Early good parenting increases chances of good kids in grade school

1:37:47 PM CDT - Thursday, October 06, 2005

By Amy Geiszler-Jones

The relationship you've established with your children when they start kindergarten helps determine their behavior by the time they finish fourth grade, according to a study by WSU researchers published in the September/October issue of the journal Child Development.

How you interact with your kindergarten children, by showing warmth and having good communication, serves as an important building block for knowing where your child is and with whom or what he or she is doing outside the home later in childhood, the study said.

"Can you magically turn on good communication and problem solving when your child turns 12?" asked psychology professor Jim Snyder, who was the lead researcher on the study. "This research says no, you can't. You have to establish a good relationship earlier."

Building a positive early parent-child relationship allows for effective monitoring of behavior outside the home in adolescence, Snyder said.

"Prevention of conduct problems such as truancy, drug use and delinquency that become apparent in adolescence may usefully begin during early childhood," Snyder said.

WSU research assistant professor Lynn Schrepferman and doctoral graduate M. Renee Patrick co-authored the study, which was funded with a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health.

The researchers tracked 267 boys and girls from kindergarten through fourth grade, 43 percent of whom lived in intact families with two biological parents at the start of the study.

A key finding is that effective early interventions need to focus on warmth and communication, which are elements that reduce the early appearance of behavior problems and provide a good foundation for adolescent monitoring, the study suggests.

Talk to your kids, show an interest in what they are doing, be supportive and just listen, advised Snyder. Telling them how they should have acted, yelling or lecturing aren't good modes of communication, he warned.

If your young child exhibits problems such as aggression, lying and stealing, those issues will interfere with developing effective monitoring during the transition to adolescence.

"The trick is, if you can't get the kid under control early on, you'll have even bigger problems later on when the rubber hits the road," Snyder said.

Aggressive kids will become so obnoxious about being monitored that they'll almost punish the parents for even trying, by questioning the parents on how they dare ask questions, Snyder said. Children who develop a problem with habitual lying will become even more adept at avoiding their parents' attempts to monitor their behavior.

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