Singing together. Telling stories. Playing together. Reading and eating meals together.
If you do these things with any regularity with your children, they’ll be more likely to fare better in school. They might even fare better in life.
A recent study, published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, focused on how the social- emotional health of children is effected by family environment. Social -emotional health (SEH) is characterized by an ability to understand emotions, express empathy, demonstrate self regulation, and form positive relationships with peers and adults. Having high social emotional health is associated with better academic performance, easier adaption to the school environment and more positive long-term outcomes.
According to a press release from the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in New York City, researchers analyzed a bunch of longitudinal data, collected from pre-school aged children. They also considered the answers of over 8,500 parents who took a survey about family routines. Survey questions included how often the family dines, sings songs, reads books, tell stories and play together.
Of the 16.6 percent of children in the study who displayed high SEH, 57 percent of them reportedly indulged in family activities that matched at least three from that ever-important family routine list.
“Our findings suggest that parents with preschool aged children who regularly practice family routines together have greater social-emotional health and so we encourage families to sing, read, play and eat together on a regular basis.” says Elisa I. Muñiz, M.D., M.S., developmental-behavioral pediatrician, Department of Pediatrics, Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center, who led the research.
Results also suggested the more routine, the better. Those children who participate in five family routines were more than twice as likely to have high SEH.
It seems clear to researchers that it’s not so much the routines that are making the difference here, but the sense of predictability, security and belonging that the routines provide. I’m no scientist, but it makes sense that there’s some relationship between consistent parent-child routines and emotional health. Consistent family mealtimes and bedtime stories are two of the few areas where I feel my husband and I can at least pretend to be doing our jobs right. Sitting down to dinner with the family was pretty much and unspoken rule when I was growing up. It’s second nature for me.
I also realize that family meals are not everyone’s priority. Some families have schedules that don’t allow for meals together. Before this becomes another study that makes moms feel inadequate, I’m thinking there are many, many family activities, outside of meals, that can and do offer children a sense of predictable routine.
My children have been complaining lately about at a new school class, called Second Step. I’m realizing now, it’s a social- emotional skills class. They complain, because what they’re learning–how to treat other people and recognize emotions– seems obvious and a silly thing to be learning at school. I’ve told them again and again that just because some of that stuff seems obvious to them, doesn’t mean it’s obvious to every child. There’s no such thing as too much social-emotional health in a school. It’s more important than reading, writing and arithmetic in my book.
And now I’m late for dinner.