Toronto Star

Wednesuday, March 31, 1999

Parents puzzled by kids, national poll suggests

Most admit having a poor grasp of how brain develops in earliest stages

By Laurie Monsebraaten
Toronto Star Social Policy Reporter

Parents know that taking care of their kids is the most important thing they will ever do, but most admit they have no idea how to do it, a groundbreaking Canadian survey reveals.

Very few parents understand brain development and its relationship to their children's mental health and intellectual development, according to the survey by the Invest In Kids Foundation released yesterday.

Most parents' knowledge of early child development is "a mile wide and an inch deep," foundation president Nancy Birnbaum said in an interview.

Half admitted a lack of confidence in their parenting skills and said they didn't know how to handle difficult situations.

Two-thirds of first-time parents were worried about doing something wrong and felt unsure about what to do most of the time.

Three-quarters said they were afraid of not being a good parent.

Although 85 per cent of those surveyed knew that babies learn from the moment they are born, only half knew that the parents' emotional closeness with their babies has a strong influence on their child's intellectual development.

'We need to create a climate that is supportive of healthy child development Parents can't do this alone. They shouldn't do this alone'
Invest In Kids Foundation President

Only 47 per cent knew that if a baby doesn't receive appropriate stimulation -- being read to, played with, touched or held -- the baby's brain won't develop as well as those who are stimulated properly.

And just 34 per cent knew that a baby's experiences from birth to age 3 can have a huge impact on school performance.

Although the foundation was not surprised at how little parents know about child development, it was startled to learn how isolated and unsupported many parents feel, Birnbaum said.

Almost half of new parents felt little emotional or practical support.

"We need to create a climate that is supportive of healthy child development. Parents can't do this alone. They shouldn't do this alone," Birnbaum said.

The poll of more than 1,600 households with at least one child under 6 is the first of its kind in Canada to survey equal numbers of moms and dads about their attitudes, knowledge and behaviour surrounding the early childhood years.

It was conducted last January.

The foundation was formed in 1992 to promote healthy development for children up to age 5.

Through corporate and private donations, it supports research, training, public awareness and education.

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