The term parenting refers to the process of raising a child, usually from birth up until adulthood. A child’s biological parents typically assume the parenting role and the majority of responsibility associated with raising a child. However, other individuals including stepparents, grandparents, foster parents, older siblings, adoptive parents, and other relatives may also be involved or even assume the primary role in parenting. The process of parenting involves providing education to children to teach them right from wrong and to foster their growth and maturation.
Parenting has been a topic of interest to researchers for decades. In particular, researchers who study child development have examined the relationship between parenting and child behavior. Many of these researchers have determined that it is more helpful to look at overall parenting styles than individual behaviors such as yelling as a form of discipline or playing games with their children. Parenting styles refer to a set of similar practices and strategies that parents use when attending to and disciplining their child. These styles incorporate two important components, responsiveness and demandingness. Parental responsiveness, also known as parental warmth, refers to how parents nurture and support their child’s growth, individuality, and specific needs. Parental demandingness, which can also be referred to as behavioral control, describes the nature of the responsibilities that parents place on their child. For instance, some parents set high standards and expectations for their children, while other parents have few standards and expectations.
The manner in which parents help their child develop is predictive of child behavior and emotional functioning. In particular, the four parenting styles of authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, and uninvolved have been found to be related to specific outcomes in children. Therefore, numerous parent-training programs have been developed for diverse populations to target parenting styles. Research demonstrates that these programs are effective at improving parenting and reducing child behavior problems. As a result, parent-training programs are becoming more widely available and are used for prevention as well as early intervention in and treatment of child mental health problems.
Diana Baumrind conducted research on parenting styles by watching parents interact with their preschool-age children. Based on these observations, she identified three different parenting styles that describe and categorize parents based on both parental responsiveness and demandingness. She referred to these styles as authoritative, authoritarian, and permissive. Later Eleanor Maccoby and John Martin developed a fourth style, uninvolved or neglectful parenting. All of these styles are based on the assumption that parents’ main responsibilities are to influence, teach, and manage their children. It is also important to note that all four styles are used to describe typical differences in all types of parenting and are not generally used to describe abusive parenting.
According to Baumrind’s description, an authoritative or democratic parent is both responsive and demanding. Specifically, an authoritative parent is firm when necessary to enforce rules, but does so in the context of a warm and loving environment. These parents are able to recognize their child’s individual needs, opinions, personality traits, and interests. Therefore, although authoritative parents monitor their children and have very clear rules and expectations, they are not overly intrusive or restrictive. They typically make reasonable demands on their child, given their child’s age and developmental level. For instance, authoritative parents would encourage family discus-sions and value their child’s point of view.
Baumrind used the term authoritarian to describe parents who use a lot of behavioral control. However, this type of parent uses this control without the warmth characteristic of an authoritative parent. Authoritarian parents are similar to dictators in that they value and demand complete obedience in their children and believe that children should be kept in their place. This type of parent places many responsibilities on their child and does not allow the child to make individual choices or decisions. Furthermore, an authoritarian parent may restrict discussions because of the belief that children should accept whatever their parents tell them.
According to Baumrind, a permissive, or indulgent parent, describes a parent who is warm but does not use behavioral control. Permissive parents are considered lenient because they do not place many responsibilities on their children and avoid exercising any form of power or control. Instead, permissive parents often try to reason with their children when the children misbehave. Children of permissive parents are essentially allowed to roam free and do whatever they desire. For instance, children of permissive parents may be able to eat whatever food they want and stay up as late as they want at night. These parents place few, if any, demands on their children and tend to avoid confrontations.
Maccoby and Martin added uninvolved parenting as a fourth style to describe individuals who are not particularly warm or demanding. Specifically, these parents place few expectations on their children and often do not respond to their child’s needs. In general, these parents do not put much energy into child care beyond the effort required to provide for the child’s basic needs (i.e., food, shelter). These parents often show little interest in and commitment to parenting. Sometimes this lack of interest and commitment results from issues such as parental depression, stress, and substance abuse that prevent the parent from assuming a more active role in parenting. Uninvolved parents can be indifferent to their responsibilities as parents and even rejecting or neglectful in extreme cases.
Parenting Styles and Child Behavior
Parenting styles are important, because studies demonstrate strong relationships between parenting styles and child outcomes. Specifically, Baumrind and other researchers have found that these different parenting styles can be used to predict both child and adolescent behavior and adjustment. Therefore, researchers have learned which styles are associated with positive outcomes and have even developed interventions to change parenting styles.
Children of Authoritative Parents
Research demonstrates desirable outcomes in children and adolescents of authoritative parents. They seem to be assured by both their parents’ love and their parents’ discipline. Typically, these children are well adjusted socially. They often have high self-esteem and perform well academically. Additionally, as a whole, they tend to have well-developed morals and few disruptive behavior problems.
Children of Authoritarian Parents
Research shows that children and adolescents of authoritarian parents often exhibit many behavior problems. Additionally, children of authoritarian parents tend to have poorer social skills, lower self-esteem, and higher rates of depression than other children. However, these children tend to display satisfactory academic performance.
Children of Permissive Parents
Studies suggest that children and adolescents of permissive parents often have more behavior problems and lower academic achievement than other children. However, these children tend to have better social skills, a higher self-esteem, and fewer depressive symptoms than other children. Overall, these children tend to be immature, disobedient, rebellious, and overly dependent on adults.
Children of Uninvolved Parents
Research shows that children and adolescents of uninvolved parents are at an increased risk for many negative outcomes. For instance, these children often have psychological and behavioral problems such as delinquent behavior, a low frustration tolerance, and poor emotional regulation. Additionally, they tend to have problems functioning socially and academically.
Given the importance of parenting for child behavior, many treatment programs have been developed with the goals of improving parenting and reducing child behavior problems. In particular, parent training programs have been developed to address the two main components of parenting styles, parental responsiveness and parental demandingness. Specifically, parents learn how to enhance their relationship with their child while increasing their expectations and standards. There are many different approaches and formats used in parent training; therefore, this entry only includes a general overview of parent training as well as brief descriptions of several programs.
Parent training, a behavioral intervention, teaches parents skills and techniques they can use to modify their child’s behavior. Historically, parent training has been primarily used in the treatment of child externalizing disorders such as oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), conduct disorder (CD), and attention deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD). However, parent-training programs also have been modified to help treat other childhood disorders, including anxiety, depression, and autism.
Parent-training programs have changed over time. Early programs emphasized specific behavioral skills such as how to positively reinforce their children and use time-out. Gerald Patterson was one of the first persons to develop a complete program for families of antisocial children. Patterson’s program was based on his theory that child disruptive behavior relates to the child’s interactions with other members of the family. Specifically, Patterson’s coercion hypothesis suggests that children who use disruptive behavior to get their way with adults will continue to escalate their disruptive behavior as long as the parent gives in to the child. Patterson’s hypothesis also states that parents who try unsuccessfully to manage their child’s disruptive behavior will develop more coercive parenting techniques such as nagging and temper outbursts. Therefore, Patterson developed a program to teach parents to give commands, use positive reinforcement for compliance, and enforce consequences by using a time-out. Later Constance Hanf developed a two-stage model that placed a greater emphasis on enhancing the parent-child relationship. The first phase of Hanf’s program focused on parental responsiveness by teaching parents to play with their children, provide positive attention for desirable behaviors, and ignore negative behaviors. The second phase of Hanf’s model focused on parental demandingness. In this phase, parents learned how to give effective instructions and use time-out for noncompliance. Hanf’s two-stage model has been adapted by many researchers for use with different populations.
Applications of Parent Training
There are many different applications of parent training. These applications use different formats (e.g., group or individual sessions) and approaches to parent training (e.g., videotape modeling, coaching). In addition, these applications vary in the childhood problems they target and the appropriate child age range for treatment. The following is a brief description of several well-known and research-supported parenting-training programs.
Forehand and McMahon
Rex Forehand and Robert McMahon developed one of the first applications of parent training, a program called Helping the Noncompliant Child, based on Hanf’s two-stage model. This treatment targeted parents of children ages 3 to 7 with disruptive behavior problems. This treatment typically was implemented individually and could be completed in about 10 weekly sessions. In the first phase of this program, parents were coached to use skills to strengthen the parent-child relationship, including providing specific praise for behaviors that they wanted their child to exhibit and ignoring or using selective attention for behaviors that they wanted their child to stop exhibiting. In the second phase, parents learned how to give direct commands and use time-out for noncompliance.
Parent-Child Interaction Therapy
Parent-child interaction therapy (PCIT), a parent training program also based on the Hanf two-stage model, was developed by Sheila Eyberg. PCIT was used originally to treat children ages 2 to 7 with disruptive behavior problems, but it has now been extended to other populations, including parents who are physically abusive, children with separation anxiety, and children with developmental delays. PCIT contains two phases: child-directed interaction (CDI) and parent-directed interaction (PDI). In CDI, parents learn skills to increase their warmth and responsiveness through playing with their child. In PDI, parents learn to manage defiant and disruptive behaviors through giving effective instructions and using time-out for noncompliance. Both phases are taught by a therapist who coaches the parents while they play with their child using a bug-in-the-ear microphone device. PCIT is assessment-driven in that parent progression from CDI to PDI as well as termination from the program are based on child and parent mastery of skills as determined by weekly coding of parent-child interactions.
Incredible Years Parent Program
The incredible years parent program, developed by Carolyn Webster-Stratton, is another program designed for parents of young children with disruptive behavior problems. This program, also based on Hanf’s model, is appropriate for parents of children ages 2 to 8 with either ODD or CD. The program uses a group format to teach parents behavioral skills through observing and discussing videotapes that depict parent-child interactions.
Russell Barkley developed another program, similar to others based on the Hanf model, specifically to address the needs of parents of children with AD/HD. Barkley’s program, typically completed in 9 to 12 sessions, is flexible, because it can be used in a group or individual format. In addition to learning behavior management skills, parents in this program are educated about AD/HD. This program can be used in combination with other treatments such as medication and social skills training.
Triple P Program
The triple P or positive parenting program was developed by Matt Sanders for parents of newborns to children 12 years old. This program differs from the other programs described above, because it is a prevention program. Therefore, parents learn behavioral management skills designed to prevent the onset of childhood emotional, behavioral, and developmental problems. The triple P program has different levels based on the focus of treatment. For example, the program is different when it is used with parents of infants than when it is used with parents of preadolescents. Also, the program varies depending on whether it targets parents in the general population or specific parents with children at risk for behavioral problems.
Common Sense Parenting
Common sense parenting is another parenting program used with a wide range of children, specifically ages 2 to 16. This program was developed to emphasize effective behavioral management techniques used by Girls and Boys Town, a nonprofit organization that specializes in treating children who have been abused or neglected. Components of a typical session of this program include review, instruction, modeling, practice and feedback, and summary.
Functional Family Therapy
Functional family therapy (FFT), a family-based prevention and intervention program developed by James Alexander and Bruce Parsons, was designed to target the needs of older children, specifically youth ages 10 through 18. FFT emphasizes parent and adolescent communication in parents of youth with a variety of problems, including substance abuse and CD. Also, this approach can be used to treat youth who are at risk for these and other behavioral problems.
Systematic Training for Effective Parenting
Systematic training for effective parenting (STEP), a nine-session skills-based parenting program developed by Don Dinkmeyer and Gary McKay, is based on the work of Alfred Adler and Rudolf Dreikurs. Some of the specific skills taught to parents in STEP include learning to understand the behavior and misbehavior of children, provide encouragement, improve parent-child communication, hold family meetings, apply natural and logical consequences to child misbehavior, and improve parental confidence.
- Baumrind, D. (1967). Child care practices anteceding three patterns of preschool behavior. Genetic Psychology Monographs, 75, 43-88.
- Briesmeister, J. M., & Schaefer, C. E. (Eds.). (1998). Handbook of parent training: Parents as co-therapists for children’s behavior problems (2nd ed.). New York: Wiley.
- Maccoby, E. E., & Martin, J. A. (1983). Socialization in the context of the family: Parent-child interaction. In P. H. Mussen (Series Ed.) & E. M. Hetherington (Vol. Ed.), Handbook of child psychology: Vol. 4. Socialization, personality, and social development (pp. 1-101). New York: Wiley.
- Patterson, G. R. (1982). Coercive family process. Eugene, OR: Castalia.