Interaction Styles Within Families (page 3)
The child-rearing practices that parents employ influence children’s behavior as we observe it in schools and communities, and researchers confirm the effect of parent actions on children’s interactions with significant adults. The studies discussed in this section demonstrate connections between parenting and observed child behavior.
In Baumrind’s (1968, 1966) classification, parenting styles were originally placed along a three-part continuum:
- Authoritative (democratic). Controlling, demanding, but warm. Rational and receptive to child’s communication.
- Permissive (child centered). Noncontrolling, nondemanding, and relatively warm.
- Authoritarian (autocratic). Detached, controlling, somewhat less warm.
Later work by Baumrind and others (Sclafani, 2004) resulted in a fourth parenting style being added as a refinement of the permissive style:
Accepting, Responsive Rejecting, Unresponsive Demanding, controlling AUTHORITATIVE AUTHORITARIAN Undemanding, uncontrolling PERMISSIVE-INDULGENT PERMISSIVE-NEGLECTFUL
In her classic study, Baumrind (1968) found that most children of authoritative parents showed independence and were socially responsible. They were also better able to regulate their emotions and behaviors, and they tended to have good tolerance for frustration as well as the ability to delay gratification. These traits translated into competence and resistance to substance abuse during adolescence, according to a later study (Baumrind, 1995). Authoritative parents took into account their child’s needs as well as their own before dealing with situations. The parents respected children’s need to make their own decisions, yet they exerted control. They reasoned with their children and explained things more often than did other parents.
On the other hand, Baumrind found that those children of permissive parents frequently lacked social responsibility and often were not independent. She concluded that parents who looked at all behavior as natural and refreshing had unrealistic beliefs about young children’s growth and socialization.
Baumrind found that children of authoritarian parents also showed little independence and were less socially responsible. Such parents feel that children need restraint and need to develop respect for authority, work, and traditional structure.
The authoritative style requires parents to guide, share activities, and to talk and listen to their children. The following summary illustrates the adult behaviors that produce Baumrind’s authoritative style. To foster socially responsible and independent behavior in children, parents
- Serve as responsible and self-assertive models.
- Set standards where responsible behavior is rewarded and unacceptable behavior is punished.
- Are committed to the child in a way that is neither overprotective nor rejecting.
- Have high demands for achievement and conformity but are receptive to the child’s rational demands.
- Provide secure but challenging and stimulating environments for creative and rational thinking.
Maccoby and Martin (1983) reviewed literature on parenting styles at a later point and in general supported the findings of Baumrind. Clark (1983) also produced similar findings. His “sponsored independence” style is consistent with Baumrind’s authoritative style. Later studies measuring the long-term effects of the authoritative style produced more evidence that it engenders positive adolescent behavior (Holmbeck, Paikoff, & Brooks-Gunn, 1995; Steinberg, 1991). Recent research on adolescent development indicates that feeling loved and cared for by parents continues to be of great importance for young people (Steinberg & Silk, 2002).
One caveat is needed concerning this research. Baumrind used White, middle-class parents in her study, whereas later, in their replication studies, Maccoby and Martin (1983) found that Baumrind’s conclusions did not always translate directly for poor, minority, and single-parent families. Clark (1983), however, found that the authoritative or sponsored independence behaviors in Mexican American and African American homes often made the difference between success and failure for minority children in schools. As far as parenting in a contemporary society is concerned, the authoritative style of parenting seems to be most effective for preparing children for school expectations as well for later positive outcomes (Noddings, 2005).
Language is a primary avenue through which a child learns to understand and function in the world. Children tend to develop language on a predictable developmental scale, but different parental language styles and interactions affect children’s socialization and literacy development. Bernstein’s (1972) classic study of family language patterns produced two general linguistic codes used in many homes. He termed these very different patterns restricted and elaborated. The codes reflect two quite different styles: the position-oriented family and the person-oriented family.
Position-oriented families use a restricted code, and the family role system is positional, or object oriented and present oriented. In contrast, person-oriented families use an elaborated code, and the family role system is personal, or person oriented and future oriented. The following example illustrates this concept:
In the space of three minutes, two attractive family groups approached a traffic-light-controlled crosswalk at a busy intersection. One mother and her preschool son approached hand in hand, talking freely. Within a few feet of the crosswalk, the mother leaned down toward her son and said, “See the light there? It’s red, and we have to stop. See the cars still coming this way? We need to stay right back here,’til we get the flashing walk light, OK? You watch and tell me when to go.” When the boy continued to advance into the crosswalk, his mother tightened her grip on his hand and said more firmly, “Stop here. It’s not safe yet.”
The second family, a mother, father, and little girl, approached the crosswalk and stopped. Suddenly, the mother noticed the child, who was slightly ahead, start toward the crosswalk and yelled, “Stay here!” The girl continued to advance, and the mother screamed again, “Stay here, I said!” The father leaped and yanked the girl back beside him. “Just stand!” the mother said, and the family waited silently for the signal to change- bodies rigid, the parents holding tightly to the child.
The second family here appears to be more position oriented and has a prescribed role system. Members have little choice, and roles are assigned according to family position. According to Bernstein, their communication is object oriented and present oriented. Aspects of restricted language code appear, characterized by syntactically simple sentences and concrete meanings. The parents communicate one thing only to the daughter- to obey a single command. There is no explanation, and sentences are simple and direct.
The open quality of the mother and son in the person-oriented family, on the other hand, permits discretion in learner performance. Communication in the open system includes judgments and reasons, and children learn to cope with abstractions and ambiguity. The elaborated language code accommodates this type of content. The mother chats with her son about the crosswalk, explaining what is happening. She engages the child in the decision making. Yet, when it appears that he may advance into the crosswalk too soon, she, too, physically restrains the child for his safety.
Teachers must know that children from a closed or position-oriented family must depend on the school and the larger community to help them in acquiring elaborated language. As a teacher, you can become a vital communication model for children from families using restricted codes, as can other children. Older children may often help their teacher communicate with new children not familiar with school language and culture. We find this situation in the following vignette.
Ms. Dansky, a White teacher, wasn’t successful in getting Philip, an African American five-year-old just entering school, to join other children in a circle. She had used a polite invitation to call all the children. When Philip didn’t move, she gave a sterner and more specific command to Philip. Then Greg, a seasoned African American eight-year-old, raised his hand and asked quietly, “You want me to get him for you, Ms. D?” Upon receiving a polite “Yes, thank you,” he yelled to Philip, “Boy, get yo’r butt over here, yu’ hear!” When Philip came immediately to sit beside Greg, Greg leaned to him and continued, “When she say, ‘Boys and girls join me,’ she mean ‘Come here.’ And when she say, ‘Philip, it’s time for circle!’ she mean, ‘Get yo’r butt here (pats a spot beside himself) NOW!’ ” (Seefeldt & Barbour, 1998, p. 340)
Greg had learned not only the correct language patterns of the school but also the politeness rules. Then he used language and tonal patterns familiar to Philip, and he skillfully switched between the two patterns to explain what their teacher’s words meant. One can appreciate the advantages that elaborated codes have in the broadening requirements of the information age. Research has shown that preschool children who engaged in language with adults that went beyond the here and now to include the past, future, imagined events, and abstract ideas had a larger vocabulary on school entry and performed better on comprehension tests up until sixth grade (Bardige, 2005). Clearly, the language environment within which a child is brought up will have long-term consequences.
Hart and Risley Studies
Hart and Risley (1995) also concentrated on language development and demonstrated that quality of parenting and richness of linguistic environment are not necessarily bound with economic status or ethnicity. In their study of homes representing three SES levels, they discussed the linkages between young children’s language development and meaningful experiences. The longitudinal study convinces us that the type and amount of interaction between parents and children results in significant differences, irrespective of SES.
According to the study, the quality of interactions in everyday parenting will center on the following five variables:
- Amount and richness of vocabulary. Parents deliberately use various terms, labels, and expressions and model their use when talking. “Yes, these are all clothes- pants, shirts, socks.”
- Sentence usage. Parents make a connection between objects and events when responding to children. “Yes, it is a doll, and it’s Cindy’s, so you need to give it back.”
- Discourse function. Quality of utterances used is important when parents give choices or directions to prompt child behavior. “Did you remember to hang your coat?”
- Adjacency condition. This variable centers on the relation between parent and child behavior when the parent listens or initiates for child. Child: “Soup’s good!” Parent models by: “Yes, it’s delicious, isn’t it?”
- Valence of communication. The emotional tone given to interactions is important, whether the parent tries to be pleasant or not. Simply smiling and repeating a child’s word: “That’s right, juice!” has positive valence.
The positive dimension of this study shows us that parenting behaviors leading to increased child performance can be learned and practiced. Hart and Risley (1995) assert that parents who purposely concentrate on the meaningful differences are being “social partners” with their children.
In a follow-up study, Hart and Risley (1999) suggested that the most important aspect of parent talk to young children is its amount. They learned from their study that parents who talk as they go about their daily activities expose their children to more than 1,000 words per hour. Even more important, however, is the way that conversation between parent and child during the first three years contributes to their relationship and builds a foundation of analytic and symbolic competencies that will serve them for a lifetime. Spending time talking together is the most important way parents can help their child learn to speak and listen, and, of course, speaking and listening are the foundations of literacy.
Summary of Interaction Styles
With parents’ busy work schedules and the amount of television viewing by the entire family, substantive conversation- which does not include directions, commands, or reprimands- between parents and children is becoming rare in many homes. Ideally, adults would take time to talk to their young children, focusing on things that the child has done, seen, or heard and using experiences with picture books to move conversation beyond the here and now. Although teachers and community workers alone cannot compensate for the shortage of meaningful parent–child interactions, a quality child-care or school experience can help children develop larger vocabularies and strong functional language (Bardige, 2005).
No two families are exactly alike, and parents have diverse ways of managing. The various features of parenting make family behaviors very complex and difficult to understand. We can examine general patterns of parenting, though, and we can relate these patterns to children’s behavior. The investigators previously noted, Baumrind, Clark, Maccoby, and Martin, found that neither extreme of the parenting pattern referred to respectively as permissive and authoritarian is ideal for children. In his conditional sequence model of disciplinary responses, Larzelere (2001) reaffirmed the need for combining reason and discipline in effective parenting. Clearly, a combination of love and limits appears to be most beneficial.
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