Parenting behavior at 2 years predicts school-age performance at 7 years in very preterm children

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Abstract

Background:

Parenting influences child development, but it is unclear whether early parenting behavior can influence school-age outcomes in very preterm (VPT) children, and/or if certain groups of VPT children may be more affected by early parenting behavior. These research questions were examined.

Methods:

Participants were 147 children born <30 weeks’ gestation or birth weight <1250 g and their primary caregiver. At term corrected age (CA), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was used to determine presence and severity of brain abnormality and medical data collected. High medical risk was defined as the presence of at least one of sepsis, necrotizing enterocolitis, bronchopulmonary dysplasia, moderate to severe white matter abnormality on MRI, or postnatal corticosteroids. At 2 years CA, parent–child interaction was assessed, and at 7 years CA, general intelligence (IQ), language, executive function, academic skills, and social-emotional functioning were assessed.

Results:

Higher levels of parent–child synchrony, and parent facilitation, sensitivity and positive affect at 2 years were associated with better child outcomes at 7 years, while higher levels of intrusiveness and negative affect were associated with poorer outcomes. Many of these relationships remained after controlling for early child cognitive development. Interactions between child medical risk (higher/lower) and parenting were limited to child reading, math, and executive functioning outcomes, with stronger relationships for lower medical risk children.

Conclusions:

The contribution of early parenting to VPT children's school-age performance is significant, with stronger effects for lower medical risk children in some outcomes. These findings support the premise that parenting strategies should be included in the NICU and early interventions programs for VPT infants.

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