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"Parental care" redirects here. For parental care in animals, see Parental investment.

Parenting (or child rearing) is the process of promoting and supporting the physical, emotional, social, and intellectual development of a child from infancy to adulthood. Parenting refers to the aspects of raising a child aside from the biological relationship.

Parenting is usually done by the biological parents of the child in question, although governments and society take a role as well. In many cases, orphaned or abandoned children receive parental care from non-parent blood relations. Others may be adopted, raised in foster care, or placed in an orphanage.

Factors that affect parenting decisions

Main article: Parenting styles

Social class, wealth, and income have the strongest impact on what methods of child rearing are used by parents. Lack of money is found to be the defining factor in the style of child rearing that is chosen. As times change so does the way parents parent their children. It becomes essential to understand parenting styles as well as how those styles contribute to the behavior and development of children.

Parenting styles

Developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind identified three main parenting styles in early child development: authoritative, authoritarian, and permissive.These parenting styles were later expanded to four, including an uninvolved style. These four styles of parenting involve combinations of acceptance and responsiveness on the one hand and demand and control on the other.

  • Authoritarian parenting styles can be very rigid and strict. Parents who practice authoritarian style parenting have a strict set of rules and expectations and require rigid obedience. If rules are not followed punishment is most often used to ensure obedience.There is usually no explanation of punishment except that the child is in trouble and should listen accordingly."Because I said so" is a typical response to a child's question of authority, and this type of authority is used more often in working-class families than the middle class. In 1983 Diana Baumrind found that children raised in an authoritarian-style home were less cheerful, more moody and more vulnerable to stress. In many cases these children also demonstrated passive hostility.
  • Authoritative parenting relies on positive reinforcement and infrequent use of punishment. Parents are more aware of a child's feelings and capabilities and support the development of a child's autonomy within reasonable limits. There is a give-and-take atmosphere involved in parent-child communication and both control and support are exercised in authoritative style parenting. Research shows that this style is most beneficial when parenting children.
  • Permissive or Indulgent parenting is most popular in middle-class families. In these family settings a child's freedom and their autonomy are valued and parents tend to rely mostly on reasoning and explanation. There tends to be little if any punishment or rules in this style of parenting and children are said to be free from external constraints. Children of permissive parents are generally happy but sometimes show levels of self-control and self-reliance because they lack structure at home.
  • An uninvolved parenting style is when parents are often emotionally absent and sometimes even physically absent. They have little to no expectation of the child and regularly have no communication. They are not responsive to a child's needs and do not demand anything of them in their behavioral expectations. They provide everything the child needs for survival with little to no engagement.There is often a large gap between parents and children with this parenting style. Children with little or no communication with parents tended to be the victims of another child's deviant behavior and may be involved in some deviance themselves.Children of uninvolved parents suffer in each of the following areas: social competence, academic performance, psychosocial development and problem behavior.

  • There is no single or definitive model of parenting. What may be right for one family or one child may not be suitable for another. With authoritative and permissive (indulgent) parenting on opposite sides of the spectrum, most conventional and modern models of parenting fall somewhere in between. Parenting strategies as well as behaviours/ideals of what parents expect whether communicated verbally and/or non-verbally also play a significant role in a child's development.

Parenting practices

  • Historic Developmental (Child as Apprentice) Model - As a child's independent capacities emerge, opportunities are continuously presented at an age appropriate level. The child gains self-worth simultaneous to the emergence of various competencies in an ever-growing number of essential venues, as adulthood is approached. From the initial highly dependent relationship with parents, high levels of independence are attained seamlessly while special skills and abilities of the child have emerged in a manner relevant to adult vocational choices and life interests.
  • Attachment Parenting- strengthen the intuitive, psychological and emotional bond between the primary caregiver
  • Helicopter Parenting- over-parenting, parents are constantly involving themselves, interrupting the child's ability to function on their own
  • Narcissistic Parenting- parents are driven by their own needs, their children are an extension of their own identity, use their children to live out their dreams
  • Positive Parenting- unconditional support, guiding them and supporting them for healthy development.
  • Slow Parenting- allowing the child to develop their own interests and allowing them to grow into their own person, lots of family time, allowing children to make their own decisions, limit electronics, simplistic toys
  • Spiritual Parenting- respecting the child's individuality, making space for child to develop a sense of their own beliefs through their personality and their own potentials
  • Strict Parenting- Focused on strict discipline, demanding, with high expectations from the parents.
  • Toxic Parenting- poor parenting, complete disruption of the child's ability to identify one's self and reduced self-esteem, neglecting the needs of the child and abuse is sometimes seen in this parenting style
  • Unconditional Parenting- giving unconditional positive encouragement

Parenting skills

Parenting styles are only a small piece of what it takes to be a "good parent". Parenting takes a lot of skill and patience and is constant work and growth. Research shows that children benefit most when their parents:

  • communicate honestly about events or discussions that have happened, also that parents explain clearly to children what happened and how they were involved if they were
  • stay consistent, children need structure, parents that have normal routines benefits children incredibly;
  • utilize that resources available to them, reaching out into the community;
  • taking more interest in their child's educational needs and early development; and
  • keeping open communication and staying educated on what their child is learning and doing and how it is affecting them

Parental roles and responsibilities / Motherhood

The ideology of "motherhood" portrays mothers as being the ultimate caregivers. They invest most if not all of their time on their children which sometimes affects their job and role in the labor market. Although stay at home moms are less common, women are seen as spending more time with children than men. They are commonly the nurturers of the children and support emotional growth and stability.


Fathers now more than ever are spending more time with their children. Whereas in the past, fathers were the breadwinners and the mothers stayed at home to cook, clean and take care of children, the roles are starting to converge. Fathers are participating more in parenting roles and taking on responsibilities such as bathing, dressing, feeding, changing diapers and comforting children.

Shared earning/shared parenting marriage

Today many men and women engage in Shared Earning/Shared Parenting Marriage where they do not follow archetypal or steretoyped "motherhood" and "fatherhood" roles and instead both earn money and both do the unpaid work of parenting and childcare.

Stresses of role transition

In 1968 Alice Rossi identified five stresses involved in entering parenthood
  • Irreversibility speaks to the issue that unlike other roles, one cannot easily leave parenthood once a child is born.
  • Lack of Preparation is exactly what it says. There is absolutely no way to plan for and practice parenting until you have a child in your arms to take care of constantly.
  • Idealization and Romanticization is the issue that if and when the reality of being a parent turns out to be different than what is expected, it is easy for new parents to become frustrated and disappointed in their new roles.
  • Suddenness addresses the issue that regardless of months of pregnancy, an individual goes from being a non-parent to a parent the moment that childbirth occurs and with that is the same suddenness of the responsibilities that go along with it.
  • Role Conflict is felt when the parental role affects all other roles that are held by the individual. It is sometimes difficult to manage all roles which can lead to stress and unhealthy coping.

Changes with the arrival of children

Five domains of change have been identified in new parents by Carolyn and Phillip Cowan with the arrival of new children.

  • Identity and inner life changes is when parents no longer only think of themselves. Priorities and personal values change with an addition of a child in their life.
  • Shifts within marital roles and relationships are changes in how couples divide tasks and responsibilities. Because of the fatigue associated with new children relationship quality may diminish.
  • Shifts in intergenerational relationships occur when becoming new parents alters the relationship between themselves and their own parents.
  • Changes in roles and relationships outside of the family is when becoming a new parent changes relationships at work or in friendships. New children hold all priority and so other aspects of life and relationships are sometimes put on hold or the relationship is altered.
  • New parenting roles and relationships is the agreeable division of childcare among partners.

Parenting across the lifespan / Planning and pre-pregnancy

Family planning is the decision whether and when to become parents, including planning, preparing, and gathering resources. Parents should assess (amongst other matters) whether they have the required financial resources (the raising of a child costs around $16,198 yearly in the United States)[14] and should also assess whether their family situation is stable enough and whether they themselves are responsible and qualified enough to raise a child. Reproductive health and preconceptional care affect pregnancy, reproductive success and maternal and child physical and mental health.

Pregnancy and prenatal parenting

During pregnancy the unborn child is affected by many decisions his or her parents make, particularly choices linked to their lifestyle. The health and diet decisions of the mother can have either a positive or negative impact on the child during prenatal parenting. In addition to physical management of the pregnancy, medical knowledge of your physician, hospital, and birthing options are important. Here are some key items of advice:

  • Ask your prospective obstetrician how often he or she is in the hospital and who covers for them when they're not available.
  • Learn all you can about your backup physician as well as your primary doctor.
  • Choose a hospital with a 24-hour, in-house anesthesia team.

Many people believe that parenting begins with birth, but the mother begins raising and nurturing a child well before birth. Scientific evidence indicates that from the fifth month on, the unborn baby is able to hear sounds, become aware of motion, and possibly exhibit short-term memory. Several studies (e.g. Kissilevsky et al., 2003) show evidence that the unborn baby can become familiar with his or her parents' voices. Other research indicates that by the seventh month, external schedule cues influence the unborn baby's sleep habits. Based on this evidence, parenting actually begins well before birth.

Depending on how many children the mother carries also determines the amount of care needed during prenatal and post-natal periods.

Newborns and infants

Newborn parenting, is where the responsibilities of parenthood begins. A newborn's basic needs are food, sleep, comfort and cleaning which the parent provides. An infant's only form of communication is crying, and attentive parents will begin to recognize different types of crying which represent different needs such as hunger, discomfort, boredom, or loneliness. Newborns and young infants require feedings every few hours which is disruptive to adult sleep cycles. They respond enthusiastically to soft stroking, cuddling and caressing. Gentle rocking back and forth often calms a crying infant, as do massages and warm baths. Newborns may comfort themselves by sucking their thumb or a pacifier. The need to suckle is instinctive and allows newborns to feed. Breastfeeding is the recommended method of feeding by all major infant health organizations. If breastfeeding is not possible or desired, bottle feeding is a common alternative. Other alternatives include feeding breastmilk or formula with a cup, spoon, feeding syringe, or nursing supplementer.

The forming of attachments is considered to be the foundation of the infant/child's capacity to form and conduct relationships throughout life. Attachment is not the same as love and/or affection although they often go together. Attachments develop immediately and a lack of attachment or a seriously disrupted capacity for attachment could potentially do serious damage to a child's health and well-being. Physically one may not see symptoms or indications of a disorder but emotionally the child may be affected. Studies show that children with secure attachment have the ability to form successful relationships, express themselves on an interpersonal basis and have higher self-esteem[citation needed]. Conversely children who have caregivers who are neglectful or emotionally unavailable can exhibit behavioral problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder or oppositional-defiant disorder

Oppositional-defiant disorder is a pattern of disobedient, hostile, and defiant behavior toward authority figures


Toddlers are much more active than infants and are challenged with learning how to do simple tasks by themselves. At this stage, parents are heavily involved in showing the child how to do things rather than just doing things for them, and the child will often mimic the parents. Toddlers need help to build their vocabulary, increase their communications skills, and manage their emotions. Toddlers will also begin to understand social etiquette such as being polite and taking turns.

Toddlers are very curious about the world around them and eager to explore it. They seek greater independence and responsibility and may become frustrated when things do not go the way they want or expect. Tantrums begin at this stage, which is sometimes referred to as the 'Terrible Twos'.Tantrums are often caused by the child's frustration over the particular situation, sometimes simply not being able to communicate properly. Parents of toddlers are expected to help guide and teach the child, establish basic routines (such as washing hands before meals or brushing teeth before bed), and increase the child's responsibilities. It is also normal for toddlers to be frequently frustrated. It is an essential step to their development. They will learn through experience; trial and error. This means that they need to experience being frustrated when something does not work for them, in order to move on to the next stage. When the toddler is frustrated, they will often behave badly with actions like screaming, hitting or biting. Parents need to be careful when reacting to such behaviours, giving threats or punishments is not helpful and will only make the situation worse.


Younger children are becoming more independent and are beginning to build friendships. They are able to reason and can make their own decisions given hypothetical situations. Young children demand constant attention, but will learn how to deal with boredom and be able to play independently. They also enjoy helping and feeling useful and able. Parents may assist their child by encouraging social interactions and modelling proper social behaviors. A large part of learning in the early years comes from being involved in activities and household duties. Parents who observe their children in play or join with them in child-driven play have the opportunity to glimpse into their children's world, learn to communicate more effectively with their children and are given another setting to offer gentle, nurturing guidance.[20] Parents are also teaching their children health, hygiene, and eating habits through instruction and by example.

Parents are expected to make decisions about their child's education. Parenting styles in this area diverge greatly at this stage with some parents becoming heavily involved in arranging organized activities and early learning programs. Other parents choose to let the child develop with few organized activities.

Children begin to learn responsibility, and consequences of their actions, with parental assistance. Some parents provide a small allowance that increases with age to help teach children the value of money and how to be responsible with it.

Parents who are consistent and fair with their discipline, who openly communicate and offer explanations to their children, and who do not neglect the needs of their children in some way often find they have fewer problems with their children as they mature.


During adolescence children are beginning to form their identity and are testing and developing the interpersonal and occupational roles that they will assume as adults. Therefore it is important that parents must treat them as young adults. Although adolescents look to peers and adults outside of the family for guidance and models for how to behave, parents remain influential in their development. A teenager who thinks poorly of him or herself, is not confident, hangs around with gangs, lack positive values, follows the crowd, is not doing well in studies, is losing interest in school, has few friends, lacks supervision at home or is not close to key adults like parents are vulnerable to peer pressure. Parents often feel isolated and alone in parenting adolescents, but they should still make efforts to be aware of their adolescents' activities, provide guidance, direction, and consultation. Adolescence can be a time of high risk for children, where new found freedoms can result in decisions that drastically open up or close off life opportunities. Parental issues at this stage of parenting include dealing with "rebellious" teenagers, who didn't know freedom while they were smaller. In order to prevent all these, it is important to build a trusting relationship with them. This can be achieved by planning and spending fun activities together, keeping your promises, do not nag at him or her about their past mistakes and try to listen and talk to them, no matter how busy you are. When a trusting relationship is built, they are more likely to approach you for help when faced with negative peer pressure. Also, try to built a strong foundation to help your child to resist negative peer pressure, it is important to build up their self-esteem:Praise your child's strength instead of focusing on their weakness (It will make them feel good and grow confident about themselves, so he/she does not feel the need to gain acceptance from his peers), acknowledge your child's efforts, do not simply focus on the final result (when they notice that you recognize his/her efforts, he/she will keep trying), and lastly, disapprove the behavior, not the child, or they will turn to their peers for acceptance and comfort.


Parenting doesn't usually end when a child turns 18. Support can be needed in a child's life well beyond the adolescent years and continues into middle and later adulthood. Parenting can be a lifelong process.

Assistance / Care

Research shows that 70 percent of parents place their child in some type of child care setting, making child care an essential component of parenting. Because another individual will be partnering in raising your child it is important to choose a facility that fits your needs and matches your values and goals for your child. Location, setting and cost are all extremely important in choosing a child care facility. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) identifies ten items to make sure your child is in a good early child care setting:

  • Children spend most of their time playing and working with materials or other children. They do not wander aimlessly, and they are not expected to sit quietly for long periods of time.
  • Children have access to various activities throughout the day. Look for assorted building blocks and other construction materials, props for pretend play, picture books, paints and other art materials, and table toys such as matching games, pegboards, and puzzles. Children should not all be doing the same thing at the same time.
  • Teachers work with individual children, small groups, and the whole group at different times during the day. They do not spend all their time with the whole group.
  • The classroom is decorated with children's original artwork, their own writing with invented spelling, and stories dictated by children to teachers.
  • Children learn numbers and the alphabet in the context of their everyday experiences. The natural world of plants and animals and meaningful activities like cooking, taking attendance, or serving snack provide the basis for learning activities.
  • Children work on projects and have long periods of time (at least one hour) to play and explore. Worksheets are used little if at all.
  • Children have an opportunity to play outside every day. Outdoor play is never sacrificed for more instructional time.
  • Teachers read books to children individually or in small groups throughout the day, not just at group story time.
  • Curriculum is adapted for those who are ahead as well as those who need additional help. Teachers recognize that children's different background and experiences mean that they do not learn the same things at the same time in the same way.
  • Children and their parents look forward to school. Parents feel secure about sending their child to the program. Children are happy to attend; they do not cry regularly or complain of feeling sick.

Also ask if the program is accredited by NAEYC. NAEYC accredited programs complete a rigorous self-study and external review to prove that they meet standards of excellence in early childhood education.

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