Stimulation and Early Child Development in China: Caregiving at Arm's Length

Journal Article

Published By

Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics

May 2019

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ABSTRACT: Objective: To provide an empirical overview of the parenting landscape in rural China, focusing on 18- to 30-month-old children and their caregivers in rural Shaanxi province. Methods: We collected unique data on 1442 caregiver-toddler dyads in rural areas of Shaanxi province and examined caregiver attitudes toward parenting, sources of information about parenting, and interactive parenting practices, and how each of these differed across generations. We measured how parenting attitudes and sources of information informed parenting practices. Finally, we measured levels of child development in our sample and the association between parenting practices and children’s developmental outcomes. Results: Most of the caregivers did not engage with children in a way that encouraged early development. Caregivers rarely told stories, sang, or used toys to play with their children. Grandmothers were more stressed by the children in their care and engaged significantly less than mothers did in the 3 stimulating interactions. Professional sources of information about parenting were underutilized by all caregivers. We found high rates of developmental delay in our sample and showed that these delays were associated with the lack of caregiver engagement. Conclusion: Our findings suggest that the major economic and social shifts occurring in rural China have not led to a widespread prevalence of stimulative parenting practices. Although caregivers report positive attitudes toward child-rearing, reliable sources of scientific information are lacking. Our results show a troubling generational disconnect between the information-seeking behaviors and parenting practices of rural caregivers.
Index terms: caregiver-child interaction, parenting, early child development.
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