The proposed studies are designed to identify concrete ways that parents can help young children develop the critical skills for controlling thei attention and behavior (termed executive function skills;EF) before they reach kindergarten. Executive functions are a set of core cognitive skills that enable children to ignore distractions and inhibit inappropriate behaviors (i.e., inhibition), hold and manipulate information in mind (i.e., working memory), and flexibly switch attention focus or strategies (i.e., cognitive flexibilty). They have important implications for children's academic success and behavioral adjustment. The proposed studies will test the power of parental autonomy support (e.g., taking children's perspective and supporting their initiative) as opposed to control (e.g., pressuring children to meet demands and discouraging child input) for helping children develop executive function skills and ultimately, for improving their achievement. The proposed work will also examine how the effects of autonomy support vs. control differ for children with and without difficult temperaments.
Aim 1. To evaluate the effects of autonomy support vs. control on children's EF skills (Aim 1a), with attention to whether such skills mediate the role of autonomy support vs. control on children's later achievement (Aim 1b) Aim 2. To investigate whether and how the effects of autonomy support vs. control differ as a function of children's temperament The proposed research will address these issues using both correlational and experimental designs. In Study 1, data from the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development will be analyzed to examine the effects of parents'naturally occurring autonomy support in the first three years of children's lives on children's subsequent EF skills at the end of preschool and ultimately, their achievement outcomes. Study 2 involves the collection of new data using an experimental paradigm to evaluate the effects of autonomy support on children's EF skills during the preschool years. Across the two studies, the moderating role of children's temperament will be investigated, with attention to distinguishing between two contemporary Parent x Child hypotheses: The dual-risk model (e.g., children with a difficult temperament will suffer disproportionately when parents are controlling) and the differential susceptibility hypothesis (e.g., children with a difficult temperament will be disproportionately affected by parents'autonomy support). Findings from this research will be extremely useful for making recommendations to parents as well as teachers and other caregivers in terms of how to foster these skills, particularly in children who would develop poor executive function skills without autonomy support. Increased EF skills at the beginning of kindergarten will ultimately lead to stronger math and reading achievement and behavioral adjustment during the elementary school years.

Public Health Relevance

The proposed studies are designed to identify concrete ways that parents can help young children develop the skills needed for controlling their attention and behavior (termed executive function skills) before they reach kindergarten. The studies will test the power of parental autonomy support (e.g., taking children's perspective and supporting their initiative) as opposed to control (e.g., pressuring children to meet demands and discouraging child input) to increase children's executive function skills. Findings from this research will be extremely useful for making recommendations to parents as well as teachers and other caregivers for how to foster these skills, particularly in children who are at risk of developing poor executive function skills, which will ultimately lead to improved academic achievement and behavioral adjustment during the elementary school years.

Agency
National Institute of Health (NIH)
Type
Postdoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F32)
Project #
5F32HD074371-03
Application #
8700444
Study Section
Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1)
Program Officer
Griffin, James
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
3
Fiscal Year
2014
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Name
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
Department
Psychology
Type
Schools of Arts and Sciences
DUNS #
City
Champaign
State
IL
Country
United States
Zip Code
61820