What science says about parenting should influence how we move forward with our kids. Parenting is challenging. It brings much joy, but it also makes you question yourself and search for answers as problems arise.
As you scan the web for ways to help your child grow and thrive, you may become overwhelmed by all of the opinions and articles you read. One person promotes one method of parenting while another encourages the opposite.
In many ways, we adapt our parenting to meet the needs of our unique children. What is right for some families doesn’t always translate to how your family functions. We often takes bits and pieces of what we read and what sounds rights. That said, is there any hard data that shows the best way to raise kids? I want to explore with you what science says about parenting. Taking what you learn about science, you might find these parenting phrases useful and practical while raising your children.
What Science Says About Parenting
With all science, there are limitations to what we test. Results can vary. We are dealing with humans, and we are all unique. Unfortunately, there is not a recipe that will guarantee success when it comes to raising our children. Intentional love is the best answer. That said, we can use science to our advantage as we consider what research says about human psychology and raising kids. The information presented is not to be used as the final say in parenting, but it is intended to equip you with some of the studies available so you cam make the best choices as you move forward with your family.
What Science Says About Parenting Style
Does science speak out about parenting style? In the 1960’s, psychologist Diana Baumrind conducted a study on more than 100 preschool-age children to look at four parenting styles: Authoritarian (high control and low warmth), Authoritative (high control and high warmth), Permissive (low control and high warmth) and Uninvolved (low control and low warm). Later studies confirm her findings. The winner? Authoritative. The homes that have boundaries and expectations and yet allow for open communication with much warmth seem to produce the most well-balanced children. For more information about the other styles of parenting as well as limitations and criticisms of the studies, please visit About Health.
What Science Says About Parenting with Empathy
John Medina is a leading brain specialist and is the author of Brain Rules for Baby. He notes empathy is one of the top two predictors of social competency. Being socially competent helps kids develop relationships. Medina says relationships are one of the leading contributors to happiness.
To help our kids learn empathy we need to show empathy, help them communicate their feelings and encourage them to consider life from another person’s perspective. For more ideas on how to instill empathy in your children, please visit this post.
What Science Says About Parenting with Boundaries
We already established that authoritative parenting (high control and high warmth) tend to yield the best results in parenting. Based on this, science seems to support boundaries, but are there any more studies that might give us insight? The playground study featured in the YouTube video above shows that kids who were given boundaries felt safer to explore their surroundings. A fence, which we often associate with confinement, actually became a way of freedom for children.
If you imagine any game or sport without rules and expectations, the result would be chaos. In an era of permissive parenting, science shows that our kids need boundaries. Our society functions on rules. Yes, our children need to learn how to respectfully stand up when the rules seem wrong or oppressive, but children will thrive and feel safer as they are given the tools to not only know but learn to obey the regulations set in their home, school, job and community.
What Science Says About Parenting by Giving Choices
We have often heard that it is helpful to give children choices. Do you want the blue cup or the red cup today? While some of this is OK and good because it helps them learn that their opinions are valid and gives them ownership over decisions, recents studies have shown that too many choices actually reduces satisfaction.
An example I have read is that people are more satisfied with their ice cream choice if they are offered only chocolate, vanilla or strawberry vs. walking into an ice cream store with a huge variety of flavors. The Harvard Business Review and the New York Times have both published articles about how too many choices can be paralyzing.
The question is, “Are we doing this to our kids?” Sometimes kids need to have decisions made for them and sometimes providing them with fewer choices is going to give them a more satisfying life experience.
What Science Says About Parenting with Less
As you decrease the quantity of your child's toys and clutter, you increase their attention and their capacity for deep play. Too much stuff leads to too little time and too little depth in the way kids see and explore their worlds. This is a quote taken from Payne’s book, “Simplicity Parenting.”
Kids in America often have too much stuff and are too scheduled. Princeton University Neuroscience Institute conducted a study that showed how clutter negatively impacts a brains ability to focus and process information.
It might be time to consider a slower pace of life for kids with less stuff so that they have time to play and engage on a deeper level.
What Science Says About Praising Kids
We all know how good it feels to have someone give us compliments. We want to encourage our kids and help them to know their value. Giving our kids words of affirmation is great, but how we do it is important, according to John Media, author of Brain Rules for Babies.
Kids regularly praised for effort successfully complete 50-60% more hard math problems than kids praised for intelligence (pg. 141). When we praise a child’s effort (“You worked really hard at that math problem.”) rather than their innate ability (“You are so smart.”) we build into them the value of their hard work. Children who are praised for their natural skills often struggle when they meet challenges because they tell themselves that they are simply not smart enough or talented enough to overcome the obstacles. Click here to read more about this concept.
What Science Says About Yelling
I have always encouraged parents to teach their kids in a calm and gentle voice. It doesn’t mean it is always easy, and I know I fail and have to ask my kids for forgiveness. That said, science seems to back up the idea that it is best to parent our children.
Parents who yell for misbehaving can increase the risk of depression and aggressive behavior, according to an article at the Wall Street Journal. The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Michigan. The conclusion was that yelling can be as harmful to kids psychology as hitting. Yelling does not improve the child’s behavior. The study pointed out that it many situations, yelling only makes behavior worse.
Therefore, we will have more success in our parenting if we can remain calm but still provide boundaries and consequences for behavior. If you find you are having a hard time, here are some great tips for being more patient with your little ones.
What Science Says About Challenging Our Kids
Children should be challenged to think deeper and push themselves by persevering in difficult tasks. However, are we unintentionally stunting our child’s development by pushing too hard?
Leading brain specialist, John Medina, reports that kids should be challenged at AGE APPROPRIATE levels. Medina found that it is not good to be a hyper parent, subjecting your kids to an extreme pressure to achieve. He says that extreme expectations stunt higher-level thinking because performing becomes, at the young ages, a way to appease parents and coerces the brain to resort to lower-level thinking strategies. (pg. 155)
What Science Says About Temper Tantrums
Science says that temper tantrums are a normal thing for toddlers. Michael Potegal, Ph.D., a pediatric neuropsychologist at the University of Minnesota has spent many years studying how and why young children have emotional outbursts. He has found that temper tantrums are as normal a biological response to anger and frustration as a yawn is to fatigue. Kids from about 18 months to 4 years are at a development stage where they are hardwired to throw fits. The average tantrum lasts about three minutes, according to Potegal’s research.
Does that mean we do nothing about it? No, We need to parent through it to teach kids how to properly respond to their frustrations. Potegal encourages parents to avoid the trap of becoming angry, too comforting (yielding to the tantrum), or caving to your child’s demands. Here are how a number of moms who have been there handle their child’s temper tantrum.
What to do with this Information
You’ve been given a brief look at some of the science behind parenting. This is only the tip of the ice berg on the science of parenting. It is a great and manageable start to help you begin thinking about how to raise your children in an intentional way. Some of this research will resonate with you and some may challenge your thinking. I encourage you to weigh these studies, make adjustments for your unique family circumstance and get out there and love your kids well.
Why not take what you have learned here and see if it fits with some of the best parenting advice from around the web?