The Importance of Emotional Support for Mothers

Apr 20, 2012

By Emily Firgens

Mother's Day may be weeks away, but it's never too early to focus on moms' emotional well-being. Turns out, emotional support for caregivers is crucial to children's healthy development too. It's also an important aspect of high quality early childhood settings. When parents and other caregivers have regular emotional support like relationships that provide security and reassurance, they are less likely to experience stress, more easily demonstrate confidence in their parenting, and are more likely to utilize effective discipline strategies. Early childhood settings can help provide that emotional support by offering formal family support services, by creating opportunities for parents to connect and build relationships, and through intentional efforts to develop supportive relationships between program staff and parents.

In a recent study, Child Trends looked specifically at how emotional support for mothers affects children from disadvantaged families. Using data from the 2007 National Survey of Children's Health, the study examined how children's externalizing behavior, symptoms of depression, grade retention rates, school engagement, and social competence are affected when mothers report having personal support systems. The results overwhelmingly show that when emotional support is present, mothers report more favorable outcomes for their children, including greater school engagement and social competence. Conversely, when emotional support is absent, mothers report less favorable outcomes.

The findings indicate that emotional support for mothers can help lessen negative child outcomes while also promoting positive ones. However, these results do not specify the type or duration of support that has the most impact. A longitudinal study that looks at how the type of support and its duration affect child development outcomes would provide a fuller picture. While the study focuses on mothers, children have many different types of primary caregivers, including extended family members. Providing emotional support for all caregivers is important.

Caregivers as well as children benefit when emotionally supportive relationships are present. Ensuring that parents receive the support and resources they need is critical for a child's emotional, social, and academic success. Programs like Head Start, Early Head Start, and home visiting, provide resources and supports like those described above to parents and caregivers. Expanding and developing the supports that parents and families receive through these types of programs is important to the healthy outcomes of entire families.

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