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Do childhood bonds influence future relationships?

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family relationships

Relationships matter. Our relationships with our near and dear ones are the single biggest predictor of our happiness—more so than business success, physical health, wealth, status or fame. 

Developmental psychologists have always been interested in the effects of parenting styles on the development of children. The parental influence on children’s development and behaviour has been regarded since the discovery of psychoanalysis. In 1966, a psychologist Diana Baumrind in her paper “Effects of Authoritative Parental Control on Child Behaviour” talked about the key dimensions in parenting, conducting a study on more than 100 preschool-age children. These dimensions included disciplinary strategies, warmth and nurturing, communication styles, and expectations of maturity and control. Baumrind suggested three different parenting styles, each having different effects on children’s development and behaviour – authoritative, authoritarian, and permissive. Later research by Maccoby and Martin suggested adding a fourth parenting style, neglectful parenting.

Parenting style is not only about parents’ expectations and demands from their children but also regarding parents’ behaviour and emotional responses toward their children. According to Baumrind’s conceptualization of parenting styles, those falling under the category of Authoritative, tend to be warm and responsive but at the same time, they explicitly express their expectation and set standards for the accepted and socially competent and age-appropriate behaviours of their children. In the Permissive parenting style also parents are warm and responsive but tend to be less controlling and not be demanding of mature or age-appropriate behaviour from their children. Authoritarian parents in the other hand are not warm towards their children; they interact with their children in a cold and unresponsive way. The fourth parenting style is Neglectful, wherein parents are unresponsive to any need other than the basic needs of food, clothes and shelter for their children. The children receive little to no guidance, discipline or nurturing from their parents and therefore are more likely to raise themselves and make their own decisions.

Parents’ behaviour and emotional response – verbal or non-verbal, communicate their beliefs and value systems which are also reflected in their parenting styles. It is believed that children develop emotion-recognition skills as a function of parents’ emotion-related beliefs, behaviour and skills. Parents’ emotional response to their children largely influences children’s social and emotional development along the relationship they develop with their parents is highly affected. The kind of relationships children have with their parents is also a predictor of their future relationships with others. For example, if a child has experienced negative emotions from the mother, s/he may be more likely to hold a negative belief about how others will respond to their behaviour generally. As in the beginning, a child’s world is limited to the caregivers, the kind of relationship they develop with their parents’ act prototype for other relationships. Hence it is believed that the early years of life are a very sensitive and essential period.

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When parents are emotionally available to their children, they are more likely to form a positive attachment style. This positive attachment will lead to a healthy and vibrant relationship with their children. Researchers have identified the importance of an appropriate, warm and loving attachment with the caregiver in the developing years of a child. In these years feelings of safety and belonging in a child is imperative to have a healthy emotional development and this can only be provided by an emotionally available caregiver. Without an appropriate, warm and loving parental figure, a child is likely to develop emotional and psychosocial difficulties.

An emotionally unavailable parent or emotionally reserved parent, whether due to some mental illness, personality disorder or something else such as a job or career goal, can never form a healthy attachment with their children. Children with unhealthy relationships are eventually bound to have unstable or failed relationships, emotional neediness, poor attachment with others, low self-esteem and self-efficacy.

Children are confused about whether it is right to ask for the attention of a parent or not and likely to form negative beliefs about themselves as they can easily misplace blame the parent’s unresponsiveness to themselves. Developing negative beliefs about themselves or others will not only hamper the healthy potential development of children but can also lead to personality disorders in children.

Emotionally expressive parents can nurture their children positively and in a healthy manner, leading to the healthy development of the child in all aspects of growth – emotionally, socially, personality-wise, etc. On the other hand, an emotionally reserved parent won’t be able to form any meaningful relationships with their children, which will eventually lead to a disordered development of the child.

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Dr. Rachna Khanna Singh
Dr. Rachna Khanna Singh
Currently head of Department of Holistic Medicine & Wellness at Artemis Hospital, Gurgaon Dr. Rachna Khanna Singh is a mental wellness expert with expertise in relationship, lifestyle & stress management. The founder and director of The Mind and Wellness Studio Dr. Rachna Khanna has worked with leading hospitals like Fortis Escorts, Dharamshila Cancer Hospital. Her specialties include stress management, lifestyle management for heart diseases, supportive care for chronically ill patients, work-life balance, parent-child bonding, cancer support care, ante/postnatal care, relationship counselling, pre-marital & marital counselling, adolescent counselling, psychiatric & psychological illnesses like depression, anxiety, insomnia.


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