Archive for the ‘ Relationships ’ Category

Parenting Principle #6: Focusing On Others

Monday, June 30th, 2014

What are the parenting principles for raising happy, well-adjusted children? Here the focus is on encouraging a focus on others.

Babies are social by nature. They want to interact with people. They want to be with people. And as they mature, they start to develop a capacity to be oriented to the needs of others.

During the toddler years, you can begin to encourage a sense of focusing on the needs of other people. There are research studies which show that if an adult drops something, a toddler is inclined to pick it up – and give it back to them. While they may not always want to share their toys instinctively, you can begin to send the message that someone else may want a turn too. And you can orient them to the pleasure that giving to others gives to them, so that it eventually gives pleasure to themselves.

The prominent pediatrician and author, Dr. Harvey Karp, suggests a technique called “playing the boob” with toddlers. If you act silly with them – and even act like you don’t know what you are doing – they will step in and help you. You can reverse the power structure and give them a sense of what it’s like to be the one who can do for others. An older sibling can learn to do for a younger sibling. Time with friends can be treated as opportunities to be nice hosts and to do things for them to help them feel welcome.

As children get older, you can encourage empathy and understanding. Even when celebrating a victory, you can reference how the other team feels. Sound strange or inconsistent with parenting for success? Hardly. People who do for others – people who know how to get into others’ heads and determine their needs – are often the most successful people. Focusing on others is not just a nice way to live, it’s also a great skill to have that pays dividends in life.

More in This Series

 Make a chore chart for your little ones. 

Manners & Responsibility: Chores Kids Can (and Should) Do
Manners & Responsibility: Chores Kids Can (and Should) Do
Manners & Responsibility: Chores Kids Can (and Should) Do

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Is Your Child “Likeable”?

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.

Manners & Responsibility: 3 Manners All Kids Should Know
Manners & Responsibility: 3 Manners All Kids Should Know
Manners & Responsibility: 3 Manners All Kids Should Know

Kids Having Fun via


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Birth Order and Success: Implications for Parenting

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.”

What You Need to Know About Birth Order
What You Need to Know About Birth Order
What You Need to Know About Birth Order


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.


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.

What You Need to Know About Your Only Child
What You Need to Know About Your Only Child
What You Need to Know About Your Only Child

Family Portrait via

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9 Tips For Crafting With Kids To Maximize Social And Cognitive Benefits

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

Engaging in hands-on activities like arts and crafts should be a part of every child’s life. New research and thinking continues to reveal the many social and cognitive benefits for children at different ages. That said, developmental experts worry that parents and children may not have as many opportunities to craft together for a variety of potential reasons.

Crafting at the Kitchen Table (via Elmer’s Products, Inc.)

To learn more about the benefits of crafting in childhood, and the barriers which can interfere with crafting time, I partnered with Elmer’s Products, Inc., to conduct new survey research that can be used to deliver tips about crafting to parents, which we will be introducing at the Mom 2.0 Summit. We surveyed 300 moms to learn more about the kind of information they receive about crafting, the type of knowledge they would find helpful, and the factors that can make crafting time a challenge in everyday life. We also surveyed 50 experts in child development to learn more about the many social and cognitive benefits of arts and crafts in childhood.

Most importantly, moms told us that they want to hear more about the cognitive and social benefits of crafting, and suggestions for how to get the most out of crafting time. They also sent a strong message that time pressure is the biggest factor that interferes with their desire to craft with their kids. Experts shared with us a number of social and cognitive benefits of crafting, along with tips that can maximize both the fun and the payoffs for children and parents.

I’ve combined all this information to generate 9 tips that may help busy parents and children incorporate arts and crafts into the flow of daily life and cultivate the many cognitive and social benefits:

1.    FIND RESOURCES TO SOLVE THE TIME PRESSURES THAT MAKE CRAFTING HARD TO DO. Parents love to craft with their kids – but they find it hard to make time for it. One solution is to access crafting ideas that don’t take too much time, but provide all the benefits of crafting. You can get tips on activities kids and parents will love to do together that won’t require huge amounts of set up and clean up time.

2.    KEEP IN MIND HOW IMPORTANT CRAFTING IS FOR KIDS AND PARENTS ALIKE (IN RELATION TO COMPETING DEMANDS). Parents and kids have lots of competing demands for their time. It’s helpful to remind ourselves of the many benefits of crafting (social, emotional, cognitive). To the extent that we can control our recreational time, it’s suggested that parents make sure that screen time and time devoted to structured activities outside the home don’t reduce the opportunities for crafting with kids. Just some good quality time with simple ideas, even with items around the house, are all it takes to reap many benefits, all while having fun at the same time.

3.    MAKE IT FUN – CRAFTING IS ABOUT DOING SOMETHING TOGETHER. Don’t worry about the final product – it’s the process that matters. Smiles, laughs, and some silliness keep kids engaged (remember that for kids, play is their work) and their engagement will help them get the cognitive benefits from crafting while getting something equally as important – the bonding experience with parents.

4.    TALK WHILE YOU CRAFT. Parents and kids don’t have as many opportunities for face-to-face interaction these days – and we all know that such interaction is critical for healthy emotional and cognitive development. The simple act of parents and kids having engaged conversations is highly predictive of later cognitive development. Crafting is a terrific platform for kids and parents to talk about the crafting itself – and whatever else comes up.

5.    LET KIDS TAKE THE LEAD. Creativity is promoted when kids take the lead with activities like crafting. Parents can support what their kids are doing and help them by encouraging, lending a hand when necessary, and helping with suggestions. The creative spark is lit when kids try to figure out how to make things work.

6.    PRAISE KIDS FOR THEIR CRAFTING EFFORTS. It’s clear from research that praising kids for their effort, and not the “quality” of their final product, is predictive of their future “mindsets” that underlie success in many domains (academics, sports, arts, etc.). Crafting is a perfect platform for encouraging and reinforcing effort rather than critiquing the outcome.

7.    USE CRAFTING TO COMBAT BOREDOM. Kids will eventually get bored with anything – they always need to find something different to do. So … use crafting projects as that fun tonic to inevitable boredom. Kids will be primed for the creative engagement it provides.

8.    MAKE SURE CRAFTING IS HANDS-ON FOR KIDS. It’s important that kids lead not only with their brains, but also their hands. Crafting is one of the best ways to encourage fine motor development, and the benefits that kids will get from doing the crafting activities themselves are critical for academic readiness.

9.    CREATE HAPPY MEMORIES. Kids will form memories of making crafts with their parents that last a lifetime. Make sure those memories center around the emotional bond you are creating and not so much what the end product looks like. That end product, however it turns out, will carry meaning because it will take kids back to a very special time with their parentsand maybe even evoke your memories of crafting with your parents. Displaying that product will help this process along as well – especially if you all talk about the memories that you created together.


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How Older Siblings Lead Younger Siblings Into Trouble

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

A large informative sibling study has shown that older siblings who engage in violent criminal behavior influence younger siblings to do the same – especially if the siblings are close in age. As this work builds on prior work I’ve conducted with my collaborators, I wanted to expand on the findings and the implications for parenting.

Our research group has observed a similar sibling effect on delinquency in adolescence as well as early (illicit) use of tobacco and alcohol. The finding has been replicated by a number of other research groups. Of note is that in some of our studies, we could control for genetic similarity (by studying siblings who varied in their genetic relatedness, like identical twins versus fraternal twins, and full siblings versus half-siblings). While genetic makeup does convey some risk, we’ve found strong evidence that much of this influence is environmental in nature.

It’s especially important to recognize that there is good evidence that the siblings get into trouble together and function as “partners in crime.” We’ve conducted electronic diary studies in which siblings confirmed in real time assessments (known as ecological momentary assessment) that they were together, and doing things they shouldn’t be doing (often with mutual friends).

There is where age becomes a relevant factor. Sibling effects are driven by relationship dynamics – it’s the siblings who are close in age and who like to hang out with each other. Keep in mind that we’ve controlled for genetics in our studies, so this is an environmental affiliation. Siblings that don’t like spending time together typically don’t influence each other much. There is in fact a particular sibling relationship style that underlies the “partners in crime” phenomenon – it’s when the siblings have high levels of both positivity and negativity. They like being with each other – and also spend a lot of their time fighting.

So what should parents do? If you have an older sibling who is getting in trouble, be mindful that if they have a younger sibling (especially one close in age that they hang out with a lot) is at high risk for getting into trouble. It’s time to intervene with the older sibling – not just to help him or her, but also to prevent problems in the younger sibling.

Brothers Playing Video Games Together via


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