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The Big Answer


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Social Development: Psychological Growth And The Parent-Child Relationship

a book by Eleanor E. Maccoby

(our site's book review)

Maccoby reiterates the significance of Baumrind’s fine parenting research in finding that the highest levels of social and cognitive competence in children related to authoritative parenting and not to authoritarian or permissive parenting. She offers the possibility that if adolescents were raised authoritatively when younger, then a less demanding and more democratic parenting style will probably suffice as children age. (Since it has been demonstrated time and again that permissive parenting is among the least effective methods known, we feel it would be well if we translated her suggestion into more helpful terms: If kids had authoritative parenting with the use of either punishment or the use of logical consequences—or both—then in adolescence it may be appropriate and effective to drop both the punishments and the logical consequences and use harmonious parenting, which we’re defining as nonpunitive authoritative parenting minus logical consequences. Or just use P.E.T..)

Throughout Maccoby’s study, she refers to the expectations we have of children by the use of the term “demand.” Expectation would have been a more accurate word, and conservative prejudices may be exposed here in her and in Baumrind. But this is not to knock the usefulness and scholarship of this fine study. It’s just a heads-up about using biased terminology reflecting anachronistic beliefs about child-raising: such terms set up a slanted context from the get-go.

Maccoby shows that restrictive parenting that inhibits exploration or authoritarian parenting that inhibits action is harmful: the kids of restrictive parents were timid and lacking in persistence, while the kids of the authoritarian parents had a whole panoply of problems related to aggression, social and cognitive competence, impulsiveness, etc. “Restrictive” is used here to mean parenting in which limits on the child’s behavior are emphasized.

Children of democratic and/or authoritative families had lots of open communication and tended to be independent, competent, cheerful, self-controlled, socially responsible, planful, fearless, interactive and high in self-esteem.

When mothers (or fathers) are responsive to their babies, the babies become securely attached and are able to securely explore and adventure; i.e., Maslow’s basic thesis about maturity and autonomy factors has been confirmed once again.

When mothers (or fathers) are responsive to their babies, the babies become securely attached and are able to securely explore and adventure
When mothers (or fathers) are responsive to their babies, the babies become securely attached and are able to securely explore and adventure

A responsive human environment is one of the basic prerequisites for attaining a sense of control and feeling at cause rather than at effect. This diminishes fear and empowers, since situations are not about what happens to one, but about the events one participates in and interacts with. On the other hand, the author points out that: “. . . if parents respond to their own schedules rather than to the child’s signals, the child will suffer a sense of loss of control—what Seligman (1975) has called ‘learned helplessness.’ If this situation occurs consistently, the child is likely to become increasingly apathetic, passive, and even depressed.” This indicates the need for cooperative childcare, alternate nurturer availability, and flat-gradient nurturance, so children will not be at effect of one person’s schedule. (This defines how MCs work.)

Children's basic emotional and social skills are dropping in over 40 indicators—they're more nervous, irritable, sulky, moody, depressed, lonely, impulsive and disobedient
Children's basic emotional and social skills are dropping in over 40 indicators—they're more nervous, irritable, sulky, moody, depressed, lonely, impulsive and disobedient; but responsive human environments are ones in which loving adults interact with kids regularly—which is becoming more and more rare

Maccoby acknowledges Mark Lepper’s findings that intrinsic interest in activities is diminished when parental pressures to do it taint it and give it an extrinsic slant. She mentions studies that show that parents who are suggestive rather than directive help preserve their kids’ intrinsic interest, improve their kids’ test scores for academic activities, and improve their kids’ persistence and autonomy.

It was shown that when parents and kids share the same values, they have much fewer conflicts and there are fewer needs to control or resort to win-lose solutions. (The intrinsically win-win nature of such families is much like the character of MC families in that shared MC values will allow people to feel like they are in a win-win situation working toward a common goal, one which younger members emulate because of the good examples of older members who have obviously been made happy and fulfilled by such values. The core reasons for conflict are diminished and the core reasons for cooperation are enhanced in MCs, especially since the flat-gradient nurturance strategies have established a natural win-win context about all relationships. No one needs to lose when another person wins, sibling rivalry isn't generated, and kids are given a frequent context of choice about whom they are with. See Why Register for an MC?.)

Registering for MC search and match
Registering for MC search and match


Parental warmth binds kids to parents in a positive way that makes children responsive and more apt to accept guidance
Parental warmth binds kids to parents in a positive way that makes children responsive and more apt to accept guidance

Maccoby concludes that parental warmth binds kids to parents in a positive way that makes children responsive and more apt to accept guidance. Less disciplinary pressure (authoritarianism) is needed and authoritative-based guidance suffices to keep kids’ behavior within accepted limits.

She endorses the ideas, work and books of Dr. Thomas Gordon of P.E.T. fame, encouraging adoption of his I-messages rather than you-messages, etc., as a way to emphasize win-win conflict resolution via helping the child empathize with the person who owns the problem the child has made. She also endorses Gordon’s and Ginott’s adoption of an active listening position in which negative feelings can be heard and acknowledged rather than stifled or punished or criticized. Note that Gordon’s thinking is antithetical to the concept of “demands,” and yet she both resorts to that word a lot and fully supports his harmonious, humanistic, nonpunitive thinking in the parenting area. This confirms that she means "expectations" when she says "demands."