Mind-Minded Parenting that Supports the Development of Self-Regulation

We talked in an earlier post about the connections between heredity and self-regulation (https://www.greatkidsinc.org/blog/providing-the-right-environment-for-your-family-tree-self-regulation-and-heredity/). In that article we discussed the idea that parenting plays a large role in the development of self-regulation. Today, we will spend a bit more time exploring this idea. We’ll look more specifically at the kind of parenting and early home environment that impacts a child’s ability to self-regulate and how this in turn relates to their academic success.

Many programs, especially those aimed at the preschool age child are focused on school readiness. Often though, parents and others fail to understand that there is more to school readiness than meets the eye. Research clearly indicates that it’s more than just intelligence; the ability to succeed in school (as well as life) also requires qualities like motivation, good social skills, strong self-concept, and well developed self-regulation (Nievar, Moske, Johnson, & Chen, 2014).

Have you seen video footage of the classic marshmallow studies done by Mischel and colleagues? The researchers place a marshmallow in front of a child and tell him/her that if they can wait and not eat it until the researcher returns, they will get TWO marshmallows. It’s entertaining to watch (we’ll post a clip on Thursday) these tiny humans struggle with many of the same things we as adults do when faced with delaying gratification. The piece of the research that is really important to our work in the Home Visiting field is that those children who were able to delay gratification at age four, were more attentive, better at planning, and better able to cope with stress as teen-agers (Mischel, Shoda, & Rodriquez, 1989). This begs the question, what is it that makes the difference, why are some children better at this than others? Of course we know that a child’s temperament likely plays some role, but let’s look at what else the research tells us seems to matter.

Researchers have broken parenting down into three dimensions that they feel favor the development of things like self-regulation (Bernier, Carlson, & Whipple, 2010). These aspects of parenting are (1) sensitivity, (2) mind-mindedness, and (3) scaffolding (Carlson, 2003). Sensitivity in parenting refers to appropriately and consistently responding to cues and signals (think about E-Parenting, Character Builders, Ready for Play, and Getting in Sync with My Baby). Mind-mindedness may be a new term for many people. Basically this describes a parent who treats their children’s acts as meaningful and motivated by feelings, thoughts, and intentions (Dewar, 2009). A parent who is being mind-minded, for example, would act according to the idea that their baby’s babbling represents an effort to communicate, they would pay attention to the baby’s interest in objects, they might imitate the child’s actions, and they would likely comment on what the child seems to be feeling or thinking. Sounds a lot like the basis of many of the GGK Daily Do’s doesn’t it? Scaffolding refers to offering children age-appropriate strategies for problem solving. Parents who are scaffolding allow for expressions of negative feelings, while displaying patience and providing a lot of informational language that supports the child’s inner motivation to sort out their thoughts and feelings. Researchers tell us that these kinds of parenting behaviors serve to help children move gradually from the stage where parents serve as external regulators into the ability to regulate their own inner states (Harrist & Waugh, 2002).

These three parenting behaviors go hand in hand. A parent who can read their child’s cues and signals, respond appropriately, and is well aware of the child’s mental processing when interacting with him will be better equipped to provide the kind of environment that supports autonomy and perspective taking (Bernier, Carlson, & Whipple, 2010). This seems to be the stuff of which strong self-regulation skills are made. Using the GGK conversation guides to help parents understand the importance of practicing all of the Daily Do’s on a regular basis will support their efforts to provide optimal developmental opportunities.

Remember too that family resources seem to have a substantial impact on parenting. Parenting in turn is essential to the development of attachment, self-regulation and cognitive development (Evans, 2006). Family stress theory explains that stress can overload a parent’s abilities to cope. This can result in poor relationships within the family (Nievar, Moske, Johnson, & Chen, 2014). For this reason, spending time utilizing the Growing Great Families Unit 2 modules on Stress Management will be an important aspect of your work with many families. Because poverty brings with it crowding, crime, noise, and safety issues, the safe environments aspect of Body Builders becomes even more critical for many of our families. When there are safety hazards in the home, children’s freedom to explore is inhibited. This lack of choice and experience can negatively impact the development of self-regulation (Nievar, Moske, Johnson, & Chen, 2014).

The importance of parenting skills and early environments in the development of self-regulation and other executive functions, means that your job is critical for supporting parents to optimize the kind of development that will ultimately lead to school readiness, a goal of so many of your programs. Don’t forget that the Pay-offs section of the Daily Do hand-outs will serve as an important tool as you work to motivate parents in their practice of these essential parenting skill sets. The idea that this sort of intentional parenting will result in a four year old who is able to delay gratification and maybe, in turn, a teen-ager who is more attentive, better at planning and coping with stress sounds like something many of us would be willing to work hard for…kind of like two marshmallows.


Works Cited

Bernier, A., Carlson, S., & Whipple, N. (2010). From external regulation to self-regulation: Early parenting precursors of young children’s executive functioning. Child Development, 326-339.

Carlson, S. (2003). Executive function in context: Development, measurement, theory, and experience. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development.

Dewar, G. (2009). How mental state talk helps kids learn about beliefs, feelings and the perspectives of other people. Retrieved from Parenting Science: http://www.parentingscience.com/mind-minded-parenting.html

Evans, G. (2006). Child development and the physical environment. Annual Review of Psychology, 423-451.

Harrist, A., & Waugh, R. (2002). Dyadic synchrony: Its structure and function in children’s development. Developmental Review, 555-592.

Mischel, W., Shoda, Y., & Rodriquez, M. L. (1989). Delay of gratification in children. Science, 933-938.

Nievar, M. A., Moske, A., Johnson, D., & Chen, Q. (2014). Parenting practices in preschool leading to later cognitive competence: A family stress model. Early Education and Development, 318-337.

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