It’s not easy to feel like a good parent these days. Every time you turn around there’s new information–a new study, a new book, a new expert–telling you that what you’re doing is wrong.
Parents today are suffering from information overload, and many are operating at furious speeds, like little mice on exercise wheels, trying to keep up with the advice.
You might start by disciplining your child using time-outs, and then you read a book and learn that sticking your child in a chair is punitive and harsh. So you opt for a gentler approach and try talking to your child about his habit of hitting friends. Then you watch a Dr. Phil show and learn that bad behavior should have consequences and so you revert to time-outs using a 1-2-3 method that you read about in a bestselling book…and then…and then…you go crazy.
One of the most frustrating things with all of this information is that it’s often contradictory. You’ll read one book and learn the key to successful parenting is co-sleeping with your child because it helps you develop an ever-lasting bond.
Read another book and you’re told that you should sleep train, or else your child won’t get enough zzz’s and then he won’t score as high on his SAT because children’s brains develop when they sleep and if your kid isn’t getting 13 hours a night, well, then I’m so sorry….
This information is all unsettling and unnerving at times especially when you pick it up at the park in Noe Valley or Rockridge or Burlingame. Picture this: You’re at the playground and your 3-year-year-old son steals a shovel right from the hands of a baby. You make your son return the shovel. The baby’s mom gets all huffy about your reaction and tells you that toddlers don’t understand the concept of sharing and that you shouldn’t force your child to share and that you’re wrongly challenging his natural instincts…and that’s when you look at your watch and say, “Oh! We need to go meet my husband at McDonald’s for dinner…” (Of course, you’re really on your way to Whole Foods yet you want to give this sanctimom something to freak out about.)
At a certain point some parents lose sight of what really matters. As they’re rushing around town in a tizzy trying to find a mattress that’s free of flame retardants, they never realize just how stressed they get when they worry about environmental toxins–and that the stress is actually stressing out their child.
And so a new study (yes, another study) presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association this past August is quite wonderful because it aims to sort through all of this
information crap and let parents know what really matters. The results are refreshingly simple. Anyone heard of love? Well, “love your kid” is the No. 1 thing you need to do to be a good parent.
Robert Epstein, a longtime professor of psychology, and Shannon L. Fox, a student at the University of California, San Diego, examined data from 2,000 parents, looked at hundreds of research studies, and worked with experts to identify the 10 parenting skills that are most important in bringing up healthy, happy and successful kids. And then they ranked these child-rearing practices.
Interestingly, “stress management” is the No. 2 parenting skill, right before relationship skills–i.e., getting along with your spouse or partner. Neither of these even involve the child. So often parents get caught up in child-rearing and they neglect their relationship with their spouse, never realizing that their deteriorating marriage is far more harmful to their children than a missed nap, an hour of television, or a gulp of water from a bottle containing BPA.
Here’s a rundown of the 10 that are featured in the November/December Scientific American:
1) Love and affection. You support and accept the child, are physically affectionate, and spend quality one-on-one time together.
2. Stress management. You take steps to reduce stress for yourself and your child, practice relaxation techniques and promote positive interpretations of events.
3. Relationship skills. You maintain a healthy relationship with your spouse, significant other or co-parent and model effective relationship skills with other people.
4. Autonomy and independence. You treat your child with respect and encourage him or her to become self-sufficient and self-reliant.
5. Education and learning. You promote and model learning and open-mindedness for your child.
6. Life skills. You provide for your child, have a steady income and plan for the future.
7. Behavior management. You make extensive use of positive reinforcement and punish only when other methods of managing
behavior have failed.
8. Health. You model a healthy lifestyle and good habits, such as regular exercise and proper nutrition, for your child.
9. Religion. You support spiritual or religious development and participate in spiritual or religious activities.
10. Safety. You take precautions to protect your child and maintain awareness of the child’s activities and friends.