Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Parent Cognitions and Parent-Infant Interaction: The Relationship with Development in the First 12 Months

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Parent Cognitions and Parent-Infant Interaction: The Relationship with Development in the First 12 Months

Article excerpt

COGNITION-BASED MODELS OF parenting behaviour suggest that parent cognitions are predictive variables that shape the specific practices undertaken by a parent for the emotional, social, cognitive and physical care of a child (Bugental & Johnston, 2000; McGillicuddy-DeLisi & Sigel, 1995; Murphey, 1992). Parent cognitions are active when parents are behaving deliberately and with forethought, but they also contribute to how parents react spontaneously. In this way, parent cognitions are ubiquitous and it is likely that they have an important, albeit indirect, effect on child development. What underpins parenting behaviour and seems to have a direct effect on child development is the interactional relationship between the parent and the child.

To our knowledge, the research described here brings together for the first time the contribution of parent cognitions and parent-infant interaction to infant development in the first 12 months of life. According to Murphey (1992), parent cognitions can be regarded as those which are either 'global' in nature (cognitions that can be acquired vicariously, even by non-parents), or 'particular' in nature (cognitions associated with the specific parenting rote and usually about a particular child). In line with this, we examined 'global' cognitions relating to children in general (attitudes and attributional style) and two types of 'particular' cognitions relating to infant characteristics (temperament) and parental functioning (wellbeing, social support and role relationship).

Research has frequently found that attitudes are predictive of child outcomes but not necessarily parenting behaviour or aspects of the parent-child relationship (Murphey, 1992). In contrast, tow parental attributional style, operationalised as parental perception of reduced control or power compared with the child, has not only been found to reflect a poor parent-child relationship, but also tess-than-optimal developmental outcomes (Bugental, Lyon, Lin, McGrath & Bimbela, 1999; Bugental, Lyon, Krantz & Cortez, 1997; Nix et al., 1999). Research findings also reveal that parents who perceive their infant as having a difficult temperament are less satisfied with the parent-child relationship (Sacco & Murray, 1997) and show tess sensitive responsiveness during parent-infant interaction (Mertesacker, Bade, Haverkock & Pauli-Pott, 2004). Moreover, parent perceptions of infant temperamental characteristics may influence the infant's actual development of these characteristics over time (Pauli-Pott, Mertesacker, Bade, Haverkock & Beckmann, 2003).

In terms of 'particular' cognitions relating to parental functioning, the literature is vast. However, key areas that have important implications for the parent-child relationship and child development include parental perceptions of their own wellbeing, social support and relationship to the role of being a parent.

Empirical evidence suggests that maternal depression impacts negatively on infant functioning, particularly via parental negative affect expressed verbally and nonverbally, and reduced parental sensitive responsiveness to infant verbal and non-verbal signals (Cohn, Campbell, Matias & Hopkins, 1990; Field, 1992; Field et al., 2004; Murray, Fiori-Cowley, Hooper, 1996; Stanley, Murray & Stein, 2004). Additionally, a lack of social support from one's spouse and/or social network impacts negatively on parenting behaviour (Simons, Lorenz, Wu & Conger, 1993), including the parent-child relationship (Crnic, Greenberg, Ragozin, Robinson & Basham, 1983). In terms of cognitions relating to the role of being a parent, when parents lack a sense of perceived competence they may not put their parenting knowledge into action (Teti & Gelfand, 1991). Several studies have also revealed a relationship between low parenting self-efficacy and compromised developmental outcomes in older children, such as socio-emotional development (Swick & Hassell, 1990) and school achievement (Bandura, Barbaranelli, Caprara & Pastorelli, 2001). …

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