Newswise — The National Institutes of Health has awarded researchers at the University of Notre Dame a $3 million grant to study the relationships between parents and infants, the first study of its kind that will include fathers as well as mothers as participants.
Julie Braungart-Rieker, Flaherty College Professor of Psychology and director of the William J. Shaw Center for Children and Families; E. Mark Cummings, Notre Dame Endowed Chair and Professor of Psychology; and Lijuan Wang, associate professor of psychology, will lead the five-year Notre Dame Families and Babies Study (ND-FABS) through the Shaw Center.
The researchers, who will work with babies living with their married or co-habiting parents, will study the stability of the parents’ relationship and its effect on the wellbeing of their baby. Parents will go through a program designed to encourage healthy parenting and communication.
“The parent program we are using has been shown to be highly effective, not only in the U.S. but also internationally,” Braungart-Rieker said. “But so far, only mothers have been included in this program. Because we believe that dads are very important to children, we will include dads in our parent program as well as moms.”
Even though the birth of a baby is often met with excitement and joy, Braungart-Rieker said, the daily stresses and demands of parenting can take a toll on the relationship between a mother and father. “How couples communicate during infancy is not often considered as an important element of children’s wellbeing,” she said. “However, we know from research that certain kinds of parent conflict can be very stressful to children, even during infancy. So our couples communication program has been redesigned to help couples learn positive communication skills during a time when family life can be somewhat stressful and unpredictable.”
The Shaw Center will recruit 400 couples in the South Bend and Fort Wayne areas who have infants 6 months old or younger, or who are currently pregnant. Families will make several visits to the Shaw Center, and the researchers will make some home visits, depending on the group to which the family is assigned. The first visit is scheduled for when the infant is between 5 to 7 months old, and the last will be when the baby is 18 months old.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing how both moms and dads engage in our programs. And of course, I really look forward to seeing the babies benefit in terms of their emotional well-being and security,” Braungart-Rieker said. “We hope to learn a lot from this study and to eventually present results that we expect will show that both parents — dads and moms — as well as their babies benefit from programs that address overall family functioning.”
The William J. Shaw Center for Children and Families brings scholars together to conduct innovative, interdisciplinary research in support of healthy development across the human lifespan. The center encourages basic and translational research that can have a broad impact in three key areas: income and health disparities; developmental disabilities and psychopathology; and optimization of development, education and learning.