Parent-Child Programs Holds Promise
Parenting is one of the most rewarding activities one can do, but it is also one of the most challenging. As the saying goes, children don’t come with instruction manuals. Therefore, many parents welcome additional tools that can support their children’s healthy development.
Increasingly, scientific evidence on child development is revealing something that many parents know: Programs that provide more support for parents are beneficial for children, especially early in a child’s development. Two-generation approaches combine programs for children with programs for parents, and some evidence suggests that these programs are more effective than those that focus exclusively on children or parents.
One possible reason for the increased effectiveness is that two-generation programs provide the opportunity to share with parents the strategies and activities that their children are learning in the classroom. Parents can then use similar strategies and activities at home, which reinforces learning and creates more consistency for the child between the classroom and the home.
There is renewed interest in research on two-generation approaches, and some of this innovative research is taking place here in Lane County.
As researchers in the Brain Development Lab at the University of Oregon Psychology Department, we study the effects of different kinds of experiences on the development of the brain. For the past 10 years, our laboratory has had an active and productive research collaboration with Head Start of Lane County. One of the results of this research is a two-generation program called Creating Connections. It has two parts.
One is a program for parents based in part on the pioneering work on parenting by our colleagues at the Oregon Social Learning Center. The other part is an innovative program for preschool children that our lab, led by Scott Klein, developed. Called Brain Train, it features fun activities for children that support the development of attention, self-regulation, and emotional regulation. Research has shown that these abilities are important for healthy development and success in school. In a study published last year, we showed that Creating Connections reduced parenting stress and improved children’s thinking skills and brain function.
Based on this research, our laboratory and Head Start of Lane County were one of only four Head Start University Partnerships nationwide to be awarded a collaborative grant from the Department of Health and Human Services. In this research, we are studying ways to integrate two-generation programs like Creating Connections into Head Start, and also continuing to study how two-generation programs can help children be ready for school.
One innovative aspect of this research is that we are also studying whether two-generation programs can have wider benefits to parents and the whole family. For example, a program may give children and parents strategies to reduce and manage stress.
In addition to strong scientific support for two-generation approaches, there is popular support. According to a new 2014 survey from Lake Research, 70 percent of Americans believe that if we want to make sure children are successful in their early learning, then we also have to invest in parents. Plus, 89 percent support two-generation programs.
Parents and teachers have several ways to learn more. First, a number of resources are available from Ascend. It is part of a national non-profit institute, Aspen Institute, and is dedicated to promoting innovative development and implementation of two-generation approaches. Second, our laboratory has made a not-for-profit DVD about brain development entitled Changing Brains that can be viewed for free or purchased at low cost.
Providing a child with a strong foundation for future success is one of the most rewarding aspects of parenting. While two-generation approaches aren’t an instruction manual, they show promise for helping families achieve their goals.
The coauthors conduct research at the Brain Development Lab at the University of Oregon’s Psychology Department, where Helen Neville, PhD., is director. She is a professor of psychology and neuroscience and the Robert and Beverly Lewis Endowed Chair. Parenting Now! is a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening families through parent support and education. Read through this website, contact us on Facebook or call us at 541.484.5316.