Parents today are hyper-aware that the parenting decisions they make could have lifelong effects — and a recent study published in the Child Development journal finds that showing sensitivity to your children during their early years can positively impact their social and academic abilities in childhood and adolescence and even into adulthood.
The study, utilizing information from the Minnesota Longitudinal Study of Risk and Adaptation, looked primarily at 243 mothers below the poverty line and followed them and their babies from infancy into the children’s twenties and thirties. During several playtime and feeding interactions during the children’s first three and a half years of life, mothers were told to act as they normally would when tending to their child and also helping them as needed with basic teaching and problem-solving activities. Using the Ainsworth sensitivity scale as a guide, the mothers were then evaluated on their ability to perceive and accurately interpret their infant’s signals and respond appropriately and promptly. After this initial evaluation period, the researchers then focused on the effect of this care giving on the child.
To determine long-term correlations and effects of maternal sensitivity, the researchers looked at teacher evaluations of the students’ behavior and peer to peer interactions as well as standardized test scores from certain grade levels. Finally, once the children reached adulthood, they were interviewed regarding their personal romantic relationships and educational outcomes.
The study concluded that children with mothers who responded to them with sensitivity and attentiveness at a young age were generally higher achieving academically and were more likely to have committed and loyal romantic relationships as compared to those whose maternal caregivers were assessed as intrusive, hostile, and/or disengaged. While there are still other factors that need to be studied, such as the presence and effect of maternal sensitivity at other points during childhood and the role of genetics, and even a child’s own temperament in the outcomes, the study shows that establishing an attentive and supportive maternal role can reap positive long-term benefits for your kids. Hopefully, once they reach that age and potentially become parents themselves, they’ll pay it forward and sensitively parent the next generation.