Parenting: Best Practices for Raising Children
In studying characteristics of the parent-child subsystem, researchers have identified two dimensions that are especially important: parental warmth and parental control. They have also studied how these dimensions combine to form different patterns or styles of parenting.
Parental Warmth and Control
Parental warmth is the degree to which parents are accepting, responsive, and compassionate with their children. Parents who are high in warmth are very supportive, nurturing, and caring. They pay close attention to their children's needs, and their parenting behaviors tend to be child centered (focused on the needs of the child rather than on the convenience or demands of the parents). Researchers see parental warmth as existing on a broad continuum—from parents who show a high degree of warmth to those who show little or no warmth. At the lower end of the continuum are parents who are rejecting, unresponsive to their children, and more parent centered than child centered. This cold type of parenting is detrimental to the child's development. Numerous studies have shown that children who experience cold parenting are more aggressive, have fewer friends, and perform more poorly in school. Conversely, when parenting is high in warmth, children acquire better social and academic skills, and they show more love and respect for their parents and other people (Maccoby & Martin, 1983; Parke & Buriel, 1998).
Parental control is the degree to which the parents set limits, enforce rules, and maintain discipline with children. Parents who are high in control set firm limits on their children's behavior, and they enforce rules consistently. They are involved in their children's lives and use discipline to provide structure for their children's behaviors. Parents low in control, however, are lax, permissive, or uninvolved with their children. Like parental warmth, control is on a continuum: Some parents show a high degree of control, some only a moderate degree, and others very little control or little involvement with their children,
When we look at parental warmth and parental control, it is important to consider their combined effects. When warm parents use firm control, for example, discipline tends to be child centered, age appropriate, and positive. When cold and rejecting parents use firm control, however, discipline can be very harsh, punitive, and even abusive. By itself, neither warmth nor control is sufficient for explaining the effects of parenting on children's developmental outcomes.
Researchers also draw a distinction between physical control and psychological control. Physical control involves the use of physical means to control children, such as hitting, spanking, pushing, and physically forcing children to do things. Psychological control uses guilt, humiliation, love withdrawal, or emotional manipulation to control children. Both forms of control can be harmful, especially when used by parents who are cold or rejecting with their children. One study of Chinese families, for example, showed that fathers who used more physical control had sons who were more physically aggressive with their peers. In this same study, psychological control by mothers was related with increases in physical and emotional aggressiveness in their daughters (Nelson, Hart, Yang, Olsen, & Jin, 2006). Therefore, the effects of physical and psychological control may depend on the parent inflicting the control and on the gender of the child who is being controlled.
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