National Post

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Wednesday, March 31, 1999

Parents lack basic knowledge of child-rearing, survey finds
Results 'astonishing'

Tom Arnold
National Post

From cuddling and nurturing to monitoring their babies' efforts to sit up or crawl, Canadian parents are muddling through their children's early years with minimal child-rearing knowledge -- along with a conviction that government is indifferent to their efforts, a national survey on parenting has found.

The countrywide poll of 1,645 fathers, mothers, and single mothers with children under six, indicates that, while parents recognize the importance of their role, many lack even basic knowledge of how children develop and how parents can assist in that process.

Half the respondents knew that emotional closeness with their baby will strongly influence the child's intellectual development; less than half were fully aware they can positively influence their child's level of intelligence by reading to them, playing with them, touching them, or holding them.

Conducted for Invest in Kids Foundation, a national non-profit group that develops resources for parents and promotes healthy development of children, the $70,000 poll is Canada's first national survey on parenting. It is considered accurate within 2.5%, about 95 % of the time.

The study also found that parental knowledge about physical development, like sitting up and crawling, is low, and parents' understanding of emotional development, or how children express moods and feelings, is even lower. The survey also indicates that parents are unsure and insecure about their parental role, particularly on handling difficult situations, and they don't feel supported in their child-rearing responsibilities.

"Too many children are not getting what they need," said Dr. Carol Crill Russell, vice-president of research and development for the foundation, after releasing the results. According to Dr. Russell's group, 25% of four-year-olds are seriously aggressive, nearly a third of seriously aggressive six-year-olds become anti-social adults, and about 20% of school-aged children have emotional or behavioural disorders.

"Overall, parents are not confident that they know what signs to watch for in any area of development," she said. "It is astonishing."

Added Nancy Birnbaum, president of the foundation: "Their knowledge is a mile wide and an inch deep."

The findings are troubling in light of research that shows the early years are the time of the greatest development -- and the period when adults have the most profound influence on how productive, resilient, compassionate, and confident their children will be as adults. Ms. Birnbaum said a child's first five years are pivotal in developing their ability to learn, create, love, trust, and develop a strong sense of themselves.

Among other findings:

- 92% feel that being a parent is the most important thing they do, though they do not feel supported in their parenting responsibility.

- Only 40% of parents think Canada values its young children.

- Only 34% of parents believe things a child experiences before the age of three will greatly influence his or her ability to do well in school.

- About 30% of parents polled believe every baby is born with a certain level of intelligence, which can not be increased or decreased by how parents interact with them.

Liberal Senator Landon Pearson, a long-time children's advocate, called the findings "disturbing."

"Parents are feeling abandoned," she said, adding, "I hope that this poll is a real wake-up call to all of us to rally around the little children."

Parents need ongoing community and government support as the traditional family unit disintegrates, Ms. Pearson added. Often, single parents and double-income families don't have time to use programs or other resources because they are too busy making ends meet, she noted.

The foundation is calling for more government programs for children, and for corporations, communities, and individual Canadians to become more supportive of parents.

Copyright Southam Inc.