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Chill parents found to make for cool kids

cool kid
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A chip of the old block—this old saying takes on new significance in 21st-century Singaporean homes, where research shows that when parents exercise self-control, do not wrestle with economic or financial difficulties, set clear rules and enforce them frequently, use less harsh punishment, and communicate clearly and effectively, their children will be more mentally empowered and less emotionally stressed under adversity.

The research findings from the Singapore Longitudinal EArly Development Study (SG-LEADS), led by Research Fellow Dr. Chen Luxi and Prof Jean Yeung Wei-Jun from the Human Potential Translational Research Programme at the Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore (NUS Medicine), showed that building a wide array of resources in parents, family, and community before stressful circumstances strike can improve children's resilience and alleviate their emotional symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and withdrawal during times of adversity.

The research team studied over 2,600 in Singapore across two time periods—Wave One in 2018-2019 before the COVID-19 outbreak and Wave Two in 2021 during the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

These child participants were aged between 3 and 6 before the COVID-19 outbreak and were tracked until the second year of the pandemic outbreak. There was a noted increase in emotional symptoms such as sadness, anxiety, fear, and withdrawal among the children from pre-pandemic periods to during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Before the COVID-19 outbreak, the research team measured the primary caregivers' verbal cognitive ability, , economic stress, and parenting strategies, including how much control they set for their children. These primary caregivers also rated the safety and cohesion in their neighborhood.

The team then went on to assess the children's self-regulation using the Delay of Gratification (DoG) task, which captures children's ability to inhibit the temptation of smaller immediate rewards in order to get larger delayed rewards. Three types of rewards, including balloons, stickers, and erasers, were used.

Each child was asked to choose to receive either one reward now or more rewards later after the game which would take about 10 minutes. Children's ability to forgo instant gratification and pursue larger long-term goals is an important aspect of self-regulation. These factors are deemed important resources to shape children's resilience to cope with changing situations.

Raising cool kids

Chen Luxi, Research Fellow from the Human Potential Programme at NUS Medicine, said, "Parents with more advanced verbal cognitive ability, stronger self-control, and lower tended to use more functional strategies to interact with their children, such as setting clear rules for children and enforce them with guidance, discussions, and encouragement, rather than using harsh punishment."

Chill parents found to make for cool kids
Pre-pandemic parental resources predict children’s internalizing problems during the COVID-19 pandemic through parental control. Note: Covariates included child age, gender, ethnicity, parental education, annual household income per capita, parental psychological distress, single parenthood, living with grandparent(s), having a live-in domestic helper(s), and neighborhood quality. Bold lines indicate significant paths, normal lines indicate marginally significant paths, and dotted lines indicate nonsignificant paths. 95% confidence intervals are presented in square brackets. ***p < 0.001, **p < 0.01, *p < 0.05, and p < 0.10. Credit: Frontiers in Psychology (2023). DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2023.1203524

"These functional parent-child interactions can help children to develop self-regulated behaviors, which further build their resilience. With better self-regulation, children are equipped with greater emotional resilience and are less likely to experience emotional symptoms when faced with adversities."

From early childhood, the development of self-regulation begins as the child moves from external control from parents to understanding and practicing how to control their emotional and behavioral impulses internally. Parent-child interactions are important processes that influence children's development of self-regulation during early childhood.

Setting boundaries and limits accompanied by guidance, instructions, discussions, and encouragement can aid the child in cultivating self-regulating behaviors early. This further alleviates the exacerbation of emotional symptoms over time.

On the other spectrum, harsh disciplinary strategies such as aggressive control, physical punishment and criticism that aims to restrict children's behavior have been consistently associated with more mental health issues in children.

It also takes a village

The research also explored the role of community resources in nurturing children's emotional resilience and mental health. It was found that children who lived in a safer neighborhood with stronger cohesion and greater before the COVID-19 pandemic showed fewer emotional symptoms during the pandemic and experienced less aggravation of internalizing problems over time.

This finding demonstrated that community resources, including neighborhood safety and social cohesion, can help improve children's resilience to cope with unpredictable and stressful situations and achieve more positive outcomes.

"The need for robust community involvement and for parents would go a long way towards alleviating parental stress and providing them with as much support to nurture their children using constructive methods," co-author Prof Jean Yeung, who is also from the Department of Paediatrics at NUS Medicine added, "Self-regulation in early childhood is easily shaped by internal and external environments, given the intricate and complex interplay between the two components."

"The government needs to continuously invest in a public safety net ahead of adversities, such as thriving neighborhoods with strong social cohesion so that our children can grow up emotionally equipped and able to counteract the impacts of adversities that they may encounter."

The study is published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

More information: Luxi Chen et al, Pre-pandemic family resources and child self-regulation in children's internalizing problems during COVID-19: a multi-level social-ecological framework for emotional resilience, Frontiers in Psychology (2023). DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2023.1203524

Journal information: Frontiers in Psychology
Citation: Chill parents found to make for cool kids (2024, February 28) retrieved 16 April 2024 from
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