The best way we can ensure that new parents know how to work with their children, and prevent any emotional and behavioral issues, is to pair regular doctor’s visits with parenting coaching.
The academic and emotional gaps between children raised in poverty and their wealthier peers begin almost immediately in life. Without effective interventions, an entire group of children faces a continuous barrage of learning challenges, lowered expectations, and missed opportunities to end the cycle of poverty.
While many have struggled to effectively reverse these differences, a group of researchers may have found an effective mechanism to prevent these differences all together. Good parenting and fostering an effective relationship between mother and child can work wonders to change the often-negative behavior that is seen in less-privileged children. Short attention spans, hyperactive behavior, and separation distress are just three of the issues that can prevent children from learning effectively once they arrive at school and lead to other behavioral issues later in life. Although discipline may be our gut reaction to deal with and correct these behaviors, New York University child development specialist Alan Mendelsohn takes a different approach. Instead of approaching these issues with negativity, which can snowball into emotional issues for the child, Mendelsohn encourages parents to focus on the positive behaviors.
Wealthy parents have the opportunity to hone these effective parenting skills in expensive one-on-one coaching sessions. These sessions, which include home visits and a steep price tag of $1,500 to $10,000 per year, are often out of reach for many parents, particularly in lower income brackets. So how can we ensure that new parents know how to work with their children and prevent any emotional and behavioral issues, without financially or logistically burdening new parents?
That was the question that Mendelsohn and his colleagues asked. Their solution was to pair regular doctor’s visits with parenting coaching.
Arriving with their babies and toddlers, new mothers experienced varying degrees of parenting education from their physicians aimed at addressing socio-emotional issues and ensuring that children from less privileged backgrounds were ready for school when they got there.
To measure the impact of these interventions, pairs of new moms and toddlers were put into three groups. For some mothers, their doctors’ visits were not changed at all. As with most new moms, physicians offer basic advice and coaching on reading to their children to support the child’s development. A second group of mothers and children received slightly more support. In addition to verbal coaching, these moms were provided with books, toys, and informational pamphlets. The third and final group received the most parenting support. During their doctors visits, moms and their children met with an interventionist who facilitated parent-child interactions, shared reading materials and recorded the sessions on videotapes. The intervention coaches then informed the new moms about the positive things that occurred during the session and sent home the tapes for review.
With a greater degree of intervention, children showed a greater benefit across a range of emotional metrics. Children who worked with their parents and an interventionist before or after their doctor’s visits were able to focus more and showed diminished levels of separation distress. Overall, fifty percent fewer children in the video interaction group showed signs of hyperactive behavior than those who received no intervention at all.
Their counterparts who simply received toys did also show some gains in their ability to play and decreases in separation distress, but did not have improved attention spans, compared to the control group.
Improving a child’s attention span and decreasing their hyperactivity could have important goals for their overall learning outcomes. Early childhood expert and director of the Children’s Learning Institute, Susan Landry, noted that if children are able to control their behavior and increase their attention, they are able to gain more information during class and activities. This could help correct the gap that begins early for children with emotional and attention issues compared to their focused, and often more privileged, classmates.
Unlike the costly home visit programs that are realistic for only a small fraction of new mothers, this approach is significantly less time consuming and costly. Whereas in-home visits often require 25-30 hours per year, these sessions were only 30 minutes before or after a regular check-up. Similarly, in contrast to the overwhelming cost of at-home programs, these interventions were extremely affordable; the cost of the intervention was lowered to $200.
This current study highlights the benefits from less time-consuming and costly programs and opens the door to a number of low-cost programs that could benefit children from all socio-economic backgrounds. For example, Susan Landry is hoping to use iPads and other technologies to enable parents to work remotely with child development specialists. The more we can do early in a child’s life to prevent these negative behaviors from developing while also avoiding high cost and high commitment programs will surely have ripple effects throughout the educational system and society.