For children to succeed when they reach kindergarten, they must be ready for the demands of a school day.
For example, they need to follow instructions, pay attention to teachers, and understand basic academic terms.
In a study newly published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly, researchers found that mothers’ stress could predict their children’s academic performance at kindergarten entry.
Researchers recruited 1760 families in which the primary caregivers were mothers. When the children were 15 months old, researchers tested the mothers’ parenting stress.
Mothers reported their distress in the role as a parent, for example, “I feel trapped by parenting responsibilities”, “my child does things that bother me to be mean”, etc.
When the children were 25 months old (just before entering kindergarten), researchers tested the mother-child closeness. Mothers reported how sensitive they were to children’s moods, interests, needs, and abilities.
When the children entered kindergarten, researchers tested children’s self-regulation, vocabulary skills, and academic skills.
Researchers assessed children’s self-regulation because this skill could strongly influence one’s attention and emotion. Generally, self-regulation is the ability to calm down and cheer oneself up when feeling upset. It is very important for emotional well being.
Researchers found that mothers’ parenting stress when children were 15 months old was inversely related to mother-child closeness when children were 25 months old.
In other words, higher parenting stress predicted a worse relationship between a mother and her child.
Mother-child closeness, in turn, was positively related to children’s self-regulation and vocabulary and academic skills. This means that children had better performance at kindergarten entry if they had a better relationship with their mothers.
In sum, high parenting stress predicted cold relationships between mothers and children, which then predicted low self-regulation and low academic performance in children.
Researchers suggest that family is the primary place to improve children’s school readiness. If children’s home environments are not supportive, they will enter kindergarten while not ready to learn new knowledge.
Therefore, reducing parenting stress may have benefits not only for parents’ health but also for children’s intellectual and emotional development.
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