While becoming a parent may be easy for many people, doing a stellar job in the role often is not. Here's what the parents of the most successful kids do differently, according to a handful of recent studies.
They limit screen time
You probably understand that letting your child sit in front of a screen for hours at a time isn't good for his or her development and health. But in reality, policing this aspect of life is difficult considering the ubiquity of digital entertainment and the reality of how young people use social media to relate with one another. But it's definitely a battle worth fighting if you consider a study which found that kids whose screen time exceeded limits set by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) actually have less functional brains. Researchers tested the language and literacy skills of 47 preschoolers between ages three and five and conducted imaging on their brains. The kids who had higher levels of screen-based media use had lower microstructural integrity of white matter tracts.
They don't spank
The AAP recently issued its most strongly worded policy statement on this topic. According to a bunch of studies conducted in recent years, corporal punishment has multiple detrimental effects on kids. It can lead to aggressive and defiant behavior, increases the risk of mental health disorders and cognition problems and can negatively affect the parent-child relationship. And why one might wonder why the AAP would even have to mention this, spanking tots younger than 18 months increases the likelihood they get physically injured.
They're warm and accepting
This is especially true for mothers. Researchers at the University at Buffalo in New York studied more than 140 teenagers and found that those who had warm and accepting mothers were less likely to be in an abusive relationship later in life. The teens filled out a series of surveys in eighth grade and later in high school regarding their exposure to conflict between their parents, what their relationship was like with their mothers, and any dating violence which they had experienced.
"Children form internal working models about themselves and others based on the quality of their relationship with their parents," lead investigator Jennifer Livingston said in a statement. "If the primary caretaker is abusive or inconsistent, children learn to view themselves as unlovable and others as hostile and untrustworthy. But positive parenting behaviors characterized by acceptance and warmth help children form positive internal working models of themselves as lovable and worthy of respect."
They make sure kids get enough sleep
Researchers analyzed survey responses from parents and caregivers of 49,050 children aged 6 to 17 regarding how many hours of sleep on average a child in their household gets. According to the AAP, sufficient sleep means getting at least 9 hours on an average weeknight for children aged 6 to 12 years and at least 8 hours on an average weeknight for teens 13 to 17. It turns out that about a third of schoolchildren don't get enough sleep on weeknights. While it might not strike you as the worst thing in the world, it's another thing which the best parents take seriously. Kids who don't sleep enough are less likely to show interest in learning new things, care about doing well in school, work to finish the things they start, do all their homework and stay calm when faced with a challenge.
They play with their kids
Oxytocin is a critical hormone when it comes to mental health because it's involved in social interaction, bonding and relating to others. It's activated when people experience eye contact, empathy or pleasant touch. But how parents -- again, especially mothers -- interact with their babies actually affects the development of their children's oxytocin systems. Researchers studied a session of free play between mothers and their five-month-olds and collected saliva samples from the parent and child during the visit and also a year later. They found that the children whose mothers were highly engaged in the play session had experienced "epigenetic changes" in their DNA. Essentially, they had increased expression of the oxytocin receptor gene, meaning they were better able to experience the positive effects of the hormone.