Family routine practices are an indication of family organization and are important for the psychological well-being of family members. As a part of the family process and a part of the larger ecology, family routines are related to child development in many domains. Several studies have shown that the practice of regular family routines was related to child adjustments. However, much more still remains to be understood about how to better integrate family routines with other family research paradigms, as well as how various family routines work in different ways for different groups of children. The present study examined the longitudinal relationship between certain family routines and child psychological well-being. Special attention was given to examine the differences in this relationship based on children’s characteristics such as gender, race, and other familial demographic variables such as maternal educational attainment and poverty status.
The sample included 2,578 children and their mothers from the Year 9 and 15 data collection of the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study. Child internalizing and externalizing problems were measured using Child Behavior Checklist. Family routines were assessed by the frequency mother and child engagement in the past month, such as household chores, playing sports or outdoor activities, watching TV or videos, playing video or computer games, reading books, talking about current events, talking about child’s day, checking and helping with homework, eating dinner, in addition to one question on whether child had regular bed time. The responses were recoded as categorical variables. Multiple linear regression in Stata 14.1 was implemented to assess the proposed relationships.
We found 52.4% of the children were boys, 50.9% were Black. Roughly 36.0% of the mothers’ educational level were less than high school. About 33.4% of the families were living under 100% of the federal poverty threshold. The results from regression models indicated that talking more about current events with child at age 9 was negatively related to fewer internalizing behaviors at age 15 (b=-0.34, p<0.05); more frequency in playing sports or outdoor activities (b=-0.65, p<0.05) and checking the child’s homework (b=-1.92, p<0.05) at age 9 were negatively related to fewer externalizing behaviors at age 15. The relationship between various family routines and child psychological maladjustment differed in direction and magnitude depending on child gender, race, maternal educational attainments, and poverty status. Playing sports or outdoor activities was widely found to reduce child internalizing and externalizing problem in several subgroups (Black, Hispanic, boys, mothers with educational attainment of high school or less than high school), while playing computer games was widely found to increase child externalizing problems in several subgroups (Hispanic, boys, poor families).
Conclusions and implications:
This study shows the importance of considering the social-contextual factors when examining the relationship between family routines and child psychological wellbeing. The findings encourage practitioners to focus on family routines as a part of the assessment of family functioning. Policies that are sensitive to social-contextual differences may pave the way for a more informed stance in respecting family diversity.