Every parent has had a moment where they’ve stared at their screaming, tantruming child and wondered, “Am I doing this wrong? Am I creating a monster?”
Raising a child into adulthood is a path full of struggles. We all want our children to be the sort of perfect angels that will make other parents coo in awe and envy, but it doesn’t always work out that way.
As it turns out, though, raising a perfect child might not be such a great thing after all. According to psychologists, some of those things your children do that drive you insane are actually working wonders for their development – and might be great signs about their futures.
The first time I caught my child lying, I was furious. He had just spilled his drink on the floor, and went straight for a bald-faced lie.
“I didn’t do that,” he told me, the milk still pouring out of the cup in his hand. He looked at the mess for a second, thought about it, and decided to throw in an, “I think Dada did that.”
I was angry, of course – but maybe I should have been delighted. Because according to psychologists, a child’s first lie is actually a milestone of their intellectual development.
Every child, without exception, will lie to their parents at least once. Normally, these lies start when the child is two or three. By the age of four, they will start getting a bit more believable – and that’s because the child starts being able to understand your perspective.
If your child starts lying earlier, though, it’s actually a great sign that you’re raising a genius. Lying at a young age, according to researchers, is actually a sign that the child is exceptionally capable of carrying out complex cognitive tasks.
Lying is a really difficult to do. A lying child is suppressing his instincts so that he can accomplish a goal. He has to look at reality and creatively construe it, and he has to memorize the details of the lie to keep it up. A child who can pull it off, then, is demonstrating some impressive abilities.
So, if your child lies to your face, you might not need to panic. You’re not raising a criminal – your child’s just getting a little smarter.
Some children make you fight tooth-and-nail over everything. It can be a parent’s biggest worry – we dedicate amazing amounts of energy to begging our children to listen and to just do what they are told.
If your child doesn’t, though, it might actually be great news. According to one study, those stubborn kids are destined to grow up and get rich.
A group of scientists followed 700 kids over decades to find out which childhood traits lead to success later in life. Year after year, they would check in on the children, take note of their personalities, and find out how they were doing.
When the participants were 40 years old, the ones who had gotten rich all had something in common – they were the ones who didn’t listen when their parents told them what to do. Of every trait they looked at, stubbornness was the biggest indicator of future success.
According to the researchers, this might be because being stubborn is actually incredibly useful in adult life. Stubborn children are more competitive in class, so they get better grades. They’re more demanding at work, so they earn better salaries. And they’re more ambitious, because they don’t mind upsetting a few friends to get further ahead.
It can be kind of creepy to see your kid chatting it up with an invisible friend. When your child starts bonding with someone who isn’t there, it’s hard not to let scenes from "The Shining" come to mind, and it can be tempting to worry about your child’s social future.
Children who talk to imaginary friends, however, actually grow up psychologically healthier. They’re doing more than playing – they’re practicing talking themselves through problems.
These children are learning a skill called “private speech,” which is the ability to talk to yourself. It’s a skill that’s going to make them much better at solving difficult tasks later in life. Private speech helps them control their own behavior, figure out difficult tasks, and regulate their own emotions. It also gives them stronger memories, motivations, and imaginations.
So, a child’s imaginary friend might make it look like they’re going crazy – but it’s actually going to keep them sane.
Watching your child dangle from the cracking branch of a tree is terrifying. Parents’ minds almost seem to be programmed to flash through every possible thing that could go wrong, and then to convince you that every one of these terrible things are definitely going to happen.
It’s tempting to pull your child down and keep them safe inside – and a lot of parents do. Dangerous play is far less common today than it was in our parents’ generation – and it’s having an impact.
Children who play dangerous, risky games are actually doing what they are evolutionarily programmed to do. Just like roughhousing animals, they are learning to regulate fear and anger and to respond to danger.
Without dangerous play, children don’t learn these skills – so they grow up more anxious and less capable of making difficult decisions. This is so serious that the number of young people suffering from anxiety today is at least five times as high as it was in the 1950s.
It’s easy to worry about your children. Every bad action and every bad trait can seem like a crisis that’s going to balloon into a catastrophe in their adult years. The truth is that everything your child is going through is normal – and it’s all just going to make them stronger down the road.
It’s okay for your child to be a little bit less than perfect right now. In fact, it’s a good thing.