All parents love their children — and all parents, at times, grow frustrated with them, especially when those children are young and still developing their self-control skills. But for low-income families, the strain of limited resources and a lack of security can push emotions so much higher when a child refuses to eat his dinner or makes it difficult to leave the house on time.
A new social-emotional learning (SEL) intervention from the Harvard Graduate School of Education's Stephanie Jones and her research team offers a promising source of support for low-income families. With the tools Jones and her team have developed, parents can learn to manage frustration and use simple moments with their children to bolster their relationships and build important executive function skills — for themselves and their children. Even under the weight of poverty, those interactions can begin to replace intergenerational stress with happiness and stability.
For many adults, lasting poverty and adversity can tax executive function (EF) skills, such as self-control, planning and prioritizing, and focus, leading to heightened stress, impulsivity, and negativity. For adults with children, this challenge can be especially precarious. Over time, as Jones and researchers Rebecca Bailey and Ann Partee explain in an upcoming article in the Aspen Journal of Ideas, stressful encounters such as yelling and persistent negativity can undermine the relationships that buffer children from chronic stress. Parents may lose confidence in their ability to respond to tough parenting situations and manage children’s behaviors. Children, in turn, may learn to act with impulsivity, aggression, or withdrawal. In such a cycle, neither parent nor child is drawing on or building the essential skills of emotion regulation, reflection, and problem-solving.
While many schools are now emphasizing SEL, much of the work to build self-regulation skills starts at home — and few programs have existed to support home- and school-based learning in alignment. Jones and her research team, using the SEL curriculum they’d already developed for schools, have now created just that kind of aligned intervention, called SECURe Families — a set of workshops for parents that mirror the strategies children are learning in schools.
The workshops, piloted in 2014–2015, give parents a concrete set of tools and activities designed to help manage stress and frustration and improve relationships.
One such tool, co-developed by Rebecca Bailey, Gretchen Brion-Meisels, and Jones: A set of simple strategies parents of young children can use to build self-regulation skills at home — for themselves and for their children.
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Stephanie Jones researches social-emotional problems and competencies in childhood and adolescence focusing on issues related to inequality and stressed, vulnerable contexts. She also designs, implements and evaluates strategies and programs that integrate social-emotional and academic learning.