How a child interacts with other people at the age of three might predict his or her future social and academic performance, a new study found.
Important social skills in early childhood include emerging abilities to manage feelings and behaviours, recognize social cues from others and engage in positive interactions with peers.
The study was conducted by a team of researchers led by Holly Brophy-Herb at Michigan State University (MSU).
As part of the study, researchers studied the impact of Early Head Start (EHS), which is a national intervention and support program for income-eligible families and provides comprehensive services to families until the child is three years old.
Researchers found that EHS children performed better on measures of cognition, language and social-emotional functioning than their peers at age three. In addition, they were less likely to be in the 'at risk' category of cognitive and language functioning.
Parents of EHS children were more supportive of their children's emotional, cognitive and language development when their children were three years of age.
The same results were observed at assessments when the children were five years of age.
The study noted that by age five, children who had received EHS programming as infants and toddlers continued to show fewer behaviour problems and more positive approaches to learning.
These findings have boosted the long-held belief that early childhood intervention is key to helping children who are at risk of behaviour problems, poor developmental health outcomes, decreased school readiness and higher dropout rates.
The findings of the study were presented at the 2007 meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development.