Children who are born prematurely, earlier than 37 weeks gestation, are at increased risk for physical, developmental, and cognitive impairments. Nearly one in every eight children is in this class. These children are likely to experience high levels of stress, behavior problems, and specifically aggression, during their toddler years. Although this dynamic has been well documented, less attention has been given to the relationship between maternal unavailability in parenting and aggression in preterm children. Daphne Blunt Bugental of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of California in Santa Barbara recently conducted a study to explore this influence further.
A mother’s ability to be emotionally available to her child is more often than not determined by her own level of mental health. Mothers who struggle with depression are more reserved and tend to withhold attention and affection from their children more than nondepressed mothers. And mothers who care for at-risk children are more vulnerable to mood swings and high levels of stress. For her study, Bugental examined how a home intervention that included cognitive features (HV+) would affect preterm children’s behavior compared to a traditional home intervention program (HV). Bugental assessed the mothers and children at the beginning and conclusion of the 1-year program and again 2 years later. She found that the mothers involved in the HV-only program were less emotionally available to their children at follow-up, and their children were more aggressive than the children of mothers who received HV+.
The results of this study support earlier findings that suggest a mother’s emotional unavailability, as a result of depression or other stressors, can lead to aggressive behavior in children who are at-risk for developmental and cognitive challenges. Bugental believes that clinicians can benefit from this research by enhancing interventions targeted to at-risk families. Specifically, she recommends that clinicians and medical doctors should begin screening families immediately after the birth of a preterm child to determine which families are most likely to experience avoidance and aggression.
Bugental, D. B., Corpuz, R., Schwartz, A. (2012, February 13). Preventing Children’s Aggression: Outcomes of an Early Intervention. Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027303
© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.