Primary Parenting Functions
Parents’ behavior and ways of interacting with children are usually purposeful attempts to meet what they perceive children’s needs to be (Clarke & Dawson, 1998), which in turn relate strongly to the goals adults wish to accomplish in their socialization of children for adulthood. Two broad categories describe parenting behavior aimed at meeting children’s needs in preparing them for their future: structure and nurturance (Clarke & Dawson, 1998). These constitute two principal functions parents perform in socializing children.
Structure describes those aspects of parenting behavior aimed toward providing children with the means to regulate their lives and to lay the foundation upon which a child’s personality is formed and expressed. Structure involves teaching children about personal boundaries, teaching them the limits to which they may go in their behavior so that they do not infringe on others’ needs and rights, providing the experiences that promote their acquiring a healthy sense of self-worth, and providing a sense of safety and security so that they will learn to be appropriately trusting of others. Structure also involves helping children to develop healthy habits in thought and behavior; learn values and ethics; acquire healthy character traits such as honesty, integrity, and personal honor; and develop personal responsibility for their actions. Structure helps to provide a child with a healthy, strong sense of self-esteem that permits growth toward meeting personal potential and becoming a well-differentiated individual who is valued for distinct qualities and traits. Most parents are aware that their children have particular needs. Parents attempt to meet these needs in the ways in which they provide structure and nurturance.
Nurturance is the second function involved in parenting children. It relates to those parenting behaviors intended to meet children’s needs for unconditional love. This is necessary for children’s healthy growth and well-being. By learning that he or she is lovable, a child learns that others can be loved as well. The assertive care and support that are given in unconditional ways to children form the basis of nurture. Assertive care involves noticing, understanding, and responding to the behavioral cues and verbal requests that children pose to parents. It is expressed to children when adults determine children’s needs and respond to those needs in loving, predictable, and trustworthy ways. Supportive care is expressed at those times when adults offer care to children, but allow them the freedom to accept or reject the offer since parents give it in terms of unconditional love. Adults provide structure to children by teaching them rules and skills, which in turn allow children to accept nurturing more willingly.
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