What if I could give you a magic wand that would ensure that your child’s life would be a happy and successful one? Well, I can’t do that (sorry), but I can tell you about a fascinating longitudinal research project that provides excellent keys for raising children who will flourish.
The Life Project is a book that details some of the insights gleaned from a massive cohort-study undertaken in England in the 1940s. Since 1946, researchers have examined the lives of groups of children, beginning at birth and continuing through their lives even until now, with new cohorts being added to the research every twelve years or so.
These lives have been studied in minute detail, which has resulted in the unearthing of a goldmine of game-changing sociological, economic, and health-related insights into how a child’s background and upbringing affect his behavior and his future. Some of today’s accepted wisdom of caring for babies and children came straight out of this research.
For example, when the study revealed early on that breastfed babies thrive better than non-breastfed babies, British midwives were tasked with encouraging mothers to breastfeed, and the rest of the modern world eventually followed.
Hardly anyone seems to have heard of this longitudinal study (I certainly hadn’t), but countless changes in the way we understand and raise children derived from it.
One item I found interesting was that children who have a set bedtime every night are better behaved. This is not only descriptive but can also be prescriptive: It was observed that when children who haven’t had a set bedtime start going to bed at the same time every night, their behavior improves noticeably.
Almost hidden in one chapter is a description of what makes a “good learning environment in the home.” The traits of this atmosphere are said to be more important for a child’s intellectual and social development than parents’ job, education, or income, all factors that are known to be powerful in the life of a child. The playing field has just been leveled. You don't have to be highly educated or financially well-off. You just need to be a warm, attentive (not distracted), involved parent.
According to The Life Project, children who succeed and thrive educationally (and otherwise) have parents who consistently do these things: read with them, teach them songs and rhymes, give them supplies and opportunities to paint and draw, show them the alphabet and numbers, visit the library with them, take them on trips and visits, talk and listen to them, respond to them warmly, set regular mealtimes and bedtimes, and have an authoritative discipline style.
Consistently living this kind of active, warm, creative, responsive life with children—day after day—takes determination and effort because it requires time and forethought. Actually, what it requires is vision. Without a vision for establishing a home environment like this, it can all just seem like a bunch of craziness and mess and pressure. But with a vision, it becomes a meaningful lifestyle.
Knowing how to do this isn’t enough. Thinking it is probably a good idea isn’t enough. Deciding we want to try to do more of it isn’t enough. We have to actually do it!
And, I’m happy to say that I know plenty of families who are doing this. Keep it up!