Very low birth weight babies whose mothers stimulate and respond to them have fewer developmental difficulties, say researchers from the University of Texas in Galveston and Houston.
Beginning in 1990 to 1992, researchers followed 360 families with infants for 10 years. About two thirds of the children in the study were born prematurely and at a very low birth weight, and one third were born at full-term and served as a comparison group. For both groups, the researchers observed the mothers' behaviors toward their children eight times throughout childhood, noting behaviors such as how often she responded to the child's signals for help and attention and whether she demonstrated physical affection and enthusiasm. Throughout the 10-year study, the children also underwent intelligence testing to measure their cognitive abilities.
The results? Children whose mothers showed a pattern of responsiveness throughout their childhood had higher levels of intelligence and cognitive development compared with kids whose mothers were minimally responsive or who were responsive during only one period of childhood. Children born at a very low birth weight who had less severe medical complications seemed to benefit most from a consistent level of responsiveness from mom.
What This Means to You. The results of this study of very low birth weight infants indicate that responding to and stimulating your child isn't just necessary during infancy and the preschool years — it's imperative throughout the early elementary school years as well. Here are some tips on how to respond positively to your child, no matter what his or her age:
- Decipher your child's signals and respond to them promptly. Notice what your child's body language, sounds, and words are telling you about his or her needs.
- Stay sensitive to your child's pace and abilities, especially if your child has special medical needs.
- Support your child's need to explore and seek independence.
- Use a positive tone of voice when talking to your child.
- Praise and encourage your child.
- Be physically affectionate with your child.
Source: Karen E. Smith, PhD; Susan H. Landry, PhD; Paul R. Swank, PhD; Pediatrics, May 2006.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: June 2006