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How Babies and Young Children can Help University of Maryland Scientists

By Mary Lorenz, Sonya Leikin & Tracy Riggins, Ph.D.

Have you ever thought about how we know when most kids start to walk and talk? Who discovered that these developmental milestones typically happen around the same age? The reason we know so much about children’s development is due to research!

Developmental psychology specializes in learning about children’s development. This field answers questions such as when do children take their first steps (or string words together or recognize their mother’s face) and why does it happen? For example, have you heard your child’s pediatrician talk about how important it is to speak to your baby? Or maybe the face-up to wake-up campaign promoting putting babies to sleep on their back? These movements originated from research. Because of research, we have the resources to educate others and spread awareness on development. Yet, there is so much more we don’t know yet, like when is the best time to drop nap routines in childhood, is it beneficial for my baby to hear two languages, and how does screen time impact friendships.

The Infant and Child Studies Consortium at the University of Maryland supports research examining everything from how a child’s brain responds in social situations to how parents can help build their infant’s vocabulary.

Another role for research is learning when parents should worry. Parents often rely on pediatricians for reassurance that their children are healthy and happy. Research largely informs what pediatricians and other scientists are able to tell parents. Because of research, we know when to worry that a child isn’t walking or talking. Research findings are often a source of reassurance; it provides empirical data on how and why children develop.

Who should participate in the research? How does it work?

Typically developing infants and children of all ages are needed to help scientists learn more about how children develop. When parents or guardians sign up to be a part of the (free) Infant and Child Studies Program, they are notified when their child is eligible for a study. Then, parents may request more information and, if it’s a match, sign up for the study. If they are too busy or are not interested in participating in that study, they may remain on the list for the future. Many families come back for multiple studies, but that is not an expectation! Prior to the pandemic, almost all of our studies were in person. However, many labs have since developed studies that can be done over Zoom, which is especially helpful for many families who are not interested or able to come to campus. Parents are even welcome to request that they are only contacted about virtual studies.

Created in 2005, the Infant and Child Studies Consortium on the University of Maryland, College Park’s campus exists to connect families to researchers. Consisting of nine child development labs, the Infant and Child Studies Program makes it easier for labs to get in touch with families. With the help of families in the DMV, Infant and Child Studies labs have been able to learn more about child development. Click here to learn more.



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