Healthy environment helps improve children’s lives, research shows – 05/21/2022

Children with good family relationships and a healthy environment are more likely to improve their lives. This was the conclusion of a study conducted between 2026 and 2019 and published in the journal Pediatrics on May 16, 2022.

Previous research has shown that family bonds reduce the risk of subsequent behavioral problems and substance abuse. “What’s different about this study is that it shows that family connection is associated with prosperity and not just survival or loss,” said lead author Robert Whitaker, director of a program at Columbia University in the United States.

How is research done?

The analysis included a total of 37,025 children aged 11 to 13 in 26 countries. Data collected from the International Child Welfare Survey across Europe, Africa, Asia and South America, work supported by the Jacobs Foundation, a Zurich-based organization focused on providing science-based knowledge to schools around the world to help children succeed.

Family ties were determined by an average score of five categories: care, support, safety, respect, and participation.

For each topic, participants received a statement and were asked to rate how much they agreed with it by scoring from zero (disagreement) to 4 (strongly agree). To measure care, for example, children were asked how much they agreed with the statement: “I feel safe at home.”

Developing six categories were determined by average scores: self-acceptance, purpose in life, positive relationships with others, personal growth, environmental competence, and autonomy. The survey structure was similar to the family connection, with the rating system ranging from zero to 10.

What was the result?

Researchers have found that adolescents who report a strong bond with their family also report success in life.

According to Whitaker, the essence of family connection is when children feel accepted and nurtured, which allows them to learn their strengths and weaknesses in a safe environment as they build their identity.

When it comes to development, it allows children to accept their strengths and weaknesses and then use their strengths to find purpose in life.

At the end of the experiment, children with the highest level of family connection were 49% more likely to improve than children with the lowest level of family connection.

The highest scores in terms of family connection and improvement came from children who said they lived with both parents, received adequate food or did not see their family financially concerned.

For Elaine Reese, a professor of psychology at the University of Otago (New Zealand) who was not involved in the research, it is not enough to have a frustrated and anxious life. “A good life means having a sense of purpose and meaning, which has measured the richness scale of this study,” Reese said in an interview with CCN.

The researchers then controlled the data for household poverty levels, including financial situation and food insecurity, so that they could influence the numbers. Afterwards, they noticed that the strength of the family connection still affects how children grow up.

How to strengthen family ties

Cooking with kids and eating as a family is one of the ways to communicate with them.

Photo: iStock

Adults have a very strong influence on the sensitive climate of the home, so it is important to create a space where children can see and hear, Whittaker said, as well as suggest some options.

A great opportunity to strengthen family ties around the dinner table. Adults should create an environment where children can talk freely.

When they talk, adults must show that they have a real interest in what their children are saying and try to postpone the trial.

Adults do not need to make great gestures to bond with their children. Having meaningful conversations is more important than connecting them to expensive trips, for example.

Whitaker further highlights that silence is another powerful form of communication. “Children and parents or their caregivers can make a connection by quietly spending time together or even doing household chores,” he says.

Other adults can help children too

Going forward, Whitaker said he wanted to research the impact of community members, such as teachers, on children. “We suspect that the feeling of connection with unaccompanied adults may increase the chances of developing adolescents,” he said.

Kelly-Ann Allen, an educational and developmental psychologist and senior professor at Monash University (Australia) who was not involved in the study, said external relationships are important and affect children, especially in childhood.

“If children experience healthy beliefs, they are more likely to have healthy beliefs than adults,” he said in an interview with CNN.

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