Parent-child synchrony for preterm development

Parents of very preterm infants can enhance their child's development with positive, sensitive caregiving. In particular, parent-child synchrony has a strong influence on cognitive, social, and emotional development during the infant's first 2 years of life.

Parent-child synchrony refers to the ability to share and match each other's mood and behaviour, which provides the children a secure base from which they can explore their environment, grow, and develop.

Researchers from Australia assessed parenting behaviours that counter the high risk for neurodevelopment impairment faced by infants born before 30 weeks' gestation or who weighed less than 2.8 pounds (1250 g) at birth. The team studied 152 very preterm children at 2 years old, with the age adjusted to correct for prematurity, and their parents or guardians.

The evaluation included a semi-structured parent-child interaction task used to assess synchrony and other parenting behaviours, such as positive and negative moods and sensitivity. Standardised tests were used to measure cognitive, psychomotor and social-emotional development.

Regression analysis highlighted the importance of synchronicity in the interactions between parent and child, which helps to introduce children to the use of symbolic representations as well a self-regulatory experiences, both of which are important building blocks of cognitive and social-emotional development. The results also showed that early cognitive development was positively influenced by warm, positive, sensitive, and facilitative parenting.

It was concluded that parents of very preterm infants can be reassured that they can enhance their child's development, and that they should be encouraged to smile, laugh, and try to sensitively and responsively share eye contact and the same emotional state with their very preterm child to promote optimal outcomes for their child.

January 2009