Kids Benefit from Parents' Social Network

The approaching holiday season will bring opportunities to reconnect with friends and family and be reminded of their importance in our lives. The holidays can also be a time of increased stress as parents try to make child care arrangements during school break and stretch the family budget to pay for presents and parties.

Making friends doesn't only help you, your kids benefit too! Tweet this!

Family and friends can be a buffer against stress. Relatives can help care for children, and friends can be a source of sympathy or encouragement. These are examples of social support, which researchers define as emotional or practical assistance provided by unpaid individuals like relatives, friends, coworkers, or neighbors.

Studies show that social support is an important component of a family’s well-being, because it helps parents cope with stress. Stress can distract parents from the task of parenting and interfere with their ability to provide sensitive caregiving. Having a network of friends and family who are available in times of need makes it easier for parents to respond effectively to adversity.

Social Networks Help Parents with Stress

Parents with strong social support networks tend to cope better with stress, have more effective parenting styles, and create more positive home environments for their children. They have more positive interactions with their children, and their parenting is more consistent, warm, and responsive.

By contrast, parents with low levels of support are more likely to be depressed, anxious, and distracted. They find it harder to cope with adversity and stress, and as a result they are less likely to be effective parents.

Research indicates that parents with more social support provide better learning environments for their children and have greater satisfaction in their roles as parents.

Higher levels of social support are related to positive, engaged parenting strategies. Mothers with greater availability of social support were also more likely to be sensitive, responsive, and communicative with their children.

Social Support Affects Children’s Development

Because it can affect parenting, social support can affect children’s development. Early interactions and environments lay the foundation for later achievement and success. A shortage of positive experiences can disrupt development and start children on a negative trajectory.

Children whose parents have higher levels of social support tend to have better behavioral outcomes, stronger language skills, and other developmental benefits.

Social support appears to be especially important for families already facing hardships such as poverty or raising a child with a disability. Parents with more social support tend to be more involved, more consistent, and better at providing stimulating experiences for their young children. They are also less likely to experience emotional difficulties like depression and anxiety.

Throughout November and December, we’ll be discussing ways that parents can combat stress and its negative effects on young children. We’ll also look at ways that our community can bolster social support among families and help ensure that children enjoy home environments where they can thrive.