Parents invest lots of time and energy into interacting with their babies, because it is most often a joyful and rewarding experience. Parents are wired to interact with their babies, and it is this interaction that supports babies’ growth and healthy development. I am sure you've noticed that babies are extremely curious. Even from the earliest months of life, babies are natural-born investigators. Alison Gopnik at the University of California Berkeley refers to it as the Scientist in the Crib. Babies use all of their senses to figure out how the world works. Some of their keenest interests to investigate are their parents and other caregivers. Babies learn how to express and regulate their emotions and how to navigate the rules of social initiations and responses by testing them in the safety of their early interactions with their parents. An interdisciplinary team of scientists at the University of Miami funded by the National Science Foundation observe and record the facial expressions and body movements of parents and babies during interactions. From this process they’ve found that when babies look away from their parents’ faces, it’s often because they need a break to check out what else is going on around them. So, if Mom follows that gaze of her 4-month-old son and talks with him about what he is seeing, she’s also supporting her baby's early exploration of the environment, even before he can move around on his own.
Effective Parenting Helps Babies Grow Up Healthy
"Sensitive and responsive interaction with babies is what makes babies grow healthy," says Daniel Messinger, one member of the University of Miami team. "We believe that through interacting, babies learn early social rules, such as when to take turns with their vocalizations, when to smile at the same time. It's by smiling at the same time as their mothers, the baby responding to the mother and the mother responding to the baby, that babies develop a sense of shared social emotion." Building these sorts of social-emotional competencies at home in the early years gets children ready for school. Effective intervention programs for children under 3 years “focus on the quality of parent-child interactions, structuring interactions to facilitate back-and-forth exchanges . . .and teaching positive parenting behaviors, such as displaying warmth and affection, . . . and responsiveness, as well as providing anticipatory guidance on child development.” [Read more in Gray, Heberle & Carter (2012). Social-Emotional School Readiness: How Do We Ensure the Our Children Are Ready to Learn?, Journal of Zero to Three, vol. 33 (1), 4-9]. For lifelong impact, parenting is important in the development of interpersonal skills. James Heckman, a Nobel Laureate in Economics stresses that these “soft skills” are critical to an individual’s life success. This is in sharp contrast to the over-emphasis on conventional academic skills.
Trying to Improve Parenting without an Assessment is Like Trying to Build a Watch in the Dark
Research continues to grow showing that parenting is vital for optimal child development. Fortunately, parenting is not immutable; parenting behaviors can be improved with intervention . However, many programs aim to improve parenting without assessing the strengths and needs each parent brings to the intervention. This is like trying to build a delicate Swiss watch in the dark. Just as the parts of a mechanical watch need to fit together, effective parenting consists of multiple behaviors that must work together and adapt to meet each child’s specific needs. An observational parenting assessment tool, such as the Keys to Interactive Parenting Scale (KIPS) shines a light on parenting, teasing apart the seemingly simple, but actually quite complex interactions between parents and their children. Identifying and quantifying each of the important elements can serve as a guide toward optimal parenting. Parent-child interactions may look simple, but they are packed with an abundance of opportunities for building relationships, learning and improvement. Focusing on improving parenting has lifelong impact, and parenting assessment lights the way to success in improving parent-child interactions.
For more on how parenting assessment can benefit parenting services, download our paper on Nine Ways Parenting Assessment Can Power Your Program.
Learn How Parenting Assessment:
1. Documents evidence of parenting outcomes
2. Tailors services to individual parenting strengths and needs
3. Monitors progress and guides service planning
4. Reinforces parenting progress and confidence
5. Serves as a parenting check-up as children develop
6. Shifts staff focus from child to parent-child interactions
7. Offers a common language for staff , families and programs
8. Builds reflective practice during supervision
9. Informs continuous quality improvement for staff and programs