The research addressed in this article indicates that how a mother interacts with her child in its first year, as well as the child’s temperament, can predict later conduct issues. Over 1,800 infants were assessed in their first year, both in terms of temperament (activity level, fearfulness, fussiness, general happiness), as well as the mother’s interactive style (intellectual stimulation, responsiveness to needs, style of discipline). Then, the conduct of the child was assessed from the age of 4 through 13. The authors found that temperament and mother’s interaction style were “surprisingly good predictors” of later conduct. From the article:
The researchers looked at how much mothers stimulated their baby intellectually, how responsive they were to the child’s demands, and the use of spanking or physical restraint. Child conduct problems in later childhood included cheating, telling lies, trouble getting on with teachers, being disobedient at home and/or at school, bullying and showing no remorse after misbehaving.
The results indicate that both maternal ratings of their infants' temperament and parenting styles during the first year are surprisingly good predictors of maternal ratings of child conduct problems through age 13 years. Less fussy, more predictable infants, as well as those who were more intellectually stimulated by their mothers in their first year of life, were at low risk of later childhood conduct problems. Early spanking also predicted challenging behavior in Non-Hispanic European American families, but not in Hispanic families.
This doesn’t strike me as earth-shattering news, except to the extent it provides further direction in terms of early intervention. The more findings researchers can unearth pointing to the best ways to raise the healthiest children, the better off we are, especially in terms of education. It would also seem to me that the mother’s role in the research dominates simply because children are still with their mothers far more, especially at a young age. However, I would imagine that fathers and other adults with regular contact would also be able to provide those experiences (such as intellectual stimulation and responsiveness to needs) that improve the health of the child.