One: What is involved in parenting?
Many of us in
our early training as educators learned of the classical theories
of parent-child relations. While we now know of the increasing complexity
of child and parent development we do acknowledge the following:
Freud (1936) saw parents as mainly responsible for a childs
developmental outcome and this impacted many early parenting programs.
Eriksons theory of psychosocial development (1963)
placed more emphasis on the inner biological and additional societal
factors impacting childrens growth and development than on
the primacy of parental influences at all stages over the life span.
genetics theory of Gesell, described by Thelen & Adolph
(1992) suggested that a parents central role was to support
the unfolding of a childs inherited pre-dispositions and provide
an environment matched to the childs maturational readiness.
Today, behavioral geneticists also look to the impact of the environment
to account for child outcomes. The research of Sutherland (1983)
demonstrated that parents in America today might be seen as neglectful
by others if they support Gesells theory on the natural unfolding
of development. She found many parents were in transitional states
regarding how they viewed childrens needs and their role.
Many of the Mexican American mothers she studied were transitioning
between the Gesell model and adapting to an American culture with
parents having more of a role in a childs development.
Inhelders (1969) research on childrens different
stages of cognitive development continue to inform theories
of how parents might or should relate to children to maximize development
based on understanding how they are capable of thinking and reasoning
at different ages. We learn from Vygotskys work (1978)
that social interactions between active, thinking children
and their caregivers are key for a childs development. His
zone of proximal development has to do with adults facilitating
a childs more mature behavior by being with them as they are
challenged by more advanced tasks. It has been defined as the distance
between what the child can accomplish alone (the level of actual
development) and what the child can do when helped (the level of
potential development). The image is the scaffold. A parent erects
a structure (parent support and guidance) around a childs
behavior. As children gain more skills, the parents can dismantle
R. Q. Bell (1968)
expands our understanding of these interaction processes and builds
on Kurt Lewins (1935) transactional theory, which is
that behavior is a function of the person and the environment. His
child effects approach suggested parents and
children regulate each others behavior. This was in contrast
to Freuds parent effects approach. Parents have a certain
level of tolerance regarding their childrens behavior, which
could either call forth some structure or be within their tolerance
level. Child- effects theories differ from trait theories that have
informed so many parent programs.
focus on a parents personality or style rather than on a parents
ability to adjust to different children of different ages, genders,
temperaments and times. Most popular are Schaefer (1959)
who discussed the now familiar parenting continua of warmth and
control. Baumrind (1989; 1996) described three parenting
styles as authoritarian, permissive or authoritative, some of which
included warmth and control. While these approaches may help us
understand more about parents, there is a belief that styles might
vary with different children and at different times. Holden &
Miller (1999) describe the trait approach as the oldest and most
prominent approach to the study of parents, but add the trait
approach is intended to reflect not one interaction but the seasons
average (p. 225). A hazard with the trait approach is
that it can lead to erroneous conclusions of similarity across
time, children and situations. Even Baumrind (1989) notes that a
similar parental style may not be as effective at a different stage
in a childs life or with a different child. (p. 189).
child -effects perspective and the traits perspective are just parts
of a larger transactional model. As Holden and Miller (1999)
note in describing Bells important work, parenting should
be thought of as a relational rather than an individual difference
construct, and therefore child-rearing will vary when interacting
with different children in a family. Mischel & Shoda
(1995) also found that the person-situation interaction was a better
measure to understand behavior than personality styles or traits.
This is important to remember in designing parent education programs
for future parents that sometimes are limited to looking at parental
Related to the
above person-child interaction is Attachment theory (Ainsworth
and Bowlby, 1991) where research demonstrates that the attachment
between a parent and child reflects a behavioral system promoting
survival and competent functioning. These theorists suggest that
caregivers need to establish a secure base for infants over the
first year of life by being sensitive to the cues emitted by infants,
addressing the infants needs, and providing emotional regulation.
Infants learn to trust that caregivers will take care of their needs.
That trust develops into secure attachment facilitating the exploration
of the environment, and supporting the development of social and
cognitive competence, establishing the important feelings of efficacy.
The next generation will be able to adapt to changing environments.
Todays brain development research supports the need for understanding
the crucial role of parents in the early years of a childs
This same sensitive
feedback and communication to older verbal children is encouraged
in the humanistic and reflective theory of Carl Rogers (1963).
He suggested parents use therapeutic skills of empathy to understand
a childs needs and feelings. Maslows (1971) detailed
list of human needs is very helpful also. Parents are taught to
reflect back to children what they are feeling to help them grow
in awareness and understanding. The popular parenting program of
Thomas Gordon (Parent Effectiveness Training) (1975) expands upon
this theoretical perspective. The parenting model of Dreikurs (1969)
and Dinkmeyer et al.s STEP program (1987) build upon the work
of Alfred Adler (1957) who also focused on understanding children
but more in terms of their goals in order for a parent to derive
the outcome he/she wants. This focus on understanding in order to
control behavior puts more emphasis back on the external world.
This is even more so in the behavioral parent education programs
which minimize the emotions or internal motivations of the child
and focus on observable behavior that can be changed by rewards
to facilitating the childs self-awareness, Kohuts
self-psychology theory helps facilitate parental self-understanding
as well. Recognition of parental needs may be a prerequisite to
interventions with abusive parents (Shanook, 1990). Recently,
Brems, et al., (1993) compared the effectiveness of a traditonal
PET and behavioral parent education program with one focusing on
the self-psychology model. While both had about the same effect
there was lower attrition and more parental enthusiasm for the self-psychology
model. Newbergers construct of parental awareness (1980)
also informs the successful Reflective Dialogue Parent Education
Design implemented by Thomas (1996). Since the 1970s
and McBrides (1973) classic book The growth and development
of mothers theorists and researchers have demonstrated the
value of supporting a parents growth needs to enhance their
development as well as their childrens. As Belenky
et al. (1997) and McBride (1973) found, mothers who acknowledged
their own needs and were listened to and validated by others were
more effective with their children.
(1997) social-cognitive theory emphasizes the cognitive
and information processing capacities of an individual like a parent
that mediate social behavior. This work adds to the knowledge base
that must be shared in parent programs. In particular, Bandura proposes
that individuals feelings of self-efficacy, or beliefs about
their ability to actually effect changes in the environment, constitute
one of the key ingredients to understanding human behavior (Grusec,
1992). Thus, we are not just looking at the behavior that flows
from certain parent-child interactions but how parents and children
think about these interactions as key to outcomes. The underlying
assumption to this and other viable parenting models is that there
are processes directing how parents think about child-rearing and
how their thinking combines with child characteristics and other
environmental influences to affect a childs ultimate growth.
Sigel et al.s
(1992), parent beliefs approach is also helpful. It emphasizes the
important cognitive mediation of behavior or how immediate and ongoing
thinking processes influence parent-child interactions. Child- rearing,
they believe, is multiply influenced by parental values and beliefs,
previous experiences of parents, information sources and other people.
The beliefs approach holds the promise of providing a way to change
child-rearing behavior through cognitive restructuring i.e. providing
new information about children or child-rearing techniques, revising
perceptions, correcting erroneous attributions or expectations or
training in problem-solving techniques. While this sounds like Experts
know best this approach takes parents own beliefs as the starting
point. The process of reflection on these beliefs may result in
change and may not.
added another dimension to understanding parent-child processes
systems theory. Here, the relationship amongst all members of
the family must be recognized in order for family functioning to
be fully understood. Researchers have found e.g. that fathers are
more demanding of sons when wives are present than when they are
absent. ( Buhrmester et al., 1992). Holden et al. (1992) found that
the stress of domestic violence results in more maternal aggression
on children. Werkele & Wolfe (1993) concluded that we need to
optimize development of all family members and recognize the importance
of empowering the parental subsystem to engage other subsystems
adaptively (Dunst, Trivette & Deal, 1988) This too must
be part of parent education.
explored parents adaptations to changing children and changing
environ- ments over time. While adapting takes skills it is more
than merely a bag of skills; parenting becomes a dynamic process.
Hindes (1989) social relationships theory, holds that
ongoing human interactions forming interpersonal relationships represent
the most important aspect of the environment for parenting. These
dynamic interactions between parents and children are embedded in
long-term relationships; are affected by both preceding interactions
and expectations about future ones. Parent programs need to address
these complex issues. Werkele &Wolfe (1993) concur. They define
parenting competence as more than a set of skills; it involves using
them appropriately during interactions within an enduring and unique
relationship. The way parents adapt and adjust to a changing child,
changes in themselves, or changing life situations is not captured
by any static approach of parenting (Holden, 1997).
(1979) in his ecological systems theory sees child development
as occurring within a nested series of contextual levels from the
immediate setting e.g. parents and families to the level that links
to other systems e.g. home to school. A question then might be How
might domestic violence at home impact a childs performance
at school? The third level of influence might impact the child
indirectly e.g. what is the effect of work on parents and
on their child- rearing? The final system even more removed
but yet influential has to do with the larger culture and institutions.
How does social policy in the U.S. affect children?
To sum, to understand how effective parents would need to operate,
the ongoing parent-child environment interaction process must be
the focus of attention for educators and the future parents to whom
they are teaching parenting education.
work (1984) nicely delineates what theorists above believe should
be addressed in parenting programs. He focuses on the ecological
systems and parental competence approach. He defines competence
as sensitivity to the childs developing abilities and communications.
It is influenced by such factors as parental resources (previous
experience, education, attitudes and expectations about child-rearing,
etc.) the childs characteristics (e.g. temperament,
health status, developmental level, size, gender, etc.) and the
family context (e.g. quality of the marriage, social networks,
support systems, culture, etc.) Individual characteristics of the
parent and the child can mediate the impact of a process in each
particular context. Luster and Okagaki (1993) explain : individuals
carry forward from their prior relationships experiences, attitudes,
expectations, emotions, behavioral patterns that shape the way they
function as parents and spouses-in the families they establish (p.1).
According to Belsky a parent needs a buffer if one of these areas
is weak. For example, if a parent is living in poverty but is motivated
to do well and has an easy child they might be more effective than
if all systems were weak. An example here would be an uneducated,
poor teen parent with a difficult infant and no societal support.
Outcome is more negative here than with a teen with a supportive
boyfriend, extended family, school and community and a temperamentally
families has moved over time from seeing dysfunction to seeing potential.
(Cochran, 1993). One hesitates now to even push the word
strengths as it implies weaknesses. Drawing upon the Cornell empowerment
model we take the following principles to our parent education
programming: This models has as its goal helping people feel
hopeful, believe in themselves, promote the possible, be responsible,
focus on strengths and expect much of themselves and others. We
seek to bring out the good in people rather than see only their
deficits. As coaches we are generalists and know that those we serve
as specialists have an important body of knowledge about themselves
and their situations. We too have knowledge and information to share
model implies that the professional thinking about parenting education
and support today acts as a coach. Family Support America, (FSA.org)
the National Organization for parents and families suggests we must
work in relationships based on respect and equality. We must try
to enhance the families capacity to support the growth and
development of all family members. We need to help families and
future parents to see themselves as resources to all their members,
to other families, programs and communities. Any program we develop
must affirm and strengthen a families cultural, racial and
linguistic identities and enhance their ability to function in a
multi-cultural society.(FSA.org) We want above all else in our programs
to empower our future parents to be able to mobilize formal and
informal resources to support family development.
Two: Theory from Historical Perspective
to the increased focus on brain development we understand better
that children are very complex and there is much to learn in order
to facilitate their development at every stage over the lifespan.
In the past three decades we have also learned a great deal about
parent development over the lifespan. While early theories of parent
and child development are inadequate to explain the complex social-contextual
world of parents and children we serve today, we include them here
to show the development of theories over time and to help educators
better understand the theoretical foundations of the parent education
programs or materials they choose to use as resources.
are mainly responsible for childs psychological development.
is a function of a person and the environment.
emphasis is placed on the inner biological and additional
societal influences on child and adult psychosocial development
over the lifespan.
parents role is to support the unfolding of a childs
inner predispositions, and provide an environment matched
to a childs maturational readiness.
need to understand how children think and reason at different
ages in order to maximize the cognitive development of the
interaction between an active thinking child & a caregiver
and parents regulate each others behavior. Look at relationships.
and reflective approach
use empathy to understand a childs needs/ feelings &
reflect back what they are feeling to help them grow in awareness
children trust that their caregivers will meet their needs,
this results in the attachment that is necessary to facilitate
social and cognitive competence and efficacy.
on parents personality styles or traits more than a
parents ability to adjust to different children, individual
differences, gender, ages, etc.
beliefs about ones ability to effect change in the environment
are the key ingredient. How parents think about child-rearing
are combined with the child characteristics and the environment
to affect a childs ultimate growth and development
awareness and identity
nook, Mc Bride, Thomas, Kohut Belenky et al.
of parent needs and stage of parental awareness, identity
and understanding are prerequisites to effective parenting
and good outcomes.
amongst all members of a family must be recognized for family
functioning to be fully understood. Empower parent subsystems
is dynamic and embedded within relationships affected by both
preceding interactions and future expectations. Parent adaptation
child impacts both the parent and the environment and vice
versa. Development occurs within a nested series of contextual
et al., Cochran
have the capacity to support their own and family growth and
development within themselves. Professionals help them recognize
systems and determinants of parental competence
general theory with broad interpretation of contextual factors
competence, defined as sensitivity to childs developing
abilities and communications, is influenced
by such factors as parental
resources: previous experience, self-esteem, education,
attitudes, expectations about child rearing, health, skills,
knowledge of child development, beliefs, values, level of
characteristics: temperament, health, developmental level,
birth order, size, gender, learning style, transient characteristics,
quality of marriage, social networks, support systems, cultural
values, work environment, social cultural context, etc.