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What makes a good parent? A landmark study with more than 2,000 parents, presented recently by Dr. Robert Epstein and Shannon Fox at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, ranks ten different kinds of parenting skills that research says help to produce good outcomes with children (happiness, health, success, and good relationships with parents). The main finding is something most people would agree with: that the best thing we can do for our children is to show them that we love them.

But the study produced some surprises too. For example, two practices that help to produce good outcomes with children don't even involve the children.

The first practice is stress management: children turn out better when their parents know how to manage stress. Parents who don't know how to manage stress presumably get upset a lot, and they probably let their children upset them too. That can turn small issues into big issues and small conflicts into big conflicts. But here's the bad news: although stress management ranked high in producing good outcomes with children, it ranked rock bottom among the parenting skills parents actually have.

A second practice that produces good outcomes with children concerns the relationship between the parents: children turn out better when their parents know how to get along with each other. Conflict between parents is very disturbing to children. Again, however, parents rated relatively poorly in this area.

Other notable findings in the new study:

1) Men and women are nearly equal now in their parenting ability.

2) Gays amd straights also score about the same.

3) Divorced parents do as well as married parents.

4) A concern with safety (think "helicopter parenting"?) produces mixed results: somewhat better health, but a poorer relationship between parent and child.

Roughly in order of importance (with the most important first), here are ten important parenting practices, which Dr. Epstein calls "The Parents Ten":

The Parents Ten

1. Expressing Love and Affection: You support and accept the child, are physically affectionate, and spend quality one-on-one time with him or her.

2. Stress Management: You take steps to reduce stress for yourself and your child, practice relaxation techniques, and promote positive interpretations of events.

3. Relationship Skills: You maintain a positive marital relationship and model effective relationship skills with other people.

4. Autonomy and Independence: You treat your child with respect and encourage him or her to become self-sufficient and self-reliant.

5. Education and Learning: You promote and model learning for your child.

6. Life Skills: You provide for your child, have a steady income, and plan for the future.

7. Behavior Management: You make extensive use of positive reinforcement and punish only when other methods of managing behavior have failed.

8. Health: You model a healthy lifestyle and good habits for your child.

9. Religion: You support spiritual or religious development and participate in spiritual or religious activities.

10. Safety: You take precautions to protect your child and maintain awareness of the child's activities and friends.

"The Parents Ten" is copyright 2010, Dr. Robert Epstein.

A technical summary of the research is available here, and a feature article describing the research in Scientific American Mind can be accessed here. Information about Dr. Epstein's recent book on teens, Teen 2.0: Saving Our Children and Families from the Torment of Adolescence, can be accessed here.

You can take the test that was used in the study at

Other tests of possible interest: