Parental Beliefs Can Impact Child Development: A Study


Washington [US], Oct. 9 (ANI): A new study has found that children’s brain development may depend on their parents’ knowledge and beliefs.

The results of the study were published in the journal ‘Nature Communications’.

University of Chicago medical pediatrician Dana Suskind, MD, along with University of Chicago economists John List, PhD, and Julie Pernaudet, PhD, investigated a potential source of divergence in skill level of children: the disparity in the beliefs of parents about their influence on the development of their children.

Through experimental studies involving hundreds of families in the Chicagoland region, researchers show that parents’ knowledge and beliefs differ according to socioeconomic status. But these beliefs can, with the right intervention, be changed. Additionally, these changes can have measurable effects on children’s outcomes. The results can provide policy makers with ideas on how to tackle an important driver of disparities in children’s skills development.

“Neuroscience clearly shows that the creation of early brain connections in children relies on ‘serve and return’ – that is, interactions between adult and child,” said Suskind, professor of surgery and pediatrics and co-director of the TMW Center for Early Learning and Public Health.

For this reason, differences in parental engagement can lead to differences in children’s brain development and their later abilities.

“There are many deep structural factors of inequality which have enormous impacts on the development of the child. At the same time, we know that the contribution of parents plays a major role in the fundamental development of the brain,” said Suskind.

“However, little research has focused on understanding, number one, what parents know and believe in the first place, and, number two, whether or not changing what parents know and believe maps to changes in the children’s intake and outcomes, ”added Suskind.

Suskind and colleagues set out to investigate what underlies parental beliefs about their role in their child’s development. Then the team asked if those beliefs could even be changed and, if so, what method of doing so might be most effective.

To do this, Suskind and her team conducted two field experiments, from 2016 to 2019, with families living in and around Chicago. The first experiment started in pediatric clinics serving underinsured or uninsured families with newborns.

As parents sat in the waiting room before their children’s first, second, fourth and sixth month exams, some were invited to watch 10-minute videos. A subset of parents – the control group – watched videos on child safety or no video at all, while the “treatment” group watched videos on the role of parents in early childhood development. childhood, brain malleability and practical advice for parents to improve involvement.

The second experience was more intensive. A group of parents of very young children from various socioeconomic backgrounds, this time recruited from various locations, such as grocery stores and daycares, as well as medical clinics, received monthly two-hour home visits for six months. .

The visits involved watching a video on a developmental topic and doing an activity demonstrating how to apply the topic with their child, as well as a discussion of feedback and goals. The control group for this experiment received information and home visits on child nutrition.

Throughout both experiments, the researchers documented parents’ knowledge and beliefs about the influence they had on their children’s development. In addition, the real investments of the parents and the results of the children were measured.

To do this, they used a tool called SPEAK, developed and validated by Suskind and his collaborators, which is the scale of parental expectations and knowledge about child development.

With this tool, now used worldwide by other researchers, Suskind and his team measured parents’ understanding of their children’s early cognitive and brain development and their own ability to affect that development. Researchers also measured parents’ actual intakes, using audio and video recordings of parents as they interacted with their children.

At the start of the experiments, Suskind and colleagues found that the more educated parents or had higher socioeconomic status, the more they knew how their investments could affect their child’s skill levels.

“On average, the more education a parent had, the more their knowledge and beliefs aligned with what science shows. The more their beliefs aligned with science, the more facilitating behavior there was,” said Suskind.

However, within six months of starting the experiments, the beliefs of the treatment groups had changed significantly from those of the control groups, although both were made up of parents with similar demographics. In addition, the more intensive home visiting program saw more than double the impact. “With these different levels of intervention. We could change what parents know and believe and in doing so, change their behavior in a positive direction,” said Suskind.

When parents began to believe that their investments were important, they began to invest more in the development of their children. Suskind and her team found statistically significant improvements in parent-child interactions over the two experiments.

These results were also correlated with improvements in children’s outcomes, such as vocabulary, math skills, and socio-emotional skills. Both experiments showed improved results, but the more intensive program again had a greater effect.

“We were able to show strong impacts on what parents knew and believed, as well as a related change in education behavior – more verbal interactions – and changes in children’s outcomes,” said Suskind.

The researchers then combined their data with a previous complementary study on parents of older children from families of low socioeconomic status in the Chicagoland region. By compiling this data with theirs, Suskind’s team found an consistently positive correlation between parental beliefs and children’s skill levels, across a relatively wide range of children’s ages and across all skills.

This correlation allowed the researchers to use the level of parental knowledge as a predictor of the child’s skill level and to provide a quantitative measure of the magnitude of the changes that parents’ beliefs must have to produce a significant change in their child’s skills.

The results show not only that parental attitudes and beliefs are correlated with parental investment and children’s outcomes, but that these beliefs can be changed. The experiences provide examples of effective methods of changing parenting beliefs that could be used in place of educational policies that do not address the underlying problem of lack of parental investment.

While Suskind and her team recognize that the causes of disparities in children’s outcomes as they age are multidimensional and complex, this work is a starting point that not only underscores the importance of parent-child interactions, but proposes methods to improve them.

Going forward, Suskind envisions the results of this work and others like it influencing more personalized parent-child support. She points out that going beyond the underlying trends the team uncovered in this study could inform more nuanced interventions.

“In the same way, you have personalized medicine. I see personalized support for families. If education is a form of equity, then all parents deserve to have this information,” concluded Suskind. (ANI)

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