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Center on Human Development and Disability
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Optimal Parenting

Contact: Susan Spieker, spieker@uw.edu 206-543-9200

Core Function: Research and Evaluation

The Optimal Parenting project seeks to enhance parent-child attachment and the cognitive and emotional development of children ages 0 – 3 years. This age is chosen because it represents a critical period of brain development where more robust research is warranted as detailed in the Institute of Medicine Neurons to Neighborhoods report. Considerable existing research supports the notion that the first few years of life are important for children's long term cognitive and emotional development. Children's cognitive development during this time frame, especially around language and reciprocal communication, has a profound impact on later ability to succeed in school. Likewise, emotional development during this period is critical for quality of attachment, social skills, and executive function, which in turn improves school readiness and reduces behavior problems later on. Prior studies have demonstrated that younger parents, particularly those less than 26 years of age, have fewer social supports and poorer parenting practices.

The Optimal Parenting project is testing the hypothesis that a series of pragmatic, effective, caregiving behaviors can enhance parent-child attachment as well as cognitive and emotional development of children aged 0 – 3 years. The project is currently enrolling a diverse cohort of first time parents under the age of 26 and their infants at birth in a randomized controlled trial. The intervention consists of parent education and the provision of specific tools and recommendations for appropriate developmental stimulation over the first 3 years of life. The specific aims of this study are to: (1) test whether educational materials in a variety of formats delivered in the first 15 months of life can enhance security of child-parent attachment; (2) test the efficacy of a superset of strategies intended to improve cognitive and emotional development in infants and toddlers; and (3) assess the cost-effectiveness of this approach from the societal perspective.


University of Washington • Center on Human Development and Disability Box 357920 • Seattle WA 98195-7920 USA • 206-543-7701 • chdd@uw.edu

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