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.
Interventions With Children Entering School
Given the evidence that children's emotional adjustment plays an important part in predicting their likelihood of school success, the next question is "How do we aid children to develop emotional competence and avoid emotional difficulties so that they come to school ready to learn?" Interventions have been implemented at the family, child care, school, and clinical site levels to address these difficulties as children enter school. (A detailed discussion of interventions designed for children before they start school can be found in Raver .) Based on programmatic intensity, these programs include the following:
Low-Intensity Interventions in the Classroom
A wide range of interventions identify children's entry into formal schooling as a prime opportunity to affect children's social, emotional, and academic competence. Some programs have been implemented to change the way that children think about emotional and social situations. Using modeling, role play, and group discussion, teachers can devote relatively small amounts of class time to instruct children on how to identify and label feelings, how to appropriately communicate with others about emotions, and how to resolve disputes with peers (e.g., Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group, 1999; Quinn et al., 1999). The potential gain is that such programs can be offered to all children in a given classroom for relatively low cost. The potential drawback is that these programs may have only a modest, short-term impact on children's social and emotional behaviors (Quinn et al., 1999).
Reprinted with the permission of the Education Resources Information Center.
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