Do mums know about child development?

An American study has tested how much mothers know about child development, safety issues in raising children, infant sleeping habits and nutrition.

Two hundred and three women at a paediatric clinic and an obstetric clinic in a southern state in America were approached by a researcher. The women were mothers or mothers-to-be aged from 18 to 52 years, and were predominantly Caucasian (52 per cent) or African American (39 per cent).

Overall, the mothers answered 65 per cent of questions correctly, being most aware of the importance of establishing eating and sleeping routines (82 per cent correct) but least aware of how much sleep infants need (26 per cent correct) or what 6-month-olds are capable of doing (53 per cent correct).

“On average, women overestimated development by three months or more” Stephanie Reich of Vanderbilt University said. “This is a disturbing finding, as research in child maltreatment suggest abusive parents tend to overestimate their child’s abilities”.

Mothers who’d had more education tended to answer more questions correctly. Non-White mothers tended to score less well – “this may be because non-White families tend to have less continuous care and report having a less participatory relationship with their paediatrician”, Reich said “therefore leading to less provision of anticipatory guidance”.

“What is needed now are ways to educate mothers about typical child development” Reich said. “Preliminary research has shown parenting classes are effective in teaching parents about typical child development”.

“Since maternal knowledge affects how mothers raise their children, increasing knowledge about typical child development would be beneficial” Reich concluded.

Reich, S. (2005). What do mothers know? Maternal knowledge of child development. Infant Mental Health Journal, 26, 143-156.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.