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,
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
||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
||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
||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).
"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.
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