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Differential Susceptibility to Parenting and Quality Child Care

High-quality parenting was predictive of greater academic and social skills for all children, but particularly children with a difficult temperament. In addition, high-quality non-parental child care predicted fewer behavioral problems in children with difficult temperaments.

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  • N: 1,364
  • Subject Ages: 1 month to sixth grade
  • Location: United States, 10 locations
  • SES: 21% had incomes no more than 200% of the poverty level
  • Eligibility: Families completed a home interview when the infant was 1 month old
  • Additional:
    • 26% of the mothers had no more than a high school education
    • 22% were minority
    • Substudy of the NICHD SECCYD


  1. Infants with difficult temperaments are disproportionately affected by parenting and child care quality.
  2. This study investigates the prospect that virtually all earlier analysis of child care quality effects using NICHD SECCYD data may have misestimated quality of care effect.

Variables Measured, Instruments Used

  • Difficult temperament - maternal report at six months with adapted version of the Infant Temperament Questionnaire
  • Parenting quality at six to 54 months -
    • mother-child interactions were videotaped at six, 15, 24, 36 and 54 months and coded for composite mother sensitivity
    • the Home Observation for Measurement of the Environment at six, 15, 36 and 54 months
  • Child care characteristics -
    • child care quality: observational assessments utilizing the Observational Record of the Caregiving Environment (ORCE) at five, 15, 24, 36 and 54 months
    • child care quantity: parent reports
    • child care types
  • Covariates -
    • maternal, child, and family characteristics of early childhood
    • maternal, child, and family characteristics of early grades
  • Child outcomes -
    • academic achievement
    • the Woodcock-Johnson Psycho-Educational Battery-Revised
    • the Social Skills Questionnaire
    • behavior problems: the Child Behavior Checklist Teacher Report Form
    • teacher-child conflict: the Student-Teacher Relationship Scale, Short Form
    • academic work habits: teachers completed a 19-item mock report card
    • socioemotional functioning: mock report card items came from the Teacher Checklist of Peer Relations




  1. Temperament interacted with parenting quality on all three academic outcomes and on two of the five social adjustment outcomes: social skills and work habits.
  2. Temperament interacted with child care quality on two social adjustment outcomes: behavior problems and teacher-child conflict.
  3. Higher-quality parenting predicted greater reading, vocabulary, work habits, math and social skills for children who scored high as well as low on difficult temperament as infants. These parenting effects were strongest in children with histories of temperamental difficulty.
  4. For children with histories of difficult temperament, greater quality of child care predicted fewer problems and less conflict.


  • Study was not experimental, so all findings cannot be presumed to be causal.