A Deeper Look: How Parents, Caregivers Can Teach Focus + Self Control

Yesterday’s post focused on focus. Today our focus deepens.

Specifically, we examined how parents and educators can help children learn and develop the essential life skill of focus and self-control.

The four action tips – compiled by Mind in the Making – were based, in part, on research by Jeanne Brooks-Gunn of Columbia University.  A deeper dive into some of Brooks-Gunn’s work offers additional insights and lessons.

For readers who want to review a full study, a PDF of the study “School Readiness and Later Achievement” can be found here.

The authors sought to “isolate” effects of various school-entry skills. In their work, they noted that “the strongest predictors of later achievement are school-entry math, reading, and attention skills.”

According to the abstract: “A meta-analysis of the results shows that early math skills have the greatest predictive power, followed by reading and then attention skills. By contrast, measures of socioemotional behaviors, including internalizing and externalizing problems and social skills, were generally insignificant predictors of later academic performance, even among children with relatively high levels of problem behavior. Patterns of association were similar for boys and girls and for children from high and low socioeconomic backgrounds. “

The Columbia University Teachers College highlighted the important way attention may predict later learning: “Children in the study who had trouble concentrating early on in their school careers were more likely to have academic trouble later on.”

Interestingly, in a separate conversation with the Teachers College, Brooks-Gunn also discussed the ways in which “family processes and the home environment influence child development.”

Said Brooks-Gunn: “We now have better answers to four questions: (1) do parents matter?, (2) how do parents matter?, (3) is it possible to change parenting behavior through intervention programs?, and (4) if we can change parents’ behavior, will children be more prepared for school?”

“Some scholars have questioned the premise that parents matter, their assertions widely publicized in the media. However, research-based rebuttals of the idea that parents don’t matter have appeared. Evidence from studies of children who are adopted, are exposed to cocaine parentally, are identical twins, and whose parents receive intervention all indicate that parenting does matter. In terms of how it matters, parents engage in lots of activities with and for their children; in a recent article, Markman and I identified seven different dimensions of parenting behavior:”

  1. Nurturance
  2. Language
  3. Discipline
  4. Materials in the home
  5. Monitoring
  6. Management of the home
  7. Direct teaching of skills to children

Of course, this can seem like a lot for any parent – or even educator – to handle. Parents may not all feel they have the skills to properly help their children.

But while differences in parenting behavior exists, Brooks-Gunn highlights an important lesson for parents and educators who want to help teach the essential life skill of focus and self-discipline to children – it’s never too late to learn.

Said Brooks-Gunn: “Parenting behaviors are amenable to intervention.”

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