Secret to happy children is respect and harmony at home, not money

MONEY doesn’t matter when it comes to raising stress-free, well-adjusted kids, a landmark survey of Australian children has found.

Richer kids are smarter, but they’re not happier or better behaved than those from less-privileged families, the study of 10,000 primary school-aged Australian children suggests.

More important than income on children’s behaviour and social skills is their home environment and the way their parents treat them.

“This is a positive finding for parents who don’t have lots of money,” lead researcher Dr Rasheda Khanam said. “Be assured that spending time with kids and having a good outlook is just as important.

“Having a warm parenting style also significantly reduces the probability of hyperactivity and conduct problems. Children are less likely to behave badly and more likely to be social.”

The University of Southern Queensland study, which followed the children from age five to 13, highlighted the effect of non-economic issues such as the type of neighbourhood children are raised in.

Relevant issues included the level of community violence, social values of local residents, access to quality schools and parks, and access to health and police services.

“Good neighbourhood characteristics are associated with fewer behaviour problems,” Dr Khanam said.

“We also found issues such as whether children live with both parents, and the mental and physical health of the parents were more important than income. Of particular importance is the mother’s mental health.”

Dr Khanam said parents should be “investing more time in their children, such as reading to them at home”.

However, the study, published in the latest Demography journal, shows children from wealthier households were more likely to be smart.

“These parents are better able to provide tutors, private schooling and extra-curricular activities,” Dr Khanam said.

She found children from English-speaking homes had worse non-verbal rea­son­ing, literacy and maths scores.

“One possible explanation is that migrant families from some cultural groups, for example Asian ‘Tiger mums’, pay more attention to their children’s scholarly development,” Dr Khanam said.

Toni Prime and her husband Simon Naughton are busy working and raising Brae, 6, Jy, 4, Quade, 3, and Ivy, 1 in the eastern suburbs.

“We’d have more money if I went back to work fulltime, but being at home was really important to me,” Ms Prime said. “We were both raised in the country so wanted the same kind of upbringing for our kids.

“There are routines but things are pretty relaxed.”

Good parental support and strong community ties were important for raising great children, according to one expert. “Child-friendly neighbourhoods are key,” said Ben Edwards, Associate Professor of the Australian Institute of Family Studies.

“It’s about the capacity of the community to look out for kids and make sure they don’t get into trouble.” Having safe and clean neighbourhoods was also crucial, as was access to local parks and playgrounds, regular public transport and basic shopping, Associate Prof Edwards said.

While young children enjoyed time with their parents, that changed as they aged.

“Older children want to spend more time with their friends, so parents have to put in place rules so they know where the boundaries are,” Associate Prof Edwards said.

Having stable housing was also vital, as some families in public housing, or those who moved around a lot, tended to be worse off, he said.

By Susie O’Brien (Herald Sun)