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Love 'em Up! Extra Sensitive Caregiving Increases These Skills in Kids

The Short of It

According to research published in the journal "Child Development," individuals who experience sensitive caregiving during the first three years of life may see effects in their relationships and academic achievement.

The Lowdown

Lee Raby, the lead researcher on the study at the University of Delaware, said the researchers were in pursuit of answers to two questions: 1) Does the quality of care that one receives in early life affect childhood and long-term predictive effects for functioning into adulthood?; and 2) Do the predictive effects of early caregiving experiences decrease in time as children grow older and are faced with new challenges and experiences?

Raby expanded upon a previous study that suggested sensitive caregiving in early childhood has long-lasting effects. In the new research, scientists studied about 240 people for their first 32 years of life to determine whether a link existed through adulthood.

For the original study, pregnant mothers below the poverty line were recruited in 1975. In the current study, researchers observed the mothers' interactions with their children on four different occasions in the children's lives: three months old, six months old, two years old, and three and a half years old.

Parents who were highly sensitive were more responsive to their children's cues and promptly met their needs. Researchers observed the parents' interactions with their children through age 19; then again at age 23, asking the young adults about their dating experiences; and again at age 32, inquiring if participants were in serious relationships.

Researchers assessed their academic performance every two years.

The Upshot

The findings showed that children who didn't receive sensitive caregiving were more likely to perform poorly in academics and drop out of school. Children who received sensitive care did better academically and were more likely to earn graduate and postgraduate degrees. Sensitive caregiving was more strongly associated with academic performance than social competence.

Next on the researchers' plan is to study how the participants—now in their 30s—interact with their own children.

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