This study examined the quality of interaction between preterm-born preschoolers and their mothers and fathers, focusing on the role of child and parental sex.
Participants included 88 preterm-born children (<37 wk gestational age) and 44 full-term–born children (≥37 wk gestational age) aged 3 1/2 years and their parents. Mother-child and father-child dyads were observed during a structured interactive task. Children's cooperation-compliance and negativity-hostility behaviors were coded using the Coding System for Mother-Child Interactions, and parents' sensitive behavior was coded using the Ainsworth Sensitivity Scale.
There was no association between preterm birth and the quality of child and parents' interactive behaviors. In the full-term group, fathers exhibited lower levels of sensitive behavior than mothers, but in the preterm group, both parents exhibited similar levels of sensitive behavior. Preterm boys exhibited more interactive difficulties than preterm girls, but there was no significant effect of child sex on full-term children's interactive behaviors. Children exhibited more compliance-cooperation and less negativity-hostility toward fathers than toward mothers.
The findings suggest that prematurity in itself does not affect the quality of parent-preterm child interactive behaviors as the children enter the preschool period. Preterm boys seem to be at higher risk for interactive difficulties than girls, and thus, child sex should be considered when monitoring and examining the development of preterm children.