What effect do home atmosphere and childrearing practices have on the nursery-school child’s personality?

What effect do home atmosphere and childrearing practices have on the nursery-school child’s personality?

As the child grows and makes further advances in ability and understanding, his interactions with his parents become more extensive, more complex, and subtler. By the time the child is in nursery school, parental handling of specific needs such as hunger are less salient in determining the child’s personality and behaviours. But general global features of the home atmosphere and parental attitudes become more critical. We refer to qualities like warmth, protectiveness, acceptance, criticism, affectionateness, punitiveness, friction, permissiveness (or restrictiveness), democracy (or authoritarian control), firmness of discipline, and parental involvement with the child. These home and family variables significantly influence children’s social behaviour, personality characteristics, and attitudes, as a number of investigations demonstrate.

In one study, conducted at the Fels Institute in Yellow Springs, Ohio, subjects were carefully observed in nursery school and then rated on a wide variety of personality characteristics, such as aggression, dependency, creativity, cooperation, leadership, and originality. A home visitor visited each subject’s home, saw him in interactions with his parents, and assessed the home atmosphere on thirty carefully defined scales, for example, protectiveness, affectionateness, acceptance, and severity of penalties. These home ratings fell into clusters or groups of related variables – democracy in the home, control, indulgence, restrictiveness, and activity.

In democratic homes, parents are characteristically permissive, encouraging their children’s curiosity and self-expression. Family decisions and rules are generally formulated on the basis of family discussions. In contrast, homes high in control are restrictive and rules are formulated and communicated by the parents. There is little discussion of problems or disciplinary procedures. As you might anticipate, children from these two types of homes showed profound contrasts in personality. Democratic homes produced outgoing, active, competitive, original, curious, planful, self-assertive, and aggressive children. In nursery school, they tended to be leaders, participating energetically in activities, expressing themselves freely, and occasionally behaving in nonconforming ways. Children from highly controlled homes were conforming, socially unaggressive, well-behaved, quiet, lacking in curiosity and originality, and inhibited in self-expression.

Clearly the behaviour that the children manifested in school was a generalization of the responses rewarded and learned at home. Curiosity and spontaneity, rewarded by democratic parents, were carried over into nursery school. And so were the conformity and acquiescence to parental demands, as well as suppression of curiosity learned at home. and self-expression, that the children of highly controlling parents

In another study, conducted by Baumrind, nursery-school children were intensively observed and then rated on self-control, curiosity about new and exciting stimuli, self-reliance, warmth, and general mood.

Two contrasting groups of children were selected for further study – one consisting of the most mature, competent, content, and independent, and the other of the most immature, highly dependent, most lacking in self-control and self-reliance. Researchers then visited the children’s homes, observed parent-child interactions in structured situations, and interviewed the parents. Using these data, they rated four dimensions of parent-child relationships: control, maturity demands (pressures on the child to perform at his ability level and freedom to make some decisions on his own), clarity of parent-child communication, and parental nurturance (warmth toward the child and involvement with him).

The parents of the most mature, competent children proved to be high in all four dimensions. They were effective in balancing nurturance and control, high demands and clear communications. In dealing with their children they were supportive, loving, conscientious, secure, and respectful of their children’s independence. At the same time, they held firm in their own positions and were explicit about the reasons for their decisions. Their attempts to control their children’s behaviour were integrated with teaching and reasoning. In contrast, the parents of the least mature children were low in control of their children, although they, too, were warm and nurturant. They tended to be overprotective, lax in discipline, made relatively few demands, and did little to motivate, teach, or encourage self-reliance or independence.

Although these two studies were done at different times and places, and used different research techniques, they yielded findings that are highly consistent. Parents who are warm, supportive. and nurturant and, at the same time, encourage their children’s independence and responsibility promote the development of competence, interest in others, outgoingness, self-control, and self-reliance. Parental nurturance, accompanied by high degrees of control or firmness and high maturity demands foster the development of maturity and competence in children.

Identification also play major role in personality development. Identification may be regarded as a desire or motive to be like another individual. When the boy identifies with his father, he begins to think, behave, and feel as though his father’s characteristics are his own. In identifying with his parent, Freud said, the child “attempts to duplicate in his own life the ideals, attitudes, and behaviour of that parent.” Identification is a fundamental mechanism of personality development and socialization. Through identification with his parents, the child acquires many of these adults’ characteristics, reactions, attitudes, emotions, feelings, and ways of thinking. He believes he absorbs some of their strength and adequacy; hence, he feels himself to be more secure and self-controlled.

In addition, identification with parents lays the foundation for the child’s adaptation to the society in which he lives. His parents are, after all, representatives of their own culture and, by identifying with them, the child acquires the temperamental qualities and skills that are typical and approved in his culture.

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