COE Educational Psychology professor assists in creating, editing 'Family Relations' special issue

Family Relations, an interdisciplinary journal of applied family studies, recently published a special issue that was edited by Wendy Middlemiss, an associate professor in the UNT College of Education's Educational Psychology department. Middlemiss suggested the subject matter for the special issue: bio-social models of family science.

Over the past two years, Middlemiss has been working with Ronald Sabatelli, Family Relations editor, and various researchers to put together this special issue that explores the connection between bio-social, bio-physiological and neuroscience research and family science practices.

"This issue gives the underlying neurological or biological explanation to connections that family science researchers and practitioners are aware of so that we can have a clearer understanding of the connections," Middlemiss said. "I think in family science, one of the most powerful things you can provide is information that families can use to understand what's going on, and that's what we have here."

Middlemiss collaborated with Mary S. Tarsha and James J. McKenna to write an article for this issue titled "Potential Evolutionary, Neurophysical, and Developmental Origins of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIS) and Inconsolable Crying: Is It About Controlling Breath?" Tarsha is a graduate research assistant at Vanderbilt University, and McKenna is a professor of Anthropology and the director of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame.

The article explores the possibility that sudden infant death syndrome and inconsolable crying in infants are related to a lag between volitional and non-volitional control of breathing. The article concludes with the implications of this explanation for SIDS and inconsolable crying as it impacts the family. For example, inconsolable crying can lead parents to feel incompetent in their ability to care for their infant. Understanding that there may be an underlying neuorological factor contributing to infants' inability to stop crying can help parents view the crying not as a failure of their ability to console their infant, but rather a developmental issue that will change in time.

Each article in the special issue was written by a pair of bio-physiological or neuroscience researchers and family science researchers. It includes researchers at the top in their field, such as Douglas A. Granger, a professor in the Department of Psychology at Arizona State University who is a well-known psychoneuroendocrinology researcher. With his colleague Thao Ha, Granger contributed a foundational article connecting family systems functioning and related implication for parents' and children's stress responses—responses that have clear implications for both family and children's well-being.

Granger also joined forces with Daniel Berry, an assistant professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Clancy Blair, a professor of cognitive psychology at New York University; and The Family Life Project Key Investigators to report about how children's experiences of family stressors may impact children's well-being in the child-care setting. The Family Life Project is a collaborative study conducted by the University of North Carolina and Penn State to learn more about how growing up in rural areas might influence the development of children and families. Together the team wrote an article for the issue titled "Child Care and Cortisol Across Infancy and Toddlerhood: Poverty, Peers, and Developmental Timing."

According to Middlemiss, these paired manuscripts provide valuable resources for teachers because they bring together bio-social and bio-physiological issues with family practice issues. This means that this Family Relations special issue can be used as a resource for a variety of different courses such as public health, family studies and human development. As the first issue in this year's volume of Family Relations, all articles can be accessed and downloaded without charge.

The issue covers many important topics associated with families, children's well-being, education and mental health. This is evident in the articles addressing the physiological implications of stress in regard to children's and adolescents' risk of obesity with an article by Panagiota Pervanidou and George P. Chrousos of the University of Athens (Greece) Medical School. An accompanying applied article looks at ways families can apply this information to address the current high rates of obesity both in the U.S. and other nations (by Fiese and Bost). Other topics addressed include stress as related to physical punishment (Gershoff); neurological basis of social-emotional development and typical and atypical brain development (Barrasso and Eslinger); and work-family conflict and health (Grzywacz and Smith).

Endia J. Lindo, an assistant professor in the UNT College of Education's Educational Psychology department, along with UNT faculty and graduate student colleagues, also contributed to this special issue. They examined what research tells us about the stress families may experience in caring for children with special needs. Lindo said the combination of bio-physiological and neuroscience research with family science practices in the articles is what makes this issue impressive.

"I believe this combination makes an impact because it not only effectively highlights the serious implications of factors such as ongoing stress, but also provides guides for how best to address these factors to improve individual outcomes," Lindo said.

As editor, Middlemiss arranged the articles so that the important advancement in bio-physiological or neurological science are described first, and the following article(s) in the pair explores implications of the research when it's translated to family science research, practice and policy. Middlemiss invited manuscripts from leading researchers and family science practitioners with an eye toward addressing family considerations across a life span.

"The paired manuscripts were created across a life span because Family Relations is a journal about family relations, it's not just about an age or a particular occurrence," Middlemiss said. "To be broadly of interest to the entire readership, it needed to touch on a lot of different things. I made sure to identify areas of interest in infancy and toddlerhood, early childhood, as well as in regard to marriage, work and family, and taking care of elderly adults."

This special issue of Family Relations address topics across a life span such as early adversities in childhood, child care experiences, normative stress in the family, socio-emotional development and caregiver stress associated with care of older adults. It is available for free online here.