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Does the mother know her child the best?

October 31, 2016

When the mother's rather than the father's evaluation of the child's well-being is emphasised in parental rights cases, schools or other places, it might not be best practise. This is the result of new research from TrygFonden's Centre for Child Research at Aarhus BSS published in Review of Economics of the Household.

The researchers have taken the results from the so-called CHIPS-tests (Children's Problem Solving), which test the child's linguistic and cognitive level and psychiatric diagnosis, and have compared the results with the parents' overall evaluation of the child's academic and behavioural performance (the latter specified in a Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire). The test results from 6,000 Danish families, adjusted for variables such as gender, the parents' age, educational background, work situation, income, psychiatric diagnosis etc., show that dad is just as able to evaluate the child's cognitive and non-cognitive skills as mum.

"This is important knowledge not least in e.g. divorce cases, where the majority of parental rights cases are decided in favour of the mother - among other things based on the parents' testimonies on the well-being and skills of their children," says Nabanita Datta Gupta, one of the three people behind the study.

Mum's mental problems affect her judgement

The study also shows that mothers who have mental issues often evaluate their children's competences as being poorer than they actually are. At worst, this will give the children a lower self-esteem and a lack of confidence in their own abilities, according to the researchers behind the study. Another study from Aarhus BSS has previously shown that children of parents with mental illnesses are at a greater risk of attempting suicide.

"Many women who suffer from post-natal depression are never diagnosed, but their mental state still influences their life and also their ability to evaluate their children's competences. Generally, our results indicate that parents should be regarded equally in clinical and school-related contexts, where the doctor and the teacher might as well hear the father's evaluation of e.g. symptoms and well-being as the mother's. Especially in Denmark, where fathers are typically very actively involved in looking after the child," says Nabanita Datta Gupta and adds:

"The results are valid, because the parent's subjective evaluations are compared to the objective measurements of the CHIPS test and the psychiatric diagnoses. Naturally, a lot of other factors are also important, but our research is an important contribution to the collected understanding of the parents' ability to evaluate their children's behaviour and competences", she says.
-end-


Aarhus University

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