Academic journal article Merrill-Palmer Quarterly

Mothers' Knowledge of Their Children's Evaluations of Discipline: The Role of Type of Discipline and Misdeed, and Parenting Practices

Academic journal article Merrill-Palmer Quarterly

Mothers' Knowledge of Their Children's Evaluations of Discipline: The Role of Type of Discipline and Misdeed, and Parenting Practices

Article excerpt

Fifty-nine 6- to 9-year-old children evaluated three discipline strategies (reasoning, verbal power assertion, acknowledgment of feelings), and mothers were asked to predict their children's evaluations. Maternal knowledge scores were derived. Mothers were less accurate at predicting their children's perceptions of discipline when the misdeed in question involved failure to act prosocially than when it involved an antisocial act. As well, mothers' knowledge was positively correlated with maternal reports of authoritative parenting practices and negatively associated with both authoritarian and permissive practices. Mothers who used relatively more authoritarian practices overestimated the negative effect of power-assertive discipline, and mothers who were relatively more permissive overestimated the negative effect of discipline in general. Children evaluated acknowledgment of feelings most favorably, and verbal disapproval least favorably, with reasoning in between, and mothers were generally cognizant of these preferences.

Parents' ability to perceive and anticipate their children's reactions accurately in discipline situations is thought to play a key role in children's internalization of values (Grusec & Goodnow, 1994; Grusec, Goodnow, & Kuczynski, 2000). Yet very little is known about the characteristics and circumstances conducive to, or hindering, parental knowledge of this sort. This article addresses this issue.

The Importance of Parents' Knowledge of Children's Responses to Discipline

Accumulating evidence indicates that discipline interventions usually do not have the same effects on all children in all situations. Rather, many characteristics of the child, parent, immediate situation, and larger context moderate the child's perceptions of and ultimately the effectiveness of any given discipline method. As an example, coercive, insensitive discipline strategies are more strongly linked to externalizing behavior in children with difficult (vs. easy) temperament, in school-aged (vs. younger) children, in préadolescent boys (vs. girls), and in cultures where those strategies are not normative (Bates & Pettit, 2007; Lansford et al., 2005; Rothbaum & Weisz, 1994). In light of such interactions, current analyses of socialization place an emphasis not on the ability to use "good" rather than "bad" techniques in an objective sense, but instead on the ability to use a strategy that is well suited for the particular child in the particular context (e.g., Chao, 2001; Darling & Steinberg, 1993; Grusec et al., 2000). Parents' knowledge of how their child would perceive and react to different discipline strategies in a given situation thus becomes important because it enables them to select responses that are more likely to be effective in achieving the parental goal.

Theoretically, knowledge of how the child perceives the discipline situation should aid parents and facilitate their effectiveness in multiple ways. For example, knowing the child's particular point of view would enable parents, as needed, to present missing information, to correct feelings of unfairness, to be sufficiently assertive but without being overly controlling, or to convey the importance of the issue more clearly. Thus, knowledge of the child's perspective should promote more appropriate responses by parents in discipline situations - responses that are suitable to the particular child in the particular context - and therefore facilitate desirable socialization outcomes.

Supporting the importance of parents' knowledge, Hastings and Grusec (1997) found that parents' accurate perceptions of their adolescents' thoughts and feelings during recent disagreements were linked to positive conflict outcomes as reported by parents. Providing further evidence for the role of knowledge, Davidov and Grusec (2006) found that mothers who more accurately perceived - that is, had greater knowledge of how their children view discipline situations - were more successful than less knowledgeable mothers at getting their children to comply with a directive to clean up a playroom following initial noncompliance. …

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