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A new report from the Growing Up in Scotland (GUS) study looks at the influence of family relationships and school experiences on social and emotional well-being amongst seven-year-old children.
This is the first report from GUS to use data collected directly from the participating children through a questionnaire.
The new report explores possible influences on children's behavioural and emotional difficulties, and on their subjective well-being. It uses data collected from mothers and children from 3,279 families in the first birth cohort of the GUS study, interviewed during 2012/13 when the children were nearly eight years old.
Mothers were asked about their child's behavioural and emotional development using the strengths and difficulties questionnaire (SDQ.) Children were asked about their life satisfaction using a series of five questions from the Huebner scale.
Around one in ten children (11%) had high levels of behavioural and emotional problems, while one quarter had low life satisfaction. There was some degree of overlap, with 4% of children having both high levels of behavioural and emotional problems, and low life satisfaction.
There was a strong relationship between measures of disadvantage and behavioural and emotional problems. However, the relationship was less strong for life satisfaction as reported by children.
To look into these issues in more detail, the study looked at the relationship between behavioural and emotional problems (mental health), and low life satisfaction (subjective well-being) and child, maternal and household factors, parenting behaviours, school experiences, friendships, leisure activities, and materialistic attitudes.
Several aspects of family life, school adjustment and friendships were associated with both child mental health problems and low subjective well-being. Greater conflict in the parent-child relationship, lower parental awareness of the child's activities and/or relationships, child difficulties adjusting to the learning and social environment at primary school and the child having poorer quality friendships were associated with both high levels of behavioural and emotional problems, and with low life satisfaction.
Family stressors related to deprivation and ill-health were more important for child mental health problems: these included poor child and maternal general health, low maternal education, family mental health/substance use problems and low parent-child warmth. However, these factors were not clearly associated with low life satisfaction. A recent death, illness or accident in the family, and less positive parenting were associated with low life satisfaction.
Future data collection through GUS will allow investigation of the consequences of low social and emotional well-being for children's later development. Meanwhile, despite many uncertainties about possible processes underlying the associations found in this study, the findings suggest interventions to promote social and emotional well-being could be based on both the family and school context.
The full report 'Family and school influences on children's social and emotional well-being' by Alison Parkes, Helen Sweeting and Daniel Wight at the MRC Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow is available to download from http://growingupinscotland.org.uk
Growing Up in Scotland is funded by the Scottish Government and is carried out by ScotCen Social Research in collaboration with the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships at the University of Glasgow and the MRC Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, University of Glasgow.
Other articles published in our June 2014 newsletter: