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Longitudinal Study: LSAC
Title: Fostering children’s cognitive development in the preschool years: the message and the uptake
Authors: Smyth, Ciara 
Smyth, C 
Institution: University of New South Wales
Publication Date: Nov-2013
Pages: 342
Keywords: preschool
cognitive development
intensive parenting
Abstract: It is argued that expectations of mothers intensified over the course of the twentieth century, culminating in an ideology of intensive mothering. This intensification corresponds with the broadening of parents’ remit to encompass responsibility for children’s cognitive development. Although this responsibility was enshrined in parenting advice materials by the 1960s, ‘new brain research’ in the 1990s emphasised the importance of the early years for optimising children’s cognitive development. In this thesis, I explore whether, why and how Australian parents try to foster their children’s cognitive development in the preschool years and I follow two lines of inquiry. The first examines cultural messages communicated to parents concerning their responsibility for fostering their preschool child’s cognitive development through a content analysis of a sample of Australian parenting publications and an Australian government-funded parenting website. The findings indicate that the message that parents are responsible for fostering their child’s cognitive development in the preschool years pervades the analysed content and that it is directed predominantly at mothers. The second line of inquiry explores whether parents accept responsibility for fostering their preschool child’s cognitive development, how and why they enact this responsibility. The methods employed to meet this aim are qualitative interviews with parents of preschool-aged children and a quantitative analysis of a nationally representative data set. The interview findings suggest that most parents feel responsible for fostering their child’s cognitive development to some degree in the preschool years, which they pursue through three key strategies: ‘parenting for cognitive development’, outsourcing for cognitive development, and ‘concerted cultivation’. Parents’ concern about their child’s cognitive development also factored into decisions concerning: school starting age; school choice; and TV viewing. The quantitative findings correspond broadly with the qualitative interview findings, suggesting that the parenting practices identified through the interviews may apply in the wider population. This study argues that early years parenting in Australia has become increasingly cognitively-focussed. Parents are subject to the expectation that they should foster their child’s cognitive development in the preschool years and the majority have accepted and responded to this expectation. This expectation demands intensive parenting practices, and it is directed at and shouldered by mothers to a far greater extent than fathers.
Keywords: Child Development -- Cognitive; Children -- Preschool; Families -- Parents and Parenting
Research collection: Theses and student dissertations
Appears in Collections:Theses and student dissertations

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