Pediatric Annals

Parenting: A Developmental Process

Alma S Friedman; David Belais Friedman, MD

Abstract

An introduction to parenting and parent development is presented, with a review and outlines of child and family development.

Abstract

An introduction to parenting and parent development is presented, with a review and outlines of child and family development.

Children are not the only members of the family who grow and develop. Mothers and fathers also progress through definite stages of development in their role as parents. Parents appear to pass through five stages of emotional growth and development. Each stage is itself a reflection of the major problems in the child's development with which the parents are grappling. The stages are not rigidly defined or contained. The adults may not have completely resolved the issues of one phase when the next one begins. These unresolved issues may be complicating factors in subsequent development. It is the early development that lays the groundwork for later progress. Because the stages have meaning only as they are considered in relation to the individual child's development, parents must of necessity go through the same developmental stages with each child. Past experiences may modify or distort the stages to some extent, but the sequence remains the same.

These stages have been observed in a wide variety of sociocultural settings and ethnic groups, as well as in single-parent families, and the basic concept appears to be universal. Mothers and fathers both progress through the same stages, each in relation to his or her own temperament, personality, and developmental patterns. In present-day families in this country, the role definitions of mother and father are not as clear-cut as in the traditional American family. Actually, the important factors are the dynamic interactions within the extended family group that affect the development of each member of the group. The five stages of parent development are outlined in Table 1.

Table

TABLE 1CHILD AND PARENT DEVELOPMENT

TABLE 1

CHILD AND PARENT DEVELOPMENT

LEARNING THE CUES (TABLE 2)

Many an infant that screams like a calliope Could be soothed by a little attention to its diope.

Ogden Nash

During the earliest months of their baby's life, the parents' most bewildering problem is to find out what their youngster is trying to tell them. The infant is completely dependent on them for his relatively simple needs - food, fondling, physical care. Throughout this phase, which Erikson calls the period of "trust," babies need to establish confidence in their parents and in their environment. This trust will provide the foundation for further development. Spock comments that infants are "physically helpless and emotionally agreeable." However, some babies are difficult to understand. In addition, some parents have difficulty interpreting the individual cues by which their infant tries to express needs. Does the baby cry because of hunger, fatigue, or a wet diaper, or is he or she just plain spoiled? This inability to interpret needs may occur because the infant is particularly difficult to read or has a problem. It may occur because of parental inexperience or discomfort in the parenting role. It may occur because the parent's temperament or personality is not in tune with a particular infant. Sometimes there is a family problem that interferes with a parent-infant relationship.

Table

TABLE 2PARENT-CHILD DEVELOPMENTSTAGE 1: INFANT

TABLE 2

PARENT-CHILD DEVELOPMENT

STAGE 1: INFANT

The young mother of a six-month-old infant was perturbed because the child screamed constantly. She tried to follow advice, but her baby continued to cry. On one visit to her pediatrician, she was encouraged to talk about herself. She said, "My sister lives with us. She has a job and helps support us. She has always done everything better than I. When she holds the baby, he never cries; so I let her take care of him whenever I can." Jealousy of her sister was very evident in her tone. When she had finished telling her story, she got up without waiting for the baby to be examined, expressed her thanks to the pediatrician, and marched out of the office. A month later she returned. Laughingly, she explained that she had gone home, "told her sister off," and started taking care of the baby herself. The child had stopped crying except when hungry or uncomfortable, and the mother could clearly interpret these needs.

This mother had been blocked from "learning the cues" because she had carried over into her relationship with her child her negative feelings regarding her sister. When she recognized these feelings, she was able to develop a good relationship with her baby and meet his needs more adequately.

Table

TABLE 3PARENT-CHILD DEVELOPMENTSTAGE 2: TODDLER

TABLE 3

PARENT-CHILD DEVELOPMENT

STAGE 2: TODDLER

LEARNING TO ACCEPT GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT (TABLE 3)

The trouble with a kitten is that Eventually it becomes a cat.

Ogden Nash

Toddlers have gained motility and begin to assert their independence. Erikson calls this the period of "autonomy," since it represents the earliest development of self-reliance and self-control. Spock speaks of "a sense of his own individuality and will power" and "vacillation between dependence and independence." Of course, toddlers continue to need love and attention, but many parents who "just love babies" find it difficult or impossible to tolerate the toddler who climbs into closets and bookshelves, tears up books and magazines, and breaks the family heirlooms. He is "so cute, but . . . !"

The parents of the toddler are called on to enter a new phase of maturity. They must learn to accept the growth of their child and some loss of control while maintaining sensible and necessary limits. Failure to accept growth and this beginning loss of control may result in acute discomfort on the part of the parents, and failure to set necessary limits may jeopardize the safety of the child, both physically and emotionally.

The mother of a two-year-old boy complained that he would not eat and that he got into everything, including her most prized possessions. She stated that she had tried everything from rewards to spankings, but nothing helped. Her pediatrician assured her that all children "go through this stage," but she appeared unimpressed. She pleaded for a sedative. In response to a suggestion that she share her own childhood feelings and experiences, she told the pediatrician that she had been the older of two children and had always felt that her brother was the favored child. He had grown into a ne'er-do-well. She blamed her mother for having spoiled him.

As she spoke, this mother appeared to begin to see how this disturbed relationship with her brother was affecting her relationship with her child. She began to recognize her concern for her child's behavior and the reason for her own inability to control it. At the end of the visit, she forgot to repeat her request for sedation. The insight she had gained seemed to help this mother through her second stage of parent development, and she was able to learn to accept some loss of control while maintaining necessary limits.

LEARNING TO SEPARATE (TABLE 4)

But joy in heaping measure comes

To children whose parents are under their thumbs.

Ogden Nash

We are accustomed to speaking of the separation anxiety of the two-year-old child as he or she approaches the outside world and friendships. The separation is equally difficult for parents. Mothers and fathers are told that they must allow their children to assert themselves, to show initiative; at the same time, they are told that they must set limits. Understandably, parents ask, "How do we encourage initiative in our children? Must we let them run the family? If not, what do you mean by 'sensible' limits?"

The preschool child has gained considerable independence. Erikson calls this the stage of "initiative." The healthy child continues to develop trust and positive feelings toward parents and parent substitutes while gaining further assertiveness and feelings of autonomy. Spock speaks of "imitation through admiration." In addition, the preschool child has an active fantasy life and fears are a common phenomenon, but he develops functional pleasure through mastery of these fears. Preschool children may have difficulty separating from their parents, but this is often reinforced by the difficulty parents have in separating from their offspring.

Table

TABLE 4PARENT-CHILD DEVELOPMENTSTAGE 3: PRESCHOOLER

TABLE 4

PARENT-CHILD DEVELOPMENT

STAGE 3: PRESCHOOLER

Parents can cope with this new phase of their child's development if they can begin to separate emotionally from their child and to encourage this new initiative in his potential for growth and development. In setting limits, parents can differentiate between feelings and actions by setting limits on their child's actions but not necessarily on his feelings. "You have a perfect right to get angry, but I won't let you hit me"; "I love you, but I don't like what you're doing." Parents can model necessary standards as separate persons while actively involving the child in family action, communication, and decision making.

The parents of a girl, two and a half years of age, complained that their youngster was very demanding, high-strung, and clinging and that she had frequent temper tantrums. Their pediatrician had told them that the youngster needed to have firm limits set. But the parents commented, "We never give in to her tantrums; still she screams whenever she's thwarted, and she still clings to us all the time." The child appeared to be a happy, outgoing little girl. As the visit progressed, the parents revealed early feelings of resentment towards the child, whom they had not wanted. Their sense of guilt had led them to overcompensate by smothering the child with affection and never setting limits or allowing the child to separate from them and develop independently.

When given an opportunity to air their feelings, the parents of this two-and-a-halfyear-old girl seemed to gain considerable insight. The problem that had appeared to belong to the child they now saw as their own. Within a few weeks after the opportunity to talk, they reported that the tantrums and clinging behavior had ceased. Improvement in the child had proved impossible until the parents had achieved the third stage of parent development, the ability to separate. This enabled them to allow and encourage the ageappropriate development of their youngster.

LEARNING TO ACCEPT REJECTION WITHOUT DESERTING (TABLE 5)

Children aren't happy with nothing to ignore And that's what parents were created for.

Ogden Nash

The school-aged child learns to win recognition by performing and producing results. Erikson terms this the stage of "industry or work completion." On entering school, the boy or girl begins to manifest overt independence of parents and parental standards. Spock describes the "middle-aged child's" efforts to fit into the outside group and to move away from parents. He mentions the child's strict conscience, his or her attempts to control and make moral aggressive and sexual drives. Piaget delineates the ways in which the social life of children gives rise to an inner discipline. The parents of the child of school age must learn to accept what may seem to them to be total rejection by their offspring.

Table

TABLE 5PARENT-CHILD DEVELOPMENTSTAGE 4: SCHOOL-AGER

TABLE 5

PARENT-CHILD DEVELOPMENT

STAGE 4: SCHOOL-AGER

Parents react to the child's declaration of independence in a variety of ways. They may feel hurt, disappointed, or angry - even to the point of deserting their youngster, emotionally or even physically. Despite their appearance of self-assuredness, middle-aged children still need plenty of parental support; but the support must be given unobtrusively and with understanding, and it must be accompanied by respect for the child's feelings and his pride.

The parents of an eight-year-old girl complained that their child had become withdrawn, unhappy, and unable to get along with her friends and younger siblings. Since entering school, the child had been seen by a child psychologist and the parents had been offered advice and reassurance, but to no avail. When the mother began to talk about her own childhood, she described her poor relationship with her own mother, her pride in the wonderful relationship she had built with her daughter, and the hurt she was feeling now that this daughter appeared to be rejecting her. The father described a similar background and similar feelings. A discussion of the need for school-aged children to reject parental control and standards as a step towards self-discipline and self-control helped these parents cope with their feelings of rejection and to develop a more realistic relationship with their child. The youngster responded to her parents' mastering the fourth stage of parent development by becoming more socially responsive both at school and at home.

LEARNING TO BUILD A NEW LIFE (TABLE 6)

O adolescence!

I'd like to be present I must confess

When thine own adolescents adolesce!

Ogden Nash

The fifth stage of parent development is the stage of learning to build a new life, having been thoroughly discredited by one's teenager. Erikson wrote of the adolescent's problem as one of "identity versus role diffusion" - the struggle of the teenager to find himself. The action and reasoning of the teenager as he struggles to develop a sense of ego identity may seem irrational to adults. The teenager's experimentation with communication and relationships and his development of reality sense through reality testing may be very hard on parents. Spock described the adolescent as having a keen sense of fair play but as definitely "peer oriented." He believes that appropriate parental inhibition fosters idealism in the teenager.

Table

TABLE 6PARENT-CHILD DEVELOPMENTSTAGE 5: TEENAGER

TABLE 6

PARENT-CHILD DEVELOPMENT

STAGE 5: TEENAGER

A teenager home from college for Christmas vacation approached his father with a number of unreasonable requests. The fourth request was for a stereo system for the teenager's car. The father hemmed and hawed and suggested that the teenager use some of his own money and that he, his father, would make a contribution and together they would solve the teenager's problem. The teenager stopped his father in the middle of the last sentence and pointed his finger at him - "Don't you ever say 'no'?"

This phase, like the preceding ones, calls for a new stage of parental development. The ideal parent of a teenager (which, of course, no one can ever be) provides a self-reliant yet communicative model for the teenager to tilt with and a well-structured yet somewhat flexible environment for the teenager to struggle within and to work out acceptance of self, social skills, and identity. Parents can best cope with this by rebuilding their own lives more or less independently of their children. By themselves adjusting to changing family roles and relationships, parents provide a positive model and climate for the teenager struggling to establish his own identity and meaningful social relationships.

In summary, then, parents progress through definite stages of development. In stage I, "learning the cues," the parents learn to interpret the infant's needs. In stage II, "learning to accept growth and development," the parents learn to accept some loss of control while maintaining necessary limits. In stage III, "learning to separate," the parents learn to allow the child independent development while modeling necessary standards. In stage IV, "learning to accept rejection without deserting," the parents learn to be there when needed without intruding unnecessarily. In stage V - "learning to build a new life, having been thoroughly discredited by one's teenager" - the parents learn to adjust to changing family roles and relationships during and after the teenager's struggle to establish an identity.

Children enter the world with their own biologic traits and temperaments, which interact with the traits and temperaments of their parents and important others in their environment. In this process, how parents feel about themselves is probably the most important determinant of their child's maturation and development. Parents who have a healthy self-image and positive self-esteem usually progress relatively smoothly and comfortably through the five stages of parent development. This helps their children to develop for themselves a healthy self-image and appropriate self-esteem, which serve them in good stead as they raise their own children.

GENERAL REFERENCES

Benedek. T. Parenthood during the life cycle. In Anthony. E. J., and Benedek. T. (eds.). Parenthood: Its Psychology and Psychopathology. Boston: Little. Brown and Company, 1970.

Brazelton, T. B. Infants and Mothers. New York: Delacorte Press/ Seymour Lawrence. 1969.

Brazelton, T. B. Toddlers and Parents. New York: Delacorte Press/ Seymour Lawrence. 1974.

Brown, S. Family experience and change. In Friedman, R. (ed). Family Roots of School Learning and Behavior Disorders. Springfield. Ill.: Charles C Thomas. Publisher. 1973.

Committee on Public Education. The Joys and Sorrows of Parenthood. GAP. Publication No. 84. Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry. New York, May. 1973.

Erikson, E. H. Childhood and Society. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. 1950.

Friedman, D. B. Parent development. Calif. Med. 86 (1957). 2528.

Maier, W. Three Theories ot ChHd Development. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1969.

McFartand, M. B., and Reinhart, J. B. The development of motherliness. Children (March-April. 1959).

Missildine, W. Your Inner Child of the Past. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1963.

Piaget, J. The Moral Judgment ot the Child. Glencoe, III.: Free Press, 1950.

Reinhart, J. B., and Elmer, E. Biological and environmental interchange in the development of children. Am. J. Public Health 55 (1965). 1902-1908.

Spock, B. McL. Baby and Child Care. New York: Hawthorn Books. 1976.

Spock, B. McL. Raising Children in a Difficult Time. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. 1974.

Thomas, A., and Chess, S. Temperament and Development. New York: Brurmer/Mazel, 1977.

TABLE 1

CHILD AND PARENT DEVELOPMENT

TABLE 2

PARENT-CHILD DEVELOPMENT

STAGE 1: INFANT

TABLE 3

PARENT-CHILD DEVELOPMENT

STAGE 2: TODDLER

TABLE 4

PARENT-CHILD DEVELOPMENT

STAGE 3: PRESCHOOLER

TABLE 5

PARENT-CHILD DEVELOPMENT

STAGE 4: SCHOOL-AGER

TABLE 6

PARENT-CHILD DEVELOPMENT

STAGE 5: TEENAGER

10.3928/0090-4481-19770901-05

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