Decades of research have demonstrated that the parent-child dyad and the environment of the family—which includes all primary caregivers—are at the foundation of children’s well- being and healthy development. From birth, children are learning and rely on parents and the other caregivers in their lives to protect and care for them. The impact of parents may never be greater than during the earliest years of life, when a child’s brain is rapidly developing and when nearly all of her or his experiences are created and shaped by parents and the family environment. Parents help children build and refine their knowledge and skills, charting a trajectory for their health and well-being during childhood and beyond. The experience of parenting also impacts parents themselves. For instance, parenting can enrich and give focus to parents’ lives; generate stress or calm; and create any number of emotions, including feelings of happiness, sadness, fulfillment, and anger.
Parenting of young children today takes place in the context of significant ongoing developments. These include: a rapidly growing body of science on early childhood, increases in funding for programs and services for families, changing demographics of the U.S. population, and greater diversity of family structure. Additionally, parenting is increasingly being shaped by technology and increased access to information about parenting.
Parenting Matters identifies parenting knowledge, attitudes, and practices associated with positive developmental outcomes in children ages 0-8; universal/preventive and targeted strategies used in a variety of settings that have been effective with parents of young children and that support the identified knowledge, attitudes, and practices; and barriers to and facilitators for parents’ use of practices that lead to healthy child outcomes as well as their participation in effective programs and services. This report makes recommendations directed at an array of stakeholders, for promoting the wide-scale adoption of effective programs and services for parents and on areas that warrant further research to inform policy and practice. It is meant to serve as a roadmap for the future of parenting policy, research, and practice in the United States.