Monday, June 30th, 2014
What are the parenting principles for raising happy, well-adjusted children? Here the focus is on the importance of talking to babies and children.
Maybe this sounds silly to you. But the fact is that parents differ tremendously in how much they talk to their kids.
Lots of studies have tracked how much parents talk to their babies and toddlers. Projects have literally recorded parental talk and counted up how many words were spoken – especially those directed to the babies and toddlers. The results can be summarized simply. The more the parents talk to their babies and toddlers, the more advanced the language skills. Not just short term, but over time as well. Babies and toddlers absorb language. But they need to hear a lot of it – and the reality is that not all of them hear as much as they should.
Parental talk doesn’t just improve language development. It’s the tool parents use to help kids direct their behavior. Finding the right words to explain rules and limits in a consistent manner makes for the most effective parenting at any age. Think about it this way. Imagine you are observing parents and toddlers in a parking lot. One parent is trying to make the toddler stay with them by grabbing their arm and giving them a spanking. Another parent is holding a child’s hand and explaining that he or she can’t run off by themselves because it’s not safe (keep in mind that the parent is holding the hold to be sure the child doesn’t run off). Which do you think is more effective, both in the short term and as a long-term parenting strategy. The power of explanation, combined with consistency and follow through, are characteristics that define an “authoritative” parenting style – the style that has been shown across decades of research to be most productive in terms of fostering positive development.
One other big thing happens when you talk to your child a lot. They tend to talk to you too. Which means that they will be comfortable confiding in you across the ages. That’s a huge benefit that will come in very handy.
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Monday, June 30th, 2014
What are the key parenting principles for raising happy, well-adjusted, children? Here the focus is on the power of being positive.
Parenting is hard. It is demanding. It can be exhausting and frustrating. But …
The reality is that parents make a choice on how they think about themselves as parents, and how they act as parents. And focusing on the positive is a fundamental key to making parenting easier and more effective.
How do you do this? First, remind yourself of the importance of being a parent. Yes, you have all kinds of competing things that weigh on your mind and drain your time. But what matters to you most? Simply reminding yourself everyday – however you want to do this (listen to a song, look at a picture, recall a memory, think back to when you didn’t have a child and how you knew you wanted one, say a prayer) – of the simple fact that having a child is an extraordinary gift is an effective way to recalibrate emotionally.
Next, put this into practice. When a baby is crying, remind yourself that you are doing something magical by trying to soothe them (even if it’s not working). Replace anger with compassion (your child is dependent on you). Look for the little wonders (simply a smile) even in the stream of the craziness. And, most importantly, discover for yourself that the more positive you are, the more positive your child acts.
Try to eliminate the criticism. Babies and kids are, by definition, always learning. Criticism assumes they should know what to do and how to do it all the time. Teach them. Nurture them. Share their joy when they hear what you are saying and find that it works.
Finally, soak up the joy that babies and kids find in the world. They aren’t concerned with all the things that concern adults. They don’t care if you are late – they just want to look at the dog across the street. They don’t care what they are wearing – they just want to jump in the puddle because it’s fun. They find the world, and you, fascinating. Try to live in their world. It’s a good world to live in.
This isn’t about indulgence. Pick your spots. Set real rules and find ways of enforcing them consistently, without yelling and screaming. If it’s not the right time to jump in the puddle, explain that, and find something else interesting to redirect their attention. They can be persuaded easily.
A positive parent is an inviting guide to the world. Positivity makes for happier parents and kids and makes life easier. The more you try it, the more you will reap the rewards.
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Sunday, June 22nd, 2014
Parents get very excited when a baby takes those first steps. As they should. It’s quite the milestone. But all the fuss about walking can diminish the very real benefits that come from babies moving themselves around their world before they can walk.
There are, in fact, many developmental benefits of crawling, including the obvious all-around opportunities for motor development. Developmentalists detail all kinds of advantages including optimizing sensory processing and integration. Relatedly, there are cognitive benefits that should not be overlooked. When babies are crawling, it gives them a chance to explore their environment and platforms them to manipulate objects. This kind of controlled and active discovery is the stuff of brain development. In the laboratory setting, babies who have more experience crawling are more apt to explore and extract information from objects – and are more advanced at later ages in terms of cognitive development. Babies need that time to take in and integrate their sensory information, and use all their senses (touching is especially important) to formulate the abstract principles that fuel cognitive development. For example, babies who have experience manipulating three-dimensional objects will be more likely to “know” that three dimensions exist when tested in the laboratory setting – their eye movements will continuing scanning images for “hidden” dimensionality in objects that other babies will miss.
All of this may sound rather “academic,” but the intention here is deliberate. It’s very easy to be thrilled seeing a baby walk. It’s not so obvious that a crawling baby is doing all kinds of highly sophisticated cognitive processing (which is more detectable in the laboratory than every day life). What’s the point of all this? Simply put – don’t be in a rush to get your baby to walk. Don’t go out of your way to promote walking when they should be crawling. Babies walk when they are ready to walk. Some do it earlier, some do it later. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is going out of your way to let your baby crawl, and to be able to find safe and interesting objects to explore. There’s a reason babies crawl before they can walk.
Keep track of Baby’s milestones in one place.
Baby Crawling via Shutterstock.com
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Wednesday, June 18th, 2014
Of course you like your child. But what do their peers think? It turns out their “likeability” may be an important, yet overlooked, factor that can portend later success.
A number of longitudinal studies have come to this conclusion. Kids who are considered to be likeable in childhood – as rated by their peers – are more likely to have better adult outcomes. They achieve more academic success, a higher occupational status, and experience less psychological problems.
What exactly is likeability? Researchers look at a few key abilities, especially in the early school years:
- Can a child make friends easily?
- Do other kids like playing with a child?
Keep in mind that likeability shouldn’t be equated with being the “most popular.” We are talking about kids who, across the board, are perceived by other kids as someone they like to be around (or, put another way, don’t mind being around). Importantly, the most telling picture comes from peer ratings gathered in school, rather than a child’s self-perceptions. The kids who spend their day hanging out with your kid can form an aggregate perception that offers a pretty good indicator of social skills that are predictive of later adaptive functioning.
What skills should you foster to help your child be likeable? There are few things to keep in mind:
- Kids need to know how to let others “hold the floor” – constantly interrupting, blurting out, and talking only about themselves undermines likeability
- Kids need to know how to play cooperatively – how to take turns, work together, and listen to other points of view
- Kids should know how to be gracious – they should share in others’ joy and be a good sport
- Kids should know how to bring themselves to their interactions with others – being overly withdrawn is not an asset with peers
- Kids should know how to be positive – having enthusiasm is much more appealing than being the naysayer
This is a short list of some of the good social skills every kid can have. While it’s a reality that kids have very different personalities, the fact is all these different personalities can still be expressed using fundamental social skills. Other people like to be around people who have these attributes. Likeability goes a long way, in the short and long term of life.
Kids Having Fun via Shutterstock.com
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Monday, June 16th, 2014
Yet another study has suggested that birth order predicts adult success. This time the analyses are based on data collected by the dating website PlentyOfFish (POF). Researches at POF examined data trends among 7.6 million singles (in the US and Canada, between the ages of 25-45) using their services – so even though this is not inherently a representative sample (by epidemiological standards) it is still a very large sampling of adults and worthy of consideration. To this point, POF offers analyses on relationship success as well as the more standard benchmarks of education and income. Here we’ll summarize the study findings, caveats of the research, and implications for parenting … and speak briefly to the relative status of singletons.
The primary findings are as follows:
FIRST BORN CHILDREN HAVE ADVANTAGES: According to Sarah Gooding, Media Spokesperson, PlentyOfFish, “This PlentyOfFish study suggests that firstborns are more likely to succeed in life – in the areas of education, income and love. For example, the firstborn male of four is 13% more likely to find a relationship compared to the average male user from the study.”
MIDDLE BORN CHILDREN ARE LEAST LIKELY TO FIND RELATIONSHIP SUCCESS: Here relationship success was defined as leaving the POF site in a relationship. Gooding summarizes the findings as follows: “Regardless of family size, middle children are the least likely to find a relationship.”
YOUNGEST CHILDREN EXPERIENCE DISADVANTAGES: They are less likely to pursue higher education and (perhaps as a result) tend to make less money. Gooding explains: “As the family size increases, the likelihood that the youngest of the family will pursue higher education or make an income over $75K/year decreases. Our study found in a family with two children, the youngest is 3% more likely to pursue a PhD. In a family of three children, the youngest is 13% less likely to pursue a PhD, and this trend continues in a family of four children where the youngest is 17% less likely to pursue a PhD.”
GENDER MAY MATTER: Birth order effects were more pronounced for males in the POF study, as discussed by Gooding: “Our findings suggest that the female youngest of two is more likely than their male counterparts to pursue higher education. The females youngest of two is up to 9% more likely to pursue a Masters degree or PhD. In comparison, the male youngest of two is only up to 3% more likely to pursue a Masters or PhD.”
Let’s start with the obvious. We have all heard that correlation does not imply causation. If you takes Stats 101, you’ll be taught this principle and come away thinking survey research doesn’t “prove” anything. While that’s true in the technical sense, the fact is we rely on survey data to reveal naturalistic associations that have some real-world meaning (as opposed to experimental designs which may artificially control a lot of variables and hence suffer from a lack of “ecological validity” – meaning direct application to the naturalistic, uncontrolled world we live in). So, yes, this study relies simply on statistical associations, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to abstract some meaningful principles from them.
I’ve also already stated that this is not a representative sample – so it’s been duly noted (twice here!) that this offers a somewhat skewed sampling perspective. Again, though, this does not mean that the data aren’t interesting, especially given the size of the sample (and the fact that a fair number of adults use online dating services).
What I’d like to bring attention to is the good and bad of working with very large samples like the one gathered by POF. The “good” is pretty clear – the larger the sample, the more confidence we have in the statistical parameters. It’s better to sample around 8 million people and draw statistical inferences than it is to sample around 8 people. You get tighter statistical estimates which increase the “statistical” confidence in those estimates.
But there is something of a down side of large sampling, if a statistical principle is ignored. Because of this statistical confidence, it’s easier to find a statistically significant result – which simply indicates that there is an effect (e.g., a correlation that is not “zero”) rather than signifying the magnitude of that effect. Thus significance should not be confused with the size of the statistical effect – very small effects can be significant when looking at large data sets.
That’s why it’s important to look at the effect size of studies like this one. I’d (informally) characterize the effects here as “modest” in the statistical sense, which would be consistent with lots of other studies on birth order. Birth order seems to have a systematic effect on adult education, income, and (especially in this study) one indicator of relationship success. But it’s important to keep in mind that this effect is modest – meaning that lots of other factors come into play. Put another way, don’t be surprised if your own informal sampling of people you know indicates that there are some youngest siblings who achieved the highest level of education in their family, and some middle children who had the most relationship success, and some first born children who don’t make a lot of money and aren’t in a relationship. It’s the overall patterning in the population studied that comes into play in large studies like the one conducted by POF.
IMPLICATIONS FOR PARENTING
Full disclosure: I’ve never been especially interested in birth order effects (and I’ve been doing research on siblings for, well, a lot of years now). I’ve always felt that birth order was background noise – with a little signal – that got way too much attention in the popular press as compared to the actual processes that go into parenting multiple children. But I’m softening a little bit, in part because birth order effects get replicated, but more so because there is better thinking about them now in terms of parenting.
The most clear cut implication for parenting is that younger children, especially in larger families, may not be getting the same kind of focused parenting that their older siblings received. We know that parents will say that by the time the last one comes around, they are more relaxed with him or her compared to the older siblings. Some of that reflects experience as a parent. But it’s important to keep in mind that the bar shouldn’t be lowered in the case of academic standards – research using national data bases suggest that, in terms of academics, parents may spend less time monitoring their youngest child’s homework, which may account for some of the scholastic effects of birth order.
What about middle children and relationships? One speculation can be offered – and bear in mind it is indeed conjecture. We often hear of the Middle Child Syndrome – being stuck in the middle of the presumed favorites, the oldest and the youngest. Perhaps there is something in this relationship dynamic that impacts (to a degree) the ability of middle children to find success in relationships. Again, this is simply an idea to think about – and perhaps one worthy of more dedicated research.
One last point. Only children also seemed to be less inclined to be successful in the POF study. Morgan Cabot, Research Analyst, PlentyOfFish, offers the following summary and interpretation: “Our findings suggest that single children are much less likely to pursue higher education and earn an income over $50K/year. This finding was the most surprising as the general assumption is that single children receive more attention and financial support from their parents, making it easier for them to succeed in life. There are likely many factors influencing these results. One theory is that the very fact that single children don’t have a sibling (to set an example for or to compete with) leads to a lower drive to succeed in the areas of education and income.”
Perhaps the best takeaway in terms of parenting an only child is the same one that applies to youngest siblings: make sure the bar is set high enough in terms of expectations about achievement.
Family Portrait via Shutterstock.com
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