The Science of Good Parenting

Topics: Childhood, Parent, Parenting Pages: 3 (1208 words) Published: September 17, 2013
Have you ever wondered how people with bad parents go on to be good parents themselves? Where do they learn to be loving and responsive, to laugh, wrestle, or comfort after a skinned knee if their mom and dad never did? For decades, psychologists have studied how parenting style transmits through generations. Not surprisingly, there’s no easy formula. Factors like genes and temperament, behavioral modeling, and life experience all play a role. But one assessment tool called the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI) — a measure well known to researchers, but rarely talked about in parenting circles — speaks volumes about how this all works. It’s a set of 20 questions that, when given to an adult, predict with roughly 80 percent accuracy the type of relationship a child will have to that adult (current or later on). The catch is, even though the questions are about family history, the results are not concerned with what actually happened to you as a child. Instead, the interview focuses on how you tell the story of what happened to you as a child — this is what best foretells your future as a parent. To back up a bit, turning the tide of parenting is kind of remarkable when you think about it; on a fundamental level, we learn to parent by being parented ourselves. We absorb the basic patterns and emotional tone of the first years of life. Psychologists call this our “internal working model” — a mental, largely unconscious representation of the social world coded deep in our brains. We get it when we’re small, and it’s the operating system we use in relationships down the road, including with our kids. This bears out in research, too. Children from high-conflict families often go on to be high-conflict parents. Attachment researchers see basic things like the level of uncertainty and chaos or nurturing and warmth in a person’s family of origin reflected in their relationship to their children later on. In one early study, moms were interviewed to find out how accepted or...
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