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Children’s Health, The Nation’s Wealth: Assessing and Improving Child Health
to religion or religiosity rather than parenting, community values, or attributes of youth who tend to be religious.
Family Learning Environments. All children do not enter school equally equipped to master its associated challenges. A substantial literature demonstrates the extent to which parental practices can augment or impede the development of language and reading skills in young children and that acquisition of these early skills predicts later success in school (Hart and Riseley, 1995; Senechal and LeFevre, 2002; Zill, 1996). The quantity of speech directed toward children is a strong correlate of the child’s subsequent vocabulary and emergent literacy skills (Hart and Risley, 1995; Huttenlocher et al., 1991; Dickinson and DeTemple, 1998). The literature linking parental reading to infants and toddlers with emergent literacy skills led the American Academy of Pediatrics to recommend that pediatricians “prescribe” reading to parents beginning when their children are 6 months old.
Seminal work by Bradley and Caldwell (1980) identified important aspects of the home environment that are related to children’s well-being. Their widely used Home Observation for Measurement of the Environment (Bradley and Caldwell, 1984) scale assesses the type and frequency of interactions and learning experiences that parents provide for their children, both inside and outside the home. Stimulation, emotional support, structure, and safety are associated with the well-being of both low-income and high-income children (Bradley et al., 1994).
Parents and family environment represent an important determinant of childhood eating patterns and childhood obesity (Hart et al., 2003). Although relatively little research has assessed the nutritional environments provided by parents (especially obese parents) for overweight children, existing data suggest a strong environmental contribution confounded by genetic interactions. While the need to design effective family-based eating programs is clear, the evidence base for the effectiveness of such programs in the prevention or reduction of childhood obesity is limited (Birch and Davidson, 2001).
Parents’ cultural backgrounds have been associated with the learning environments provided to children of all ages. Parents tend to promote not only those skills that they value, but also those they have mastered (Moll et al., 1992). In a recent study, immigrant parents of different cultural backgrounds—Cambodian, Dominican, and Portuguese—differed significantly with regard to the areas of their children’s education in which they were involved (García Coll and Weisz, 2002). These differences existed even when a large majority of parents in all groups reported valuing education and having high aspirations for their children’s educational attainment.
Parental Mental Health. Parental depression and psychological distress can have powerful negative effects on child well-being. Depression has been estimated to