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The Importance of Early Parenting in At-Risk Families and Children’s Social-Emotional Adaptation to School

  • Elizabeth McFarlane
    Correspondence
    Address correspondence to Elizabeth McFarlane, PhD, MPH, Division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, 200 North Wolfe Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21287.
    Affiliations
    Department of Pediatrics, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Md (Dr McFarlane, Dr Dodge, Ms Burrell, Dr Crowne, Dr Cheng, and Dr Duggan); and Department of Pediatrics, John A. Burns School of Medicine, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii (Dr McFarlane and Dr Duggan)
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  • Rachel A.B. Dodge
    Affiliations
    Department of Pediatrics, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Md (Dr McFarlane, Dr Dodge, Ms Burrell, Dr Crowne, Dr Cheng, and Dr Duggan); and Department of Pediatrics, John A. Burns School of Medicine, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii (Dr McFarlane and Dr Duggan)
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  • Lori Burrell
    Affiliations
    Department of Pediatrics, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Md (Dr McFarlane, Dr Dodge, Ms Burrell, Dr Crowne, Dr Cheng, and Dr Duggan); and Department of Pediatrics, John A. Burns School of Medicine, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii (Dr McFarlane and Dr Duggan)
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  • Sarah Crowne
    Affiliations
    Department of Pediatrics, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Md (Dr McFarlane, Dr Dodge, Ms Burrell, Dr Crowne, Dr Cheng, and Dr Duggan); and Department of Pediatrics, John A. Burns School of Medicine, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii (Dr McFarlane and Dr Duggan)
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  • Tina L. Cheng
    Affiliations
    Department of Pediatrics, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Md (Dr McFarlane, Dr Dodge, Ms Burrell, Dr Crowne, Dr Cheng, and Dr Duggan); and Department of Pediatrics, John A. Burns School of Medicine, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii (Dr McFarlane and Dr Duggan)
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  • Anne K. Duggan
    Affiliations
    Department of Pediatrics, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Md (Dr McFarlane, Dr Dodge, Ms Burrell, Dr Crowne, Dr Cheng, and Dr Duggan); and Department of Pediatrics, John A. Burns School of Medicine, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Hawaii (Dr McFarlane and Dr Duggan)
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      Abstract

      Objective

      The aim of this study was to determine the specific aspects of early parenting in psychosocially at-risk families most strongly related to children’s social-emotional adaptation to school.

      Methods

      A cohort study of families (N = 318) identified as at risk for maltreatment of their newborns was conducted. Quality of early parenting was observed in the home when the child was 1 year old. Social-emotional adaptation to school was reported by teachers in first grade. Multivariable models assessed the independent influence of early parenting variables on social-emotional adaptation.

      Results

      Early parenting and social-emotional adaptation to school varied greatly across families. Parental warmth was associated with lower teacher ratings of shyness, concentration problems, and peer rejection. Parental lack of hostility was associated with decreased teacher ratings of concentration problems and peer rejection. Parental encouragement of developmental advance was associated with lower ratings of aggression and peer rejection. Provision of materials to promote learning and literacy was associated with lower ratings of concentration problems.

      Conclusions

      In this sample of families with multiple psychosocial risks for child maltreatment, specific aspects of early parenting were associated with better social-emotional adaptation to school in the first grade in theoretically predicted ways. Improving parental knowledge about positive parenting via anticipatory guidance should be a focus of well-child visits. Well-child visit-based interventions to improve the quality of early parenting, especially among at-risk families, should be studied for their impact on parenting behavior and on children’s successful social-emotional adaptation to school. Primary care providers should reinforce complementary services, such as home visiting, that seek to promote positive parenting.

      Keywords

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