New Infographic Emphasizes Role of Involved Dads in Children's Well-Being

Section of an infographic with text reading, "Love from Dad Matters. One study found that feeling loved by Dad was even more imp

March 20th is the International Day of Happiness, so don't forget to take time to smell the roses, smile, and read some news about raising happy children! The research-based infographic, "The Science of Raising Happy Kids," highlights the impact of nurturing parenting styles on early brain development, the influence of parents' happiness and optimism, and doing kind acts for others on children's well-being throughout life.

The infographic also emphasizes the high importance of father involvement, citing one study that found, "feeling loved by Dad was even more important for kids' wellbeing, happiness, and life satisfaction than feeling loved by Mom." It noted that the most effective fathers:

  • listen to their kids
  • have a close relationship with them
  • set appropriate rules
  • give freedom when it makes sense

Click here to see the full infographic or here for a text-only version.

Find more information and resources on being an effective and involved father at our National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse website,

Text-Only Version of The Science of Raising Happy Kids Infographic

The Importance of Being Nurturing
Kids with nurturing moms have bigger brains. A study found that preschoolers with nurturing, supportive moms have a 10% larger hippocampus (the part of the brain that handles stress and memory) by the time they get to school age.

Love from Dad Matters

One study found that feeling loved by Dad was even more important for kids' wellbeing, happiness, and life satisfaction than feeling loved by Mom.

The most effective dads:

  • listen to their kids
  • have a close relationship with them
  • set appropriate rules
  • give freedom when it makes sense

Your Happiness Matters

A mom's satisfaction with her life is more important to a young child's social and emotional skills than:

  • her education
  • her income
  • whether she has a job
  • the amount of time the kids spends in childcare

Ideas for ways to spend some time on yourself:

  • watch a funny movie
  • get dinner with a friend
  • do a mood-boosting exercise
  • talk to someone who cares (about you!)

The Importance of Optimism

Fill the glass half full. Kids who learn to be optimistic when they're 10-12 years old are half as likely to be depressed during puberty.

How do you react to problems? Even 5-year-olds can understand the benefits of positive thinking to help them feel better. They get their sunny outlooks by watching how their parents react to problems.

Praise Kids for Effort, Not Brains

Children praised for their abilities or intelligence, rather than their efforts, have a harder time coping with failure.

Kids praised for efforts are more likely to enjoy challenging tasks and show more motivation.

Self-discipline is a better predictor of a junior-high student's grades than IQ. 

Skip the One-Size-Fits-All Approach

When parenting styles aren't suited to a child's personality, the kid is twice as likely to be anxious or depressed.
If your child is good at regulating her own emotions and actions, she'll need less structure and more autonomy from you.

If your child is poor at regulating her own emotions and actions, she'll need more structure and less autonomy from you.

Kids Are More Resilient than We Think

80% of kids who experience their parent's separation or divorce don't go on to have psychological problems
Many kids whose parents maintain respectful communication and cooperation [after separation or divorce]:

  • go on to achieve career and education goals
  • maintain close family ties
  • enjoy healthy intimate relationships

However...Take Off the Boxing Gloves

How you argue matters. Compared to kids with less-hostile parents, kids who grow up with parental conflict:

  • do worse in school
  • are more likely to drink and use drugs
  • have poorer emotional wellbeing

Kids Want Meaningful Lives, Too

Even 8-year-olds are happier if they feel their lives have meaning. Help children find meaning in their lives by encouraging them to do activities such as:

  • doing something kind for a friend or classmate
  • volunteering their time
  • planning an event for friends or family
  • joining a team or club they care about

Encourage Generosity

Performing kind acts made pre-teens happier-- and better liked by their classmates, too.
Simple acts of kindness for kids:

  • text a friend who's sad
  • share something of yours with a younger sibling
  • compliment a kid you don't know
  • spend time with an older family member

Studies show that even toddlers are happier when giving treats to others than receiving treat. (And they're happier giving away treats that belong to them then identical treats that don't!)

Kids Have 8 Fewer Hours of Unstructured Playtime Than They Had 20 Years Ago

Play helps kids develop:

  • creativity
  • motor skills
  • emotional strength
  • cognition
  • social skills

Encourage Kids to Get Physical

Playing sports on a team or just for fun makes kids happier and better behaved
Feeling competent is the secret. Tweens who think they're good at a sport have higher levels of wellbeing than kids who actually are good at it.

Get off the couch! Watching TV is linked to unhappiness. A 7-year study of over 4,000 teens found that those who watched more TV were more likely to develop depressive symptoms, with the rate increasing 8& with every additional hour of TV watched.

Which Countries Have Happy Kids

In a study of 12 countries including the U.S., UK, and Canada, the happiest kids live in:
1. Mexico
2. Spain.
3. Brazil
4. Germany
5. U.S.A.

At the bottom of the list?
11. Japan
12. Poland

What makes Kids Happy?
1. Family
2. Friends
3. Playing
4. Participating in sports
5. Toys

In a survey of over 4,200 kids in 12 countries: 90% of kids say they're happy all of most of the time.


Luby, J.L. et al. (2012) Maternal support in early childhood predicts larger hippocampal volumes at school age. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Rohner, R.P, Khaleque, A. (2012) Transnational relations between perceived parental acceptance and personality dispositions of children and adults. Personality and Social Psychology Review.

Bamford, C., Lengua, L.J., Bush, N.R. (2011) Temperament variation in sensitivity to parenting: predicting changes in depression and anxiety. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.

Kelly, J. B. and Emery, R. E. (2003) Children's adjustment following divorce: Risk and resilience perspectives. Family Relations.

Holder, M.D., Coleman, B. Wallace, J.M. (2010) Spirituality, religiousness, and happiness in children aged 8–12 Years. Journal of Happiness Studies.

Aknin L.B., Hamlin J.K., Dunn E.W. (2012) Giving leads to happiness in Young children. PLoS ONE.

Layous K., Nelson S.K., Oberle E., Schonert-Reichl K.A., Lyubomirsky, S. (2012) Kindness counts: prompting prosocial Behavior in preadolescents boosts peer acceptance and well-Being. PLoS ONE.

American Psychological Association

Donaldson S.J., Ronan K.R. (2006) The effects of sports participation on young adolescents' emotional Well-being. Adolescence.

Primack, B.A., et al. (2009) Association between media Use in adolescence and depression in Young adulthood. Archives of General Psychiatry.

Global Kids Happiness Index. The Marketing Store. (2013)

Padilla-Walker, L.M., et al. (2012) Keep on keeping on, even When it’s hard! The Journal of Early Adolescence.

Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman

The German Institute for Economic Research

Mueller C.M., Dweck, C.S. (1998) Praise for intelligence can undermine children's motivation and performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Duckworth, A.L., Seligman, M.E.P. (2005) Self-discipline outdoes IQ in predicting academic performance of adolescents. Psychological Science.

Musick, K., Meier, A. (2010) Are both parents always better than one? Parental conflict and young adult well-being. Social Science Research.

Baxter, J. Weston, R., Qu, L. (2011) family structure, co-parental relationship quality, post-separation paternal involvement and children's emotional wellbeing. Journal of Family Studies.

Ginsburg, K.R. (2007) The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent-child bonds.