ERIC Identifier: ED477641
Publication Date: 2003-07-00
Author: Raver, C. Cybele
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Elementary and Early Childhood Education Champaign IL.
Young Children's Emotional Development and School Readiness.
The current emphasis on children's academic preparedness continues to
overshadow the importance of children's social and emotional development for
school readiness (Raver & Zigler, 1997). Research, however, indicates that
young children's emotional adjustment matters--children who are emotionally well
adjusted have a significantly greater chance of early school success, while
children who experience serious emotional difficulty face grave risks of early
school difficulty. This Digest presents a brief overview of longitudinal
research linking children's emotional development to school readiness and early
school success and then discusses interventions designed for children entering
Over the past 20 years, research has
demonstrated that children's emotional and social skills are linked to their
early academic standing (Wentzel & Asher, 1995). Children who have
difficulty paying attention, following directions, getting along with others,
and controlling negative emotions of anger and distress do less well in school
(Arnold et al., 1999; McClelland et al., 2000). For many children, academic
achievement in their first few years of schooling appears to be built on a firm
foundation of children's emotional and social skills (Ladd, Kochenderfer, & Coleman, 1997; O'Neil et al., 1997).
Specifically, emerging research on early schooling suggests that the
relationships that children build with peers and teachers are based on
children's ability to regulate emotions in prosocial versus antisocial ways and
that those relationships then serve as a "source of provisions" that either help
or hurt children's chances of doing well academically (Ladd et al., 1999, p.
1375). Psychologists find that children who act in antisocial ways are less
likely to be accepted by classmates and teachers (Kupersmidt & Coie, 1990;
Shores & Wehby, 1999). They participate less frequently in classroom
activities and do more poorly in school than their more emotionally positive,
prosocial counterparts, even after one controls for the effects of children's
preexisting cognitive skills and family backgrounds (Ladd et al., 1999). One
caveat is that children's early academic skills and emotional adjustment may be
bidirectionally related, so that young children who struggle with early reading
and learning difficulties may grow increasingly frustrated and more disruptive
(Arnold et al., 1999; Hinshaw, 1992). Although our understanding of the causal
and reciprocal influences of children's cognitive, language, and emotional
competencies on later academic achievement would greatly benefit from additional
research, the bulk of longitudinal evidence of the importance of social and
emotional adjustment for children's success in early academic contexts is
convincing and clear.
INTERVENTIONS WITH CHILDREN ENTERING SCHOOL
evidence that children's emotional adjustment plays an important part in
predicting their likelihood of school success, the next question is "How do we
aid children to develop emotional competence and avoid emotional difficulties so
that they come to school ready to learn?" Interventions have been implemented at
the family, child care, school, and clinical site levels to address these
difficulties as children enter school. (A detailed discussion of interventions
designed for children before they start school can be found in Raver .)
Based on programmatic intensity, these programs include the following:
Low-Intensity Interventions in the Classroom. A wide range of interventions
identify children's entry into formal schooling as a prime opportunity to affect
children's social, emotional, and academic competence. Some programs have been
implemented to change the way that children think about emotional and social
situations. Using modeling, role play, and group discussion, teachers can devote
relatively small amounts of class time to instruct children on how to identify
and label feelings, how to appropriately communicate with others about emotions,
and how to resolve disputes with peers (e.g., Conduct Problems Prevention
Research Group, 1999; Quinn et al., 1999). The potential gain is that such
programs can be offered to all children in a given classroom for relatively low
cost. The potential drawback is that these programs may have only a modest,
short-term impact on children's social and emotional behaviors (Quinn et al.,
Low- To Moderate-Intensity Interventions in the Home--Parent Training
Programs. Based on a body of research that views parenting as playing a key role
in children's emotional adjustment, a number of interventions have been designed
to reduce children's risk for emotional difficulties by helping parents to
increase their positive interactions with their children, to set firm limits on
children's negative behaviors, and to reduce their use of harsh parenting
practices when the adults become angry or upset (see, e.g., McEvoy & Welker,
2000). These programs vary in approach, intensity, and the location in which
they are implemented (e.g., home visiting programs, telephone support, parenting
skills workshops). Generally, these programs have shown moderate success
(Kazdin, 1987). One concern is that the link between harsh parenting and
children's manifestation of behavior problems has been found to hold true for
White families but not African American families in some studies, suggesting
that interventions must be placed in culturally grounded frameworks
(Deater-Deckard & Dodge, 1997). A second concern is that the effects of
these programs may be more transitory than long lasting (Corcoran, 2000).
"Multi-Pronged" Home/School Interventions for Children at Moderate Risk.
These programs address children's emotional and behavioral difficulties at home
and in school. Although more costly to run and targeted at fewer children, these
programs are expected to pay off in the long run by reducing the prevalence of
costly outcomes such as criminal offenses and dropping-out of school (Kazdin,
1997; McEvoy & Welker, 2000). Results from a number of experimental studies
(using randomized designs) suggest remarkable effectiveness of these
multipronged programs in reducing children's disruptive behavior. These gains
range from modest improvements to strong gains in children's social, emotional,
and academic skills (Eddy et al., 2000; Stoolmiller et al., 2000;
Webster-Stratton & Taylor, 2001). These programs have also shown
effectiveness in reducing the likelihood that children will engage in delinquent
behaviors (Stoolmiller et al., 2000) and in being held back a grade or more,
than did the less-expensive, lower-intensity, classroom-only interventions
described earlier (Vitaro et al., 1999). Some researchers, however, have pointed
out that these findings are not sustained over longer periods of time, and that
children's high school dropout rates are not significantly affected by the
High-Intensity Clinical Interventions for High-Risk Children. A small
percentage of young children in poverty struggle with serious emotional and
behavioral disturbance. A range of programs are designed to lower the risk of
young children's development of serious problems in families struggling with
multiple, chronic stressors such as high risk of maltreatment, mental illness,
substance abuse, and domestic violence. School-based mental health consultation
programs, for example, pair psychologists, social workers, and psychiatrists
with local school districts in order to identify, assess, and treat young
children who are in serious emotional and behavioral trouble. Clinicians from
local community mental health organizations observe classrooms, provide teachers
with training, and provide child- and family-centered psychotherapy (Cohen &
Kaufmann, 2000). As of this writing, no evaluations of school-based consultation
programs using randomized trial design could be found; however, the potential
for such programs seems promising.
How can we explain the varying levels of
effectiveness that have been demonstrated across different types of
interventions? Three cautions are offered to explain variation in programmatic
success. First, programmatic success is reliant in great measure on the extent
to which programs succeed in enlisting families' participation (Brooks-Gunn et
al., 2000). Second, it may be unreasonable to expect long-term emotional and
behavioral gains on the part of young children if their families continue to
face chronic, structural stressors that erode children's psycho-social health.
Third, we must recognize that the economic, employment, and policy contexts of
high-risk families have changed substantially from the conditions under which
many models of interventions were originally designed and implemented over 20
years ago (e.g., Olds et al., 1998). Even given these cautions, however,
research clearly demonstrates the importance of children's emotional adjustment
to early school success.
This Digest was adapted from "Emotions matter: Making the case for the role
of young children's emotional development for early school readiness," by C.
Cybele Raver, in the Society for Research in Child Development's Social Policy
Report, 16(3), 3-19.
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