Children in low-income families have a greater chance of thriving when they have high-levels of parental involvement and supervision, according to new research from the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.
For the study, NCCP researchers used data from more than 2,200 low-income families who were participating in the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study. They found that school-age children who reported high levels of parental involvement and supervision were more likely to report behaviors associated with positive emotional development and social growth.
Research has shown that living in poverty can produce environmental stressors that lead to negative behaviors in children, such as inattention, impulsivity, aggression, withdrawal, depression, anxiety, or fearfulness. In addition, children living in poverty are far more likely to have trouble developing social-emotional competence — the ability to manage emotions, express needs and feelings, deal with conflict, and get along with others.
“Too often, when poor families are discussed, the focus is on deficits,” said Renée Wilson-Simmons, Dr.PH., NCCP. director and a co-author of the report. “And chief among those deficits is what’s seen as parents’ inability to successfully parent their children.”
Wilson-Simmons challenged the deficits focus, adding that despite the multitude of obstacles low-income parents face, many of them succeed in helping their children flourish.
“They raise children who possess the social-emotional competence needed to develop and keep friendships; establish good relationships with parents, teachers, and other adults; and experience a range of achievements that contribute to their self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-efficacy. These families have something to teach us all about thriving amidst adversity.”
Protective factors range from exhibiting a positive outlook, establishing family routines, and spending sufficient family time together to having good financial management skills, an adequate support network, and the willingness to seek help.
The researchers found that low-income parents who provide their children with warmth and nurturance as well as rules and consequences are helping them develop both socially and emotionally in ways that will serve them well as they develop into adults.
Some findings from the study include the following:
- low-income parents (or primary caregivers) who know their children’s friends are twice as likely to have children who do not to engage in problem behaviors compared to parents rated as low in parental supervision;
- parents who attend events important to their children are twice as likely to have children who do not engage in negative behaviors compared to those who rarely attend important events;
- parents who treat their children fairly were twice as likely to have children who did not engage in negative behaviors as those whose children felt that they are treated unfairly “often” or “always.”
Overall, most of the nine-year-olds surveyed rated their caregiver high on all of the factors NCCP researchers used to measure resiliency in low-income families:
- 68 percent reported that their primary caregiver (most often their mother) had knowledge of what they did during their free time and the friends with whom they spent time
- 74 percent said their mother “always” or “often” spent enough time with them, and 76 percent said they talked about things that matter “extremely well” or “quite well”
- 92 percent rated their relationship with their mother as “extremely close” or “quite close”
“The good news is that parents who struggle financially are still finding ways to have the kinds of interactions with their children that help them to develop socially and emotionally, despite the many external stressors competing for their attention,” said co-author Yang Jiang, Ph.D., who led data analysis.
“Since we know that children do better when their families do better, it’s important that advocates and policymakers bolster families’ efforts by supporting policies and programs that help parents develop strong connections with their children.”