The importance of early parenting in at-risk families and children's social-emotional adaptation to school

Elizabeth McFarlane, Rachel A.B. Dodge, Lori Burrell, Sarah Crowne, Tina L. Cheng, Anne K. Duggan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)330-337
Number of pages8
JournalAcademic pediatrics
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2010


  • aggression
  • child rearing
  • parent-child relations
  • parenting
  • rejection
  • shyness
  • social adjustment
  • social behavior
  • vulnerable populations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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