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Self Paced

The Science of Parenting (edX)

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Move beyond the chatter and opinion surrounding parenting and learn about the scientific findings and data that can help you make sensible, informed parenting decisions.

Everyone has an opinion on parenting – where babies should sleep, what they should eat, and whether parents should spank, scold, or praise. What’s more, the media often offers support for whichever opinions appear most popular at any given time. This leaves those of us who like to base our decisions on firm, provable facts feeling dizzy.




“The Science of Parenting” addresses this confusion by moving beyond the chatter and opinion surrounding parenting, and by looking directly at the science. Parenting itself is far from a science. Nevertheless, scientists have conducted thousands of studies that can help parents – or future parents – make sensible, informed decisions.

One goal of this course will be to provide a survey of important scientific findings spanning a range of topics that are central to the lives of parents:

- diet;

- sleep;

- discipline;

- learning;

- screen time;

- impulse control;

- vaccination.

We’ll also explore ongoing mysteries, like what causes autism, and why so many children are allergic to peanuts.

Perhaps more important, this course will not only dig into existing science, but will also explore the underlying nature of parenting science itself. Often, scientists measure correlations: they ask how different parenting practices are related to different behaviors in children. But the claims they make from correlational data are often much, much stronger. For example, from correlational data, scientists often claim that parents cause the behaviors of their kids. This course will show how this type of error – common in the scientific literature – can explain a significant amount of the confusion present in the media and general public. We will discuss how to avoid the same error when evaluating science, and how to use the sum of available evidence to inform decision making.

The course’s instructor, David Barner, is a leading authority on cognitive development. He is joined by leading experts on behavior genetics, vaccination, autism, lying, and spanking, as well as by real live parents who try to use science to inform their decisions. This class is suitable not only for parents, future parents, and grandparents, but also for professionals interested in health care, social work, and early childhood education who want to increase their knowledge and analysis skills.


What you'll learn

- Core knowledge on topics including infant sleep, forms of discipline, breastfeeding, language and math learning, screen time, bilingualism, and autism;

- Analytical and applied techniques, including how to compute the contribution of genetics to a trait, how to understand and compute correlations, and how kids can effectively study for tests;

- Best practices for sleep training, discipline, and feeding.



Week 1: The Nature vs. Nurture Debate; Adoption and Behavior Genetics

Week 2: Learning Language; Screen time; Preschool; Music

Week 3: Morality; Self Control; Family Structure

Week 4: Autism and Vaccination; Sleep; Diet & Breastfeeding

Week 5: Learning and School: The Achievement Gap; Learning Styles; Acceleration; Homeschooling


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