Dr. Heather Weiss of the Harvard Family Resource Project is
finding that more and more parents are taking courses in
parenting. She is presently involved in a three year study to
determine the effectiveness of such education. Psychologists are
also exploring the reasons for this trend. Dr. Elkind of Tufts
feels that many parents are confused about how to raise their
children in a society that is so different from the one in which
they were reared. Other reasons given are: the increased mobility
and the resultant isolation of the family, parents’ attempts to
avoid the mistakes of their own parents, and the fact that many
younger parents seem more comfortable with the idea of taking
courses to learn skills.
Most of us have to learn to be good parents. We learn this
skill either from having good role models in our own parents,
from associating with other parents or by taking courses. It is
a skill that cannot be left to chance, because children are our
most important resource. What happens to them in their formative
years does have an effect on them as adults.
The results of recent research seems to confirm this
conclusion. Dr. Patterson of the Oregon Social Learning Center
is studying 500 families and finding that there is a very strong
relationship between parents’ irritability and children’s
aggression in school. He also found that in the act of
disciplining, many parents actually taught their children to be
disobedient because there was a lack of follow-through on the
part of the parents. These same parents seem to be unable to
resolve conflicts in the family.
Dr. Elaine Blechman’s studies at the Albert Einstein Medical
College find that families which give children numerous
opportunities to be problem solvers were those that had open
discussions and these children were better adjusted socially and
perform better in school. Dr. Hoffman from New York University
finds that most parents use one of three approaches to
discipline: reasoning, assertion of power and withdrawal of love.
The best results are obtained when the parent points out to the
child the consequences of his actions and how they affect others.
His research shows that children of parents who rely exclusively
on force and threats produce children who are aggressive in
school. Parents who discipline by withdrawing love, on the other
hand, sometimes produce children who are passive and withdrawn.
North Carolina has begun a program called Project
Enlightenment because of that state’s conviction that early
interventions in children’s lives make a difference. The focus
of the program is to educate key adults. One of the services is
called Talkline. For parents of children, up to age six, it
provides a call-in telephone service for developmental guidance,
referral information and general information. The fact that
parents needed such a service was attested by the fact that
parents not only called in but also complied with the suggestions
they received on techniques, books, and courses and that they
followed through on referrals.
One place to learn parenting skills is in high school,
preferably before teenagers become parents. There are many
excellent programs developed for this purpose. Certain parenting
skills may be inborn and instinctive. However, the higher
parenting skills required for nurturing and raising children in a
complex society such as ours, must be learned and it is never too
late to begin.