What does a mother's education and income have to do with well behaved children?

Care-free kids ... What does a mother's education and income have to do with well behaved children? Photo: Getty

Children of highly educated mothers who keep a clean home and can hold their tempers, are less likely to develop behavioural problems, a new study has found.

It would seem as though mothers once again shoulder the burden when it comes to links between family income and child potential according to the new study, “Child Cognitive and Non-Cognitive Development: Does Money Matter?

“For a long time there has been a consensus that there is a connection between family income and child health, child cognitive and non-cognitive development,” said Dr Rasheda Khanam, the University of Southern Queensland Senior Economic Lecturer who led the study.

“But the mother’s outlook, how she raises her children, and the home environment she provides – reading with her children, taking them to the cinema, playground or sporting events, providing a clean, organised home – have not been included in previous studies.

“What we wanted to do was look at the pathways that make this connection between family income and child development to get the story behind this well-established link.”

Dr Khanam took a new approach, combining for the first time economists’ and psychologists’ views in modelling the relationship between income and child development outcomes.

Using data from the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children ­– she found that a mother’s mental health, and stress levels were crucial in ensuring her children were less hyperactive or had less emotional, behavioural or peer problems.

“What we found is that family stress – that is parenting styles and the mother’s mental health and parental investment capacity– are extremely important in child emotional and behavioural development,” Dr Khanam said.

“A mother who had a ‘warm parenting style’, who invested in her children, who gave them access to books and computers, could bridge the income-potential gap, with love and time.”

Dr Khanam said it was the education standard and input of the mother that found to be more significant than fathers in the study, as women were still the primary carers.

However, fathers were not completely discounted in fact dads with “warm parenting styles” helped their children develop higher reasoning skills; while mums and dads who stayed together were less likely to raise children with behavioural issues.

The study also found depressed parents were more likely to produce children with poorer math scores, while those from low income families were more likely to be hyperactive.

“We found children from lower income households were more likely to be unable to stay still and were easily distracted, with poor concentration and memory,” Dr Khanam said.

“They often acted without thinking.”

Dr Khanam said while income was important for cognitive development, the ground breaking study found when it came to non-cognitive development, mothers were key.

“We didn’t have the story behind the link between household incomes and child potential, and now we do – those who have a higher income tend to have mothers with a higher education who practice better parenting skills, resulting in lower mental stress on the family, and better relationships,” she said.

“In other words, if you have a good income, you can live in a better house in a good environment with lots of books for your children, and all in all, you will have more of an idea as to how to raise your children.

“So what is needed is to get more systems in place to educate parents, to teach them to correct their children where needed yet at the same time show them affection, hug their children, invest in their children and start having conversations with them.

“If you don’t have the income but you invest the time, you can breach the gap.”