Posts tagged “children

Things Every Parent Should Know

I very much concur with Jeremy Dean, the author of PSYBLOG, and the ten studies which follow that he believes every parent should know about. Choice theory is not mentioned in the article, but it is lurking behind almost every phrase. You can access PSYBLOG at

10 Current Psychology Studies Every Parent Should Know

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Whether parents are happier than non-parents, why siblings are so different, the perils of discipline, bedtimes, TV and more…

One of the many reasons parenting is an impossible job is that everyone is giving you advice, and much of it is rubbish. Frankly, it’s amazing we’ve all made it this far. So, bucking the trend of random anecdote and superstition, here are ten recent psychology studies that every parent should know.

1. Parents are happier than non-parents

In recent years some studies have suggested that the pleasures of having children are outweighed by the pains. “Ha!” said parents to themselves, secretly, “I knew it!” Not so fast though: new research has found that, on average, parents feel better than non-parents each day and derive more pleasure from caring for their children than from other activities (Nelson et al.,. 2013). Fathers, in particular, derive high levels of positive emotions and happiness from their children.

2. Putting your child first is worth it

Underlining the pleasures of having children, research finds that child-centric attitudes are beneficial. A study by Ashton-James et al. (2013) found that parents who were the most child-centric were also happier and derived greater meaning in life from having children. Performing child-care activities was associated with greater meaning and fewer negative feelings.

“These findings suggest that the more care and attention people give to others, the more happiness and meaning they experience. From this perspective, the more invested parents are in their children’s well-being — that is, the more ‘child centric’ parents are — the more happiness and meaning they will derive from parenting.” (Ashton-James et al., 2013)

So, what’s good for your kids, is also good for you.

3. Helicopter parenting may be depressing

As with many things in life, though, it’s a fine line between caring and smothering; especially when children have grown up. Schiffrin et al. (2013) asked 297 undergraduate students about their parents’ behaviour and how they felt about it. The study found links between ‘helicopter parenting’ and higher levels of depression amongst the students, as well as lower levels of autonomy, relatedness and competence.

“Parents should keep in mind how developmentally appropriate their involvement is and learn to adjust their parenting style when their children feel that they are hovering too closely.” (Schiffrin et al., 2013)

4. Avoid strict discipline

Around 90% of American parents admit at least one instance of using strict verbal discipline with their children, such as calling names or swearing at them. Rather than helping keep adolescents in line, though, be aware that this may just exacerbate the problem. A study of 967 US families found that harsh verbal discipline at 13-years-old predicted worse behaviour in the next year (Wang et al., 2013). And it didn’t help if parents had a strong bond with their children. The study’s lead author Ming-Te Wang explained:

“The notion that harsh discipline is without consequence, once there is a strong parent-child bond–that the adolescent will understand that ‘they’re doing this because they love me’–is misguided because parents’ warmth didn’t lessen the effects of harsh verbal discipline. Indeed, harsh verbal discipline appears to be detrimental in all circumstances.”

5. Regular bedtimes

Regular bedtimes really matter to children’s developing brains. Researchers followed 11,000 children from when they were 3-years old to the age of 7 to measure the effects of bedtimes on cognitive function, (Kelly et al., 2013). The researchers found that:

“…irregular bedtimes at 3 years of age were associated with lower scores in reading, maths, and spatial awareness in both boys and girls, suggesting that around the age of 3 could be a sensitive period for cognitive development.”

Regular bedtimes are important for both boys and girls and the earlier these can be implemented, the better for cognitive performance.

6. Do the chores together

Bringing up happy children is easier if Mum and Dad’s relationship isn’t too rocky. One frequent bone of contention between parents is the chores. A trick for achieving marital satisfaction over the chores is to do them together. When partners perform their chores at the same time–no matter who is doing what–both people are more satisfied with the division of labour (Galovan et al., 2013).

7. Limit infant TV viewing

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children should watch no more than two hours of TV per day after two years of age, and none before that age. Here’s why: a new study that followed almost 2,000 Canadian children from birth found that an extra hour’s TV viewing at 2.5-years-old predicted worse performance later when they attended kindergarten (Pagani et al., 2013). The more children exceeded this recommendation at 2.5 years old, the worse their vocabulary, math and motor skills were at 5-years-old. More on this study: One Extra Hour of TV Reduces Toddlers’ Kindergarten Chances

8. Exercise boosts kids’ school performance

Kids are increasingly sedentary and, as I frequently write here on PsyBlog, exercise is a wonderful way to boost brain power, and it has many other benefits (see 20 Wonderful Effects Exercise Has on the Mind). A new study of 11-year-olds has found that moderate to vigorous exercise was associated with increased academic performance in English, Maths and Science (Booth et al., 2013). These gains from exercise were also seen in exams taken at 16-years-old. Interestingly, girls’ science results benefited the most from extra exercise.

9. Dangers of intense mothering

Some women say that taking care of children is more stressful than being at work. There are also links between child-rearing and stress and guilt. How can we square this with the reports and research findings that children fill your life with joy and meaning? It may be down to differences in attitudes to parenting. In particular, being an ‘intense mother’ may be bad for you. In their study of 181 mothers of children under 5, Rizzo et al. (2012) found that mothers who most strongly endorsed the idea that children were sacred and that women are better parents than men, were more likely to be depressed and experience less satisfaction with life. Yes, nurture your children, but don’t sacrifice your own mental health.

10. Why siblings are so different

Anyone with more than one child will have noticed a curious thing: their personalities are often very dissimilar. In fact, according to a study by Plomin and Daniels (1987), siblings have no more in common in their personalities than two completely unrelated strangers. This is very weird given that 50% of their genetic code is identical. The answer isn’t in the genes at all, but in the environment in which children grow up. Far from having the same environments, each child has:

  • a different relationship with their parents,
  • a different relationship with their other siblings,
  • different friends and experiences at school…

…and so on. And all these differences add up to quite remarkable dissimilarities between siblings–often such that if they didn’t look alike, you’d never know they were related. All this means, of course, that because their personalities are often so different, parenting strategies that work with one child, may not work with another. It’s just one more challenge of being a parent! Image credit: Paolo Marconi

Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and the author of PsyBlog. His latest book is “Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick“. You can follow PsyBlog on FacebookTwitterand Google+.


The William Glasser Institute (WGI-US) has a new website that you may be interested in. You can access it at –

Why Fulfill Your Own Dreams, When Your Kids Can Do It For You?

As with each of the 7 Worst Mistakes that Good Parents Make, #7–Your kids fulfilling your dreams–is sneaky. A parent can look like he cares about how his child is doing, can come across like he simply yearns for his child to be successful, and that he wants this for the child’s sake, when really he wants it for his own ego needs. Each of the 7 Mistakes has this quality, that being that parents can look like they’re doing what they’re doing for one reason, when in fact they are really doing it for another reason. So, with that brief introduction in mind, let’s consider the last of the Mistakes Good Parents Make through the lens of choice theory.

Why Fulfill Your Own Dreams, When Your Kids Can Do It For You?

Roger Pope is livid as he leaves the school gymnasium and heads to the parking lot. Although his son played in the game that just finished, he wasn’t a starter. And when he was on the court his talents were not really featured as they should have been. Mr. Pope will be confronting the coach tomorrow about that. Peter Bolls is sensing his daughter’s enthusiasm to become a doctor is faltering and he feels his frustration rising. He wants to straighten her thinking out — now! There’s no way she is going to change her major and become a .  .  .  a teacher, of all things. As Marjorie Kent dropped her daughter off at school this morning, and watched her connect with a few of her friends as they all walked up the steps and into the main building, she wondered how popular her daughter was and about how good her grades were compared to others. She seemed to be accepted by the other students and respected by the school staff, but maybe not. Kids could be so fickle. Marjorie decided then and there to have a party at their house this coming weekend and have a lot of the kids over. Couldn’t hurt, she thought. Roger, Peter, and Marjorie all have something in common–their own needs are being met through the achievements and status of their children.

Alfie Kohn wrote about such parents in Only for My Kid, an article published in Kappan in 1998. Kohn cited cases in which schools that were attempting to create a curriculum in which all students could succeed were taken to task by parents whose kids were already successful. These parents actually undermined progressive reform efforts to teach more students effectively. When school officials tried to talk with these parents about specific learning strategies the parents expressed little interest or declined to listen at all. The only thing that mattered to them was that the school program continued to create pedestals on which their own child could stand and that would differentiate him/her from the others. Kohn referred to these parents as BIRG parents, using an acronym I have never forgotten and that seems to capture the essence of #7. BIRG stands for Basking in Reflected Glory. And as much as I want to point a condemning finger at the icky parents in Kohn’s article, the acronym also challenges me to self-evaluate the extent to which I may BIRGing.

BIRG stands for Basking in Reflected Glory.

It is the basic need for power and achievement that fuels a parent’s basking in the glory of his child. If our child is famous–it fulfills our desire for fame; if he or she is talented–others will think their talent came from us; if he or she has their act together–it is a reflection on our superior parenting. Much is at stake in this process. Usually, parent and child can survive this sometimes subtle and sometimes blatant manipulation. Sometimes, though, as depicted in the movie, Dead Poets’ Society, the result can be catastrophic.

BIRGing is really about exploitation. We want to gain an advantage, improve our own reputations, or increase our status through the accomplishments of our son or daughter. Our need for this status drives us to manipulate the behavior of the child whose fame train we are riding. It’s not only parents who BIRG. Teachers and even schools can BIRG, too. We proclaim and advertise our elite students’ skills and successes in the hope that others will want to go to our fantastic school as well. Look how good Megan is as a musician. She goes to our school! Or look at what an athlete Stephan is. He is one of our students! Whether at home or at school, kids pick up on this manipulation and they resent it. They don’t always understand what is going on, especially if they are young children, but they don’t like how it feels.

I don’t want to convey that parents can’t have hopes and dreams for their children, and it doesn’t mean they can’t try to influence their children in the direction of those dreams. The danger lies in parents ignoring or bulldozing the dreams of their children and replacing them with their own. Doing this for our own selfish reasons, so that our personal needs are the priority, only makes it worse. One of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child is to help him or her discover their true identity and enable them to achieve their dreams. It is an unselfish act to do this, a legacy-creating act whose ripples will be felt for generations to come.

One of the greatest gifts a parent can give a child is to help him or her discover their true identity and enable them to achieve their dreams.

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