Does encouraging contingent talk benefit language development?

A study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry examines whether language outcomes for low socio-economic status (SES) children can be improved by encouraging contingent talk (how often the parent talks about objects in the child’s current focus of attention) through a low-intensity intervention.

In a randomised controlled trial with high- and low-SES families, 142 children aged 11 months and their parents were randomly allocated to either a contingent talk intervention or a dental health control. Families in the intervention watched a video about contingent talk and were asked to practice it for 15 minutes a day for a month. Families were visited in their homes twice when children were 11, 12, 18 and 24 months. Questionnaires were also collected by mail at 15 months. Parent communication was assessed at 11 months (baseline) and after one month. Infant communication was assessed at baseline, 12, 15, 18 and 24 months.

At baseline, the amount of contingent talk children hear is found to be associated with SES, with lower-SES parents engaging in less contingent talk. At post-test (when children were 12 months old) all parents who had taken part in the intervention engaged in more contingent talk, regardless of their socioeconomic status. Lower-SES parents in the intervention group reported that their children produced more words at 15 and 18 months. However, effects of the intervention didn’t persist at 24 months. So while parents’ contingent talk is increased through the intervention, and this is effective in promoting vocabulary growth for lower-SES infants in the short term, these effects are not long-lasting. The study concludes that follow-up interventions may be necessary to produce benefits lasting to school entry.

Source: A randomised controlled trial to test the effect of promoting caregiver contingent talk on language development in infants from diverse socioeconomic status backgrounds (April 2017), The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry doi:10.1111/jcpp.12725

Engaging dads in a parenting intervention improved outcomes

A parenting programme in which fathers engage with their children through reading was found to boost the fathers’ parenting skills while also improving the child’s school readiness and behaviour, according to research published in the Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology.

The randomised controlled trial, conducted by Anil Chacko and colleagues, evaluated the effects of Fathers Supporting Success in Preschoolers, an intervention that focuses on integrating parent training with shared book reading to improve outcomes among fathers and their pre-school children. For the study, 126 low-income fathers – the majority of whom spoke Spanish – and their children were recruited across three Head Start centres in New York City. The intervention included eight weekly sessions, each lasting 90 minutes. The effects of the programme on parenting skills, child behaviour and language, and outcomes for fathers including stress and depression were measured before and immediately after participation in the programme. Measures included observations by the researchers using a behavioural coding system that measures the quality of parent-child social interactions, reports from the fathers and standardised assessments of child language.

The study found that parenting behaviours, child behaviours and the language development of the children improved. Moderate effect sizes were found for observed positive parenting (+0.63) and for observed child problem behaviour (+0.34). Using the Preschool Language Scales (PLS-4) to measure language outcomes, effect sizes of +0.52 were reported for auditory comprehension and +0.51 for expressive language. Parental stress and depression effect sizes were insignificant. Overall, the findings suggest more than a 30% improvement in parenting and school readiness outcomes.

Source: Engaging fathers in effective parenting for preschool children using shared book reading: a randomized controlled trial (January 2017), Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology

Better parenting for school readiness – there’s an app for that

A randomised controlled trial carried out by the University of Oxford’s Department of Education and published by the Sutton Trust tested EasyPeasy, a smartphone app for the parents and carers of two- to six-year-old children. EasyPeasy aims to improve school readiness by encouraging positive play and interaction with young children.

The trial, which lasted 18 weeks, was carried out in eight children’s centres in Bournemouth with 144 families taking part. Games were sent directly to parents’ mobiles via an app once a week along with tailored prompts, encouragement, reminders, and information on child development.

The study reported significant findings for two out of seven outcome measures. Parents who took part in the intervention reported improvements in their children’s persistence and concentration (cognitive self-regulation). Parental consistency with discipline and boundaries also increased in the intervention group with parents feeling more comfortable setting limits for behaviour and following through on expectations. Both showed positive effect sizes; 0.51 and 0.44 respectively.

Source: EasyPeasy parenting app: Findings from an e­fficacy trial on parent engagement and school readiness skills (2016), The Sutton Trust

The effects of parenting programmes

A new policy brief from The Campbell Collaboration summarises evidence from six Campbell systematic reviews of parenting programmes.

These programmes are designed to enhance parents’ knowledge, skills, and understanding, and to improve both child and parent behavioural and psychological outcomes. Programmes are typically offered to parents over the course of 8 to 12 weeks, for one or two hours each week. The programmes can be delivered on a one-to-one basis or to groups, and be provided in a range of settings, including hospitals, social work clinics, schools, and churches.

The six systematic reviews that have been published by The Campbell Collaboration have evaluated the effectiveness of a range of parenting programmes, including those aimed at addressing early onset conduct disorder and improving outcomes for children with ADHD. The reviews provide unequivocal evidence that parenting programmes are effective in improving aspects of parents’ psychosocial functioning (eg, depression, anxiety, confidence, and satisfaction with the partner relationship) in the short-term. Behavioural and cognitive-behavioural group-based parenting interventions have also been found to be effective at improving child conduct problems, parental mental health, and parenting skills in the short term for parents of children aged 3-12. However, the evidence of effectiveness for parents of younger children is less comprehensive.

Source: Effects of Parenting Programmes: A Review of Six Campbell Systematic Reviews (2016), The Campbell Collaboration.

Helping parents with Lifestart

A recent paper from Queen’s University and the Institute of Child Care Research has shown positive results for parents involved in a trial of the Lifestart parenting programme in Ireland.

Lifestart is a programme for parents of children aged birth to five years old. It aims to give parents the tools they need to enhance their child’s learning environment, and is delivered in their own homes. The programme includes a monthly 30- to 60-minute home visit from a trained Lifestart family visitor, and monthly information based on the Growing Child curriculum.

The authors conducted a randomised controlled trial of Lifestart between 2008 and 2014. A total of 424 parents and children (less than one year old) were recruited from across Ireland and volunteered to take part in the study. Each family was assigned to either the intervention group (who received the programme for five years) or the control group (who did not). The research team visited every family three times and collected information about the children’s cognitive, emotional, and behavioural development, and about parents’ feelings.

The trial found that parents who received Lifestart reported less parenting stress, better knowledge of child development, and more confidence in their parenting. The authors also found positive changes in children’s development, although these changes were not statistically significant. However, they note that significant impact could emerge later as the cumulative effect of improved parenting builds up over time.

Source: A Randomised Controlled Trial Evaluation of the Lifestart Parenting Programme (2015), Queen’s University.

Family instability increases drop-out rates

A new study has shown that young people who experienced instability in family structure were 33% less likely to stay in education than those who lived in stable married biological families.

The research, published in the British Educational Research Journal, used data from the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England (LSYPE), which has tracked the progress of 10,783 young people and their parents. This was combined with information from the National Pupil Database (NPD), which contains longitudinal student achievement data.

Students who had experienced a change in family structure between 2004 and 2007 were significantly less likely to stay in school after the age of 16 than those who did not. In other findings, the study found no discernible difference between children living in cohabiting biological families and those living in married biological families. However, children living in a cohabiting family that included one biological parent were less likely to stay in school than those from two-biological-parent married families.

After accounting for covariates such as family socioeconomic status, the analysis revealed that children from stable lone-parent households were as likely to remain in education after the age of 16 as were children in stable married biological families.

In terms of informing policy, the study shows the importance of identifying the multiple risk factors that children may face. Much research has focused on the importance of poverty, but other factors independent of income can also have an influence.

Source: Family structure instability and the educational persistence of young people in England (2015), British Educational Research Journal