knowledge gap

Closing the Knowledge Gap: How First Time Parents Can Become ‘Better Equipped’ for Child Development

Yesterday we reported on important research from Child Trends that highlights the knowledge gap for first time parents — and not only how they seek to fill the gap, but also how additional parenting knowledge helps improve outcomes for their children.

Researchers gathered insights for their report titled Parenting Knowledge Among First-time Parents of Young Children through two key avenues: A thorough literature review, as well as bespoke focus groups where they could gain first hand feedback.

That literature review and the feedback led to specific recommendations, “with direct implications for programs, policy, and practice. The literature review identified major gaps in the field’s understanding of parenting knowledge, which we subsequently explored through focus groups. Taken together, our findings from the literature and focus groups were consistent with one another.”

Recommendations include:

  • Optimize the likelihood that parents use information on parenting and child development by (1) delivering it with clear and concise recommendations; (2) accompanying it with guidance to help parents apply this information to everyday interactions with their infants and toddlers; (3) offering it in strengths-based, judgment-free ways that acknowledge the centrality of fathers and the cultural beliefs and practices of families; and (4) providing options and alternatives that account for each family’s needs and preferences.”
  • Build on the strengths of the internet. Parents value the accessibility of internet-based resources, opportunities to view parenting behaviors being modeled, and the internet’s sense of community. Several parents in the focus groups noted parenting and home-visiting programs have used these strategies effectively and in ways they have enjoyed.”
  • Highlight the range of normal physical and social-emotional development. The pediatric community, early care and education professionals, home visitors, and other service providers can alleviate many parental concerns by emphasizing the fact that typical development includes a range of behaviors and growth patterns.”
  • Use developmental milestones as windows of opportunity.
  • Expand the capacity of pediatric care to address young children’s social-emotional development.
  • Engage fathers. Many parenting resources, programs, and services specifically target mothers and/or have been unsuccessful in efforts to engage fathers. Fathers in our focus groups expressed a strong desire to be included in childrearing activities, programs, and services. Additional efforts are needed by practitioners and policymakers to shift traditional, gender-based expectations of both fathers and mothers, and to more successfully engage fathers during their child’s infant and toddler years, setting the stage for active paternal involvement throughout childhood.”

The researchers conclude that “Parents who have a solid understanding of healthy parenting and child development are better equipped to support their young children as they grow.”

Further: “While our work highlights key aspects of parenting knowledge, there is more to learn. Perhaps the most significant gap is a lack of evidence on optimal approaches for helping parents both acquire and apply knowledge to their everyday behaviors and interactions with their infants and toddlers. Given parents’ interest in receiving information through the internet, efforts to help them use this information in everyday interactions with children should include testing the efficacy of strategies for translating knowledge into healthy parenting practices. In turn, practitioners, program leaders, and local, state, and federal policymakers will be better positioned to promote use of the most effective strategies for supporting parents in obtaining and using this knowledge.”

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