THE LATEST REPORT from the Growing up in Ireland study of children will be published later today and will show how a parent’s sensitivity towards their baby can have an important impact on the child’s development.
The national longitudinal study of children in this country has produced a report entitled ‘Parenting and Infant Development’ which investigates the development of infants from nine months to show how this is associated with parenting.
The study by Dr Elizabeth Nixon, Lorraine Swords and Aisling Murray found that children born prematurely scored a lower overall development score with low birth weight associated with delayed infant development.
However Dr Nixon, from Trinity College Dublin, said it is possible these children just need more time to catch-up.
“The information that has been collected on these families when the children were 3 and 5 years will allow us to investigate further how these early experiences affect outcomes later in the child’s life,” she said.
Babies whose parents were more sensitive in their interactions with them had higher development scores. But the magnitude of association between parental sensitivity and infant development was found to be relatively small.
Parents reported that they had less sensitivity with children who had difficult temperaments while parental depression was associated with lower levels of sensitivity for both mothers and fathers.
For both mothers and fathers, high levels of parental stress were associated with lower sensitivity towards the children.
Importance of sensitivity
A significant association was found between higher levels of depression and higher levels of stress in that parents who were depressed reported higher levels of stress.
Stress among mothers was strongly associated with a difficult temperament from an infant, with a slightly weaker association for stress among fathers.
Nixon said: “These findings show that even from a very young age, the sensitivity that parents show when interacting with their babies is important for their development. The findings also show that parenting does not happen in a vacuum.
“Both mothers’ and fathers’ parenting behaviours can be negatively affected by stress and depression but babies can be protected from these potentially negative influences if sensitive parent-child interactions can be maintained”.
The Growing up in Ireland study, started in 2006 and funded by the Department of Children, involves two cohorts of children: 11,000 children recruited into the study at 9 months of age and 8,500 children recruited at 9 years of age.
The study is aimed at informing government policy and has already been extended for a further five years between 2015 and 2019.
Children’s Minister Frances Fitzgerald said: “This research highlights the important role of parenting and family contexts for children’s developmental outcomes, and the impact of factors such as gestational age, birth weight and parental ‘sensitivity’ or parents’ ability to interact effectively with their infants.”