UC Berkeley News


To avoid raising ungrateful kids, just log on
New website encourages emotional literacy in children

| 14 November 2007

Though reams of academic research on how to raise happy children have been conducted, who has the time to read this myriad of findings, boil down the facts, then turn them into practical parenting advice? The campus's Greater Good Science Center is taking on the job with its new website, "The Science of Raising Happy Kids" (greatergoodparents.org).

The site is the brainchild of Christine Carter, executive director of Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center, which examines the underpinnings of happiness, compassion, social bonding, and altruism.

Christine Carter

Carter, who follows child-development research closely, points out that happiness is not necessarily something we're born with but a skill children learn best from their parents. For example, research shows that the road to happiness is paved with altruism rather than materialism. Moreover, children who are praised for working hard rather than for "being smart" respond more positively to all sorts of challenges.

While grounded in rigorous social-science research, the website will answer such common questions as how best to praise your children, how to foster gratitude, and how to establish sit-down family dinners even when everyone is on a different schedule. Carter says her ultimate goal is to help parents raise "emotionally literate" children.

"Emotional literacy is one of the best predictors of school performance and career success, better even than IQ," Carter explains. "Children who can regulate their emotions are better at soothing themselves when they are upset, which means that they experience negative emotions like fear and anger for a shorter period of time. They also have fewer infectious illnesses and form stronger friendships."

Unlike other online parenting resources, the Raising Happy Kids site focuses on the positive rather than approaching everything as a problem. In addition, visitors can receive helpful tips from parents via message boards rather than from pediatricians, nutritionists, and other experts.

Plus, there's not a single advertisement on the site: "We are doing this because we are concerned about trends in child well-being, not because we want to sell something," Carter says.

Right now, visitors to the site will find short video blogs and "Try This at Home" tips. A new theme will be featured each month: Not surprisingly, November's theme is gratitude, while December's is an emphasis on family traditions and rituals as alternatives to shopping and toy fests.

"Scientists have traditionally focused on understanding dysfunctional behaviors, but for the first time we are seeing a lot of research that tells a positive story," says psychology professor Dacher Keltner, founder and faculty director of the Greater Good Science Center. "When scientists learn something about what helps children thrive or what makes them happy or compassionate or grateful, we need to pass that information on to parents."