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By Eric Barker
June 22, 2015
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Barker is the author of Barking Up The Wrong Tree

Parenting tips are everywhere but most have zero legitimate research behind them. So what does science have to say? And how can you remember what’s important so you actually use it?

Remember to WACC your kids.

No, I’m not saying to hit your kids. “WACC” is a good acronym to help you keep in mind 4 things that come up in the research again and again:

  • Work on yourself
  • Autonomy
  • Communicate
  • Community

These four things can make a big difference in whether you end up saving college money or bail money.

Let’s break down the how and why on these parenting tips so that your kids end up healthy, smart and happy.

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1) Work On Yourself

This is what many of the parenting books ignore — and it may be the most important.

Want happy kids? Then make sure you’re keeping yourself joyful. Happy parents make for happy kids and parental depression causes child behavior problems.

Via Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents:

And this is not merely due to genetics.

Via Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents:

So other than feeling good about you own life, what’s key here? That ol’ work-life balance.

In fact, what’s the #1 thing kids wish for when it comes to parents? They wish you were less tired and stressed.

Via The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More:

Your stress isn’t just your stress — it’s their stress too. When you’re stressed out it hurts your children’s intelligence and immune systems.

Via The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More:

Yup, you are a role model. So the first step to taking good care of your kids is taking care of you.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

(For more on the research-backed ways to raise happy kids, click here.)

Okay, so you’re taking good care of yourself. What else do many of the parenting tips miss?

 

2) Autonomy

Tiger moms and helicopter parents: your children thrive when they have some room to be individuals.

Kids do better when they make plans themselves or at least have a say.

You should even allow them to pick their own punishments. It creates greater motivation to obey the rules.

Via The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More:

Which kids say they like going to school? The ones who get to pick which extracurricular activities they’re involved in.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

You don’t have to overschedule kids or be involved in every moment of their lives. Unstructured play has huge positive effects on children.

Via Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents:

(For more scientific tips on how to make your kids smarter, click here.)

So everybody always talks about communicating with kids… but what’s that actually mean?

 

3) Communication

You know much real conversation happens at family dinner? 10 minutes.

I interviewed Bruce Feiler, author of the New York Times bestseller, The Secrets of Happy Families and he said the research shows most of the talk at the dinner table is “Take your elbows off the table” and “Please pass the ketchup.”

So what’s the best way to make use of those 10 minutes? Here’s Bruce:

And I asked Bruce what he would recommend if he could only give one piece of advice.

He said: “Set aside time to talk about what it means to be a part of your family.”

Ask yourself: “What are your family values?” In business-speak: Develop a mission statement for your family.

Here’s Bruce:

Research shows whether a kid knows their family history was the number one predictor of a child’s emotional well-being. Here’s Bruce:

Not having family dinner together? You might want to start. It has huge benefits.

Via The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More:

Doesn’t work for your family’s schedule? It doesn’t have to be dinner. And it doesn’t have to be every night.

Via The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More:

I know what some of you are thinking: isn’t all that talking going to mean more fighting? Yes. And that’s a good thing.

Moderate conflict with teens produces better adjustment than none.

Via NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children:

When I interviewed Po Bronson, author of the bestseller NurtureShock, he said more arguing means less lying:

And what’s a quick trick for getting your kid to be honest? Po has an answer.

Say: “I’m about to ask you a question. But before I do that, will you promise to tell the truth?”

Via NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children:

(For more on how to have a happy family, click here.)

Final tip. What else do you need to do? Well, really, it has nothing to do with you…

 

4) Community

Tons of research shows religious families are happier. Why is that?

Further study has shown it’s the friends that a religious community provides. A community of ten supportive friends makes families happier.

Via The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More:

What influences your kids more than you do? Their peer group.

We usually only talk about peer pressure when it’s a negative but research shows more often than not, it’s actually a positive. Here’s what Po had to say:

And your kids need more family in their lives than just their parents and siblings.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

If you had to make sure one family member was consistently there for the young ones, who should it be?

Grandmom. Scores of studies show the incredible benefits that grandmom brings, like teaching kids to cooperate and to be compassionate.

Children who spend time with their grandparents are more social, do better in school and show more concern for others.

Via The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More:

(For more of the latest research on good parenting skills, click here.)

Time to round all this up and add in that last ingredient that makes your kids love you back.

 

Sum Up

Remember to WACC your kids:

  • Work on yourself: Increasing your own happiness and reducing your stress have big effects on your kids.
  • Autonomy: Want them to be successful adults? Make sure they have a say in what they do — starting now.
  • Communicate: Family meals make a big difference. Tell them their family history. More arguing means less lying.
  • Community: Their peers have more influence they you do. Make sure Grandmom is around if you want compassionate children.

One last thing you need to keep in mind if you want a close relationship with the kiddos:

Love. Don’t just be guider, protector and enforcer. Kids are nearly 50% more likely to feel close to those who show them affection.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of Happy Families:

They’re the next generation. They have the potential to be better than we are, so give them every chance. As Dr. Seuss said:

“Adults are obsolete children.”

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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