Raising kids to thrive in the world isn’t easy, especially considering you’ll dedicate at least 18 years of your life to the task. But the topic of parenting is widely studied by researchers, so there’s plenty of advice for those who want to do the best job raising children that they can. Here are three simple things the parents of the most successful kids do, according to science.
They mandate that their kids exercise
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that kids aged 6 to 17 need 60 minutes or more of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity every day. In addition to health benefits including less body fat and lower risk of type 2 diabetes, moving their bodies is good for children’s brains. Kids who are active have improved cognition, academic performance and memory.
They get their kids to practice hard things
Reliability and competence are a big part of success. And the habit of practice is what builds those traits.
But according to developmental psychologist Maryam Abdullah, a certain kind of practice -- called deliberate practice -- is what best helps kids achieve the most academically as well as make greater gains in motor skills. It involves a child working on things they’re not good at, versus repeating things that are easy for them. It necessitates full concentration instead of being only partly focused, which is easy to do with regular practicing. A kid doing it also asks for feedback from a teacher or coach regarding how he or she can get better. And it also takes the diligence to keep working on weaknesses until goals are reached.
Parents can help kids learn deliberate practice by talking with them about several things. First, kids need to expect and accept failure, which is inherent in learning. Second, they need to be able to anticipate and tolerate feeling frustrated. Third, they need to know that successful people don’t get where they are on sheer talent, so it’s important to provide examples of people they would look up to who spent hours, days, months and years practicing their craft. It also helps to encourage kids to imagine the future they want for themselves, such as how it will feel to be well-prepared for an upcoming piano recital.
They read aloud to their kids
Researchers at the New York University School of Medicine studied the interactions of 675 families with young children and found that the kids whose parents read aloud to them had lower levels of aggression, hyperactivity and attention problems, all problems which make it difficult for them to do well once they begin school. “We think when parents read with their children more, when they play with their children more, the children have an opportunity to think about characters, to think about the feelings of those characters,” Dr. Alan Mendelsohn, the principal investigator of the study, told The New York Times. “They learn to use words to describe feelings that are otherwise difficult and this enables them to better control their behavior when they have challenging feelings like anger or sadness.”