Did you know that parents have more of an influence on their children than we probably realise. From reading bedtime stories from a young age to sitting down to eat a family meal together it can further children’s development immensely.
It might be a scary thought for parents (including me) but there is a mountain of evidence indicating what parents do is the single biggest determinant of healthy child development and wellbeing. In a recent speech, Dr Lance Emerson, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Youth Alliance for Children and Youth (ARACY), suggested parenting was such a significant public health issue that it was the “modern day equivalent to safe drinking water.
The good news is that the evidence shows that parents can make a big difference through some simple things. Firstly, reading to children from a very early age is positively linked to future literacy and attachment. Just talking to your children is a critical part of developing their vocabulary. Long before they can talk children are learning words, the more words they hear the more they learn.
“No matter how wealthy the family background, children would still struggle if they did not get the basic positive home environment.”
Now you might think that is all very obvious and I must be talking about disadvantaged families. The facts are that whilst there is less reading and conversation in disadvantaged families, in our most advantaged families 15-20 per cent of children are not read to regularly.
Other evidence shows that simply having shared family mealtimes is linked to better school outcomes, better social skills and having more school motivation in young people.
Even better news was found in a long term study in the United Kingdom. The Effective Provision of Preschool Education (EPPE) study has been tracking large numbers of children since 1997. The research explored the sorts of environments that families provided by looking at things such as reading, songs, nursery rhymes, painting, drawing, teaching numbers, going to libraries and making play opportunities with other children. The results were clear. The amount of these activities present in the child’s home environment was the most significant factor in longer term outcomes for children. Whilst high quality early childhood care and education and high quality school helped children catch up, what happened at home was the biggest predictor of long term school performance.
“What parents do is more important than who they are.”
The really big finding was that these types of family behaviours could significantly make a difference even if children were economically disadvantaged. As the EPPE said ‘what parents do is more important than who they are”. The flipside was more sobering. No matter how wealthy the family background, children would still struggle if they did not get the basic positive home environment. The simple fact was that the sorts of positive things that parents did were not dependent on money or a parent’s level of education. They were about attitude and spending time with children.
I know we’ve all got a million other things to do and things to worry about but next time you make a choice about spending time with your children, about eating meals in front of the TV, about how long you really need to stay in the office (note to fathers in particular) try and remember that parents do matter.