1 Shakticage

Essay On Values And Beliefs In Toddlers

December 2014, Rev. ed.


Why do parents behave the way they do when raising children? One answer is that they are modelling the behaviour of their own parents, having learned how to parent in the course of being parented. Another is that they are behaving in accord with information about appropriate parenting  acquired through books, Web sites, or informal and formal advice. Yet another major determinant of their behaviour lies in their general attitudes as well as specific beliefs, thoughts, and feelings that are activated during parenting: These have a  powerful impact on behaviour, even if parents are distressed by or unaware of that impact. Researchers interested in children’s development have explored parenting attitudes, cognitions, and the resulting emotions (such as anger or happiness), because of their influence on parenting behaviour and on the subsequent impact of that parenting behaviour on  children’s socioemotional and cognitive development.


Child-rearing attitudes are cognitions that predispose an individual to act either positively or negatively toward a child. Attitudes most frequently considered involve the degree of warmth and acceptance or coldness and rejection that exists in the parent-child relationship, as well as the extent to which parents are permissive or restrictive in the limits they set for their offspring. Researchers have also studied more situation-specific thoughts or schemas – filters through which parents interpret and react to events,, particularly ambiguous ones. These include cognitions such as beliefs about parenting abilities, expectations about what children are capable of or should be expected to do, and reasons why children have behaved in a particular way.


The influence of attitudes on parenting behaviours has been a favourite topic of investigation, with research suggesting that linkages are generally of a modest nature.1 In part, this is because reported attitudes do not always have a direct impact on parenting actions which are often directed by specific features of the situation. For example, parents might endorse or value being warm and responsive to children, but have difficulty expressing those feelings when their child is misbehaving. As a result of this realization the study of parent cognitions has been widened to include more specific ways of thinking. 

Research Context

The study of parent attitudes, belief systems, and thinking has taken place along with changing conceptions of child-rearing. These changes have emphasized the bidirectional nature of interactions, with children influencing parents as well as parents influencing children.2 Accordingly, an interesting extension of research on attitudes and cognitions has to do with how children’s actions affect parents’ attitudes and thoughts, although little work has been done in this area.

Key Research Questions

  1. Which parental attitudes result in the best child outcomes?
  2. How do negative/positive thoughts and cognitions hinder/facilitate child development?
  3. How can parents’ harmful attitudes be modified?

Recent Research Results

A large body of research on attitudes indicates that parental warmth together with reasonable levels of control combine to produce positive child outcomes. Although not strong, as noted above, the results are consistent. Researchers have noted that what is seen to be a reasonable level of control varies as a function of sociocultural context.3  Attitudes toward control are generally more positive in non Anglo-European cultures, with these attitudes having less detrimental effects on children’s development because they are more normative and less likely to be interpreted as rejecting or unloving.3,4 In accord with the realization that children’s behaviour affects that of their parents, researchers have found that, whereas parent attitudes affect child behaviour, this relation shifts as the child grows, with adolescent behaviour having an impact on parenting style and attitudes.5

Research on more specific cognitions also highlights the importance of parent thinking on child outcomes. As an example, parents look for reasons why both they and their children act the way the do. These attributions can make parenting more efficient when they are accurate. They can also interfere with effective parenting when they lead to feelings of anger or depression (a possibility if children’s bad behaviour is attributed to a bad disposition or an intentional desire to hurt, or the parent’s failure or inadequacy). These negative feelings distract parents from the task of parenting, and make it more difficult for them to react appropriately and effectively to the challenges of socialization.6

Specific cognitions have been assessed both with respect to their impact on children’s socioemotional development and on their cognitive development. For example, Bugental and colleagues have studied mothers who believe their children have more power than they do in situations where events are not going well.7 These mothers are threatened and become either abusive and hostile or unassertive and submissive. They send confusing messages to their children, with the result that children stop paying attention to them as well as showing a decrease in cognitive ability.8 This view of the power relationship takes its toll on mothers’ ability to problem-solve and therefore to operate effectively in their parenting role. Similarly, mothers of infants who are low in self-efficacy, that is, do not believe they can parent effectively, give up on parenting when the task is challenging and become depressed. They are cold and disengaged in interactions with their babies.9 Furthermore, parents who trust that their child’s course of biological development will proceed in a natural and healthy way are able to adjust better to their parenting role and less likely to develop a coercive parenting style.10

Other aspects of parent thinking include the ability to take the perspective of the child. Mothers who recognize what is distressing for their children have children who are better able to cope with their own distress11 and parents who can accurately identify their children’s thoughts and feelings during conflicts are better able to achieve satisfactory outcomes for those conflicts.12  “Mind-mindedness,” the ability of parents to think of children as having mental states as well as being accurate in their assessment of these mental states, has been linked to children’s secure attachment,13 with a positive link between mothers who describe their children using positive mental descriptors and mothers’ sensitivity.14

Research Gaps

Little has been done to see how fathers’ cognitions and attitudes affect child development. There has been some investigation of  how mothers and fathers differ in their parental cognitions and parenting style: Mothers report higher endorsement of progressive parenting attitudes, encouraging their children to think and verbalize their own ideas and opinions, whereas fathers endorse a more authoritarian approach.15 What is unknown is the extent to which these differences in attitudes affect child outcomes.  Another gap has to do with the direction of effect between parent and child, that is, how children affect their parents’ cognitions and attitudes. 


The study of parent cognitions, beliefs, thoughts, and feelings can expand our knowledge of child development.  Child-rearing cognitions influence parents to act either positively or negatively towards their children.  These beliefs have been considered good predictors of parenting behaviour because they indicate the emotional climate in which children and parents operate and the health of the relationship. In sum, parents observe their children through a filter of conscious and unconscious thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes, and these filters direct the way they perceive their children’s actions. When the thoughts are benign, they direct positive actions. When the thoughts are accurate they will usually lead to positive actions.  When they are distorted and distressing, however, they distract parents from the task at hand as well as leading to negative emotions and attributions that ultimately impair effective parenting.

Implications for Policy and Services

Most intervention programs for parents involve teaching effective strategies for managing children’s behaviour. But problems can also arise when parents engage in maladaptive thinking. Mothers at a higher risk of child abuse, for example, are more likely to attribute negative traits to children who demonstrate ambiguous behaviour, and see this behaviour as intentional.16 Bugental and her colleagues have administered a cognitive retraining intervention program for parents which aims to alter such biases. They found that mothers who participated in the program showed improvement in parenting cognitions, diminished levels of harsh parenting, and greater emotional availability. In turn, children, two years after their mothers participated in the program, displayed lower levels of aggressive behaviour as well as better cognitive skills than those whose mothers had not undergone such cognitive retraining.17,18,19 These findings, then, clearly underline the important role played by parental beliefs in the child-rearing process.


  1. Holden GW, Buck MJ. Parental attitudes toward childrearing. In: Bornstein MH, ed. Handbook of Parenting. Volume 3: Being and Becoming a Parent. 2nd ed. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates; 2002:537-562.
  2. Kuczynski L, ed. Handbook of dynamics in parent child relations. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage Publications; 2003.
  3. Chen X, Fu R, Zhao S. Culture and socialization. In: Grusec JE, Hastings PD, Eds. Handbook of Socialization. New York: Guilford Press; 2014:451-472.
  4. Rothbaum F, Trommsdorff G. Do roots and wings complement or oppose one another? The socialization of relatedness and autonomy in cultural context. In: Grusec JE, Hastings PD, Eds. Handbook of Socialization. New York: Guilford Press; 2007:461-489. 
  5. Kerr M, Stattin H, Özdemir M.  Perceived parenting style and adolescent adjustment: Revisiting directions of effects and the role of parental knowledge. Dev Psychol. 2012;48:1540-1553.
  6. Bugental DB, Brown M, Reiss C. Cognitive representations of power in caregiving relationships: Biasing effects on interpersonal interaction and information processing. J Fam Psychol. 1996;10:397-407.
  7. Bugental DB, Lyon JE, Lin EK, McGrath EP, Bimbela A. Children “tune out” in response to ambiguous communication style of powerless adults. Child Dev. 1999;70:214-230.
  8. Bugental DB, Happaney K. Parental attributions. In: Bornstein MH, ed. Handbook of parenting. Volume 3: Being and becoming a parent. 2nd ed. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates; 2002:509-535.
  9. Teti DM, Gelfand DM. Behavioral competence among mothers of infants in the first year: The mediational role of maternal self-efficacy. Child Dev. 1991;62:918-929.
  10. Landry R, Whipple N, Mageau G, et al.  Trust in organismic development, autonomy support and adaptation among mothers and their children. Motiv Emotion. 2008;32:173-188.
  11. Vinik J, Almas A, Grusec JE.  Mothers’ knowledge of what distresses and what comforts their children predicts children’s coping, empathy, and prosocial behavior.  Parent Sci Pract. 2011;11:56-71.  
  12. Hastings P, Grusec JE. Conflict outcome as a function of parental accuracy in perceiving child cognitions and affect. Soc Dev 1997;6:76-90.
  13. Bernier A, Dozier M. Bridging the attachment transmission gap: The role of maternal mind-mindedness. Int J of Behav Dev. 2003;27:355-365.
  14. McMahon CA, Meins E. Mind-mindedness, parenting stress, and emotional availability in mothers of preschoolers. Early Child Res Q. 2012;27:245-252.  
  15. Bornstein MH, Putnick DL, Lansford JE. Parenting attributions and attitudes in cross-cultural perspective. Parent Sci Pract. 2011;11:214-237.
  16. McCarthy R, Crouch J, Skowvonski, et al. Child physical abuse risk moderates spontaneously inferred traits from ambiguous child behaviors. Child Abuse Neglect. 2013;37:1142-1151.
  17. Bugental DB, Ellerson PC, Lin EK, Rainey B, Kokotovic A, & O'Hara N. A cognitive approach to child abuse prevention. Psychol Violence. 2010;1: 84-106.
  18. Bugental DB, Corpuz R, Schwartz A. Parenting children’s aggression: Outcomes of an early intervention. Devel Psychol. 2012;48:1443-1449.
  19. Bugental DB, Schwartz A, Lynch C. Effects of an early family intervention on children's memory: The mediating effects of cortisol levels. Mind, Brain, Educ. 2010;4:159-170.

Religion has the potential to influence many aspects of parenting. For this project, researchers asked young people and parents in Bradford, predominantly from Christian and Muslim backgrounds, how their religious beliefs and practices affected family life

The research
By a multidisciplinary team from the Universities of Sheffield and Warwick in partnership with Bradford Local Safeguarding Children Board.

Key points:

  • The majority of young people and parents in the study felt religion was more than a set of behaviours and would affect family life.
  • Most parents, and some young people, emphasised a religious way of life is transmitted between generations and grandparents maintain a significant influence. Parents saw passing on their faith as an important part of parenting.
  • Parents saw how encouraging a religious identity at home conflicted with other pressures on their children, including negative portrayals of religion in the media.
  • Most young people thought they should not be forced to attend public worship. Some parents acknowledged children might be spiritual without attending formal worship. Parents and young people accepted religion could be important to those who believed without belonging to a faith community.
  • Parents generally equated 'good' parenting with being warm and loving, while setting boundaries and standards for their children. This conforms to a model of 'authoritative' parenting thought to promote healthy development and wellbeing. A few young people described religious parenting that was more controlling and 'authoritarian'.
  • Parents saw two-way communication with children as crucial. There were some subjects young people, and a few parents, found difficult to discuss, including sexual relationships.
  • Although some young people and parents claimed religious authority for strict views on issues such as sex outside marriage and homosexuality, parents were more tolerant than young people anticipated.
  • Parents acknowledged that young people should choose for themselves whether to adopt religious values in adult life, but views differed about the age at which they could make informed choices.
  • Parents with disabled children had mixed views on the support received from their faith communities. Some said they had not received adequate help or been welcome with their child at places of worship.


Britain is a multi-faith society whose population has become more culturally and religiously diverse in recent years. Some existing research studies have associated religious observance among parents with their children’s positive social development. However, terrorist attacks, the rise of 'Islamaphobia' and some high-profile child abuse cases within faith communities have resulted in negative publicity concerning the influences of religion on families.

This study considered the role of religious faith and religious practices on the parenting of adolescents, which has been a neglected area of research. It was based on focus group discussions in schools with young people aged 13 to 15 from mainly Muslim and Christian (Catholic and Protestant) backgrounds in the City of Bradford, and on separate focus groups with (unrelated) parents from mainly Muslim, Hindu or Christian backgrounds. Two-thirds of the young people who took part were attending faith-based secondary schools. The research provides qualitative insights into the views of young people and parents from faith backgrounds, but it is not possible to generalise from the sample about the views of those from particular faith traditions.

Religious traditions, beliefs and practices

"I see it as a way of life, which I have learnt from my parents." (Hindu mother)
"Sometimes you follow in your mum and dad's footsteps because you're part of them." (Catholic school student)

'Religion' and 'being religious' were interpreted in different ways by the study participants, from simply holding a belief to belonging to a faith community and engaging in religious activities. For most, however, it meant putting religious beliefs into practice through the way they conducted their lives. It was recognised that parents have a significant part to play in shaping the faith identity of children and engaging them in religious activities. Most parents saw religion as a way of life that was transmitted between generations. They considered it part of their parenting responsibility to pass on their faith.

Although young people understood that formal worship could be an important shared activity in religious families and a duty for some of their parents, most thought they should not be forced to attend. Parents recognised that it could be disappointing when young people found religious activities unappealing, but acknowledged that as children grew up they had to make their own choices about their beliefs. However, there were differing views about the age at which young people could make informed choices, including whether to engage in religious activities.

Parenting adolescents in religious families

"I suppose when parents are strict they won't let you do certain things…but when you make a mistake, or you've done something wrong, they'll always be behind you to give you the love that you need…" (Protestant student at an independent Christian school)

Parents and young people in the study were in conspicuous agreement about 'good' parenting, describing it in terms of being warm and affectionate, but also setting boundaries and standards for children. This conformed closely to the model of 'authoritative' parenting that research in Europe and America suggests is likely to promote children's healthy development and wellbeing. Many expressed a strong conviction that a family was a team led by parents, although there were mixed views regarding family 'headship' and the appropriate roles of fathers and mothers. A few young people in the study described a style of parenting that was more controlling and 'authoritarian'. However, many parents said they generally found it difficult to determine the appropriate amount of structure and autonomy to give young people in their teenage years.

Parents saw open, two-way communication and respect for young people's values and beliefs as crucial to effective parenting. However, they acknowledged that communication could be difficult when discussing some topics, including sexual relationships and disability. The reasons most often given by young people for a lack of discussion about sex were embarrassment and discomfort. Some parents also accepted that sex was an awkward topic, although they generally felt that young people were more awkward talking about it than they were.

A significant number of the young people and parents agreed that parents could influence the choices children made as teenagers, including career selection. Participants in the parents' focus groups frequently spoke of the influence their own parents continue to exert on them in adult life. They continually referred to ways in which their parents' religious beliefs had influenced their own approach to parenting and life choices.

Parenting disabled children

"You have trials in your life, so having a child with autism is just something I've been given." (Christian mother from a mixed faith group)

The research also invited parents and young people to discuss perceptions of religion, family life and disability. Parents of disabled children who took part in the study tended to hold positive views of their parenting role and believed that their religious faith had contributed to this. A number of young people suggested that caring for a disabled child might make a religious family stronger. However, some also saw how the experience of growing up with a disabled sister or brother might turn some young people away from religion. Parents with experience of raising disabled children felt in principle that faith communities should be a positive asset for families. However, they expressed mixed views about whether sufficient support was provided in practice. Not all parents felt able to take their disabled child to their place of worship and others had felt their faith communities were too judgmental and intolerant of the way their children behaved.

Religion and life for adolescents

"You want to make sure you give them the right direction." (Muslim father)

Parents in the research saw the transmission of religious values as a way of providing direction for their children and creating a strong base on which they could build the rest of their lives. Most young people said they appreciated and respected their parents' values, even though they might eventually choose to hold different beliefs. They expected to make their own career choices, but recognised that parents had a contribution to make in influencing or advising them. Some also said there were career choices of which their parents would disapprove, especially if they were thought to involve religious taboos such as gambling, alcohol or indecent behaviour. In general, the idea of pursuing a religious vocation did not appear to attract the young participants, although some thought it would please their parents.

Parents and young people alike recognised pressures from peers, the media and mainstream adolescent culture for young people to make choices that did not necessarily fit with their family's religious beliefs and practices. This was evident in the discussions about sex before marriage and sexual orientation. Although some young people and parents from different faith groups claimed religious authority for strict views on issues such as sex outside marriage and homosexuality, parents often seemed more measured and tolerant about these issues than young people anticipated. More generally, young people and parents considered it was crucial that parents, from early childhood, begin to provide young people with the skills to resist external pressures on their religious way of life and choices.

Implications for policy and practice

The study underlined how important faith can be to families holding a range of religious beliefs. Religion was a way of life for the parents and young people who took part, influencing family relationships, decision making, life choices and styles of parenting. The research findings suggested that policy makers could not afford to be complacent about the influence of religion on family life. Nor could they presume that religion only has negative influences as some recent statements by politicians and media commentators have implied.

Parenting and family support practitioners would also be unwise to assume that religion is unimportant to a parent, child or young person just because they are not active within a faith community; or that it does not exert a significant influence on their values and overall approach to family life. The research showed that religion could be as important to those who just 'believed' as it was to those who both 'believed and belong'.

National instruments currently used by social workers, health workers, teachers and other professionals when assessing families and parenting, such as the Common Assessment Framework and the Framework for Assessing Children in Need and their Families take little account of the ways that religion can influence different dimensions of parenting capacity. Yet the research findings indicate that those influences are very relevant, and would need to be clearly understood before the needs of children and parents in religious families could be properly recognised and met. This suggests that more attention should be given in national and local guidance to the influence of religious beliefs and practices on parenting. When parents state they have a religious belief, professionals should at the very least be asking 'What does your faith mean to you?', 'How does it influence your life?', and in the case of family members 'How do your beliefs influence your family life?'

Implications for faith communities

The findings hold implications for faith leaders, particularly with regard to competing influences on young people from within and outside their families. It appears especially important that they recognise the struggles of parents and young people trying to match their religious beliefs and values with those of wider society.

Most young people and quite a few parents in the study recognised that life in the faith community, particularly formal, public worship, often had little appeal to young people. Faith communities might, therefore, need to be more inclusive and find better ways to harness young people's energy and enthusiasm in order to avoid losing their appeal to the next generation. Parents also wanted more support from their faith communities with the task of parenting adolescents. This would need to be provided with the full participation of young people who, in this study, demonstrated a balanced understanding of their parents' feelings and concerns. Although a relatively small number of parents in the research had disabled children, they emerged as a group that needed particular support from their faith communities of a kind that was not always forthcoming.

About the project

The project was carried out in Bradford among 13- to 17-year-olds from six faith and three LEA schools and parents from ten community and faith groups. 40 young people initially identified potential ways in which religion affected parenting. These were collated into a DVD of 'talking heads'. A further 74 young people mainly Muslims and Christians aged 13-15 years commented on the scenarios in school based focus group discussions. In the final stage 77 parents commented on the scenarios in faith focus groups. These parents were primarily Muslims or Christians, with a minority of Hindus, and a few who did not claim affiliation to a particular faith group. Nearly all parents and the vast majority of young people in the study expressed a belief in God.

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