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Early Sensitive Caregiving Has Lasting Influence on Child’s Development

Early Sensitive Caregiving Has Lasting Influence on Child’s Development

Emerging research discovers sensitive caregiving in the first three years of life is a strong predictor of an individual’s future social competence and academic success.

A new study — designed to replicate an earlier study that showed early maternal sensitivity has lasting associations with children’s social and cognitive development — confirmed the importance of a child’s early experiences.

The study, by researchers at the University of Minnesota, the University of Delaware, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, appears in the journal Child Development.

“The study indicates that the quality of children’s early caregiving experiences has an enduring and ongoing role in promoting successful social and academic development into the years of maturity,” notes Lee Raby, postdoctoral researcher at the University of Delaware, who led the study.

Sensitive caregiving is defined as the extent to which a parent responds to a child’s signals appropriately and promptly, is positively involved during interactions with the child, and provides a secure base for the child’s exploration of the environment.

The researchers used information from 243 individuals who were born into poverty, came from a range of racial/ethnic backgrounds, and had been followed from birth into adulthood (age 32) as part of the Minnesota Longitudinal Study of Risk and Adaptation.

Observations of interactions between mothers and their children were collected four times during the children’s first three years of life. At multiple ages during childhood and adolescence, teachers reported on children’s functioning in their peer groups, and children completed standardized tests of academic achievement.

During their 20s and early 30s, participants completed interviews in which they discussed their experiences with romantic relationships and reported their educational attainment.

Individuals who experienced more sensitive caregiving early in life consistently functioned better socially and academically during the first three decades of life, the study found. The associations were larger for individuals’ academic outcomes than for their functioning in peer and romantic relationships.

Moreover, early caregiving experiences continued to predict individuals’ academic, but not social, functioning after accounting for early socioeconomic factors as well as children’s gender and ethnicity.

Although families’ economic resources were important predictors of children’s development, these variables didn’t fully account for the persistent and long-term influence of early caregiving experiences on individuals’ academic success.

“Altogether, the study suggests that children’s experiences with parents during the first few years of life have a unique role in promoting social and academic functioning — not merely during the first two decades of life, but also during adulthood,” according to Raby.

“This suggests that investments in early parent-child relationships may result in long-term returns that accumulate across individuals’ lives.

“Because individuals’ success in relationships and academics represents the foundation for a healthy society, programs, and initiatives that equip parents to interact with their children in a sensitive manner during the first few years of their children’s life can have long-term benefits for individuals, families, and society at large.”

Source: Society for Research in Child Development

Sensitive mother photo by shutterstock.

Early Sensitive Caregiving Has Lasting Influence on Child’s Development

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Early Sensitive Caregiving Has Lasting Influence on Child’s Development. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 19 Dec 2014)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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