For children to develop fully and healthily, many factors need to be considered, such as the family environment, parenting style, school, etc. Another essential element studied for many years, and one of the most popular topics in social sciences, is SES, socioeconomic status. Most people assume SES refers to family income. However, it involves several other components: parents’ educational level, the family’s social class status, etc. (Vukojevic et al., 2017). The reason for such a topic to be continued studying is that SES has significant long-term impacts on children’s mental and physical development, from pregnancy months to early child development and adulthood (Vukojevic et al., 2017). In addition, most of the current studies on the effects of SES on early child development only focus on developed countries; therefore, it is essential to look at other lower-income countries as well. This paper will discover current research studies on the relationship between socioeconomic status and early child development. The focus of the age range is from birth to eight, and the emphasis will be on three domains: cognitive and brain development, psychological health, and physical health.
Effects on Cognitive Development
SES has a significant influence on the cognitive and brain development of children. Parental SES affects a child’s early cognitive development as children from low SES perform more poorly than their peers from a higher SES. The surrounding of a child significantly affects their cognitive and brain development as children in low SES tend to experience less linguistic and cognitive development than children in higher SES homes (Brito et al., 2018). Children born in low SES often fail to meet their development potential due to poverty and an unstimulating environment, which affects their cognitive development. Cognitive and brain development is associated with the ability of a child to think, learn and develop problem-solving skills that help the child understand the world around them (Brito et al., 2018). This may be difficult for children born in low SES due to the surrounding that they live in.
Children in low SES tend to have developmental delays and lower academic achievement. During childhood, children have rapid changes in their cognitive abilities, and children growing up in poverty areas can have limited brain development due to the environment they grow up in. They grow up in an environment with inadequate stimulation and limited learning opportunities (Brito et al., 2018). A study conducted to test children’s academic achievement from higher SES, and lower SES found that children who grew up in lower SES had low academic performance than their peers in higher SES (Yu et al., 2018). Lower SES negatively affects how the child’s brain develops by lowering the frontal and hippocampus area (Yu et al., 2018). The hippocampus is a structure in the brain that helps consolidate information into memory. Children in lower SES tend to have a lower total gray matter volume than their peers in higher SES (Yu et al., 2018). In addition, parental education also affects the hippocampal volume of children as parents with higher education are likely to increase their children’s hippocampal volume through their interactions (Yu et al., 2018). The delay in brain growth and development affects their academic performance.
Effects on Physical Health
Children born or who grow up in low SES tend to have a variety of adverse physical health outcomes. They are more likely to experience health problems such as poor nutrition, diseases, and increased mortality (Poulain et al., 2019). Children born in low SES have low access to health care services and proper nutrition, which is fundamental for promoting good health and treating health conditions that may occur. They are likely to seek health care less often, and when they do, it is primarily because of an emergency. They are uninsured thus cannot afford to seek medical attention regularly. Several studies that have been conducted have confirmed that low SES leads to poor health among children (Vukojevic et al., 2017). They may suffer from inadequate nutrition, which contributes to physical health problems, and malnutrition can affect their ability to thrive. Health is intertwined with people’s SES; a healthy lifestyle involves proper nutrition and an eating lifestyle.
Children born in homes with lower SES are likely to be overweight or obese as they have higher BMI and have less physical activity (Poulain et al., 2019). Low-income families tend to eat unhealthy meals with high cholesterol and lower nutrients; thus, their children are likely to be obese due to an unhealthy lifestyle. Food containing high cholesterol is often cheaper than healthy food; families in low SES cannot afford to purchase healthy foods regularly. In addition, infants born in lower SES tend to receive inadequate quality health care and are at increased risk of preterm birth and low birth weights (Vukojevic et al., 2017). Children born to families with lower SES are likely to have developmental disabilities, as women in lower SES are likely to engage in risky behaviors such as drug use when pregnant (Vukojevic et al., 2017).
Effects on Psychological Health
Children in low SES are likely to develop psychological health problems than children in high SES. Low SES is interlinked with a high prevalence of psychological distress and depression. The low SES affects the parents and children as they are exposed to an increased risk of developing psychological health problems due to the psychological distress they are constantly exposed to (Reiss et al., 2019). Several studies that have been conducted showed that low SES had a direct impact on children’s psychological health as they were negatively affected by their mental health due to exposure to stressful life (Reiss et al., 2019). Most psychological health problems begin in childhood; when parents cannot deal with the stressful environment, this automatically affects their children.
The household income and parents’ level of education significantly impact children’s psychological health; low household incomes lead to high-stress levels among the parents, thus affecting their children (Vukojevic et al., 2017). They experience more problems and are highly stressed, thus increasing the risk of children developing mental health problems. Parental well-being positively impacts their children’s psychological health as they grow up in a friendly environment (Reiss et al., 2019). Children with parents with low education levels are at increased risk of developing psychological health problems as their parents adopt harmful disciplinary methods, thus impacting the children’s health (Reiss et al., 2019). This can result in children developing mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.
Recommendation/implication for Developmentally Appropriate Practice
Family-based intervention should be developed to improve children’s cognitive development in low SES (Sianes et al., 2021). The intervention will aim to enhance the children’s cognitive development by integrating parents in the intervention. Drug abuse in pregnant mothers has been linked to severe consequences on children’s cognitive development as women in low SES are likely to use drugs while pregnant (Vukojevic et al., 2017). Thus, the intervention will educate pregnant women on the harmful effects of drugs on their children’s development. Substance use treatment centers can also be incorporated in low SES areas to help pregnant women with drug addiction problems; this will help improve maternal well-being.
Income intervention programs and employment opportunities should be incorporated to increase the income of low SES families. Low SES is associated with low income; thus, families tend to live in poor-quality neighborhoods. The environment affects the cognitive development of children. By increasing the minimum wage and providing more employment opportunities, families can live in an environment that supports their children’s cognitive and brain development. This will also help to reduce the mental health problems that children in low SES develop. A stressful environment resulting from financial constraints in the family negatively affects the mental health of children.
Parents and caregivers in low SES should be taught positive parenting skills to improve their parenting skills. Parents in low SES are likely to have low educational levels; thus, they may not be aware that their actions directly influence their children’s development (Vukojevic et al., 2017). Developing programs that train parents on how to deal with stress and offering counseling services to parents will help them cope with stressful events without negatively affecting their children. SES is multidimensional and includes measures of material wealth and education. Children whose parents have low education levels are more likely to experience mental health problems than children whose parents have a college or university degree (Reiss et al., 2019). In addition, training parents on the importance of giving their children foods rich in nutrition will also help improve children’s physical health in low SES. This is because parents may not be aware of the harmful effects of processed food on the physical health of their children.
SES directly affects children’s cognitive development, psychological health, and physical health. Children in families with low SES are likely to experience delayed cognitive and brain development, poor physical and mental health due to the environment that they grow up in. Children born in low SES often fail to meet their development potential due to poverty and an unstimulating environment, which affects their well-being. Incorporating interventions such as family-related intervention and income intervention will help to improve the development of children in low SES. The intervention will train parents in low SES on positive parenting skills that promote their children’s cognitive development. By teaching positive parenting skills to parents, they can create an environment that stimulates children’s learning and reduces harmful effects on the psychological well-being of children.
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