NUS Study Shows Parents Who Has More Self-Control & Less Financial Stress Have Children Who are Stronger Mentally


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Have you watched shows or movies where the child falls and the mum handle the situation gently and thought about how that never happens in real life?

If I fall from running around, all I’ll be met with is scoldings and “I tell you already don’t run, now you see!”

I’m sure that many Asians relate to that scenario. The scoldings and punishments is so memorable that receiving that stare from your mum is enough to stop any nuisance.

A recent study conducted by National University of Singapore (NUS), however, sheds light on a different approach that can alter a child’s emotional development and resilience. Parents who exercise more self-control and face less financial stress, have children who are stronger mentally. These parents also don’t use harsh punishments.

How the Study was Conducted

The research team was led by Dr Chen Luxi and Professor jean Yeung Wei-Jun from the Human Potential Translational Research Programme at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at NUS.

More than 2,600 young children in Singapore were studied during two time periods: from 2018-2019 before the COVID-19 outbreak and in 2021, during the second year of COVID-19.

The children were aged between three and six before the COVID-19 outbreak and were from diverse ethnic backgrounds: 66.8% were Chinese, 15.8% were Malays, 12.3% were Indians and 5.1% were from other ethnicities.

NUS revealed that this is the first study in Asia to research a large, diverse group of young children by understanding how their environment and individual characteristics affect their emotional well-being.

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, the research team measured the primary caregivers’ verbal cognitive ability, self-control, economic stress, and parenting strategies.

This includes how much control they set for their children.

They also had to rate the level of safety and cohesion in their neighbourhood based on whether it was a good environment to raise children and if it is safe to walk alone at night. Additionally, other factors such as characteristics of neighbours, were considered.

One intriguing aspect of the study involved the assessment of children’s self-regulation through the Delay of Gratification task.

In case you were unaware, Instant Gratification refers to the immediate desire to feel satisfaction. Delayed Gratification, on the other hand, is the act of resisting an impulse to immediately take an available reward in order to receive more valuable rewards in the future.

In this case, the “rewards” provided to the children balloons, stickers, and erasers. Each child was given the opportunity to choose one reward now or more rewards later after a 10-minute game.

This evaluation highlighted the importance of delayed gratification—a child’s ability to resist immediate temptations in favor of greater, future rewards—as a crucial component of self-regulation and long-term goal achievement.

What the Study Revealed

The study found that parents a higher level of verbal cognitive ability, stronger self-control and less stress were more likely to use functional strategies to interact with their children. This includes setting clear rules and providing guidance, discussions, and encouragement rather than harsh punishment.


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“From early childhood, the development of self-regulation begins as the child moves from external control from parents to understanding and practicing how to control their emotional and behavioural impulses internally,” the NUS study revealed.

Positive interactions between the child and parent will enable the children to “develop self-regulated behaviours, which further build their resilience.”

Children will benefit from better self-regulation as they will gain emotional resilience, thus reducing a high risk of emotional symptoms in the future. This means that the children can better handle adversities.

On the other hand, the study revealed that parents who uses harsh punishments such as aggressive control, physical punishment, and criticism, without providing the child with age-appropriate autonomy, negatively impacts the child’s self-regulation ability.

Furthermore, these interactions result in more internalising symptoms such as anxiety and depression.


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Overall, Dr Chen emphasised that educational level and financial status of the parents are significant factors for functional parent-child interactions.

Ultimately, children who have greater self-regulation will less likely internalise problems under stressful or challenging situations. This means that they will have greater emotional stability when faced with adversities.

Apart from primary caregivers’, the study revealed that the environment also affects the child’s emotional resilience. The study also found that “children who lived in a safer neighbourhood with stronger cohesion and greater social support before the Covid-19 pandemic showed fewer emotional symptoms during the pandemic and experienced less aggravation of internalising problems over time.”

How Parenting Style Affects Children

The research ultimately revealed that parent and child interactions have a huge impact in the children’s self-regulation and emotional well-being.

Currently, Singapore is facing declining fertility rate which has reached its lowest record. One of the reasons behind the lower birth rates, among others, is the pressure of being good parents.

Thankfully, the study provides valuable guidance for future parents. Similar to study, the “gentle parenting” movement have been plastered all over social media. In case you have never come across it, let’s just say it greatly differs from the parenting style most of us grew up with.


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Gentle parenting focuses on being empathetic, and teaching respect, understanding and boundaries to children. For example, instead of punishing children for their behaviour, the goal is to teach the child and correct their behaviour.

Functional strategies can always be used to foster positive parent-child interactions. For example, picture a scenario where a kid spills their drink all over the floor.

If a parent practices gentle parenting, they will react calmly and clean the spill together with their children. In contrast, some parents might shout and scold the kid for their mistakes. These strategies can always be practiced and learned to ensure better self-regulation in children.

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