Monday, November 16, 2015

Science Backed Parenting Tips (Not Found in your Typical Parenting Book)

9 Science Backed Parenting Tips (not found in your typical parenting book)
Some parents pour through parenting books, looking for the quintessential user’s manual for their children, while other parents fly by the seat of their pants, and parent however comes naturally, come what may. Every parent is different, and it seems like every parenting book gives different advice as well. But there are some tips that it seems most parenting books leave out, free from the general biases and opinions of Joe Schmo’s latest book, backed by scientific research (which, we all know, is just a few steps more reputable than opinion… and sometimes less). Take them as you will, but here are 9 parenting tips based on research studies, and if you don’t agree with them… then treat them like any other parenting book, and parent as you see fit.

1.  Don’t help your kids with their homework
This is something anyone would put in the list of "good things to do for your kids," and is a hard one to resist. Imagine your child, sitting at home, and she says she can't figure out the answer to her math problem. Most of us would jump to her rescue, some would even just do the problem for her. Turns out both are the wrong choice. Research done in 2014 found that helping younger kids with homework doesn't help them perform better on standardized tests, and once they get to middle school and higher, it actually can bring their scores down.

Like most research, you are left to draw your own conclusions as to why this is the case, but there are some theories, and mine are influenced by my personal background of six years of teaching elementary school. I would put parents who help with homework into three categories. The first category is those parents who were so eager to “help” their child, I got assignments done by the parents. The second category are parents who sadly “help” incorrectly, by solving the problems wrong or incorrectly editing writing assignments. At least one study illustrates this problem group by finding that thirty percent of parents admit that they were doubtful about their ability to help their kids correctly do their homework (and common core in the U.S. is probably just making this worse). These parents “helping” actually do more harm than good in another way too, not only because of their lack of skills, but also their math anxiety can be passed onto their kids. One study found that parents with math anxiety who try to help their kids with their math homework results in kids that actually learn less math over the year and “catch” the math anxiety from their parents. Meanwhile, a math anxious parent who doesn’t help their child with homework keeps from “passing it” to their child. 

The third group are parents who are genuinely helping their kids without doing it for them. It is easy to see how two of the three groups are not going to positively benefit their kids or have any positive impact on their testing scores. And since you might not be sure if you are in group two or three… it might be better to just leave them alone to try their best on their own, and let their teacher help if needed.

No one wants to raise college kids who have never had to do homework on their own, so even if you continue to help your elementary school kid, make sure you cut the habit before middle school when the effects are frequently more negative than positive.

2. Let your child decide when they are done eating
"Finish your food, clean your plate, eat more of that please, keep eating, you’re not done yet, you can play when you're done, etc." are all common parental phrases.  And...that's bad.

Here’s the crazy thing- kids are better at knowing how much food they need than adults are.
According to one children’s hospital, children know how much they need to eat, should not be forced to eat anything, and their food requirements can vary greatly even from meal to meal. They specifically say not to make them a special food or offer a substitute if they say they don’t want to eat what you offer.

But you don’t understand, if I don’t force my child to eat… she won’t eat at all!

Interestingly, that’s not true either. A study was conducted on preschoolers, the notoriously picky age group, and some of them were asked to finish their food, and some were left to their own devices. What they found was the the group that ended up finishing more of their food was the ones who were NOT pressured to eat. Plus, those pressured made more negative comments (probably along the lines of “this is yucky”) about their food.

Imagine yourself at two different stores. One of them has an obnoxious sale clerk constantly pushing products on you. The other has a sale clerk who asks if you need help, makes some suggestions, and then leaves you to your own devices. Which are you more likely to shop at? The one that leaves you alone. Kids’ relationships with food appear to be the same way. The more they are pushed to eat, the less they want to eat. The more that vegetables are forced on them, the less they will eat the vegetables. In fact, even a study of college students showed that even as young adults, they disliked the foods forced on them as kids, so those mandates of you WILL eat those peas have lasting consequences.

Asking our kids to finish everything on their plates is another harmful habit we have to break. A study in September found that making your child eat more even when they feel full puts them more at risk of becoming overweight.  It makes sense, if a kid is forced to ignore those full signals when they are young, they train themselves to ignore those full signals later.
So what is a parent to do? One article suggests to give the children an opportunity to choose between healthy alternatives, and start with a small portion size. Your child can choose how much of the fruit, vegetable, and protein they want, and if they happen to be in a hungry mood, they can have more (since it is all a positive choice), if they aren’t hungry, then they can be done, but they don’t get anything else to eat either. There is no incentive to be picky if you learn that there is no grilled cheese alternative waiting for you. As a bonus, less fights, and no extra meals being made.

3. Clean your kids...less
Kids are some of the dirtiest creatures out there. They tend to touch everything, they play rough on the grass and with their food, and it seems like common sense that they should have a nightly bath to clean all that muck and "kid smell" off. Apparently that's not the case.

Our cleaning doesn’t only clean off the bad, it cleans off the good oily protection for our skin. Researchers are finding that kids are cleaned so often, it is causing more cases of eczema, which is dry, itchy irritated skin.

For babies, researchers are saying the maximum is three times a week, and less is okay too. Plus, on those limited times you do give the little food, drool, spit up, diaper blow out, mess of a critter a bath, it is important to follow up with a lotion, particularly a thick or oily one to replace those oils you just washed off.  You can, of course, clean the problem areas as they happen (can you imagine if you didn’t?) but dermatologists say to keep those soapy full body washes for just a few times a week.

Some kids love baths and showers, and for some kids it is like asking them to have pig slop poured on them (though they might actually enjoy that), so to the parents dealing with nightly fights to get them cleaned, good news. The American Academy of Dermatology says that a daily bath is fine, but kids aged 6-11 really only need one or two a week! They give examples of times they need to be cleaned, but otherwise... daily bathing is optional. Once they hit 12, this site does recommend that they join the majority of the adult population in the daily shower/bath ritual (just in time for puberty and the age of the all mighty deodorant).

Adding to all of this is that research is finding that as a nation, we are going too clean, and it is causing an increase in allergies. We buy anti-bacterial soaps, sanitize toys with anti-bacterial wipes at home and basically wage a full out battle against the germs and nasties out there. For all our precautions we are rewarded with… allergies. Yep, research  is finding the cleaner we get, the more there is an increase in allergies as our bodies switch from fighting infection to developing allergic tendencies.

So basically, embrace some dirty and get rewarded with less dry skin, less bathtime battles and less allergies, sounds like a plan to me.
x. Keep quiet while your child plays their sport

Go to any youth sporting event, and you will hear a number of parents cheering, instructing, and yelling various things (positive and negative) to their child.

Trouble is, there is a multitude of things wrong with this sideline coaching, and it is basically impossible to do right.  One study found that (unlike the rest of the time) kids apparently stop playing to listen to what their parents are saying. That’s great! Except now they aren’t paying attention to whatever it was they were actually supposed to be doing at the time you said something.

What if you are just giving well needed coaching from the sidelines… that’s helpful right? Wrong again. Even coaches are taught to not give instructional tips during play time. That’s why you see them sitting down with a video and going over strategy and mistakes after the game, during the game is a time to focus on the task at hand.

Besides, even if there is a moment for in game coaching, it should come from the coach, not you. Multiple sources of “coaching” can result in kids getting confused and frustrated, feeling like a failure and end up making the kids unmotivated to perform and not even having fun playing. Say goodbye to your future professional sports player.

Most of the time, our comments are intrusive, research finds, and are best left to coaches (as hard as it is) to give at the next practice or whenever they go over the game... not mid play.

 x. Don't Give Allowances
The concept of giving an allowance comes from the desire to teach kids how to manage their own money, to become financially literate. For this reason, Lewis Mandell (Ph.D in financial economy), gave his own child an allowance as she was growing upBut then, he started doing some research. He now calls giving an allowance a “form of child abuse”  since the studies show that it actually makes kids know less about money, makes them enjoy working less, and also takes away their motivation to earn money.

The main study that he is referring to is one where students were given a financial literacy test on key money concepts, like saving, spending and credit. Then, they looked at the results, and contrary to what you might have guessed… kids who never got an allowance scored the best. The second highest were ones with allowances tied to chores, and the worse off were those given money for nothing (those slackers). For the record… no one did well.

Not only that, but with teenagers, there is a dangerous trickle down effect as well. See, teens given allowances are less likely to find a job outside the home (makes sense, why work more if mom and dad are already handing out cash). Teens who have never worked outside the home score worse on 4 out of 5 sections of the finance test. So… giving Johnny that weekly allowance (with chores or without) means that Johnny won’t go out and try to get his burger flipping job, and will know even less about money.

So what are parents supposed to do? According to Mandell, it is all about the conversations. / Why and how do parents make the financial decisions they do? If your child wants the next latest and greatest gadget out there, don’t just hand over money. Talk about it, within the context of your family’s financial situation, as well as the valid reasons for it. Then, decide together if it is a good buy.

If you insist on giving an allowance to your kids, experts don’t recommend giving it for nothing (see above) because it tends to create a sense of entitlement… but also don’t pay for chores. Most sites seem to point out that 1- chores come with being a member of the household, and 2- it emphasizes work isn’t fun. Seriously, who among us thinks that chores are fun? While on the other hand, a large portion of the adult workforce aspires towards jobs they are passionate about, and might even go so far as to call fun (at least at times).

If you can’t handle Mandell’s extreme no allowance idea, I recommend the idea that Alisa Weinstein suggests in her book.  She says to connect the allowance with tasks tied to careers. The basic idea is if your child wants to be a chef, then have him cook dinner for the family, design a menu or budget out a week’s grocery trip for him to earn some extra cash.

x. Don't Teach your Child "colorblindness" when it comes to race
Many people's philosophy of teaching about race is to ignore it, and pretend it isn't even a feature. We can talk about someone's height, someone's hair color, or their super cool t-shirt, but kids are taught to completely ignore the color of their skin. The idea is to treat everyone equally, and that is a great thing to teach, but to do it by ignoring a very real part of someone's identity is actually doing them a disservice.

One study had children play a game. It was basically Guess Who, but unlike the version I played as a kid that seemed to have very few minorities featured, this one had about half black and half white individuals. If a child was willing to ask a simple question like, “Are they black?” it would have helped them immensely in the game. But more than half of the kids were unwilling to even ask the question, some of them believing it to be rude , some of them believing that it was actually racist to even ask.

Trouble is, minority kids are getting these subtle signs too. A 2005 study found that teaching Black students that “race doesn’t matter” actually interferes with positive racial identity. One sociology professor goes to far as to say that “claims of colorblindness [saying you don’t see color] are really modern day bigotry.” He goes on to say that our culture works so hard to ignore the differences, the new problem is that the history of discrimination is swept under the rug. The history of Blacks in America is not a pretty one, but it is part of their culture.  Another example of this that made the news recently is of a student’s textbook talking about the Blacks coming over as immigrant workers…not exactly the case. Race does matter, it is a part of who you are, and influences your perception of the world, and too often lately, also how you are perceived as well.,204,203,200_.jpg
The better lesson is to accept the past of your race (good and bad) and see it as a portion of who you are, and then put it all together as a positive self image. 

x. Talk to your kids like adults... even when they are babies
How often do you hear parents use the same "goo, ba" sounds right back to their kids, or use their words like "baba" for bottle? You even hear "kid speak" used frequently with the little ones. "Go park, play swing?" "We go home? Eat Lunch?"

Non-parenting adults find it mind numbing, but the babies love it... so parents keep doing it. Here's the catch, it isn't the best thing to help them learn to talk. They are trying to copy the sounds, the words, and the sentence structure they hear, but if they aren't hearing you talk correctly, they are going to have a harder time learning to put together complex adult sentences later.

This research was reported in a study last year. They found that the babies with the best vocabulary and verbal skills were the ones whose parents talked in full, grammatical sentences with rich varied vocabulary... so normal conversation. So, the next step is getting more parents to learn the best ways to talk to their kids. One study looked at what would happen if parents were trained how to talk to their toddlers with this higher quality language, and gave an eight week course to a group of parents. When the children from this group were compared with a control group, they found that the ones from the test group had bigger vocabularies and processed language faster.

Bottom line is that while your baby will have no idea what it means if their dad says, " I have to go to work in the lab, and run reactions on my chemicals," they are more likely to learn it later if that's the way they were talked to when they were tiny. Languages are complicated, but the sooner that they hear all the crazy nuances of pronouns, verb tenses, and the other things that characterize educated language, the sooner they can start using them themselves (and all the non-parents around you will rejoice as well).

x. Don’t stress about how much time you can spend with your kids
Yes, finally, someone is telling me I can ignore my kids! Fantastic, back to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram I go. Eh... no. The moral of this story is "quality not quantity."

Life is busy, and many families have two working parents, either just to make ends meet, or because they both have a career that they are passionate about. Many of these parents also feel guilty over the lesser amount of time they are able to spend with their kids compared to those with a stay at home parent. Parents in this category go to night stressed about the effect that their jobs are having on their children. The good news for these families, as it turns out, is that kid’s outcomes are completely unrelated to the amount of time that parents spend with them.

The sociologist conducting the research said that she could show 20 different charts of results, and 19 of them would show absolutely no relationship between how much time their parents were able to spend with them, and how the children do later. She goes on to say that is is the moments of connection that are the most important.

In other words, the working mom who spends an hour a day actually playing with, reading with and interacting with her kids is making a better impact on her the kids than the stay at home mom who is on her phone, watching tv, or just working around the house all day, not connecting with them.

The flip side of this is that considerably more effort needs to be made to transform time near your kids to time with your kids. The same article reported that parents who spend the majority of their time watching TV or doing nothing with them actually has a detrimental effect. So, to those working parents, no matter how much you want to spend the chunks of time not at work totally in "zone mode"... try to muster up that energy to play a game with your child. To those moms who feel like you can check the "awesome" box of time spent with kids, stop and think about just how much of that time was really spent with your child... and how much was spent near them. But don't focus on the hours punched on the job, but on the number of "connecting moments" made.

x. Argue in front of your kids

Conflict is a huge part of life, from dealing with the person who cuts in front of you at the coffee shop, to dealing with an impossible boss and/or coworkers to their friends and future spouses. It is naive to try to shield them from all forms of disagreements anyways, especially when it is a perfect teaching opportunity. You don't have to agree, shoot, it's better if you don't, and then give them the opportunity to see what a compromise or someone backing down can do for a relationship.

To be clear, not condoning physical violence, at all, not even a little.  But a mild to medium level verbal conflict between between parents actually can have a lot of benefit for kids… as long as they see the resolution as well. (The disclaimer here is that above a medium, it can get into scary anxiety inducing behavior for your kids... and can start to cross that line from healthy disagreement to verbal abuse at times too, which is not good for the kids... or you).

That impulse to say, “We will talk about this later,” and then resolve it (in the bedroom?) away from the kids means that your children have gotten a great example of fighting… with no real useful information about how to deal with arguments. On the other hand, kids who see the whole drama, especially if it is done with love, support and compromise (which every argument is… right?) has a slew of great side effect for the kids who watch. This includes, “better social skills and self-esteem, ...increased emotional security,...better relationships with parents, do better in school and have fewer psychological problems,” all from watching you argue and make up (not in the bedroom).

It even physically benefits them as adults. Adults who reported seeing arguments at home had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol when dealing with conflicts at home than those whose parents apparently never fought or fought behind closed doors.  Plus, remembering you are modeling conflict resolution might just help you to calm down and make sure that you act how you want your kid to act the next time someone tries to take a toy from them at the playground.

Note- This was the original article that I wrote, and got accepted to the cracked website. They edited it more to the taste of the website, and published the article below. Feel free to read both, but I wanted to make sure that my original, longer, cuss word free article was the first thing that my parents, grandparents etc. read. I am trying to look at it as if they are "translating" my points into the language they feel their readers identify with.