Category Archives: Child Development and Family Relations

Politics and kids: Explaining a contentious election

The 2016 election season has come to a close, but the polarized attitudes surrounding the campaigns may still continue to impact our children. The amount of negative campaigning, especially in swing states like North Carolina, has been difficult to conceal from our youngest citizens, according to two child development experts at East Carolina University.

Amanda Blakley works with students at the Nancy Darden Child Development Center on campus. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

Amanda Blakley works with students at the Nancy Darden Child Development Center on campus. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

“Children in elementary schools were talking about the candidates and what they have heard on television or from parents. I’ve had to answer questions from my own school-age children about topics they discussed in school,” said Dr. Sheresa Blanchard, assistant professor of human development and family science at ECU.

Blanchard and her colleague, Melissa Nolan, director of the Nancy Darden Child Development Center at ECU, offers tips for discussing the outcome of the election with children.

Display good sportsmanship

Whether your candidate wins or loses, it’s an opportunity for adults to display good sportsmanship. Children mirror the emotions and attitudes of their parents, and the emotions this election year have run high.

“Remain calm. It’s a fact that children respond to how we react and will feed into it. If parents are frustrated, angry or happy about the outcome, it’s OK to identify those feelings and calmly put them into words,” said Blanchard.


Choose your words carefully

Try to remain as neutral as possible when talking about the outcome of the election.

“Children do not have the cognitive ability to rationalize exaggerated comments. If they overhear an adult say, ‘the world will end’ if their candidate loses, children believe the world will end,” said Blanchard.

These kinds of statements can lead to fear and uncertainty. Nolan encourages parents to reassure their children that they are still safe and will be taken care of no matter the outcome.

Be honest 

Blanchard and Nolan agree that it’s OK to be honest with your children and share what you are feeling. Give them the space and the opportunity to share their emotions too and ask questions. Ask them how they feel about what they’ve seen and heard.

“Don’t give children more information than what they want,” said Nolan. She suggests encouraging children to ask questions and for adults to stick with short honest answers.

“Adults tend to give too much information,” she added.


Recognize teachable moments

Use opportunities that arise to teach and model, tolerance.

“Parents can explain that even though they may not agree with the person in office, we should still respect them and find a way to move on,” said Nolan.

Blanchard said parents can try to find optimism in the situation.


Jessica Pate, Collier Taylor, Finley Charles, and Marai Blanchard play at ECU's Darden Center.

Jessica Pate, Collier Taylor, Finley Charles, and Marai Blanchard play at ECU’s Darden Center.

Meet our experts:

Dr. Sheresa Blanchard is an assistant professor of human development and family science at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina. Her research interests include early childhood education, parenting and family-centered practices.

Melissa Nolan, M.S. is the director of East Carolina University’s Nancy Darden Child Development Center, part of the Department of Human Development and Family Science. Her expertise includes best practices in early childhood education and child care administration.

*Note to editors and reporters: If you’re interested in speaking to one of these two experts, contact ECU News Services at 252-328-6481. 

Ballard to chair Child Development and Family Relations

Dr. Sharon M. Ballard has been appointed the new chair of East Carolina University’s Department of Child Development and Family Relations following a national search.

Dr. Sharon Ballard

Dr. Sharon Ballard

Ballard joined the faculty of the department in 2000 and served as interim chair for one year.  Ballard has taught for The University of Tennessee – Knoxville and Western Carolina University. She also taught family and consumer sciences in the public schools for six years.

Ballard’s research interests include family life education, sexuality education, parenting education, service-learning and community engaged scholarship.  The majority of her publications are related to family life education and sexuality education.

“I am thrilled to serve as chair of such a vibrant department,” said Ballard.  “CDFR has amazing faculty, staff and students and our nationally recognized programs prepare students for rewarding careers in which they make a positive difference for children, families, and communities. It is gratifying to lead a department that has such a positive impact, not only in Eastern North Carolina, but nationally and internationally.” she said.

Ballard is the past chair of the Certified Family Life Educator Advisory Committee with the National Council on Family Relations and she was the 2012 recipient of the Certified Family Life Education Service award.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in home economics education from the University of Maine.  She received both a master’s degree and doctorate in child and family studies from The University of Tennessee – Knoxville. Ballard is a Certified Family Life Educator, Certified in Family and Consumer Sciences, a trained provider of the Triple P Parenting Program and a licensed K-12 family and consumer sciences teacher.

The Department of Child Development and Family Relations is housed within the College of Human Ecology. For more information on the College of Human Ecology, its students and programs, visit


ECU Child Development Center named for alumna

The ECU College of Human Ecology dedicated the Nancy W. Darden Child Development Center April 21. Attendees included (left to right) Judy Siguaw, Dean of the College of Human Ecology, and Darden’s family and friend, Robin Newton (niece), Wilbur Douglas Whitfield (brother), Fran Whitfield (sister-in-law), Carla Mangum (niece), Robert “Bobby” Whitfield (brother), and Dr. Dorothy Pruitt (friend).


The East Carolina University Child Development Center has been named in honor of an alumna who graduated in 1956.

The estate of the late Nancy Whitfield Darden donated a substantial gift to establish the first endowed professorship in the ECU Department of Child Development and Family Relations in the College of Human Ecology.

On April 21, the college celebrated Darden’s life and generosity by naming the Nancy W. Darden Child Development Center in her memory. The naming coincided with the 100th anniversary of the ECU’s Home Economics Education and Family Consumer Sciences program, from which Darden graduated.

The Darden bequest qualifies for state matching funds from the Distinguished Professors Endowment Trust Fund created by the North Carolina General Assembly. Remaining funds from the gift will be used for scholarships for undergraduate students preparing for careers working with children and families.

Darden was born and raised in Creedmoor, N.C.  Following her graduation from ECU, she taught high school home economics in Durham for several years. She then co-owned and operated “L’Nanz,” a fashion design company in Durham. From 1978 to 1998, she managed the Creedmoor office of a Durham real estate company, eventually opening her own firm, Darden Real Estate, in Creedmoor.

Darden also founded the Ruth Home, a transitional home for women with drug and alcohol abuse problems, and Angel Spirit, a nonprofit organization that provided financial backing for the Ruth Home.

In 2007, Darden established the Nancy W. Darden Scholarship in Criminal Justice to provide financial support to ECU students majoring in criminal justice.

ECU Women’s Roundtable named Darden one of the 100 Incredible ECU Women in 2007. She was honored as one of the 100 Legacy Leaders for the College of Human Ecology in 2009. Darden died in January 2011.

Dr. Dorothy Pruitt, a life-long friend and ECU classmate spoke of Darden’s generosity to her community, family, and friends. “Nancy worked tirelessly to help others improve their lives. She felt blessed and sought to share her blessings with others,” said Pruitt.

Cynthia Johnson, chair of the Department of Child Development and Family Relations, said, “Nancy’s main concern was the welfare of children and families, and her generosity will continue in perpetuity to enrich the education of our students. We’re so proud to have Nancy’s name beside the door of ECU’s Child Development Center.”

ECU’s Child Development Center, located in the Thomas W. Rivers Building, has been a part of the university for over sixty years, providing students of child development and early education the opportunity to gain practical experience with children and their families. All birth through kindergarten teacher education students and child life majors complete practicums and/or internship experiences in the Center.  The Center is accredited by the Association for the Education of Young Children.


New book guides family life professionals working with diverse populations

ECU professors Alan Taylor, left, and Sharon Ballard have published a book to help family life professionals and students work within a global society. (Contributed photo)

East Carolina University certified family life educators Sharon M. Ballard and Alan C. Taylor have compiled strategies for working with 11 diverse family groups in their new book, “Family Life Education with Diverse Populations.”

The book is aimed at students and professionals who need cultural competence for best results in working with families in today’s global society.  Ballard and Taylor present best practices for family life education, followed by examination of the unique characteristics and strengths of the 11 family groups.

“Our book pulls together the best of what is known about working with these 11 populations in order to provide a foundation and a starting place for family life educators,” Ballard said.

“Each chapter is written by authors who have experience with the particular population.

Among the groups examined are rural, military and court-mandated families, prison inmates and their families, grandparents raising grandchildren and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families. Additional chapters examine the unique characteristics and strengths of American Indian, Latino, Asian, black, and Arab families.

Additional ECU faculty and students in Child Development and Family Relations contributed to the text.

Faculty members Elizabeth Carroll and Catherine Smith, who work with the Essential Life Skills for Military Families curriculum, contributed the chapter on military families. Family studies faculty member Eboni Baugh contributed work on black families and grandparents raising grandchildren. Graduate student DeAnna Coughlin co-authored the chapter on black families.

Ballard and Taylor stressed the need for those who work with families to be culturally competent. Taylor said the book “presents a good balance of research-based information and practical experience” to help both students and professionals work effectiveness with families in the community.

For additional information about the book, visit


Board on Human Sciences Award presented to ECU professor

Dr. Elizabeth Carroll

An East Carolina University faculty member was honored in November for her contributions to research and human sciences in higher education.

The Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities named Dr. Elizabeth “Bettie Ann” Carroll among four 2011 recipients of the Board on Human Sciences Awards. Carroll, associate professor of child development and family relations, accepted the award at the organization’s 124th annual meeting in San Francisco, Calif.

The award recognizes scholarship in the development and application of outreach and extension, extensively promoted and advanced human sciences in higher education; or significant contributions in developing the next generation of science scholars.

Carroll, who has been on the ECU faculty for 15 years, received the award for exceptional creativity and scholarship in the development, application and evaluation of outreach, extension and public service programs. She has worked to improve the lives of military families in North Carolina through the delivery of the program she developed in 2004, Essential Life Skills for Military Families. Using a $2.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, she created the program to help strengthen marriages and couple relationships by providing an engaging, evidence and skills-based curriculum for National Guard and Reserve families.

The other recipients of the awards were Penny A. Ralston of Florida State University; Mary McPhail Gray of McPhail Consulting Services it Taos, N.Mex.; and Matthew Hickey of Colorado State University.

“The Board on Human Sciences Awards recognizes outstanding members of our higher education community who have made substantial contributions to our field,” said Billie Collier, dean and professor of textiles and consumer sciences in the College of Human Sciences at Florida State University and BoHS chair. “BoHS members are proud to recognize the important contributions of four scholars who have made a positive difference in the lives of individuals, families and communities.”

Founded in 1887, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities is a research and advocacy organization of public research universities, land-grant institutions, and state university systems. As the nation’s oldest higher education association, APLU is dedicated to excellence in learning, discovery and engagement. For more information, visit


Ground-breaking article defines family life education

East Carolina University professor Sharon M. Ballard collaborated with colleagues on an article that defines family life education and differentiates the field from other family-related areas of study.

Sharon Ballard

The article, “Reconceptualizing the Domain and Boundaries of Family Life Education,” was published by the National Council on Family Relations, in its October issue of Family Relations: Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied Family Studies.

Ballard worked with colleagues Judith A. Myers-Walls, Purdue University; Carol Anderson Darling, Florida State University; and Karen S. Myers-Bowman, Kansas State University to lay out a new model illustrating how family life education is unique from the related fields of family therapy and social work case management. The new model defines family life education as unique yet collaborative among the ways in which professionals serve families.

“There has been ongoing confusion regarding the definition of family life education and its relationship to other family-related fields,” said Ballard, associate professor of child development and family relations.

“The Domains of Family Practice Model presented in this paper provides a framework for clarifying the boundaries of the three family professions,” she said.

“Each professional role is needed for the overarching goal of strong, healthy families, but each role is unique in its parameters. This model not only clarifies these parameters for family professionals, but can facilitate referral and collaboration among family professionals,” Ballard said.

Glen Palm, professor of child and family studies at St. Cloud State University and former board member  of The National Council on Family Relations said that the article was significant in defining the field.

 “It is a breakthrough in clarifying the FLE role and establishing distinct boundaries with both family therapy and family casework. This work opens doors for needed collaboration among family practitioners. The shift from a hierarchical model to a collaborative model distinguishes the unique role and skill set of family life educators in relationship to other family service providers,” Palm said.

The National Council on Family Relations ( is a professional organization with a national membership of over 3,500 family researchers, practitioners and educators. The organization instituted professional standards for delivering family life education in 1985, establishing the certified family life educator credential. There are now more than 1,500 CFLEs internationally, with 125 colleges and universities offering CFLE-approved coursework. ECU offers the certification through its family and community service program. For additional information, contact Ballard at


Click here for full text of the article.


ECU study examines sleep and fatigue in chronically ill mothers

Carmel White

Mark White


Health care providers should be particularly attentive to supporting high quality sleep for chronically ill mothers of young children, according to a new study by East Carolina University researchers.

Professors Carmel White and Mark White in ECU’s Department of Child Development and Family Relations, examined the sleep patterns of chronically ill mothers with young children to determine how they manage sleep and fatigue. The researchers questioned 103 mothers with multiple sclerosis, 68 with rheumatoid arthritis and 91 with normal health about their sleep, fatigue, pain and levels of depression. All participants had at least once child between the age of 12 months and 45 months.

The researchers surveyed the mothers about their problems falling asleep; trouble sleeping after being awakened; sleep interruptions from their young children; average hours of sleep; and fatigue during the day.

“Understanding how sleep relates to depression and fatigue in mothers with MS or RA is important for mothers, families and health care providers,” said Dr. Carmel White.

She said families and health care providers should be sensitive to the importance of high quality sleep, doing what they can to support the mothers.

“Health care professionals should be especially sensitive to both pain and depression in mothers with MS or RA to ensure that these two common problems are not interfering with mothers’ sleep,” she said.

Mothers with chronic illnesses reported more daytime drowsiness, with reduced sleep quality and quantity especially noted in mothers experiencing a flareup of RA symptoms. Chronically ill mothers reported mother problems going to sleep and staying asleep, but were less likely to experience nighttime sleep interruptions caused by their children. The researchers speculated that other family members might be caring for the young children during the night, knowing that the mother has difficulty falling back to sleep.

Mothers with MS had the highest correlation of sleep problems correlated to fatigue, suggesting that health care providers who work with MS patients should include sleep assessments.

The researchers said that women with chronic illnesses often experience a great deal of fatigue, and parenting young children can add to the exhaustion.

Their research, “Sleep Problems and Fatigue in Chronically Ill Women,” appeared in the July issue of Behaviorial Sleep Medicine. Full text of the article may be viewed at


For additional information, contact Carmel White at 252-737-2075 or or Mark Shite at 252-737-2076 or

The Department of Child Development and Family Relations is located within the ECU College of Human Ecology.