African-American Parents' Cognitions about the First Three Years of Life
Neuroscience research demonstrates that rapid brain development in the first three years of life makes infancy unique, and parenting of infants has long-lasting effects. Yet research has not examined parents’ understanding of the importance of early brain development. Such information seems crucial for designing and delivering effective parenting interventions. This study examines African-Americans’ parenting cognitions about 0-3 development and parenting, in order to minimize confounding effects of culture and avoid a Eurocentric approach, which is frequently seen in parenting research.
Objectives were to: identify distinct subgroups of African-American based on cognitions about early development; describe those subgroups; and examine how these cognitions influence beliefs likely to influence parenting behavior.
We interviewed 222 consecutive African-American mothers of children in waiting rooms (all there for well-child care or mild illnesses) of five large pediatric practices and one public health clinic in Memphis, Tennessee.
Respondents reported cognitions about infants and parenting using questions from a national survey. Questions concerned: when parents begin to significantly influence children’s brain development; when infants begin to take in and react to the world; impact of experiences in the first year of life on later performance in school; and whether capacity for learning is set from birth or influenced by parenting. Outcome variables measured parents’ beliefs related to whether very young infants can be spoiled, whether one should always pick up a crying infant, and frequent changes in child care.
We used latent class analysis to identify discrete subtypes of mothers based on cognitions about infancy, determine the size of subgroups, and describe subgroups. Results revealed two latent classes: 0-3 Sensitive mothers (56%), and 0-3 Non-sensitive mothers (44%). 0-3 Sensitive mothers had more accurate beliefs about the first three years that were statistically significant, relatively large, and in the expected direction.
We used logistic regression to examine the effect of 0-3 Sensitivity and poverty (public vs. private health insurance) on the three outcome variables. 0-3 Sensitive mothers were more likely to have accurate beliefs about spoiling (OR = 2.44) and picking up crying infants (OR = 2.00), and the impact of frequent changes in care givers on infants (OR = 2.33). Poor mothers were much less likely to be 0-3 Sensitive (OR = .26) but, even when controlling for poverty, 0-3 Sensitive mothers were more likely to have accurate beliefs about spoiling (OR = 2.22) and frequent changes in caregivers (OR = 1.87), but not about picking up crying infants (OR = 1.63). In addition, when controlling for 0-3 Sensitivity, poor mothers were less likely to have accurate beliefs about picking up crying infants (OR = .49) and frequent changes in care givers (OR = .43), but not about spoiling (OR = .73).
Both poverty and understanding of the importance of the first three years of life influence African-American parents’ beliefs about spoiling vs. nurturing infants and the advisability of frequent child care changes. Parenting interventions should target parents in poverty and provide education about brain development in early infancy.