12 Scientific Tips For Raising Happy (& Healthy) Kids

Being a Good Parent

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.

Tell them how they feel

While older kids are widely regarded as the kings and queens of self-expression, young children often lack the vocabulary to properly label their own emotions, according to researchers who study child development.

Kids ages 2 to 5 are just starting to understand emotions like fear, frustration or disappointment, according to Klein.

You can help your kid express herself by calling out such emotions when you see them. For example, a parent might say, “It’s disappointing that it’s raining outside, and you can’t go out to play,” Klein said.

Live in the moment

Adults tend to constantly think about the future, but kids — especially preschool-age kids (ages 2 to 5) — live in the here and now, scientists say. To get on a kid’s level, parents need to learn how to live in the moment, too, said Tovah Klein, director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development in New York City.

This is especially true when it comes to communicating verbally with a young child, said Klein, who is also the author of “How Toddlers Thrive” (Touchstone, 2014).

Instead of telling a 3 year old that it’s time to get ready for some future action, like going to school, parents should give their child a set of instructions, Klein told Live Science in August 2016. Replace ambiguous statements like “it’s almost time for school” with clear, simple explanations and directions, such as, “We need to leave for school. It’s time to get your coat.”

Limit distractions

Do you check emails or scroll through your social media feeds while spending quality time with your kids? Because you shouldn’t, Klein said.

It’s hard to be really engaged with your kids if you’re distracted by a bunch of other things. And this distracted presence can take a toll on children, who might feel like you’re not really there for them when you’re attention is divided, Klein said

“Children don’t need their parents’ attention 24/7 and 100 percent of the time,” she said. But when your kids do need your full attention, you should give it to them without any caveats.


Be polite
Want to raise polite children? Try adding the words “please” and “thank you” to your own vocabulary. Kids learn how to interact with others mainly by observing how grown-ups do it and then modeling that behavior themselves, according to Klein. So if you treat everyone — from cashiers and bus drivers to teachers and family members — with respect and politeness, chances are your kids will, as well.

Stick to the basics

“There are a lot of different ways to raise kids, and there’s not one formula that works for every kid,” said Amy Bohnert, a psychologist who researches child development at Loyola University Chicago. But surely there’s some kind of recipe for success when it comes to parenting, right?Kind of: Bonhert said the first basic rule of being a good parent is fostering a secure and warm attachment with your kids. That way they know their needs will be met and that they’ll have a place to go when they need comfort. And as they get older, kids need freedom to explore their own identities and make mistakes, but in a safe and age-appropriate way, Bonhert told Live Science in 2011.

Dads: Get involved

Forget the stereotype of the bumbling dad who doesn’t know how to change a diaper. Research consistently shows that dads are just as good at this whole parenting thing as moms. Furthermore, dads bring a lot of valuable parenting skills to the table.

Fathers strongly influence their kids’ lives in several ways, according to W. Brad Wilcox, a sociologist at the University of Virginia who studies marriage and families. Firstly, dads tend to play rougher with kids than moms do, which helps kids learn to control their bodies and emotions. Dad’s hands-on style of play also encourages healthy risk-taking, which can influence a child’s ambitions in the long-term, Wilcox told Live Science in 2013. A strong paternal relationship also brings with it a certain level of protection, as research has found that children with involved fathers are less likely to become the victims of sexual abuse or assault, he said.

Be authoritative

Want to keep your teen from experimenting with drugs and alcohol? The most effective way to do that is to be authoritative, according to researchers. A study published in the journal Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine in 2012 found that teens whose parents were authoritative (the study defined this as being in control, but with a warm attitude) were significantly less likely to drinksmoke cigarettes or use pot than teens whose parents were neglectful (i.e. not in control and lacking warmth).

Encourage friendships

Preteen and teenage friendships might sometimes seem a little baffling to parents (why would anyone want to walk around the mall for hours on end?), but these relationships are very important for the development of a child’s social skills.”They are practicing adult social skills in a safe setting, and they are really not good at it at first,” said Sheryl Feinstein. Friends help adolescents learn skills like negotiating, compromising and group planning.

LOL! Joking Helps

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. [Top 5 Benefits of Play]

Be Positive

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.

Tend to Your Mental Health

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.

Last But Not Least, Know Your Kids

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.


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