The power of parenting

In their landmark report for COAG, 'Lifting our Game', authors Dr Patricia Brennan and Susan Pascoe AM make special mention of the evidence showing how important the influence of parents is on their children's development.

Children’s early experiences can enhance or impede their potential, establishing either a robust or tenuous foundation upon which all further development and learning is formed. The longer children spend in adverse environments, the more pervasive and resistant to recovery are the effects. This points to the importance of the quality of the home environment and parenting in supporting a child’s development. The US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development study concluded that parenting is the primary influence on a child’s development.[i]

Family factors such as parents’ education and socio-economic status are important influences on the quality of the home environment. However, what parents do with their children has been found to exert a greater and independent influence on their educational attainment.[ii] Children whose parents engaged regularly in home learning activities were found to be less likely to be at risk for special educational intervention.[iii]

The value of effective parenting in enhancing children’s learning and development, and establishing positive attitudes to learning, is clear. Importantly, socio-economic status ought not to be a barrier to positive child development. Parents armed with knowledge about how to support their child’s development through positive and nurturing interactions can make a difference to their child’s current and future learning and development.

The Effective Provision of Preschool Education study (UK) found that mothers with few qualifications and from low socio-economic backgrounds can improve their children’s progress and give them a better start at school by participating in activities at home that engage and stretch the child’s mind. This includes reading with the child, teaching songs and nursery rhymes, painting and drawing, playing with letters and numbers, visiting the library, teaching the alphabet and numbers, taking children on visits and creating regular opportunities for them to play with their friends at home.[iv]

A child’s home environment can significantly influence later academic performance. For example, a stimulating home learning environment at the age of 2–3 years is associated with better language development and school readiness at 4–5 years and, in turn, better academic performance at Year 3 as measured by NAPLAN scores. Growing up in a stimulating home learning environment has been found to benefit children’s Year 3 NAPLAN scores by the equivalent of more than four months of schooling or 17.0 points for reading and eight weeks of schooling or 10.8 points for numeracy.[v]

Engagement between parents and children builds cognitive and language skills, positive dispositions to learning, thinking and reasoning skills while strengthening the social relationship between the parent and child, helping to counteract possible negative impacts associated with poor parental engagement.

A study using data from the UK Millennium Cohort Study found that positive parenting can counteract the effects of poverty, with children experiencing positive parenting but growing up in persistent poverty more likely to be developmentally on track than those not in poverty but experiencing low skilled parenting (see Chart 2).[vi]

Chart 2: Proportion of children developmentally on track


Source: Kiernan & Mensah (2011)

[i] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2006).The NiCHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development – findings for children up to age 4 ½ years. Retrieved from:

[ii] Melhuish, E, Phan, M, Sylva, K, Sammons, P, Siraj-Blatchford, I, & Taggart, B. 2008. Effects of the Home Learning Environment and Preschool Center Experience upon Literacy and Numeracy Development in Early Primary School. Retrieved from:

[iii] Sammons, P., Sylva, K., Melhuish, E., Siraj-Blatchford, I., Taggart, B., Hunt, S. & Jelicic, H. (2008). Influences on children's cognitive and social development in Year 6. Sheffield, United Kingdom: Department for Children Schools and Families.

[iv] Sylva, K, Melhuish, E, Sammons, P, Siraj-Blatchford, I, Taggart, B. 2004 Effective Provision of PreSchool Education (EPPE) Project: Findings from Preschool to end of Key Stage 1 2004.

[v] Yu, M and Daraganova, G Children’s early home learning environment and learning outcomes in the early years of school, Australian Institute of Family Studies, LSAC Annual Statistical Report 2014. Retrieved from:

[vi] Kiernan, KE & Mensah, FK (2011), Poverty, family resources and children’s educational attainment: The mediating role of parenting. British Educational Research Journal, Vol. 37, No. 2, April 2011, ppp. 317–336. Retrieved from: