This is according to Frank Field the government’s poverty czar. He also claims that by the age of three these children will have heard nearly half a million more positive comments from their parents than children from dysfunctional families.
The US research on which he based his comments found that the amount of talk between a parent and child predicts a child’s future achievements more than class, race or income.
Field believes poor parenting skills damages a child’s prospects by the age of three and that every parent can give their children a good start.
Among his ideas are a “highway code” for parents in which they promise to provide practical and moral support for their children; a “parenting curriculum” at school so that children learn about babies’ brain development in science classes; “rites of passage” such as naming ceremonies for children not being christened; and a formal ceremony attended by the mayor when children move to secondary school.
Some of this is common sense but having to have a highway code shows how much we have lost the support of families and friends. We might be more connected technologically but not socially. When we pulled down the terraced houses and replaced them with high rise flats we lost the sense of local communities.
A recent review set up by John Bercow, now the Speaker of the Commons, recommended that children should be tested for their language skills at the age of 2. Jean Gross, the Communications Champion, said that “those with poor speech at age two are doomed to a life of failure unless they receive help”.
Children who are inarticulate at age 5 have little chance of catching up. They are twice as likely to be unemployed in their thirties and at greater risk of going to prison. Cuts to speech therapists and reduction on school spending are not helping tackle this problem.
Earlier research at the University of Sheffield found that children whose parents were sociable eg members of sports clubs, church or voluntary groups, residents’ associations and similar, were brighter. They scored better on literacy, numeracy and verbal tests at age 5, compared to children whose parents led more solitary lives, taking into account differences in education and social class. It may be that more sociable parents are more positive when they speak to their children and speak to them more often. The children in turn develop social skills earlier which helps them do better at school – and in life generally.
With fewer real local communities parents have to make an effort to network and socialise which takes some organising.
A study carried out by the University of Michigan over a 25-year period found that children brought up in cleaner homes did better at school and earned more than children brought up in dirtier homes – regardless of race, social class, and level of parental education. The researchers put this down to efficiency, organisation and family values about helpful skills at school and work.
So the evidence is clear: talk to your children as much as you can in a positive manner and it will help them do well in life, especially if you are sociable parents.