The report presents Invest in Kids’ conclusions taken from an overview of what social science and expert informants articulate about infants, parents and parent education programs that could assist parent educators to build the skills parents need to raise well-adjusted children, and then identifies Invest in Kids’ vision and key parameters for a modern parent education program for today’s parents.
In order to do this, the report starts with an overview of what babies need from parents. Babies need parents who are knowledgeable about how babies grow and
develop. From pregnancy to their second birthday, the amount of babies’ growth and change is astounding. A sensitive, responsive and warm parent/child relationship is the
key to healthy development. Every parent wants this. Yet it is very difficult for parents to be sensitive if they do not recognize the meaning of a baby’s sometimes subtle
cues. It is difficult for parents to know how to respond appropriately, if they do not know what a baby is capable of doing.
Parents today are entering parenthood with little experience and knowledge of their own to rely upon. Their view before their first baby arrives is often idyllic, and
although many do their best to educate themselves, afterward many see their expectations crash. They become personally demoralized, many times their marital relationship
suffers, and likewise, their parenting. Many spend a lot of their time feeling incompetent.
This report reiterates the conclusions of the previous report -- Canada provides woefully few opportunities for parents to become truly educated about parenting and
child development. Even worse, Canada has not created an environment that is conducive to enhancing parenting skills. When parents look around their communities what
do they see that could help them? In truth, most communities have a myriad of parenting programs available. However, no program exists that could be identified as
comprehensive, structured parent education and support for mainstream parents. There are points along the way during pregnancy and babyhood when information is directed
toward parents in quasi-educational efforts, but there is nothing that constitutes a real education program that fully shows ordinary parents how to prepare for parenting and
how to enhance their child’s social and emotional development during the first two years of life. Most parent education programs are targeted solely to “high risk” parents –
generally either low income families or families with specific problems. Very few parent education programs are evaluated. We do not know their impact.
There are no national or widespread programs for mainstream parents which prepare them during pregnancy and educate them during the first two critical years of their
child’s life. This is unfortunate. Many mainstream parents lack the knowledge, skills and confidence to ensure the best possible start in life for their children.
Therefore, based on the literature review and key informant interviews, the following are the key parameters for a modern parent education program, for ordinary
parents that reflect the needs of today’s parents.
THE KEY PARAMETERS FOR A MODERN PARENT EDUCATION PROGRAM
VISION: to ensure the best possible start in life for children by transforming the way we prepare and educate first-time parents to acquire the skills they need
for their most important role – raising a child.
GOAL: to ensure children’s positive social, emotional and intellectual development during the beginning years.
OBJECTIVES: to create the best possible parents by:
- Increasing parents’ knowledge, skills and confidence in parenting and child development.
- Increase parents’ knowledge about how their child is growing and developing
- Increase parents’ skills in parenting their child
- Increase parents’ confidence in their own parenting
- Increase parents' confidence in their spouse’s parenting.
- Promoting sensitive, responsive and warm parent/child relationships.
- Fostering parents’ sense of support for their role.
- Support for the parents’ couple relationship.
- Build the parents’ network of other parents with children
- Provide access to caring and knowledgeable experts.
- Targets first-time parents, because they are the most eager to learn.
- Designed for both fathers and mothers, because both mothers and fathers play important roles in children's social, emotional and intellectual development.
- Affords parents access to educators who can:
- Connect parents with the latest information on parenting and child development.
- Address both the physical/medical concerns and the psychosocial/couple communications issues, because these are closely connected to parenting and child
- Supplies expert up-to-date educators who have time to develop relationships with their classes, because:
- The field is changing rapidly and parents want expert advice. The educators must be alert to changes and additions from the science as they occur.
- Parents need experts who have the time and ability to really understand the particular circumstances each couple faces.
- Demonstrates the fun and playful side of parenting children, without being artificial, because new parents put themselves under incredible pressure to achieve
unreachable standards of parenting.
- Presents an easy-to-understand overarching framework of child development and parenting, concentrating on Comfort, Play and Teach as the key parental
factors to build the relationship with their child, as an overall framework applicable to most situations.
- Emphasizes how to adapt the framework to the specifics of each parent-child combination and home situation, because every family and every child is
- Includes very practical parenting strategies that apply to typical challenges such as sleeping through the night, going to daycare, stranger anxiety.
- Teaches parents the basics of development through infant ages and stages, newborn cues and signals to communicate and how parents can respond appropriately,
the basics of temperament and what is typical, and the fundamentals of balancing parental warmth or supportiveness with control.
TIMING AND CONTENT
- Begins during the “teachable moment,” that starts mid-pregnancy, because:
- This is the time when the reality of “becoming a parent” becomes very salient, as the baby’s first movements in the womb can be detected by both parents, and the mother first begins to “show.”
- This is also the beginning of high affiliation-seeking for first-time parents, as they begin to try to reach out to others couples, who will go through this transformation with them.
- This is also when parents first try to educate themselves. The research shows there is content of interest to parents, which if covered in advance of the baby’s arrival, helps parents through the demanding adjustment period right after birth.
- Before the baby is born, assists the expectant couple to:
- Together, think through the kinds of parents they want to become. And to deal with any worries about the impending changes and responsibilities.
- Articulate expectations, and make joint plans in advance for childcare, housework, leisure, personal time, couple time and social relations away from the baby. This reduces the chance for a crash of unmet expectations after the baby is born.
- Expand their network of friends who are also pregnant, because many first time parents have none. They feel a need to find others who are experiencing this same transition for support and to help them gain a broader experience base.
- Acquire actual experience with babies before the couples' baby is born, because many parents become pregnant with little or no prior experience with babies and young children. Hands-on experience in advance of baby's arrival increases parents’ self-confidence and competence.
- Learn about pregnancy and infant development as they experience it. And to begin to examine their attitudes, beliefs and attributions, as they are just beginning to be formed.
- Continues through the baby's first year of life, because:
- This is the time when the reality of the practicalities of parenting (feeding, sleeping, soothing) become central, and they need caring experts to guide and reassure them.
- The pace of change in a baby is so rapid throughout the first year (feeding, sleeping through the night, teething, stranger anxiety, talking, crawling, standing and walking) that the parents are constantly being faced with new challenges. Knowledge and confidence are vital at this stage.
- This is when parents establish a secure parent-child attachment, laying down the basics of warm, sensitive, knowledgeable responses to their infant’s cues and
- Parents need support as they ease themselves back into employment, because securing good child care, and then leaving the infant or toddler for long periods of time is very stressful for the entire family.
- Parents will benefit from hands-on interactive sessions with infants present, because most parents have not had prior experience to learn hands-on parent-child
interaction skills such as massage, rhythm, music and touch.
- Continues through the baby’s second year, because:
- This is the period when the baby becomes mobile, and the fundamentals of a child's compliance and willingness to go along with the parents’ agenda becomes crucial -- a time of great uncertainty for many parents.
- The fit or the misfit of the toddler’s personality and each of the parents becomes more obvious.
- The toddler learns even more about regulating his/her emotions and developing his/her first real relationships outside the immediate family.