Public Release: 

Scratch a nurturing mom, find a mom who was nurtured herself

Society for Research in Child Development

If mom was raised in a positive, nurturing environment during her preschool, childhood and adolescent years, she's much more likely to raise her own children that way, an international consortium of researchers reports in the March/April 2005 issue of the journal Child Development. The researchers' work reveals that women--but not men--raised within a low-authoritarian household during the preschool years, with a cohesive, positive family environment and little conflict during the middle childhood years, who established a trusting, openly communicative, and close relationship with their parents during their teenage years, were more likely to engage in a warm, sensitive, stimulating parenting style themselves when raising the next generation. Such parenting during the early years is known to foster emotional well being and improve language/thinking skills, as well as academic achievement as the child grows up.

"Numerous studies have found that negative parenting behavior, such as harsh discipline or even child abuse, is often transmitted across generations," said lead researcher Jay Belsky, PhD, Director of the Institute for the Study of Children, Families and Social Issues at Birkbeck University of London. "But there exists very little work on whether positive parenting is similarly transmitted across generations, especially work that actually follows up in adulthood individuals who were studied during childhood."

So Dr. Belsky and colleagues from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, and the University of Otago and Canterbury University in New Zealand set out to investigate that issue, using a long-studied sample of more than 1,000 New Zealanders born in the early 1970s. The researchers focused on the 228 participants who had become parents of young children to try and tease out the intergenerational transmission of positive parenting.

Information on how the parents were themselves reared when they were between three and 15 had been obtained from repeated interviews with their mothers while they were growing up. Researchers obtained information about how these now-grown children parented their own children by visiting their homes and videotaping them interacting with their child in a variety of situations, including play and teaching, when the child was 3 to 5 years old.

The team's findings, says Dr. Belsky, show that "it is not just problematic parenting, known to undermine a child's well being, that can be handed down across generations, but also the kind of parenting known to foster healthy child development."

One of the mysteries still to be resolved, he said, is why childrearing history only predicted how mothers parented, but now fathers. This could result from the fact that the original study included very little information on fathering, said Dr. Belsky.


Summarized from Child Development, Vol. 6, Issue 2, Intergenerational Transmission of Warm-Sensitive-Stimulating Parenting: A Prospective Study of Mothers and Fathers of 3-year Olds by Belsky J (Birkbeck University), Jaffee SR (University of Pennsylvania), Sligo J and Silva PA (University of Otago) and Woodward L (Canterbury University). Copyright 2005 The Society for Research in Child Development, Inc. All rights reserved.

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