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Self-sufficient children may have higher cognitive skills, study

Posted:  Friday, January 30, 2015

The next time your kids ask for a spoon to consume a snack, it would be a good idea to let them do so. A new study has revealed that higher cognitive skills are found in children whose mothers support their efforts at autonomy.

The researchers specifically looked at executive functioning which refers to a range of cognitive processes important for social, cognitive and psychological functioning in children. The results of the study were published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies.

The study enrolled 78 mothers and their children. The researchers visited each participant’s home twice, once when the child was 15 months old and again when the child was 3 years old. During each visit (lasting 60 to 90 minutes), the mother was asked to help her child complete 10-minute tasks such as building a tower, solving complex puzzles and other activities that were difficult for the child to complete alone.

The activities were video recorded so that the mother’s role in supporting autonomous behavior in their children such as encouragement and motivation to complete the task; providing positive feedback; intervening and adapting the task for the infant’s level, and considering the child’s perspective in the game, all while minimally using controlling techniques could be evaluated.

At 3 years of age, the researchers tested the child’s executive functioning using adaptive games that could reveal the child’s working memory capacity, their ability to delay gratification and their capability to think on multiple concepts. The highest scores were recorded by children whose mothers were most supportive of autonomy as opposed to those who were not.

Summarising their findings, the researchers said, “This study raises the possibility that child executive functioning may require not only high-quality parenting, but also consistency in this quality. Our findings raise interesting avenues for investigation as to how the relationship between scaffolding autonomy and executive functioning evolves as children develop.”

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