The first years of life comprise a critical developmental period that has implications for lifelong outcomes. The overall goal of this paper is to provide an empirically-based overview of parenting in a developing country setting and to measure the correlation between parenting behavior and children’s cognitive development. We randomly sampled 1442 infants aged 18–30 months living in 351 villages across 174 townships in nationally-designated poverty counties in rural areas of southern Shaanxi Province, China. Primary study outcomes include the Bayley Scales of Infant Development (BSID) and a household survey of demographic characteristics and the home parenting environment. Results show that caregivers do not regularly engage in positive parenting practices such as reading to, singing to, or using toys to play with their children. Our data further show that poor parenting behaviors are significantly and negatively correlated with cognitive and psychomotor development, as measured by children’s scores on the BSID. Children with caregivers who did not engage in each of our focus activities (reading, singing, using toys to play) were significantly more likely to suffer from cognitive delay compared with their peers. We also find evidence of a lack of reliable parenting information available to rural caregivers. Government sources of information are largely non-existent or at least unused. Most caregivers rely solely on their own intuition in shaping their parenting behavior and strategies. Future interventions should attempt to address this information gap.