How you interact with your children when they're just starting kindergarten helps determine their behavior by the time they finish fourth grade, according to a study published in the September/October 2005 issue of the journal Child Development.
The study, from researchers at Wichita State University in Kansas, found that early parent-child relationships, including warmth, good communication and parental tracking of child behavior, serve as important building blocks for later monitoring (knowing where your child is, with whom, and what he or she is doing outside the home) later in childhood.
To determine this, researchers tracked 267 boys and girls from kindergarten through fourth grade, 43 percent of whom lived in intact families with two biological parents at the start of the study. They found that while early parent-child relationships served as important early building blocks for effective later monitoring, problems such as aggression, lying and stealing that appeared early in a child's life interfered with the development of effective monitoring during the transition to adolescence, probably because children with conduct problems avoided their parents' surveillance, didn't want to provide information, and/or became angry and resistant when their parents attempted to monitor their behavior outside the home.
A key finding is that effective early interventions need to focus on warmth and communication in the parent-child relationship, which, this study suggests, reduces the early appearance of child conduct problems and also provides the foundation for effective monitoring in adolescence. Even in the absence of early intervention to promote effective parenting, school-based or child-focused interventions to reduce conduct problems in elementary school may facilitate later monitoring efforts by parents.
"Our findings indicate that both parents and children contribute to the development of effective monitoring practices, and the building blocks that promote effective monitoring in adolescence are laid down in the early elementary school years," said James Snyder, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Wichita State University. "Interventions for conduct problems like drug use and delinquency that increasingly occur in adolescence may usefully be delivered during earlier childhood."