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The Big Answer


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Harmonious Parents And Their Preschool Children

an article in Developmental Psychology by Diana Baumrind

(our site's article review)

This article is mostly speculative (and admits it) and its conclusions tentative, since the sample was so small and unusual and the plans of many of these families were similar but weird: they were “preparing themselves for communal living.” Prospective commune dwelling families with a total of eight kids makes for shaky science, if one is looking for statistical significance. Further, this is not one of Baumrind’s better pieces—it lacks insight and it is misleading.

It purports to show a new parenting style called harmonious. (It was 1971 and commune interest was high, but what does this have to do with the 21st century—decades after the commune experiments had proven themselves to be miserable failures?) The parents seemed to be in control, but the parents never seemed to exercise control, so this baffled the investigators. But the fact that the parents were wealthy and well educated was given only token relevance, and the fact that the families “focused upon achieving a quality of harmony in the home, and upon developing principles for resolving differences and for right living” rather than focusing on who is controlling whom like most families did was likewise given short shrift. The fact that P.E.T. had just the year before become a well-recognized mainstream parenting method that concentrated on developing principles for resolving differences (win-win conflict resolution) and achieving harmony in the home without resorting to win-lose control and power games (essentially defining itself as harmonious in Baumrind terms) was never even mentioned. Harmonious parents used natural but not logical consequences—just like P.E.T.

The results of this type of parenting was to produce “extraordinarily competent” girls but since there were only two boys, one cannot make much of the fact that they were cooperative, but aimless, dependent and not achievement oriented (probably due to the absorption of counterculture values against the “establishment rat-race,” one would assume, although this was not mentioned, even though she mentioned that two families had “dropped out” of their class status).

Later reporters of this Baumrind research (e.g., George Lakoff and Catherine Lewis) boiled her results down to essentials whereby authoritative and harmonious parenting got essentially the same good competency results in kids, with insignificant differences except less controlling by harmonious parents and logical consequences being rejected as a disciplinary method, even though authoritative parents used this technique often. Lewis concluded that this was simply more evidence to support her (Lewis’) position that the control exercised by authoritative parents wasn’t needed since similar results can be gotten without it. Consult our comments on the Catherine C. Lewis article on The Effects of Parental Firm Control for more about this issue, and read the other Baumrind article comments.