The success of millions of children entering kindergarten this fall may depend on their relationships at home before they ever enter school, according to a new Colorado State University study.
Zeynep Biringen, associate professor of human development and family studies at Colorado State, has found through a study funded by the National Science Foundation that children who have positive interactions and a good rapport with their parents were better at forming constructive relationships with their peers and teachers. Those children also were better at avoiding distractions and more focused on schoolwork.
"The emotional availability between a parent and a child turned out to be an incredible predictor of how well the child related with other children, the teacher and with school in general," said Biringen. "A parent being connected, ready to talk and ready to express feelings helps the child as she or he makes the transition to school and helps the child bond with school."
As part of the study, preschool children and their mothers’ interactions were observed during several different activities before they entered school. As the children transitioned into school, development of their peer and teacher relationship was followed closely. Their kindergarten teachers also participated in the study and provided assessments of how well the
children were adjusting to their new school environment. Children who had positive emotional connections with their mothers were found to be more attentive, less aggressive, less distressed and less likely to be victimized by other children.
"We have learned that a parent’s emotional availability with a child is definitely related to early learning," said Biringen. "The emotional quality of what goes on at home has an impact on the child long before they start school."
Biringen also looked at the children’s intelligence and verbal ability as part of the study. She found that children who had better connections with their parents outperformed children in many areas who were not as well connected, even though their intelligence and verbal abilities were equal.
As part of being emotionally connected with their child, parents can play an important role in their child’s first experiences at school. Biringen suggests that, when dropping off your child for the first time, be patient with separation issues, but over time parents need to leave so children can adjust to school on their own. In some cases, children adjust easily and then after a week begin to experience separation issues. It is important to continue to be emotionally available to your child’s reawakened needs for connection, caring and reassurance of safety and trust in the new environment.
Biringen also suggests that parents be ready to listen to their children after school and pick up on cues about what they want to discuss, such as a new friend or new concerns. Parents should be the emotional follower and let their children set the pace of what they would like to involve them in. It’s a very good sign if there is a lot that your child is sharing with you after school. Parents should remain connected with the teacher, with their children and what they are experiencing at school.
"The most important factor for parents to keep in mind from this study is that it’s never too late to improve their emotional connection with their child," said Biringen. "A positive parent-child connection will continue to help the child throughout their school years."
From her observations, Biringen is writing a book for parents, "Connected for life: Strategies for creating emotional availability between you and your child" to be published by Perigee Putnam next year.