‘A parent’s place is in the wrong’
It has been said that parenting is the most difficult job. Unfortunately, you receive little or no formal training for effective parenting. No one provides you with clear guidelines about the right way to parent. Usually, you either do what your parents did, or you aim to do the exact opposite, depending on your opinion of the parenting you received.
Knowledge acquired through years of research not only allows psychologists to develop effective treatment interventions for children and families but it also provides a basis for teaching parents how to manage their children’s behaviour effectively, and how to intervene with specific child and adolescent problems. Psychologists can help parents understand what children need from adults to foster their emotional and intellectual development.
Psychologists provide information and informal education regarding effective parenting skills to help parents and families manage specific behavioural problems or situations. Parenting skills information focuses on general parent-child interactions as well as other family relationships, as a family is seen as a system of integrated individuals. Often, the goal is to help parents avoid ineffective parenting responses by learning effective ways of managing their children’s behaviour or meeting their emotional needs. Parents can also be taught strategies for managing children with special needs, such as children adjusting to divorce and children diagnosed with specific psychological or behavioural problems.
Most parents do the right thing most of the time simply because they love their children and care about them more than anyone else can. Every parent may struggle at some time with some issue presented by the child. Parenting skills training is not just for parents who have children with serious psychological problems. Parenting skills training is worthwhile for every parent, because it can help you do the best job possible when raising your children. The result of this is two-fold: it can improve your confidence in your parenting ability – the most important job you will ever have and it will improve your relationship with your child and enhance the family dynamics.
Parenting involves a constantly changing ‘job description’. Skills and strategies need to change according to the developmental requirements of the child. What a two-year-old requires from a parent is very different to what a ten-year-old needs. This can feel very overwhelming as it creates a feeling of unpredictability and uncertainty, which often results in anxiety. Changes in the child increases demands and expectations on parents to adjust their parenting techniques to suite the developmental stage of their child/adolescent. As children grow, develop and change so quickly, a comprehensive understanding of what is considered age appropriate or developmentally acceptable is important for parents to be adequately prepared for the most challenging job of all!
Educating parents about appropriate and healthy development at different stages throughout a child’s life is important to place a child’s problem in perspective. There are various theories, which aim to explain physical, emotional and psychological stages of a child’s development. Such theories relate specific issues or developmental tasks to each stage.
A popular theory of developmental stages was proposed by Erik Erikson. Erikson’s Eight Stages of Development proposes that babies are born with some basic capabilities and distinct temperaments. But they go through dramatic changes on the way to adulthood, and while growing old. Each individual passes through eight developmental stages (“psychosocial stages”). Each stage is characterized by a different psychological “crisis”, which must be resolved by the individual before the individual can move on to the next stage. This leads to healthy development. If the person copes with a particular crisis in a maladaptive manner, the outcome will be more struggles with that issue later in life.
Stage 1: Infancy – Age 0 to 1
Crisis: Trust vs. Mistrust
Description: In the first year of life, infants depend on others for food, warmth, and affection, and therefore must be able to blindly trust the parents (or caregivers) for providing those.
Positive outcome: If their needs are met consistently and responsively by the parents, infants not only will develop a secure attachment with the parents, but will learn to trust their environment in general as well.
Negative outcome: If not, infant will develop mistrust towards people and things in their environment, even towards themselves.
Stage 2: Toddler – Age 1 to 2
Crisis: Autonomy (Independence) vs. Doubt (or Shame)
Description: Toddlers learn to walk, talk, use toilets, and do things for themselves. Their self-control and self-confidence begin to develop at this stage.
Positive outcome: If parents encourage their child’s use of initiative and reassure her when she makes mistakes, the child will develop the confidence needed to cope with future situations that require choice, control, and independence.
Negative outcome: If parents are overprotective, or disapproving of the child’s acts of independence, she may begin to feel ashamed of her behaviour, or have too much doubt of her abilities.
Stage 3: Early Childhood – Age 2 to 6
Crisis: Initiative vs. Guilt
Description: Children have newfound power at this stage as they have developed motor skills and become more and more engaged in social interaction with people around them. They now must learn to achieve a balance between eagerness for more adventure and more responsibility, and learning to control impulses and childish fantasies.
Positive outcome: If parents are encouraging, but consistent in discipline, children will learn to accept without guilt, that certain things are not allowed, but at the same time will not feel shame when using their imagination and engaging in make-believe role plays.
Negative outcome: If not, children may develop a sense of guilt and may come to believe that it is wrong to be independent.
Stage 4: Elementary and Middle School Years – Age 6 to 12
Crisis: Competence vs. Inferiority
Description: School is the important event at this stage. Children learn to make things, use tools, and acquire the skills to be a worker and a potential provider. And they do all these while making the transition from the world of home into the world of peers.
Positive outcome: If children can discover pleasure in intellectual stimulation, being productive, seeking success, they will develop a sense of competence.
Negative outcome: If not, they will develop a sense of inferiority.
Stage 5: Adolescence – Age 12 to 18
Crisis: Identity vs. Role Confusion
Description: This is the time when we ask the question “Who am I?” To successfully answer this question, Erikson suggests, the adolescent must integrate the healthy resolution of all earlier conflicts. Did we develop the basic sense of trust? Do we have a strong sense of independence, competence, and feel in control of our lives? Adolescents who have successfully dealt with earlier conflicts are ready for the “Identity Crisis”, which is considered by Erikson as the single most significant conflict a person must face.
Positive outcome: If the adolescent solves this conflict successfully, he will come out of this stage with a strong identity, and ready to plan for the future.
Negative outcome: If not, the adolescent will sink into confusion, unable to make decisions and choices, especially about vocation, sexual orientation, and his role in life in general.
Stage 6: Young Adulthood – Age 19 to 40
Crisis: Intimacy vs. Isolation
Description: In this stage, the most important events are love relationships. No matter how successful you are with your work, said Erikson, you are not developmentally complete until you are capable of intimacy. An individual who has not developed a sense of identity usually will fear a committed relationship and may retreat into isolation.
Positive outcome: Adult individuals can form close relationships and share with others if they have achieved a sense of identity.
Negative outcome: If not, they will fear commitment, feel isolated and unable to depend on anybody in the world.
Stage 7: Middle Adulthood – Age 40 to 65
Crisis: Generativity vs. Stagnation
Description: By “generativity” Erikson refers to the adult’s ability to look outside oneself and care for others, through parenting, for instance. Erikson suggested that adults need children as much as children need adults, and that this stage reflects the need to create a living legacy.
Positive outcome: People can solve this crisis by having and nurturing children, or helping the next generation in other ways.
Negative outcome: If this crisis is not successfully resolved, the person will remain self-centered and experience stagnation later in life.
Stage 8: Late Adulthood – Age 65 to death
Crisis: Integrity vs. Despair Important
Description: Old age is a time for reflecting upon one’s own life and its role in the big scheme of things, and seeing it filled with pleasure and satisfaction or disappointments and failures.
Positive outcome:If the adult has achieved a sense of fulfillment about life and a sense of unity within himself and with others, he will accept death with a sense of integrity. Just as the healthy child will not fear life, said Erikson, the healthy adult will not fear death.
Negative outcome: If not, the individual will despair and fear death.
Appropriate and Healthy Development
Effective parenting skills also require an understanding of what behaviour is considered appropriate at different developmental stages. Again, this prepares parents for the issues presented by the child.
Learning to trust is a primary task for infants. This task is achieved differently by each infant, depending on the infant’s temperament, experience with caretakers, and level of security. There are several research studies that address differences in infants. A major study found that a high percentage of infants were categorised according to three major types of temperaments (within normal range):
- “easy” infants: have regular feeding/sleeping habits, a positive affect, and cry with reason most of the time
- “slow to warm-up” infants: take a while to adapt to new situations and do not adjust as easily to changes, but are able to adjust
- “difficult” infants: irritable, cry a lot, no regular patterns, no clear signals as to what they need, may get angry easily, may seem demanding, and may have skin sensitivities.
At this age, children begin to test out the world, asserting their will power to try and be autonomous. Yet, toddlers still need the security that they can hold on when they don’t want to let go. It is more difficult to structure play with this age group. Some children may have difficulty leaving their parent and may need a parent in the interview room with them. Their need for security should be respected.
By using fantasy, children can “mimic” other people and events in their lives. They are able to distance themselves from their parents in order to pursue their own explorations, but cannot yet think logically about certain situations. Preschool children reason better when in familiar contexts that are known to them. They perform well on memory tasks that depend on recognition, but perform poorly on tasks that require deliberate recall. Young children are more likely to use magical thinking or to give inaccurate information when they do not know much about what they are being asked, feel confused, or want to avoid telling what they do know. The child may also tell the adults only what they believe the adults wish to hear.
At this age, children are moving towards mastery and competence, and need to create and compete. This age is more receptive to games or building things. They are developing their self-esteem and use their peers to measure their skills and worth. These children have better recall memory than preschoolers and logical thinking is more evident. They are able to look at problems and consider varied solutions and alternatives.
These children need to feel a sense of control over what they will be doing and how they might play out their thoughts or feelings. Sometimes children will play out a situation that they are trying to master. Play and storytelling can emerge from their drawings or building models.
The developmental tasks for this group are similar to early school age. However, their feelings of competence are more evident as they move towards developing a stronger sense of self (often recognise differences between self and others). Their logical thinking is advanced, and they enjoy being challenged. Often, however, they see the world from a good/bad dichotomy, and fairness becomes an issue of importance (moral development).
Teens are struggling to formulate their own identity, and attempt to be less connected to their parents and more independent than during their middle school years. Parental separation can interfere with this process. As they move from childhood to adulthood, teenagers continue to need some structure within flexible boundaries; this is a time when clarification of their own values is important. Teens have the cognitive abilities to understand the realities of their life situation.
Various parenting styles exist but they are all categorised according to three basic groups according to their characteristics. Most parents will generally have one dominant parenting style but you will most likely see aspects of your particular parenting style in all three.
Giving Orders – This is an Authoritarian Parenting Style
Parents that use this style feel they must be in control all the time. They parent by a set of rules that must be followed. Children have little or no freedom. Discipline is usually a form of reward and punishment. Children learn early to please their parents to gain a reward. They may behave because they fear their parents. Children either go along and have a hard time learning to think for themselves or they may rebel in reaction to the controlling methods of their parents.
Giving In – This is a Permissive Parenting Style
Parents who adopt this style have concerns that their children will not like them if they set limits or they see themselves as their children’s friend and not their parent who is there to guide and set limits. Children without limits have no sense of responsibility, have trouble with relationships and the rights of others and can find the world a difficult place. It is unfair to raise a child without limits or to keep changing the limits that are set. Children do not need or want freedom without limitations.
Giving Choices – This is an Authoritative Parenting Style
Today’s children will benefit most from a respectful, democratic parenting style
The days of “Do what I say without question” are over. This means seeing both parents and children as equals. Not in the sense of sameness but in value. Giving choices balances freedom with responsibilities. From an early age children can learn the consequences of their choices and that their decisions count. When children feel some ownership in their lives they are more cooperative. Parents can discipline without resorting to reward and punishment.