Better Parenting Skills May Improve Cognitive Function In Children With Sickle Cell, Study Shows

New body of research suggests that children may have improved cognitive functioning if they have parents with enhanced parenting skills.

A study suggests that children who are suffering from Sickle Cell Disease need parents with enhanced parenting skills; including attentive listening and engaging in conversations. The study, Responsive Parenting Behaviors and Cognitive Function in Children With Sickle Cell Disease, was published in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology. Children with SCD experience lower cognitive function compared to healthy children. SCD can cause children to have worse overall intellectual function, lower executive function as well as lesser school achievements.

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Sickle Cell Disease is associated with the death of brain tissue and also an insufficient oxygen supply to the brain. Therefore, this is directly linked to a decrease in cognition. Researchers also wanted to know if children's social environments also played a role. In order to answer this question,  a group of researchers at Vanderbilt University studied the impact of parents’ behavior, also accounting for their social-economic and stress levels, on the cognitive performance of young SCD patients. The results of their study suggest that there is a certain association between parents’ stress and their socioeconomic situation. However, the stress of the parents really had no connections with their children’s disease severity.

The cognitive tests conducted by the researchers showed that there was no significant correlation between children's functioning and the parents' stress levels. However, the stress of the parents was found to significant affect the children's reading performance. When parents made less use of expansions (reflection and building on what the child says) the children's working memory was affected negatively. The researchers said one example of the use of expansions is when a child says “This way,” and the parent replies “You want to turn it this way?”

Upon further study, the researchers also found a significant correlation between disease risk factors and stress, and socioeconomic status. These were predictors of children’s working memory and reading performance. “The elevated levels of stress experienced by parents of children with SCD are related to lower levels of responsive parenting that in turn, is related to more deficits in cognitive function,” the researchers said. “In summary, the findings from the present study highlight the potential impact of parent functioning on cognitive development in pediatric SCD” the researchers said. These results “highlight the need to develop targeted interventions for parents of children with SCD to decrease levels of stress and enhance parenting skills, including attentive listening … with the aim [of] improving cognitive functioning in youth.”

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