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The 3 Most Important Parenting Qualities

By Heather Turgeon |

parenting styles healthy kids

Good for you, good for the kids

In the current issue of Scientific American Mind, child psychologist Robert Epstein discusses his recent study on the important components of parenting.

Epstein and his colleagues perused the parenting books out there (according to him, there are 40,000 parenting books listed on Amazon) and distilled a list of qualities commonly thought to improve kids’ lives — gold standards of parenting.

Then he surveyed 2,000 parents and ask them questions about their parenting style, as well as questions about their kids’ well being, and tried to make connects between parenting traits and behaviors, and how adjusted and happy kids are overall. Here’s what he found:

#1 Lots of love. No surprise here. This was the number one predictor of healthy kids.

#2 Parent’s ability to manage stress. A mom or dad’s ability to take care of their own mental health was rated number two.

#3 Parent’s relationship skills. Epstein says this means how well the parents take care of their own relationship to each other, friends and family.

We have to take it with a grain of salt, because the study is based on self-report. We’re not the best at seeing ourselves and taking an accurate reading on our own behaviors, and we might also have a hard time rating our kids clearly.

But nonetheless, I think it’s interesting, the notion that two of the three most important qualities of parenting have nothing to do with the child themselves, but rather how the parent takes care of his or her own happiness and well being, and the health of relationships.

It makes sense to me. Parenting doesn’t just mean following around after our kids and responding to their needs, it’s also about providing a model and a safety net of healthy connections to others.

And our kids need us to take care of ourselves too — this is part of healthy attachment, because it provides them with a safe, stable base from which to come and go. If we’re in a good place ourselves, we’re more open and attuned, and less reactive to ups and downs.

What do you think? Self care and relationship quality crucial to happy kids?

Image: flickr/mikabaird

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About Heather Turgeon


Heather Turgeon

Heather Turgeon is currently writing the book The Happy Sleeper (Penguin, 2014). She's a therapist-turned-writer who authors the Science of Kids column for Babble. A northeasterner at heart, Heather lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two little ones. Read bio and latest posts → Read Heather's latest posts →

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0 thoughts on “The 3 Most Important Parenting Qualities

  1. andrea says:

    Absolutely! This is why the vast majority of children at elite colleges or in elite programs at regular colleges comes from married parents who have never been divorced, and a significant portion of those kids were raised at home by loving responsive mothers.

    A stable marriage and a loving parent who provides most of the care. Not exactly rocket science.

    Of course, this doesn’t fit very well with the single mother chuck ‘em in an institution as soon as possible and get back to earning your cash school of parenting that so many people seem to think is just fine and dandy.

    It will be interesting to see how the children parented largely by paid strangers will choose to parent their own children.

  2. Miss Chris says:

    Mmmmm, bring on the judgy. So delicious and nutritious…

    I think what’s interesting about this is it completely sidesteps so many of the divisive questions about parenting that usually draw so much attention. It doesn’t actually seem to make any mention of whether they are cared for by daycare or nannies or SAH-parents or anything. Just love your kids, love yourself, have a stable home. I find that very reassuring.

  3. Kikiriki says:

    GP! Back so soon? ;)

  4. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    I wonder where the moms who raised such bitchy kids went wrong.

  5. IrishCream says:

    Of course, if those single moms DON’T go back to “earning their cash,” they’re lazy welfare queens who want something for nothing at the expense of the blameless American taxpayer… Man, can’t win for losing sometimes!

  6. wohm says:

    Andrea, what about the mothers who are role models for their children through their careers? hmmm…although I suspect you are just trying to get a rise out of people.

  7. heatherturgeon says:

    Miss chris: a really good point. and just to add, studies on childcare actually show that children who go are just as likely to have a healthy secure attachment to their parents. kids can be flexible and resilient about family arrangements. what matters is that they feel loved and taken care of.

  8. g8grl says:

    andrea: Kids that go to elite colleges overwhelmingly come from wealthy/high income families who can afford to have one parent stay home and take care of the kids. You could just as easily have said rich kids go to expensive schools. Have to say that only the uneducated observe things and attempt to causation.

  9. andrea says:

    “what matters is that they feel loved and taken care of.”

    Yeah, and everybody knows you can buy love. In a daycare center.

  10. IrishCream says:

    I was a nanny for a few years in college (that would have been Columbia, which accidentally admitted me despite my parents’ nasty habit of working outside the home). I was crass enough in my youth to expect monetary compensation, but I still managed to love those girls dearly. I’m still in touch with the family, and in a couple of years, their older daughter will be old enough to babysit my own daughter!

  11. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    Cool story, IrishCream! Similarly, a girl I used to babysit is now old enough to babysit my kids.

    Some kids probably get more out of daycare than being home with their hyper judgmental moms who spend all their time seeking validation for their parenting choices on anonymous parenting blogs. I feel sorry for those kids. Somebody should start a fund.

  12. michelle says:

    Unlike andrea, I actually did go to an elite college. Yes, most of us were the products of married parents. However, very few of our moms were stay at home. Most were professionals like the dads.

  13. TEACH through Love says:

    Interesting conclusion and right on target! Parenting is about being in a relationship with a child and has way more to do with our own ability as adults to model regulation, appropriate responses to stress and healthy interactions. Setting limits and boundaries around behavior can be accomplished by teaching our children through love – our actions speak louder than words!

    Thanks for sharing!

    Lori Petro
    Parent Educator

  14. IrishCream says:

    M_S: I’ll kick in a few bucks! :)

  15. Andrea says:

    @the other andrea: I don’t think my kids would feel a lot of love from me if I couldn’t provide a roof over their heads and food to eat- compliments of (gasp!) working outside the home. By the way, I went to an elite university (Cambridge) and, as michelle said, while most of the kids came from homes where their parents were still together, the vast majority of those kids (me included) had mothers who had careers outside the home. Further, some of the most brilliant kids, including one who got top marks out of all the law students in my year, came from single-mom homes.

  16. SteelRigged says:

    My two year old has been cared for at home by either his father (who works night shift) or grandfather (whose retired) since day one. He desparately wants to go to “school” (the local daycare) with his park friends (other kids from the neighborhoood). We can’t afford it though. What kind of trauma does that cause?

  17. Rosana says:

    @andrea, you can’t see me but I am rolling my eyes at you right now hoping that they will get stuck that way to fittingly respond to every one of your ignorant comments.

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