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Is your buggy damaging your child's development?

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Recent research carried out suggests that babies can be left 'emotionally impoverished' by being placed in buggies that face away from their mothers.

This research was funded by The National Literacy Trust and to get to the bottom of the findings we will be speaking to Liz Attenborough from the Talk to your Baby campaign within this Trust live from London.

Documentary Lost For Words
Last night ITV1 aired documentary Lost for Words, with also features the research from the Trust, and investigates why in some parts of the UK nearly 50 per cent of children arrive at primary school unable to string a sentence together or follow simple instructions such as 'touch your tummy and your nose.'

Liz Attenborough.
Liz manages Talk To Your Baby, the early language campaign of the National Literacy Trust, encouraging parents and carers to talk more to children from birth to three. Through the TTYB website, information and support are offered to professionals, and the advocacy role takes the subject as widely as possible into the media.
Liz was a children's book publisher for twenty four years, including 12 years as Publisher of Puffin Books. She was on the UK and International Boards of Penguin Books. From January 1998 - September 1999 she was Director of the National Year of Reading, a Government campaign to encourage reading for pleasure across the community. The following year she studied for an MA in Child Studies at King's College, London.
In addition to her work on Talk To Your Baby, Liz is involved in a number of different charities, all to do with children or reading or both. These include being a Trustee of the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre (in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire), and being a Trustee of the Poetry Archive, an online resource with poets reading their own poetry. She is also a school governor, and for the last few years has been a judge for the Blue Peter Book Awards.
General Findings:
The research suggests that:

'Infants are less likely to be sleeping, laughing or interacting with their parents if they are sitting in forward facing pushchairs',

'babies have faster heart rates if they are unable to look at their carers while being pushed, and may have higher levels of stress,

'away facing buggies could be damaging children's development'

Following the study, researchers suggest families choose more traditional models where eye contact is possible, even though they cost more.

The Sutton Trust educational charity, which funded the research, says: 'We hope that buggy manufacturers will look closely at this research. The problem is that at present these cost a minimum of £200 and therefore are too expensive for many families

History behind the research
. Talk To Your Baby's (TTYB) main aim is to encourage parents and carers to talk more to babies from birth to three, in order to give every child a language-rich start in life. We started TTYB in January 2003 because of concerns about young children's poor communication skills on starting school. When we first started discussing the issue with early years professionals, health visitors, nursery teachers, many of them mentioned that they thought things would be a lot better for young children if they didn't have to spend so much time in buggies that "faced the wrong way"
. Reaction from buggy manufacturers has been that they do sell two-way facing buggies and have no plans to make any at lower price points, and that there isn't the demand for them.

Explain the research that was carried out and who was involved?
. Liz came across Dr Suzanne Zeedyk's work on infant-parent interaction and contacted her about the buggy issue. Dr Suzanne Zeedyk is a Developmental Psychologist at Dundee University's School of Psychology. She immediately realised that this could be having an impact on young children's development and with the aid of funding from the Sutton Trust set about doing a study
. The research is in two parts: the first is a set of observations around the country looking at buggy use. 2722 adult/child pairings were looked at, noting which way the child was facing, whether child or adult was speaking etc. This forms the bulk of the work and showed the majority of children in away-facing buggies (86% in the 1-2 age group).
. The second part was a more detailed examination of 20 parents/children, sending them off for 15 minute walks in buggies that faced away and then faced towards, recording their interactions and also testing baby's heart rate (for stress). This showed, amongst other things, that babies were more likely to laugh if facing their parent.

What were the findings?
. The most popular style of baby buggies - those that face away from the pusher - may be undermining children's development. Children in such buggies are significantly less likely to talk, laugh, and interact with their parents, than are those in buggies that face the pusher.
. 62% of all children observed were travelling in away-facing buggies, with the rate even higher, at 86%, between the ages of 1 and 2 years
. Parents using face-to-face buggies were twice as likely to be talking to their baby (25 per cent compared to 11 per cent)
. Less than a quarter of parents observed were speaking to their child (22 per cent)
. Mothers and infants, who had a chance in the experimental study to travel in both types of buggies, also laughed more frequently with face-to-face buggies. Only one baby in the group of 20 studied laughed during the away-facing journey, while half laughed during the face-to-face journey
. Babies' average heart rates fell slightly when placed in a toward-facing buggy, and babies were also twice as likely to fall asleep in this orientation, both of which could taken as possible indicators of reduced stress levels
. Our experimental study showed that, simply by turning the buggy around, parents' rate of talking to their baby doubled. I had also not anticipated that such a high percentage of babies in face-to-face buggies would be sleeping - 52%, against only 27% in away facing buggies. It was a complete surprise. This is significant as you are more likely to sleep when you are feeling relaxed and safe.
. Our data suggests that for many babies today, life in a buggy is emotionally impoverished and possibly stressful. Stressed babies grow into anxious adults. It looks, from our results, that it is time that we began carrying out larger scale research on this issue. Parents deserve to be able to make informed choices as to how to best promote their children's emotional, physical, and neurological development."

What are you hoping to do with the findings?
. Liz Attenborough, Manager of the Talk To Your Baby campaign, said: "Talk To Your Baby is campaigning for manufacturers to make sociable, face-to-face buggies for toddlers more affordable and to increase parental awareness of the importance of talking to their baby. This research shows that something as seemingly ordinary as going out with a child in a buggy where adult and child are face-to-face can be a valuable opportunity to spend time talking together in a way that is stress-free for the child. Parents with a two-way facing buggy should use the sociable face-to-face option as standard."