|ScienceDaily (Feb. 7, 2008) — Having
close ties with parents is obviously good for young children, but
what does that really mean? It means that the children are better
able to control their own behavior by showing patience,
deliberation, restraint, and even maturity. That's the finding of a
new study conducted by researchers at the University of Iowa.
The researchers looked at 102 mostly white families--mothers,
fathers, and babies--who had volunteered for the study from the time
the children were 7 months old until they were almost 4 and a half
years old. Repeated observations were carried out in the families'
homes and in a laboratory. In the first two years, the researchers
observed how parents and children related to each other,
particularly whether they were in sync, picked up on each other's
cues, communicated well, and enjoyed each other's company. In short,
they gauged whether the parents and children had developed a close,
positive, reciprocal, cooperative, and mutually responsive
When the children were 4 years and 4 months old, the researchers
observed how the children responded when they were told not to do
something by a parent when the parent then left the room. They also
observed how the children did on tasks that called for
self-regulation--patience, deliberation, restraint, and maturity of
impulses--such as being asked to hold a small piece of candy in
their mouths without eating it.
The study found that children who had developed a close,
positive, reciprocal, and mutually responsive relationship with
their mothers in the first two years of their lives did much better
in both respects--responding to their mothers' requests not to do
something and regulating their own behavior--than children who
hadn't developed such ties.
The researchers also explored how mutually responsive
relationships between mothers and children worked. When mothers and
babies develop this closeness in the first two years, the study
found, mothers don't need to use forceful discipline later to get
their children to do what they ask and refrain from other behaviors.
And in turn, subtle control on the part of the mothers leads to
better, more compliant, and more self-regulated behavior.
Some of these findings were similar for fathers and children.
Mutually responsive, positive relationships between fathers and
children in the first two years of life also were associated with
children's better performance in tasks that called for
self-regulation when the children were 4 and a half. However, in
contrast to mothers and children, the reasons for the father-child
link were less clear. Relationships between fathers and children in
general have been studied much less than those between mothers and
children, and more research is needed to understand their dynamics.
"Most parents know that when they interact with their infant
and young toddler, they are laying important foundations for the
child's future development," according to Grazyna Kochanska,
Stuit Professor of Developmental Psychology at the University of
Iowa and the lead author of the study. "Now we have a better
understanding of what that really means. Your investment in building
a mutually responsive, positive, close relationship early on will
generate considerable payoff several years later."
Journal reference: Child Development, Vol. 79, Issue 1,
Mother-Child and Father-Child Mutually Responsive Orientation in the
First Two Years and Children's Outcomes: Mechanisms of Influence, by
Kochanska, G, Aksan, N, Prisco, TR, and Adams, EE (University of
The study was funded, in part, by the National Institute of