01 April 2010

New Parent Survey Demonstrates Gaps in Developmental Knowledge

Parents control the experiences and environments that shape their children’s foundational early brain development. In June 2009, Zero to Three commissioned a survey of parents with infants and toddlers to find out how much they understand about the link between a child’s earliest experiences and their early brain development. This survey was nationally representative of parents raising young children. They also queried parents about the sources they turn to for advice on how to best support their children’s early development and while some of their findings were encouraging, others were disturbing.

The good news is that parents readily understand the links between their children’s earliest learning experiences and their cognitive development and some aspects of how to support social development.
- Fully 93% of parents surveyed understand the importance of reading to children in order to support cognitive development;
- Better than 80% understand the importance of play for supporting children’s social development; and
- Nearly three-quarters of young parents understand the importance of talking to young children to support their early language and literacy abilities (Hart Research Associates, November 2009).

Unfortunately, many parents fail to understand how early children begin to develop their social and emotional capacities and consequently they often fail to understand how strong an influence they can have on their children’s emotional development and/or what they need to do to support that development.

Science tells us that children begin to experience sadness and fear between birth and six months of age. Infants are also able to tell when their parents are upset during the first six months of life.
- 30% of parents nationwide know that their children can experience sadness and fear so early;
- Only 44% of parents know that children can tell when they are upset in the first 6 months of life and 20% thought that children do not develop that ability till they are 2 years old.
- 43% of parents were also unaware that the areas of a child’s brain which enable them to control temper tantrums do not begin to develop significantly till ages 3 to 5.
- Fully a third of African American parents and a quarter of Hispanic parents felt that children should be able to control temper tantrums by age 2.
Typically this misunderstanding means that parents assess children’s inability to exercise self-control as defiance as opposed to a lack of developmental capacity.

All of these findings beg the question, where do parents turn for information about childrearing and how can providers and practitioners get accurate developmental information into the hands of parents? The survey found that almost half (44%) of parents rely on their own parents, typically their mothers and mothers in law for information about development and parenting. A significant percentage (30%+) also look to their faith communities for information about how to guide their children’s development. Comparatively, 13% of parents said they turned to parenting books, magazines or other outside sources for advice. Zero to Three recommends that providers and practitioners need to find ways to get information into the hands of grandparents and faith communities in order to help parents get accurate information on child development.

These groups are also an important target because they are such an important source of child care for young children nationally. Before the recession, 50% of children between birth and age 3 were in family, friend and neighbor care (FFN). That percentage has only increased over the last two years since a quarter of parents surveyed had to change their child care because of financial hardship. Grandparents, extended families and friends are only becoming more important as a source of regular child care since parents are increasingly less able to afford formal care outside the home.


Hart Research Associates. (November 2009). Parenting Infants and Toddlers Today: Research Findings. Washington D.C.: Zero to Three. < docid="10881">


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