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Survey: Parental misconceptions about discipline

SURVEY REVEALS CHILD DEVELOPMENT KNOWLEDGE GAP AMONG ADULTS
Need More Information about Discipline, Spoiling and Expectations of Young Children

WASHINGTON, D.C., Oct. 4 – Results of a landmark survey released today raise questions about
what Americans know about raising emotionally, intellectually and socially healthy children.

“This lack of accurate child development information among adults has very real implications for
American society,” said Kyle Pruett, M.D., clinical professor of psychiatry at the Yale University
Child Study Center, and president of ZERO TO THREE. “We’re potentially raising overly aggressive
children who react to situations with intimidation and bullying, instead of cooperation and
understanding; children who won’t be able to tolerate frustration, wait their turn or respect the needs
of others.”

“What Grown-Ups Understand About Child Development: A National Benchmark Survey”
measured the child development knowledge of 3,000 adults and parents. Secondarily, it examined
what the general public thinks about selected policies that impact children and families. The survey
was sponsored by CIVITAS, ZERO TO THREE and BRIO Corporation, three organizations
dedicated to the welfare of young children, and conducted by DYG, Inc., a nationally respected
research company led by Daniel Yankelovich.

“The results of the survey overwhelmingly indicate that adults need more and better information,
delivered in more accessible ways,” said Suzanne Muchin, chief executive officer of CIVITAS, a
not-for-profit communications group that commissioned the survey.

The survey results show that specific areas of misinformation among adults include spoiling and
spanking; adults’ expectations of young children at different ages; and the most beneficial forms of
play.

Parents Misunderstand: Babies Can’t Be Spoiled

Parents are confused – and grandparents even more so – about what parental behaviors constitute
spoiling for infants and young children. For example:

57 percent of parents of young children (0-6 years of age) and 62 percent of all adults
incorrectly believe a six-month-old can be spoiled.
44 percent of parents of young children and 60 percent of grandparents incorrectly believe
picking up a three-month-old every time he cries will spoil the child.

“If you don’t pick up a baby when he is crying, you can build up his levels of stress and distress,
which in turn can slow his learning,” says Dr. Pruett. “Responding to your child’s needs is not
spoiling. Young children need your attention to develop the faith and trust that their needs matter to
you.”

Most Parents Condone Spanking; Child Development Research Doesn’t

The effects of spanking are also confusing to most parents. According to the survey results:

61 percent of parents of young children condone spanking as a “regular form of punishment”
for young children, while research indicates it’s detrimental to a child’s development.
37 percent think spanking is appropriate for children under two years of age.

“These findings are surprising,” said Ron Lally, Ed.D., co-director of The Center For Child and
Family Study at WestEd, “given that while many parents condone spanking as a regular form of
punishment, they also understand that this can lead to children acting more aggressively, and that it
will not lead to better self-control.”

Lally added, “Why would anyone spank an infant or toddler? There is nothing he or she can learn
from it other than to distrust bigger and more powerful people.”

Parents Expectations Aren’t Always Appropriate

Most American adults, according to the survey, are confused about what should be realistically
expected from young children at different ages.

51 percent of parents of young children expect a 15-month-old to share her toys, and 26
percent of all adults expect a three-year-old to sit quietly for one hour at a time – both
unrealistic expectations, according to experts.
26 percent of all adults, and 23 percent of parents of young children believe that a child as
young as six-months will not suffer any long-term effects from witnessing violence. Child
development research shows it can have long-lasting, detrimental effects on a child’s social
and emotional development and his developing brain.
61 percent of all adults, and 55 percent of parents with young children, do not know when
young babies begin to sense and are affected by the moods of others. This is crucial because
child development research shows that if a caregiver is particularly anxious or depressed, it
can have a damaging effect on a baby’s development.
40 percent of parents of young children incorrectly believe a 12-month-old who turns the TV on
and off repeatedly while her parents are trying to watch it, believe she is “angry and trying to
get back at them.”
72 percent of parents of young children were unaware that children as young as four months of
age, can experience real depression; 51 percent believe children cannot experience
depression until they are at least three years of age.

Parents Value Less Beneficial Forms of Play

According to Dr. Pruett, “play is extremely important to a child’s development; a way for children to
learn about their world.” While most parents understand the importance of play, there are still
several information gaps:

Many parents place too much emphasis on less valuable forms of play, such as flashcards,
educational television and computer activities.
Parents also don’t understand the importance of the connection between physical play, such
as playground activities, and intellectual development.

“Play is a vital part of how children learn about the world around them,” said Peter Reynolds,
president of BRIO Corporation. “We all need more information in order to understand the value of
imagination and play.”

Parents Understand Many Important Issues

Although adults lack significant information about some aspects of child development, most know a
great deal about some key issues. For example, they understand:

Children’s capabilities are not fully predetermined at birth and, in fact, parents and caregivers
play a major role in their development.
Early experiences, even in the first months of life, have a significant impact on a child’s
capabilities much later in life.
Emotional closeness (i.e., love) with children has a profound impact on a child’s intellectual,
social and emotional development.

Americans Want Policies That Better Support Children and Families

In spite of early childhood development research that emphasizes the importance of the relationship
between young children and their caregivers:

Nearly 65 percent of parents of young children and adults feel the government is not doing
enough to help working parents meet their children’s needs.
61 percent of parents of young children and 59 percent of all adults feel employers are not
doing enough to help working parents meeting their children’s needs.

“Families don’t raise children in a vacuum. Policies and programs directly impact the ability of
parents to support their children’s healthy growth and development,” said Matthew Melmed,
executive director of ZERO TO THREE. “These findings clearly show that the general public
understands the needs of families with young children and desires family leave and child care
policies that will help meet these needs.”

Next Steps

“Although child development materials exist, they are not effectively reaching the hands of parents
and other caregivers,” added Muchin. “Providing educational materials for use as early as middle
school is a positive first step. Increased dissemination of information now ensures better informed
parents of future generations.”

CIVITAS, ZERO TO THREE and BRIO have developed – and plan to create – more valuable tools
and information to address these knowledge gaps. This information must be distributed in ways that
reach parents, grandparents, future parents, other caregivers, policymakers and professionals – all
of whom make a difference in our children’s future.

Survey Sponsors

Chicago-based CIVITAS is a national, not-for-profit communications group whose mission is to
create tools that help educate and support adults who take care of young children. ZERO TO
THREE, headquartered in Washington, DC, also a non-profit organization, is the nation’s leading
resource for knowledge and expertise regarding young children’s development. BRIO Corporation,
in Milwaukee, is a leading toy company whose products focus on play, development, imagination
and fun. BRIO provided financial support for the survey.

People desiring more information about child development and listings of additional resources can
log onto the BUILD Initiative and ZERO TO THREE (www.zerotothree.org) web sites.

 

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