Sunday, July 16, 2017

Too much support?

Supporting the development of social skills, emotional regulation, and reflective practice in children is an essential part of cultivating cultures and communities that value and embody justice, compassion, and equality. And research on such topics is especially valuable to us as reflective practitioners. 

Research moves in cycles, leading to new questions and explorations, which is why I am curious about the follow up to a recent study about an inverse relationship between a parent's support and a teacher's assessments of a child's social skills. I did not have access to the full study of 203 third graders and their mothers, but the abstract spelled it out a little:
"Mothers’ supportive reactions predicted greater social adjustment in children as reported by mothers. Inverse associations, however, were found with teachers’ reports of children's social adjustment: mothers’ supportive reactions predicted fewer socioemotional skills and more problem behaviors. These contrasting patterns suggest potential unperceived costs associated with mothers’ supportiveness of children's negative emotions for third-grade children's social adjustment in school and highlight the importance of considering associations between socialization practices and children's various social contexts." (SOURCE
Dr. Vanessa Castro, a co-author of the study, suggested three possible reasons for the discrepancies. First, the parents could be the cause of the problem by "hovering or providing too much support." Second, the children need the support because they have "social and emotional problems." Third, the children act differently when at home than at school. The summary ended with an appeal that it "may be helpful for parents to consider other strategies to guide their children to develop their own skills in emotion regulation and social interaction." (SOURCE)

Although it's not possible for me to draw conclusions from a summary like this, it is a useful exercise to identify some of the questions that are raised. For example, why does the study prioritize the assessment of the teachers over the assessment of the parents? What might the discrepancies say about classroom management, school cultures and policies, and social dynamics between students? And who chooses and how do we choose which values are most important socially? 

Similarly, what might we discover if we focus in on family habits? Are the different participants providing similar types of support? Are there any important differences between participants, in circumstance, demography, or skill? And, if so, do those differences correlate with different outcomes? Are teachers and parents using the same measures? Are there different measures, for example, when thinking about long-term development and short-term behavior? 

I observed many of these kinds of dynamics during my brief time (three semesters) as a third grade remedial reading instructor in a public school. I am not suggesting that the answers are clear or easy, which is what makes research like this so important. I am suggesting that it is important for us to always fold the answers back into the process of learning, and keep asking questions. 

In the meantime, Melinda Wenner Moyer's article on some related topics, "Mommy Will Make It Better," is well worth the read, and includes references to other important studies.