How important are family activities such as eating dinner together, storytelling, singing and playing together to a child's present and future emotional health? According to a new study, quite a bit.
Researchers believe young children cared for in stimulating and nurturing environments, with regular participation in predictable family routines, reflects greater family organization and may provide a sense of security and belonging. It also may positively impact children's social-emotional health (SEH) before school entry and contribute to their future school and life success.
What is social-emotional health and why is it important? SEH is when someone exhibits the ability to understand emotions, express empathy with others, demonstrates a certain degree of self-regulation and can form positive relationships with others. It's important because without these attributes it's terribly difficult to experience self-value and find your way in the world.
High SEH in early childhood is thought to help a child adapt to the school environment and perform well academically. High SEH also is a good predictor of children's long-term outcomes.
"High social-emotional health has been associated with greater academic performance and improved behavior in the school environment," said Elisa I. Muñiz, M.D., M.S., developmental-behavioral pediatrician, Department of Pediatrics, Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center, who led the research. "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."
Researchers examined the parental responses of 8,550 children to questions such as how many times families eat dinner together per week, how often they sing songs, read books and tell stories to their children and how often they play together. Results showed that 16.6 percent of the children had high SEH with approximately 57 percent of those reporting that they participate in three or more family routines.
Experts say that children who enter school with low SEH are at greater risk of developing difficulties in reasoning and problem solving, as well as having reduced attention spans and experiencing decreased social acceptance. This can impact their academic achievement and overall health and wellbeing through adulthood.
Families, particularly when both parents work, are often strapped for time because of busy schedules and job requirements. But simple family activities such as singing together in the car, reading to your child before bedtime and eating dinner together can help your child feel like an integral part of the larger human family.
The study was conducted by investigators at The Children's Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center (CERC) at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, Bronx New York, affiliated with The Children's Hospital at Montefiore (CHAM). It was published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.