ERIC Identifier: ED346992
Publication Date: 1992-00-00
Author: Moore, Shirley G.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
The Role of Parents in the Development of Peer Group
Competence. ERIC Digest.
As a child leaves infancy and approaches toddlerhood, one of the tasks
parents face is introducing the child to the peer group. To be sure, parents are
interested in their child's earliest interactions with peers, but in time,
parents become more seriously invested in their children's ability to get along
with playmates. Getting along has different meanings for different parents, but
in general, parents want their child to enjoy the company of other children, be
liked by them, be well-behaved in their presence (for example, share and
cooperate with them), and resist the influence of companions who are overly
boisterous, aggressive or defiant of adult authority.
How do parents help their child become a socially competent, well-liked
playmate who is not too easily influenced by ill-behaved peers? What do we know
from research literature in this area? Inasmuch as peer relations is only one of
many social relationships that a child must master, it is not surprising that
research on parenting styles gives some helpful insights into development of
social skills in the peer group. A number of investigators, such as Diana
Baumrind, Martin Hoffman, and Martha Putallaz, have made significant
contributions to this topic.
The research of Diana Baumrind is particularly noteworthy. Baumrind has
published a series of studies on the relation between parental child rearing
styles and social competence in children of preschool and school age. Data on
nursery school children were obtained from observations in a school setting and
in laboratory test situations when the children were approximately four to five
years of age. Data on the children's parents were obtained through home
observations and interviews of both mothers and fathers. Three contrasting
parenting styles were identified by Baumrind: authoritarian, permissive, and
authoritative, each of which has implications for the child's social competence
with peers and adults. The three parenting styles differ particularly on two
parenting dimensions: the amount of nurturance in child-rearing interactions and
the amount of parental control over the child's activities and behavior.
Authoritarian parents tend to be low in nurturance and high in parental
control compared with other parents. They set absolute standards of behavior for
their children that are not to be questioned or negotiated. They favor forceful
discipline and demand prompt obedience. Authoritarian parents also are less
likely than others to use more gentle methods of persuasion, such as affection,
praise and rewards, with their children. Consequently, authoritarian parents are
prone to model the more aggressive modes of conflict resolution and are lax in
modeling affectionate, nurturant behaviors in their interactions with their
In sharp contrast, permissive parents tend to be moderate-to-high in
nurturance, but low in parental control. These parents place relatively few
demands on their children and are likely to be inconsistent disciplinarians.
They are accepting of the child's impulses, desires, and actions and are less
likely than other parents to monitor their children's behavior. Although their
children tend to be friendly, sociable youngsters, compared with others their
age they lack a knowledge of appropriate behaviors for ordinary social
situations and take too little responsibility for their own misbehavior.
Authoritative parents, in contrast to both authoritarian and permissive
parents, tend to be high in nurturance and moderate in parental control when it
comes to dealing with child behavior. It is this combination of parenting
strategies that Baumrind and others find the most facilitative in the
development of social competence during early childhood and beyond. The
following discussion describes specific behaviors used by authoritative parents
and the role these behaviors play in fostering social development.
THE CASE FOR HIGH NURTURANCE
Nurturing behaviors of parents
that predict social competence include affectionate and friendly interaction
with the child; consideration for the child's feelings, desires and needs;
interest in the child's daily activities; respect for the child's points of
view; expression of parental pride in the child's accomplishments; and support
and encouragement during times of stress in the child's life.
The advantages of high levels of nurturance in fostering social development
have been confirmed again and again in studies of children. These advantages
begin in infancy, when maternal nurturance facilitates a secure attachment
which, in turn, predicts social competence, and continue throughout childhood.
High levels of nurturance in child rearing virtually assure more positive
adult-child interactions than negative ones in the day-to-day operations of
family life. This, in turn, predisposes the child to return love to the parent
and to enjoy spending time with the parent, thus increasing the possibilities of
significant parental influence throughout childhood. Parental nurturance also
motivates the child to please the parent by striving to live up to parental
expectations and helps to keep the child from hurting or disappointing the loved
parent. Because children more readily identify with nurturant than nonnurturant
models, the children of nurturing parents are more likely to incorporate
parental values, such as considerateness and fairness in interpersonal
relations, into their own lifestyle. One would also expect these children to
resist peer group values that are clearly different from family values.
If there is a downside to high levels of nurturance in child rearing, it is
the risk that nurturant parents might be more lax than other parents in
challenging their children to measure up to developmentally appropriate
standards for behavior. This risk would appear to be reduced, however, by the
authoritative parents' inclination to combine moderate levels of parental
control with nurturance.
THE CASE OF MODERATE CONTROL
Nurturant parents who maintain
at least a moderate level of control over their child do not give up their right
to set behavioral standards for the child and to convey the importance of
compliance with those standards. To facilitate compliance, and as a courtesy to
the child, authoritative parents offer reasons and explanations for the demands
placed on their children. Evidence suggests that such a practice increases the
child's understanding of rules and regulations, eventually making it possible
for the child to monitor his or her behavior in the absence of the parent.
Parents who use authoritative child rearing practices often use positive
reinforcers, such as praise, approval, and rewards, to increase the child's
compliance with behavioral standards. The success of positive social
reinforcement in producing desirable behavior is legendary. A parent's positive
response to good behavior may be the most powerful tool the parent has for
increasing child compliance and decreasing the need for disciplinary action.
When misbehavior does occur and discipline is deemed necessary, authoritative
parents show a preference for "rational-inductive discipline," in which both
sides of an issue are stated and a just solution is sought. These parents also
prefer "consequence-oriented discipline" in which children are expected to make
up for their wrongdoing. Martin Hoffman points out that this disciplinary
strategy has the advantage of focusing the child's attention on the plight of
the victim rather than on the child's plight at the hands of an angry parent.
Finally, authoritative parents try to avoid the more extreme forms of
punishment in rearing their children. They do not favor harsh physical
punishment or put-downs, such as ridicule or negative social comparison, which
attack the child's sense of personal worth. Although the harsher forms of
punishment can be effective in the short run, they often generate resentment and
hostility that carry over to the school and peer group, reducing the child's
effectiveness in these settings.
In parenting, as in other endeavors, nothing works
all of the time. It is safe to say, however, that authoritative parenting works
better than most other parenting styles in facilitating the development of
social competence in children at home and in the peer group. High levels of
nurturance combined with moderate levels of control help adults be responsible
child rearing agents for their children and help children become mature,
competent members of society. With a little bit of luck, the children of
authoritative parents should enjoy more than their share of success in the peer
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Baumrind, D. "Current Patterns of
Parental Authority." DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY MONOGRAPHS 4 (1971): 1-103.
Hoffman, M.L. "Moral Internationalization, Parental Power, and the Nature of
Parent-Child Interaction." DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY 11 (1975): 228-239. EJ 116
Putallaz, M. "Maternal Behavior and Children's Sociometric Status." CHILD
DEVELOPMENT 58 (1987): 324-340. EJ 354 567.
GENERAL REFERENCES ON PEER RELATIONS:
Asher, S.R., and Coie, J.D. Eds. PEER REJECTION IN CHILDHOOD. New York:
Cambridge University Press, 1990.
Ramsey, P.G. MAKING FRIENDS IN SCHOOL: PROMOTING PEER RELATIONSHIPS IN EARLY
CHILDHOOD. New York: Teacher's College Press, 1991.
NOTE: Citations with EJ numbers are journal articles cited in the ERIC
database. They can be obtained at a research library, through interlibrary loan,
or from an article reprint service.