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The secret to good parenting

Everyone knows that parenting matters. But which behaviours have the most impact when it comes to the success and happiness of children? 

Author of the “Life Project”  Helen Pearson says the answer can be found in cohort studies, which monitored the lives of British people since 1946.

The research showed that it comes down to 7 key behaviours that make the most difference.  And the happy news is that most of them are entirely within the reach of any parent, no matter their means.


  1.  Talking to and listening to your kids
  2.  Making it clear you have ambitions for their future
  3.  Being emotionally warm 
  4.  Teaching them letters and numbers
  5.  Taking them on excursions
  6.  Reading to them daily (and encouraging them to read for pleasure)
  7. Maintaining a regular bedtime


And while these seem obvious,  it’s this kind of basic but essential parenting that can get lost in the busy-ness of modern life.

Take the concept of quality time, for example. These days many parents are so stressed about having quality time with their kids that they schedule countless activities and bonding experiences. Meanwhile, science shows “quality time” just means quiet moments where you really listen to and respond to your child. Which is, of course, just the sort of thing you crowd out when you’re frantically driving between soccer practice and cello lessons all day.

“Parenting matters,” Pearson declares

While she admits that she was often so busy with work she barely had time for a proper conversation with her three boys. Since writing about the cohort studies she now always sets aside 15 minutes every night to talk to them about their days. And then she makes them go to bed.

“When you’re shouting at your kids to go to bed on time, it really helps to have the scientific literature on your side,” she jokes to knowing audience laughter.

The cohort studies show parental behaviors like these, which are simple to understand if sometimes difficult to maintain day to day, close the gap between kids with the best and worst starts in life by a startling 50 percent. (For the other 50 percent only social and political solutions will do)

When it comes to parenting, the little things matter and they matter a lot. You already know how to be a good parent, and it has nothing to do with fancy enrichment activities or tiny choices about which way your stroller faces. Now all you have to do is execute on it. 



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