Poll Finds Gaps In Child-Rearing Know-How

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Parents might not know as much about their children's development as they think they do, a new survey shows. And those misconceptions may be undermining their children's social and intellectual foundations, according to the groups that sponsored the study.

For example, more than 50 percent of the parents of very young children who were questioned for the survey said a 15-month-old child should be able to share toys with other children. Experts, however, say such an expectation of a toddler is unrealistic.

For More Information

Read an executive summary or the full report, "What Grown-Ups Understand About Child Development: A National Benchmark Survey," posted by Zero to Three. (Requires Adobe's Acrobat Reader.)

On another question, the parents of children age 6 or younger and the other adults surveyed overwhelmingly responded that reading and talking with children and providing them a healthy diet contributes to their intellectual development.

But many respondents also thought using flashcards with very young children or sitting them in front of a computer were appropriate and beneficial activities, even though researchers have found they are not.

The study, "What Grown-Ups Understand About Child Development: A National Benchmark Survey, " released last week, was commissioned by three organizations that focus on young children— Zero to Three, a Washington-based advocacy and training organization; Civitas, a nonprofit communications group in Chicago; and the BRIO Corp., a toy manufacturer based in Germantown, Wis. The survey of 3,000 people, which included 1,066 parents of children age 6 or younger, was conducted this past summer by DYG Inc., a social- and marketing-research company in Danbury, Conn.

"The survey indicates that while adults are well-informed about many areas of child development, there are other important areas in which there are significant information gaps—gaps that carry with them very real implications for how we raise and interact with our children in America today," the report says.

The study explored adults' beliefs about how young children learn. It found that a majority—69 percent—agree that children's capacity for learning is not determined at birth and can be increased by how parents interact with them. Even more of those questioned—76 percent—agreed that experiences during a child's first year of life can affect later school performance.

While 80 percent or more of people surveyed agreed that time spent playing is important to the development of a 3-year-old and a 5-year-old, only 60 percent felt that playtime was important for a 10-month-old. A lack of sufficient playtime in early childhood, experts say, can prevent children from acquiring needed social and language skills.

And about one in four respondents said that a 3-year-old should be expected to sit quietly for about an hour—another expectation that most children of that age cannot meet, experts say.

While the responses that were considered the "most appropriate answer" were based on the work of leading researchers in child development, they may not reflect the views of all experts, the report's authors note.

Mental-Health Miscues

The report says most parents—62 percent—mistakenly believe that babies don't become aware of their surroundings until they are at least 2 months old, and 26 percent of the respondents said that young children won't experience any long- term damage from witnessing violence. Many parents also don't believe that infants are affected by the moods of others, even though researchers say babies can sense stress and depression in their parents or caregivers.

Developmental psychologists have also found that children as young as 4 months can suffer from depression, but more than half the parents surveyed said that children can't be depressed until they are 3 years old.

Just last week, the National Research Council, a division of the congressionally chartered National Academy of Sciences, released a report asserting that most Americans don't understand that even infants can experience deep emotional feelings and sadness. Children's mental health, the NRC report says, is an area that needs far greater attention. ("Children's Early Needs Seen as Going Unmet," Oct 4, 2000.)

Vol. 20, Issue 6, Page 3

Published in Print: October 11, 2000, as Poll Finds Gaps In Child-Rearing Know-How
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