My poor daughter. She's happy and healthy, and has loving parents and a stable home.
But, she also has a dad who scours scholarly articles to find the modern consensus on best practices in raising kids.
I hope we're not treating her like a guinea pig. But I do think we're careful to make small adjustments in the ways we try to raise her, having pored over some of the most useful and interesting strategies out there.
I think the five daily habits I'll describe below are among the most compelling.
1. Stay on top of them.
It can be exhausting, and sometimes you think your words are going in one ear and out the other. But British researchers found that parents who articulate high expectations are more likely to have kids who grow up to be successful -- and avoid some key pitfalls. '
Specifically, a study of 15,000 British girls over 10 years, from ages 13-14 to 23-24, found that those whose parents who consistently displayed high expectations for their children were:
- More likely to attend college.
- Less likely to become pregnant as teenagers.
- Less likely to have prolonged periods of unemployment.
- Less likely to get stuck in dead-end, low-wage jobs.
The key: The kids didn't necessarily like hearing all the "high expectations," and they didn't always react civilly to hearing it. But at the end of the day, they heard it.
As a press release from the University of Essex put it: "Behind every successful woman is a nagging mom? Teenage girls more likely to succeed if they have pushy mothers."
2. Praise them correctly.
There are two main ways that parents praise their kids. The first is for their innate abilities. The second is for their effort. Examples:
- Innate ability praise: Great job! You're so smart!
- Effort praise: Great job! You worked hard and figured it out!
Bottom line up front: When you praise kids, praise them for effort, not abilities.
You can see this here: If you praise me for my innate intelligence, you're praising me for a) something I had nothing to do with achieving, and b) something I can't do anything to improve.
But when you praise me for my effort, you're encouraging me to develop exactly the muscles you want me to develop to be successful in life.
If you're a relatively new parent, and think this kind of distinction matters more when your kids are older, think again. The effects of these praise strategies are quantifiable even children are as young as 1 to 3 years of age.
3. Take them outside.
This one's simple. And when the weather's nice, it's also highly enjoyable for both kids and for you.
Think about this: Those of us who work in offices hear constantly that sitting all day is killing us. And yet, what do we ask our kids to do for six or seven hours a day? Sit in classrooms.
It's off the charts insane. Instead, science shows you should encourage them to play outdoors as much as possible.
Researchers in Europe tracked how much outside activity that 153 boys, aged 6 to 8, had every day. The correlation was striking:
"The more time kids ... spent sitting and the less time they spent being physically active, the fewer gains they made in reading in the two following years. [It] also had a negative impact on their ability to do math."
4. Read to them correctly.
This one is so important, especially when they're younger. Parents of highly successful kids are the ones who read to their kids when they were little.
And it turns out there's a right way and a wrong way to read to them.
The wrong way is simply to read. We've all been there (I plead guilty); sometimes you're so exhausted reading to your kids that you're almost on autopilot. I could probably recite the entire Ladybug Girl series of books from memory at this point.
But when you can, the more effective thing to do is to engage your child while reading. Ask them to read parts of the books. Ask them what they think will happen with the plot. If they're too young for that, ask them to turn the pages for you.
As an example, neuroscientist Erin Clabough suggests that if you read the book Are You My Mother to your young child, ask him or her to walk through the plot as it happens.
"What would you do, if you were the baby bird?" she suggests asking. "Even for books you've read together 216 times, your child can come up with a different way the character can react, a different decision the character can make."
5. Make them do chores.
I swear this is a real thing. It comes from Julie Lythcott-Haims, who was the dean of freshmen at Stanford University and wrote the New York Times bestseller How to Raise an Adult.
Lythcott-Haims cites the Harvard Grant Study, a famous 81-year-old longitudinal study, which found that people generally need two things to be successful in life. The first is love; the second is work ethic.
How do we develop work ethic as young kids?
You've got it: By doing the dishes, mowing the lawn, taking out the garbage, walking the dog, cleaning our rooms--all the stuff that kids often balk at and parents have to nag them about (see number 1, above).
"By making them do chores ... they realize I have to do the work of life in order to be part of life. It's not just about me and what I need in this moment."
Now, here's the drawback as a parent. Have you ever seen what the dishwasher looks like after you asked a 9-year-old to load it? Ever had to follow after your 7-year-old with a bunch of plastic bags to pick up after he or she walked the dog?
Yeah. The point is that especially in the early stages, it would probably be a lot easier if you just did the chores yourself. The point is: Well, the point is that that's not the point.
Moms and dads of America (the world, really): We're all in this together. Maybe we'll get our thanks when our kids are grown.