If parents exhibit violent emotions, the negative effect is greater than when the emotions are positive


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An investigation carried out by UNED professor Tomás Cano investigates the causes of the gap between the grades of low-income children and those of the middle and upper class, finding an answer in the emotional ecosystem of families and its impact on certain abilities and difficulties that children later show at school. The work, titled ‘Social class, parenting and child development: A multidimensional approach’, part of the context that, in all countries where there is data, children belonging to the middle and upper classes get better grades in school than those from lower classes. The study, to which Ep has had access, tries to understand the reasons that explain this gap.

«The research was based on two hypotheses: one, that certain dimensions of parenting -reasoning, aggressiveness, discipline or affection- that fathers and mothers put into practice at home are key to the cognitive and emotional development of their children. children. The second hypothesis is that these emotions and behaviors vary according to social class. In other words, middle and upper class mothers and fathers behave differently with their children than working class mothers do, and that difference is key to understanding the gap in child development,” he explains. Professor Kano.

Sociology or Psychology have been analyzing these social differences for decades. «Sociology has shown that the higher the social class of the parents, the more interest and ability they have to put into practice family strategies that give their children an advantage, such as paying for tutoring classes or living in neighborhoods with better benefits. Other studies show that parents from lower classes have lower wages, more unemployment and greater precariousness and, being exposed to such poor working conditions, generates stress that sometimes translates into family conflicts, which in turn affect negatively to child development”, says the main author of the work.

Professor Cano found in his research that the emotions that parents exhibit at home, whether they are positive, such as affection, or negative, such as anger, determine the development of certain capacities and difficulties that their children will have. Among them, self-esteem, hyperactivity, excessive fears, or repeated headaches or stomach aches.

«That parents are affectionate with their children has a very positive impact on the emotional development of little ones, but when parents exhibit violent emotions at home, the negative effect on their children’s psychological well-being is even greater than when the emotions are positive. An issue that I find interesting is that, despite the fact that these more emotional dimensions of parenting are key to the psychological well-being of children, they do not affect cognitive development as much. For example, do not affect memory, reading, or reasoning».

irrelevance of social class

In the second part of the work, it is analyzed whether there are differences between social classes in those dimensions of parenting analyzed. “There are hardly any,” says the professor, who adds: “For example, on an emotional level there is no significant difference between upper-middle-class and working-class parents. There are, however, some differences in dimensions of parenting less related to emotions, such as inductive reasoning, a type of practice that parents from the middle and upper classes adhere to more than those from the lower classes. However, these differences were substantially very small”, says Cano.

In the author’s opinion, this work is relevant because “the results show that the cognitive or emotional disadvantage of children from lower classes does not seem to be the cause of a supposedly inappropriate emotional environment characteristic of these homes, as several theories had pointed out.”

The second relevant approach of this work is that it makes very evident the importance of paternal co-responsibility in parenting. «The data I had to carry out this work was very good and allowed me to replicate all the analyzes of the influence of the different dimensions of parenting on child development, both for mothers and fathers. The result is very clear: men, when they take co-responsibility in parenting, have an impact on the development of their children just like mothers», points out Cano.

A third relevant question is that the development of cognitive capacities in childhood is determined by factors other than the development of emotional capacities. The teacher explains that, although children’s emotional development is highly conditioned by the four aspects of parenting analyzed in this study, cognitive development is linked to other dimensions of care, such as reading or educational games. “Although it is true that cognitive and emotional skills are closely related to each other and mutually reinforce each other,” concedes the author.

In the professor’s opinion, this research is important for parenting education for two reasons: “On the one hand, making men who are fathers aware that the time and energy they dedicate to parenting greatly influences the development of their children. On the other hand, it may help parents become aware of the strong negative impact that the display of a disruptive, aggressive or violent emotion at home can have on child development. Therefore, that mothers and, above all, fathers, become aware of both their co-responsibility in care, and the impact that their own emotions have on their children”, he concludes.

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