Being a good parent isn’t as complicated as you think, according to what has become the longest study of child development in history. For the last 70 years, British researchers have followed the lives of over 70,000 kids—and determined that successful parenting simply requires being engaged with your kids, getting them to bed on time, and reading books.
Known as the British cohort studies, the research has been going on since 1946, with researchers collecting enormous amounts of data. To summarize the key findings for those of us who don’t have time to sift through endless spreadsheets, mom and author Helen Pearson gave a TED Talk on the topic last year in April.
The study found that the biggest factor in a child’s success was how warm and engaged the parents were. The more the parents were interested in the child and the more quality time they spent together, the more likely that child was to be happy and successful later on.
Things like, “talking and listening to a child, responding to them warmly, teaching them their letters and numbers, [and] taking them on trips and visits” are all beneficial. But the research shows that the best way to engage with your child is by reading to, or with, them. Unsurprisingly, children who read more before the age of 10 went on to perform better in school.
And while the study does provide interesting insights (including the importance of a routine bedtime!), Pearson urges parents to think of their own kids first: “Ultimately, if we want happy children, all we can do is listen to the science, and of course, listen to our children themselves.”