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The skills necessary to prosper in the academic and social environment of the classroom develop before children enter the classroom. Children’s skills at early ages establish a specific pathway of development influencing future success. Effortful control skills, which allow children to self-regulate, inhibit responses, and focus attention, develop before the age of 3 and are stable across ages 5 and 7 (Kochanska & Knaack, 2004). The development of these skills enables children to follow rules, foster friendships, and adjust to classroom norms. Children who display higher effortful control skills at age 3 display fewer externalizing behaviors in the preschool classroom (Olson, Sameroff, Kerr, & Lopez, 2005). More externalizing behaviors in children in preschool is predictive of later life externalizing problems (Campbell, 1995). Consistent with early ages, parent reports of higher levels of effortful control at ages 9, 11, and 13 are related to greater attention skills and less externalizing behaviors (Simonds, Kieras, Rueda, & Rothbart, 2007). Children with lower effortful control skills display below grade level social competence, lacking appropriate social skills to interact with peers (Carlos, Lemery-Chalfant, Swanson, & Reiser, 2008).
The current study adds to the literature by examining how effortful control skills developed at age 3, 5, and 7 contribute to academic and social-emotional outcomes at 5th grade by analyzing externalizing and internalizing behaviors, depressive and anxiety symptoms, academic skills, and peer relationships. Data from the Early Head Start Research and Evaluation Project (EHSREP) are utilized. One hundred and five low-income, racially diverse children were followed from age 3 until they left the 5th grade classroom. Effortful control skills are seen as multidimensional and were gathered from multiple sources over a 7-8 year time span.
Preliminary analyses demonstrated higher scores on emotional regulation at age 3 had a significant negative correlation with aggressive behaviors and externalizing behaviors on the child behavior checklist (CBCL) at 5th grade (Table 1). Overall patterns suggest that children at age 3 who demonstrated higher levels of persistence with tasks also displayed higher levels of 5th grade academic success (math, language and literature skills), r (99) = 0.282, p < 0.01. Children at age 5 who displayed higher levels of attention and organization-impulse control demonstrated patterns of lower levels of withdrawn/ depression symptoms, less social and rule-breaking problems, and less externalizing behaviors in 5th grade. This pattern continues at age 7 with stronger correlations between attention and organization-impulse control with 5th grade internalizing and externalizing behaviors. Findings illustrate that correlations between earlier effortful control skills and outcomes in 5th grade grew stronger as the child aged, indicating a pathway for development is established at age 3. Future analyses will examine the measures of effortful control through confirmatory factor analysis in structural equation modeling to assess how children’s effortful control skills across contexts and ages are related to one another and social-emotional outcomes in 5th grade. Additionally, possible mediator effect of parent-child interaction between this relation will be investigated.