Emerging research from the fields of public health, psychology, education and others demonstrates that the condition of “parent-child connectedness” serves as an important protective factor for a variety of adolescent health outcomes… [Parent-child connectedness] is characterized by the quality of the emotional bond between parent and child and by the degree to which this bond is both mutual and sustained over time. As evidence accumulates about parent-child connectedness being a protective factor for the prevention of a variety of health and social problems (e.g. drug use, violence, unintended pregnancy), attention naturally turns to the specific mechanisms by which this connectedness works, so that it can be promoted more deliberately, systematically, and proactively.2
“I had no idea that I had the power to transform the quality
of my home life and the relationship with my children
by simply listening to them differently. The tools I learned
helped me to listen with my heart.”
Jodi, mother of two in Northern California
A mother who responds with sensitivity and consistency to her child’s needs, the theory suggests, sends a series of important messages to her infant that build trust and security (Chase-Lansdale, Wakschlag et al., 1995). This responsiveness helps the infant learn the important developmental skill of self-regulation as distress is soothed, needs are met, and alertness enhanced (Bridges 2002). From this initial trusting and secure base, the infant (and then the toddler) develops a variety of skills that are essential to healthy development: self-regulation of emotions (Egeland & Erickson, 1999), socialization, a sense of mastery and competence, and an internal working model of how relationships with others work, thus shaping future relationships with peers and, eventually, with romantic partners.
When parents are very emotionally warm, available, and affectionate and balance these qualities with consistently high expectations and a firm but fair disciplinary style, they create an emotional context or climate in which children thrive—this is known as authoritative or democratic parenting. Steinberg, in a review of authoritative parenting studies, reports that adolescents from homes where authoritative parenting is the norm achieve more in school, report less depression and anxiety, and tend to score higher on measures of self-reliance and self-esteem. They are also less likely to engage in antisocial behaviors such as delinquency and drug use (Steinberg 2001). 3
How does authoritative parenting work?
Steinberg goes on to highlight three ways that authoritative parenting yields healthier children and adolescents:
- Nurturing and parent involvement make children more receptive to their parents’ influence.
- The combination of support and structure help children develop self-regulatory skills and competence.
- Verbal give-and-take between parents and their children fosters cognitive and social skills (Steinberg 2001).
Authoritative parenting helps build a close parent-child connection, the “super protective” factor influencing whether children emerge into adulthood without major involvement in drugs, violence, early pregnancy or school failure. (Education Training Research Associates, 2004) This research also revealed that the Parenting by Connection program, developed by Hand in Hand Parenting more than 24 years ago, is one of only a few that effectively connects parents and children and provides this super protective factor. Click here to read the research reviewing Parenting by Connection.