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The Science of Parenting – An Overview Part 1

Some time back I said I was going to summarise the salient points from the landmark parenting book by Margot Sunderland, titled “The Science of Parenting.” For any person who truly desires to raise their child in a manner that will offer that child the best skills for happiness, emotional well-being and success in life, this is the book for you. This summary is intended to offer the gist of the information from the book, but I strongly recommend reading the book to gain a thorough understanding of the psychology of child development. Implementing the recommended methods of parenting is more effective when you understand the theory behind it.

Who is Margot Sunderland?

Firstly, who the heck is Margot Sunderland and why should we be listening to her? What does she know that makes her an expert and an authority to talk about child psychology or even to tell us how we should raise our children?

Margot Sunderand’s professional background:

  • Director of Education and Training for the Centre of Child Mental Health in London
  • Psychotherapist for children with 20 years of experience working with children and families
  • Runs a Masters degree program in Child Psychotherapy and Emotional Literacy for Children
  • Author of more than 20 published books on child mental health
  • Won an award in Mental Health (from the British Medical Association) for the publication of one of her books in 2002

The Science of Parenting

The research from The Science of Parenting is backed by more than 800 studies from around the world.  The philosophy behind the Science of Parenting is not merely to raise children that become functional adults but for them to become caring, compassionate adults with the capacity to respect the differences of others.  This books reveals the science behind how the early interactions children have with their parents can affect whether or not they grow into adults suffering from depression, anxiety or anger management issues.

When I talk about successful children, I refer to Dr Sears’ definition of a successful child.  A successful child is one that is:

  • able to form meaningful relationships with others
  • empathic and compassionate
  • kind and polite
  • smart
  • healthy
  • able to make wise choices; to think and act morally
  • confident
  • has a healthy attitude towards sexuality
  • able to communicate well
  • has a joyful attitude

As a parent, knowing that my role in his life contributes largely towards the success of my child leads me to relentlessly pursue the parenting methodologies that have been proven to offer a child the best chances for success in life.

Professor Jaak Panksepp who has studied the emotional brain for more than 30 years states that:

  • “children who emotional feelings are cherished and respected, even their angry outbursts, live more happily than those whose early passions are denied.  Both excessive distress and tender loving care leave lasting marks on the emotional circuits , and mentalities of developing brains.”
  • “the first three years of seeking and affectively engaging the world are critical for the future success of every boy and girl.  It is important for them to get off on the right track both emotionally and intellectually.”

“The advances of neuroscience, brain scans, and years of research on the brains of primates and other mammals…” reveal that “key emotional systems in the human brain are moulded for better or worse by parenting experiences.  Although we cannot protect our children from future unhappiness, we now have scientific information about how different methods of parenting impact a child’s brain.”  Although our parents may have raised us differently because they did not have access to the information we have now, the parents of this generation cannot claim such ignorance on the effects certain styles of parenting have on the fragile mind of a child.  We live in the information age and as parents it is our duty to use that information for the betterment of our children’s lives.

This is the first of a series of posts that look at the key points outlined in the book “The Science of Parenting“.  Stay tuned for more on this topic.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

9 thoughts on “The Science of Parenting – An Overview Part 1

  1. You’re welcome. I’m really glad my cousin recommended it to me as well. If she hadn’t told me about it, I doubt I would have even known about the book or gone looking for it. I feel that the book hasn’t received as much attention as it should given the importance of the information within it, hence my desire to blog about it so other parents might read it for themselves.


  2. Hmmmm. I’ve tried to read ‘The Science…’ (I never did make my way through the whole thing – there’s something I found teeth-grittingly irritating about her style) and I checked out the references on some of the more controversial sections – co-sleeping, sleep training. I was not impressed at all. While the number of studies she cites makes it sound as though her science is impeccable, checking out the details makes it clear that her own bias has made its way in when it comes to how she interprets the science. Bear in mind that a second-hand account of a study is only as impartial as the person giving you the account.

    Will try to post more on this if I get a chance.


  3. But is she a parent? I’m always wary of a parenting book by someone who’s never been a parent. No matter how many years of experience you have in child like areas, if you aren’t a parent, you don’t get it.


  4. Yes, you’re right there. That’s the first thing I think about, too, when I see a parenting book.

    Although Margot Sunderland isn’t a parent, I found the book interesting from the perspective that she has presented it – the effects of behaviours and parenting styles on a child’s brain development. It’s quite different from a lot of other parenting books.

    Of course, at the end of the day, as it is with all parenting books, what works and what you end up applying with your own children depends on what you feel comfortable with and your own children’s temperaments.

    I find as I move along on the parenting road that a lot of what I write here works well for my son but doesn’t necessarily apply to children in general. Heck, it might not even be right for my next child! Likewise, it might work for another parent or it might not. But that’s the perspective of parenting that I like to take – trying to educate myself on what is available and applying the best of myself and what I have learned.

    Thanks for visiting.


  5. “No matter how many years of experience you have in child like areas, if you aren’t a parent, you don’t get it.”

    Exactly! I met the boyfriend of a friend once. He was 23 years old – never been a parent. The topic moved to parenting and he made a remark about tying a toddler to a pillar in the house as a disciplinary measure to stop them from “misbehaving”. I looked at him and thought he was joking at first. When I realised he was seriously offering me that as advice, I told him, “When you have a child, come back and speak to me again.”

    A person’s perspective on parenting can change enormously. For instance, I was very pro corporal punishment when I was single and now that I have a child, I’m against it.


  6. Hey, I just wanted to say that I LOVED this book. I think that it should be required reading before having children, they should teach this in high school. It is like a textbook, but all the information is so crucial. It has helped me to parent my daughter better. It has helped me to understand myself and human psychology.


  7. Yes, I found the book an excellent guide for me as a parent, too.

    One of the things I’ve often questioned as I was growing up is why kids/teenagers behave the way they do. One of the reasons why I have always feared becoming a parent is that I would end up raising a child who turns out to be a delinquent. When I became a parent, I searched high and low for books like this one that helped me get a better understanding of how children develop and how we, as parents, can help ensure tha they grow up secure, strong, confident and morally aware.

    I’ve always felt that parents have the ability to raise a child so that he or she is able to stand up in the face of peer pressure and do the right thing. Although there are no guarantees when you are a parent, I still believe we should look for the path that will offers us to highest probability of success.


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