s license remains fully effective and he/she could take a new job at another school despite the charges being investigated.

The new legislation is backed by the Delaware State Education AssociationDelaware Department of Justice and the Beau Biden Foundation for the Protection of Children, among other organizations. 

Under the new bill, the education department could temporarily suspend educators' licenses or certificates for up to 60 days, pending an investigation and hearing. If it's determined an educator is a danger to students, their license will remain suspended until disciplinary action is taken — the education department itself can't fire teachers; that's up to the board of whatever school district the teachers work for. 

Alternatively, if the educator is found not guilty of the underlying criminal charges, they can request that their license is reinstated. 

Because personnel records are confidential and not all educators are charged with felonies, many such cases escape public notice. But in 2014, a 16-year-old Smyrna High School student, who had an ongoing sexual relationship with a teacher, filed a lawsuit against him and the school district.

The suit blamed 38-year-old Donovan J. Garvin and the Smyrna district for acts of sexual assault and battery that were committed against the student, identified by the pseudonym "Jane Doe."

The suit further alleged the district had "actual or constructive notice of prior misconduct by Garvin, which endangered students and subjected them to sexual abuse. The case was settled in May 2015, before it went to trial. 

Attorney Raeann Warner, who represented the girl, has said it was unfortunate Garvin used his position to prey on a vulnerable student.

"What is more troubling is that the suit alleges that other teachers warned Garvin to stay away from plaintiff, apparently recognizing the inappropriateness of their relationship," Warner said in 2014. 

Garvin was arrested in 2013 following an investigation that started after the discovery of a cellphone containing communication between him and the girl. The relationship apparently began in 2012 when the girl, then 15, was a sophomore. She was a student of Garvin's the previous school year.

According to the 13-page lawsuit, the two had sex on at least 10 occasions. Some of the assaults occurred in Garvin's classroom, according to the victim's attorney.

Garvin was charged with 10 counts of first-degree sexual abuse of a child by a person of trust and one count of sexual solicitation of a child to engage in prohibited acts. He pleaded guilty to a single count of child abuse and was sentenced to 13 years in prison and 2½ years of probation. He must also register as a sex offender and is prohibited from having contact with minors, except for his own children.

During Garvin's sentencing, Warner said a deputy attorney general informed the court that Garvin was let go by other school districts for allegations of inappropriate sexual contact with students. His license was never revoked, which allowed him to secure employment elsewhere.

Warner could not comment on the case specifically, but on Monday did say: "In general, this bill appears to be intended to give the department more information and flexibility and power to act to protect children, which is a great thing." 

The new bill also makes it easier for the state education department to take action against teachers who are fired but not formally charged, said Shelley Meadowcroft, director of public relations for the Delaware State Education Association. 

If, after being investigated, a teacher or paraprofessional isn't found guilty, the education department can still issue a "non-disciplinary letter of concern" outlining the bad behavior. If an educator receives three letters of the concern, the education department can choose to suspend, limit or revoke their license. 

Meadowcroft said that creates the ability for the education department to track a teacher's behavior, even if they switch school districts multiple times. 

"Not all school districts talk," she said, which makes it difficult for administrators to know if an educator has a history of misconduct. 

With the new bill in place, "No matter where you are, they can still go in and say no, you're done, three strikes, you're out," Meadowcroft said. "It gets them out of the school immediately, which is a good thing." 

Not only that, but all final orders issued by either the secretary of education or the Professional Standards Board would be considered public documents, subject to the Freedom of Information Act. 

That's notable because, as mentioned above, personnel decisions are often considered confidential, and it can be difficult to determine why a teacher was fired or suspended. Most of the cases the Department of Education investigates involve physical aggression or sexual misconduct, officials told the News Journal in 2016

USA Today has also investigated teachers who sexually abuse students, and has found many of them continue to work with children. Officials put children in harm’s way by covering up evidence of abuse, keeping allegations secret and making it easy for abusive teachers to find jobs elsewhere, the investigation found. 

Joshua Alcorn, chief engagement officer at the Beau Biden Foundation, compared the phenomenon to what happened in the Catholic Church.  Priests were often moved to different parishes when allegations of sexual abuse began to surface, allowing them access to new victims. 

Alcorn said the Beau Biden Foundation wants to make sure educators accused of serious crimes aren't allowed to continue teaching. 

“We’re interested in making sure predators don’t have easy access to children and institutions have a way to protect the children in their care from predators," he said. 

"Strengthening child protection laws is one of the main tenants of the foundation.”

Parenting Tip of the Week - Promoting Social and Emotional Learning



Developing the social and emotional skills of children is a critical way to ensure that they grow up into healthy, well-adjusted adults. Many schools are now integrating social and emotional learning into their lesson plans. Parents also play a role in promoting SEL! Here are six suggestions for ways that parents can promote social and emotional learning over the summer break.

Six Suggested Ideas to Promote Social and Emotional Learning

  1. Visit a local library and read a book with a SEL component. You can use stories that you read with your children to help them understand SEL concepts in action. Let your child choose a book from a list like this then sit down and read it together. Make sure you discuss the motivations and actions of the characters.
  2. Create cooperative learning games that your child can play with siblings or friends. Playing games among peers with a cooperative goal is a great way to reinforce SEL concepts like understanding and patience. Some great examples of these games include “Cross the River” or “Human Knot.”
  3. Set a goal for the summer and help your child keep track of it. Agree on an age-appropriate summer goal with your child and help them track their progress. For example, your child may set a goal of being able to read thirty new words by the end of the summer. Help them create a graph to track their progress to reinforce concepts like determination and help children learn to deal with emotions like frustration.
  4. Start a summer journal. Buy some cheap notebooks for your child and encourage them to keep a journal of their thoughts and feelings over the summer. Whether they choose to draw pictures or free-write, journaling can help children keep sense of their thoughts and feelings and express them in a healthy manner.
  5. Create chore lists for each week of summer break. Age-appropriate chores can teach children responsibility and the importance of follow through. Parents can change which chores their child is responsible for from week to week while keeping the routine constant.
  6. Check-in with your child’s feelings. Simply asking “how are you feeling?” every day shows your children that their emotions matter and that you. This also helps children learn to label their emotions and learn to deal with them in an appropriate way.

Integrating social and emotional learning concepts into your child’s summer break is a great way for parents to reinforce the concepts children are already learning at school. The more time that parents dedicate to these concepts, the better equipped children will be for a future full of learning! For more information on social and emotional learning, visit

Delaware Expected To Be The First State To Ban Child Marriage Outright



The Delaware Senate voted unanimously Thursday to become the first state in the U.S. to ban child marriage, no exceptions. Legislation prohibiting minors from marrying under any circumstance is headed to the governor's desk where he is expected to sign it.

Right now Delaware is one of 25 states that allows a child of any age to get married. And while most state laws require that people must be at least 18, they allow for exceptions, like pregnancy or parent consent.

"We're leaving girls with no protections," said State Rep. Kim Williams, who sponsored the legislation. "I don't want children to have to make a decision about marriage until they're 18."

Kelsey Lee is a family attorney with the nonprofit organization Unchained At Last, which helps people who were forced into marriages. Lee says most of the time the marriages are between an adult male and a girl. That leaves the girl without the legal protections adults have, such as hiring a divorce lawyer.

The Loopholes That Allow Child Marriage In The U.S.

"Children here in Delaware cannot file a legal action in their own name. A parent or guardian would have to do it for them. We know children who are forced to marry — it's almost always the parents, so it is highly unlikely that the parent will allow them to divorce."

Lee also points out that minors are also not allowed to enter into contracts, so their spouse, for instance, would have the house in their name. And Lee says that very few domestic violence shelters will accept minors.

In Delaware, more than 200 minors got married between 2000 and 2017. In more than 90 percent of the cases, girls under the age of 18 married adult men.

The legislation would also eliminate the statutory rape exception in Delaware law. The state bans sex between a minor and someone who is 30 years old or older. But it's not considered rape if the two are married.

Critics of the bill say parents should be allowed to let their kids get married without government interference. They also raise concerns about the state interfering with religions or cultures that support arranged marriages.

State Rep. Stephen Smyk was one of 11 House members who voted against the legislation. He said the state already has safeguards to protect minors. Delaware allowed minors to marry with just parental consent until 2007. Lawmakers then added the requirement that a family court sign off on the marriages.

"The bill heading to the governor ignores multiple scenarios," Smyk said. "The blanket ban on marriage under age 18 might unfairly exclude couples with legitimate reasons for seeking such unions."

A spokesman for Gov. John Carney says the governor plans to sign the legislation after a legal review.




Editor’s Note: This post is not intended as medical advice. Always consult a medical professional or physician before treatment of any kind.  Also, an earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to Dr. Rahil Briggs as Dr. Rachel Briggs. We apologize for the error.

You’re probably pretty confident that you’d be able to recognize whether you or your child was being physically abused, but what about emotional abuse?

Abuse is abuse no matter which form it takes. And according to experts, emotional abuse in the form of childhood emotional neglect can actually be one of the most harmful.

"Neglect is the most damaging of all,” says Dr. Diane Robert Stoller, also known as “Dr. Diane,” a Boston-based neuropsychologist and co-author of Coping with Concussion and Mild Traumatic Brain Injury. “Neglect is not being seen.”

As Dr. Rahil Briggs, PsyD, director of the HealthySteps program and associate professor of clinical pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine explains, there is actually no distinction between emotional and physical abuse. All types of abuse fall under the umbrella of trauma. And trauma encompasses everything from physical trauma, like a child being beaten or hurt, to emotional pain and neglect.

“Trauma is not just a house fire or a car accident or something very headline-worthy,” she adds. “It can be very traumatic to children to consistently, constantly, and in a predictable way have their emotional needs disregarded. Or even worse, be told that they shouldn’t have them as children, if they are just asking for basic care and comfort.”

The effects of emotional trauma

Unlike physical scars, the long-lasting effects of emotional trauma are harder to see. Emotional neglect can take place in the form of a family that provides all of a child’s material needs, but never takes the time to get to know them. Emotional trauma can be in the form of a parent battling the demons of addiction that is unable to be fully present. Emotional trauma can look like a parent who favors one child over another, or a parent who is too busy to attend any of his kid’s sporting events. Emotional trauma, in a nutshell, is the repeated and consistent neglect of the emotional well-being of a child.

There is a lot of interesting research on how childhood emotional neglect affects both our mental and physical health. For example, one study found that childhood emotional neglect actually increases the reactivity of the brain’s amygdala, which controls how we interpret and respond to stressful stimuli. But all types of trauma can lead to a wide range of negative effects, both in childhood and later in life, including:

  • Higher rates of negative behavioral activities, such as drug use
  • More physical health diagnoses, like cancer and heart disease
  • Increased ADHD
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mental health disorders

According to Dr. Diane, childhood neglect is more likely to cause a child to grow up in fear, learning to either become very aggressive or withdrawn, and turn blame inwards. And because that consistent trauma triggers the autonomic nervous system, neglect also has long-lasting physical effects, as well. Dr. Briggs likens the physical toll that emotional trauma takes on the human body to a car being driven at top speeds 24/7 without a break. “The car would break down faster,” she explains.

What does emotional neglect look like?

Ironically, as talk to Dr. Briggs, I essentially ignore my 3-year-old as she clamors for my attention. So, am I neglecting her? Am I ruining her forever?

Dr. Briggs assures me that ignoring your kid now and then when you’re on the phone is not a problem — it’s a repeated pattern of neglect that causes damage.

“It can be quite overwhelming to parents; there are 24 hours in a day and if you think to yourself, ‘Well, I have to be emotionally responsive to my child all 24 of those hours’, that’s a benchmark that no one can, nor should, meet,” she explains.

Instead, she suggests starting with something as simple as talking with your kid at the end of the day and remembering that some positive stress for kids is necessary for children to learn and grow. Dr. Diane also points out that children require different emotional “watering,” just like plants.

“That parent is supposed to be able to see … when to water it and when not to,” she explains. “Certain plants you need to water every day; other ones you need to water every week.”

I was relieved to discover that I wasn’t a horrible parent after all, but not so relieved to discover that my daughter had adorned her entire body in green marker while I was on the phone.

How to identify emotional neglect in yourself

Outside of green markers, however, one issue adults may encounter is coming face-to-face with their own childhood trauma once they become parents. Because so many people have yet to recognize their own emotional trauma and the subsequent impact it had on their lives, it can take an event, like becoming a parent, for that trauma to come flooding back.

Dr. Briggs notes that if you notice yourself having “abnormally intense” reactions to your child’s crying, or if you are unable to parent the way you want to, you may have some repressed childhood trauma that needs to be dealt with. She even adds that parents who have had trauma in the past tend to struggle intensely with sleep training, simply because they can’t handle the thought of their baby crying.

Dr. Diane explains that you might even recognize the effects of emotional abuse in yourself in something as simple as how you react to acts of kindness, such as compliments or a hug. Ask yourself:

Do you immediately stiffen up when someone reaches for you in a hug?

Do you have a hard time getting close to people?

Do you think someone is lying if they compliment you?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, a history of childhood emotional neglect may help explain why. “If you’ve been neglected, someone being nice to you feels uncomfortable,” Dr. Diane says. Other symptoms include: excessive independence (because you learned quickly that you couldn’t count on anyone for your own needs) and caregiving to others (due to the lack of caregiving provided to you). All of these things can lead to the creation of an emotional wall that prevents you from allowing people to get close to you.

If you suspect that you may be a victim of childhood emotional neglect, there is hope. Overcoming childhood emotional abuse for yourself so that you can parent effectively starts with assessing your own mental health with a mental health provider.

Like many physicians, Dr. Briggs believes mental health check-ups should be just as common as physical check-ups. She states, “There’s no health without mental health, and there’s no childhood mental health without parental mental health.”


For Delaware's most vulnerable babies, cuddling can go a long way


When Donna Francisco poked her head into the hospital room, she found tiny Luke asleep in his open crib, the only noise coming from the machines he was hooked up to. 


"Caution: Fragile bones. Please be careful" read a small sign taped to the bed at Nemours A.I. du Pont Hospital for Children. Nurses helped Francisco pick up Luke, and she sat with him in a nearby rocking chair. 

For the next 30 minutes, she would rock him while reading the children's book, "Corduroy" to him and then singing "You are My Sunshine" before she left. 

Franciso is a cuddler, a hospital volunteer who spends a few hours every week holding, singing and reading to the smallest and weakest babies in Delaware. At Christiana Care Health System and Nemours, the cuddlers belong to an exclusive club of volunteers — one that consists of a long wait-list, a vetting process and extensive training.

Luke's parents likely were taking a short break or a shower or maybe picking up a shift at work. Their son was born prematurely, and the hospital declined to give his age or diagnosis.

Some of the babies in Nemours/A.I. duPont Hospital for Children's NICU will be in the hospital for months, and their moms and dads can't be there with them 24/7. That's where cuddlers come in (and sorry, both hospitals aren't in need of any more cuddlers).

Doctors say there's more to the cuddling programs than holding cute babies. For NICU babies, hearing words when volunteers sing lullabies or read books can help with cognitive development. And for babies exposed to opioids in their mother's womb, the skin-to-skin contact helps them battle the toughest moments of their young lives — withdrawal. 

“The role for me is to cuddle and make that baby feel secure," said June Emory, a volunteer at Christiana Care. "You can see it in their little faces, they’re struggling for these first few days. And so we’re offering that little extra TLC.”

At Nemours, the Baby Bookworms program is focused on the cognitive development of newborns, said Judy Lieberman, director of volunteer services. Most of the babies the cuddlers read to at Nemours have "medical challenges."

"It's really about language nutrition. The more words an infant hears, it will affect their cognitive development," she said. “Yes, cuddling is just as important and comforting. But they’re affecting that child’s future.”

According to the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, the more words babies, including those in the NICU, are exposed to, the better prepared they are to start talking. 

The Nemours cuddling and reading program started about a year ago as a way for high school and college students to get involved with volunteering during the summer, Lieberman said.

It's since grown to include dozens of volunteers of all demographics and has made its way into different hospital wings, she said. The volunteers have recently started reading to children in the cardiac unit. 

"Different units have seen the impact and they’re asking us to come to their floors," Lieberman said. 

Since Christiana Care's Cuddlers program started in 2014, more than 7,184 babies have been cuddled, hospital officials said. 

Dr. David Paul, chair of the hospital system's pediatrics department, said most of the Christiana Care cuddlers focus on babies with neonatal abstinence syndrome, a condition that can result in babies being irritable, sleep-deprived, prone to tremors and vomiting and difficult to feed.

As the opioid epidemic continues to worsen in Delaware, state and hospital officials are seeing a growing number of babies born addicted to drugs.

From 2010 to 2015, there were 1,172 babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, according to state health officials. The rate doubled from 11.9 babies per 1,000 births in 2010 to 23 babies per 1,000 births. 

When babies are exposed to opioids in utero, they experience withdrawal symptoms when they're born, Paul said. And these symptoms can be painful. 

"It's especially important for those babies to be cuddled during that period of time," he said.

Cuddling can help soothe babies who experience withdrawal symptoms, Paul said. Human touch can also help offset the negative stimuli babies experience in the NICU, particularly bright lights and loud noises. 

The cuddlers are a part of Christiana Care's non-pharmacological management approach. A majority of babies exposed to drugs during pregnancy will require morphine to help with withdrawal symptoms, Paul said.