Academic journal article Journal of Early Childhood and Infant Psychology

Early Emotional Availability: Predictive of Pre-Kindergarten Relationships among Mexican-Heritage Children?

Academic journal article Journal of Early Childhood and Infant Psychology

Early Emotional Availability: Predictive of Pre-Kindergarten Relationships among Mexican-Heritage Children?

Article excerpt

A large body of literature based primarily on dominant culture parents and children in the United States suggests that early mother-child interaction contributes to children's subsequent social competence with teachers and peers (for a review of this literature see Thompson & Raikes, 2003). In general, warmth and sensitivity on the part of the parent and responsive participation on the part of the child during mother-child interactions are associated with children entering formal school ready to form positive relationships with teachers and peers (Biringen, Skillern, Mone, & Pianta, 2005). Biringen and colleagues also found that when mothers engage in a high-level of structuring and sensitivity, children tend to have positive kindergarten social adjustment. Positive mother-child interaction, within the emotional availability schema, has two maternal components: sensitivity, the mother's awareness of and responsiveness to the child as well as her ability to express positive affect and to resolve conflicts; and structuring, the mother's ability to structure or scaffold interactions with her child in a sustained manner (Easterbrooks & Biringen, 2000).

The first purpose of the current study was to extend the research on mother and child emotional availability with dominant culture parents and children in the United States to low-income Mexican-heritage parents and children. Mexican-heritage children were defined as children whose mothers or grandmothers were born in Mexico. Although Latino parents are a heterogeneous group, Mexican immigrants are the largest and fastest growing Latino group in the United States. School readiness is important for low-income Mexican-heritage children, in part because of concerns about a mismatch between parental and school expectations of children (Farver, Xu, Eppe, & Lonigan, 2006; Reese, 2002).

Mexican-heritage children, bringing different cultural expectations to schooling than dominant-culture families, may share commonalities with other children whose families are from Mexico and Latin American countries. Latino parents often encourage their children to respect teachers as authority figures and their styles of engagement and interaction around learning may differ from expectations in mainstream kindergarten classrooms (Farver et al., 2006). In general, respectful interactions between Latino adults and children is often described as including more adult direction and control than adult-child interactions in other ethnic groups (Halgunseth, Ispa, & Rudy, 2006).

However, engagement is an important component of school success and includes the ability of the child to use a teacher as a support for learning (La Paro & Pianta, 2000). This type of teacher-child relationship may be particularly important for children at risk for difficult school adjustment, helping to mitigate the downward trajectory associated with poor academic preparation for school (Hamre & Pianta, 2005). Early teacher-child relationships are particularly important for long term school adjustment and success, particularly as kindergarten teacher-child relationships have been found to predict sixth grade school social competence (Hamre & Pianta, 2001).

For all children, positive relationships with peers as well as teachers are important as children begin formal schooling. Children who start school with difficult peer interactions (e.g., aggressive behavior, exclusion from peer interactions) tend to be distracted from the main task of learning in school, often disrupting the learning of other children (Howes & Ritchie, 2002). These difficult children are at risk for forming conflictual relationships with their teachers. Teachers may be struggling not only with these children's behavior, but also a disrupted classroom (Howes & Shiver, 2006). Poor relationships with peers early in children's school careers can also interfere with later successful school adjustment (Ladd & Troop-Gordon, 2003). …

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