Program Outcomes for Parents & Families




Parents who understand how young children develop and grow and who acknowledge the individual uniqueness of each and every child can develop more positive relationships with their own children. Children who have experienced understanding from the significant adults in their lives during their developmental years are much more likely to become loving and caring adults.

It is important for parents to understand their children, their development, their needs, and their uniqueness. Parents need to understand that every child is different, not only in his or her abilities, but also in the extraordinary way that he or she sees and understands the world. When parents practice understanding, their relationships with their children generally improve and result in less conflicts as children progress through adolescence to adulthood.

Providing parents with information about child development is a highly cost-effective human service. Parenting education focused on helping parents to understand their children has been shown to enhance parents' knowledge of their personal social network who also interact more positively with their child (Stevens, 1984; Schmitt, 1987).

A great body of research has indicated that a positive relationship exists between optimum child outcomes and a parentís understanding of the process of child development, child temperament and the family environment in which a child lives. For example, Lerner (1993) found that parents who are perceptive regarding their childís individuality and the ìgoodness of fitî between a childís environment and temperament are keys to achieving successful child development outcomes.

Parents become more effective parents when they are knowledgeable about child development and childrearing, as well as the uniqueness of their own children. Researchers have found that what parents know about children's development is positively related to their ability to create homes with supportive learning environments and to their ability to interact with their children in ways that stimulate positive development. Understanding is also an important part of helping children mature into secure, fully functioning and healthy adults. Children are not likely to become caring, loving people, without benefiting from the experience of being understood by the people who are closest to them.

Belsky (1984) found that understanding parents are attuned to their children's capabilities and to the developmental tasks they face. Similarly, Powell's (1991) research demonstrated that children's intellectual performance is enhanced when mothers can make more accurate judgments about their own children's intellectual abilities. Parents' knowledge of difficult developmental phases can help them provide for their children's needs while preventing abuse.

Fulton et al. (1991) found that adolescent mothers can benefit by participating in parent education programs where the focus is on increasing their understanding of infant development. In addition, these researchers found that adolescent mothers demonstrated lower scores on a test measuring inappropriate interactions with children. Fulton et al. concluded that knowledge of child development could prevent potential child abuse.

Cook (1991) found four parental attributes contribute to improved interaction with infants. They are aware of a child's goals and needs in a problem situation; developmentally sensitive understanding of the child and developmentally appropriate childrearing responses; responsiveness to cues from the child; and providing opportunities for the child to be self-directive.

Parenting programs that focus on improving parents' ability to understand their children often help parents learn to use observation and comparison to understand their children. Researchers have found that when asked about their sources of information about their children, parents use comparisons to other children of the same age. These informal appraisals allow parents to conclude whether their child's development is typical or atypical (Glascoe and MacLean, 1990).

The extent to which parents are equipped to understand their children is often influenced by their culture, family background and generation. Parents from different cultures will respond differently to information they receive about children (Sistler and Gottfried, 1990). Cultural context does influence the way parents think about their children, their parenting goals, and values (Okagaki and Divecha, 1993). Parenting programs focused on enhancing parents' ability to understand need to help parents clarify the extent to which their own upbringing and environment influence the way they parent their children.

Parents who understand their children are likely to create an environment that challenges them, one that is neither boring because it expects too little nor distressing because it expects too much (Hunt and Paraskevopouls, 1980). Parents who understand create environment in which their children can both thrive and express their own personal style. Being aware of different children's needs for varying degrees of stimulation demonstrates the ability of a parent to understand child development (Scarr and McCartney, 1983). Parents who understand may be better prepared because of their own temperament to manage children who cry frequently and react negatively to environmental stimuli (Belsky, 1984).

The long-term effects of being raised in a home without understanding are just beginning to be understood. Researchers have found that children are generally more likely to see themselves as the cause of their parent's anger than as a source of happiness. Unfortunately, parents sometimes blame their children more frequently for their anger than for other emotions. Children may overreact to messages of parental anger, generalizing it to broad disapproval. Such tensions may contribute to a damaging family cycle of misunderstanding and hurt (Harter, 1982; Covell and Abramovitch, 1987).

The following parental behaviors can be used to develop more specific program outcome objectives based on the outcome area, Understand. Parents who understand can:

Describe the stages of physical, cognitive, and social development of childhood and adolescent development.
Appreciate the ways in which parents and children influence each other in different ways throughout childhood and adolescence.
Evaluate the reasonableness of their expectations in terms of a child's developmental level.
Create a developmentally appropriate environment for children that allows for movement, play, and creativity.
Know when children can be expected to be toilet trained, to stay at home alone, to prepare meals alone, to leave home for short periods, to go on dates, or to drive a car.
Realize that infants and preschoolers are naturally curious and active and that sitting quietly for a long time is unreasonable.
Match the difficulty of learning activities to the developmental levels of children.
Understand the basic needs of children: physical needs (sleep, food), emotional needs (love, acceptance, security, guidance, control, independence, and respect for self and others), social needs (friendship, companionship), intellectual needs (intellectual stimulation, thinking new thoughts), spiritual needs (the need to know that we are part of something bigger than ourselves), and creative needs (need to express self).
Draw on one's own childhood experiences to respond with more compassion and understanding of children.
Observe and interpret their children's behavior and use that information to make adjustments in parenting behavior.
Understand that each child is different and unique from others.
Observe their children and the purposes underlying their behavior (i.e., looking at their faces, watching their actions, listening to them, being attentive to their feelings, and identifying patterns of behavior).
Listen to nonverbal indicators as well as verbal language of children. Consider external factors that affect their children's behavior.
Evaluate their own parenting behavior and to use this insight to change their behavior.
Identify consequences of substance use and abuse (including smoking, alcohol, and drugs) for a developing fetus.
Identify the consequences of nutritional decisions for a developing fetus.


Understand reflects the capacity and ability to understand children, their development, needs and uniqueness. (Smith, et al., 1994).

Component elements

Parents who "understand" demonstrate the following practices:
Observe and understand their children and their physical, social and psychological development
Recognize how children influence and respond to what happens around (Smith, et al., 1994).

Brief summary with application to State Strengthening Projects

The State Strengthening Projects have a variety of parent education programs. Most of these programs provide parents with information about the process through which children develop into healthy adolescence and adulthood. Often, a primary goal of these programs is to help parents to apply knowledge of child development to their own childrenís unique individuality and to select developmentally appropriate parenting practices.


Belsky, J. (1984). The determinants of parenting: A process model. Child Development, 55, 83-96.

Belsky, J., & Pensky, E. (1988). Developmental history, personality, and family relationships: Toward an emergent family system. In R.A. Hinde & J. Stevenson-Hide (Eds.), Relationships within families: Mutual influences, pp. 193-217, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Lerner, J.V. (1993). The influence of child developmental characteristics on parent behaviors. In T. Luster & L. Okagaki (Eds.), Parenting: An ecological perspective (pp. 101-120). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Okagaki, L., & Divecha, D. J. (1993). Development of parental beliefs. In Luster & Okagaki (Eds.), Parenting: an ecological perspective, pp. 35-67, Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Schmitt, B. D. (1987). Seven deadly sins of childhood: Advising parents about difficult developmental phases. Child Abuse & Neglect, 11, 421-432.

Smith, C. A., Cudaback, D., Goddard, H. W., Myers-Walls, J. A. (1994). National Extension Parent Education Model of Critical Parenting Practices. Manhattan, KS: Kansas Cooperative Extension Service.

Stevens, J.H., Jr. (1984). Child development knowledge and parenting skills, Family Relations, 33, 237-244.

Vondra, J., & Belsky, J. (1993). Developmental origins of parenting: Personality and relationship factors. In Luster & Okagaki (Eds.), Parenting: An ecological perspective, pp. 1-33, Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.



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