We know from longitudinal studies mainly conducted in Western higher income countries that early childhood behaviour problems can develop into serious antisocial behaviour in later childhood, adolescence and adulthood. The accurate identification of early risk and protective factors is extremely important to be able to design appropriate support and interventions for families.
Understanding pathways to childhood behavioural problems
The main aim of this cross-cultural study is to determine which aspects of children and parents’ lives contribute to the development of child behavioural problems in both UK and India, and which aspects are distinctive to the Indian setting. For instance, in India there is a cultural preference for male infants over females which may influence how females feel about themselves and others growing up, maternal nutrition levels are poorer in pregnancy which may impact on infant development in utero and early parenting may include a wider network of family members in contrast to Western settings in which the mother is usually the main caregiver early on. These cultural differences in early parenting may be protective or alternatively they may raise risk for social-emotional or behavioural development. We hope the study will help us find out.
Previous research in Western settings suggests the following risk and protective factors may be important for all children’s development:
- stress during pregnancy or in early life
- quality of the parent-child relationship,
- genetic make-up
- quality of family relationships
- cognitive (mental) development
- early temperament and physiological development
- poverty or social deprivation
- parental mental health
- social support
Development of culturally sensitive measures
Since we know that marital and family arrangements and the numbers of caretakers in South Asian cultures are different from the ones characteristic of Western populations we have been careful to collect data from mothers and from another key caregiver in India who plays a dominant role in caring for the child. This may be a grandparent, sister or father. We have tried to observe both the mother and the alternative caregiver playing with the infant where possible in the first year of life. In the UK we observe mothers in play with their infant. We are examining a variety of caregiver behaviours in both settings but are trying to ensure that the observational measures we use are culturally sensitive. Since parental practices and beliefs about how to care for children and what to expect from them differs between cultures, we have also developed a culturally sensitive self-report measure of the types of care different people in the family provide for each child. These measures will help us determine the role of shared caregiving in families.
We have been keen to develop a new measure to assess behaviours that relate to the child’s gender. We have developed an interview designed to elicit behavioural examples towards each child that may be culturally indicative of gender preference. We have also been keen to assess mother’s own experience of gender discrimination growing up in their family of origin by asking them to recall their parent’s behaviours towards them relative to male siblings or cousins within the family.
Building capacity for longitudinal studies of child mental health in India and for cross-cultural studies informed by local expertise
To our knowledge this is the first longitudinal study starting in pregnancy with a focus on maternal and child mental health, as opposed to physical health, in India. We hope that the collaboration between members of the team from UK and India will advance the science of developmental psychopathology though sharing knowledge on methodologies, building skills in advanced statistical analysis of longitudinal data and improving our collective knowledge of cultural influences on children’s development. Throughout the four year study we have planned a programme of capacity building events for academic researchers and clinicians and for community workers involved in children’s early lives in India.
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