Parenting During Middle Childhood
Parents of children between the ages of 5 and 12 years—the period commonly referred to as middlechildhood—face challenges arising from both maturational changes in children and from sociallyimposed constraints, opportunities, and demands impinging on them. Children in diverse societiesenter a wider social world at approximately the age of 5 years and begin to determine their ownexperiences, including their contacts with particular others, to a greater degree than previously. Be-tween the age of 5 years and adolescence, transitions occur in physical maturity, cognitive abilitiesand learning, the diversity and impact of relationships with others, and exposure to new settings,opportunities, and demands. These changes inevitably alter the amount, kind, content, and signif-icance of interactions between parents and children. In this chapter we address the impact of thedistinctive challenges and achievements of middle childhood on parent–child relationships and onthe processes of socialization within families.
The chapter includes five main sections. The first section provides a brief overview of historical
considerations in the study of parenting of 5- to 12-year-old children. The second section outlineskey normative changes in children that affect parenting during middle childhood. The third sectionreviews changes in parent–child relationships in which parenting issues are embedded. The fourthsection distills findings from research on the issues of parenting and of parent–child relationshipsthat are especially linked to the distinctive changes of the period. These include adapting processes ofcontrol, fostering self-management and responsibility, facilitating positive relationships outside thefamily, and maintaining contacts with schools and other out-of-home settings. The concluding sectionunderscores the key themes from research and notes persistent questions about the distinctiveness ofparenting during middle childhood.
HISTORICAL CONSIDERATIONS IN MIDDLE CHILDHOOD PARENTING
In diverse cultures, early–middle childhood historically has marked a major shift in children’s rela-tionships with adults. The age of 6 or 7 years was the time at which children were absorbed into theworld of adults, helping to shoulder family responsibilities and working alongside their elders. Wellinto the 18th century in Western nations, many children left home by the age of 6 or 7 years to workas servants in other households (Aries, 1962). If children remained at home, their parents becamemore like supervisors or overseers. The assumption that children were capable of tasks now largelyreserved for adults was consistent with a general attitude toward forcing infants and young childrentoward behavioral rectitude and submissiveness to authority (see French, in Vol. 2 of this Handbook
Only in recent times have changing concepts of the family and the advent of formal schooling
removed children of this age from wide participation in adult society. In industrialized nations today,the ages of 5 to 12 years have continued to be set apart from younger ages because they correspond tothe beginning of compulsory schooling. Schooling provides a distinctive social definition of childrenand social structures that constrain and channel development during this period. This secular changehas meant that, rather than taking on adult responsibilities, as was the case in earlier periods, childrenin middle childhood are primarily concerned with preparation for eventual responsibility. Children’spreparation for adulthood is conducted not only by parents, but also by institutions and personsoutside of the family. Thus the central contemporary issue of parenting during middle childhoodis how parents most effectively adjust their interactions, cognitions, and affectional behavior to thechanging characteristics of children in order to maintain appropriate influence and guidance duringage-graded transitions toward greater autonomy (Maccoby, 1992). The next section outlines thesechanges and some implications for parent–child relationships.
NORMATIVE CHANGES IN CHILDREN DURING MIDDLE CHILDHOOD
To most parents in industrialized societies, middle childhood is less distinctive as a period of devel-opment than infancy, toddlerhood, or adolescence. The ages of 5 to 12 years nevertheless universallyare set apart by major transition points in human development (Rogoff, Pirrotta, Fox, and White,1975). In this section we briefly review changes in children that set the stage for transitions inparenting during middle childhood. These changes include cognitive competence and the growth ofknowledge, transitions in social contexts and relationships, increased vulnerability to stress, alteredfunctions of the self, and self-regulation and social responsibility.
Cognitive Competence and the Growth of Knowledge
Cognitive changes greatly expand children’s capacities for solving problems and gaining necessaryinformation to become increasingly competent and resourceful. For parents, changes in children’scognitive competence necessitate alterations ranging from the content of conversations, strategiesfor control and influence over children’s behavior, and expectations regarding competence and self-regulation.
Three characteristic changes of middle childhood are noteworthy. One is a growing ability to
reason in terms of abstract representations of objects and events. For children younger than 5 to7 years old, cognition characteristically involves limitations on the number of objects that can bethought about at one time, and systematic or abstract reasoning is relatively rare (Edwards and Liu,in Vol. 1 of this Handbook
). Between the ages of 5 and 9 years, most children gain capacities thatenable them to reason effectively about increasingly complex problems and circumstances; and by10 to 12 years of age, children begin to show increased abilities for generalizing across concreteinstances and for systematic problem solving and reasoning. Second, children begin to organizetasks more maturely and independently than in early childhood. This more planful behavior entails
adopting goals for activities, subordinating knowledge and actions in the service of a superordinateplan, and monitoring one’s own activities and mental processes. Third, increases occur in both theopportunity and the capacity for acquiring information and for using new knowledge in reasoning,thinking, problem solving, and action. Compared with younger children, 5- to 12-year-old childrenthus can solve more difficult, abstract intellectual problems in school and can master increased, morecomplex responsibilities at home and in other common settings (Case, 1998; DeLoache, Miller, andPierroutsakos, 1998; Fischer and Bullock, 1984).
These cognitive expansions are accompanied by increased challenges to integrate knowledge and
abilities for understanding self and others, relationships, communities, and societies. Children inmiddle childhood contrast sharply with younger children in their abilities for greater social under-standing. Compared with younger children, 6- to 12-year-old children evaluate others with greateraccuracy and more often view classmates as teachers and other children do (Malloy, Sugarman,Montvilo, and Ben-Zeev, 1995; Malloy, Yarlas, Montvilo, and Sugarman, 1996). Children in middlechildhood also increasingly distinguish among psychological traits (e.g., shy–outgoing, nice–mean,active–inactive) (Heyman and Gelman, 2000). In interactions with others, 5- to-12-year-old chil-dren, relatively more than younger children, adopt the perspectives of others, which helps them toinfer possible reasons for others’ behaviors (Crick and Dodge, 1994; Dunn and Slomkowski, 1992).
These growing social cognitive skills underlie the further growth of social competence during middlechildhood, including skills for describing and explaining conditions and events (e.g., Whitehurst andSonnenschein, 1981), for deceiving others and for detecting their deceptions (e.g., DePaulo, Jordan,Irvine, and Laser, 1982; Watson and Valtin, 1997), and for predicting the behavior of other children(e.g., Droege and Stipek, 1993; Heyman and Dweck, 1998). Whereas preschool children are “ruthlessstereotypers” (E. Maccoby, personal communication, October 12, 1996), children in middle child-hood increasingly recognize similarities as well as differences in female and male gender roles(Serbin, Powlishta, and Gulko, 1993; Welch-Ross and Schmidt, 1996). Concepts of parent–childrelationships move toward the idea that parents and children mutually have responsibilities to eachother, rather than focus on parents as those who satisfy children’s needs (Selman, 1980).
Children in middle childhood, in addition to growth in interpersonal understanding, increasingly
understand many broader conditions of life. Compared with younger children, 5- to 12-year-oldchildren generally grasp basic notions related to fundamental life experiences such as conception,illness, and death (Bibace and Walsh, 1981; Lazar and Torney-Purta, 1991), although many of theirbeliefs about human biology remain inaccurate and simplistic (Morris, Taplin, and Gelman, 2000).
At the group and the societal levels, 5- to 12-year-old children generally manifest a strong senseof fairness, both in the distribution of resources and in equal treatment under the law (Helwig,1998; McGillicuddy-De Lisi, Watkins, and Vinchur, 1994). Moreover, they increasingly believe inthe right of children of their age to some degree of self-determination and self-expression (Helwig,1997; Ruck, Abramovitch, and Keating, 1998).
For parents generally, the characteristic reasoning patterns of 5- to 12-year-old children necessitate
more elaborate and compelling explanations and justifications in order to have the same degree ofimpact that, in earlier years, parents could achieve by distracting or admonishing a child.
The experiences of adoptive parents of 5- to 12-year-old children illustrate some of the challenges
stemming from cognitive changes. Preschool children can and often do label themselves as adopted,but greater cognitive capacities in middle childhood make it possible to form a more complexunderstanding of what adoption means. For example, only after the age of 6 years do childrentypically identify adoption and birth as alternative paths to parenthood (Brodzinsky, Smith, andBrodzinsky, 1998). Later, children recognize that their adoptive parents’ joy in having them aschildren necessarily involves the loss of parenting rights for their birth parents, which sometimesprecipitates a sense of loss for their biological family. Children in middle- to late-middle childhood(ages 8 to 12.5 years) question their parents about a significantly greater number of adoption-relatedissues than younger children do (Wrobel, Kohler, Grotevant, and McRoy, 1998), and parents facepressing decisions about how to address the child’s curiosity while preserving a positive view of
the child’s adoptive status and heritage (Brodzinsky and Pinderhughes, in Vol. 1 of this Handbook
Thus cognitive change underlies distinctive patterns of behavior and responsiveness during middlechildhood and, consequently, alters the demands on parents.
Parents of 5- to 12-year-old children also encounter additional burdens and responsibilities be-cause social networks
expand significantly during middle childhood. Whereas most of children’sexchanges with others during infancy and early childhood occur in their families, 5- to 12-year-old children spend less time in the company of adults and family members, relative to peers andother adults outside of the family. The shifts are most pronounced between the ages of 5 and9 years. Not until early adolescence, however, do contacts with peers, rather than those with adults,dominate social networks (Feiring and Lewis, 1991a, 1991b; Steinberg and Silk, in Vol. 1 of thisHandbook
Middle childhood experiences exert considerable pressure to create and maintain connections
with peers (Hartup, 1996; Ladd and Pettit, in Vol. 5 of this Handbook
). Entering school especiallyincreases the number and kinds of developmental tasks and influences that children encounter. Forparents, these experiences outside the family often necessitate their monitoring children’s activitiesand choices of companions at a distance and create new challenges in fostering positive behaviorand development (also see Crouter and Head, in Vol. 3 of this Handbook
The need for social support
from a variety of others, moreover, is more apparent in middle
childhood than in earlier years. Contrary to stereotypes, perceptions of parents as sources of bothemotional support and instrumental help typically remain stable across age groups during middlechildhood (Hunter and Youniss, 1982). Children from 5 to 12 years old, however, recognize thatothers, some of them outside the family, serve significant social needs in their lives (Bryant, 1985;Furman and Buhrmester, 1992; Reid, Landesman, Treder, and Jaccard, 1989; Zarbatany, Hartmann,and Rankin, 1990).
To maintain these extended networks, children must learn to cooperate on more complex tasks
and to work without extensive oversight by adults (Ladd and Pettit, in Vol. 5 of this Handbook
By the ages 10 to 12 years, children become notably more skilled in using goal-directed planfulstrategies to initiate, maintain, and cooperate within peer relationships. One implication of theseskills is greater ability to manage conflicts with peers (Parker and Gottman, 1989; Selman andSchultz, 1989). Consequently, parents may spend less time in direct management of peer relations.
Children who do not gain these skills are at a disadvantage for optimal social development and atrisk for a variety of later problems (Parker and Asher, 1987).
Peer relationships play a role that is increasingly complementary to that of parents during middle
childhood (Hartup, 1996). Over the years from age 5 to age 12, children increasingly view their peersas important sources of intimacy, as well as companionship. Although parents and peers influencechildren toward similar values and behaviors in most cases, peers also often provide experienceand expectations in areas in which families typically have limited impact, especially in areas basedon an understanding of give-and-take with others of equal power and status (e.g., collaborativetasks). For the most part, however, parental and peer influences are reciprocal: Families providechildren with basic skills for smooth, successful peer relationships; and children often “import”knowledge, expectations, and behavioral tactics from their interactions with peers that stimulateparents’ adjustments to their children’s maturing abilities (Collins, 1995; Youniss, 1980; also seeLadd and Pettit, in Vol. 5 of this Handbook
Parents’ roles increasingly involve facilitating children’s lives at school. Classrooms, playgrounds,
and school buses provide ready access to peers and also opportunities for more diverse contacts thanmany children would otherwise encounter (Hartup, 1996). Varying settings between elementary andmiddle schools, however, may complicate children’s efforts to form and maintain stable relationshipswith peers (Eccles, Lord, and Buchanan, 1996; Epstein, 1989). The social field for children initially
is the classroom, and most interactions are with only one teacher and the same group of studentsthroughout the day, whereas in the later grades the entire school is the social field, with multipleteachers, classrooms, and common spaces (Minuchin and Shapiro, 1983). For parents, monitoringof school experiences may entail more effort as the number of teachers and settings increases (seeCrouter and Head, in Vol. 3 of this Handbook
). Additionally, many parents must arrange for andinteract with out-of-home childcare personnel and with adults who provide instruction and super-vision in out-of-school learning and recreational settings (Dryfoos, 1999; Honig, in Vol. 5 of thisHandbook
; Vandell and Shumow, 1999). Clearly the transitions of middle childhood generate newtasks for parents as well as developmental challenges for children.
The problems of parenting during middle childhood are exacerbated by an increase in risks andstressors for children, relative to early childhood. Although children between the ages of 5 and 12years are generally the healthiest segment of the population in industrialized countries (Shonkoff,1984), for many the physical transitions of middle childhood and the secular trend toward earlierpuberty hasten exposure to some of the health risks of adulthood. Accidents, the major cause of deathduring childhood, increase between the ages of 5 and 12 years. During the past two decades, tobacco,alcohol, and other drug use have become more common for children in the middle childhood agegroup; moreover, middle childhood experiences increase the risk of beginning to use alcohol andtobacco by middle adolescence (Dishion, Capaldi, and Yoerger, 1999; Shonkoff, 1984).
The broadening of opportunities for children to interact in environments out-
side the home frequently also broadens potential sources of risk. Children’s perceptions of theneighborhood are linked to their socioemotional adjustment. Reported feelings of loneliness varywith children’s perceptions of their neighborhood as problematic or child friendly and by the degreeof perceived support from neighbors. Negative neighborhood characteristics are linked to poorersocioemotional functioning (Chase-Lansdale, Gordon, Brooks-Gunn, and Klebanov, 1997). Inner-city 9- to 12-year-old children who rated their neighborhoods high on economic disadvantage andpersonal exposure to stressful life events and low on personal support tend to be more involved inantisocial behavior and drug use (Dubow, Edwards, and Ippolito, 1997).
The impact of neighborhood characteristics on middle childhood development is often difficult
to pin down, perhaps because familial influences are consistent and more direct sources of influencethat frequently either extend or actively counteract neighborhood influences (Chase-Lansdale et al.,1997; Chase-Lansdale and Gordon, 1996; Dubow et al., 1997; Duncan, Brooks-Gunn, and Klebanov,1994). For example, parents with negative perceptions of their neighborhoods supervise childrenmore closely (Dubow et al., 1997). On the other hand, neighborhood characteristics can exacerbatefamilial difficulties. Low-income African American children living in a single-parent family showespecially high levels of aggression if they also live in a financially disadvantaged neighborhood,whereas children from similar economic and family conditions in a middle-income neighborhoodare no more aggressive than other children (Kupersmidt, Griesler, DeRosier, Patterson, and Davis,1995). Middle-income neighborhoods do not unequivocally serve as a protective factor or potentiatorof developmental opportunities, however; the particular opportunities and limitations impinging onchildren are more important than economic advantage per se.
Exposure to violence.
The broader environments of middle childhood carry, for many chil-
dren, increased risk of exposure to violence (Finkelhor and Dziuba-Leatherman, 1994; Lorion andSaltzman, 1993; Osofsky, Wewers, Hann, and Fick, 1993; Richters and Martinez, 1993). Studiesshow the risk of exposure to violence to be as great for 5- to 8-year-old children as for 10- to 12-year-old children. The ready availability of weapons to individuals of all ages increases the likelihood ofbeing a victim or a perpetrator of violence during the middle childhood years. Although the impact
of violence surely concerns parents, even parents in high-risk neighborhoods seriously underestimatethe extent to which their children report exposure to violence (Hill and Jones, 1997).
Experiencing violence, as a victim or a witness, influences children’s sense of security and hope in
the world (Lewis and Osofsky, 1997). Ethnographic research with African American children in anurban school revealed that children persistently discuss daily violent events in their community, andtheir discussions reflect the insidious presence of these experiences in the children’s minds (Towns,1996). Children’s perceptions of violence in their communities are correlated positively with theirreports of fearfulness, distress, and depression at home and at school (Bell and Jenkins, 1993; Hill,Levermore, Twaite, and Jones, 1996; Martinez and Richters, 1993; Osofsky et al., 1993). Exposure toviolence and victimization at home are associated with a variety of emotional and behavior problemsand diminished school performance (Emery, 1989).
Parents may play a role by monitoring the degree of risk associated with extrafamilial settings
and by imposing appropriate safety measures, including training children to respond to high-risksituations. Furthermore, parents are critical sources of social support to children in coping withrisky, threatening conditions. Children who perceive that persons are available with whom they cantalk, discuss problems, and so forth, cope more effectively with the stress of multiple personal andsocial changes during middle childhood and the transition to adolescence (Dubow and Tisak, 1989;Dubow, Tisak, Causey, Hryksho, and Reid, 1991; Hirsch and Rapkin, 1987).
Development of Self-Concept, Self-Regulation, and Social Responsibility
Parents and other significant adults (e.g., teachers, coaches) also play a significant role in the growingcapacities of 5- to 12-year-old children for functioning as responsible individuals (Eccles, 1999).
Attaining mature self-regulatory capacities requires knowledge of the self, emotions, and cognitivecapacities to focus on long-term goals and to take account of others’ views and needs.
Self and self-regulation.
During middle childhood, children’s descriptions of themselves be-
come more stable and more comprehensive (Byrne and Shavelson, 1996; Damon and Hart, 1988).
This shift partly reflects the growth of cognitive concepts and awareness of cultural norms and expec-tations for performance. In addition, self-evaluation intensifies as exposure to more varied personsand social contexts stimulates comparisons among self and others and provides evaluative feed-back about characteristics, skills, and abilities (Eccles, 1999; Pomerantz, Ruble, Frey, and Greulich,1995). Linked to changing concepts of self are greater capacities for self-control and self-regulation.
For most children, impulsive behavior declines steadily from early childhood into middle childhood(Maccoby, 1984).
Parents and adult mentors can further capacities for self-regulation by exposing children to stan-
dards of conduct and models of socially valued behaviors and by providing rewards and punishmentsin accord with those standards (Smith and Smoll, 1990). Parents’ and teachers’ impact on motiva-tion is greatest when their encouragement emphasizes opportunities for learning and mastery ratherthan stresses the need to succeed at social or task goals (Erdley, Cain, Loomis, Dumas-Hines, andDweck, 1997; Kamins and Dweck, 1999). Furthermore, parents can stimulate cognitive compo-nents of self-regulation through discussion and reasoning that invoke principles for discerning rightfrom wrong and that emphasize the consequences of transgressions (Chapman and McBride, 1992;Dunn and Slomkowski, 1992; Eisenberg and Valiente, in Vol. 5 of this Handbook
; Walker andTaylor, 1991).
As self-regulation increases during middle childhood, parents develop new expectancies (see
Goodnow, in Vol. 3 of this Handbook
). Parents ordinarily expect more autonomy and independencein tasks at school and at home, including peer-group activities (Hartup, 1984). Parents gradually allowchildren to assume more responsibility for interacting with health care personnel and for masteringand acting on information and instructions about medication, specific health practices, and evolvinglife-style issues with implications for physical and mental well-being (Shonkoff, 1984; also see
Hickson and Clayton, in Vol. 5 of this Handbook
; Meadow-Orlans, in Vol. 4 of this Handbook
;Melamed, in Vol. 5 of this Handbook
). These transitions lay the groundwork for greater autonomyin adolescence and young adulthood.
Vulnerability and coping.
Children from 5 to 12 years old generally may be vulnerable to
different stressors than children of other ages (Compas, 1987; Maccoby, 1984). For example, childrenof these ages generally are less distressed by short-term separations from parents than are youngerchildren, but they grieve more intensely and over a longer period of time over the death of a parent(Rutter, 1983). Certain resources for coping with stress, moreover, may be more readily availableto 5- to 12-year-old children than to younger children (Rudolph, Dennig, and Weisz, 1995). Amongthese are greater knowledge of strategies for coping with uncontrollable stress, which may modulatethe degree of children’s vulnerability (Altshuler and Ruble, 1989; Band and Weisz, 1988; Finnegan,Hodges, and Perry, 1996) and availability of social support (Dubow et al., 1991).
NORMATIVE CHANGES IN PARENT–CHILD RELATIONSHIPS
Concurrent with these individual changes of middle childhood are characteristic patterns of parent–child interactions and relationships that distinguish this period from earlier and later years of life.
Interactions between parents and children become less frequent in middle childhood. Parents arewith children less than half as much as before their children started in school (Hill and Stafford,1980). This decline in time together is relatively greater for parents with lower levels of education.
When parents and children are together, moreover, parents and children both show less overt
affection during middle childhood than previously (McNally, Eisenberg, and Harris, 1991; Newsonand Newson, 1968, 1976; Roberts, Block, and Block, 1984). Children also report that parents areless accepting toward them, especially during the later years of middle childhood (Armentrout andBurger, 1972). Despite a decrease in displays of physical affection, when their children are betweenthe ages of 3 and 12 years, however, parents report little change in their enjoyment of parenting,having positive regard for their child, or having respect for the child’s opinions and preferences(McNally et al., 1991; Roberts et al., 1984).
Parents and children alike are less likely to display and experience negative emotions in these
interactions. Emotional outbursts, such as temper tantrums and coercive behaviors of children towardother family members, ordinarily begin to decline in early childhood (Goodenough, 1931; Newsonand Newson, 1968, 1976; Patterson, 1982). This trend continues during middle childhood, and thefrequency of disciplinary encounters also decreases steadily between the ages of 3 and 9 years(Clifford, 1959). Nevertheless, several emotional characteristics of interactions with 5- to 12-year-old children may complicate parents’ management of their relationships with children. Comparedwith preschool children, 5- to 12-year-old children are more likely to sulk, become depressed,avoid parents, or engage in passive noncooperation with their parents (Clifford, 1959). Furthermore,children become increasingly likely to say that their conflicts with parents come about because parentsprovide inadequate help or do not spend enough time with the child, or (among older children) becauseparents fail to meet parent role expectations or there is a lack of consensus on familial and societalvalues (Fisher and Johnson, 1990).
Mother–Child and Father–Child Relationships
Some aspects of relationships are differentiated by gender. In general, mothers and children spendmore time together than do fathers and children (Collins and Russell, 1991; Parke, in Vol. 3 of this
). When both parents are with the child, however, mothers and fathers initiate interactionwith children with equal frequency, and children initiate similar numbers of interactions with eachparent (Noller, 1980; Russell and Russell, 1987). As in early life, fathers typically are involvedrelatively more in physical/outdoor play interactions, whereas mothers interact more frequently inconnection with caregiving and household tasks. In observational studies with both parents present,though, fathers and mothers engaged in caregiving to a similar degree.
Both positive and negative emotional expressions and conflictual interactions are more likely in
mother–child than in father–child interactions (Bronstein, 1984; Russell and Russell, 1987). Thismay reflect the greater amount of time and greater diversity of shared activities involving mothers.
There is some indication that interactions of mothers with sons are marked by greater emotionalexpression than those of mothers with daughters, although whether these emotions are relativelymore positive or negative is inconsistent across studies (for reviews, see Collins and Russell, 1991;Lytton and Romney, 1991).
Researchers frequently fail to find evidence of several differences commonly expected for in-
teractions of children with mothers and with fathers. Both mothers and fathers increase their at-tention to school achievement and homework during middle childhood (McNally et al., 1991;Roberts et al., 1984). Furthermore, studies of parental reinforcements for instances of behaviorssuch as competitiveness, autonomous achievement, or competence in cognitive or play activitiesgenerally show negligible differences between mothers and fathers (Bronstein, 1984; Russell andRussell, 1987). Collins and Russell (1991) argued that few parental differences first emerge in mid-dle childhood. Furthermore, the degree to which mother–child and father–child relationships arecomplementary, rather than overlapping, is more likely to change during adolescence than duringmiddle childhood.
Parents’ and children’s cognitions about each other and about issues of mutual relevance also changeduring middle childhood, especially the latter part of the period. Parents’ knowledge of their chil-dren’s daily activities and preferences increase during the middle childhood years (Crouter, Helms-Erikson, Updegraff, and McHale, 1999; Miller, Davis, Wilde, and Brown, 1993; also see Crouterand Head, in Vol. 3 of this Handbook
). Children from 10 to 11 years of age and their parents tend toagree on the topics for which parents’ authority is legitimate, but disagreement becomes more likelyduring adolescence (Smetana, 1989). Late-middle childhood is an important time for achieving moremutual cognitions. Alessandri and Wozniak (1987) found that 10- to 11-year-old children perceivedtheir parents’ beliefs about them less accurately than 15- to 16-year-old children did. Followingthose same 10- to 11-year-old children for 2 years, however, the researchers found that the children,who were now aged 12 to 13 years, were more accurate in their perceptions of what their parentsbelieved about them (Alessandri and Wozniak, 1989).
Maccoby (1984; Maccoby and Martin, 1983) and Collins (1995) have speculated that mutual
cognitions are more significant determinants of relationship qualities in middle childhood than inearlier periods. By the time a child reaches middle childhood, shared experiences have createdextensive expectancies about the probable reactions of both parents and children. These expectanciesthen guide each person’s behavior in interactions with the other. The rapid changes of late-middlechildhood, in particular, stimulate both parents and children to adapt their beliefs and perceptionsabout the other to maintain their relationship over time.
To summarize, changes in parent–child relationships create new paradigms for interaction that
affect when and how parents will respond to the behavior of children during middle childhood.
Although partly resulting from adaptations to developmental changes that have already occurred,these relational patterns also affect responses to further changes during and beyond middle childhood.
In the next section we examine findings from research on parenting of 5- to 12-year-old children.
ISSUES IN PARENTING DURING MIDDLE CHILDHOOD
Changes in children and parent–child relationships raise the question of whether middle childhoodis a distinctive period of parenting. This section addresses two related questions: What distinctivetasks devolve on parents during the middle childhood years, and what characteristics of effectiveparenting have emerged in studies of 5- to 12-year-old children? These questions are examined inresearch findings on four central issues of parenting entailed by the developmental changes of middlechildhood: adapting control processes, fostering self-management and a sense of responsibility,facilitating positive relationships with others, and managing experiences in extrafamilial settings.
Changes in interactions between parents and children, together with changing demands from age-graded activities and experiences, necessitate different strategies for exerting influence over children’sbehavior. These strategies may involve different disciplinary practices than those of childhood, moreextensive shared regulation of children’s behavior, and altered patterns for effective control.
Parenting young children typically involves distraction and physically
assertive strategies for preventing harm and gaining compliance. When their children are in middlechildhood, however, parents report less frequent physical punishment and an increasing use oftechniques such as deprivation of privileges, appeals to children’s self-esteem or sense of humor,arousal of children’s sense of guilt, and reminders that children are responsible for what happensto them (Clifford, 1959; Newson and Newson, 1976; Roberts et al., 1984). These techniques mayreflect changes in parents’ attributions about the degree to which children should be expected tocontrol their own behavior and also a greater tendency to regard misbehavior as deliberate and thuswarranting both parental anger and punishment (Dix, Ruble, Grusec, and Nixon, 1986).
Maccoby (1984) speculated that children’s responses to parents’ control attempts during middle
childhood are affected by changes in children’s concepts of the basis for parental authority. Whereaspreschoolers view parental authority as resting on the power to punish or reward, children in early-middle childhood increasingly believe parental authority derives from all the things that parents dofor them. After the age of approximately 8 years, children invoke parents’ expert knowledge and skillalso as reasons to submit to their authority (Braine, Pomerantz, Lorber, and Krantz, 1991). Maccoby(1984) speculated that parental appeals based on fairness, the return of favors, or reminders of theparents’ greater knowledge and experience may become more effective during middle childhood,with parents less often feeling compelled to resort to promises of reward or threats of punishment.
This line of reasoning implies that, during their children’s middle childhood, parents may find iteasier to follow the disciplinary practices that have been found most effective in fostering patterns ofself-regulated, socially responsible behavior, namely, an emphasis on the implications of children’sactions for others (induction), rather than on use of parents’ superior power to coerce compliance(Hoffman, 1994).
Parents’ effectiveness as disciplinarians depends in part on the clarity with which they commu-
nicate expectations and reprimands (Grusec and Goodnow, 1994). Children tend to “tune out” wheninstructions and reprimands are conveyed in an ambiguous manner, as when a parent is inexplicit orreprimands the child while smiling. Such ineffective messages often result from a parent’s sense ofpowerlessness or lack of control over the child’s behavior, but also exacerbate behaviors parents wishto correct (Bugental, Blue, and Cruzcosa, 1989; Bugental, Lyon, Lin, McGrath, and Bimbela, 1999).
Decreasing face-to-face interactions during middle childhood put additional
pressures on parents’ strategies for exerting control over children’s behavior. Different methodsare appropriate because of the age and the capabilities of children and also because children must
be trained to regulate their own behavior for longer periods of time. At the same time, children’sincreased capabilities to be planful and goal directed and to communicate plans and wishes to par-ents more effectively permit greater collaboration on mutually acceptable plans and more effectivemonitoring through conversations about children’s activities (Maccoby, 1984, 1992).
Maccoby (1984) specified the responsibilities of both parents and children in this cooperative
process. First, parents must stay informed about events occurring outside their presence and mustcoordinate agendas, that link the daily activities of parents and child. Second, they must effectivelyuse the times when direct contact does occur for teaching and feedback. Third, they must fosterthe development of abilities that will allow children to monitor their own behavior, to adopt ac-ceptable standards of good and bad behavior, to avoid undue risks, and to know when they needparental support or guidance. This process is reciprocal: Children must be willing to inform par-ents of their where abouts, activities, and problems so that parents can mediate and guide whennecessary.
Effective control in middle childhood.
Maccoby’s formulation implies that effective parental
control processes are tantamount to training of skills for self-regulation. A key component of effectivecontrol is parental monitoring
, which requires careful attention to children’s behavior and associatedcontingencies. Monitoring is integral to child-centered
control techniques, in which parents exertinfluence by sensitively fitting their behavior to behavioral cues from children, rather than allowingthe parents’ own needs to drive parent–child interactions (Maccoby and Martin, 1983). Ineffectiveparental monitoring repeatedly has been linked to antisocial behavior in middle childhood andadolescence (Patterson, 1982, 1986; Tolan and Loeber, 1993; see Crouter and Head, in Vol. 3 of thisHandbook
The effectiveness of monitoring, however, depends on the parents’ general style of control.
Children are most likely to manifest positive developmental outcomes when parents practice child-centered patterns of discipline, accompanied by clearly communicated demands, parental monitor-ing, and an atmosphere of acceptance toward the child (authoritative parenting) (Baumrind, 1989;Maccoby and Martin, 1983; Maccoby, 1992). For example, attentive, responsive care appears tobe positively linked to the development of self-esteem, competence, and social responsibility. Themeager evidence now available from other cultures indicates that optimal childrearing practices fre-quently include somewhat more restrictiveness than is usually implied by North American findingswith middle-socioeconomic families (e.g., Chao, 1994; Chao and Tseng, in Vol. 4 of this Handbook
;Rohner and Pettingill, 1985; Rohner and Rohner, 1981). In every society, however, responsivenessto children’s needs and support for their development appears to foster competent, responsible be-haviors (see Steinberg and Silk, in Vol. 1 of this Handbook
; Harkness and Super, in Vol. 2 of thisHandbook
). Darling and Steinberg (1993) have argued that a context of responsive, supportive,child-centered parental style affects the impact of specific parental practices, such as monitoring ofchildren’s behavior.
The research findings on which these generalizations are based generally do not provide defini-
tive evidence that parenting characteristics cause
particular constellations of child characteristics,but studies from which causal effects can be inferred imply that the characteristics above constitutethe currently best description of effective parenting (Collins, Maccoby, Steinberg, Hetherington,and Bornstein, 2000). A striking example comes from a prevention program intended to fostermore effective parenting following divorce (Forgatch and DeGarmo, 1999). School-age sons of re-cently divorced single mothers often manifest increased academic, behavioral, social, and emotionalproblems relative to sons of nondivorced mothers, and the divorced mothers themselves commonlybehave toward their sons in a more coercive and less positive manner than nondivorced mothers do(Hetherington, Bridges, and Insabella, 1998). The prevention program provided yearlong trainingand discussion groups that encouraged mothers to use the effective parenting principles previouslydescribed during this postdivorce period. No intervention was provided to the children. At the end of12 months, treatment group mothers generally showed less coercive behavior toward children and
fewer declines in positive behavior than control-group mothers. Moreover, the degree of change
inthe mothers’ behavior over the course of 12 months significantly predicted the degree of change
in the children’s behaviors, both at home and at school. By changing the mothers’ behavior, theseresearchers changed the children’s behavior, thus demonstrating that effective parenting causes im-proved child behavior.
Parents of 5- to 10-year-old children describe their childrearing along two dimensions: nurturance–
restrictiveness (ranging from positive, facilitating reactions to negative, interfering reactions) andpower (amount of active control exerted by the parent, including both rewards and punishments)(Dekovic and Janssens, 1992; Emmerich, 1962). Researchers have found no evidence of change inparents’ behavior on these dimensions during middle childhood (e.g., Emmerich, 1962). Moreover,children’s perceptions of firmness of control show little variation across groups from ages 9 to 13years (Armentrout and Burger, 1972). Most experts now believe that firmness alone is an inadequateindicator of effective control. Lewis (1981) argued that, in many families, firmness of control coexistswith responsive, child-centered parenting, which in turn enhances children’s motivation to respondpositively to their parents.
To summarize, middle childhood does not induce dramatic changes in parents’ typical styles of
childrearing. As in other periods, effective childrearing entails both attentiveness and responsivenessto children’s needs and expectations of age-appropriate behavior. Nevertheless, during middle child-hood patterns from earlier life are altered in ways that fundamentally affect the exchanges betweenparents and children and the implications of those exchanges for further development. These changesinvolve a gradual transition toward greater responsibility for children in regulating their own behaviorand interactions with others.
Fostering Self-Management and Social Responsibility
Alterations in parents’ management and control activities partly result from children’s own devel-oping self-management skills. Although parents do not abruptly relinquish control any more thanchildren abruptly become autonomous, children’s enhanced self-management skills probably con-tribute to a gradual transition from parental regulation of children’s behavior to self-regulation bythe child (Maccoby, 1984, 1992).
This implicit transfer of regulatory responsibility is a hallmark of adolescent development
(Steinberg and Silk, in Vol. 1 of this Handbook
), but Maccoby (1984) has argued that the transferprocess begins earlier and lasts longer than has commonly been assumed. She contends that thetransfer of power from parents to children involves a three-phase developmental process: parentalregulation, coregulation, and, finally, self-regulation. In the intermediate period of coregulation
,parents retain general supervisory control but expect children to exercise gradually more extensiveresponsibilities for moment-to-moment self-regulation. This coregulatory experience in turn lays thegroundwork for greater autonomy in adolescence and young adulthood.
In several formulations (Collins, Gleason, and Sesma, 1997; Grusec and Goodnow, 1994;
Kuczynski, Marshall, and Schell, 1997), coregulation, rather than autonomous self-regulation, istreated as the norm for both parent–child and other relationships. Interdependence is essential tosocial relationships at every age, and socialization entails more mature and complex forms of in-terdependence with age. Maccoby (1992, p. 1013) has characterized the effective goal of author-itative parenting as “inducting the child into a system of reciprocity.” Training for autonomy isseen, not as preparing children for freedom from the regulatory influences of others, but as en-hancing capabilities for responsible exercise of autonomy, while recognizing one’s interdependencewith others (Collins et al., 1997). Thus parenting in middle childhood is less a matter of graduallyyielding control than of transforming patterns of responsibility in response to new characteristicsand challenges.
Variations in parents’ behavior toward children are correlated with several distinctive aspects
of self-management and responsibility: incidence of prosocial and undercontrolled, often antisocial,
behavior; internalization of moral values; and increasing responsibility for self-care and for collectivewell-being. These links are discussed in the following three subsections.
Incidence of prosocial and antisocial behavior.
For most children, behaviors that benefit
others increase and those that harm others decline beginning in early childhood (for a review, seeCoie and Dodge, 1998). During middle childhood several common changes imply that prosocialbehavior probably becomes more likely and undercontrolled antisocial behavior less likely. Amongthese are declining tendencies to behave impulsively, increases in planfulness and other executiveprocesses, greater capacity for understanding the impact of one’s actions on others, and knowledgeof what is required for helpfulness (Barnett, Darcie, Holland, and Kobasigawa, 1982). Childrenin middle childhood also increasingly know the appropriate conditions for displaying anger andaggression (Underwood, Coie, and Herbsman, 1992).
Parents contribute to the development of prosocial norms in several ways. Parents’ own positive
coping with frustration and distress serve to influence children’s regulation of their emotions (Kliewer,Fearnow, and Miller, 1996). Parents’ use of explanations that emphasize the implications of children’sbehavior for others also is associated with helpful, emotionally supportive behavior toward others(Hoffman, 1994). Furthermore, parents generally are perceived as sources of social support (Furmanand Buhrmester, 1992). When children perceive that they can talk with others, discuss problems withthem, and so forth, they generally are more likely to show prosocial behaviors and attitudes, such asempathy, tolerance of differences, and understanding of others (Bryant, 1985).
Middle childhood is especially significant in the development of the control of hostile aggressive
actions. Although the overall likelihood of aggressive behavior is reduced relative to early child-hood, 5- to 12-year-old children’s aggression is more often hostile and person oriented than in earlychildhood (Hartup, 1974). Parental behaviors and family environments marked by harsh parentaldiscipline repeatedly have been associated with the likelihood of antisocially aggressive behavior(Pinderhughes, Dodge, Bates, Pettit, and Zelli, 2000; Tolan and Loeber, 1993). A key linking thetwo appears to be the development of a bias toward interpreting the actions of others as intentionallyharmful (Dodge, Bates, and Pettit, 1990). Children generally regard acts that are unintended, unfore-seeable, and unavoidable as less blameworthy and less deserving of retaliation than other actions.
Habitually aggressive children frequently show biases toward attributing hostile intent to others inambiguous situations (Dodge, 1980). These biases are most likely in children who have experienceda history of harsh parental discipline in early childhood (Weiss, Dodge, Bates, and Pettit, 1992). Ingeneral, antisocial behavior is highly likely when children have repeatedly experienced indifferent,unresponsive behavior from their parents (Patterson, 1982). Antisocial tendencies place children atrisk for peer rejection and school failure during middle childhood and for involvement in antisocialbehavior in adolescence and young adulthood (Patterson, DeBaryshe, and Ramsey, 1989). Thus an-tisocial behavior is the nexus of a longitudinal process linking ineffective parenting and personal andsocial dysfunction (Finkelhor and Dziuba-Leatherman, 1994).
Mass media portrayals of antisocial and prosocial behavior consistently have been shown to
influence spontaneous behavior after viewing. Children who spend relatively small amounts oftime with television and other electronic media generally show fewer antisocial behaviors andfare better on many school and other tasks (Wright et al., in press). On the average, children inmiddle childhood devote 3 to 4 hr per day to television viewing, more time than any other age groupin the first two decades of life. This amount varies greatly, however, depending on the child’s gender,socioeconomic status, and many other factors. Parents’ own viewing habits and the degree to whichthey attempt to regulate their children’s viewing influence both the amount and the kind of exposureto media models of positive and negative social behaviors (Dorr, Rabin, and Irlen, in Vol. 5 of thisHandbook
; Huston and Wright, 1998). Parents can help to reduce the negative impact of televisionviewing by watching programs with children, providing explanations for complex situations andevents, helping children differentiate between reality and fiction, and encouraging children to makeresponsible choices about the content of media.
Internalization of moral values.
Parents enhance social understanding by appealing to concerns
for others and stimulating more cognitively complex reasoning about moral issues (Hoffman, 1994;Walker and Taylor, 1991). During middle childhood these parental techniques may become more ef-fective, because of children’s increasing abilities for understanding others’ experiences and feelings(Flavell and Miller, 1998). The implications for behavior come from the well-established correlationbetween parental disciplinary approaches based on warmth, other-oriented induction, and infrequentuse of coercive discipline without explanations and signs of “conscience”—confessing misdeeds,offering reparations, feeling guilty (Eisenberg and Valiente, in Vol. 5 of this Handbook
; Turiel, 1998).
The term responsibility encompasses broad behavioral expectations, including” . . .
ing through on specific interpersonal agreements and commitments, (b) fulfilling one’s social roleobligations, and (c) conforming to widely held social and moral rules of conduct” (Ford, Wentzel,Wood, Stevens, and Siesfeld, 1989, p. 405). Parental practices associated with the development ofprosocial behavior and acquisition of moral values during middle childhood can be regarded asfactors in the development of responsibility generally (Eisenberg and Valiente, in Vol. 5 of in thisHandbook
More specific strategies, however, involve parental expectations regarding household tasks and
other activities considered relevant to the welfare of the family as a whole. Parents generally believethat expecting children to carry out household tasks not only provides valuable work experience,but also teaches about expected relationships with others (Goodnow, in Vol. 3 of this Handbook
;Goodnow and Collins, 1990). Goodnow (1988) views division of responsibility for household tasksas an instance of distributive justice, referring not only to the distribution of labor for efficiency’s sake,but also distribution in the sense of relational goals such as obligation, justice, and reciprocity. Wartonand Goodnow (1991) found developmental progressions from middle childhood into adolescence inthe understanding of distribution principles, such as direct-cause responsibility (“people should takecare of the areas that they mess up”). This progression involves moving from a direct assertion ofresponsibility (e.g., “It’s Mom’s job”) or an emphasis on some concrete details of the situation, tothe understanding of the principle (“John should clean up the playroom because he and his friendswere playing down there, and I wasn’t involved”), followed by a move toward a modified, ratherthan rigid, use of the principle (e.g., “John made this mess, but he has to do his paper route on time;he’ll help me out some other time”). Although parents of 5- to 12-year-old children are most likelyto be dealing with the first two phases of this progression, discussions emphasizing the third viewof equality may have impact on the growth of concepts of responsibility during middle childhood.
Amato (1989) reported that, for 8- to 9-year-old children, rearing environments characterized by highlevels of parental control and parental support, along with high allocation of household responsibility,are associated with broad competence at tasks.
To summarize, fostering self-management and responsibility probably involves a more gradual
process than is implied by the common image of parents’ transferring control to their children. Coreg-ulatory processes, in which parents allocate responsibilities for gradually broader self-managementto children while retaining oversight, probably influence children through two key processes:(1) training for effective self-management and (2) enhancing capacities for interdependence, bothwith persons more powerful than they and with persons of equal power (Baumrind, 1989).
Parents’ relationships with their children during middle childhood and also in earlier periods influencethe development of supportive relationships during middle childhood and also enhance competencein and beyond the ages 5 to 12 years. This is apparent from the impact of parents on their children’srelationships with each other and on their relationships with peers.
Sibling relationships become increasingly positive, egalitarian, and
companionable during middle childhood (Dunn, 1992; Dunn and McGuire, 1992). The degree to
which this occurs, however, is related to parental interactions with both siblings. In a study of 10-to 11-year-old girls and their 7- to 9-year-old sisters, the daughters whose mothers were above av-erage in responsiveness to their daughters’ needs showed more prosocial behavior and less hostilitytoward their siblings than the daughters of mothers who were below average in responsiveness(Bryant and Crockenberg, 1980). In other studies, rates of positive, negative, and controlling behav-iors directed by mothers toward each child are correlated positively with the rates of such behaviorsdirected by siblings toward each other (Stocker, Dunn, and Plomin, 1989).
Parents’ treating siblings differently has also been linked to negative relationships between the
siblings. This is apparent from several related research findings. One such finding is that the childrenof parents who responded more extensively to one child over the other were more likely to behavewith hostility toward one another (e.g., Bryant and Crockenberg, 1980). Another is that rates offathers’ and mothers’ positive behavior directed to each child were associated with siblings’ positivebehavior toward each other; and both negative parental behavior generally and differences in behaviortoward the children were associated with negative sibling interactions (Brody, Stoneman, and McCoy,1992). This was especially likely when one child’s temperament was more difficult than the otherchild’s (Brody, Stoneman, and Gauger, 1996).
It is not possible to say whether parents’ treating children differently during middle childhood
affects sibling relationships more than differential behavior in other life periods. Children whoperceive that they are treated less positively than their sibling, however, are somewhat more likely thantheir sibling to show negative personality adjustment in adolescence (Daniels, Dunn, Furstenberg,and Plomin, 1985).
Parents facilitate their children’s positive peer relationships indirectly and
directly throughout childhood (Parke, MacDonald, Beitel, and Bhavnagri, 1988). Indirect or stage-setting effects subsume the advantages of positive, accepting, secure parent–child relationships onchildren’s capacities for forming and maintaining smooth, prosocial relationships with others (e.g.,Contreras, Kerns, Weimer, Gentzler, and Tomich, 2000; Dishion, 1990). Direct or intervention effectsrefer to parents’ management of their children’s relations with other children and the transmissionof specific social skills for effective interactions with peers (Parke and Bhavnagri, 1989).
In general, the parental correlates of positive relations with peers in middle childhood parallel
the more extensive findings from studies of preschool children (Hartup, 1984). In middle childhood,mothers and fathers of well-liked children are emotionally supportive, infrequently frustrating andpunitive, and discouraging of antisocial behavior in their children (e.g., Dekovic and Janssens, 1992).
The families of these children are generally low in tension and are marked by affection toward, andparental satisfaction with, their children. Furthermore, social skills that are significant to successfulpeer relationships (e.g., self-confidence, assertiveness, and effectiveness with other children) arecorrelated with a history of affection from both parents and dominance from the same-gender parent(Parke et al., 1988). In research with 8- and 9-year-old children and their parents, popularity withpeers was positively correlated with children’s perceptions of positive relationships with parents andobservational measures of fathers’ receptivity to children’s proposed solutions on a teaching task(Henggeler, Edwards, Cohen, and Summerville, 1991).
These findings imply both direct and indirect links between parent and peer relationships, but
leave open the question of how such links come about. Relevant evidence on one possible processcomes from a study of 5- and 6-year-old middle-socioeconomic European American children andtheir parents (Cassidy, Parke, Butkovsky, and Braungart, 1992). The children in this study were morecooperative and interacted more smoothly with peers if their parents were emotionally expressive.
The relation was most pronounced for children who showed understanding of emotions, includingemotional expressions, experiences, conditions, and effective action and feeling responses. Thusthe impact of the emotional tenor of parent–child relationships may be especially great for thosechildren who are capable of inferring positive principles of interpersonal behavior from experienceswith parents and siblings. Later research revealed that positive relationships with parents contribute
to children’s developing abilities for regulating their emotions, and this ability in turn makes thechild more effective in interactions with peers (Contreras et al., 2000).
Parent–child interaction patterns also have been linked to less positive behavior in middle child-
hood (Dishion, 1990; McFadyen-Ketchum, Bates, Dodge, and Pettit, 1996; Patterson, 1982, 1986;Patterson and Bank, 1989; Schwartz, Dodge, Pettit, and Bates, 1997; Vuchinich, Bank, and Patterson,1992). In two cohorts of boys, aged 9 to 10 years, Dishion (1990) found that erratic monitoring andineffective disciplinary practices marked the families of rejected boys, as did higher levels of familystress, lower socioeconomic status, and evidence of more behavioral and academic problems for theboys themselves. Parents’ ineffective disciplinary practices increased the likelihood of peer rejectionby enhancing the likelihood of antisocial behavior and academic failure. Later analyses of thesedata, along with data from a 2-year follow-up (Vuchinich et al., 1992), showed a reciprocal relationbetween parental ineffectiveness and child behavior: Parental discipline in these families was in-effective partly because the children behaved antisocially, but the ineffective discipline also helpedto maintain these antisocial tendencies.
In addition to the association between parenting and antisocial behavior, the family environment,
including parents’ marital conflict and parental disagreement on childrearing standards and practices,has been linked to children’s antisocial tendencies and poor relationships with peers (Gonzales, Pitts,Hill, and Roosa, 2000; Grych, in Vol. 4 of this Handbook
; McCloskey, Figueredo, and Koss, 1995).
These diverse pieces of evidence indicate that parent–child and peer relationships are linked throughcomplex, multiple processes (Ladd and Pettit, in Vol. 5 of this Handbook
Timing of effects.
Considerable uncertainty exists about whether links between parent–child
relationships and interpersonal competence during middle childhood reflect concurrent relationshipsor the longer history of interactions between parent and child. Current longitudinal research indi-cates impressive stabilities between parent–child relationships in infancy and early childhood andextrafamilial relationships in middle childhood (e.g., Elicker, Englund, and Sroufe, 1992; Sroufe,Carlson, and Shulman, 1993). These findings come from research on attachment
or individuals’feeling of confidence in the responsiveness of one person in particular (see Bornstein, in Vol. 1 ofthis Handbook
; Cummings and Cummings, in Vol. 5 of this Handbook
In these studies, security of attachment to caregivers when children were 12 and 18 months old
was associated with a variety of indicators of children’s competence with peers at 10 to 12 yearsof age (Elicker et al., 1992; Sroufe et al., 1993; Sroufe, Egeland, and Carlson, 1999). The securelyattached children were more likely to be rated highly by adults on broad-based social and personalcompetence and were less dependent on adults. These children also spent more time with peers, weremore likely to form friendships, and were more likely to have friendships characterized by openness,trust, coordination, and complexity of activity. They also spent more time in, and functioned moreeffectively in, groups and were more likely to follow implicit rules of peer interactions than chil-dren with histories of insecure attachment. An example comes from research on same-gender versuscross-gender peer interactions. During middle childhood, frequency of cross-gender interactions isnegatively correlated with social skills and popularity. Insecurely attached children more frequentlyengaged in cross-gender interactions than securely attached children did (Sroufe, Bennett, Englund,Urban, and Shulman, 1993). In general, the links between security of attachment and social com-petence with peers in middle childhood are similar to links found in preschool (Sroufe et al., 1993;Sroufe et al., 1999). That is, at the ages of 5 to 12, children show similar patterns of orientationto peers and teachers as they did in early childhood; and both the early and the middle childhoodpatterns are correlated with attachment measures taken during the first 2 years of life.
These correlations may mean that relationships with parents have similar characteristics across
time. Parents who provide responsive, child-centered care in infancy might be more likely to adaptthose patterns of care to the support and the guidance needed by children in later years, thus pro-viding continuity of care. The researchers suggest two other possibilities. One is that the patterns ofbehavior formed in early relationships may persist, eliciting characteristically different patterns of
reactions from others in later life. That is, positive relationships with peers may result from skillfulinterpersonal behavior by the securely attached child. A second possibility is that children carryforward from early relationships an internal working model of interpersonal relationships (Bowlby,1973). Internal working models are inferred cognitive representations or prototypes of one’s keyrelationships that incorporate behaviors, feelings, and expectancies of reactions from others.
These possibilities are not mutually exclusive, and all three may contribute to the complex link-
ages between familial and peer relationships. Longitudinal analyses imply that early relationships areprobably linked to middle childhood peer competence by means of internal working models (Fury,Carlson, and Sroufe, 1997). Children’s internal working models of relationships were assessed atthe ages of 4, 8, and 12 years. There were clear contrasts among groups varying in early attach-ment scores in early and middle childhood measures of internal working models. Together, infantattachment scores and later measures of internal working models accounted for 44% of the variancein ratings of social competence when children were at the age of 12 years; early attachment alone,however, was not reliably related to later social competence. Important questions remain, such aswhether and how representations themselves are affected by variations in relationships after infancy,but findings to date imply that parenting in middle childhood partly is rooted in relational patternsestablished in earlier periods of life.
Beyond middle childhood.
It should be noted that temporal linkages between familial and
extrafamilial relationships run forward, as well as backward, in time. Rejection by peers, whichconsistently has been linked to relationships with parents and siblings in childhood, is a compellingmarker of long-term developmental disadvantage (Parker and Asher, 1987). Individuals with unsat-isfactory peer relationships in childhood face greater risks for behavioral problems, school failure,and emotional maladjustment in childhood and adolescence and for mental health problems andcriminality in adulthood. Parent–child relationships appear to affect these developmental outcomesby their impact on antisocial behavior and academic failure in middle childhood (Patterson et al.,1989) and even on long-term unemployment in adulthood (Kokko and Pulkinnen, 2000).
More positive linkages to parent–child relationships have also been documented. Franz,
McClelland, and Weinberger (1991) reported longitudinal follow-ups of individuals who were firststudied at the age of 5 years, together with their mothers. The participants were measured at the age of41 years on an indicator of “conventional social accomplishment,” defined as having a long, happymarriage, children, and relationships with close friends at midlife (Vaillant, 1977). Having a warmand affectionate father and mother at the age of 5 years was correlated with affiliative behaviors andreports of good relationships with significant others 36 years later. These characteristics of parentsalso were associated with higher levels of generativity, work accomplishment, psychological well-being, lower level of strain and less use of emotion-focused coping styles in adulthood. In a separateanalysis with this same sample, parents’ characteristics when individuals were 5 years old wereassociated with these same individuals’ empathic concern at the age of 31 years (Koestner, Franz,and Weinberger, 1990). As in the shorter-term longitudinal findings previously described, a varietyof possible processes may account for this link between middle childhood familial relationships andthese varied adult characteristics.
Parent–peer cross pressures.
One widely invoked possible linkage between parent–child and
peer relationships in middle childhood is an inverse one: namely, that increasing involvement withpeers may be associated with decreasing engagement with and influence of parents. This linkage,though, has only limited and narrow support in the literature. A more common finding is that attitudestoward both parents and peers are more favorable than unfavorable throughout middle childhood andadolescence (Collins, 1995; Steinberg and Silk, in Vol. 1 of this Handbook
). Within this generalstability, however, some change does occur. For example, the number of children reporting positiveattitudes toward parents declines moderately during middle childhood, although attitudes towardpeers generally do not become more favorable during this period.
With respect to endorsement of attitudes held by parents versus peers, the inverse relation occurs
only for antisocial behavior and, furthermore, is not especially intense before to puberty (Hartup,1984). In a cross-sectional study of children aged 9, 12, 15, and 17 years, Berndt (1979) chartedage-related patterns of conformity to parents and peers regarding prosocial, neutral, and antisocialbehaviors. Antisocial behavior, in this instance, referred to such activities as cheating, stealing,trespassing, and minor destruction of property. Children and adolescents alike conformed to bothparents and friends regarding prosocial behavior; there was some decline across ages in conformityto parents, but not peers, on neutral behaviors; and conformity to peers regarding antisocial behaviorsincreased between the ages of 8 and 15, but not beyond. Thus there is relatively little evidence thatpronounced parent–peer cross pressures are the norm in middle childhood.
More disruptive shifts may occur in families in which parents fail to maintain age-appropriate,
child-centered control patterns. Several studies indicate that conformity to peers may be more likelyin families in which relationships with parents are perceived as unsatisfactory. Fuligni and Eccles(1993) collected self-report questionnaires on this topic from 1,771, children from 12 to 13 years old.
They found that children who believed their parents continued the same patterns of power assertionand restrictiveness they had used in earlier years were higher in an extreme form of peer orientation.
Furthermore, those who perceived few opportunities to be involved in decision making, as well as noincrease in these opportunities, were higher in both extreme peer orientation and peer advice seeking.
Studies of school-age children and early adolescents who are on their own in the afterschool hours alsoshow greater susceptibility to peer influence cross pressures when parent–child relationships are lesswarm and involve less regular parental monitoring (Galambos and Maggs, 1991; Steinberg, 1986).
Social support for parents.
Parents’ perceptions of a supportive network beyond the family
also influence their behavior and children’s development (Cochran and Niego, in Vol. 4 of thisHandbook
). For example, interventions with troubled families are more effective when parentsperceive that social support is available to them (Wahler, 1980), whereas isolation from communitysupport systems often typifies abusive families (e.g., Azar, in Vol. 4 of this Handbook
; Emery andLaumann-Billings, 1998).
To summarize, qualities of relationships with parents have significant implications for develop-
ment in and beyond middle childhood. Furthermore, linkages to other periods indicate that middlechildhood experiences are inextricable from developmental influences and processes across the lifes-pan. A variety of possible processes may link middle childhood family relationships to both earlierand later functioning.
As children move into settings beyond the family, parents increasingly must monitor extrafamilialsettings and negotiate with nonfamilial adults on behalf of children. Of these settings, the mostprominent is school. In addition, many parents must arrange for afterschool care by others or mustestablish and monitor arrangements for self-care by children.
Children in the United States typically spend almost as much time in school as at
home. Schools advance both academic knowledge and knowledge of cultural norms and values andprovide essential supports for learning literacy skills, which greatly extend cognitive capacities inmany different areas (Fischer and Bullock, 1984). Experiences in school also affect children’s viewsof their own abilities to learn and their actual achievement and adjustment (Eccles, Wigfield, andSchiefele, 1998).
Family experiences are linked to children’s successful adaptation to the demands of schooling
(Epstein and Sanders, in Vol. 5 of this Handbook
). A history of shared work and play activities withparents is positively linked to a smooth entry into school, whereas early interactions characterized bya controlling parent and a resisting child, or by a directing child, are correlated with poor adjustment
(Barth and Parke, 1993; Pianta and Nimetz, 1991). Several parental characteristics are linked to bothshort-term and long-term academic motivation: providing a cognitively stimulating home environ-ment, regardless of socioeconomic level (Gottfried, Fleming, and Gottfried, 1998), values favoringthe development of autonomy rather than conformity (Okagaki and Sternberg, 1993), and empha-sizing goals associated with learning, rather than goals associated with performance and evaluation(Ablard and Parker, 1997).
Children express more satisfaction with school when the authority structure of classrooms is
similar to the authority practices they encounter at home (Epstein, 1983; Hess and Holloway, 1984).
Furthermore, parenting styles consistently have been linked to school success. Authoritative stylesthat emphasize encouragement, support for child-initiated efforts, clear communication, and a child-centered teaching orientation in parent–child interactions are associated with higher achievementthan are strategies characterized by punishment for failure, use of a directive teaching style, anddiscouragement of child-initiated interactions (Baumrind, 1989; Pianta and Nimetz, 1991). Thesecorrelations occur in studies with both European American and African American families and withadolescents as well as with younger children (Steinberg, Elmen, and Mounts, 1989). These latterfindings implicate authoritative parenting in higher school grades and lower incidence of behaviorproblems in school, compared with authoritarian or permissive parenting styles. In addition to parentalcontrol strategies, lower school achievement during middle childhood has been linked with familyenvironments characterized by interparent and parent–child hostility (Feldman and Wentzel, 1990).
Parents’ expectations regarding children’s achievement also are implicated in school success
(Stevenson and Newman, 1986). Expectations have an impact from the beginning of schooling.
Entwisle and Hayduk (1982) examined United States parents’ expectations for their children’s schoolperformance each year between the ages of 5 and 9. For middle-socioeconomic children and childrenof blue-collar parents, parents’ expectations were strong influences on children’s first marks. Theinfluence of blue-collar parents on children after the age of 6 years appeared to be considerablyless than that of their middle-class counterparts (Alexander and Entwisle, 1988; Hoff, Laursen, andTardif, in Vol. 2 of this Handbook
In European American middle class families, parental expectations are correlated with achieve-
ment into the preadolescent years (Frome and Eccles, 1998; Stevenson and Newman, 1986). Changesin expectations often occur during the early school years, however, and these changes are difficultto explain. Children’s performances in school may affect these expectations, of course. Alexanderand Entwisle (1988) found a significant impact of first-grade (age 6 years ) achievement on parents’subsequent expectations for children’s school performance. In other instances, contrasting expecta-tions emerge for children who are equivalent in classroom grades and in test scores. For example,although parents’ expectations for math performance do not differ by gender at the beginning ofschool, males are expected to do better than females by the beginning of the second grade (age 7)(Entwisle and Baker, 1983).
High parental expectations also appear to be key factors in cross-national differences in school
achievement during middle childhood. Stevenson and Lee (1990) examined parental correlates ofsubstantially lower levels of academic achievement by children in the United States, compared toChina and Japan. They found that parents in the United States have lower expectations for andassign less importance to school achievement than Asian parents do; furthermore, mothers in theUnited States are more likely to regard achievement primarily as a reflection of innate ability,whereas Asian mothers emphasize the importance of hard work in attaining academic excellence.
Compared with parents in China and Japan, as well as immigrant parents in the United States,parents born in the United States are more likely to believe that general cognitive development,motivation, and social skills are more important than academic skills (Huntsinger, Jose, Liaw, andChing, 1997; Okagaki and Sternberg, 1993; Stevenson and Lee, 1990). Thus, not only expecta-tions about children’s achievement, but the importance assigned to mastery of school tasks per se,affect the impact of parents on their children’s school experiences (Huntsinger, Jose, and Larson,1998).
Family difficulties, such as divorce, are also linked to children’s school learning and to their
emerging self-concepts (Hetherington and Stanley-Hagan, in Vol. 3 of this Handbook
). In the firstyear or two after a divorce, children from one-parent families frequently miss school, study lesseffectively, and disrupt their classrooms more often. Furthermore, teachers observe difficulties intheir general social behavior, including their relations with friends. Girls are seen to be more de-pendent, and boys are perceived as more aggressive and less able to maintain attention and effortat assigned tasks and, in general, to be less competent academically. On the other hand, one im-portant context may compensate for difficulties in the other, as when family members providesupport for school difficulties, or teachers and classmates help to buffer children’s distress overfamily problems (Hetherington et al., 1998; Hetherington and Stanley-Hagan, in Vol. 3 of thisHandbook
Parents’ involvement with schools and with children’s school-related tasks also is correlated
positively with children’s school achievement in middle childhood. Parental involvement is variouslydefined as expectations of school performance, verbal encouragement, direct reinforcement of school-relevant behaviors, general academic guidance or support, and children’s perceptions of parents’influence on school progress (Fehrmann, Keith, and Reimers, 1987). Correlations are less impressivein the secondary grades (usually after the age of 12), perhaps because common forms of parentalinvolvement are perceived as intrusions on autonomy.
The most studied area of parental involvement in schooling is homework. Leone and Richards
(1989) found that 11- and 12-year-old students in the top one third of their classes spent significantlymore time on homework, including time spent working with a parent on school assignments. Otherstudies have shown negative correlations, perhaps because parents are more likely to become involvedin homework when children have not been doing well on their own. Even under these conditions,though, test scores generally improved when parents became involved, especially when parents havebeen trained in how best to help their children complete homework assignments (Miller and Kelley,1991). Parental attitudes toward the importance of homework, like attitudes toward the importanceof school achievement generally, vary cross nationally. For example, parents in China, Japan, andTaiwan value school achievement more highly than U.S. parents do (Chao and Tseng, in Vol. 4 ofthis Handbook
; Chen and Stevenson, 1989).
Several factors influence the impact of parental involvement. One factor is parents’ general style
of childrearing. Among authoritative parents (those who characteristically showed responsive, child-centered behavior and clear expectations for child behavior), involvement was highly correlated withacademic achievement, in comparison with involvement of authoritarian (restrictive, parent-centered,controlling) parents. Authoritative parents’ involvement is likely perceived as reflecting interest inand support for children’s school-related activities, whereas authoritarian parents’ involvement maybe interpreted as intrusive, controlling, and implying disrespect and lack of trust for the child (Darlingand Steinberg, 1993).
At the start of the 21st century, 78% of parents with children aged 6 to 13
years participate in the workforce. Because children spend only 6 hr each day in school and these 6 hrfrequently do not correspond to parents’ work schedules, large numbers of children are alone withoutimmediate adult supervision for significant amounts of time (Capizzano, Tout, and Adams, 2000;Vandell and Shumow, 1999). Estimates put the number of children who spend unsupervised timeat 3.6 to 4 million. Afterschool childcare arrangements vary by age of children, ethnicity, parents’availability and whether parents have traditional or nontraditional work hours.
Parents’ and children’s reports offer discrepant views of typical afterschool arrangements, with
children reporting more time alone and less happiness with the arrangements and whether or notthe child actually adhered to the arrangement (Belle, 1999). Frequent changes occur in afterschoolarrangements, because of unsatisfactory arrangements, changing age, ability and desires of the child,expense, perceived danger, degree of structure in the arrangements, and balancing children’s needswith familial or parental work needs. In the latter years of middle childhood (ages 10 to 12 years),
many families from all ethnic and income groups begin a transition to letting children be on theirown, rather than being supervised directly by an adult, during the afterschool hours (Capizzanoet al., 2000; Kerrebrock and Lewis, 1999; Vandell and Shumow, 1999).
Few general differences in academic performance or psychosocial status are apparent when chil-
dren in adult-care arrangements are compared with those in self-care arrangements. Vandell andCorasaniti (1988) reported that 8- and 9-year-old children in center care showed lower academicachievement and lower acceptance by peers than children in other care arrangements, includingmother care. Surprisingly, “latchkey” children—children who are at home alone after school—werenot generally disadvantaged relative to mother-care children. The reasons for the deficits observedin children cared for in centers are not clear.
Negative effects are most likely when children on their own are not monitored regularly and when
they are free to spend time away from home with peers (Galambos and Maggs, 1991; Steinberg,1986; Vandell and Shumow, 1999). These arrangements are more common in the preadolescentyears than the early elementary years. Older children are more susceptible to peer influences andmore likely to engage in problem behaviors than children who stay at home and those who are inregular telephone contact with parents. The negative effects from being allowed to roam may resultpartly from generally less positive parent–child relationships. For girls particularly, permissive self-care arrangements are associated with lowered perceptions of parental acceptance and higher levelsof parent–child conflicts (Galambos and Maggs, 1991). Among these preadolescents and youngerchildren alike, regular arrangements for parental monitoring and clear expectations for letting parentsknow where the child is seem to overcome the potential negative effects of self care (Galambos andMaggs, 1991; Steinberg, 1986; Vandell and Corasaniti, 1988).
By contrast, school-age childcare programs clearly benefit children’s development compared with
self-care. Although this conclusion may reflect the generally more positive developmental course ofthe middle-socioeconomic children who participate, the greatest benefits clearly come from programsthat are well suited to the developmental level of the child, that offer flexible programs, and thatfeature a well-educated staff and low child-to-staff ratios (Vandell and Shumow, 1999). One studyshowed that 11- to 13-year-old children who participated for 2 years in an afterschool enrichmentprogram with a comparable group of children who did not had improved attitudes toward school,improved behavior at school, better grades, and less tension at home (Dryfoos, 1999; also see Hustonet al., 2001).
In summary, parents’ involvement in children’s lives away from home entails many of the same
principles and processes that determine their effectiveness in direct interactions. Appropriate moni-toring, in the context of warm, accepting relationships, is associated with positive school adjustmentand academic achievement and with benign impact of self-care arrangements. Children with betterrelationships with their parents appear to be better able to understand the necessity for afterschoolcare, even if it is not their preference (Belle, 1999). Although these areas of children’s lives requiredifferent forms of parental involvement, the general style of parents’ relationships with children is akey factor in the impact of out-of-home experiences on development during middle childhood.
Parenting during middle childhood encompasses adaptation to distinctive transformations in humandevelopment that affect not only the current well-being of children, but carry significant implica-tions for later life. The age of 5 to 7 years is universally regarded as “the age of reason” (Rogoffet al., 1975). In non-Western cultures children are assumed to develop new capabilities at thisage and are often assigned expanded roles and responsibilities in their families and communities.
Although the transition to adultlike responsibilities is less pronounced in Western industrialized so-cieties, 5- to 12-year-old children are expected to show greater autonomy and responsibility in somearenas.
The unique experiences of individual children in middle childhood partly reflect changes
experienced by virtually all children of this age and also the interpersonal relationships and thecharacteristics of particular communities and social institutions. Such factors as urban versus ruralresidence, family and domestic group status, parental and nonparental childcare arrangements, taskstypically assigned to children, and the role of women in the society have all been demonstratedto affect important dimensions of childhood socialization in both industrialized and developingcountries.
Common changes in children and in relationships have raised two key questions that underlie
the framework outlined in the chapter. One is the question of whether parenting during middlechildhood is distinctively different from parenting in other age periods. Although the particularforms of parental behavior and parent–child interaction vary considerably, certain issues arise invirtually all families of 5- to 12-year-old children in industrialized societies: exercising regulatoryinfluence while facilitating increasing self-regulation, maintaining positive bonds while fostering adistinctive sense of self, providing groundwork for effective relationships and experiences outsideof the family (Collins, 1984, 1995). These issues are integral to parent–child relationships from achild’s birth, although often in less obtrusive or more rudimentary forms than in middle childhood,and they remain central in the adolescent years and, to a lesser degree, in early adulthood (White,Speisman, and Costos, 1983).
The distinctiveness of parenting 5- to 12-year-old children largely arises from the relative nov-
elty and salience of issues specific to this age period. Middle childhood is a period of intensify-ing transitions, many of which require parents to extend their activities on behalf of the child tointeractions with others, including teachers, peers, and other families. In addition, behaviors ofchildren toward parents change as the result of cognitive, emotional, and social transitions. Conse-quently, both the scope of the issues and the methods available for addressing them are altered inmiddle childhood.
Current models of socialization imply that the most effective parental responses to changes in
children’s behavior combine child-centered flexibility and adherence to core values and expectan-cies for approved behavior (Baumrind, 1989; Darling and Steinberg, 1993; Dix, 1991; Grusec andGoodnow, 1994; Hoffman, 1994; Maccoby, 1992). This combination may be more complex in middlechildhood than in other periods. Furthermore, the balance between ensuring continuity and adapt-ing to child-driven change may be more difficult to maintain in and after middle childhood thanin early childhood. The capacity for age-appropriate adaptation, however, probably is not exclusiveto effective parenting in this period, but is inherent in the characteristics of effective parenting atevery age.
One question that is not directly addressed in this chapter concerns the linkages between par-
enting and individual development during middle childhood and in later periods. These asso-ciations are more often implicit than explicit. Nevertheless, research findings have documentedsome key connections. The most extensively duplicated finding is that parenting styles markedby authoritativeness toward children, but clearly child-centered attitudes and concerns, are cor-related with a variety of positive outcomes that attain salience in middle childhood and that arepredictive of successful adaptation in later life. These include peer acceptance, school success,competence in self-care, and competence and responsibility in a broad array of tasks. Equallywell established is the finding that parenting behavior and attitudes dominated by parental con-cerns, rather than child characteristics and needs, are associated with less positive outcomes onall of these variables. The latter must be regarded as middle childhood risk factors for long-termdysfunction.
A caveat is that studies do not tell us whether experiencing negative conditions for the first time
in middle childhood affects later development differently in either kind or degree than experiencingparenting problems over a longer period. Nevertheless, the documented consequences of these neg-ative conditions for 5- to 12-year-old children leave little doubt that effective parenting powerfullyaffects development both during and after middle childhood.
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