The Psychology of Everyday Life:Love, Marriage, and the Baby Carriage


What are the main ways that parenting styles vary across cultures?

What roles do parents play in teaching their children to manage emotion?

Another area in which parents play a crucial role is the development of emotional competence. Children have to learn to recognize, label, and regulate their own emotions. Unlike the ability to walk or speak, this is not a skill that children will learn on their own with little effort on the parents’ part. Thus the sensitivity of the parents to a child’s experience and expression of emotion has a profound impact on the child’s developing emotional competence. A 1996 study by John Gottman, Lynn Katz, and Carole Hooven found that the quality of parenting when a child was five predicted to a range of outcomes both at age five and at age eight.

The parenting styles measured included emotional coaching, in which parents teach children to label and then manage their emotions, praising-scaffolding, a kind of supportive teaching, and derogatory parenting, which involves intrusiveness, criticism, and mockery. The outcomes included the child’s emotional regulation, peer relationships, school achievement, physical health, and vagal nerve tone—a physiological measure of stress reactivity. As might be expected, high levels of emotional coaching and scaffolding-praising and low levels of derogatory parenting were associated with positive outcomes. Emotional coaching, in particular, predicted to positive emotional functioning, at age five and at age eight.

While parenting in all cultures entails love, devotion, teaching, and discipline, there is considerable cultural variation in other aspects of parenting. In general, more traditional, collectivist cultures (e.g., found in Asia and Africa) employ parenting styles that promote interdependence, respect for authority, and behavioral control. Individualistic cultures (e.g., found in North America and North-Western Europe) promote independence, less hierarchical relationships, and greater freedom of self-expression. Cultures also vary with regards to physical affection. For example, Northern European cultures have traditionally been more reserved about emotional expression and physical affection than Southern European cultures.


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