Over-engaged parenting and science achievement in early childhood
Effective Years: 2023-2028
Acquiring scientific knowledge and skills requires persisting through challenges, yet it has become increasingly common for parents in the United States to step in and solve problems for their children. This type of over-engaged parenting leads preschool-age children to have lower persistence, lower executive function, and worse reading and math achievement in grade school across socioeconomic backgrounds. However, prior work leaves open major theoretical and practical questions about the beliefs that drive over-engaged parenting and children’s response to it. Our research aims to fill these gaps by examining the causes and consequences of over-engaged parenting so that we can better understand how caregivers can support children's scientific success upon school entry. This project is supported by NSF's EDU Core Research (ECR) program. The ECR program emphasizes fundamental STEM education research that generates foundational knowledge in the field. Investments are made in critical areas that are essential, broad, and enduring: STEM learning and STEM learning environments, broadening participation in STEM, and STEM workforce development, and by the Discovery Research PreK-12 (DRK-12) program, which supports applied research in formal STEM learning environments.
The proposed research will take a multi-method approach to uncover the basic cognitive mechanisms underlying caregivers' over-engaged behavior and children's response to it. In Study 1, researchers will employ observational and experimental methods to test whether parents’ beliefs about learning and task outcome drive their over-engaged behavior on science and non-science tasks. In Study 2, researchers will conduct experiments to determine which inferences drive the demotivating effects of over-engaged parenting on young children’s science persistence, as well as how parents can be involved in children's lives without undermining their motivation. In Study 3, researchers will run a longitudinal study assessing how over-engaged parenting during the preschool years relates to children’s science engagement and achievement during the transition to formal schooling. These studies will be conducted in collaboration with community partners, schools, and science museums to ensure the inclusion of families from diverse backgrounds. Taken together, the results will provide critical insight into how caregivers can foster young children's science motivation and achievement.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.