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A version of this chapter appears in the Handbook of Resilience in Children edited - page 2 / 18

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R. Brooks:  The Power of Parenting                                                                              

A more inclusive definition of resilience that embraces all youngsters encourages us to consider and adopt parenting practices that are essential for preparing children for success and satisfaction in their future lives.  A guiding principle in each interaction parents have with children should be to strengthen their ability to meet life’s challenges with thoughtfulness, confidence, purpose, responsibility, empathy, and hope.  These qualities may be subsumed under the concept of resilience.  The development of a resilient mindset, which will be described in detail later in this chapter, is not rooted in the number of adversities experienced by a child, but rather in particular skills and a positive attitude that caregivers reinforce in a child.

Do Parents Have a Major Influence on the Development of Resilience in Their Children?

Many people, convinced of the profound influence that parents exert on a child’s development and resilience, might wonder why it is necessary to pose this question.  However, the answer is not as clearcut as many may believe (Goldstein & Brooks, 2003).

In her book The Nurture Assumption, Harris (1998) presented evidence to suggest that the extended environment outside of the home, particularly the impact of peers, explained much of the non-genetic differences in human behavioral traits.  Though some have lauded Harris for her contribution to the field of child development, she has also been widely criticized by professionals who have interpreted her conclusions as suggesting that parents are inconsequential players in their children’s lives (Pinker, 2002).

However, Harris’ position may be interpreted not as a dismissal of the influence of parents, but rather as a call to be more precise in understanding the impact of parents on the present and ultimately, future lives of their children.  Pinker (2002), citing a number of studies of fraternal and identical twins reared together or apart, contends that it is not that parents don’t matter; they in fact matter a great deal.  It’s that over the long term, parent behavior does not appear to significantly influence a child’s intelligence or personality.  

The position taken in this chapter is that even if those personality qualities in a child attributed to parental influence are in a statistical equation much smaller than previously assumed, they may in the daily lives of children be the difference in determining whether or not a child succeeds in school, develops satisfying peer relationships, or overcomes a developmental or behavioral impairment.  Parents possess enormous influence in the lives of their children.  Data suggesting that a particular parenting style may play a minimal role in intelligence or personality development does not absolve parents of their responsibility to raise their children in moral, ethical, and humane ways.  The quality of daily parent-child relationships makes a vital difference in the behavior and adjustment of children.  As Sheridan, Dowd, and Eagle (2004) note, “The development of resiliency and healthy adjustment among children is enhanced through empathetic family involvement practices” (p. this volume).

Not surprisingly, the impact of parental behavior on children is less debatable when the behavior in question is inappropriate, humiliating, or abusive compared with that which is positive or benign.  For example, Jaffee (2004) has highlighted the devastating effects on a child’s emotional well-being and resilience when confronted with parents who have a history of mental disorder and also engage in violent and abusive behavior.  Kumpfer and Alvarado (2003), emphasizing the significance of parental behavior write:

The probability of a youth acquiring developmental problems increases rapidly

as risk factors such as family conflict, lack of parent-child bonding,

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