Parenting Practices and Children’s Behavior in School

article | March 28, 2011

Parenting workshops can improve children’s behavior in school while also boosting parents’ knowledge and use of effective parenting practices and getting them more engaged in their child’s education. These are the key findings from new research conducted by the NYU Child Study Center and published in the January/February 2011 issue of Child Development.

The study, “Promoting Effective Parenting Practices and Preventing Child Behavior Problems in School Among Ethnically Diverse Families From Underserved, Urban Communities,” was conducted by Laurie Miller Brotman and her colleagues last year.  They wanted to find out whether families who attended regular parenting workshops through a program called ParentCorps showed increased knowledge and use of effective parenting practices and whether they took a more involved role in their child’s education. Brotman and her team were also interested in whether children whose parents participated in ParentCorps exhibited fewer behavior problems in school and if they performed better on a school readiness assessment.

To answer these questions, Brotman conducted a randomized trial consisting of eight public schools in one section of New York City. Each school had at least one universal pre-k classroom. Four schools were randomly designated as those that would receive the ParentCorps intervention. The four remaining schools were designated as “control schools.” The teachers in both intervention and control schools, however, received the same professional development on family intervention before randomization. Two cohorts of pre-k children attending the eight schools were recruited each year for two consecutive years.

A total of 171 families, out of the 410 eligible families, consented to participate in the study, 118 of which were in intervention schools and 53 were in control schools. Thirty-nine percent of children were black and 24 percent were Latino, the remaining 37 percent were white, Asian, and mixed race/ethnicity.

Before the parenting workshops began, researchers collected information from parents and teachers to determine a “baseline” for the parents’ involvement and their children’s behavior. This information was gathered via 1) a questionnaire for parents about how they raised their children and how they rated their child’s behavior; 2) a test on parents’ knowledge of effective parenting practices; 3) and home visits conducted by independent evaluators who videotaped how parents and children interacted with each other when engaged in playful activities.

The researchers repeated the questionnaire, tests and home visits after the final workshop to determine whether anything had changed.

During the same time periods, pre-k teachers completed questionnaires about children’s behavior and parental involvement. Teachers rated how often, throughout four-week period, each child showed signs of aggression or hyperactivity, disrupted the classroom, or seemed anxious or depressed. Teachers also rated how much they perceived parents to be engaged in their child’s education during a two-month period.

The experimenters also collected information on whether children were gaining “school-readiness” skills related to motor, language and conceptual development. (They used an assessment tool called Developmental Indicators for the Assessment of Learning-3 (DIAL-3).)

Families assigned to the intervention group were invited to attend a total of 13 two-hour workshops (one for parents and one for children held simultaneously) held at the child’s school. The parent workshop was led by mental health professionals and co-facilitated by trained pre-k teachers and included a focus on effective parenting practices such as establishing structure and routine, providing opportunities for positive parent-child interactions during child-directed play, using positive reinforcement, ignoring mild misbehavior and providing consistent nonphysical consequences for misbehavior.

The workshops included open discussions of families’ culture including values related to obedience and respect for elders and the influence of parents’ childhood experiences on their own parenting practices. Parents were also provided with take-home activities and tools, such as a timer to practice time-out as a consequence for children’s misbehavior.

Another key piece of the program was goal setting. Parents set goals for their children such as, “helping my son get along with his sisters” and discussed strategies for how to achieve each goal with the group and pre-k teachers.

In the children’s group, the 4-year-olds were exposed to skills that their parents were learning about such as star charts and time-out to increase their familiarity with these practices.

Families living in underserved, urban communities often face significant transportation, childcare, and financial barriers that inhibit their ability to attend workshops like these. ParentCorps tried to mitigate these barriers by offering meals during each group, prizes for those who attended, and childcare for younger siblings and a creative arts group for older siblings. Still, only 54 percent of families attended five or more of the 13 sessions. And researchers found that attendance was significantly related to parents reported use of effective parenting practices as well as their scores on the parenting practices test.

The researchers found that black families became more involved than Latino families. Brotman suggests that this could be due to language barriers, beliefs about teachers as authority figures, and possible lower levels of formal education among Latino parents. The study calls for future research on parent and child characteristics that might be related to family involvement.

Overall, positive effects were most significant for higher risk parents—those that exhibited low levels of effective parenting practices when the study began..

While the research does show promising results, it’s worth remembering that the study tracked fewer than 200 families. What would the result be with a larger group of children and families? And what about long-term effects on children’s behavior and academic achievement?

These questions may be answered by Brotman’s next study, which includes more than 1,000 black children from disadvantaged urban communities. It aims to evaluate long-term effects of ParentCorps on children’s classroom behavior and academic achievement. (Early Ed Watch was unable to find additional information about the full scope of this next study. The link above leads to a list of NYU Child Study Center’s studies that are currently underway.)