What Parents Don’t Know Could Hurt Their Children

You need to pass a test to drive a car. You must obtain a license to engage in many professional activities and occupations. You must fill out what seems like reams of paperwork just to get your mail delivered to a new address. But, want to have a child? No problem. No test, no license. No experience necessary. Still, parents are undoubtedly the most significant influences in a child’s life. A new study evaluated parents’ knowledge of child development and effective parenting and concluded that the more parents know, the better off their children are.

Researchers assembled a sample of 62 parents of children aged 2-3 years. They assessed the parents’ knowledge of child development processes and milestones, as well as effective parenting strategies. The parents also self-reported parenting dysfunction, nurturing, confidence, affective states, and child behavior. In-home observations assessed parent-child interactions and negative or problematic child behavior.

Not all that surprising, the authors of the study concluded that the more parents understood effective parenting strategies, the less dysfunction, anxiety, and problem behavior they reported. Similarly, a higher level of parenting knowledge was associated with observed positive parenting competence. Limiting the general applicability of the results is the fact that the parents in the study were mostly white, with a middle-to-high socioeconomic status.

The American Psychological Association, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and the Institute of Medicine have all recommended implementing training programs to teach evidence-based parenting in order to reduce the prevalence of child maltreatment, inadequate parenting, and behavioral and emotional problems in children. But, while “evidence-based” is common medical vernacular, most parents would shy away from turning child-rearing into an outcomes-based science experiment. (And, it would ruin the American learn-as-you-go parenting style!)

Still, public health interventions focusing on high-risk parent groups have shown promising results in reducing adverse childhood outcomes. But, is it even possible to teach entire populations to follow evidence-based parenting strategies?  Programs that are effective and appropriate will offer education and support to parents, but each group of parents – whether divided by age, socioeconomic status, or even geography – needs different information and support, and universal programs would likely leave parents who need the most help unserved.

Good parents need knowledge and confidence, and a few special talents, to raise healthy, happy, and well-functioning children. Just when to start building these skills and who should teach the skills, though, are larger questions.


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Image via hartphotography / Shutterstock.

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD, is a practicing clinical pharmacist and medical writer/editor with experience in researching and preparing scientific publications, developing public relations materials, creating educational resources and presentations, and editing technical manuscripts. She is the owner of Excalibur Scientific, LLC.
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