Young Children's Emotional Development and School Readiness
The current emphasis on children's academic preparedness continues to overshadow the importance of children's social and emotional development for school readiness (Raver & Zigler, 1997). Research, however, indicates that young children's emotional adjustment matters--children who are emotionally well adjusted have a significantly greater chance of early school success, while children who experience serious emotional difficulty face grave risks of early school difficulty. This Digest presents a brief overview of longitudinal research linking children's emotional development to school readiness and early school success and then discusses interventions designed for children entering school.
Over the past 20 years, research has demonstrated that children's emotional and social skills are linked to their early academic standing (Wentzel & Asher, 1995). Children who have difficulty paying attention, following directions, getting along with others, and controlling negative emotions of anger and distress do less well in school (Arnold et al., 1999; McClelland et al., 2000). For many children, academic achievement in their first few years of schooling appears to be built on a firm foundation of children's emotional and social skills (Ladd, Kochenderfer, & Coleman, 1997; O'Neil et al., 1997).
Specifically, emerging research on early schooling suggests that the relationships that children build with peers and teachers are based on children's ability to regulate emotions in prosocial versus antisocial ways and that those relationships then serve as a "source of provisions" that either help or hurt children's chances of doing well academically (Ladd et al., 1999, p. 1375). Psychologists find that children who act in antisocial ways are less likely to be accepted by classmates and teachers (Kupersmidt & Coie, 1990; Shores & Wehby, 1999). They participate less frequently in classroom activities and do more poorly in school than their more emotionally positive, prosocial counterparts, even after one controls for the effects of children's preexisting cognitive skills and family backgrounds (Ladd et al., 1999). One caveat is that children's early academic skills and emotional adjustment may be bidirectionally related, so that young children who struggle with early reading and learning difficulties may grow increasingly frustrated and more disruptive (Arnold et al., 1999; Hinshaw, 1992). Although our understanding of the causal and reciprocal influences of children's cognitive, language, and emotional competencies on later academic achievement would greatly benefit from additional research, the bulk of longitudinal evidence of the importance of social and emotional adjustment for children's success in early academic contexts is convincing and clear.
Reprinted with the permission of the Education Resources Information Center.
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