7 eye-opening studies from 2015 that could change the way you parent

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Researchers’ never-ending quest to quantify, qualify, and make life better for families turned up some real gems this year. These seven are worth a special underscore with a big yellow highlighter for their fresh and reassuring insights for moms and dads everywhere:

1) To function well, we moms need mother-lovin’ ourselves

moms walking

Walking Women, Swimming Dogs” by Michael Coghlan is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

You know the old joke that “everybody needs a wife?” It’s no joke, says University of Arizona psychologist Suniya Luthar. Though mothers do and do and do for others, Luthar’s first-of-its-kind study in Developmental Psychology found that in order to thrive, we need four things:

  • to feel unconditionally accepted and loved for who we really are
  • to feel comforted when distressed
  • authentic relationships (no posing or pretending necessary)
  • to be satisfied with how often we connect with friends

Where does this magic mom fuel come from? Luthar gave us the answer.

2) All tantrums drive us nuts, but only these are worrisome

tantrums

Prolonged and intense temper tantrums—the super-angry kind that regularly involve hitting or destroying things—are a red flag for future behavior problems, found researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine. About 1 in 20 preschoolers have these “high intensity” tantrums. The good news: with early intervention, later problems can be avoided. About 100 in 100 preschoolers, the researchers acknowledge, have occasional falling-apart, disruptive, scream-and-cry meltdowns that make parents want to crawl under a rock.

Find out more life-changing ways to handle tantrums, from a dad and researcher who studies them.

3) Kids with ADHD “squirm to learn”

All that wriggling and tapping? It’s not a sign of distraction. To the contrary: Wiggling helps kids with ADHD stay alert. A new study in The Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology shows that the more these children are allowed to move, the better their school performance. Most fidgeting happens when they’re using executive brain functions, especially working memory. Rather than being urged to sit still and focus, the researchers say, kids’ movements should be directed. Let them do homework while riding an exercise bike, for example, or take tests while sitting on an activity ball.

Read: our interview about executive function.

4) Tell a picky eater: Go ahead, DO play with your food!

Preschoolers often go through a phase of avoiding new foods, known as food neophobia. Although they usually outgrow it by elementary school, that fear can limit fruit and veggie intake (as well as parental patience, we admit). Solution: Let them play with their food, says a new British study. Kids ages 2 to 5 who were allowed to muck their hands in mashed potatoes and jello to find a hidden toy were more likely to accept new foods.

5) Phones distract drivers—but not just in the ways you think

teen driver

Teen Driver” by State Farm is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Yeah, we thought we had it covered, too, by reminding our teens not to talk or text behind the wheel. Now a Florida State study says a complete “off” may be the only truly safe solution. Human brains can’t bear the Pavlovian ping of a notification, the researchers found. Unanswered rings, beeps, and even vibrations distract as much as if a driver had actually answered the phone or texted.

Here’s what else we learned about keeping teen drivers safe.

6) Permission to skip bathtime

bath

Bathtub shinanegans” by Juhan Sonin is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Now that we’ve come to hand sanitizers in backpacks and antibacterial wipes in the grocery, scientists are shouting, “Enough already!” Overly clean living can actually harm our kids’ developing immune systems. Net result: An uptick in allergies. For kids ages 6 to 11, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends a bath once or twice a week, unless they’ve been in mud or swimming outdoors. And some docs count a pool or lake swim as a bath. The Washington Post sums up the research: “Wash your kid if he stinks or is visibly dirty, but otherwise we can relax a bit on being clean as a whistle.”

Researchers are also increasingly sure how to help your baby avoid food allergies. Here’s the recipe.

Kinstantly KidNotes

Know what your child is thinking, doing (and needs) at every stage.

7) Hovering with love: still no
After a 2012 study surprised the world by finding that—whoops—kids of helicopter parents actually have lower self-worth, are less engaged in school, and do more risky stuff (like binge drinking), its authors wondered if they’d missed something. Were those results offset if choppers were also super-loving? Nope. Their follow-up study, released in June, found that even when there’s lots of parental warmth (defined as communication and spending time together), over-involved parenting does kids no favors.

The Brigham Young University researchers warn against making important decisions for kids, solving their problems, and intervening in their conflicts. “Overall, stepping in and doing for a child what the child developmentally should be doing for him or herself is negative,” says lead researcher Larry Nelson.

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