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Specialized ProfessionI'm David Barner, a professor of psychology and linguistics at UC San Diego. My free online course “The Science of Parenting” is open for enrollment today – Ask Me Anything!

Sep 7th 2017 by DavidBarnerPhD • 16 Questions • 56 Points

Hi Reddit, I'm David Barner, a professor of psychology and linguistics in the UC San Diego Division of Social Sciences. You can read my full bio here, and enroll in my free online course The Science of Parenting.

I'm here to answer your burning questions about parenting.

Here's my proof!

Ask Me Anything!

EDIT: Wrapping up to get back to work. This has been a great conversation! Feel free to leave questions that I can answer later. Thanks, everyone!

Q:

My husband is Hispanic and I'm anglo and we want to raise our child (arriving in 3 months!) bilingual English/Spanish. We both studied linguistics as well and know there are many ideas for raising a child bilingual. Do you have any recommendations on the best approaches to raising a child bilingual (e.g. each parent speaks only native language to child, speaking minority language at home until a certain age, etc)?

A:

Welcome fellow linguist! My suggestion here depends on where you live. Are you in the US or another English dominant environment? If so, then I would go full-Spanish all the time. However, if you're in a Spanish-speaking environment, I'd recommend speaking only English at home, and sending your child to an English language school. If the environment is mixed, you have to think about who your child's friends are likely to be (who do they identify with). Ultimately it is your child's peers who will determine their language preference, if not their fluency. In my home, we sent our daughter to a French school, spoke as much as we could in French, and I read to her at night in English to share our love of books. Her English is off the charts despite all of this (and stronger than her French), because everything else around her is in English. I hope this helps! DB


Q:

I am a young teacher and I work at a school that has lots of upper class students with indulgent/neglectful parents. I am usually authoritative and it's been working out okay as a classroom management technique. But how do i reason with parents concerning their parenting styles, especially since I am younger than them?

A:

This is a great question, and not one I can answer as a scientist. However, I can tell you what I might do, which is to give advice only when it's solicited. Parents are extremely unlikely to use unsolicited advice, and so I suspect that it not only won't help, but it may also make them feel judged, and make it harder for you to be there as a resource for them later if they do need advice. Again, not science, but what I'd do! DB


Q:

Good Morning! I'm on week 2 now but I must say that the course is excellent! Exactly what every parent needs. As a parent of a would-be trilingual child, I just want to ask you to share any specific tips and challenges that you faced in your family. Also, has anyone told you that you remind them of Tyrion Lannister?

A:

Hi there - Great question - but Tyrion Lannister! Ha! Anyway, my child is bilingual (French/English), and a key thing for us was involving her in a community of French-speaking friends. Every child is different, but in our case our daughter leans heavily toward the language of her peers, and at this point prefers English even if we speak to her almost only in French and she went to a French school for 6 years. It's a bit of a battle, but well worth it in my opinion! DB


Q:

So far as I know, many studies have shown that physical punishment like spanking has a detrimental effect on children. This is true apparently even when people say "I was spanked and turned out fine." My question is, are there certain conditions where spanking (whether it be an amount of force, the object used ((belt vs open hand)), or even the age range of the child) is effectual? And secondly, what happens when things like positive reinforcement and other discipline styles simply don't work?

A:

Let me put on two hats. First, the science: spanking is correlated with negative outcomes, but we don't have randomized controlled trials of spanking (for good reasons) so we don't actually know whether it's the spanking that causes the outcomes, or whether parents who spank are more inclined to violence and thus inhibitory control problems, and thus are biologically more likely to have kids with these problems, or whether there's some other explanation. At the same time, there is evidence that not all spanking is created equal, and some experts have argued that although it's not preferable, it can be used without having negative consequences (e.g., if it is principled, not excessively violent, not done in moments of anger, etc.). Now, as a parent, I'm inclined to think we should not take chances with that correlation, in case it is causal. And I also think (see the post on being warm and kind) that it risks breaking a bond of trust and respect with your child. But that's not science - it's me as a parent. DB


Q:

But that's not science - it's me as a parent

Have you had any situations where you as a parent could not reconcile with what science was conclusively telling you and you went with your gut anyway?

A:

Oh ya. Screen time. The science tells me it won't hurt my child cognitively, but it makes her a mean beast (and adults too). We just went through a big change in our house where we deleted our iPads, and I lobotomized my iPhone. You can find a blog on that experience here: https://meaningseeds.com/2017/09/04/how-i-lobotomized-my-smart-phone-and-regained-control-of-my-brain/


Q:

Good Morning Sir, I am on course since last two week. It has been excellent course. My child is addicted to some specific objects, like always repeat one rhyme, always wants to wear same dress, not concentrate. Is anything abnormal about it? or it just child mind. Any suggestion about it?

A:

Hi there: I can't say based on this description whether there's reason to worry, and I'd hesitate to make a diagnosis as a researcher. However, I can say that many children become obsessed with clothing, objects, collections, etc. The question to ask is whether these behaviors interfere with the child's life in any way, making them or you unhappy, or interfering with school, friends, etc. If so, then you might want to consult an expert. I hope this helps. DB


Q:

Hi Prof .. I actually just started the course. Hoping to use some of these learnings as I raise my my 2 kids ( son is 2 and half years old and daughter is 3 months ). I was wondering what your thoughts are on kids sucking their thumbs ? I am trying to get my son to get rid of this habit. I have tried reasoning ( does daddy suck his thumb, does mommy suck her thumb ) and have tried putting vinegar on his thumb to stop him from doing it.

Also, my son seems to stutter a bit when he is trying to form full sentences. Is that normal for kids his age. Any recommendations on how we can work with him on this ?

A:

I have no specific advice on thumb sucking, except that I've known many children who suck their thumbs, but exactly zero adults. Kids will always stop on their own if parents can't make them stop. So, I guess if this were my child I would decide how important it is to me, and how this compares to the effect I think the struggle is having on my relationship with my child. About stuttering. Lots of very little kids stutter and it resolves itself. The question I'd ask here is whether it is making the child unhappy, or interfering with their life. If it continues as your child approaches school age and you begin to worry about its impact on social and school life, you might consider consulting. But again, this will very often resolve itself. DB


Q:

Hi professor. Thanks for the interesting lectures and follow up. I wanted to learn more about the 5 characteristics of executive function. What would you recommend?

Also it seems surprising to me that only 5-10 percent of parenting effects childhood. Assume 50 percent genetic and 50 percent environmental with 5-10 percent being parenting. Of the remaining 40 percent environmental factors how does that break out? Thank you

A:

Hi there: If you'd like to learn more about executive function, I recommend the brilliant work of UBC's Adele Diamond. She has a Ted talk and has written a ton on the topic. http://www.devcogneuro.com/

About the effects of parenting. Behavior genetics studies certain types of traits and behaviors, and of the things it studies we do indeed find relatively small effects of parenting. It's an amazing finding, that is hard to accept as a parent, because it just FEELS like our choices and behaviors matter. About that other 45%: Judith Rich Harris wrote an interesting book on the topic called the Nurture Assumption. She has a really interesting hypothesis she explores in that book, that most of that 45% comes from peer-group affiliation. It's worth a read! You can find the first chapter for free on the NY Times, here: http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/h/harris-nurture.html?mcubz=0 DB


Q:

Does your course delve at all into the issues of step-parenting or parenting adopted older children? How much do you think the advice would differ in those situations?

A:

My class deals quite a bit with adoption, studies of adopted children, and effects of adoption on children, but it doesn't focus on offering parents advice per se. Instead, I focus on what the data are, and how to think critically about science. In my on-campus class, I couple these videos with in-person appearances by real parents, who have fostered, or adopted. I do this because I think that the best advice will come from people who have lived through these experiences. My advice to you, if you're considering adopting or fostering, is to reach out to other people who have lived through this experience. Meanwhile, I think the class will give you important resources based in fact to understand what your child is experiencing, and to what extent you can have an impact on their life. I hope this helps. DB


Q:

The part of my question that's relevant to me is actually the step-parenting (definitely not considering adopting!). I just broadened my question because I thought it might be interesting and relevant to more people.

A:

Gotcha. I think that class may provide some foundations for you to build from, though step-parenting does offer its own unique challenges, and probably would be made easier by talking to others who share the experience. Good luck! DB


Q:

I took PSYC 190 in the winter with Hanes, and she said that if we were going to only take one thing away from the class, it should be that warmth is the most important thing in parenting.

Would you agree?

A:

That sounds right to me: And just taking your child seriously - like you'd want to be treated. It's sometimes hard to remember that our kids are little people whose emotions (though sometimes seeming contrived to us) are very real to them in the moment. So yes, warmth, and kindness. DB


Q:

Hello Professor,

I had a question about toys and games - their quantity and types: How many toys / games are recommended for infants & toddlers? As many as practically feasible? Are there specific types that are more useful than others? E.g. Those recommend by Fisher Price? :)

A:

I wish I could offer some science for you here. Some of my colleagues would probably say that less is more: Kids are brilliant at creating realities and stories and fun in their own minds. Most of my child's toys go unused, and instead she draws, or goes outside and plays in the garden. I wish I could say more! DB


Q:

Dear Sir,

I am very interested about child nutrition. Some child does not take food properly and simply refused it(like regular food) but interested about chocolates etc. So how can we manage proper nutrition for child. Can you please give insight about it?

A:

Excellent question. This is a notoriously hard problem that many parents face. And me too. For us, there were three things we did. First, the reward value of foods like fruits and vegetables is relative to the other options. Strawberries seem like an amazing treat if you've never had chocolate before. So, for her first two years of life we gave our child NO sugar, chocolate, or even cake for her birthdays. And she didn't notice at all. In fact, to this day she finds icing too sweet. But in general, sweets compete with fruit, vegetables, etc. Second, even if she refused healthy foods over and over, we continued to put them on her plate. And now after 8 years, she eats them. Don't give up! Finally, I tried something I read somewhere, which really worked. At the beginning of every meal, when the child is hungriest, put the vegetable part of the meal on the table alone, before the other food, and make eating a tiny tiny portion of it a prerequisite to moving on to the main meal. For many kids this should work. I hope this helps. DB


Q:

Hello Professor,

thanks for the wonderful course!

I have a question: Is there an ideal age to start at a daycare (if other practical considerations are not a factor)? Some factors I am thinking of: Positive: interaction with other kids, handled by professionally trained staff, ...; Negative: Separation anxiety, exposure to infections, ... E.g. Is four months too early to start at a daycare?

A:

Hi there. I think there are so many factors here, including the social and economic needs of the parents. But for the children, I know of no good evidence that starting early does damage. Gentle exposure to microbes is fairly normal and may even be positive long term. Social interaction can be gotten both at school but also at home, with play at the park, etc. In our case, we couldn't really choose: In the US daycare there's almost no parental leave. And so our daughter went from around 8 months forward. But she seemed to really like it, and didn't seem unhappy at all (except at dropoff). I guess one thing you could do is try, and see how you and your child respond. DB


Q:

Dear Sir,

What should be approachable procedure to prevent child from Obstinate?

A:

Hi there - If you find the answer to this, please do let me know! Here's how I think about this. My own child is quite obstinate, and this is a very frustrating personality trait as her parent. What I try to remind myself is that this same trait will probably make her stand up for herself and for what she believes in later in life. So even if we can't control our kids, maybe we can find ways to appreciate the positive side of the behaviors we find frustrating. Meanwhile, what do we do when our child is obstinate? We try to keep things calm, offer choices rather than ultimata, and only bring out the big guns (privilege removal) when absolutely necessary. Good luck - that's a hard one! DB


Q:

When trying to teach a young child (>4) cursive, is it best to treat it like another language entirely to them? Id like to teach my kid cursive writing, but I dont want them to confuse print and the cursive style. I'm not sure if im asking the right person, so forgive me if its out of your field.

A:

Don't worry about this at all. Lots of schools still teach cursive with success (e.g., in France this is standard curriculum). Kids learn to print, learn to type, learn to read different fonts. In a way they are a little like learning different languages, but much, much easier (assuming the child has the needed motor control). Our daughter writes cursive and was taught from the beginning at her school. It didn't seem to confuse her at all. Sounds like a fun project! DB