Children are shaped by their environments. The family into which a child is born has a significant impact on the child’s emotional, cognitive, social, and behavioral development. Numerous studies have shown the effect of maternal mental health on children, and many have focused on the relationship of the parents as a contributing factor to child developmental outcomes. In a recent study, Nicolas Favez of the University of Geneva in Switzerland took it one step further. Favez conducted a follow-up to a previous study that examined how family alliance, beginning during pregnancy, affected childhood development at age 5. Favez assessed 38 families from the fifth month of pregnancy and then followed them until the child reached 18 months old. Factors such as child temperament and marital interaction, conflict and satisfaction were evaluated. When the children reached age 5, Favez evaluated them again, this time for cognitive, behavioral, and emotional development.
The participants were categorized into three groups: high-stable, high-low, and low-stable. The high-stable group demonstrated positive alliance in the first phase of the study and at follow-up, the children in this group scored highest on all the measures. The high-low group included parents who had high alliance during the pregnancy, but saw declines in relationship satisfaction after birth. The children in this group had mixed temperaments, and scored lower on all measures than high-stable children. In fact, these children had poorer developmental outcomes than even those in the low-stable group. This suggests that the increase in conflict and breakdown of family alliance can do more harm than a weak, but stable, family alliance.
Child temperament was directly linked to poorer outcomes, as well. Favez believes that children with difficult temperaments may engage with others less than easy-going, secure children. If so, the temperament of the child is a contributing factor to the child’s own development. This is a finding that should be examined more closely in future work. Regardless, this study shows that having a child will not fix relationship tensions. In fact, it may add to the stress and problems within the relationship and may negatively affect the developmental outcome of the child. Favez added, “These results highlight the importance of both family-level and individual-level variables for understanding individual differences in the social and cognitive development of children.”
Favez, Nicolas, Francesco Lopes, Mathieu Bernard, France Frascarolo, Chloe Lavanchy Scaiola, Antoinette Corboz-Warnery, and Elisabeth Fivaz-Depeursinge. The development of family alliance from pregnancy to toddlerhood and child outcomes at 5 years. Family Process 51.4 (2012): 542-56. Print.
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