Published on Let's Talk Development

Learning from previous research: Parenting tips for overcoming family challenges during the current pandemic

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Suchitoto, El Salvador. 03-18-2019. Portrait of a girl at school writing in the classroom in the old town of Suchitoto. Gonzalo Bell / Suchitoto, El Salvador. 03-18-2019. Portrait of a girl at school writing in the classroom in the old town of Suchitoto. Gonzalo Bell /

This blog entry is in a series that highlights insights from research for development policies and practice, supported by the Knowledge for Change Program (KCP).

On the occasion of father’s day, we’d like to shine the spotlight on the contours of parenting, which has evolved rather dramatically since the Covid-19 pandemic. Life at home looks quite different from before; and due to high economic stress, prolonged social isolation, and emotional anxiety resulted from having to play multiple roles at home, we are also hearing more disturbing news about an increasing number of domestic violence, abuse, and neglect of children. In this blog, we will feature empirical evidence related to three dimensions of parenting and learning. The first piece calls attention to socio-emotional learning, which may generate positive academic performance and help prevent crime; the second one estimates the effects of parenting programs and the impacts on children’s well-being; and the last one looks beyond the immediate family and discusses the benefits of having empowered friends.

1. Socio-emotional learning can prevent youth crime

The pandemic threw a disproportionately more severe shock to impoverished neighborhoods, where teens are especially prone to gang recruitment and engaging in criminal activities. The prolonged socio-economic and mental health challenges could affect high-risk children and can increase the likelihood of youth crime and violence. How can we tackle young people’s exposure to and participation in crime? A new DEC study  revealed that after-school programs (ASPs) in El Salvador - which include a specific curriculum oriented to fostering socio-emotional skills – may generate direct impacts on the participants’ academic, behavioral, and violence outcomes of vulnerable public-school students. Experimental evidence from the research shows that the intervention improved students’ academic performance - it increased students’ grades and reduced reports of bad behavior. Enrolled students also held better attitudes toward school and reduced their absenteeism by 23%.

Particularly, researchers also revealed that improved academic performance and reduction in violent behaviors were explained by the improvement of their socio-emotional skills. The study provided novel evidence on the ASPs’ positive effects on students’ emotional regulation – the way in which one consciously control one’s own emotional and physical responses to given stimuli. The participant students perceived that they could manage or control what happens in their lives to a greater extent than non-participating students did. The authors argue that the enhancement of the students’ emotional regulation capacity was the main factor that contributed to the ASPs’ behavioral and academic benefits. This research underscores the importance of incorporating socio-emotional learning into youth educational programs, including through on-line engagements.

2. A low-cost parenting program can produce long-lasting changes in the lives of poor children and their families

Do parenting programs work, and do they induce long-lasting changes on their children? A KCP funded study that evaluated a group parenting program in Chile demonstrates that parenting programs could  improve self-efficacy, which in turn would also induce positive changes in parenting practices at home and improved parent-child interaction. Social interactions with other parents within the same geographical area sharing similar concerns about the challenges of parenting, may also stimulate better parenting behavior. One such successful program is Nadie es Perfecto (NEP), a large-scale, low-cost group parenting program in Chile targeting poor families. The program provides 6-8 weekly group parental training sessions for parents of children aged 0-5 years. The strength of the approach lies in a semi-structured curriculum that that adapts to the group’s interests and needs, based on a model of experiential learning designed for adults and delivered by trained and certified facilitators.

According to the large-scale field experiment conducted in 2011 and a follow-up survey in 2014, the NEP program significantly strengthened home environments and children’s language and socio-emotional development outcomes, and the impacts lasted well beyond the conclusion of the program. Notably, NEP seems to operate by changing parental beliefs, including self-efficacy, perceived impact of own behavior on their children’s development, and perceived social support and expectations and by improving positive parenting strategies with children.

NEP could provide an interesting model case for other countries.  Its low cost and intensity, and its suitability to be integrated within existing health platforms and services, and the fact that it achieved sustained impacts over time make it an attractive model to be adapted to other settings. More work is needed to test how the curriculum and the intervention can be adapted to low and middle-income settings with a lower human resource capacity than Chile.

3. Mothers who have more empowered friends invest more in girls

We are all well aware of peer’s effects in our school years. Having motivational friends in school will make us more goal-oriented. Likewise, aspirational coworkers will influence our future career path. Do our friends also influence our parenting practices? This question is particularly relevant for how much say mothers may have in their children’s upbringing, particularly in conservative societies where women often have limited access to information. One DEC study examined whether having highly empowered friends  could improve a mother’s intra-household bargaining power, autonomy, and beliefs about gender roles. Mothers learn from their friends and are likely to adopt their friends’ practices, especially with respect to investments in children. Specifically, the study investigated the spillover effect of a female empowerment program from participants to non-participating friends. Researchers investigated female autonomy, perceived norms about gender, and intra-household bargaining power of women whose friends had participated in a women’s education program in Uttarakhand, India. They discovered that mothers who had more empowered friends fed their daughters more protein-rich diets and had them spend less time on household chores, compared with mothers with fewer empowered friends. Peer effects on women’s autonomy were also reported: mothers with empowered friends were more likely to leave the house and work outside the household without needing permission. However, the peer effects on mothers’ beliefs about gender roles were limited. The only significant impact observed was that friends’ empowerment decreased the likelihood of a nonparticipant saying that marriage is the best reason to educate girls. This lack of impact demonstrates social norms are sticky, especially norms relating to gender roles. These findings highlight the substantial spillover effects of empowerment programs and emphasize the importance of accounting for social networks and local context when designing interventions targeted at women.

The pandemic has re-defined family life. More than ever, parents are seeking out new ways to ensure the best educational outcomes for their children, while also finding channels to relieve their own stress and anxiety. We hope these three research projects can offer some food for thoughts and inspirations.

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The authors would like to acknowledge contributions from the following projects under the guidance of task team leads (TTLs) and researchers: Learning from Interventions to Improve Parenting Skills in Chile (TTL: Emanuela Galasso); The Social Lives of Married Women: Peer Effects in Female Autonomy and Investments in Children by Eeshani Kandpal; Preventing Violence in the Most Violent Contexts by Lelys Dinarte.

About the blog series: The Knowledge for Change Program (KCP) has launched a blog series to retrospectively highlight a selection of research projects conducted over the past 20 years, many of which still remain highly relevant and offer great lessons for development policies and practices today. Managed by the Development Economics Vice Presidency of the World Bank (DEC), the KCP  promotes evidence-based policy making through research, data and analytics. To celebrate the KCP’s fourth phase launched in November 2020, this blog series will look into the wealth of knowledge researchers have generated in KCP’s previous phases, distill lessons learned, and inspire discussions on future research directions.


Kerina Wang

Senior Program Officer, Development Economics and Chief Economist

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