25 Scientific Tips For Raising Happy (& Healthy) Kids

happy family jumping together
(Image credit: szefei | Shutterstock.com)

Being a Good Parent

A father and son fly a kite

A father and son bond over kite-flying. (Image credit: Sergej Khakimullin, Shutterstock)

There are many ways to raise happy, well-adjusted kids, but science has a few tips for making sure they turn out okay. From keeping it fun to letting them leave the nest, here are 10 research-based tips for good parenting.

Don't be fooled by their height


(Image credit: Dreamstime)

No matter how tall they get or how grown-up they look, your kids are still just that … kids. And parents of older children especially need to remember this fact, according to Sara Johnson, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The developmental period known as adolescence lasts about 10 years — from ages 11 to 19 — and it's regarded as a critical time for brain development. So it's important to keep in mind that, even as kids grow into young adults, "they are still in a developmental period that will affect the rest of their life," Johnson told Live Science in March 2016.

Support the shy ones

A shy boy clings to his dad.

(Image credit: altanaka/Shutterstock.com)

A little bashfulness is one thing, but kids with behavioral inhibition — a trait that refers to shyness and also extreme caution in the face of new situations — may be at higher risk of developing anxiety disorders, according to researchers. And parents who shelter kids demonstrating behavioral inhibition (in effect, encouraging this inhibition) may actually make the situation worse.

So how do you support shy kids? The key is to get them out of their comfort zones without trying to change their nature, said Sandee McClowry, a psychologist at New York University. Why not just break them of their shy habbits? Research has shown that shyness is a part of some children's character and a very difficult trait to change. In other words, it's better to work with shyness than against it.

"That acceptance of the child is a huge, huge thing," McClowry told Live Science in September 2016.

Live in the moment

Parents crouch down next to their young son.

(Image credit: szefei/Shutterstock.com)

Adults tend to constantly think about the future, but kids — especially preschool-age kids (ages 2 to 5) — live in the here and now, scientists say. To get on a kid's level, parents need to learn how to live in the moment, too, said Tovah Klein, director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development in New York City.

This is especially true when it comes to communicating verbally with a young child, said Klein, who is also the author of "How Toddlers Thrive" (Touchstone, 2014).

Instead of telling a 3 year old that it's time to get ready for some future action, like going to school, parents should give their child a set of instructions, Klein told Live Science in August 2016. Replace ambiguous statements like "it's almost time for school" with clear, simple explanations and directions, such as, "We need to leave for school. It's time to get your coat."

Tell them how they feel

A mom cuddles her daughter.

(Image credit: Alena Ozerova/Shutterstock.com)

While older kids are widely regarded as the kings and queens of self-expression, young children often lack the vocabulary to properly label their own emotions, according to researchers who study child development.

Kids ages 2 to 5 are just starting to understand emotions like fear, frustration or disappointment, according to Klein.

You can help your kid express herself by calling out such emotions when you see them. For example, a parent might say, "It's disappointing that it's raining outside, and you can't go out to play," Klein said. 

Slow down

A dad helps his son learn to ride a bike.

(Image credit: Soloviova Liudmyla/Shutterstock.com)

The hectic schedule of adulthood doesn't always vibe with the relaxed pace of childhood, according to Klein.

"Children move at a slower rate," and parents should try to match that pace, Klein said. By scheduling extra time for the little things, like a bedtime routine or a trip to the grocery store, parents can turn hectic chores into more meaningful time with their children, she said.

Limit distractions

a mom working with baby

(Image credit: NotarYES/Shutterstock.com)

Do you check emails or scroll through your social media feeds while spending quality time with your kids? Because you shouldn't, Klein said.

It's hard to be really engaged with your kids if you're distracted by a bunch of other things. And this distracted presence can take a toll on children, who might feel like you're not really there for them when you're attention is divided, Klein said

"Children don't need their parents’ attention 24/7 and 100 percent of the time," she said. But when your kids do need your full attention, you should give it to them without any caveats.

Be polite

A dad shakes hands with his son.

(Image credit: Oshvintsev Alexander/Shutterstock.com)

Want to raise polite children? Try adding the words "please" and "thank you" to your own vocabulary. Kids learn how to interact with others mainly by observing how grown-ups do it and then modeling that behavior themselves, according to Klein. So if you treat everyone — from cashiers and bus drivers to teachers and family members — with respect and politeness, chances are your kids will, as well.

Remember, teenage tantrums are real

A teenager with a backpack sits outside a home, looking very sad.

(Image credit: Sabphoto/Shutterstock.com)

Just when the tantrums of your child's toddler years seem like ancient history, you can expect such emotional outbursts to make another appearance.

Adolescent kids (ages 11 to 19) deal with a lot of social, emotional and mental stress that they don't yet have the ability to process or cope with, according to Johns Hopkins' Sara Johnson. This can result in some serious tantrums, which might surprise the unwary parent.

In such situations, parents should stay calm and listen to their children, said Sheryl Feinstein, author of "Inside the Teenage Brain: Parenting a Work in Progress" (Rowman and Littlefield, 2009.) Modeling levelheaded behavior is a good way to teach your teen the proper way to deal with all that stress.

The golden rule

A dad looks sternly at his teenage daughter

Using harsh words with teens may actually lead to worse behavior, a new study finds. (Image credit: Dad and teen photo via Shutterstock)

We'll keep this one short and simple: Thou shalt not yell at your teenager. Seriously, just don't do it. The more you yell at a teen, the worse they're likely to behave, according to a study published in 2013 in the journal Child Development.

Stick to the basics

A mom cuddles close to her baby.

(Image credit: Vasilyev Alexandr/Shutterstock.com)

"There are a lot of different ways to raise kids, and there's not one formula that works for every kid," said Amy Bohnert, a psychologist who researches child development at Loyola University Chicago. But surely there's some kind of recipe for success when it comes to parenting, right?

Kind of: Bonhert said the first basic rule of being a good parent is fostering a secure and warm attachment with your kids. That way they know their needs will be met and that they'll have a place to go when they need comfort. And as they get older, kids need freedom to explore their own identities and make mistakes, but in a safe and age-appropriate way, Bonhert told Live Science in 2011.

Stephanie Pappas
Live Science Contributor

Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.