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Parenting style tied to school success for preemies

U. WARWICK (UK) — Parents of preterm babies can increase the likelihood of their child’s academic success by adopting a sensitive style of parenting, a new study suggests.

Researchers at the University of Warwick found that highly sensitive parenting at age 6 boosted the academic performance of very preterm and very low birthweight (VP/VLBW) children when they reached age 13 to levels similar to full-term children. A parallel increase was not seen for full-term children.

However, the results also showed that more cognitively stimulating early home environments benefit all children’s long-term school success, regardless of whether they were premature or not.

“By sensitive parenting, we mean adapting one’s parenting to the individual child’s behavior and responses, while clearly remaining the more competent partner and setting age appropriate limits,” says Professor Dieter Wolke.

“So, for example, providing gentle feedback and suggesting potential solutions rather than taking over and solving the tasks for the child. Cognitively stimulating parenting is where parents include activities designed to get children thinking such as reading to them or doing puzzles together.

“We found that both these styles of parenting have a positive effect in increasing school performance, with sensitive parenting particularly effective at closing the gap in achievement between preterm and low birth-weight children and their full-term counterparts.”

The study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, seeks to clear up uncertainty among the scientific community about whether parenting has an influence on academic achievement of preterm children.

Study groups

They looked at two groups of German children—314 very preterm/very low birth weight children and a control group of 338 full-term children.

They were studied from birth to age 13, with the researchers analyzing socioeconomic status, neurological, and physical impairment at age 20 months and levels of parental sensitive and cognitive stimulation at age 6 years. School success was measured from six to 13 years of age.

The study defined very preterm as babies born at less than 32 weeks gestation or weighing less than 1500g (3lb 5 oz).

The researchers found that the 15 percent of highly sensitive parents within the VP/VLBW group had children whose academic performance at 13 years was similar to the full-term children.

In contrast, parents of VP/VLBW children who showed low sensitivity had children who required more special educational help and had more schooling problems. Maternal sensitivity made little difference to the grades or academic performance of full-term children, who were much less susceptible to parenting differences.

The research found that cognitively stimulating parenting raised academic performance across both groups of children.

“The results suggest that sensitive parenting boosts children’s self-control and attention regulation, which are important for school success,” says Wolke. “We would like to see increased investment in programs that equip parents of VP/VLBW with the skills needed to provide appropriate and sensitive support to their children.”

Source: University of Warwick

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  1. Karen Falgore

    I think that your quote, “By sensitive parenting, we mean adapting one’s parenting to the individual child’s behavior and responses, while clearly remaining the more competent partner and setting age appropriate limits,” is spot on. Parenting should be customized to the child if the child is to succeed. Great article!

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