• By Dartington SRU
  • Posted on Wednesday 14th March, 2012

Risk Analysis

The interaction between genetic inheritance, early experiences and subsequent life style experiences are becoming better understood. Models based on the interplay and accumulation of risk factors and their relationship to protective factors have superseded rigid determinism to explain most aspects of child development.But while general perspectives are agreed, researchers are now faced with the much more difficult task of focusing on the specifics – exploring what factors matter and the strengths and continuities of the causal links identified. Moreover, it is increasingly clear that the risks emanating from factors can change over a short period in a child’s life, making it necessary to clarify the precise conditions under which the threats apply.In child development there is often tendency to combine several years into stages about which generalisations are made. Adolescence is clearly one, although this can range from early puberty to adulthood; the now discredited ‘latency period’ between the ages of 6 and 12 when development appears less overt than at other times, is another. ‘Early years’ and ‘the first year of life’ are also common terms but, again, these may be too broad to be useful as there may be significant differences between periods within them. Researchers at the Oregon Social Learning Center have been looking at this problem by charting the trajectories of harsh maternal parenting in the first three years of a child’s life. They did this by analysing the data on 488 ‘high risk’ mothers identified from whole population studies of families living in the local community. They found that throughout the first three years of the child’s life, harsh parenting was associated with other maternal risk factors, such as depression, poor education and partner aggression; but the nature and severity of the harsh parenting was not constant. There was a significant increase as the child grew older, with a big jump between the ages of one and two. Changes in patterns were also associated with the mother’s age. Other factors, such as maternal alcohol abuse, became especially marked at age three.The findings suggest possible developmental trends in the emergence of maternal harsh parenting during infancy and toddlerhood. Some predictive factors may persist while others are specific to developmental stages, even within the first three years of a child’s life.Two of the findings – the prevalence rates of harsh parenting behaviour among ‘high risk’ mothers and the growth of such behaviour as the infant gets older – are the kind of sensitive nuances that need to be incorporated into early intervention projects if they are to be effective.***********Reference:Hyoun Kim, Katherine Pears, Philip Fisher, Cynthia Connelly and John Landsverk. 2010. Trajectories of maternal harsh parenting in the first 3 years of life. Child Abuse & Neglect, 34:12, pp. 897-906.

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