Alyssa Meuwissen, PhD, is a Research Associate at CEED and Research Coordinator for the Reflective Practice Center (RPC). Dr. Meuwissen completed her doctorate at the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development. She has worked at CEED since 2017 and is part of the team that created the Reflective Interaction Observation Scale (RIOS™), a tool for measuring components of reflective relationships. Her current research explores how reflective supervision can support early childhood professionals and the families they serve.
Q: Your research on reflective supervision has demonstrated its benefits for the early childhood workforce. What is your reflective supervision elevator pitch for people who are not familiar with it?
AM: People who work with young children and families form close relationships with those children and families as part of their job. To do this kind of relationship-based work effectively and without burning out, you need a deeper understanding of yourself. You need to be aware of your own emotions when you’re interacting with others. You need to understand how others’ behaviors show deeper meaning. Also, you need resources to help cope with the stressors and traumatic experiences that can pile up.
Reflective supervision is a model of professional support where professionals meet with a supervisor or consultant who is trained to help them process their thoughts and feelings about their work. In doing so, they are able to connect their experiences to the bigger picture of how to do effective, meaningful work. We all want our children to be well supported and cared for. We need to make sure that those doing that job are well supported and cared for as well.
Q: You worked with the Reflective Practice Center to develop the RIOS™, a tool for measuring reflective supervision relationships. Can you explain why it’s important to have a way of measuring what happens in reflective supervision sessions?
AM: The RIOS™ is an important tool, because it lets us go beyond collecting people’s own perceptions of their supervisory relationships. It is useful to know if people feel reflective supervision is helpful. We can reach a deeper understanding of the process, however, when we actually observe what occurs in the relationship. We can connect those observations to outcomes for professionals, and ultimately to outcomes for the children and families they serve.
With the RIOS™, we can measure the components of a reflective relationship. That helps us understand the importance of those components and how they lead to better outcomes for the workforce. The RIOS™ allows us to do research on how and why reflective supervision helps (or doesn’t help) groups of people. We need that kind of research to figure out how to make reflective supervision as helpful and cost effective for the workforce as we can.
Q: Your research has looked at how parents support children’s development of executive functioning and self-regulation. Could you briefly define these terms? Could you also share one or two takeaways from your research that might help parents support their children in this way?
AM: Executive functioning is a word for the brain-based skills that allow people to direct their behavior toward long-term goals. That means skills like keeping rules or goals in mind, inhibiting behavior that doesn’t serve the goals, and flexibly using strategies to reach the goals. Self-regulation is a broader concept that describes behavior in complex real-life situations. It actually includes executive function skills. It also encompasses other factors that you need to apply those skills, such as planning ahead and persevering through frustration.
One major takeaway from my research is that for children to practice and grow these skills, parents need to strike a balance between doing things for the child and letting the child flounder. On the one hand, if an activity is parent-regulated, the child doesn’t get much of a chance to practice self-regulation. But on the other hand, if the child is not supported, they may not learn much, or they may become too frustrated. The best way to support children’s development of executive function is for parents and caregivers to closely observe their child and only step in right on the border of when something is too hard for the child to manage on their own. It’s a tricky tightrope to walk!
Q: Your research on parenting has emphasized the role of fathers. What might people be surprised to learn about the role of fathers?
AM: One thing I’ve learned myself is the importance of not stereotyping or expecting people to fit neatly into categories. Parenting research has often taken such a mother-centric approach. It has treated fathers as less important, or only important in limited areas. In reality, mothers and fathers do many things the same, and they do many things differently. As with many psychological concepts, gender isn’t all that predictive of skills or interests. As long as parents are aligned in terms of major values and general structure, it is actually helpful for children to interact in different ways with different caregivers. There doesn’t have to be one “best way” to parent. The important thing is for parents to have positive, nurturing, stimulating interactions with their children. There are a thousand iterations of what that could look like, whether it’s reading quietly, wrestling on the floor, building blocks, cooking, or playing pretend. It’s OK to parent to your own personality and interests!
Q: What are some of your interests and hobbies outside of work? (That’s assuming that family life with young children allows for hobbies!)
AM: I’m a mom to two girls, two and a half years old and three months old. I love spending time with them and am so grateful to see the world through their eyes. I also love reading all kinds of books, hiking and being outside, and playing the piano.