How to Be a Better Parent, According to Science
I have worked some pretty difficult jobs in my life, but nothing could ever have prepared me for motherhood. It's not just the physical aspect of raising a child; it's the pressure of bringing up an emotionally balanced, well-behaved, compassionate, and healthy kid who takes your lessons into adulthood, too. This is the part of parenting they don't really teach us in school or prenatal classes, so for the most part, we rely heavily on gut instincts, supportive family and friends, or our own moral compass. But in the end, there's a lot of trial and error, and for the most part, we're learning while they're learning, right? Or you could consult the plethora of parenting studies and raise the brightest, healthiest, and most creative child who also ends up being the wealthiest adult. Seem too good to be true? Scroll down to discover how you can become a better parent, according to science.
We all love our children and want to do what’s best for them, but the old adage “too much of a good thing” rings true of parenting, too. This modern form of mollycoddling is known as helicopter parenting, coined by Dr. Haim Ginott in his book Between Parent and Teenager. A new study by professors at Bingham Young University has found this approach to be detrimental to children, no matter how loving the parents are, defining helicopter parenting as “parents’ over-involvement in the lives of their children” and doing things for them when they should be doing it themselves. Some examples include making important decisions for them, solving their problems, and intervening in their children’s conflicts. “From our past work, we thought there might be something positive about helicopter parenting under certain conditions, but we’re just not finding it,” study author Larry Nelson told Science Daily. “Overall, stepping in and doing for a child what the child developmentally should be doing for him or herself, is negative.”
Parenting tip: Step back and let your children take the lead.
Cuddling your crying son after he fails an important exam or watching your daughter struggle with her math homework is never easy for any parent. You just have to let them do it themselves and understand the consequences, because not allowing them to experience setback and failure for themselves will actually do them more harm than good. A study out of Queensland University of Technology by Judith Locke looked at the concept of overparenting, which the study referred to as a parent’s “misguided attempt to improve their child’s current and future personal and academic success.” The research found that this “extreme attentiveness” encouraged parents to reduce their demands on their child, which in turn meant children rarely faced adverse situations, learned to cope on their own, or acquired “resilience, maturity, and other essential life skills.”
Parenting tip: Let them learn from their own mistakes.
You might think that drawing, painting, coloring, and play-dough sculpting are just child’s play, but this creativity is crucial to your child’s development and future success. Creative thinking helps us to figure out new ways of doing things, whether that’s how to reach for the cookie jar or formulating new ideas at work. As our world continues to embrace technology, it will be in a constant state of flux, which means the jobs of the future will require a ton of creative thinking to keep up and evolve with it. One of the ways we can help our children fulfill their creative potential is with music. Research shows that music education is not only fun for children but also enhances their cognitive strengths, raises their IQ, and improves their learning abilities in nonmusic tasks.
A study by Christopher Johnson, a professor of music education and music therapy at the University of Kansas, found that aside from inspiring people to dance, sing, and create songs, music also improves academic performance, basic memory recall, and concentration skills. In fact, music can have a positive influence on a young child’s success. “Schools that have rigorous programs and high-quality music and arts teachers probably have high-quality teachers in other areas. If you have an environment where there are a lot of people doing creative, smart, great things, joyful things, even people who aren’t doing that have a tendency to go up and do better,” said Christopher. In fact, music has the ability to change the way our brain works. Dr. Eric Rasmussen, chair of the Early Childhood Music Department at the Peabody Preparatory of Johns Hopkins University told PBS: “There’s some good neuroscience research that children involved in music have larger growth of neural activity than people not in music training. When you’re a musician and you’re playing an instrument, you have to be using more of your brain.”
Parenting tip: Let your child’s imagination run wild.
Telling lies as a child is almost a rite of passage into adulthood. You test the boundaries of what’s right and wrong: Sometimes you get away with it, but most of the time you don’t. But now there’s evidence to suggest that kids who are good liars are smarter than you think. According to a new study from the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, “Children who chose to lie while taking place in an experiment were more skilled in memory tests and verbal creativity.” Which is basically saying that if you have the cognitive ability to execute a good lie and get away with it, then you probably have a better memory, too, because being able to “cover up a lie successfully requires a great amount of skill and verbal dexterity.” So where are they picking this up? Well, Yahoo parenting expert Lindsay Powers says it’s us. “Research shows that one in five interactions that adults have are lies, so it’s 20%,” she said on Good Morning America. “It’s kind of no surprise that kids are picking it up.” While it’s good to know there’s some benefit to our lying children, it certainly doesn’t mean we want to encourage this behavior. But maybe next time you should go a little easier on them; after all, it was a genius move. Then read Dr. Robyn Silverman’s tips on how to handle lying kids.
Parenting tip: Lead by example as a truthful adult.
As modern moms, our time is spread pretty thin. From our careers to family, there’s barely a moment spare to read a magazine, let alone entertain a social life. It’s left many American parents to question, Am I spending enough time with the kids? Well, according to a 2015 study of parenting time in the Journal of Marriage and Family, the amount of time parents spend with their kids between the ages of 3 and 11 has “virtually no relationship to how children turn out, and a minimal effect on adolescents.” It’s the old adage, quality over quantity that matters. The study found that the one instance when the parent time is detrimental to children is when they’re “stressed, sleep-deprived, guilty and anxious.” Study co-author Kei Nomaguchi, a sociologist at Bowling Green State University, told The Washington Post, “Mothers’ stress, especially when mothers are stressed because of the juggling with work and trying to find time with kids, that may actually be affecting their kids poorly.”
Parenting tip: Be present with your kids.
We’ve all had experiences with our kids being fussy eaters, but there’s research to suggest that we can have a positive influence on our children’s dietary habits from an early age. Some nutritional studies indicate that a child’s “diet might be cast in the first year.” Dr. Elsie M. Taveras, chief of the division of general pediatrics at Mass General Hospital for Children in Boston, told The New York Times, “Our early taste preferences, particularly for fruits and vegetables, and on the flip side for sugary beverages, are lasting.” So what does it mean for parents? That the earlier you introduce infants to a variety of fruits and vegetables, the better, and “not to be deterred by an initial negative response,” says Dr. Catherine Forestell, associate professor of psychology at the College of William and Mary. Her 2007 study showed persistence is key when encouraging infants to try new foods. It also means parents need a broader understanding of nutrition so they can influence their children’s eating habits with their own from an early age. Good eating habits are important during the breastfeeding stage, too, since a mother’s eating habits are reflected in the taste of her milk. This provides an essential “flavor bridge” that helps the baby transition to the foods its mom ate while nursing.
Parenting tip: Eat well often so your children will too.
It’s never easy when your child misbehaves, especially in public—it’s probably one of the most challenging aspects of parenting. But if you have a rambunctious child, it might be time to stop being so hard on yourself. In fact, a 40-year study published in the journal Developmental Psychology via The Sydney Morning Herald found that children who misbehave typically earn more money as adults. Contrary to what most people would believe, the children of the study who “defied their parents were more likely to stay in school longer and were more likely to attend tertiary education.” So it pays to be headstrong and stubborn.
Parenting tip: Embrace your child’s bold personality.
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What are your top parenting tips? Do you agree with these study findings?