Emotional and Social Development in Early Childhood

What you’ll learn to do: describe key emotional and social developments of early childhood

Two boys squatting and playing by a pond

The time between a child’s second and sixth birthday is full of new social experiences. At the beginning of this stage, a child selfishly engages in the world—the goal is to please the self. As the child gets older, they realize that relationships built on give-and-take. They start to learn to empathize with others. They learn to make friends. Learning to navigate the social sphere is not easy, but children do it readily.

While the child is learning about their place in various relationships, they are also developing an understanding of emotion. A two-year-old does not have a good grasp on their emotions, but by the time a child is six, they understand their emotions better. They also understand how to control their emotions—even to the point that they may put on a different emotion than they are actually feeling. Further, by the time a child is six years old, they understand that other people have emotions and that all of the emotions involved in a situation (theirs and other people’s) should be taken into consideration. That said, although the six-year-old understands these things, they are not always good at putting the knowledge into action. We’ll examine some of these issues in this section.

Learning Outcomes

  • Describe the development of a self-concept
  • Explain Freud’s psychodynamic theory as it applies to early childhood
  • Explain Erikson’s psychosocial theory as it applies to early childhood
  • Describe gender identity development in early childhood
  • Describe the impact of different parenting styles on children’s development
  • Apply principles of operant conditioning to parenting and behavior modification
  • Examine concerns about childhood stress and trauma

Developing a Concept of Self


Early childhood is a time of forming an initial sense of self. A self-concept or idea of who we are, what we are capable of doing, and how we think and feel is a social process that involves taking into consideration how others view us. It might be said, then, that in order to develop a sense of self, you must have interaction with others. Interactionist theorists, Cooley and Mead offer two interesting explanations of how a sense of self develops.

Cooley’s Looking-Glass Self

Charles Horton Cooley (1964) suggested that our self-concept comes from looking at how others respond to us. This process, known as the looking-glass self involves looking at how others seem to view us and interpreting this as we make judgments about whether we are good or bad, strong or weak, beautiful or ugly, and so on. Of course, we do not always interpret their responses accurately so our self-concept is not simply a mirror reflection of the views of others. After forming an initial self-concept, we may use our existing self-concept as a mental filter screening out those responses that do not seem to fit our ideas of who we are. So compliments may be negated, for example.

Think of times in your life when you felt more self-conscious. The process of the looking-glass self is pronounced when we are preschoolers. Later in life, we also experience this process when we are in a new school, new job, or are taking on a new role in our personal lives and are trying to gauge our own performance. When we feel more sure of who we are we focus less on how we appear to others.

Watch It

Watch this Khan Academy video to learn more about Charles Cooley’s looking-glass self.

Mead’s I and Me

George Herbert Mead (1967) offered an explanation of how we develop a social sense of self by being able to see ourselves through the eyes of others. There are two parts of the self: the “I” which is the part of the self that is spontaneous, creative, innate, and is not concerned with how others view us and the “me” or the social definition of who we are.

When we are born, we are all “I” and act without concern about how others view us. But the socialized self begins when we are able to consider how one important person views us. This initial stage is called “taking the role of the significant other.” For example, a child may pull a cat’s tail and be told by his mother, “No! Don’t do that, that’s bad” while receiving a slight slap on the hand. Later, the child may mimic the same behavior toward the self and say aloud, “No, that’s bad” while patting his own hand. What has happened? The child is able to see himself through the eyes of the mother. As the child grows and is exposed to many situations and rules of culture, he begins to view the self in the eyes of many others through these cultural norms or rules. This is referred to as “taking the role of the generalized other” and results in a sense of self with many dimensions. The child comes to have a sense of self as a student, as a friend, as a son, and so on.

Watch It

This video explains Mead’s understanding of the “I” and the “me,” and compares it to other concepts you’ve already learned about, like egocentrism.

Exaggerated Sense of Self

One of the ways to gain a clearer sense of self is to exaggerate those qualities that are to be incorporated into the self. Preschoolers often like to exaggerate their own qualities or to seek validation as the biggest or smartest or child who can jump the highest. Much of this may be due to the simple fact that the child does not understand their own limits. Young children may really believe that they can beat their parent to the mailbox, or pick up the refrigerator.

This exaggeration tends to be replaced by a more realistic sense of self in middle childhood as children realize that they do have limitations. Part of this process includes having parents who allow children to explore their capabilities and give the child authentic feedback. Another important part of this process involves the child learning that other people have capabilities, too…and that the child’s capabilities may differ from those of other people. Children learn to compare themselves to others to understand what they are “good at” and what they are not as good at.


One important aspect of self-concept is how we understand our ability to exhibit self-control and delay gratification. Self-control involves both response inhibition and delayed gratification. Response inhibition involves the ability to recognize a potential behavior before it occurs and stop the initiation of behaviors that could result in undesired consequences. Delayed gratification refers to the process of forgoing immediate or short-term rewards to achieve more valuable goals in the longer term. The ability to delay gratification was traditionally assessed in young children with the “Marshmallow Test.” During this experiment, participants were presented with a marshmallow (or another small treat) and were given a choice to eat it or wait for a certain period of time without eating it, so that they could have two marshmallows eventually (Mischel et al., 2011).

While self-control takes many years to develop, we see the beginnings of this skill during early childhood. This ability to delay gratification in young children has been shown to predict many positive outcomes. For instance, preschoolers who were able to delay gratification for a longer period of time had higher levels of resilience, better academic and social competence, and greater planning ability in their adolescence (Mischel et al., 1988). Recent research has linked poor delayed gratification in young children to poor eating self-regulation, specifically regarding eating when not hungry (Hughes et al., 2015) and behavioral problems (Willoughby et al., 2011; Kim et al., 2012).[1]

Watch It

Watch as a teacher uses the Marshmallow Test, originally conducted by Walter Mischel, to teach her students about self-control. The Marshmallow Test has demonstrated correlations between self-control in preschool and successful outcomes in later life. According to Mischel, young children can learn strategies to delay gratification and resist engaging in impulsive behaviors. A retest of the study completed in 2018 by Watts, Duncan and Quan found the effects of self-control in the young children and the later life outcomes to be minimal and more closely tied to the education level of the mother, rather than self-control.[2]

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Psychodynamic and Psychosocial Theories of Early Childhood

Freud’s Theory 

Children pass through two stages of Freud’s theory during early childhood: stage 2 (anal stage) and stage 3 (phallic stage).

The anal stage begins around 18 months of age and lasts until the child is three years old. During the anal stage, Freud believed that the libido source shifted from the mouth (in stage 1) to the anus. The child, then, receives pleasure from defecating. The child, at this point, understands that they have some amount of control over their lives, including control of when and where they defecate. This can set-up difficulties in potty training. What matters, in terms of Freud’s theory, is how the parent handles difficulties in potty training. Parental reactions during potty training may set-up their child to react in one of two ways: (1) parents who are harsh or who ridicule the child for mistakes may have children who stubbornly hold on to their feces in an effort to not have an accident – these children may become anal retentive or (2) parents who are too easy going may have a child who reacts by purposefully making a mess – these children may become anal expulsive. Adults who are anal retentive tend to be stubborn, very neat, rigid, and stingy. Adults who are anal expulsive tend to be messy, wasteful, and harsh.

Link to Learning: Toilet Training

To the relief of most parents, there is very little evidence to suggest that Freud was right about fixations caused during the anal stage, mainly because the theory itself would be very difficult to test. Nevertheless, parents worry about toilet training, and whether they will be able to guide their children through the process unscathed. Kidshealth.org has a good web page on potty training (https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/toilet-teaching.html) that may help parents worried about toilet training.

The phallic stage of psychosexual development occurs from ages three to six. According to Freud, during the phallic stage, the child develops an attraction to the opposite sex parent, which is called the Oedipus Complex for boys and the Electra Complex for girls. When the child recognizes that the opposite sex parent is unavailable, the child learns to model their own behavior after the same-sex parent. The child develops their own sense of masculinity or femininity from this resolution. According to Freud, a person who does not exhibit gender appropriate behavior, such as a woman who competes with men for jobs or a man who lacks self-assurance and dominance, has not successfully completed this stage of development. Consequently, such a person continues to struggle with his or her own gender identity.

Chodorow, a neo-Freudian, believed that mothering promotes gender stereotypic behavior. Mothers push their sons away too soon and direct their attention toward problem-solving and independence. As a result, sons grow up confident in their own abilities but uncomfortable with intimacy. Girls are kept dependent too long and are given unnecessary and even unwelcome assistance from their mothers. Girls learn to underestimate their abilities and lack assertiveness but feel comfortable with intimacy.

Both of these models assume that early childhood experiences result in lifelong gender self-concepts. However, gender socialization is a process that continues throughout life. Children, teens, and adults refine and can modify their sense of self, based on gender.

Another important part of Freud’s phallic stage is that during this time the child is learning right from wrong through the process of introjection. Remember that according to Kohlberg, the child during this time is developing a sense of morality. According to Freud, this is occurring through the process of introjection which occurs as children incorporate values from others into their value set. Freud theorized about parental introjection, where children learn that parents seem pleased by certain behaviors (and so want to do those behaviors more to get rewards and love) and displeased by other behaviors (and so want to do those behaviors less to avoid punishment and loss of love). Today, modern psychoanalytic theorists recognize the place of others and society in introjection. Societal introjection is becoming more and more important as more children go to daycare, as we are more surrounded by technology and advertising, and as we travel more.

Social Development: The Importance of Play

The development of play is an important milestone in early childhood. Play holds a crucial role in providing a safe, caring, protective, confidential, and containing space where children can recreate themselves and their experiences through an exploratory process (Winnicott, 1942; Erikson, 1963). During this stage, pretend play is a great way for children to express their thoughts, emotions, fears, and anxieties. Early childhood play can be understood by observing the elements of fantasy, organization, and comfort. Fantasy, the process of make-believe, is an essential behavior the child engages in during pretend play; organization helps the child to structure pretend play into a story and to utilize cause-and-effect thinking; and comfort is used to assess the ease and pleasure in the engagement in play.[3]

As children progress through the stage of early childhood, they also progress through several stages of non-social and social play. Stages of play is a theory and classification of participation in play developed by Mildred Parten Newhall in 1929. Parten observed American children at free play. She recognized six different types of play:

  • Unoccupied play – when the child is not playing, just observing. A child may be standing in one spot or performing random movements.
  • Solitary (independent) play – when the child is alone and maintains focus on their activity. Such a child is uninterested in or is unaware of what others are doing. More common in young children (age 2–3) as opposed to older ones.
  • Onlooker play  – when the child watches others at play but does not engage in it. The child may engage in forms of social interaction, such as conversation about the play, without actually joining in the activity. This type of activity is also more common in younger children.
  • Parallel play (adjacent play) – when the child plays separately from others but close to them and mimicking their actions. This type of play is seen as a transitory stage from a socially immature solitary and onlooker type of play, to a more socially mature associative and cooperative type of play.
  • Associative play – when the child is interested in the people playing but not in coordinating their activities with those people, or when there is no organized activity at all. There is a substantial amount of interaction involved, but the activities are not in sync.
  • Cooperative play – when a child is interested both in the people playing and in the activity they are doing. In cooperative play, the activity is organized, and participants have assigned roles. There is also increased self-identification with a group, and a group identity may emerge. This is more common toward the end of the early childhood stage. Examples would be dramatic play activities with roles, like playing school, or a game with rules, such as freeze tag.

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Erikson: Initiative vs. Guilt

While Erik Erikson was very influenced by Freud, he believed that the relationships that people have, not psychosexual stages, are what influence personality development. At the beginning of early childhood, the child is still in the autonomy versus shame and doubt stage (stage 2).

By age three, the child begins stage 3: initiative versus guilt. The trust and autonomy of previous stages develop into a desire to take initiative or to think of ideas and initiate action. Children are curious at this age and start to ask questions so that they can learn about the world. Parents should try to answer those questions without making the child feel like a burden or implying that the child’s question is not worth asking.

These children are also beginning to use their imagination (remember what we learned when we discussed Piaget!). Children may want to build a fort with the cushions from the living room couch, open a lemonade stand in the driveway, or make a zoo with their stuffed animals and issue tickets to those who want to come. Another way that children may express autonomy is in wanting to get themselves ready for bed without any assistance. To reinforce taking initiative, caregivers should offer praise for the child’s efforts and avoid being overly critical of messes or mistakes. Soggy washrags and toothpaste left in the sink pale in comparison to the smiling face of a five-year-old emerging from the bathroom with clean teeth and pajamas!

That said, it is important that the parent does their best to kindly guide the child to the right actions. Remember that according to Freud and Kohlberg, children are developing a sense of morality during this time. Erikson agrees. If the child does leave those soggy washrags in the sink, have the child help clean them up. It is possible that the child will not be happy with helping to clean, and the child may even become aggressive or angry, but it is important to remember that the child is still learning how to navigate their world. They are trying to build a sense of autonomy, and they may not react well when they are asked to do something that they had not planned. Parents should be aware of this, and try to be understanding, but also firm. Guilt for a situation where a child did not do their best allows a child to understand their responsibilities and helps the child learn to exercise self-control (remember the marshmallow test). The goal is to find a balance between initiative and guilt, not a free-for-all where the parent allows the child to do anything they want to. The parent must guide the child if they are to have a successful resolution in this stage.

Watch It

Movies, television, and media, in general, provide many examples of psychosocial development. The movie clips in this video demonstrate Erikson’s third stage of development, initiative versus guilt. What other examples can you think of to demonstrate young children developing a sense of autonomy?

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Gender and Early Childhood

Gender Identity, Gender Constancy, and Gender Roles

A boy and girl are seen playing in the dirt
Figure 1. Young children are interested in exploring the differences between what activities are acceptable for boys and girls.

Another important dimension of the self is the sense of self as male or female. Preschool aged children become increasingly interested in finding out the differences between boys and girls both physically and in terms of what activities are acceptable for each. While two-year-olds can identify some differences and learn whether they are boys or girls, preschoolers become more interested in what it means to be male or female. This self-identification, or gender identity, is followed sometime later with gender constancy, or the understanding that superficial changes do not mean that gender has actually changed. For example, if you are playing with a two-year-old boy and put barrettes in his hair, he may protest saying that he doesn’t want to be a girl. By the time a child is four-years-old, they have a solid understanding that putting barrettes in their hair does not change their gender.

Children learn at a young age that there are distinct expectations for boys and girls. Cross-cultural studies reveal that children are aware of gender roles by age two or three. At four or five, most children are firmly entrenched in culturally appropriate gender roles (Kane 1996). Children acquire these roles through socialization, a process in which people learn to behave in a particular way as dictated by societal values, beliefs, and attitudes.

Children may also use gender stereotyping readily. Gender stereotyping involves overgeneralizing about the attitudes, traits, or behavior patterns of women or men. A recent research study examined four- and five-year-old children’s predictions concerning the sex of the persons carrying out a variety of common activities and occupations on television. The children’s responses revealed strong gender-stereotyped expectations. They also found that children’s estimates of their own future competence indicated stereotypical beliefs, with the females more likely to reject masculine activities.

Children who are allowed to explore different toys, who are exposed to non-traditional gender roles, and whose parents and caregivers are open to allowing the child to take part in non-traditional play (allowing a boy to nurture a doll, or allowing a girl to play doctor) tend to have broader definitions of what is gender appropriate, and may do less gender stereotyping.

Watch It

This clip from Upworthy shows how some children were surprised to meet women in traditionally male occupations.

Dig Deeper: Gender Identity Development

The National Center on Parent, Family, and Community Engagement identified several stages of gender identity development, as outlined below. You can see more of their resources and tips for healthy gender development by reading Healthy Gender Development and Young Children.

  • Infancy. Children observe messages about gender from adults’ appearances, activities, and behaviors. Most parents’ interactions with their infants are shaped by the child’s gender, and this in turn also shapes the child’s understanding of gender (Fagot & Leinbach, 1989; Witt, 1997; Zosuls, Miller, Ruble, Martin, & Fabes, 2011).
  • 18–24 months. Toddlers begin to define gender, using messages from many sources. As they develop a sense of self, toddlers look for patterns in their homes and early care settings. Gender is one way to understand group belonging, which is important for secure development (Kuhn, Nash & Brucken, 1978; Langlois & Downs, 1980; Fagot & Leinbach, 1989; Baldwin & Moses, 1996; Witt, 1997; Antill, Cunningham, & Cotton, 2003; Zoslus, et al., 2009).
  • Ages 3–4. Gender identity takes on more meaning as children begin to focus on all kinds of differences. Children begin to connect the concept “girl” or “boy” to specific attributes. They form stronger rules or expectations for how each gender behaves and looks (Kuhn, Nash, & Brucken 1978; Martin, Ruble, & Szkrybalo, 2004; Halim & Ruble, 2010).
  • Ages 5–6. At these ages, children’s thinking may be rigid in many ways. For example, 5- and 6-year-olds are very aware of rules and of the pressure to comply with them. They do so rigidly because they are not yet developmentally ready to think more deeply about the beliefs and values that many rules are based on. For example, as early educators and parents know, the use of “white lies” is still hard for them to understand. Researchers call these ages the most “rigid” period of gender identity (Weinraub et al., 1984; Egan, Perry, & Dannemiller, 2001; Miller, Lurye, Zosuls, & Ruble, 2009). A child who wants to do or wear things that are not typical of his gender is probably aware that other children find it strange. The persistence of these choices, despite the negative reactions of others, show that these are strong feelings. Gender rigidity typically declines as children age (Trautner et al., 2005; Halim, Ruble, Tamis-LeMonda, & Shrout, 2013). With this change, children develop stronger moral impulses about what is “fair” for themselves and other children (Killen & Stangor, 2001).

It is important to understand these typical and normal attempts for children to understand the world around them. It is helpful to encourage children and support them as individuals, instead of emphasizing or playing into gender roles and expectations. You can foster self-esteem in children of any gender by giving all children positive feedback about their unique skills and qualities. For example, you might say to a child, “I noticed how kind you were to your friend when she fell down” or “You were very helpful with clean-up today—you are such a great helper” or “You were such a strong runner on the playground today.”


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Learning Through Reinforcement and Modeling

Learning theorists suggest that gender role socialization is a result of the ways in which parents, teachers, friends, schools, religious institutions, media, and others send messages about what is acceptable or desirable behavior for males or females. This socialization begins early—in fact, it may even begin the moment a parent learns that a child is on the way. Knowing the sex of the child can conjure up images of the child’s behavior, appearance, and potential on the part of a parent. And this stereotyping continues to guide perception through life. Consider parents of newborns. Shown a 7-pound, 20-inch baby, wrapped in blue (a color designating males) describe the child as tough, strong, and angry when crying. Shown the same infant in pink (a color used in the United States for baby girls), these parents are likely to describe the baby as pretty, delicate, and frustrated when crying (Maccoby & Jacklin, 1987). Female infants are held more, talked to more frequently and given direct eye contact, while male infants’ play is often mediated through a toy or activity.

One way children learn gender roles is through play. Parents typically supply boys with trucks, toy guns, and superhero paraphernalia, which are active toys that promote motor skills, aggression, and solitary play. Daughters are often given dolls and dress-up apparel that foster nurturing, social proximity, and role play. Studies have shown that children will most likely choose to play with “gender appropriate” toys (or same-gender toys) even when cross-gender toys are available because parents give children positive feedback (in the form of praise, involvement, and physical closeness) for gender normative behavior (Caldera, Huston, and O’Brien 1998).

A girl is seen playing with a doll and stroller
Figure 2. Little girls are often encouraged to play with toys that support female stereotypes of being nurturing.

Sons are given tasks that take them outside the house and that have to be performed only on occasion, while girls are more likely to be given chores inside the home, such as cleaning or cooking, that are performed daily. Sons are encouraged to think for themselves when they encounter problems, and daughters are more likely to be given assistance even when they are working on an answer. This impatience is reflected in teachers waiting less time when asking a female student for an answer than when asking for a reply from a male student (Sadker and Sadker, 1994). Girls are given the message from teachers that they must try harder and endure in order to succeed while boys successes are attributed to their intelligence. Of course, the stereotypes of advisors can also influence which kinds of courses or vocational choices girls and boys are encouraged to make.

Friends discuss what is acceptable for boys and girls, and popularity may be based on modeling what is considered ideal behavior or appearance for the sexes. Girls tend to tell one another secrets to validate others as best friends, while boys compete for position by emphasizing their knowledge, strength or accomplishments. This focus on accomplishments can even give rise to exaggerating accomplishments in boys, but girls are discouraged from showing off and may learn to minimize their accomplishments as a result.

Gender messages abound in our environment. But does this mean that each of us receives and interprets these messages in the same way? Probably not. In addition to being recipients of these cultural expectations, we are individuals who also modify these roles (Kimmel, 2008).

One interesting recent finding is that girls may have an easier time breaking gender norms than boys.[4] Girls who play with masculine toys often do not face the same ridicule from adults or peers that boys face when they want to play with feminine toys. Girls also face less ridicule when playing a masculine role (like doctor) as opposed to a boy who wants to take a feminine role (like caregiver).

Watch It

This video provides an overview of common toy commercials and how they can be analyzed based on recent research on gender stereotypes. What gender roles or gender stereotypes have you noticed in toy commercials? How do you think toy commercials have changed over the past few years?

The Impact of Gender Discrimination

How much does gender matter? In the United States, gender differences are found in school experiences. Even into college and professional school, girls are less vocal in class and much more at risk for sexual harassment from teachers, coaches, classmates, and professors. These gender differences are also found in social interactions and in media messages. The stereotypes that boys should be strong, forceful, active, dominant, and rational, and that girls should be pretty, subordinate, unintelligent, emotional, and talkative are portrayed in children’s toys, books, commercials, video games, movies, television shows, and music. In adulthood, these differences are reflected in income gaps between men and women (women working full-time earn about 74 percent the income of men), in higher rates of women suffering rape and domestic violence, higher rates of eating disorders for females, and in higher rates of violent death for men in young adulthood.

Gender differences in India can be a matter of life and death as preferences for male children have been historically strong and are still held, especially in rural areas (WHO, 2010). Male children are given preference for receiving food, breast milk, medical care, and other resources. In some countries, it is no longer legal to give parents information on the sex of their developing child for fear that they will abort a female fetus. Clearly, gender socialization and discrimination still impact development in a variety of ways across the globe. Gender discrimination generally persists throughout the lifespan in the form of obstacles to education, or lack of access to political, financial, and social power.

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Family Life and Parenting Styles

Parenting Styles

Smiling man holding his young daughter on his shoulders.
Figure 3. Parenting styles may fluctuate or evolve depending on the situation.

Relationships between parents and children continue to play a significant role in children’s development during early childhood. We will explore two models of parenting styles. Keep in mind that most parents do not follow any model completely. Real people tend to fall somewhere in between these styles. And sometimes parenting styles change from one child to the next or in times when the parent has more or less time and energy for parenting. Parenting styles can also be affected by concerns the parent has in other areas of their life. For example, parenting styles tend to become more authoritarian when parents are tired and perhaps more authoritative when they are more energetic. Sometimes parents seem to change their parenting approach when others are around, maybe because they become more self-conscious as parents or are concerned with giving others the impression that they are a “tough” parent or an “easy-going” parent. And of course, parenting styles may reflect the type of parenting someone saw modeled while growing up.

Baumrind’s Parenting Styles

Baumrind (1971) offers a model of parenting that includes three styles. The first, authoritarian, is the traditional model of parenting in which parents make the rules and children are expected to be obedient. Baumrind suggests that authoritarian parents tend to place maturity demands on their children that are unreasonably high and tend to be aloof and distant. Consequently, children reared in this way may fear rather than respect their parents and, because their parents do not allow discussion, may take out their frustrations on safer targets – perhaps as bullies toward peers.

Permissive parenting involves being a friend to a child rather than an authority figure. Children are allowed to make their own rules and determine their own activities. Parents are warm and communicative but provide little structure for their children. Children may fail to learn self-discipline and may feel somewhat insecure because they do not know the limits.

Authoritative parenting involves being appropriately strict, reasonable, and affectionate. Parents allow negotiation where appropriate and discipline matches the severity of the offense. A popular parenting program that is offered in many school districts is called “Love and Logic” and reflects the authoritative or democratic style of parenting just described.

Today we recognize a fourth style within the Baumrind framework: uninvolved parenting. These parents are disengaged from their children. They do not make demands on their children and are non-responsive. These children can suffer in school and in their relationships with their peers (Gecas & Self, 1991).

Chart of parenting styles. Those with low warmth/responsiveness and low expectations/control are uninvolved. Those with low expectations and high warmth are permissive. those with high expectations and low warmth are authoritarian. Those with high expectations and high warmth are authoritative.
Figure 4. Parents who are both warm and responsive while still maintaining a high level of control are considered authoritative.

Lemasters and Defrain’s Parenting Model

Lemasters and Defrain (1989) offered yet another model of parenting. This model is interesting because it looks more closely at the motivations of the parent and suggests that parenting styles are often designed to meet the psychological needs of the parent rather than the developmental needs of the child.

The martyr is a parent who will do anything for the child, even tasks that the child should do for himself or herself. All of the good deeds performed for the child, in the name of being a “good parent,” may be used later should the parent want to gain compliance from the child. If a child goes against the parent’s wishes, the parent can remind the child of all of the times the parent helped the child and evoke a feeling of guilt so that the child will do what the parent wants. The child learns to be dependent and manipulative as a result. (Beware, a parent busy whipping up cookies may really be thinking “control”!)

The pal is like the permissive parent described in Baumrind’s model above. The pal wants to be the child’s friend. Perhaps the parent is lonely, or perhaps the parent is trying to win a popularity contest against an ex-spouse. Pals let children do what they want and focus most on being entertaining and fun. They set few limitations. Consequently, the child may have little self-discipline and may try to test limits with others.

The police officer/drill sergeant style of parenting is similar to the authoritarian parent described above. The parent focuses primarily on making sure that the child is obedient and that the parent has full control of the child. Sometimes this can be taken to extremes by giving the child tasks that are really designed to check on their level of obedience. For example, the parent may require that the child fold the clothes and place items back in the drawer in a particular way. If not, the child might be scolded or punished for not doing things “right.” This type of parent has a very difficult time allowing the child to grow and learn to make decisions independently. And the child may have a lot of resentment toward the parent that is displaced on others.

The teacher-counselor parent is one who pays a lot of attention to expert advice on parenting and who believes that as long as all of the steps are followed, the parent can rear a perfect child. “What’s wrong with that?” you might ask. There are two major problems with this approach. First, the parent is taking all of the responsibility for the child’s behavior, at least indirectly. If the child has difficulty, the parent feels responsible and thinks that the solution lies in reading more advice and trying more diligently to follow that advice. Parents can certainly influence children, but thinking that the parent is fully responsible for the child’s outcome is faulty. A parent can only do so much and can never have full control over the child. Another problem with this approach is that the child may get an unrealistic sense of the world and what can be expected from others. For example, if a teacher-counselor parent decides to help the child build self-esteem and has read that telling the child how special he or she is or how important it is to compliment the child on a job well done, the parent may convey the message that everything the child does is exceptional or extraordinary. A child may come to expect that all of his efforts warrant praise, and in the real world, this is not something one can expect. Perhaps children get more of a sense of pride from assessing their own performance than from having others praise their efforts.

So what is left? Lemasters and Defrain (1989) suggest that the athletic coach style of parenting is best. Before you draw conclusions here, set aside any negative experiences you may have had with coaches in the past. The principles of coaching are what are important to Lemasters and Defrain. A coach helps players form strategies, supports their efforts, gives feedback on what went right and what went wrong, and stands at the sideline while the players perform. Coaches and referees make sure that the rules of the game are followed and that all players adhere to those rules. Similarly, the athletic coach as parent helps the child understand what needs to happen in certain situations whether in friendships, school, or home life and encourages and advises the child about how to manage these situations. The parent does not intervene or do things for the child. Rather, the parent’s role is to provide guidance while the child learns first hand how to handle these situations. The rules for behavior are consistent and objective and presented in that way. So, a child who is late for dinner might hear the parent respond in this way, “Dinner was at six o’clock.”  Rather than, “You know good and well that we always eat at six. If you expect me to get up and make something for you now, you have got another thing coming! Just who do you think you are showing up late and looking for food? You’re grounded until further notice!”

The most important thing to remember about parenting is that you can be a better, more objective parent when you are directing your actions toward the child’s needs while considering what they can reasonably be expected to do at their stage of development. Parenting is more difficult when you are tired and have psychological needs that interfere with the relationship. Some of the best advice for parents is to try not to take the child’s actions personally, and be as objective as possible.

Class and Culture

The impact of class and culture cannot be ignored when examining parenting styles. The two models of parenting described above assume that authoritative and athletic coaching styles are best because they are designed to help the parent raise a child who is independent, self-reliant, and responsible. These are qualities favored in “individualistic” cultures such as the United States, particularly by the middle class.

Authoritarian parenting has been used historically and reflects the cultural need for children to do as they are told. African-American, Hispanic, and Asian parents tend to be more authoritarian than non-Hispanic whites. In collectivistic cultures such as China or Korea, being obedient and compliant are favored behaviors. In societies where family members’ cooperation is necessary for survival, as in the case of raising crops, rearing children who are independent and who strive to be on their own makes no sense. But in an economy based on being mobile in order to find jobs and where one’s earnings are based on education, raising a child to be independent is very important.

Working class parents are more likely than middle-class parents to focus on obedience and honesty when raising their children. In a classic study on social class and parenting styles called Class and Conformity, Kohn (1977) explained that parents tend to emphasize qualities that are needed for their own survival when parenting their children. Working class parents are rewarded for being obedient, reliable, and honest in their jobs. They are not paid to be independent or to question the management; rather, they move up and are considered good employees if they show up on time, do their work as they are told, and can be counted on by their employers. Consequently, these parents reward honesty and obedience in their children. Middle-class parents who work as professionals are rewarded for taking initiative, being self-directed, and assertive in their jobs. They are required to get the job done without being told exactly what to do. They are asked to be innovative and to work independently. These parents encourage their children to have those qualities as well by rewarding independence and self-reliance. Parenting styles can reflect many elements of culture.

Link to Learning

In Scout O’Donnell’s TED Talk (https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=86&v=RMxqTXgRO9E), she describes the alternative parenting style used by her parents. Can you find elements of authoritative and coaching parenting, along with a little Love and Logic?

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Child Care Concerns

About 75.7 percent of mothers of school-aged and 65.1 percent of mothers of preschool aged children in the United States work outside the home[5]. Since more women have been entering the workplace, there has been a concern that families do not spend as much time with their children. This, however, may not be true. Between 1981 and 1997, the amount of time that parents spent with children increased overall (Sandberg and Hofferth, 2001). Modern numbers for this vary widely, as many parents who work outside of the home also devote significant amounts of time to childcare, to 14 hours a week, compared with 10 in 1965.[6] The amount of this time that is undistracted and involved may be close to 34 minutes a day.[7]

Seventy-five percent of children under age 5 are in scheduled child care programs. Others are cared for by family members, friends, or are in Head Start Programs. Older children are often in after school programs, before school programs, or stay at home alone after school once they are older. Quality childcare programs can enhance a child’s social skills and can provide rich learning experiences. But long hours in poor quality care can have negative consequences for young children in particular. What determines the quality of child care? One very important consideration is the teacher/child ratio. States specify the maximum number of children that can be supervised by one teacher. In general, the younger the children, the more teachers required for a given number of children. The lower the teacher to child ratio, the more time the teacher has for involvement with the children and the less stressed the teacher may be so that the interactions can be more relaxed, stimulating and positive. The more children there are in a program, the less desirable the program as well. This is because the center may be more rigid in rules and structure to accommodate the large number of children in the facility.

The physical environment should be colorful, stimulating, clean, and safe. The philosophy of the organization and the curriculum available should be child-centered, positive, and stimulating. Providers should be trained in early childhood education as well. A majority of states do not require training for their child care providers. And while formal education is not required for a person to provide a warm, loving relationship to a child, knowledge of a child’s development is useful for addressing their social, emotional, and cognitive needs in an effective way. By working toward improving the quality of childcare and increasing family-friendly workplace policies, such as more flexible scheduling and perhaps childcare facilities at places of employment, we can accommodate families with smaller children and relieve parents of the stress sometimes associated with managing work and family life.

Global Concerns:  The Market Women of Liberia

Work and mothering go hand in hand in many parts of the world. Consider the market women of Liberia. These are women who work as street vendors and are primary providers for their families. They come together in marketplaces along with their children to sell their goods while keeping a watchful eye on their children. Recently, they have been supported by President Sirleaf whose grandmother was a market woman. President Sirleaf has worked to raise funds to improve the marketplaces and conditions for mothers and children. The hope has been to make these marketplaces more safe, to provide childcare, and social services to improve the lives of mothers and children (Nance-Nash, 2009). This video on the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1qSag1E6TH0) explains more.

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Learning and Behavior Modification

Parenting and Behaviorism

Parenting generally involves many opportunities to apply principles of behaviorism, especially operant conditioning. In discussing operant conditioning, we use several everyday words—positive, negative, reinforcement, and punishment—in a specialized manner. In operant conditioning, positive and negative do not mean good and bad. Instead, positive means you are adding something, and negative means you are taking something away. Reinforcement means you are increasing a behavior, and punishment means you are decreasing a behavior. Reinforcement can be positive or negative, and punishment can also be positive or negative. All reinforcers (positive or negative) increase the likelihood of a behavioral response. All punishers (positive or negative) decrease the likelihood of a behavioral response. Now let’s combine these four terms: positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, positive punishment, and negative punishment. (See table below.)

Table 1. Positive and Negative Reinforcement and Punishment
Reinforcement Punishment
Positive Something is added to increase the likelihood of a behavior. Something is added to decrease the likelihood of a behavior.
Negative Something is removed to increase the likelihood of a behavior. Something is removed to decrease the likelihood of a behavior.

The most effective way to teach a person or animal a new behavior is with positive reinforcement. In positive reinforcement, a stimulus is added to the situation to increase a behavior. Parents and teachers use positive reinforcement all the time, from offering dessert after dinner, praising children for cleaning their room or completing some work, offering a toy at the end of a successful piano recital, or earning more time for recess. The goal of providing these forms of positive reinforcement is to increase the likelihood of the same behavior occurring in the future.

Positive reinforcement is an extremely effective learning tool, as evidenced by nearly 80 years worth of research. That said, there are many ways to introduce positive reinforcement into a situation. Many people believe that reinforcers must be tangible, but research shows that verbal praise and hugs are very effective reinforcers for people of all ages. Further, research suggests that constantly providing tangible reinforcers may actually be counterproductive in certain situations. For example, paying children for their grades may undermine their intrinsic motivation to go to school and do well. While children who are paid for their grades may maintain good grades, it is to receive the reinforcing pay, not because they have an intrinsic desire to do well. The impact is especially detrimental to students who initially have a high level of intrinsic motivation to do well in school. Therefore, we must provide appropriate reinforcement, and be careful to ensure that the reinforcement does not undermine intrinsic motivation.

In negative reinforcement, an aversive stimulus is removed to increase a behavior. For example, car manufacturers use the principles of negative reinforcement in their seatbelt systems, which go “beep, beep, beep” until you fasten your seatbelt. The annoying sound stops when you exhibit the desired behavior, increasing the likelihood that you will buckle up in the future. Negative reinforcement is also used frequently in horse training. Riders apply pressure—by pulling the reins or squeezing their legs—and then remove the pressure when the horse performs the desired behavior, such as turning or speeding up. The pressure is the negative stimulus that the horse wants to remove.

Sometimes, adding something to the situation is reinforcing as in the cases we described above with cookies, praise, and money. Positive reinforcement involves adding something to the situation in order to encourage a behavior. Other times, taking something away from a situation can be reinforcing. For example, the loud, annoying buzzer on your alarm clock encourages you to get up so that you can turn it off and get rid of the noise. Children whine in order to get their parents to do something and often, parents give in just to stop the whining. In these instances, children have used negative reinforcement to get what they want.

Operant conditioning tends to work best if you focus on trying to encourage a behavior or move a person into the direction you want them to go rather than telling them what not to do. Reinforcers are used to encourage behavior; punishers are used to stop the behavior. A punisher is anything that follows an act and decreases the chance it will reoccur. As with reinforcement, there are also two types of punishment: positive punishment and negative punishment.

Positive punishment involves adding something in order to decrease the likelihood that a behavior will occur again in the future. Spanking is an example of positive punishment. Receiving a speeding ticket is also an example of positive punishment. Both of these punishers, the spanking and the speeding ticket, are intended to decrease the reoccurrence of the related behavior.

Negative punishment involves removing something that is desired in order to decrease the likelihood that a behavior will occur again in the future. Putting a child in time out can serve as a negative punishment if the child enjoys social interaction. Taking away a child’s technology privileges can also be a negative punishment. Taking away something that is desired encourages the child to refrain from engaging in that behavior again in order to not lose the desired object or activity.

Often, punished behavior doesn’t really go away. It is just suppressed and may reoccur whenever the threat of punishment is removed. For example, a child may not cuss around you because you’ve washed his mouth out with soap, but he may cuss around his friends. A motorist may only slow down when the trooper is on the side of the freeway. Another problem with punishment is that when a person focuses on punishment, they may find it hard to see what the other does right or well. Punishment is stigmatizing; when punished, some people start to see themselves as bad and give up trying to change.

Reinforcement can occur in a predictable way, such as after every desired action is performed (called continuous reinforcement), or intermittently, after the behavior is performed a number of times or the first time it is performed after a certain amount of time (called partial reinforcement whether based on the number of times or the passage of time). The schedule of reinforcement has an impact on how long a behavior continues after reinforcement is discontinued. So a parent who has rewarded a child’s actions each time may find that the child gives up very quickly if a reward is not immediately forthcoming. Children will learn quickest under a continuous schedule of reinforcement. Then the parent should switch to a schedule of partial reinforcement to maintain the behavior.

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Try this interactive to ensure you understand the differences between punishment and reinforcement. You’ll see a few introductory slides that review the concepts and then answer some questions from parenting scenarios about what constitutes punishment (positive or negative) or reinforcement (positive or negative). Check your understanding on the final slide by placing the correct terms in the paragraph.


Watch It

This video provides an explanation of the strategies involved with using operant conditioning in parenting. Pay attention to the potential consequences of overusing punishment.

Everyday Connection: Behavior Modification in Children

Parents and teachers often use behavior modification to change a child’s behavior. Behavior modification uses the principles of operant conditioning to accomplish behavior change so that undesirable behaviors are switched for more socially acceptable ones. Some teachers and parents create a sticker chart, in which several behaviors are listed. Sticker charts are a form of token economies. Each time children perform the behavior, they get a sticker, and after a certain number of stickers, they get a prize or reinforcer. The goal is to increase acceptable behaviors and decrease misbehavior. Remember, it is best to reinforce desired behaviors, rather than to use punishment. In the classroom, the teacher can reinforce a wide range of behaviors, from students raising their hands, to walking quietly in the hall, to turning in their homework. At home, parents might create a behavior chart that rewards children for things such as putting away toys, brushing their teeth, and helping with dinner. In order for behavior modification to be effective, the reinforcement needs to be connected with the behavior; the reinforcement must matter to the child and be provided consistently.

A photograph shows a child placing stickers on a chart hanging on the wall.
Figure 5. Sticker charts are a form of positive reinforcement and a tool for behavior modification. Once this little girl earns a certain number of stickers for demonstrating a desired behavior, she will be rewarded with a trip to the ice cream parlor. (credit: Abigail Batchelder)

Time-out is another popular technique used in behavior modification with children. It operates on the principle of negative punishment. When a child demonstrates an undesirable behavior, she is removed from the desirable activity at hand. For example, say that Sophia and her brother Mario are playing with building blocks. Sophia throws some blocks at her brother, so you give her a warning that she will go to time-out if she does it again. A few minutes later, she throws more blocks at Mario. You remove Sophia from the room for a few minutes. When she comes back, she doesn’t throw blocks.

There are several important points that you should know if you plan to implement time-out as a behavior modification technique. First, make sure the child is being removed from a desirable activity and placed in a less desirable location. If the activity is something undesirable for the child, this technique will backfire because it is more enjoyable for the child to be removed from the activity. Second, the length of the time-out is important. The general rule of thumb is one minute for each year of the child’s age. Sophia is five; therefore, she sits in a time-out for five minutes. Setting a timer helps children know how long they have to sit in time-out. Finally, as a caregiver, keep several guidelines in mind over the course of a time-out: remain calm when directing your child to time-out; ignore your child during a time-out (because caregiver attention may reinforce misbehavior), and give the child a hug or a kind word when time-out is over.

Photograph A shows several children climbing on playground equipment. Photograph B shows a child sitting alone at a table looking at the playground.
Figure 6. Time-out is a popular form of negative punishment used by caregivers. When a child misbehaves, he or she is removed from a desirable activity in an effort to decrease unwanted behavior. For example, (a) a child might be playing on the playground with friends and push another child; (b) the child who misbehaved would then be removed from the activity for a short period of time. (credit a: modification of work by Simone Ramella; credit b: modification of work by “JefferyTurner”/Flickr)

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Childhood Stress and Development

Stress in Early Childhood

homeless boy looking reflectively at the camera for his picture, while he sits with his arms crossed in front of him on his knees.
Figure 7. Young children exposed to toxic stress are at risk of developing physical, emotional, and social symptoms.

What is the impact of stress on child development? The answer to that question is complex and depends on several factors including the number of stressors, the duration of stress, and the child’s ability to cope with stress.

Children experience different types of stressors that could be manifest in various ways. Normal, everyday stress can provide an opportunity for young children to build coping skills and poses little risk to development. Even long-lasting stressful events, such as changing schools or losing a loved one, can be managed fairly well.

Some experts have theorized that there is a point where prolonged or excessive stress becomes harmful and can lead to serious health effects. When stress builds up in early childhood, neurobiological factors are affected; in turn, levels of the stress hormone cortisol exceed normal ranges. Due in part to the biological consequences of excessive cortisol, children can develop physical, emotional, and social symptoms. Physical conditions include cardiovascular problems, skin conditions, susceptibility to viruses, headaches, or stomach aches in young children. Emotionally, children may become anxious or depressed, violent, or feel overwhelmed. Socially, they may become withdrawn and act out towards others, or develop new behavioral ticks such as biting nails or picking at skin.

Types of Stress

Researchers have proposed three distinct types of responses to stress in young children: positive, tolerable, and toxic. Positive stress (also called eustress) is necessary and promotes resilience, or the ability to function competently under threat. Such stress arises from brief, mild to moderate stressful experiences, buffered by the presence of a caring adult who can help the child cope with the stressor. This type of stress causes minor, temporary physiological and hormonal changes in the young child such as an increase in heart rate and a change in hormone cortisol levels. The first day of school, a family wedding or making new friends are all examples of positive stressors. Tolerable stress comes from adverse experiences that are more intense in nature but short-lived and can usually be overcome. Some examples of tolerable stressors are family disruptions, accidents or the death of a loved one. The body’s stress response is more intensely activated due to severe stressors; however, the response is still adaptive and temporary.

Toxic stress is a term coined by pediatrician Jack P. Shonkoff of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University to refer to chronic, excessive stress that exceeds a child’s ability to cope, especially in the absence of supportive caregiving from adults. Extreme, long-lasting stress in the absence of supportive relationships to buffer the effects of a heightened stress response can produce damage and weakening of bodily and brain systems, which can lead to diminished physical and mental health throughout a person’s lifetime. Exposure to such toxic stress can result in the stress response system becoming more highly sensitized to stressful events, producing increased wear and tear on physical systems through over-activation of the body’s stress response. This wear and tear increases the later risk of various physical and mental illnesses.

Consequences of Toxic Stress

Children who experience toxic stress or who live in extremely stressful situations of abuse over long periods of time can suffer long-lasting effects. The structures in the midbrain or limbic system, such as the hippocampus and amygdala, can be vulnerable to prolonged stress (Middlebrooks and Audage, 2008). High levels of the stress hormone cortisol can reduce the size of the hippocampus and effect a child’s memory abilities. Stress hormones can also reduce immunity to disease. If the brain is exposed to long periods of severe stress, it can develop a low threshold, making a child hypersensitive to stress in the future.

With chronic toxic stress, children undergo long term hyper-arousal of brain stem activity. This includes an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and arousal states. These children may experience a change in brain chemistry, which leads to hyperactivity and anxiety. Therefore, it is evident that chronic stress in a young child’s life can create significant physical, emotional, psychological, social and behavioral changes; however, the effects of stress can be minimized if the child has the support of caring adults.

Watch It

This short video explains some of the biological changes that accompany toxic stress.

Coping with Stress

Stress is encountered in four different stages. In the first stage, stress usually causes alarm. Next, in the second or appraisal stage, the child attempts to find meaning from the event. Stage three consists of children seeking out coping strategies. Lastly, in stage four, children execute one or more of the coping strategies. However, children with a lower tolerance for stressors are more susceptible to alarm and find a broader array of events to be stressful. These children often experience chronic or toxic stress.

Managing Stress

Some recommendations to help children manage stressful situations include:

  • Preparing children for everyday stressful situations, such as traveling to new places or going to the doctor. For example, talk to children about the experience to help them understand that it is okay to be stressed and scared.
  • Keeping communication open. This includes making sure that the child feels comfortable talking to a person. This may include being in a comfortable space, such as their bedroom, where they feel safe. The comfort level of the child is important because if a child is not comfortable, or feels forced to speak, they may not open up at all.
  • Spending time together as a family so that no one’s feelings go unseen; ensuring that a child knows that their feelings are valued, and should be expressed in healthy ways.
  • Modeling healthy and successful coping mechanisms (such as going for a walk).
  • Encouraging children to express themselves creatively (as an outlet or to help others to understand what is stressing the child). Some healthy outlets of stress relief include sports or running, writing, reading, art, as well as playing musical instruments.
  • Teaching children to act and think positively when they are faced with a situation to manage the stress before it becomes overwhelming.
  • Providing a safe and healthy home and environment for children.
  • Providing children with proper nutrition and attention.
  • Ensuring children are not exposed to substance abuse or violence. When a healthy environment is provided, children are more likely to be emotionally and physically healthy

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This video describes a variety of factors involved in the development of resilience.


Trauma in Childhood

Childhood trauma is referred to in academic literature as adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). Children may go through a range of experiences that classify as psychological trauma, these might include neglect, abandonment, sexual abuse, physical abuse, parent or sibling treated violently, separation or incarceration of parents, or having a parent with a mental illness. These events have profound psychological, physiological, and sociological impacts and can have negative, lasting effects on health and well-being.

Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 1998 study on adverse childhood experiences determined that traumatic experiences during childhood are a root cause of many social, emotional, and cognitive impairments that lead to increased risk of unhealthy self-destructive behaviors, risk of violence or re-victimization, chronic health conditions, low life potential, and premature mortality. As the number of adverse experiences increases, the risk of problems from childhood through adulthood also rises. Nearly 30 years of study following the initial study has confirmed this. Many states, health providers, and other groups now routinely screen parents and children for ACEs.

Watch It

Watch this Ted talk from pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris as she explains the impact of childhood trauma across the lifespan.

Food Insecurity

In 2017 11.8% of households experienced low food security, or food insecurity, at some point during that year.[8] Food insecurity happens when a family has limited or uncertain availability of safe, nutritious food. The most recent statistics suggest that households with children are more at risk for food insecurity, with nearly 18% of children under the age of 18 living in households that have experienced food insecurity within the year.[9] Lack of proper nutrition is a stress on the body in general. Children who are undernourished may have physical developmental delays. Further, food insecurity has been correlated with poor school performance in both reading and math.[10]

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adverse childhood experiences: abuse, neglect, and violent experiences that contribute to childhood trauma
anal stage: the second stage in Freud’s theory of psychosexual development, lasting from age 18 months to three years, during which time the anus is the primary erogenous zone and pleasure is derived from controlling bladder and bowel movements
athletic coach style of parenting: the rules for behavior are consistent and objective and presented in that way. The parent’s role is to provide guidance while the child learns firsthand how to handle these situations
authoritarian parenting: the traditional model of parenting in which parents make the rules and children are expected to be obedient
authoritative parenting: appropriately strict, reasonable, and affectionate. They are willing to negotiate when appropriate
delayed gratification: the ability to hold out for a larger reward by forgoing a smaller immediate reward
food insecurity: limited or uncertain availability of safe, nutritious food
gender: a term that refers to social or cultural distinctions of behaviors that are considered male or female
gender identity: the way that one thinks about gender and self-identifies, can be female, male, or genderqueer
introjection: a process Freud described where children incorporate values from others into their value set
looking-glass self: the process by which our sense of self develops as we interact with others through various social relationships and incorporate the way those other people view us into our own sense of self
martyr parent: parent who will do anything for the child, even tasks that the child should do independently, may later use what they have done for the child to invoke guilt and compliance
negative punishment: a desirable stimulus is removed to decrease a behavior; for example, losing the privilege of playing a desired game or using a desired item
negative reinforcement: an undesirable stimulus is removed to increase a behavior; for example, the car beeping goes away when we click into the seatbelt
pal parent: wants to be the child’s friend and focuses on being entertaining and fun
permissive parenting: involves being a friend to a child rather than an authority figure. Children are allowed to make their own rules and determine their own activities
phallic stage: the third stage in Freud’s theory of psychosexual development, lasting from age three to six years, during which the libido (desire) centers upon the genitalia and children become aware of bodies
police officer/drill sergeant parent: focuses primarily on making sure that the child is obedient and that the parent has full control of the child
positive punishment: an undesirable stimulus is added to decrease a behavior; for example, spanking or receiving a speeding ticket
positive reinforcement: a desirable stimulus is added to increase a behavior; for example, stickers on a behavior chart or words of encouragement
response inhibition: the ability to recognize a potential behavior and stop the initiation of an undesired behavior
self-concept: the idea of who we are, what we are capable of doing, and how we think and feel
teacher-counselor parent: pays a lot of attention to expert advice on parenting and believes that as long as all of the steps are followed, the parent can rear a perfect child
toxic stress: excessive stress that exceeds a child’s ability to cope, especially in the absence of supportive caregiving from adults
uninvolved parenting: parents who are disengaged from their children, do not make demands on their children, and are non-responsive

  1. Yu Junhong, Kam Chi-Ming, Lee Tatia M. C. (2016). Better Working Memory and Motor Inhibition in Children Who Delayed Gratification. Frontiers in Psychology. Retrieved from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01098/full
  2. Tyler W. Watts, Greg J. Duncan, Haonan Quan (May 25, 2018). Revisiting the Marshmallow Test: A Conceptual Replication Investigating Links Between Early Delay of Gratification and Later Outcomes. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797618761661
  3. Salcuni Silvia, Di Riso Daniela, Mabilia Diana, Lis Adriana (2017). "Psychotherapy with a 3-Year-Old Child: The Role of Play in the Unfolding Process". Frontiers in Psychology. Retrieved from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.02021/full
  4. Strauss, Elissa (April 2018). "Why girls can be boyish but boys can't be girlish". CNN. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2018/04/12/health/boys-girls-gender-norms-parenting-strauss/index.html.
  5. (April 2018) "Employment Characteristics of Families." Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/famee.pdf
  6. Geiger, A.W., Livingston, Gretchen, and Bialik, Kristen (May 2019). "6 facts about U.S. moms." Pew Research Center. Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/05/08/facts-about-u-s-mothers/
  7. Highland Spring Group. "34 minutes: The amount of time the average family gets to spend together each day." Retrieved from http://www.highlandspringgroup.com/press-and-media/group-news/article/34-minutes-the-amount-of-time-the-average-family-gets-to-spend-together-each-day/.
  8. Coleman-Jensen, Alisha, Matthew Rabbitt, Christian Gregory, and Anita Singh (2018). "Household Food Security in the United States." United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. Retrieved from https://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/pub-details/?pubid=90022
  9. No Kid Hungry. "Facts About Childhood Hunger." Retrieved from https://www.nokidhungry.org/who-we-are/hunger-facts.
  10. Diana F. Jyoti, Edward A. Frongillo,4 and Sonya J. Jones (2005)Food Insecurity Affects School Children’s Academic Performance,Weight Gain, and Social Skills,  American Society for Nutrition.


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