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Parental Behaviours Predicting Early Childhood Executive Functions: a Meta-Analysis

Abstract

Recent research indicates that parental behaviours may influence the development of executive functions (EFs) during early childhood, which are proposed to serve as domain-general building blocks for later classroom behaviour and academic achievement. However, questions remain about the strength of the association between parenting and child EFs, more specifically which parental behaviours are most strongly associated with child EFs, and whether there is a critical period in early childhood during which parental behaviour is more influential. A meta-analysis was therefore conducted to determine the strength of the relation between various parental behaviours and EFs in children aged 0 to 8 years. We identified 42 studies published between 2000 and 2016, with an average of 12.77 months elapsing in the measurement of parent and child variables. Parental behaviours were categorised as positive (e.g. warmth, responsiveness, sensitivity), negative (e.g. control, intrusiveness, detachment) and cognitive (e.g. autonomy support, scaffolding, cognitive stimulation). Results revealed significant associations (ps < .001) between composite EF and positive (r = .25), negative (r = −.22) and cognitive (r = .20) parental behaviours. Associations between cognitive parental behaviours and EFs were significantly moderated by child age, with younger children showing a stronger effect size, whereas positive and negative parental behaviours showed a stable association with EFs across ages. We conclude that modest, naturally occurring associations exist between parental behaviours and future EFs and that early childhood may be a critical period during which cognitive parental behaviour is especially influential.

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References marked with an asterisk indicate studies included in the meta-analysis.

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Correspondence to Debora S. Valcan.

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Appendices

Appendices

Appendix 1

Table 3 Characteristics of studies in the meta-analytic sample

Appendix 2

Table 4 Selection process for studies reporting data from the same, or overlapping, samples

Appendix 3

Table 5 Categorisation of parental behaviours in the meta-analysis and definitions by authors of the original studies

Appendix 4

Table 6 Effect size for each study and total weighted mean effect size for correlations between parental behaviours and children’s executive functions

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Valcan, D.S., Davis, H. & Pino-Pasternak, D. Parental Behaviours Predicting Early Childhood Executive Functions: a Meta-Analysis. Educ Psychol Rev 30, 607–649 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-017-9411-9

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Keywords

  • Parenting
  • Inhibition
  • Shifting
  • Working memory
  • Executive functions
  • Early childhood