What Can Be Done
A large number of parent support programs exist to strengthen parenting abilities and promote the development of new competencies. Parent support programs do not share a uniform intervention, but they do have a common goal to improve the lives of children and their parents. They also have a shared strategy to affect children by creating changes in parents’ attitudes, knowledge and/or behavior. These programs aim to give parents the knowledge and skills they need to effectively carry out child-rearing responsibilities and provide their children with experiences and opportunities that promote learning and development. Many of these programs are community-based initiatives designed to promote the flow of resources and support to parents.
Successful parenting programs address specific types of child behavior (e.g. developmental disabilities or child conduct problems) or target specific developmental transitions. They cover multiple factors such as consistent care giving in other contexts like preschool, day care and maternal well-being. They devote enormous efforts to the initial training of staff who implement these programs with parents, and to maintaining the quality of the intervention over time. Finally, these programs maximize parents’ investment by emphasizing the importance of young children’s development by linking it to parenting skills and healthful decisions.
How Important is It?
Parents matter in their child’s development and function. Many of the skills children acquire are fundamentally dependent of their interactions with their caregivers and their broader social environment. In fact, the quality of parenting a child receives is considered the strongest potentially modifiable risk factor that contributes to the development of behavioral and emotional problems in children.
What Do We Know?
To ensure the best possible outcome for their children, parents must balance the maturity and disciplinary demands they make to integrate their children into the family and social system while maintaining an atmosphere of warmth, responsiveness and support. When parent conduct and attitude during the preschool years do not reflect an appropriate balance on these characteristics, children may face a multitude of adjustment issues.
In a number of investigations, sensitive parenting was linked to positive emotionality in children, while children who were negative, irritable or aggressive were found to have received less supportive parenting. More specifically inconsistent, rigid, or explosive discipline when coupled with low supervision and involvement, have been closely associated with the development of child conduct problems.
Parental responsiveness is also important for cognitive development. Studies have shown that cognitively-responsive behaviors such as maintaining interests provide the child with structure in developing his or her attention and language skills. Moreover, the early and consistent participation of parents in learning activities, as well as the provision of age-appropriate learning materials foster language development and learning in general. Not only do those parental practices create an optimal learning environment for the child, they encourage him or her to assume an active role in the learning process and to develop a positive attitude toward learning.
Social-contextual factors that shape parenting include the attributes of children, the parents’ developmental history, psychological make-up, personal and inter-personal distress, social isolation, and the broader social context in which parents and their relationships are embedded. Parents’ personality characteristics also play a role by influencing children through the emotions they experience and/or their cognitions.
Research shows that language stimulation and learning materials in the home are the parenting practices most strongly linked to school readiness, vocabulary and early school achievement. Parent discipline strategies and nurture are most strongly linked to social and emotional outcomes such as behavior and impulse control and attention.
Parental knowledge also plays a key role. When parents are aware of developmental norms and milestones and are familiar with care giving skills it provides them with a global cognitive organization for anticipating developmental changes in children. Studies show that mothers with higher knowledge of infant and child development have higher levels of parenting skills. In the same way, parents’ inaccurate beliefs or overestimation of their child’s cognitive abilities can actually undermine their child’s performance since their expectations affect their behavior.
To build responsible adults parents can help children “practice” for the real world by adopting the following steps:
Step 1: Give your child a responsibility.
Step 2: Hope your child makes a mistake.
If we don’t allow our children to make mistakes and then live with the consequences, we are “stealing” valuable learning experiences from them. And today’s mistakes such as putting a shirt on backwards or choosing not to eat breakfast are bargains compared to what mistakes may cost as they grow older.
Step 3: Allow empathy and consequences to do the teaching.
Use empathy when you talk with your children to allow them opportunities to look more closely at their decisions
Step 4: Give them the same responsibility again.
This is the most important step since it sends a powerful message to your child that he or she is smart enough to learn from their previous mistake. Problem-solving and decision-making skills are the building blocks of responsibility. But most children don’t get much practice at it and they don’t have the advantage of actually seeing the process adults use to make decisions.