How can parents become better researchers?

You may think of "research" as a task you're happy to be rid of now that you don't have to write research papers. But research is really just asking questions about the world around you. And asking questions is so important when navigating the deep waters of parenting advice. Good research skills can help you make rational decisions about your child's medical care. They can help you recognize differences between safety and safety shaming. They can help you evaluate claims about preschool educational philosophies. They can even help you relax when your kid refuses to do anything but watch unboxing videos on YouTube.

We have already identified strategies for evaluating any parenting resource you come across. Now, we're zooming out to look how strong researchers find new material. 

  1. Find resources in lots of formats. An Instagram feed like Honest Toddler comes in handy when you need a mid-day pick-me-up. Your child may not appreciate you reading a book for a half hour when he wants to play, but may tolerate--and even enjoy--a podcast like The Longest Shortest Time. Longer-form reads can help you think about deeper, more philosophical questions, while shorter ones can help you make small, everyday changes.

  2. Follow favorite resources for easy access. You can follow your favorite sources in lots of ways. If you're not already using a news aggregator like Feedly, Medium, or Apple News, consider signing up (and follow snackdinner on Apple News!). The more you input into these apps, the better they will get at understanding what kinds of parenting advice you want to read, resulting in fewer "you're doing it wrong" articles popping up in your news feeds at 3 AM.

  3. Consider what different types of evidence allow you to do. A well-run randomized controlled trial can help you make decisions about a particular health intervention for your child. An anecdotal description of a parent's struggle is not "proof" that his or her strategy worked, but it can be an excellent source of inspiration and comfort. Knowing what you need at the moment can direct you to the type of source you are looking for.

  4. Question the parenting principles that appear most obvious to you. Think of yourself as the Bill Maher of parenting. Start with a concept that you think is necessary--your sleep method, for example--and find authors who write about different sleep methods. Imagine yourself in a conversation with these authors. What are the major points of debate, and where do you and the authors fall on these points? Thinking in this way may help you gain insight from even those perspectives you think you wholeheartedly disagree with.

  5. Write fan mail. Many parenting blogs are relatively small operations, and the writers behind them are happy to share resources and ideas with you. Want to read about a certain topic? Use a blog's contact link to pitch your idea.

  6. Seek out resources you've never heard of. Story time isn't just for kids! One great way to find new material is to go to the library. Look up a book you like, jot down the call number, and have your kiddo help you find it. Then, browse the books around that book and see what surprises pop up.

  7. Search for non-parenting sources. Identify a concept outside of the "parenting" field that you think could help you in your parent research. Take statistics and probability, for example. Parents devote an inordinate amount of time and mental energy to worrying about bad things happening to their children, often with little cause. John Allen Paulos' Innumeracy is a great place to start if you want to sharpen your mathematical thinking.