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Research Review

Practicing Family Routines Leads to Higher Social-Emotional Health

Children who regularly sing, play, story tell, and eat dinner with their families tend to have higher social-emotional health (SEH), according to a study by investigators at The Children’s Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center (CERC) at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, affiliated with The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore (CHAM). Results showed children who participate in five family routines are more than twice as likely to have high SEH and for each additional routine that a parent and child do together, there is an almost 50% greater likelihood of having high SEH. The study was published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.

Experts consider a child to have high SEH when they exhibit the ability to understand emotions, express empathy, demonstrate self-regulation, and form positive relationships with peers and adults. High SEH in early childhood is thought to help a child adapt to the school environment and perform well academically. High SEH also is a good predictor of children’s long-term outcomes.

Investigators looked at data from a large, nationally representative sample of preschool-aged children, conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics. Researchers examined the parental responses of 8,550 children to questions such as how many times families eat dinner together per week; how often they sing songs, read books, and tell stories to their children; and how often they play together. Results showed that 16.6% of the children had high SEH with approximately 57% of those reporting that they participate in three or more family routines.

“High social-emotional health has been associated with greater academic performance and improved behavior in the school environment,” says Elisa I. Muñiz, MD, developmental behavioral pediatrician in the pediatrics department of the Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center, who led the research while a fellow at CERC. “Our findings suggest that parents with preschool-aged children who regularly practice family routines together have greater social-emotional health and so we encourage families to sing, read, play, and eat together on a regular basis.”

Researchers believe that being cared for in stimulating and nurturing environments in early life, with regular participation in predictable family routines, reflects greater family organization and can provide a sense of security and belonging. It also may positively impact children’s SEH before school entry and contribute to their future school and life success. Children who enter school with low SEH are at greater risk of developing difficulties in reasoning and problem solving, as well as having reduced attention spans and experiencing decreased social acceptance. This can impact their academic achievement and overall health and well-being through adulthood.

“While much attention has been paid to factors influencing young children’s cognitive and academic school readiness skills development, less attention has focused on what specifically impacts children’s social and emotional development,” says Ruth E. K. Stein, MD, coauthor and interim associate clinical director at CERC, attending physician at The Children’s Hospital, and pediatrics professor at Einstein. “We believe our study sheds light on the topic and we encourage pediatricians to discuss the importance of practicing family routines regularly with parents to further enhance children’s school readiness.”

— Source: Montefiore Medical Center