The influence of parental time investments on children’s cognitive and socio-emotional outcomes at school entry

Child development
Friday 27 July, 1215 – 1235


Dr Angela Gialamas
University of Adelaide

Dr Dandara Haag
The University of Adelaide

Murthy Mittinty
The University of Adelaide

John Lynch
The University of Adelaide

Parents do a lot of things to help their children grow and develop, including providing food and shelter, looking after their health, spending time with them, and providing a stimulating home learning environment. This vast array of parenting activities can be seen as “investments” in children’s development. Parents and the investments they make in their children set the foundation for lifelong health and wellbeing. However, many parents, particularly those living in disadvantaged circumstances, struggle to provide environments that support the optimal development of their children. In Australia we have no comprehensive picture of how parents invest in their children at different ages.

To fill this research gap, we used the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children to identify the parenting time investments that yield the greatest return for children’s outcomes in the first five years of life (n=4,253). Investments were obtained using time-use diaries. Outcomes were assessed using the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT) and the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. Log-linear regression models were used because we hypothesised that one investment is not substitutable by another, unlike in previous studies. For example, one hour invested in educational activities is not substitutable by one hour of routine care with regards to their effect on children’s outcomes.

Findings revealed no one main contributor for cognitive and socio-emotional outcomes. However, time invested in educational and play activities across all waves were consistently associated with better PPVT and fewer problem behaviours, whereas media use and unstructured time were associated with poorer outcomes. Implications will be discussed.