Nearly one-in-four children show diagnosable psychiatric symptoms before entering school. Children don’t easily grow out of these issues, and they often become worse with age, not better. Unfortunately, there is not enough research focused on early detection in the general population. Without early detection children can’t get the early help they need.
- Patterns of socio-emotional health are observable in children as early as kindergarten.
- Household income, child gender, and ESL status are differentially associated with these health patterns.
What is the research about?
Socio-emotional vulnerabilities in early childhood affect children’s future health and well-being. These include anxiety, depression, hyperactivity, and aggression.
Treating these vulnerabilities early before they turn into larger problems is important. One way to do so is to know the patterns of socio-emotional health early. Knowing the social disparities associated with these patterns can be even more helpful.
A study from the University of British Columbia examined whether:
- distinct patterns of socio-emotional health are identifiable in kindergarten
- household income, gender, and English as a second language (ESL) status are associated with certain patterns of health
What did the researchers do?
Children’s socio-emotional health was measured using eight subdomains from the Early Development Instrument (EDI).
- Overall social competence
- Responsibility and respect
- Approaches to learning
- Readiness to explore
- Prosocial and helping behavior
- Anxious and fearful behavior
- Aggressive behaviour
- Hyperactive and inattentive behaviour
To understand how social disparities relate to socio-emotional health the researchers looked at:
- Household subsidy status
- ESL status
What did the researchers find?
Researchers statistically sorted children into six different groups of socio-emotional health.
- overall high social-emotional functioning
- overall low social-emotional functioning
Although most children had high overall socio-emotional health (group 1), over 40% had some area of weakness.
Groups 5 and 6 showed higher aggression and hyperactivity than the other groups. But children in group 5 showed strengths in readiness to explore. Those without this strength in group 6 may be at greater risk for later mental health problems.
Children who scored higher on the social competence, rule-following, and respectfulness subdomains generally scored lower on the readiness to explore subdomain, and vice versa.
Researchers further examined the associations between each of these groups and household income, gender, and ESL status.
The proportion of children from low income families increased at each lower level of socio-emotional health.
Boys were more represented in groups with high aggression and hyperactivity (group 5 and 6). They were also underrepresented in the highest socio-emotional health group (group 1).
Children with ESL were overrepresented in groups demonstrating lower readiness to explore.
What does this research mean?
The study shows patterns of socio-emotional health are observable in children as early as kindergarten. Household income, child gender, and ESL status were also differentially associated with these health patterns.
Potential interventions should include programs that address underlying issues that may impair children’s socio-emotional health.