ABC's of Parenting
Important New Study Reveals What We Know-And-Don't-About Early Childhood.
and surveys. There's always a new study or survey.
It's like passing an accident on the freeway. Even though looking
might be unpleasant, you just can't stop yourself.
Well, take a look over at www.civitas.org
A landmark new study has come out benchmarking what parents and grandparents
do and don't know about parenting.
- What Grown-Ups
Understand About Child Development: A National Benchmark Survey
was sponsored by the child development organizations Zero to Three
and Civitas, and Brio, the toy company that makes those little
wooden train sets. (Brio is the only commercial entity that has
almost as much of my money as the local women's shoe store.) The
study of 3000 adults asked questions about spoiling and spanking;
what children experience and are capable of at different ages;
and the value of types of play. It found - get ready to see the
damage - that parents are confused and not fully informed and
grandparents are even worse off.
One of the areas looked at was the spoiling of infants. 57 percent
of parents of children aged 0-6 and 62 percent of all adults incorrectly
believe a six-month-old can be spoiled and 44 percent of parents
of young children and 60 percent of grandparents incorrectly believe
picking up a three-month-old every time she cries will spoil the
infant. According to child development experts, this is flat wrong.
"If you don't pick up a baby when he is crying, you can build
up his levels of stress and distress, which in turn can slow his
learning," says Dr. Kyle Pruett, Yale professor of child
psychiatry and President of Zero to Three. "Responding to
your child's needs is not spoiling. Young children need your attention
to develop the faith and trust that their needs matter to you."
Another issue where parental understanding differs from research
is on spanking. According to the survey, 61 percent of parents
condone spanking as a "regular form of punishment "
even though the most current research indicates it is detrimental
to a child's development. Further, 37 percent think spanking is
appropriate for children under two years of age. This is not supported
by research, which indicates that regularly spanked children act
more aggressive and do not have greater self-control.
The survey also found parental misunderstanding of what can be
developmentally expected of children. 51 percent of parents of
young children expect a 15-month-old to share toys and 26 percent
of adults expect a three-year-old to sit quietly for one hour
at a time. They should baby-sit my kids if they want a reality
A sobering finding was that 26 percent of all adults and 23 percent
of parents of young children believe that a child as young as
six months will not suffer long-term effects from witnessing violence.
However, research shows this will have a long-lasting and serious
impact on the social and emotional development and developing
brain of a child. In addition, 72 percent of parents of young
children were unaware that children as young as four months of
age can experience real depression and 51 percent incorrectly
believe children cannot experience depression until they are at
Another key finding was that 55 percent of parents do not know
the age at which young babies can sense and be affected by the
moods of others. This is important because research has found
that a very anxious or depressed caregiver can have a damaging
effect on a baby's development.
The survey also determined that even play is not well understood.
Many parents are placing too much value on some types of play,
such as flash cards, educational television and computer use.
At the same time, parents are undervaluing the important of the
connection between physical outdoors-type play and intellectual
This shows that there is a lot to learn, especially among those
of us who are "child experts" by simple virtue of being
parents. What our own parents "knew" plus common belief
and our day to day experience does not all add up to what science
is learning about kids. And for their sake, we need to take the
effort look and understand.
Abrahams is the father of two and lives in Chicago.
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