1. Study suggests warmth, not lavish praise, helps children develop self-esteem

    October 3, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Amsterdam press release:

    How do children construct views of themselves and their place in the world? Children’s social relationships turn out to be critical. For example, children develop higher self-esteem when their parents treat them warmly. But they develop lower self-esteem when their parents lavish them with inflated praise. These and other findings are included in a special section edited by Eddie Brummelman (University of Amsterdam) and Sander Thomaes (Utrecht University) and soon-to-be published in the journal Child Development. In a series of articles, now available online in ‘early view’,’ the researchers share the results of research on the origins of the self-concept in children.

    Who am I and what is my place in the world? Children are born without an answer to these pressing questions. As they grow up, though, they start to formulate answers seemingly effortlessly. Within a few years, they recognise themselves in the mirror, refer to themselves by their own name, evaluate themselves through the eyes of others and understand their standing in a social group.

    Research by Christina Starmans from the University of Toronto shows that even toddlers have an idea of what it means to have a ‘self’. Young children see the self as something that is unique to a person, separate from the body, stable over time, and located within the head, behind the eyes. Research by Andrei Cimpian (New York University) and his colleagues shows that even toddlers have the cognitive ability to form self-worth (i.e., how satisfied they are with themselves as individuals).

    Social relationships

    Over time, pronounced individual differences arise in children’s self-concept. Some children like themselves, whereas others feel negatively about themselves. Some children see themselves as superior and deserving special treatment, whereas others consider themselves to be on an equal plane with others. Some children believe they can grow and build their abilities, whereas others believe their abilities are fixed and unchangeable. Where do these individual differences come from? What leads children to see themselves the way they do? ‘Surprisingly little is known about the origins of children’s self-concept’, says Brummelman. ‘It is important that we shed more light on this important subject. With this collection of articles, our aim is to showcase emerging research on this subject.’

    ‘What these articles reveal is that children form their self-concept, at least in part, based on their social relationships‘, Brummelman continues. For example, research by Michelle Harris (University of California) and her team shows that children develop higher self-esteem when they receive warmth from their parents. Warm parents show an interest in their children’s activities and share joy with them, which makes children feel noticed and valued. Brummelman’s own research shows that children may develop lower self-esteem and sometimes even narcissism when their parents give them lots of extremely positive, inflated praise, such as ‘Wow, you did incredibly well! Such inflated praise may give children a sense of grandiosity but at the same time also make them worry about falling short of the standards set for them.

    Encouragement

    Previous research has shown the importance of having a growth mindset – the belief that you can develop your skills through effort and education. Children with a growth mindset are eager to take on challenges, persist when the going gets tough, and see failure as opportunities for growth. In a theoretical article, Kyla Haimovitz and Carol Dweck (Stanford University) describe how parents can foster a growth mindset by praising children for effort instead of ability (for example, ‘You worked so hard!’) and by teaching children that failure isn’t harmful but actually benefits learning and growth. Parents can encourage children to ask themselves: why did I get such a low grade, and what can I do differently in future?

    All 10 articles in the special section study various dimensions of children’s self-concept, including self-esteem, self-compassion, mindsets and self-perceived ability. ‘What these articles show is that children construct their self-concept based on the social relationships they have, the feedback they receive, the social comparisons they make, and the cultural values they endorse. This underlines the deeply social nature of children’s self-concept’, says Brummelman.


  2. Study suggests babies can learn that hard work pays off

    October 1, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Massachusetts Institute of Technology press release:

    If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

    A new study from MIT reveals that babies as young as 15 months can learn to follow this advice. The researchers found that babies who watched an adult struggle at two different tasks before succeeding tried harder at their own difficult task, compared to babies who saw an adult succeed effortlessly.

    The study suggests that infants can learn the value of effort after seeing just a couple of examples of adults trying hard, although the researchers have not studied how long the effect lasts. Although the study took place in a laboratory setting, the findings may offer some guidance for parents who hope to instill the value of effort in their children, the researchers say.

    “There’s some pressure on parents to make everything look easy and not get frustrated in front of their children,” says Laura Schulz, a professor of cognitive science at MIT. “There’s nothing you can learn from a laboratory study that directly applies to parenting, but this does at least suggest that it may not be a bad thing to show your children that you are working hard to achieve your goals.”

    Schulz is the senior author of the study, which appears in the Sept. 21 online edition of Science. Julia Leonard, an MIT graduate student, is the first author of the paper, and MIT undergraduate Yuna Lee is also an author.

    Putting in the effort

    Many recent studies have explored the value of hard work. Some have found that children’s persistence, or “grit,” can predict success above and beyond what IQ predicts. Other studies have found that children’s beliefs regarding effort also matter: Those who think putting in effort leads to better outcomes do better in school than those who believe success depends on a fixed level of intelligence.

    Leonard and Schulz were interested in studying how children might learn, at a very early age, how to decide when to try hard and when it’s not worth the effort. Schulz’ previous work has shown that babies can learn causal relationships from just a few examples.

    “We were wondering if they can do similar fast learning from a little bit of data about when effort is really worth it,” Leonard says.

    To do that, they designed an experiment in which 15-month-old babies first watched an adult perform two tasks: removing a toy frog from a container and removing a key chain from a carabiner. Half of the babies saw the adult quickly succeed at the task three times within 30 seconds, while the other half saw her struggle for 30 seconds before succeeding.

    The experimenter then showed the baby a musical toy. This toy had a button that looked like it should turn the toy on but actually did not work; there was also a concealed, functional button on the bottom. Out of the baby’s sight, the researcher turned the toy on, to demonstrate that it played music, then turned it off and gave it to the baby.

    Each baby was given two minutes to play with the toy, and the researchers recorded how many times the babies tried to press the button that seemed like it should turn the toy on. They found that babies who had seen the experimenter struggle before succeeding pressed the button nearly twice as many times overall as those who saw the adult easily succeed. They also pressed it nearly twice as many times before first asking for help or tossing the toy.

    “There wasn’t any difference in how long they played with the toy or in how many times they tossed it to their parent,” Leonard says. “The real difference was in the number of times they pressed the button before they asked for help and in total.”

    The researchers also found that direct interactions with the babies made a difference. When the experimenter said the infants’ names, made eye contact with them, and talked directly to them, the babies tried harder than when the experimenter did not directly engage with the babies.

    “What we found, consistent with many other studies, is that using those pedagogical cues is an amplifier. The effect doesn’t vanish, but it becomes much weaker without those cues,” Schulz says.

    A limited resource

    A key takeaway from the study is that people appear to be able to learn, from an early age, how to make decisions regarding effort allocation, the researchers say.

    “We’re a somewhat puritanical culture, especially here in Boston. We value effort and hard work,” Schulz says. “But really the point of the study is you don’t actually want to put in a lot of effort across the board. Effort is a limited resource. Where do you deploy it, and where do you not?”

    The researchers hope to investigate how long this effect might last after the initial experiment. Another possible avenue of research is whether the effect would be as strong with different kinds of tasks — for example, if it was less clear to the babies what the adult was trying to achieve, or if the babies were given toys that were meant for older children.


  3. Students’ self-concepts of ability in math, reading predict later math, reading attainment

    September 29, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Society for Research in Child Development press release:

    Educational and developmental psychologists have tried to understand how skills and motivation are linked to academic achievement. While research supports ties between individuals’ concepts of their abilities and their achievement, we lack a complete picture of how these relations develop from childhood to adolescence. A new longitudinal study looked at how youths’ self-concepts are linked to their actual academic achievement in math and reading from middle childhood to adolescence. The study found that students’ self-concepts of their abilities in these two academic domains play an important role in motivating their achievements over time and across levels of achievement.

    The findings come from researchers at Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile and the University of Michigan. They appear in the journal Child Development.

    “Our study shows that youths’ perceptions of their abilities in middle childhood are important in promoting their later achievement in math and reading,” explains Maria Ines Susperreguy, assistant professor in the Faculty of Education at Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile, who led the study. “This relation is not limited to students who perform at the top levels, but extends to students with different levels of achievement in math and reading. Even the lowest-performing students who had a more positive view of their math and reading abilities had higher levels of achievement in math and reading.”

    The researchers looked at three data sets of children ages 5 to 18 — the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (13,901 British children), the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development (1,354 American children), and the Panel Study of Income Dynamics-Child Development Supplement (237 American children). Each data set included measures of self-concept and standardized assessments of early and later academic achievement.

    Students’ self-concept was defined as their perceptions of their capabilities to succeed on academic tasks. The study considered children’s earlier achievement as well as their characteristics and backgrounds, including birth weight, race/ethnicity, gender, age, and their mother’s education.

    The study found that children’s beliefs about their math and reading abilities explain some of the variance in their later math and reading achievement, after controlling for demographics and children’s characteristics, as well as prior academic achievement. The study also revealed that children’s self-concept of their ability in math predicted later math achievement, and that their self-concept of their ability in reading predicted later reading achievement, but not vice versa. This finding suggests that the links between self-concept of ability and later achievement are specific to domains; that is, there is a link from students’ self-concept about reading to reading achievement, and from students’ self-concept about math to match achievement. The findings apply to students of all levels of achievement.

    “When trying to understand the issues of low academic performance, we often examine what additional skills children need to succeed in school,” says Pamela Davis-Kean, professor of psychology and research professor at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, who coauthored the study. “Our findings, replicated across three data sets, show that it is important to understand the relation between children’s perceptions of their abilities and later achievement.”


  4. Study suggest tablets can teach kids to solve physical puzzles

    September 26, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    Researchers confirm that when 4-6 year old children learn how to solve a puzzle using a touchscreen tablet, they can then apply this learning to the same puzzle in the physical world. This contradicts most previous research and suggests that different screen learning media could have different effects on skill transfer.

    As tablet computers become more popular, children are using them as early as their first year of life. Companies market a huge array of interactive educational apps for kids, but are they effective and can they teach real-world skills?

    Guidelines published by some government bodies suggest that while children can learn skills from screen-based media, such as videos or touchscreens, they can struggle to apply these skills elsewhere. This conventional thinking is backed by the majority of previous research.

    However, some studies have shown that children can in fact translate screen-based learning to real-world skills. These contradictory findings have inspired researchers to further explore this phenomenon. One such researcher is Joanne Tarasuik, of the Swinburne University of Technology in Australia.

    In a previous study, Tarasuik and colleagues found that children in Australia could learn how to solve a puzzle on a touchscreen device, and then successfully transfer these skills to completing the same puzzle in the physical world. As this is contradictory to most previous research, the team repeated the study in different children, with a different language and culture, to make sure that the findings were correct and robust.

    In this new replication study, recently published in open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology, the Australian team collaborated with researchers in Croatia to repeat their original study with Croatian children. The study used the ‘Tower of Hanoi’ puzzle, which involves moving discs between pegs so that they line up in order on a different peg, using the smallest possible number of moves.

    The children practiced the puzzle on a touchscreen app, or with a physical version using wooden pegs and discs, and the researchers measured how many moves they took to complete it, and how long they spent. Some of the children practiced the puzzle several times on the tablet before trying it on the wooden version. This allowed the researchers to see if the kids’ virtual practice could improve their skills in the physical world.

    The children all needed a similar number of moves to complete the wooden puzzle, regardless of whether they had practiced using the virtual puzzle, the physical puzzle, or a combination of the two. From the first to final attempt at the puzzle, all the children also improved their speed.

    “We successfully replicated our previous findings that 4-6 year old children can apply knowledge of this puzzle from practice using a touchscreen device, to the physical version of the puzzle,” says Tarasuik.

    The researchers hypothesize that unlike some passive forms of screen learning like a simple video demonstration, the interactive virtual puzzle significantly engaged the children and enhanced their learning, so that they could successfully apply those same skills to the wooden puzzle.

    The findings contrast with most previous research in this area, and suggest that different screen learning media, such as video presentations or interactive apps, could have different effects on whether children can transfer learned skills to the physical world.

    “These results demonstrate that ‘screen time’ is not a useful umbrella phrase, as what children can obtain from different types of screen media will vary, and numerous factors can impact their learning outcomes,” says Tarasuik.

    “We would like these results to guide future research into how and what children of different developmental stages can learn via touch screen technology, and then apply in the physical world.”


  5. How reading and writing with your child boost more than just literacy

    September 16, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Washington press release:

    Children who read and write at home — whether for assignments or just for fun — are building long-term study and executive function skills, according to a paper from the University of Washington.

    And while home literacy activities have already been associated with higher test scores, the new study shows these activities also provide students with tools for lifetime success.

    “People who are good students tend to become good employees by being on time and putting forward their best work. All of the things that make you a good student also make you a good employee,” said Nicole Alston-Abel, a Federal Way Public Schools psychologist who conducted the study while pursuing her doctorate at the UW. “If you make sure your child is academically engaged at home through third grade, kids go on autopilot — they know how to ‘do’ school after that.

    Alston-Abel analyzed data collected by co-author Virginia Berninger, UW emeritus professor of education, who conducted a five-year longitudinal study of academic performance in grades one through seven. As part of that study, Berninger sent home questionnaires asking parents if, and how, they helped their children with reading and writing; Alston-Abel, a former primary teacher, then compared the responses with students’ academic performance.

    The study published online in May in the Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation.

    To collect a range of ages and school experiences, the study followed two groups of students in public elementary schools near the UW campus — one cohort of students from first to fifth grade, the other from third to seventh grade. In all, 241 families participated over five years, completing annual questionnaires about how their child felt about reading and writing, what kinds of activities they engaged in at home, and what kind of help parents provided.

    The demographics of both cohorts reflected neighborhoods around the university: About 85 percent of students were white or Asian American, and nearly three-fourths of parents had a bachelor’s or advanced degree. A more diverse pool, Alston-Abel said, would be illuminating from a research perspective, but the basic message would remain the same: “The takeaway is still the importance of having a parent involved in developing the habits and models a child needs to be successful. It doesn’t matter what socioeconomic status you come from.”

    Among the study’s findings:

    • Students spent significantly more time at home reading than writing.
    • Without a specific assignment, children were more likely to choose reading as an activity than writing.
    • Parents provided more help with writing than with reading.
    • Starting at the intermediate grades (four and up), writing assignments increased, while parent help for writing declined more gradually than for reading.
    • About three-fourths of the fifth- and seventh-grade students used a computer for writing assignments.
    • Parents of those older students described their children as “fluent” in using a computer for writing homework for 19 percent of the fifth-graders, and 53 percent of the seventh-graders.
    • Parent ratings of their student’s “self-regulation,” or ability to stay on task and exhibit other study skills, were associated with academic performance, especially in reading comprehension and written expression.

    The authors point out that there is no direct causal link between the responses on the questionnaires and student achievement, but that some patterns do exist. For example, among students whose parents described their lack of focus or unwillingness to help set modest goals, academic achievement was generally lower than among students who stayed on task or learned to prioritize.

    The study speaks to the need for a collaborative effort between parents and teachers, Alston-Abel said, especially among marginalized populations, and at a time when kindergarteners, according to Common Core State Standards, are expected to demonstrate basic reading and writing skills.

    “Some kids come to kindergarten reading basic ‘sight words,’ and others don’t know their letters. Add up the disadvantages and the demands of the curriculum, and it becomes very apparent that if you don’t have a collaborative effort, for these same kids, that gap is always going to be there,” Alston-Abel said.

    Teachers can start by asking parents about how they support their child’s learning at home — like with the kinds of questionnaires used in the study. The responses to open-ended questions about what kinds of reading and writing a child does at home, why, and for how long each week, can then inform instruction. Meanwhile, parents who work with their children, Alston-Abel added, are introducing study skills like time management and impulse control.

    The paper provides other tips for parents and teachers on how to work together to develop literacy and study skills. One way is to engage a child in writing at home through journals, a story to a family member, even an email or thank-you note. Another is to look for specific skills to help develop, such as spelling or reading comprehension, but pull back when the child appears able to accomplish more independently. And encourage any opportunity to read or write for fun.

    “Academic success is an all-hands-on-deck enterprise,” Alston-Abel said. “Teacher, parent and student all have a part to play. Fostering home-school partnerships that enhance and extend the experience of the learner can lead to life-long habits that foster success.”

    The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.


  6. Young children’s sense of self is similar to that of adults

    September 8, 2017 by Ashley

    From the New York University press release:

    Young children’s sense of self is similar to that of older kids and adults, a team of psychology researchers has found. The results show that our ability to reason about our self-worth as individuals develops early in life, but also suggest that failure can instill discouragement sooner than previously thought.

    “Young children’s self-concepts are not qualitatively different from those of older children and adults,” explains Andrei Cimpian, an associate professor in New York University’s Department of Psychology and the study’s senior author. “Young children can think of themselves as possessing abstract traits and abilities, and they can also reason about their self-worth, which has implications for self-esteem.

    “However, this level of maturity in reasoning about the self also means that young children can become dispirited in the face of failure and are not the undaunted optimists that previous theories have described. In light of this new work, we need to think carefully about, and investigate, ways of supporting young children’s motivation and engagement with important — but often difficult — activities such as school.”

    The study, which appears in the journal Child Development, also included Matthew Hammond, a faculty member at New Zealand’s Victoria University of Wellington, as well as Giulia Mazza and Grace Corry, who were undergraduate researchers at the University of Illinois when this research was conducted.

    It has long been thought that young children think of themselves in concrete, behavioral terms and, unlike adults or older children, are cognitively incapable of reasoning about their traits or their worth as individuals.

    The researchers tested this belief, aiming to understand if young children can think about themselves in terms of general traits and abilities (e.g., “I’m smart”) and judge their global worth as individuals — or if they are largely focused on concrete behaviors and outcomes (e.g., “I got a good grade”).

    To answer this question, the researchers conducted a series of studies of children ranging from four to seven years old. The participants were presented several hypothetical scenarios — commonly employed in psychology research for this age group — that varied in several respects. In them, the children were asked to imagine they could not complete a task (e.g., solving a puzzle) despite “trying really hard.” In some cases, they were told the task was easy (e.g., drawing the sun) and in others that it was difficult (e.g., drawing a horse). In addition, some children were informed the task was done at the request of an adult (a parent or teacher) while others were told it was self-initiated.

    They were then asked questions about their abilities (e.g., “Does not drawing the sun/horse right make you feel like you’re good at drawing or not good at drawing?”) and their global sense of self-worth (e.g., “Does not finishing the puzzle make you feel like a good boy/girl or not a good boy/girl?”). At the end of the sessions, children acted out positive scenarios and were debriefed.

    The results showed that children as young as four can flexibly reason about their abilities and their global sense of self-worth based on the context of their behavior. For example, children lowered their estimation of their abilities, but not their global self-worth, when told they failed an easy, as opposed to hard, task. Conversely, they lowered their estimation of their global self-worth, but not their abilities, when informed they failed an adult-requested (vs. self-initiated) task — in other words, adult involvement could negatively affect self-esteem, independent of the task.

    “This evidence reveals surprising continuity between young children’s self-concepts and those of older children and adults,” Cimpian observes. “However, more importantly, our findings show the impact others can have on young children’s sense of self-worth at a very young age.

    “It is therefore important for both parents and educators to understand that our children may become more discouraged than we previously realized and find ways to foster a productive learning environment.”


  7. Like adults, children show bias in attributing mental states to others

    September 5, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Association for Psychological Science press release:

    Young children are more likely to attribute mental states to characters that belong to the same group as them relative to characters that belong to an outside group, according to findings published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. The study shows that 5- and 6-year-olds were more likely to describe interactions between two characters in terms of what they were thinking and feeling when the characters had the same gender or geographic origin as them.

    “We found that young children were selective in the way they attribute mental states — they were less likely to spontaneously refer to the mind of individuals belonging to a different group,” says researcher Niamh McLoughlin of the University of York. “Our research suggests that, at least from the age of 5, children demonstrate a bias that might be similar to dehumanization — ascribing fewer mental abilities and uniquely human traits to others. In addition, this work illustrates that there are situations in which children are more or less motivated to reason about the minds of other people.”

    Previous research has shown that adults tend to dehumanize people who belong to social groups or categories — for example, race, gender, socioeconomic status — that are different from their own. These “outsiders” are seen as having less intelligence, rationality, and emotional depth than do those who belong to the in-group. McLoughlin and University of York co-author Harriet Over were interested in investigating the developmental origins of this phenomenon.

    “Our aim was to examine whether young children also exhibited this bias with relation to mental state attribution,” says McLoughlin.

    Adapting an established technique, the researchers showed a total of 128 5- and 6-year-olds animations of a big triangle and a small triangle that seemed to interact, with one triangle seemingly coaxing or surprising the other.

    Each child saw two videos. In one, the triangles were described as having the same gender or coming from the same town as the participant; in the other, the triangles were described as having a different gender or coming from a far-away country. The researchers chose to examine gender because it’s a category that children are particularly sensitive to, while they decided to look at geographic origin because of its relevance to current social and political debates.

    The researchers asked the participants to describe what happened and to rate how much they liked the group discussed in each video.

    Using a predetermined coding scheme, the researchers counted any words that described a character’s thoughts, desires, emotions, intentions, or current states as mental-state terms.

    The data showed that 6 year-olds used more mental-state words overall and a more diverse range of these words compared with children who were one year younger, a finding that highlights the ongoing development of theory-of-mind processes in early childhood.

    More importantly, both 5- and 6-year-olds used more mental-state terms when they believed the characters had the same gender or home town as opposed to when they had a different one. And the 6-year-olds also used more diverse mental-state words in describing characters from the same group relative to those from a different group.

    This group-based bias extended to direct ratings: Participants also preferred individuals who belonged to their own gender and geographic group. .

    These findings hint at early origins for social phenomena including bias between social groups and dehumanization, the researchers argue.

    “We plan to use this research as the base for future work examining the social consequences of biased mental-state attribution, such as the extent to which children help members of an outgroup,” says McLoughlin. “We hope that this work can ultimately inform research-led interventions that aim to foster positive intergroup relations.”


  8. Child’s home learning environment predicts 5th grade academic skills

    August 28, 2017 by Ashley

    From the New York University press release:

    Children whose parents provide them with learning materials like books and toys and engage them in learning activities and meaningful conversations in infancy and toddlerhood are likely to develop early cognitive skills that can cascade into later academic success, finds a new study by NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.

    The study, published online in the journal Applied Developmental Science, followed a group of children from birth through 5th grade to track the influence of early home learning environments on later cognitive skills and understand the factors that might explain long-term influences.

    “There is growing evidence for the power of early learning environments on later academic success,” said Catherine Tamis-LeMonda, the study’s lead author and a professor of applied psychology at NYU Steinhardt. “Our study confirms that strong home learning environments arm children with foundational skills that are springboards to long-term academic achievement.”

    Research shows that the home learning environment powerfully shapes children’s language and cognitive development. Children’s participation in learning activities, the quality of parent-child interactions, and the availability of learning materials like books and toys are three key features of the home learning environment that support language and pre-academic skills in early childhood.

    In this study, Tamis-LeMonda and her colleagues examined early home learning environments and whether they predict 5th grade academic skills for children of families from ethnically diverse, low-income backgrounds. The researchers studied 2,204 families enrolled in the Early Head Start Research Evaluation Project.

    Children’s learning environments were measured through a series of home visits at 14 months, at 2 and 3 years, and at pre-kindergarten. The researchers looked at literacy activities (including book reading, storytelling, and teaching letters and numbers), learning materials in the home (including books, toys, or games that facilitate expression and learning), and the quality of mothers’ interactions with their children. Examples of high quality interactions included labeling objects in the environment and responding to children’s cues; these sensitive interactions are attentive to children’s needs and cognitively stimulating.

    Learning environments were again assessed in 5th grade based on the number of books in the home and the quality of mothers’ engagement with children, both spontaneous interactions and during a discussion-based task.

    At the pre-kindergarten and 5th grade visits, children were assessed on age-appropriate academic skills. The pre-K visit included measures of vocabulary, letter and word identification, and math problem-solving; the 5th grade visit measured vocabulary, reading, math, and general cognitive abilities.

    The researchers found that early learning environments supported the emergence of pre-academic skills that persisted into early adolescence to predict children’s 5th grade academic skills. Pathways from early learning environments to later academic skill were similar for children from White, Black, Hispanic, English-speaking, and Hispanic Spanish-speaking backgrounds.

    Notably, learning environments were highly stable over the 10-year study, suggesting that the experiences parents provide their infants as early as the first year of life may solidify into patterns of engagement that either continue to support or impede children’s emerging skills.

    The study highlights the importance of early childhood experiences for children’s skill development and long-term academic success, and reinforces the notion that families have a major influence on children’s academic outcomes.

    The researchers note that the findings have implications for policy and practice, including the design of interventions for young children and parents from disadvantaged backgrounds.

    “Improvements to early learning environments, whether it be in the home or through early childhood programs like Early Head Start, can effectively support the development of children exposed to socioeconomic disadvantage,” said Tamis-LeMonda, who also co-directs the Center for Research on Culture, Development and Education at NYU Steinhardt.


  9. Mothers’ responses to their babies’ distress help predict infant attachment

    August 22, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Society for Research in Child Development press release:

    The security of the relationship infants establish with their mothers is important for children’s development. Although most babies establish secure attachment relationships with their mothers, approximately 40% of infants establish insecure attachment relationships, with some developing insecure-avoidant attachments (minimizing expressing negative emotions and avoiding contact with their mothers when they’re afraid or uncertain) and others developing insecure-resistant attachments (becoming emotionally overwhelmed and inconsolable by their mothers in these circumstances). These infants are at risk of problems later in life. A new study sought to identify factors that predict infants’ avoidance and resistance, looking specifically at how mothers respond physiologically and emotionally to their infants’ distress.

    The study is by researchers at the University of Missouri, Columbia; the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; the University of North Carolina, Greensboro; and The Pennsylvania State University. It appears in the journal Child Development.

    “Identifying factors that contribute to infants’ avoidance and resistance is important for developing effective interventions that promote babies’ attachment security, and in turn, positive child development,” notes Ashley M. Groh, assistant professor of psychological sciences at the University of Missouri, Columbia, who led the study.

    The researchers looked at an ethnically and economically diverse group of 127 mothers and their infants. Half of the families were African American and half were European American. Half of the families lived below the 2002 federal poverty line (that is, annual income below $15,000 for a family of 3) and half lived above that line.

    Researchers examined mothers’ respiration sinus arrhythmia (RSA), or the variability in their heart rate over the breathing cycle, when they interacted with their distressed babies at 6 months of age. Decreases in RSA when confronted with a challenge, such as a crying baby, reflect better physiological regulation that supports actively coping with the challenge. Researchers also examined how mothers expressed emotion when they interacted with their distressed infants.

    Six months later, when the babies were 12 months old, researchers assessed infants’ attachments to their mothers using the Strange Situation procedure, in which infants go through a series of separations and subsequent reunions with their mothers; an infant’s behavior when reunited with his or her mother tells us about the pattern of attachment. Upon being reunited with their mothers, insecure-avoidant infants ignore their mothers, while insecure-resistant infants become very distressed and simultaneously seek and resist their mothers.

    Results from this study indicated that mothers who had smaller decreases in RSA — meaning, less physiological regulation — when they interacted with their distressed infants at 6 months were more likely to have avoidant infants at 12 months. Such physiological responding might undermine mothers’ ability to cope with their infants’ distress. Their babies might view them as less effective sources of comfort and ultimately be less likely to seek out their mothers when upset or uncertain. Mothers who were more emotionally neutral (versus positive) when their infants were distressed at 6 months were more likely to have resistant infants at 12 months. This suggests that an emotionally muted response from a mother when an infant was distressed might lead an infant to heighten his or her expressions of distress.

    “This study provides evidence that we can better understand babies’ and mothers’ experiences in these important encounters when babies need reassurance and support if we consider both the mothers’ emotional response and her physiological regulation in these challenging caregiving contexts,” explains Martha Cox, professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. “The evidence can inform efforts aimed at promoting attachment security. Such efforts might target the specific challenges mothers face when confronted with their babies’ distress.”


  10. Toddlers begin learning rules of reading, writing at very early age

    August 16, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Washington University in St. Louis press release:

    A 5-year-old who writes “fepiri” when asked to write the word “touch” might seem to know nothing about spelling, but this attempt looks more like a word than “fpbczs” as produced by a 4-year-old.

    Even the proudest of parents may struggle to find some semblance of meaning behind the seemingly random mish-mash of letters that often emerge from a toddler’s first scribbled and scrawled attempts at putting words on paper.

    But new research from Washington University in St. Louis suggests that children as young as 3 already are beginning to recognize and follow important rules and patterns governing how letters in the English language fit together to make words.

    The study, published this month in the journal Child Development, provides new evidence that children start to learn about some aspects of reading and writing at a very early age.

    “Our results show that children begin to learn about the statistics of written language, for example about which letters often appear together and which letters appear together less often, before they learn how letters represent the sounds of a language,” said study co-author Rebecca Treiman, a professor of psychological and brain sciences in Arts & Sciences.

    An important part of learning to read and spell is learning about how the letters in written words reflect the sounds in spoken words. Children often begin to show this knowledge around 5 or 6 years of age when they produce spellings such as BO or BLO for “blow.”

    We tend to think that learning to spell doesn’t really begin until children start inventing spellings that reflect the sounds in spoken words — spellings like C or KI for “climb.” These early invented spellings may not represent all of the sounds in a word, but children are clearly listening to the word and trying to use letters to symbolize some of the words within it, Treiman said.

    As children get older, these sound-based spellings improve. For example, children may move from something like KI for “climb” to something like KLIM.

    “Many studies have examined how children’s invented spellings improve as they get older, but no previous studies have asked whether children’s spellings improve even before they are able to produce spellings that represent the sounds in words,” Treiman said. “Our study found improvements over this period, with spellings becoming more wordlike in appearance over the preschool years in a group of children who did not yet use letters to stand for sounds.”

    Treiman’s study analyzed the spellings of 179 children from the United States (age 3 years, 2 months to 5 years, 6 months) who were prephonological spellers. That is, when asked to try to write words, the children used letters that did not reflect the sounds in the words they were asked to spell, which is common and normal at this age.

    On a variety of measures, the older prephonological spellers showed more knowledge about English letter patterns than did the younger prephonological spellers. When the researchers asked adults to rate the children’s productions for how much they looked like English words, they found that the adults gave higher ratings, on average, to the productions of older prephonological spellers than to the productions of younger prephonological spellers.

    The productions of older prephonological spellers also were more word-like on several objective measures, including length, use of different letters within words, and combinations of letters. For example:

    A 5-year-old who writes “fepiri” when asked to write the word “touch” might seem to know nothing about spelling, but this attempt looks more like a word than “fpbczs” as produced by a 4-year-old.

    “While neither spelling makes sense as an attempt to represent sounds, the older child’s effort shows that he or she knows more about the appearance of English words,” Treiman said.

    The findings are important, Treiman said, because they show that exposure to written words during the 3-to-5-year age range may be important in getting children off to a strong start with their reading, writing and spelling skills.

    “Our results show that there is change and improvement with age during this period before children produce spellings that make sense on the basis of sound.” Treiman said. “In many ways, the spellings produced during this period of time are more wordlike when children are older than when they are younger. That is, even though the spellings don’t represent the sounds of words, they start looking more like actual words.”

    “This is pretty interesting, because it suggests that children are starting to learn about one aspect of spelling — what words look like — from an earlier point than we’d given them credit for,” she said. “It opens up the possibility that educators could get useful information from children’s early attempts to write- information that could help to show whether a child is on track for future success or whether there might be a problem.”