Audrey-Ann Deneault PhD candidate at the School of Psychology studies the parent and child relationship.
Tell us about your journey?
My journey was far from being designed in advance. It was clear to me that I wanted to pursue graduate studies after completing my undergraduate program, to contribute to the well-being of society with my research. I volunteered for several research laboratories specializing in the study of childhood language development as well as the CARElab, a research lab specializing in childhood social development. I was in turn able to take on new tasks and play a role in a longitudinal study, investigating parent-child relationships with preschoolers and school aged children. These opportunities awoke in me a strong interest for the social development of the child.
What motivated or inspired you to do research on parent-child relationships?
My practical experiences as a volunteer inspired me to do research on parent-child relationships. As a volunteer, I had the chance to interact directly with families, and observe their relationships. I was then able to understand the formative role of parent interactions with their children. I was excited to pursue the study of parent-child relationships at a graduate level because it allowed me to play a larger role in the CARElab’s unique longitudinal study. Historically, parenting research has focused on the mother-child relationship at the expense of the father-child relationship. In contrast to other laboratories, the CARElab is equally interested in the mother-child and the father-child relationship which allows the lab to make comparative analyses.
Why is your research important in today’s society?
The parent-child relationship has a significant role in shaping a child’s development, with important long-term consequences for the child. Moreover, two societal changes have made our research more relevant than ever.
Firstly, fathers are becoming more involved in childrearing, yet society (and even psychological research) has failed to catch up to this change. Unfortunately, stay-at-home dads are still victims of a social stigma. Our hope is that our study and those like it will help demystify paternal childcare, and allow for a better understanding of societal forces that shape familial relationships.
Secondly, it is important to understand the impact of humanitarian crises (e.g., Syrian refugees) on a child’s social development. Generally, unstable environments are risk factors that may harm a child’s socioemotional development. A better understanding of these risk factors can help shape policy in mitigating the damage and trauma of these environments.
What would you like to see or accomplish in the future with your research?
I hope that my research on the father-child and the mother-child relationship can help reduce the stigma associated with families falling outside of the traditional breadwinner family model, and elaborate better interventions to mitigate risk factors for children in unstable environments. To this end, I believe that mass media can be an important tool in transmitting scientific knowledge and improve the lives of families. Research should be useful to the scientific community, as well as made accessible for our broader society.