Helping Taiwanese Children Cultivate Strong Emotional Skills

Emotional intelligence forms the foundation for a happy life, and is an important aspect of lifelong education. The preschool years are a particularly crucial period for the development of a child’s emotional abilities, and as research has consistently shown, family environment has a strong influence on their cultivation. How can parents and caregivers ensure that their homes are conducive to nurturing emotional development? Below, members of the “Kids in Taiwan: National Longitudinal Study of Child Development and Care” research team, led by Professor Chien-ju Chang of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at National Taiwan Normal University, will share some insights on the development process of preschool children’s emotional abilities, as well as some of the key factors involved in cultivating emotional intelligence. The researchers encourage parents to pay attention to their children’s social-emotional skills, and urge relevant government departments to cooperate to prioritize parenting education.

1. Children are not born with good emotional skills; instead, they have to learn and develop them.

Children will gradually develop and strengthen some of their emotional skills as they grow older and learn to express themselves. However, other skills, such as the ability to regulate emotions are more difficult to learn, and require more time and effort to cultivate. According to a survey by the KIT researchers, which involved parents and primary caregivers of the 1-, 2-, 3-, and 4-year-olds, nearly 90 percent of 1-year-olds were “often” or “always” able to express their basic feelings. In contrast, only 30 percent of 4-year-old children were “often” able to control their emotions. The survey results also showed a positive correlation between home-based factors and emotional skills, indicating that a young child’s family environment plays a key role in supporting their emotional development.

2. Family environment is a crucial factor in the development of a child’s emotional ability.

When it comes to building emotional skills, a child’s home life is critically important. Factors such as positive parental responses, exposure to diverse environments, parental involvement, and time spent reading together have all been found to have a positive impact on the development of a child’s emotional abilities; this is particularly true for positive parental responses and exposure to diverse environments. However, KIT researchers found that the frequency with which children in Taiwan received positive parental responses decreased slightly, or gradually became flatter, as children grew older. Study findings also indicated that parents should be spending more time exposing their children to diverse environments and reading with them. The survey of 4-year-olds’ parents, however, showed that more than 26 percent had never or nearly never read with their children. Fewer than 20 percent of Taiwanese parents read to their children every day, which is much lower than the 60 percent of American parents who did so. Moreover, fewer than 20 percent of the parents “often” took their children to libraries or bookstores.

In addition, the researchers found that Taiwanese mothers tended to be more involved in their children’s lives compared to fathers, who had significantly lower levels of involvement. Finally, “screen time” is not conducive to emotional development; the more time a child spends using electronic devices, KIT researchers noted, the more negative the impact on social-emotional skills. Notably, the results indicate that this negative correlation is established before a child’s first birthday. Also of concern is the high percentage of children using electronic devices: about 60 percent of the study’s 1-year-olds, and more than 90 percent of the 2-year-olds, were allowed to do so. Most of them also spent a substantial amount of time with the devices; the 2-year-olds, for example, spent more than an hour a day using them.

Implications and Suggestions for Parents and Policymakers

What can parents and government officials do with these findings? The KIT research team suggests that parents prioritize their children’s emotional development, including by consistently providing appropriate care and companionship. For example, they can give their children more positive responses and encouragement, expose them to different environments and people, participate in shared reading and other parenting activities, and strictly regulate their children’s use of electronic devices. Childcare providers and schools can provide parents with parenting education information, and encourage their participation in parenting activities. Furthermore, the KIT researchers encourage the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health and Welfare to cooperate to emphasize parenting education. When parents are better informed and equipped, they can provide supportive, nurturing home environments that will ensure that their children’s emotional abilities develop well.

Appendix: Introduction to the “Kids in Taiwan: National Longitudinal Study of Child Development and Care” Project

1. “Kids in Taiwan: National Longitudinal Study of Child Development and Care,” which began in 2014, is the first large-scale survey of a Chinese-speaking country with child development as its core focus. With the support of the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), this project has collected questionnaire data from two representative groups of Taiwanese children, 3-month-olds and 36-month-olds. The data has been released to the Academic Survey Research Database of the Research Center for Humanities and Social Sciences at the Academia Sinica, and is available for use by other child development researchers.

2. The findings presented in this press release are based on data collected from the study’s 3-month-old group. That data is drawn from questionnaires filled out by parents or primary caregivers of the children when they were between 1 and 4 years old (total sample size: 6,023).

**Kids in Taiwan: National Longitudinal Study of Child Development and Care (KIT)