There are many ways to raise happy, well-adjusted kids, but science has a few tips for making sure they turn out okay.From keeping it fun to letting them leave the nest, here are 10 research-based tips for good parenting.
Everyone thinks they know the best way to raise a child. But it turns out that parenting is not one-size-fits-all. In fact, kids whose parents tailor their parenting style to the child’s personality have half the anxiety and depression of their peers with more rigid parents, according to a study published in August 2011 in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. It turns out that some kids, especially those with trouble regulating their emotions, might need a little extra help from Mom or Dad. But parents can inadvertently hurt well-adjusted kids with too much hovering. The key, said lead researcher Liliana Lengua of the University of Washington, is stepping in with support based on a child’s cues.
Nobody’s perfect, so don’t torture yourself with an impossibly high bar for parenting success. According to a study published in 2011 in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, new parents who believe society expects perfection from them are more stressed and less confident in their parenting skills. And no wonder! Make an effort to ignore the pressure, and you may find yourself a more relaxed parent.
Teens who talk back to their parents may be exasperating, but their argumentativeness is linked to a stronger rejection of peer pressureoutside the home. In other words, autonomy at home fosters autonomy among friends.
Don’t worry, though: The study doesn’t suggest that kids should have adversarial relationships with their parents. In fact, a secure bond between teens and mothers is also linked to less bowing to peer pressure. Teens need to practice standing up for themselves, the researchers reported, but they also need support from their parents.
A close relationship with their mothers can help keep boys from acting out, according to a 2010 study. A warm, attached relationship with mom seems important in preventing behavior problems in sons, even more so than in girls, the research found. The findings, published in the journal Child Development, highlight the need for "secure attachment" between kids and their parents, a style in which kids can go to mom and dad as a comforting "secure base" before venturing into the wider world.
The mommy bond may also make for better romance later in life, as another study reported in 2010 showed that a close relationship with one's mother in early adolescence (by age 14) was associated with better-quality romantic relationships as young adults. "Parents' relationships with their children are extremely important and that's how we develop our ability to have successful relationships as adults, our parents are our models," study researcher Constance Gager, of Montclair State University in New Jersey, said at the time. "So if kids are not feeling close with their parents then they're probably not going to model the positive aspects of that relationship when they reach adulthood."
If you suspect you might be depressed, get help — for your own sake and your child’s. Research suggests that depressed moms struggle with parenting and even show muted responses to their babies’ cries compared with healthy moms. Depressed moms with negative parenting styles may also contribute to their children’s stress, according to 2011 research finding that kids raised by these mothers are more easily stressed out by the preschool years. The findings seem glum, but researchers say they’re hopeful, because positive parenting can be taught even when mom or dad are struggling with their own mental health.
If you’re a parent with a significant other, don’t let your relationship with your spouse or partner fall by the wayside when baby is born. Parents who suffer from marital instability, such as contemplating divorce, may set their infants up for sleep troubles in toddlerhood, according to research published in May 2011 in the journal Child Development. The study found that a troubled marriage when a baby is 9 months old contributes to trouble sleeping when the child is 18 months of age. It may be that troubled houses are stressful houses, and that stress is the cause of the sleep problems.
When the kids fly the nest, research suggests it’s best to let them go. College freshmen with hovering, interfering "helicopter" parents are more likely to be anxious, self-conscious and less open to new experiences than their counterparts with more relaxed moms and dads. That doesn’t mean you should kick your offspring to the curb at 18, but if you find yourself calling your child’s professors to argue about his grades, it may be time to step back.
Parental guilt is its own industry, but avoid the undertow! Research suggests that self-compassion is a very important life skill, helping people stay resilient in the face of challenges. Self-compassion is made up of mindfulness, the ability to manage thoughts and emotions without being carried away or repressing them, common humanity, or empathy with the suffering of others, and self-kindness, a recognition of your own suffering and a commitment to solving the problem. Parents can use self-compassion when coping with difficulties in child-rearing. In doing so, they can set an example for their kids.
No surprise here: Parents who express negative emotions toward their infants or handle them roughly are likely to find themselves with aggressive kindergartners. That’s bad news, because behavioral aggression at age 5 is linked to aggression later in life, even toward future romantic partners. So if you find yourself in a cycle of angry parent, angry baby, angrier parent, try to break free. It will ease your problems in the long run.
Lighten up! Joking with your toddler helps set them up for social success, according to research presented at the Economic and Social Research Councils’ Festival of Social Science 2011. When parents joke and pretend, it gives young kids the tools to think creatively, make friends and manage stress. So feel free to play court jester — your kids will thank you later.