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Montefiore in the News

March 4, 2014

Singing, Storytelling, Playing and Eating Family Dinner Together May Improve the Social and Emotional
Well-Being of Preschool-Aged Children

NEW YORK (March 04, 2014) – Children who regularly sing, play, story-tell and eat dinner with their families tend to have higher social-emotional health (SEH), according to a study by investigators at The Children’s Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center (CERC) at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University, affiliated with The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore (CHAM). Results showed children who participate in five family routines are more than twice as likely to have high SEH and for each additional routine that a parent and child do together, there is an almost 50 percent greater likelihood of having high SEH. The study was published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.

Experts consider a child to have high SEH when they exhibit the ability to understand emotions, express empathy, demonstrate self-regulation and form positive relationships with peers and adults. High SEH in early childhood is thought to help a child adapt to the school environment and perform well academically. High SEH also is a good predictor of children’s long-term outcomes.

Investigators looked at data from a large, nationally representative sample of preschool-aged children - the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study- Birth Cohort, conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics. Researchers examined the parental responses of 8550 children to questions such as how many times families eat dinner together per week, how often they sing songs, read books and tell stories to their children and how often they play together. Results showed that 16.6 percent of the children had high SEH with approximately 57 percent of those reporting that they participate in three or more family routines.

“High social-emotional health has been associated with greater academic performance and improved behavior in the school environment,” said Elisa I. Muñiz, M.D., M.S., developmental-behavioral pediatrician, Department of Pediatrics, Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center, who led the research while a fellow at CERC. “Our findings suggest that parents with preschool aged children who regularly practice family routines together have greater social-emotional health and so we encourage families to sing, read, play and eat together on a regular basis.”

Researchers believe that being cared for in stimulating and nurturing environments in early life, with regular participation in predictable family routines, reflects greater family organization and can provide a sense of security and belonging. It also may positively impact children’s SEH before school entry and contribute to their future school and life success. Children who enter school with low SEH are at greater risk of developing difficulties in reasoning and problem solving, as well as having reduced attention spans and experiencing decreased social acceptance. This can impact their academic achievement and overall health and well-being through adulthood.

“While much attention has been paid to factors influencing young children’s cognitive and academic school readiness skills development, less attention has focused on what specifically impacts children’s social and emotional development,” said Ruth E. K. Stein, M.D., co-author and interim associate clinical director, CERC, attending physician, CHAM and professor of pediatrics, Einstein. “We believe our study sheds light on the topic and we encourage pediatricians to discuss the importance of practicing family routines regularly with parents to further enhance children’s school readiness.”