Does inflated praise deflate some children?

A new article published in Psychological Science suggests that using inflated praise with children with low self-esteem may be counter-productive. The authors conducted three studies. Two of these tested whether adults are more likely to give inflated praise to children with low self-esteem than to children with high self-esteem, both inside the laboratory (Study 1. N = 712 adults) and outside the laboratory (Study 2. N = 114 parents). A third experiment looked at whether inflated praise decreases challenge-seeking in children with low self-esteem (N = 240 children aged 8-12).

The findings showed that adults are especially inclined to give inflated praise, such as “You made an incredibly beautiful drawing!”, to children with low self-esteem. However, they also found that such praise decreases challenge-seeking in children with low self-esteem and has the opposite effect on children with high self-esteem. They conclude that inflated praise, although well intended, may cause children with low self-esteem to avoid crucial learning experiences.

Source: “That’s Not Just Beautiful–That’s Incredibly Beautiful!”: The Adverse Impact of Inflated Praise on Children With Low Self-Esteem (2014),Psychological Science, online first January 2014.

The gene genie

Researchers at King’s College, the University of Warwick, and the University of New Mexico have published a new paper exploring the role of genes in educational achievement. They wanted to test the hypothesis that genetic differences (heritability) in educational achievement persist throughout compulsory education, as assessed by GCSEs at age 16.

The authors used data on 11,117 twins born in England and Wales between 1994 and 1996 recruited into the Twins Early Development Study and considered genetics, shared or common factors, and non-shared or unique environmental components. They found that heritability was substantial (58% of the variation) for overall GCSE performance for compulsory core subjects. In contrast, the overall effects of the shared environment, which includes all family and school influences shared by twins growing up in the same family and attending the same school, accounted for about 36% of the variance of mean GCSE scores.

They suggest that the significance of these findings is that individual differences in educational achievement can be attributed much more to genetics than to school or family environment, and conclude that this supports personalised learning.

Source: Strong Genetic Influence on a UK Nationwide Test of Educational Achievement at the End of Compulsory Education at Age 16 (2013), PLoS ONE.

Encourage family support to improve outcomes

A new review from MDRC analyses the evidence on how families’ involvement in children’s learning and development affects literacy, mathematics, and social-emotional skills at ages 3 to 8. A total of 95 studies, primarily from the last ten years, were included. Four categories were considered: learning activities at home, family involvement at school, school outreach to engage families, and supportive parenting activities.

The review found that overall family involvement had small to moderate effects on children’s outcomes. Numerous studies confirmed a link between family involvement and children’s literacy skills. A number of studies also demonstrated positive associations with children’s mathematics skills, and a few with children’s social-emotional skills. The weakest association was between family involvement at school and children’s outcomes.

The review concludes that family involvement is potentially important in terms of efforts to improve children’s early learning and development, particularly as all parents, when given direction, can increase their involvement with their children’s learning. The authors dismiss the idea that certain groups of parents do not care or will not become involved in their children’s education.

A future edition of Better: Evidence-based Education will be looking at the issue of parents and schools.

Source: The Impact of Family Involvement on the Education of Children Ages 3 to 8 (2013), MDRC.

It pays to be wealthier

A new review from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation concludes that wealth affects children’s outcomes. The authors analysed studies which separated the effect of money from other factors (eg, levels of parental education or parenting approaches) to isolate whether money was a direct cause of differences in outcomes. A total of 34 studies met the inclusion criteria.

The review concluded that while a parent’s level of education, attitude towards bringing up children, and other parental factors also have a bearing, having more money directly improves the development and level of achievement of children.

The authors found that money in early childhood makes the most difference in cognitive outcomes, while in later childhood and adolescence it makes more difference in social and behavioural outcomes.

Source: Does Money Affect Children’s Outcomes? (2013), Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Helping children prepare to succeed

Child Trends has released a new research brief on school readiness that aims to answer the question: Will children be ready to succeed in school, and how best can we support their success? The information is based on the work of Child Trends with US state policy makers and a review of existing literature on the topic. They offer the following five “things to know”:

  1. School readiness is a puzzle with multiple pieces, and families, communities, and schools all share responsibility in putting the pieces together to support children’s success in school.
  2. There are five areas of skills and development that will help young children be ready to succeed in school. These are health and physical development, social and emotional development, language and communication, approaches to learning, and cognitive development and general knowledge.
  3. It is especially important to think about high-quality early childhood experiences for children at risk of later difficulties in school. Research has shown that children from low-income families benefit from high-quality early care and education.
  4. School readiness starts at birth. Children’s early experiences, particularly from birth to age five, are critical to their brain development and lifelong health.
  5. School readiness assessment should have a clear purpose and be comprehensive.

Schools and parents influence well-being

A new report commissioned by the Department of Health has sought to identify factors that predict well-being throughout people’s lives. Data about well-being in early childhood was taken from questions asked to seven-year-olds as part of the Millennium Cohort Study. Findings include that children tend to have higher levels of well-being when they have good social relationships with family and friends, do things that they find enjoyable, experience moderation in activities that are potentially harmful to health, and have parents who do not shout or smack them. The authors suggest that this supports the current emphasis on extending the reach of parenting programmes and anti-bullying initiatives. Schools may also have a role to play in promoting positive health behaviours.

Information on teenagers was taken from the “Understanding Society” annual longitudinal survey. The findings suggest that subjective well-being declines steeply with age at this stage of life, with only 8% of 15-year-olds having high well-being compared to 24% of 11-year-olds. Substance use and excessive computer gaming become more common, and both are associated with lower levels of well-being. As with younger children, social relations are influential. A secure environment at school – free from bullying and classroom disruption – was linked to well-being in teenagers, as was feeling supported at home and sharing family meals. The report does not imply causation. For example, it is not possible to tell whether adolescents with low well-being play computer games, or whether playing computer games results in low well-being.

Source: Predicting Wellbeing (2013), NatCen Social Research.