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University of California, San Diego

The Science of Parenting

University of California, San Diego via edX


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 leavesthose of us who like to base our decisions on firm, provablefacts 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 coursewill 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 coursewill 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 coursewill 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. Wewill 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.


  • 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

Taught by

David Barner


4.0 rating, based on 2 Class Central reviews

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  • J. Doe
    An excellent course helping develop skills to understand the reporting of many research issues related to parenting. (discipline,diet,sleep, the nature of learning,screen time, impulse control and vaccination)

    The way the peer assessment was done was the best I have seen in any online course, and the assessment as a whole was a great aid to learning. Lectures were clear and well structured.

    If every person who was about to embark on parenting completed this course, the world would be a better place.

    Congratulations to Professor Barner and the team at UC, San Diego.
  • Anonymous
    It's a very academic course, therefore, less practical. Going through the theories is somewhat boring as a lay person outside the field. I am a new parent, the lesson is not that useful as a guide that can tell me what to do. what the latest science says about a topic is often mixed, in the end, you can do either way.

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