Giving your preschooler jobs around the house may help them perform better in school as well as make new friends, and rewards may not be necessary.

A new study shows that children whose mothers supported their autonomy by giving them responsibilities and offering them choices in kindergarten were better off socially and academically later in third grade.

Researchers say this “autonomy supportive” parenting approach involves focusing on the child’s perspective, explaining the rationale for requests, providing choices, and not using controlling language.

In contrast, use of praise or rewards with preschoolers wasn’t associated with any positive effects on adjustment in later years.

Researchers say previous studies have shown that giving young children rewards can sometimes be perceived as controlling and may lead to potentially negative effects. However, no negative or positive effects were found in this study.

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Responsibility Breeds School Success

In the study, researchers interviewed mothers of 5-year-olds to measure the level of responsibility and autonomy the children were given. Three years later, researchers looked at the children’s social adjustment and academic achievement in third grade as well as interviewed their teachers.

The results showed that preschoolers who were given responsibility and autonomy were better adjusted socially and academically three years later, regardless of the child’s social or economic status, sex, or intelligence.

Children of mothers who supported their autonomy also performed better on reading achievement tests.

The results of the study appear in the October issue of the Journal of Personality.

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By Jennifer Warner, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: Joussemet, M. Journal of Personality, October 2005; vol 73. News release, Blackwell Publishing.