Most moms beat themselves up about the same “failures”: Too many chicken nuggets, not enough kale; zombifying our kids with screens because we just can’t even; not volunteering to be class mom because we may actually drop dead if we take on one more responsibility, etc. But what if we told you the keys to improved parenting have zero to do with those tired old guilt traps? Here, five research-backed secrets for upping your mom game.
1. Go to work
The New York Times cites evidence out of Harvard Business School that kids reap the benefits when moms work: “In a new study of 50,000 adults in 25 countries, daughters of working mothers completed more years of education, were more likely to be employed and in supervisory roles and earned higher incomes.” Career-oriented mamas may also be doing their future daughter-in-laws a favor, as sons of working mothers are more likely to “spend more time on child care and housework” and look to marry women who work. Being a professional may also be a boon to your kids’ physical health. One study out of the Berlin Social Science Center found moms who work a typical full-time job optimize their offspring’s BMI. “Amongst school aged children (8-14 years) the risk [of obesity] decreased when a mother worked between 35 and 40 hours per week, compared to working shorter (1-24) or longer hours (41 or more) a week.”
2. Put them to bed ridiculously early
Parents who put their kids to sleep with the sun (or, in summer, well before it sets) not only have significantly more hours for Netflix; they also have children who thrive. “Research consistently shows that putting kids to bed early is beneficial for their physical, emotional, and cognitive development,” writes Melinda Wenner Moyer in Slate. One study she cites shows “Across all ages, a late bedtime and having a parent present when the child falls asleep had the strongest negative association with reported sleep patterns,” like trouble falling asleep and more night wakings. Sorry, Kourtney Kardashian. Research also demonstrated that children age three and up “without a consistent bedtime routine were reported to obtain less sleep.” A different study she cites found “toddlers with a bedtime before 9 p.m. slept 78 minutes more than those with a later bedtime.”
3. Lock up your phone
Illinois State University family and consumer sciences professor Brandon McDaniel studies the connection between tech-obsessed parents and the resulting behavioral problems in their kids. This phenomenon even has a name: “Technoference.” Per the Chicago Tribune, results of McDaniel’s recent study of 170 U.S. parents “showed that the parents who reported problematic or addictive use of technology — checking phones often, feeling lost without them or turning to cellphones when they are lonely — also reported that their relationships with their children were being interrupted. The interruptions led to kids acting out, turning inward with feelings, or exhibiting aggressive behavior or crying spells.”
4. Sing to your kids
We know that babies recognize their parents’ voices in utero. But the benefits of singing to kids go well beyond bonding. A study out of the University of Montreal demonstrated that singing to babies keeps them calm twice as long as talking to them — good news for showtune-belting mamas everywhere (don’t judge ’til you hear my Eponine). Another study conducted by psychiatrists at Stanford University School of Medicine found that hearing their moms’ voices triggers pro-social responses in kids. Per this research, the strength of a child’s neurological response to hearing his mom’s voice actually “predicted that child’s social communication abilities.” Explained lead author, Dr. Daniel Abrams: “We know that hearing mother’s voice can be an important source of emotional comfort to children. Here, we’re showing the biological circuitry underlying that.” Sally Goddard Blythe, director of the UK’s Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology, suggests singing lullabies and nursery rhymes to babies is “an essential precursor to later educational success and emotional well-being.” Other experts say it enhances their mathematical and scientific abilities. Bonus: Babies are just as into it whether you sound like Beyoncé or Countess Luann.
5. Run around with them
Research from the University of Cambridge shows active mothers “appear to have active school-aged children, who are in turn more likely than their less active peers to have good health outcomes.” The science belies the assumption that all kids are natural exercisers. In fact, researchers “saw a direct, positive association between physical activity in children and their mothers — the more activity a mother did, the more active her child.” The upshot? Sweaty moms = healthy kids.