Parents using electronic toys inhibit their infants’ speech development; parental controlling behaviour leads to a life of reduced wellbeing; the ‘naughty step’ is not the best way of dealing with disobedience – all these are redolent of the sensationalist press, and have indeed been reported there. However the researchers do provide positive suggestions. Read on!
A recently-reported research project was carried out by Anna Sosa of Northern Arizona University. Working with parents and 10-16 month old infants, she observed (Sosa, 2016), in 15 minute sessions, the language used whilst playing together with either electronic toys (e.g. a talking farm) or traditional toys (e.g. wooden shape sorters) or board books. She found that whilst playing with electronic toys there were fewer adult words, conversational turns or parental responses than with either traditional toys or books, and fewer infant vocalizations. Also there was less adult use of words, particularly content-specific words, with traditional toys than with the board books. This study has its limitations, the small sample size of 28 pairs and its restricted socio-ethnic make-up but nevertheless the author clearly concludes that “to promote early language development, play with electronic toys should be discouraged.”
In another study, Dr. Mai Stafford of UCL, London, led a team analysing data from the MRC National Survey of Health and Development, which tracked 5,362 people born in 1946 and of whom 2,600 are still being actively followed up. This mass of data must have many hidden gems within it. The UCL team focused on whether parenting styles had any long-term effects. They reached a clear conclusion that people with controlling parents had significantly lower life satisfaction and mental wellbeing. Controlling parents typically involved not letting children make their own decisions, invading their privacy and fostering dependence. By contrast people whose parents showed warmth and responsiveness had better reported wellbeing. This was true of both maternal and paternal care, although, interestingly, paternal care became more important as the participants reached their 60s.
The Prime Minister recently reported a plan to encourage parenting classes. A laudable aim indeed, but one wonders if it will ever come to fruition, and if it does just how enlightened the classes will be. Conventional wisdom is not necessarily the best route. A study of just over 100 parents, reported by Fernandez (2015), found that when a toddler is ‘non-compliant’ the best strategy (to the authors’ admitted surprise) was to reason with them. This was most effective for less dramatic problems but the least effective short-term. Here the authors found parents often compromised but that led to longer term problems and they found that compromise “made all behavioural problems worse for the most oppositional toddlers.” Problems decreased with the frequent use of reasoning. Montessori, of course, was fully aware of the importance of parents and she pioneered the involvement of them in the educational process. Nothing in these studies contradicts her stance, they reinforce just how crucial good parenting practices are.
Fernandez, C. (2015). Tot Tantrum? Try Reason. Accessed from http://www.iol.co.za/lifestyle/family/baby-toddler/tot-tantrum-try-reason-1.1903653
Sosa, A.V. (2016). Association of the Type of Toy Used During Play with the Quantity and Quality of Parent-Infant Communication. 170:132-137. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.3753.
Spitzer, M. (2015). Bottom of the class. New Scientist, 17/10/2015: 28-29
Stafford, M. et al. (2015). Parent-child relationships and offspring’s positive mental wellbeing from adolescence to early older age. J. Positive Psychology. http://dx.doi.org. 10.1080/17439760.2015.1081971