Let’s state the obvious: Parenting is hard. Even more obvious: First time parents have it even harder, given that (by definition) these parents have never done it before.
But can helping first-time parents better understand parenting skills translate into improved outcomes for children and society?
In a recent newsletter, Child Trends notes: “Research demonstrates a strong link between what parents know about parenting and child development and how they behave with their children. Parents with more knowledge are more likely to engage in positive parenting practices, whereas those with limited knowledge are at greater risk of negative parenting behaviors. Consequently, many parenting programs and services for families with infants and toddlers aim to improve parents’ knowledge of child development and healthy caregiving practices.”
Further, Child Trends released a research brief that not only documents the challenge, but also outlines important tools for new parents — and those who support them.
The document is titled “Parenting Knowledge among First-time Parents of Young Children.” It states:
“Researchers have rarely examined what parents know, and want to know, about parenting and child development, how they prefer to receive such information, and how their knowledge and preferences may vary across different groups of parents. To address this gap, Child Trends conducted a study on parenting knowledge that included two components: (1) a comprehensive review of the literature on parenting knowledge; and (2) focus groups with parents from diverse racial, ethnic, and economic backgrounds. We focused especially on parents’ perceptions of their knowledge of children’s social-emotional and physical development, as early parent-child relationships form primarily through caregivers’ intensive efforts to meet the social-emotional and physical needs of their infants and toddlers.”
Key Findings About First Time Parents
Researchers collected insights of “first-time parents of young children (under age 3) and their knowledge about parenting and child development” from two main sources: literature review and focus groups.
Key findings from literature include:
- “Most parents lack the knowledge they need and want. Research strongly suggests that first-time parents of infants and toddlers want to know more about parenting and child development yet have difficulty obtaining clear and trustworthy information.”
- “The amount of information available to parents is overwhelming and its quality is inconsistent.“
- “Parents often use sources of information that do not re ect their preferences. First-time parents often seek information on parenting and child development, but they do not receive sufficient information from preferred sources, including family and friends with parenting experience, individuals who are familiar with their child and family circumstances, and professionals they trust, such as pediatricians. Many parents opt to use the internet; while they appreciate its accessibility, they sometimes feel overwhelmed by the amount of information and variation in quality.”
There is limited information about how parenting knowledge may vary across different demographic groups.
Focus Groups with First Time Parents
Also useful, the researchers conducted focus groups with first-time parents. Among the key findings:
- “Parents had more knowledge about their child’s physical development than social-emotional development. Parents reported feeling knowledgeable and confident in their understanding of their child’s physical development, which had observable markers and milestones, but less so about social-emotional development.”
- “Parents are eager for more information on children’s social-emotional development.“
- “Parents turn to the internet for information, support, and guidance. They reported relying most on Google to search and find answers to their parenting questions, Facebook and online parenting groups for support, and YouTube or Pinterest for information on how to apply new knowledge to everyday interactions with their children. No other method compared to the ease of use and speed of information delivery offered by the internet and social media. Parents also found comfort in their feelings of anonymity and lack of judgment on the internet.”
- “The most observable differences were between mothers and fathers. Both mothers and fathers struggled with societal expectations focused on gendered ideas of parenting. Mothers felt pressure to be a “super mom”—always present and nurturing, well-organized, equipped to handle any challenge, with a highly functioning and well-mannered child that plays well with peers. Fathers resented the low expectations for paternal involvement they viewed as pervasive in U.S. society. Fathers also appeared to focus more on their child’s future, while mothers paid close attention to their child’s immediate well-being.”
Tomorrow: Child Trends offers recommendations with “direct implications for programs, policy, and practice.”