Does early responsive parenting have a special importance for children's development or is consistency across early childhood necessary?

Dev Psychol. 2001 May;37(3):387-403. doi: 10.1037//0012-1649.37.3.387.


The role of early versus ongoing maternal responsiveness in predicting cognitive and social development was examined in home visits for mothers, full-term children (n = 103), and medically low-risk (n = 102) and high-risk (n = 77) preterm children at 5 ages. There were 4 maternal clusters based on warm and contingent responsiveness behaviors observed early (at 6, 12, and 24 months) and late (at 3 and 4 years): high early, high late; high early, low late; low early, moderate late; and low early, low late. Children, especially preterm children, showed faster cognitive growth when mothers were consistently responsive. Social growth was similar in the consistently responsive (high-high) and the early-responsive inconsistent (high-low) clusters, but greater deceleration at 4 years among children with mothers in the inconsistent cluster refuted the notion of a unique role for early responsiveness. The importance of consistent responsiveness, defined by an affective-emotional construct, was evident even when a broader constellation of parenting behaviors was considered.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Behavior / psychology*
  • Child Development*
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Cognition
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mother-Child Relations*
  • Mothers / psychology
  • Parenting*
  • Social Behavior