Motivation and emotion/Book/2013/Parenting and emotional development in children

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Parenting and emotional development in children – How do parenting styles affect the emotional development of children?


The aim of this chapter is to explain how different parenting styles have an affect on the emotional development of their children. Parents generally want to be able to provide their children with a balanced amount of discipline and freedom, however this may not always be the easiest task. It takes a lot to raise children, and because of this many parents are left with the task of trying to figure out how to raise their children properly in order for them to be well rounded, happy, satisfied people. Psychologically speaking, there are many different parenting styles that have been studied in order to try to figure this out.

There are many outside factors that play a role in how a child’s emotional development progresses, and parenting plays a very major role in this development. It is very normal for many parents (especially first time parents) to feel nervous, anxious, and even scared when it comes to figuring out how to parent, the problem occurs when parents cannot find a proper balance of a mix of parenting styles and they lean towards one certain style; this can create immense emotional distress for the child. Parents’ reactions and interactions with their child (ren) basically create the emotional groundwork for their child’s future, and this is a very sensitive part of every human being. Many basic personality and attitude characteristics are built upon the initial impact of how one’s parents have influenced their lives through their upbringing. Of course, many personality traits are also a result of the outside world as well, but the effects of parenting are a very major and basic part of one’s being.

What are the different parenting styles?[edit]

There are different styles involved in parenting, and many theorists have studied this particular subject, nevertheless, a good way to measure parenting style would be to turn to the work of psychologist Diana Baumrind. After doing extensive research on parents and their children, she came up with one of the most widely used models of parenting. Her model distinguishes between three different parenting styles: authoritarian, permissive, and authoritative. Authoritarian parents are characterized as being very demanding, having a low responsiveness, and they value obedience in their children. They do not encourage verbal interaction and they use punitive measures to control the behaviors of their children (Dominguez & Carton, 1997). Permissive parents are on the very other side of the parental scale, they are characterized as making few demands of their children and they use little or no punishment. They do not really play an active role in shaping their children’s lives or determining their behavior; children of permissive parents have been described as being “spoiled”. The final style of parenting that Baumrind distinguished was the authoritative style, which falls in between the other two, and is considered to be the balance for parenting. Authoritative parents tend to moderate demandingness and responsiveness; they are responsive to their child’s needs however they do not indulge them. They use reasoning and shaping in order to direct their children’s behaviors in a rational and healthy demeanor, and they set firm limits without being rigid (Dominguez & Carlton, 1997).

Child & caregiver behaviour patterns before the age of 18 months

Many psychologists have used Baumrind’s categorization of parenting types in order to study the effects of these styles on children. Her measures for these styles have proven to be a good background for research on the parent-child emotional relationship. Of course not all parents fall into these categories, however most parents do fall somewhere in the range of these three categories. The use of Baumrind’s parenting styles is mainly for being able to understand how different actions and attitudes of parents have proven to create certain reactions and to cause children to grow up and act in certain ways. Her classification of these styles has also shown that she favors the authoritative style of parenting, and many studies have shown that children with authoritative parents are in a better place emotionally than children with parents in the other two categories.

Emotional Development in Children[edit]

In the past couple of years there has been an increase in social and emotional difficulties in children, these difficulties have been proven to appear as early as 2-5 years of age in children. In the society that kids are being raised in today, there is much focus on how to prevent them from physical illnesses and afflictions; however, there has been an immense lack of attention when it comes to the psychological and emotional well being of young children. Recently, more research has been done on this, and more and more focus is being put on the emotional and psychological aspect of children’s needs. Parent-child check up interventions has become an important part of trying to figure out how to increase positive outcomes in child emotionality and growth as part of the health systems in the world. These interventions are known as Well-Child Check Up Revised protocols, and the goal of these interventions are to implement screening tools that will help in assessing parent-child interaction (Talen et al., 2007). This of course would help in promoting healthy family relationships and in turn, emotionally and psychologically healthier children.

Insecure attachement can cause emotional distress in children

The way these Well-Child Check Up Revised protocols work is that parents are asked to participate in certain tasks with their children, and these tasks help provide health care providers with a global assessment of the parent-child relationship. These tasks include three playful parent-child tasks for assessing children’s social-emotional development and relationship styles (Talen et al., 2007). The categories of the tasks are affection, behavior management, and child development and challenge. The great thing about these protocols is that parents get to learn how to develop the proper skills involved in how to act and react to certain situations with their children in order to provide them with the proper emotional responses and attitudes that will foster proper positive family life and emotional development. Studies have shown that a large number of children suffer through disconnected social support systems now a days, and it is excruciatingly important for parents to learn how to properly deal with them in order to stop this disconnection from happening.

A very big factor that plays into the disconnected social support system is personal family problems. These problems include family stressors such as substance abuse, violence, social isolation and many more. As these family stressors increase, so do the mental and physical disorders of young children. The past 10 years alone have shown a significant increase in disorders in children that have dealt with experiencing family stressors. The rates of children that experience child abuse, neglect, and abandonment are also alarmingly high now (Talen et al., 2007). With all of this happening, it is no surprise that family dynamics have become an important topic of study and research.

It is important to be able to provide children with relationships that include positive characteristics such as emotional closeness, early secure attachments, parental sensitivity and responsiveness to the child’s needs, a sense of parental self-efficacy and self-competency. All of these factors play a very essential role in providing children with the needs that must be met emotionally and psychologically for healthy development. This combination of things should result in healthy, stress-resistant, and resilient children. It is also very crucial for them to have emotional warmth, support, engagement, stimulation and a lack of violence, stress, and family conflicts. Another important factor that plays into healthy child emotionality is having parents that provide them with shared feelings and thoughts (Talen et al., 2007). As in, parents that interact with their children in a healthy demeanor, so as to make them feel included, show them that their creative input is important and open the road to healthy communication with them have better outcomes when it comes to emotionally and psychologically healthy kids.

Differential Parenting Style[edit]

Another factor that plays a very important role in how children develop emotionally is differential parenting style. There is a substantial impact that parenting styles have on child health development. All of the characteristics that are an important part of the parent-child relationship need to be worked on with parenting techniques, because different parents have different ways of “parenting” their children. Positive parenting techniques help children develop in areas such as cognitive function and behavioral regulation. However, negative parenting can result in the development of emotional-behavioral problems. In fact, negative parenting can create children who have high levels of aggression and show signs of anti-social behavioral problems. The idea of differential parenting within families originates from a study that was done analyzing this style, done by Plomin and Daniels (1987), who argued that the residual differences among siblings in their health and development must be due to nonshared environmental forces (Boyle et al., 2004). The general idea that is involved in this study is mainly that unequal parenting treatment can have a negative effect on a child’s self-esteem and can cause adjustment problems for children who already see themselves as worse off than their sibling in regards to parental love and affection. On the other hand, with this information, it can also be inferred that differential parenting has a positive impact on the sibling that is perceived as better off (Boyle et al., 2004).

Secure attachment is a very important part of emotional development in children

The study that was done by Plomin and Daniels (1987) resulted in the selection of two children per family, and it focused on the effects of child-specific, within-family differences. The studies of children in regards to this differential parenting indicated that children who are subject to less positive and more negative treatment, in relativity to their sibling(s), display poor adjustment, as well as poor relationship quality. Negative feelings in children, especially in regards to differential parenting, such as discomfort, personal insecurity, and social anxiety increase as they begin to engage in competitive practices over parental behavior. These children may also experience fear or anxiety over losing their “position” in the family in the future, or experiencing diminishing sibling relationships (Boyle et al., 2004). In cases such as this, verbal reasoning is good ways for parents to deal with children in order to help them better understand certain actions. This will keep the children from making automatic assumptions about their parents having to “split” their love or attention between themselves and their sibling(s).

Psychological Control[edit]

Psychological control refers to parental behaviors that intrude on the psychological and emotional development of the child (Mantzouranis et al., 2011). It refers to the conscious or unconscious invasive parental methods such as love withdrawal, shame induction, and even conditional approval from parents in order to make adolescents and children think and behave in a conforming way that is suitable to the parents’ demands (Mantzouranis et al., 2011). This form of psychological control can be related back to Baumrind’s different parenting styles, specifically the authoritarian type parents.

Soenens et al. have proposed two expressions of psychological control in 2010, and they are Dependency-oriented Psychological Control (DPC) and Achievement-oriented Psychological Control (APC). DPC is characterized by parents who pressure their children and adolescents in order to keep them within close physical and emotional relatedness. Parents that utilize this form of control are usually overprotective, possessive, and they may cause their children and adolescents to experience separation anxiety. They tend to restrict their children’s autonomy and they exploit the relational bond with their children when they begin to distance themselves too much from family (Mantzouranis et al., 2011). Parents perceived as having high DPC do favor and require parent-adolescent closeness, so they are not necessarily unresponsive or lacking of warmth, they just lack the proper knowledge on how to express this to their children in a healthy manner.

APC is characterized by parents who are highly demanding and pressure their children and adolescents to excel in performance-relevant contexts, for example academics or sports (Mantzouranis et al., 2011). The types of parents that utilize this form of control use intrusive methods, shame, and guilt, when their children and adolescents do not meet their demands. Parents perceived as having high APC are likely to be perceived as aloof or cold (Mantzouranis et al., 2011). A study that was done on DPC and APC and it’s effects on family relationships has shown that behavioral control is usually done in an autonomy-inhibiting fashion, and parents become characterized by dependency-oriented psychological control. This results in parents trying to regulate and structure a child’s behavior, which is very unhealthy to emotional development. This can cause a lack of trust to form, which can result in children experiencing negative emotions in regards to feeling that their parents’ love or affection is unauthentic (Mantzouranis et al., 2011).

File:Psychological control.jpg
Parents that use psychological control methods on their children can sometimes make their kids feel isolated & alone.

This distorted emotional development that is related to high DPC or APC levels can also be compared to children with parents that exhibit a need for perfectionism in their kids. The issue with perfectionism is of course that it inhibits creativity in children, and creativity plays a very essential role in emotional development. Creativity in children is one of the most basic and important characteristics when it comes to their abilities of expression. The ability to think creatively helps children with producing novel and appropriate responses in a variety of situations. Creative thinking is the basis for children learning how to become high-ability individuals; it fosters individuality and innovation (Miller et al., 2012). Being able to be a creative thinker also creates the groundwork for being successful in future endeavors, especially when it comes to careers in adulthood. High-ability individuals are very likely to enter professions such as medicine, engineering, and technological fields that demand not only the mastery of content, but also creative thinking skills (Miller et al., 2012). With this knowledge in hand, parents and educators try hard to work on what actions can foster these creative thinking skills in order to help children hone them.

Different parenting styles do affect children’s creativity because some styles may promote creativity whereas others may suppress or ignore it completely. Harsh treatment of children leads to lower levels of creativity. Authoritarian parents are less likely to provide a suitable home environment that is conductive to creativity. Environments such as this inhibit creative and independent growth of children (Miller et al., 2012). An important factor in crafting a healthy environment that fosters high levels of creativity first includes understanding what factors make creativity flourish. Studies done by Snowden and Christian (1999) have shown that authoritative parenting style was important for fostering creativity in young gifted children. Showing interest in a child’s behavior without overwhelming them with rules to govern them, and high levels of acceptance from parents have proven to be successful ways to nourish their creativity. Responsiveness to children’s behavior in this was is a characteristic of the authoritarian parenting style, and it may be one of the most important dimensions for creative expression (Miller et al., 2012). There is a positive correlation between parenting styles with high responsiveness attitudes and high levels of creativity in children.

Socioemotional Development of Children[edit]

Studies have shown that children’s socioemotional development is related to parental emotional socialization, which are parents’ implicit and explicit expectations about the control of their children’s expressiveness (Berlin, 2003). Parental emotion socialization is examined in terms of several different aspects of parenting behavior; such as a parent’s own expressiveness and their ability to cope with their children’s negative emotions. Research done on emotion socialization highlights two main guiding principles: first, emotional socialization includes heightening and suppressing processes, as in, practices that both encourage and discourage children’s emotional expressiveness. Second, healthy emotion socialization is defined by the acceptance of both positive and negative emotions and parent’s adequate control of their children’s expressiveness. A study done on mother’s self-reported control of their preschool children’s emotional expression has managed to show how infant-mother attachment associations do actually have a connection with children’s emotional regulation. There are three different principal attachment patterns that have been proposed to have connections to this by Cassidy (1994): secure, insecure avoidant, and insecure-ambivalent (Ainsworth et al., 1978).

It was suggested by Cassidy (1994) that mothers of securely attached children socialize their children’s emotions in order to help provide a secure base for them to explore (Ainsworth, 1963). Mother’s of insecure-avoidant children have been proposed to socialize their children’s emotions in the service of minimizing attachment behavior and emphasizing independence (Berlin, 2003). This of course creates a situation in which mothers are recanting their children’s negative emotions, and in turn this suppresses negative expressiveness. This practice is very unhealthy because it minimizes a child’s need for finding comfort and closeness in their parent(s). On the other hand, mothers of insecure-ambivalent children have been shown to socialize their children’s emotions in order to maximize attachment behaviors and emphasize dependence (Berlin, 2003). This in turn heightens children’s negative expressiveness, and it can cause a child to become overly attached. Studies have shown that children who have mothers that practice great control over their positive or negative expressiveness tend to have problems with sharing their emotions.

Emotion Knowledge[edit]

Emotion knowledge is defined as the ability to discriminate emotional expressions and the contexts in which they are appropriate (Woven, Carmody, & Lewis, 2010). This type of knowledge is acquired through both direct socialization and through experiencing emotions and their consequences in regards to a child’s parent. Skills such as this trigger children’s abilities to understand and predict the behaviors of others. As this knowledge develops throughout childhood, so does the ability to understand emotional vocabulary, facial expressions, and different emotional context associations (Woven, Carmody, & Lewis, 2010). This knowledge is a very basic need for children; it helps them develop future social and emotional functioning as well as helping them manage their own emotions appropriately.

Child-parent relationships are very important when it comes to building a child’s emotional knowledge. Children with disordered relations with their parents show poorer emotion knowledge than other children. Harsh, abusive parenting also interferes with children’s abilities to recognize and process emotions, specifically negative emotions. This can be taken as far as physical abuse. Studies have shown that high levels of physical abuse tends to sensitize children to anger, which leads to its recognition even when cues to it are indistinct (Woven, Carmody, & Lewis, 2010). Children who experience high levels of physical punitiveness (i.e. spanking, slapping, hitting the child with open hand or object) and psychological aggression (i.e. swearing, threatening) from their parents have similar effects on their growing emotional knowledge. Abused children tend to have an increase in aggressive behavior because of this misattribution when it comes to the hostile intentions of others (Woven, Carmody, & Lewis, 2010).


Studies have shown that the most successful way to help children develop in a healthy emotional way is to find a balance between parenting styles. Leaning too far into any certain style will cause emotional instability and cause psychological harm to children.


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