NEW YORK (Reuters Health)
— Preschoolers who sing,
tell stories and eat dinner with their families tend to be
emotionally healthier and better adjusted socially than kids who
don't have such routines, a recent study has found.
Researchers examined the number of daily routines
that more than 8,500 children practiced with their families. They
found each ritual was linked to a 47 percent increase in the odds
that children would have high so-called social-emotional health,
which indicates good emotional and social skills.
Social-emotional health "allows children to express their feelings,
understand others' emotions and develop and sustain healthy
relationships with peers and adults," said Dr. Elisa Muniz, the
study's lead author and a pediatrician at Bronx Lebanon Hospital in
Such development plays a key role in enabling kids to thrive in the
classroom, researchers said.
"There is strong scientific evidence that children who possess these
abilities to a greater degree are more likely to succeed in school,"
The researchers used data from a long-term study conducted by the
National Center for Education Statistics to gather information about
kids and their families as it relates to childhood development and
readiness for school.
Children in the study were taken from a national sample of those
born in 2001, and data about them were collected from
questionnaires, childhood assessments and interviews of the child's
main caregiver. The study followed children from birth until they
began kindergarten. The recent report used information about the
children that had been collected when they were preschool-aged.
Researchers examined how often children participated in five family
routines: having dinner as a family at least five times a week;
reading, storytelling or singing at least three times a week; and
playing at least a few times a week.
Kids' mothers also rated their child's social-emotional health using
a 24-item survey. The children were an average of just over four
Muniz and colleagues found that about 17 percent of the children had
high levels of social-emotional health, and that children who took
part in more family routines were more likely to be socially and
emotionally advanced. The exception was reading, which was not
clearly linked to social-emotional health.
For example, 11 percent of the children who had no family routines
had high social-emotional health, compared to 25 percent of those
whose families engaged in all five routines. Three-quarters of the
children participated in at least three family routines.
The study was published in the Journal of Developmental and
Researchers said the results weren't surprising given how
important ongoing nurturing interactions with caregivers are to
young children's health and development.
"When you are happy and secure, you are much more able to learn and
interact in healthy ways," said Dr. Claire McCarthy, a pediatrician
at Boston Children's Hospital who was not involved in the study.
"When (children) are unhappy, insecure or unsure of their
environment, energy goes into dealing with that, and not into
learning," she told Reuters Health.
Family routines also help build skills that are crucial for success
in academic and social settings, she noted.
"The routines in the study can help with what we call 'executive
function': skills like problem-solving, negotiation, planning and
delayed gratification. Having good executive function skills is
absolutely important for school success," said McCarthy.
Parents can foster kids' social-emotional health in many ways,
including practicing the routines in the study. Yet the goal —
spending time together to foster communication and loving
relationships — can also be achieved through other activities that
suit each family's schedule and interests, researchers said. These
include taking family walks, making dinner together or having a
family movie night.
"Every family is different, and every family knows best what will
work for them," said McCarthy.