Researchers from the University of Rochester have found that almost one-third of U.S. parents have a surprisingly low-level knowledge of typical infant development and unrealistic expectations for their child's physical, social and emotional growth.
The findings suggest that such false parenting assumptions can not only impair parent-child interactions, but also rob kids of much-needed cognitive stimulation.
"There are numerous parenting books telling people what to expect when they're pregnant," said Heather Paradis, M.D., a paediatric fellow at the University of Rochester Medical Center.
"But once a baby is born, an astonishing number of parents are not only unsure of what to anticipate as their child develops, but are also uncertain of when, how or how much they are to help their babies reach various milestones, such as talking, grabbing, discerning right from wrong, or even potty-training," Paradis added.
Using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study's Birth Cohort (ECLS-B), researchers analyzed the average parenting knowledge of a nationally representative sample of parents of more than 10,000 9-month-old babies.
These parents first answered an 11-point survey designed to distinguish informed parents from less-informed parents.
Those who scored 4 or fewer correct answers were considered to have low-level knowledge of typical infant development.
Researchers then compared these knowledge scores to both scores from a 73-point videotape analysis of the same families' parent-child interactions while teaching a new task, and from these parents' self-reports of how often they engaged their child in enrichment activities.
The analysis showed that 31.2 percent of parents of infants had low-level knowledge of infant development, and that this low-level knowledge was associated with lower parental education level and income.
Even after taking into account maternal age, education, income and mental state, low-level knowledge of infant development still significantly and independently predicted parents being both less likely to enjoy healthy interactions with their infants during learning tasks and less likely to engage their children in regular enrichment activities.
"This is a wake-up call for paediatricians. At office visits, we have a prime opportunity to intervene and help realign parents' expectations for their infants, and in turn, promote healthy physical, social, and emotional development for these children," Paradis said.
"On the other hand, we still have more work cut out for us - additional research is needed to explore how these unrealistic expectations form in the first place," Paradis added.
The study was presented on May 4, at the Paediatric Academic Society meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii.