“An incalculable amount of tension and useless effort would be spared in this world if we realized that cooperation and love can never be won by force.” - Alfred Adler, psychologist
Positive parenting is warm and nurturing and focuses on developing a strong, positive bond between parent and child. Rather than using strict discipline to punish unwanted behaviour, positive parenting teaches children to understand the process of making good decisions, builds self-confidence and encourages open communication.
What are the Impacts of Positive Parenting?
The long-term effects of raising children with positive parenting have been noted in a number of studies (better grades, higher self-esteem, and fewer mental health problems, for example). A 2015 study published in Child Psychiatry and Human Development, found that children raised with negative parenting was related to “higher adolescent anxiety, depression, and aggression and lower self-esteem, and school satisfaction.” Other studies are digging deeper into what’s going on under the surface.
Can a Child Affect Parenting Strategies?
In a recent article that appeared in Behavior Genetics, researchers observed that children who demonstrate more affectionate behaviours are more likely to receive positive parenting, as do those with higher cognitive ability. What isn’t clear is whether children parented in this way become more affectionate as a result or whether it’s easier for parents to respond more positively when dealing with a child with these qualities.
The researchers also observed that girls were more likely than boys to be positively parented, perhaps because of developmental differences that give girls the early advantage in cognitive development. Perhaps early socialization encourages girls to be more emotionally expressive and this, in turn, has an impact on a parent’s willingness to interact positively with the child.
Brain Changes and Positive Parenting
Other researchers have focussed on the underlying neurophysiology of adolescent brains. A 2013 study published in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience looked at the relationship between positive parenting and changes in different brain structures in adolescents. Researchers found changes in the right amygdala and right anterior cingulate (in males only) as well as in the the orbitofrontal cortices and suggest that these changes may relate to mental disorders that emerge during adolescence.
Because positive life outcomes are related to positive childhood experiences, researchers wanted to understand the neurological underpinnings that might relate to positive behavioural outcomes. It’s only relatively recently that we’ve begun to understand just how much neurological development and change happens during the teen years. It’s now believed that the brain undergoes huge changes in adolescence, eclipsed only by the amount of change that occurs in infancy.
The implications are obvious. If the way we parent is related to structural changes in the brain, then the way we parent our teenagers may literally shape their brains and establish traits that will impact them through the rest of their lives. Some research points to the importance of thickening of the cortex during adolescence in terms of later cognitive and emotional functioning. One finding suggests that “… low levels of positive maternal behaviors during conflictual interactions to prospectively predict the onset of depressive disorders during adolescence.”
While we still have a long way to go in terms of understanding exactly how parenting strategies influence brain development and impact later behaviour and mental health outcomes, there is mounting evidence that positive parenting strategies are effective in the short term but also have long-term impacts.
Positive Parenting Strategies for Parents
Given the many positive outcomes associated with non-coercive parenting, it makes sense for parents of children of all ages to integrate positive parenting strategies whenever possible. Time taken now to discuss and explain will pay off later in higher self esteem, better mental health, and positive life outcomes.
Dr. Syras Derksen
Concetta, et al. (2015). Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, Volume 57, Issue 7, July.
Whittle, Sarah, et al (2013). Positive parenting predicts the development of adolescent brain structure: a longitudinal study. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, Volume 8, April 2014.
Woodward, K.E., et al. (2018). Correlates of positive parenting behaviors. Behavior Genetics, July 2018, Volume 48, Issue 4.