Parents spend a lot of time worrying about their kids’ schools. Yes, school matters, but what happens at home matters more. According to Parenting, Politics, and Social Mobility, a new report by the Brookings Institute (a Washington think tank), we’re not paying enough attention to the ‘the parenting gap.’ The parenting gap is even more powerful than the school-based reasons for the academic learning gap between kids growing up in families with more and fewer advantages.
Some recommendations that emerge from Parenting, Politics, and Social Mobility:
- Time spent with kids matters. Parents who spend more time with their children, especially in the preschool years, give their kids a big advantage in learning and subsequent achievement.
- The quality of the time spent with kids matters. Kids respond well when they grow up in a home characterized by warmth, acceptance, sensitivity, stimulation, and engaged conversation.
- The two critical elements of successful parenting are intellectual stimulation and emotional support.
- Critical aspects of intellectual stimulation are talking, listening, reading, and encouraging children’s curiosity.
- Critical aspects of emotional support are comfort, warmth, and support that lead to a strong attachment to the parent.
- Kids are more competent and confident, and also happier, when their parents provide strong emotional attachment, as well as clear discipline and boundaries.
- Pre-kindergarten programs for kids are great, but they start too late, and they’re not nearly as effective as programs that include parents.
- Policy initiatives should focus on giving parents the skills they need, as early as possible in children’s lives. This includes regular home visits in infancy, providing books and toys as needed, and group meetings with other parents.
- The Affordable Care Act in the US funds voluntary home-visiting programs aimed at improving school readiness, boosting health outcomes (of both mother and child), raising family economic self-sufficiency, improving parenting, and reducing child maltreatment and crime.
The authors of the Brookings Institute report conclude by saying, ‘The hard machinery of the state—schools, scholarships, and laws—is not sufficient for the task of building an opportunity society. Families and the parents that shape them are equally important incubators of opportunity. If we want more equality—of opportunity, of income, of wealth, of occupation—we’ll have to tackle the parenting gap, too.’