A Wink and a Nod: Guest Post

This guest post by Barbara Boucher, PhD, a child development specialist is in response to my previous post What Makes a Good Parent?, a post I give her both credit and blame (teasing, Barbara!) for due to questions she posed in comments on another post here. Good parenting, specifically the skills and traits associated with so-called successful (in a very general sense) parents struck a nerve not only with Barbara but with the Psychology Today audience where a modified version of my post became the most emailed selection. In other words, good parenting is a hot topic that invites not only a bit of controversy but further speculation and elaboration. Take it away, Barbara.

A Wink and a Nod

How do you politely respond to unsolicited parenting advice? The title of this post might fit that bill.

In my original comment, I asked Momma Data “What do you think would be the most accurate criteria for grouping parents to predict child outcome?” I proceeded to offer a multiple-choice-selection of answers.

Polly added that I missed a ‘few possibilities’ (possibly, on purpose). Wink.

However, I do believe that

A better spouse.
A better parenting manual.
A better kid are ALL covered by my ‘final answer’. Wink.
Polly’s response post included the work of Robert Epstein, PhD who compiled and tested these parenting skills:

1. Love and affection

2. Stress management

3. Relationship skills

4. Autonomy and independence

5. Education and learning

6. Life skills

7. Behavior Management

8. Health

9. Religion

10. Safety
I need not quibble with Dr. Epstein’s interpretation of his survey results. We could all just accept his list of “10 parenting competencies or skills that either routinely predicted child outcomes (health, happiness, success)” and go home to follow his advice.

Couldn’t we?

Except, that quibble I must. Wink.

I suggest that by parenting according to numbers 3-10 of Epstein’s parenting competencies you effectively perform number 2 (stress management). Specifically, there are huge overlaps in the practice of religion (9), spiritual development (prayer and meditation) and stress reduction. Another example, by implementing or showing health competencies, parents effectively reduce the risk of stress from worrying about their child’s health.

See number 4 (autonomy and independence) through the eyes of this quibbler. I think ‘respect’ in reference children has been co-opted, over-used and misused. However, the part about encouraging children to be self-sufficient and self-reliant is a predictor of positive child outcomes by my account. I am nodding to Epstein’s description of life skills (number 6) which is curiously but obliquely like my definition of success – “a steady income and a plan” – unquestionably these are practical representations of self-sufficiency and self-reliance.

Speaking of which, Polly, I don’t recall operational definitions in your post for the outcomes of health, happiness and success…. I am most prone to quibble with any definition of ‘happiness’ and find that outcome to weaken the research. Success in my terms is a repeat of number 4 – self-reliance and self-sufficiency - that can positively prepare one for a lifelong monogamous relationship with the option to parent children.

I quibble whether safety IS the tenth-most influential parenting competency. I spent a fair amount of study of the effects on children when they do not feel safe. Pretty much trumps everything else. Notawinkbutablink.

Someone agrees with me on this point. See the comments at this post on babycenter.com. Among those comments I waxed-statistical on the significant finding of ‘religion’ as influential in parenting for successful child-outcome.

Whatever you believe-in or not does not take away that the self-reports of the sample Dr. Epstein surveyed gave religion a statistical hit in this research. Reporting this is not evangelization but it clearly hit a nerve with you.

Like each of the ten competencies, people respond online based on their personal perspective, and not surprisingly, some in an emotional manner. Discussion of a topic, hypothetically or outside of an emotional context, is an intellectual skill, sometimes evidenced by academic achievement, but sometimes not, and clearly separating the wheat from the chaff (or those who leave emotional emphatic declarations) in online commentary.

I could also throw quibbling words at the soft and varied understanding of ‘love’ for a child. Love has also been twisted to meet the nefarious needs of many-a non-competent legal mother or father (legal as in genetically linked or have given birth to). But I will acquiesce ‘love’ to mean a deep emotional commitment without which, why would anyone parent? Or at least parent well? Ahem.

Polly’s phrase: “Education as a proxy for intelligence” is a close approximation to widely held belief that more completed education is equivocated to greater intelligence. In our society, proof of intelligence is often rendered by standardized test performance that is statistically sieved to a number (most honored are those that reach triple digits). Despite the bad press that IQ tests receive they are means of measurement that bodes well in the real world.

In my past life as a blogger I provided several essays on my blog TherExtras, one of which was “On Intelligence” (the essay is no longer available online). The first sentence: Intelligence is speed. Or intelligence is the ability to think fast. Think of the baby with a brain slightly advantaged for taking-in and retaining new information ~ fast neurons. It can begin there. But starve that baby of interesting experience, of the love of invested adults, and that slight advantage disappears. Worse yet, placed in an unsafe environment by adults who are not competent in number 1, the baby suffers damage to his learning organ. No need to survey parents to get that information. The data already exists.

Be patient and read carefully now as I quibble the words of Dr. Epstein and Dr. Palumbo into a semantic circle. Prepare to wink and nod.

The definitions of each parent competency on the list of 10 are clear enough to offer practical help to MOST parents. Momma Data, you were particularly brave to use the phrase “the parents with kids nearer the left tail of the Bell Curve”. Statistically and genetically, children nearer the left tail of the Bell Curve have parents who are also left of the median (below average) on an intelligence scale. The phrase in quotes seems to affirm the answer I gave, intelligence. (You may wink.)

Along the spectrum of the bell curve of intelligence, from the 2 standard deviations to the left to, well, the complete right side of the median the conclusive words of Dr. Epstein have the potential for much quibbling, and much nodding.

Yes, Dr. Epstein’s work is of the variety least respected of all data collection - self-reported behavior. But for whom does this research meet a need? Social research serves to teach those who have not thought to think outside of their experience and emotions (i.e. they parent as they were parented.) Carefully collected, fully disclosed methods and appropriately applied statistics can yield grains of useful information to your average (and above) adult parenting a child.

Psychologically, love is a decision. Love is a decision to commit and give of self, outside of self-centered decisions or as Polly said, self-less parenting. (Are you nodding?)

Deliberate and decisive parenting requires intellect. Parenting that is deliberate and thoughtful is intellectually-based. The opposite of which is to let the child develop within the environment one passively lives, similar to what one grew-up in themselves, or reflexively, knee-jerk or not deliberately.

Nodding. Dr. Epstein’s research and expression of the results agrees with my response that intelligence of the parent is correlated to successful child outcomes. First and foremost, decide to love your child, read about child development and decide what is useful for you to apply to your life, your parenting, your child(ren).


Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. said...

Thanks, Barbara.

"Deliberate and decisive parenting requires intellect." We don't often hear this but it can be argued (in fact Epstein does) that a lot of parenting is in response or challenge (?) to what our parents did.

As you pointed out, I didn't specify the measures Epstein used for the child outcomes (happiness, success, health) bc he didn't go into detail about it. I think they were very general - if I recall from taking his parenting survey ("inventory") then you'll see how unspecific they were.

Would be cool if the study were replicated with very specific measures from a variety of sources. Could be done pretty easily. Anyone?

Barbara @therextras said...

I don't think any social research is 'easy', Polly. *wink*

Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. said...

Okay relatively easy! The hardest part of this one is finding the parents and objective measures. Not easy for grad students or probably academic researchers which it hasn't been done. It's not like parents need a course credit (to lure participation).