Does Involvement in Relationship Education Affect Children’s Social Skills?

by Jennifer Griffith

The Bottom Line (at the Top): The ultimate goal of RE is to improve children’s lives. This study found that mothers participation in a RE program improved their coparenting skills which in turn led to better social skills for their children at school. RE programs can affect more than couple relationships.

“Say cheese!” The bittersweet moment when a mom or dad, holding back tears, takes that first-day-of-school picture of their little one is often accompanied by declarations such as, “I can’t believe he’s headed off to school already” or “My little girl is grown up so fast.” But then the worries start. What happens if the other kids make fun of him? Will she get along well with her classmates? Will she treat her teacher respectfully? Interestingly, relationship education (RE) may help to reduce these parental worries. A recent study found evidence that a mother’s involvement in RE can have a positive effect on her child’s social skills at school.

The current study, “The Effects of Mother Participation in Relationship Education on Coparenting, Parenting, and Child Social Competence: Modeling Spillover Effects for Low-Income Minority Preschool Children,”[1] by a team of researchers headed by the noted RE scholar Francesca Adler-Baeder, followed 314 low-income (mostly African American) families with children involved in Head Start programs in the southeastern United States. These children’s mothers[2] were either a part of a RE treatment group who volunteered for a RE class or a comparison group who did not volunteer. Those in the comparison group received written materials on healthy coparenting and could participate in the RE class at a later time. Those in the treatment group took part in the Together We Can (TWC) program, a 6-week curriculum that focused on effective coparenting and communication through lectures, discussions, and other activities. The researchers studied the effect that mothers’ participation in TWC program had on their Head Start child’s social skills at school, such as cooperating with other children. The researchers found:

  • Improved Social Skills. There was a significant, positive impact 1-year later on the social skills of children whose mothers participated in the TWC program. Improvements in coparenting agreement (with the child’s father) led to improvements in children’s social skills. These parents also reported a decrease in their punitive parenting habits. Children and parents in the comparison group did not see these effects.

Here are some possible implications of the study findings:

  • More Than Just Couple Relationships. The ultimate reason for RE – especially when it is supported by government funds – is that it helps to improve children’s well-being. This study suggests that relationship educators can have greater confidence in RE’s ability to affect more than couple relationships; it can improve coparenting and parenting skills which in turn can help children learn better social skills. Children’s social skills are a key predictor of success at school.[3]
  • Advertise the Added Value. As people become more aware of the impact RE can have on factors such as effective parenting and children’s social skills, more people may be inclined to participate in these programs.

Endnotes:

[1] Adler-Baeder, F., Garneau, C., Vaughn, B., McGill, J., Harcourt, K. T., Ketring, S., & Smith, T. (2016). The effects of mother participation in relationship education on coparenting, parenting, and child social competence: Modeling spillover effects for low-income minority preschool children. Family Process. doi:10.1111/famp.12267

[2] The parents in the sample were entirely female and mostly African American with an annual income of less than $14,000.

[3] Ladd, G. W. (2005). Children’s peer relations and social competence: A century of progress. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.