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Parent-Child Relationships: Definition & Explanation

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  • 0:37 Parent-Child…
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  • 2:18 Parenting Styles
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Dana Dance-Schissel

Dana teaches social sciences at the college level and English and psychology at the high school level. She has master's degrees in applied, clinical and community psychology.

The parent-child relationship is often considered to be the most enduring and significant relationship in one's life. This lesson will explain the different types of parent-child relationships and how they impact development. The lesson will end with a brief quiz to test your knowledge.

Parent-Child Relationship Definition

The term parent-child relationship refers to the unique and enduring bond between a caregiver and his or her child. To understand the parent-child relationship, we must look at the ways that parents and children interact with one another physically, emotionally, and socially. Think about your parents. How did your relationship with your parents contribute to who you are today, or did it? Many psychologists believe that the relationships between parents and children are very important in determining who we become and how we relate to others and the world.

Parent-Child Relationship Types

Parent-child relationships can be biological or adopted. Biological parents and children share genetic material, while adoptive parents and children usually do not. Adoptive parent-child relationship are most often legal agreements that form a permanent parent-child relationship. The relationship between parents and their children is important to consider when discussing physical, cognitive, and social development in children.

Parent-Child Relationship Theories

Theorists in developmental psychology examine the parent-child relationship as an important tool in understanding how individuals develop over time. Sigmund Freud believed that adult development was largely defined by the relationships that children share with their parents. For example, if an adult female struggles in intimate relationships with males, Freud probably would have blamed it on an unhealthy relationship with her father. Similarly, Erik Erikson's psychosocial theory of development proposes that infants who have caregivers meeting their basic needs will grow into trusting adults, but infants whose needs are not met will develop feelings of mistrust in future relationships.

Other important theories on relationships between children and parents focus on parents as teachers. In other words, we are taught how to behave and relate to others through our relationships with our parents. Lev Vygotsky viewed parents as masters and the child as an apprentice in learning. Albert Bandura's social learning theory likened parents to models who demonstrate behavior that children then copy. For example, if we are hugged by our parents and see our parents being physically affectionate toward others, Bandura's theory would assume that we would become huggers too.

Parenting Styles

In an effort to better understand the parent-child relationship, Diana Baumrind performed research that focused on the parents. She came up with three distinct styles of parenting: authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive. Authoritarian parents might be compared to dictators, because they are very strict and make the rules without regard for the child's needs or feelings. It is their way or the highway. Authoritative parents also have rules, but they listen to and respect the needs of their children. This is a mutual exchange where both parties matter. Permissive parents let children run the show and set the rules. Neglectful is a fourth parenting style that was later added to Baumrind's theory. Neglectful parents are uninvolved with their children altogether.

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