Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Parent-Child Relationship Forms the Foundation of Self-Control

We all want to have a close, respectful relationship with our children, but in our day-to-day parenting duties, we may forget that this relationship is also helping our children development self-control. More and more research is revealing the important link between close parent-child relationships and the development of self-control in young children. One recent study in particular examined children from infancy to age 4, with the goal of understanding the association between their closeness with their parents and their degree self-control. The results showed that children who had a close, mutually responsive relationship with their parents were much more likely to exhibit higher degrees of qualities such as self-control, self-regulation, patience, and deliberation.

As a parent of a 2 year-old, I find the results of this study encouraging. Although 2 year-olds are not known for their self-control and patience, over the months I have seen my son slowly learning these skills. It is easy to see how a close parent-child relationship can contribute to these skills. Once a child feels that their parent understands their needs, will strive to meet them, and respects their feelings, a certain level of trust develops between parent and child. When this trust is firmly established, the child is much more likely to comply with the parents requests, even if it is difficult, because they trust that what the parent tells them is in their own best interest.

On a related point, this study also showed that parents who develop a close, mutually responsive relationship with their child in the first two years of life are also less likely to use forceful discipline when the child is a toddler or preschooler. Children in these close relationships respond quickly to parents requests without the threat of force because they have come to trust in their parents’ care and respect for them. This is very important news in light of the recent well-publicized study of spanking in which many parents were found to spank their children for seemingly minor misbehaviors. Research has continued to show that frequent exposure to this type of forceful discipline (i.e., corporal punishment) actually has the opposite of its intended effect—children tend to comply less and begin to show even more disruptive behavior.

This research is another good reminder that the strong, close relationships we, as parents, development with our children early in their lives really do have a lasting impact. This fact may be hard to remember when your toddler is testing your patience multiple times a day, but when you take the time to try to understand and meet their needs, you are laying the foundation for a harmonious relationship that will reap benefits for you and your child years later.

Photo credit
Kochanska G, Aksan N, Prisco TR, & Adams EE (2008). Mother-child and father-child mutually responsive orientation in the first 2 years and children's outcomes at preschool age: mechanisms of influence. Child development, 79 (1), 30-44 PMID: 18269507
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