Attentive , sensitive parenting can promote resilience in premies
The Sector > Research > Attending preschool and having attentive, sensitive parents can boost premie academics

Attending preschool and having attentive, sensitive parents can boost premie academics

by Freya Lucas

September 04, 2023

Sensitive parenting and preschool attendance may promote academic resilience in late preterm infants, researchers from the University of Michigan have found. 


The findings, lead author Dr Prachi Shah said, highlight the opportunities pediatric providers, including those working in early childhood education and care (ECEC) have to offer prevention strategies to parents of late preterm infants to mitigate academic risk, and promote academic resilience through sensitive parenting.


Researchers gathered their conclusions by tracking the academic trajectories of late preterm infants from infancy to kindergarten in order to identify developmental risks and learn more about how to promote resilience. 


Late preterm infants, or infants born between 34 and 36-6/7 weeks gestation, are the majority of infants born preterm, and are at greater risk for academic delays compared to full-term infants.


Certain factors, including a low level of maternal education, prenatal tobacco use, twins/multiple gestation and male sex increased the risk for deficits in math and reading by kindergarten for late preterm infants, researchers note, however sensitive parenting and preschool enrollment appear to be possible ways to counter the risk of being born late preterm, and to promote academic resilience.


Pediatricians and others who work with families in the early years can foster sensitive parenting through the promotion of early relational health, where parents provide a safe, stable and nurturing relationship with their children.


“We found that early sensitive parenting experiences were associated with early academic success for late preterm infants,” Dr Shah said.


While it is unclear exactly why late preterm infants exhibit vulnerability in math development but not reading, researchers suggest the difference could be a result of unique brain development characteristics including structural changes in neural pathways related to visuo-constructive skills.


Suboptimal academic trajectories among late preterm infants were associated with both psychosocial risk factors, including less than high school maternal education – and biological risk factors, including a twin or multiple pregnancy, prenatal tobacco use or male sex.


Increased academic risk in late preterm infants could be related to functional differences in neural connectivity or to sex-related differences that contribute to differences in learning and academic achievement. However, the exact mechanism is unclear.


This is the first study to examine academic trajectories of late preterm infants from infancy to kindergarten along with the associated predictors of academic resilience and risk, Dr Shah said.


“Now that we have identified patterns and predictors of reading and math skill development, we can help inform pediatric guidelines to help late preterm infants, who are the majority of infants born preterm, thrive in the period before kindergarten.”


Access the study in full here.

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