Family-Socialization in the family

Family is the first agent of socialization and this is the setting of primary socialization (Figure 1). Nowadays we suggest that children are growing up in a variety of different types of family systems: such as large families(in which there are three or more siblings), single parent families (divorced, never-married or widowed), only child families (in which children will never have any siblings), blended/patchwork families (in which there are children from the parents’ previous marriages), adoptive families, grandparent caring family, gay or lesbian parent families and the “traditional” two-parent family with children. We don’t undertake to discuss the differences between the socialization of the children living in different types of family structures; we outline only the general role of parents and siblings in the process of socialization regardless of what kind of family structures the certain child is living in.

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When a baby is born he needs protection and nurturing to survive and it is the parents’ task to be sensitive to the needs of their children. Parents as primary agents of socialization play an important role in the development and the socialization of their children. Some of their influence is intentional (direct teaching by rewards and punishments) and some of it is unintentional (spontaneous behaviours and interactions).

Parents protect, nurture, express warmth and demands toward their offspring and they provide the abilities to build different kinds of relationships outside the family circle, because children learn the ability to bond and empathize with others.

Research suggests that children also influence their parents during the process of socialization; children and parents react to each other in any mutual interaction. This viewpoint is especially emphasized by behaviour geneticists, namely children affect their socialization by triggering certain responses from their parents (Grusec &. Kuczynski, 1980).

Style of Attachment

Many researchers focus on the interaction between mother and her baby, how the attachment develops, and on the effects of the different styles of attachment. Mary Ainsworth’s work is the best-known in the field of studying the relationships between mothers’ behaviour and their children’s style of attachment (Ainsworth et al., 1978). She and her colleagues created a strange situation test in which babies were left alone with a stranger and then after 20 minutes were reunited with their mothers.

Ainsworth and her colleagues suggested that the children’s attachment style could be determined based on the children’s reactions to the separation and reunion situations. They were classified four styles of attachment: secure, insecure anxious-ambivalent, insecure anxious-avoidant and insecure-disorganized.

A child who was upset when the mother left, but settled down when she returned was identified as characterized by secure attachment.

A child with insecure anxious-resistant attachment style was anxious even when the mother was present. When the mother left, the child was extremely distressed. He or she was ambivalent when the mother returned; it meant that the child sought to remain close to the mother, but was also resistant when the caregiver initiated attention.

A child who was not particularly upset when his or her mother left and the stranger was able to calm him or her down in the separation situation, and when the mother returned, didn’t seek the proximity with her, was determined as having anxious-avoidant insecure attachment.

Those children belonged to the fourth, insecure– disorganized attachment category who seemed fearful of their mothers and their behaviour was contradictory.

Worldwide most of the children have secure attachment to their mothers. The stranger situation test was criticized; nonetheless we can suggest that Ainsworth’s theory inspired further research to examine the relationship between the children’s style of attachment and their performance and relationship in the school or the relationship between childhood attachment and adults’ partnerships.

Parenting style

Other researchers examined the patterns of control, responsiveness, warmth and punishment that parents use to manage their children’s behaviour. They could identify different parenting styles and investigate the influence of them on the child’s development. The first theorists used Kurt Lewin’s authoritarian, democratic and laissez-faire leadership typologies for defining families, assuming that the family is a small group with adult leaders (Lewin et al., 1939). They examined the effects of the different family atmospheres on the child’s development. They pointed out the undesired outcomes of the authoritarian childrearing, they emphasized especially the negative impact of the unconditioned permissiveness.

Diana Baumrind (1971) was convinced that not only the authoritarian but the laissez-faire styles were also ineffective. She and her colleagues began to study the relationships between parenting styles and the characteristics of pre-school children.

Baumrind and colleagues determined two aspects of parenting behaviour: control and warmth. Control refers to the way parents manage their children’s behaviour, how they control them, if they give explanations or not, how they create rules and demands. Parental warmth refers the way parents accept, how responsive and supportive they are to their children. They determined four typologies of parenting styles: authoritative, authoritarian, permissive and uninvolved style.

Authoritative parents are responsive to their children’s needs, willing to listen to them, they express warmth. They have age-appropriate demands, and they use reasoning and give children explanations for parental demands. They are affectionate and supportive, so they can be seen as democratic parenting, but it is combined with a level of strictness. Children of authoritative parents have higher self-esteem, social maturity and involvement in learning.

Permissive parents try to behave in a non-punitive manner; they accept the child’s desires, actions. They avoid using control and they don’t encourage the child to obey external standards. They make few demands and use reasoning and manipulation, but it is not enough to show power for the child. They present themselves for the child as to be used as she or he wishes, they are emotionally very warm. Children of permissive parents are immature, it is difficult for them to control their impulses and they have behaviour problems (disobedient rebellious) in school.

Authoritarian parents control and evaluate the child’s behaviour and attitudes with absolute standards. They don’t give explanations and don’t encourage verbal give and take, value obedience. They restrict the child’s autonomy, believe the child should accept their words and show little warmth. Children of authoritarian parents have lower self-esteem, and are anxious. They lack social competence and rarely initiate in activities.

Uninvolved parents do not have any demands and they minimize their interaction and time spent with their child. Generally, they do not want to be bothered by their offspring, these parents are self-centred. They especially behave in such way when they are tired or frustrated. They don’t express any warmth. Children of uninvolved parents have deficits in emotional and social skills; they show aggressive or acting-out behaviour and have difficulties in their school performance.

Most studies conducted in European and American families indicated that authoritative parenting is the optimal parenting style, because it provides an appropriate degree of parental control and warm atmosphere in which a child is able to learn self-regulation, he or she can experience autonomy and parental support. In contrast research in East Asian families shows that authoritarian style is most common and effective. Chao (1994) points out that authoritarian parenting style in Chinese communities is associated with educational attainment and it stems from the Confucian tradition which emphasizes the importance of training (e.g. to follow norms, to work hard). Similar practices have been found among Latino families, they also exert high level of control. The goal of it is to intensify the children’s obligation to the family and a larger group (Harwood et al., 2002). In adolescence Latino parents emphasize the respect of parental authority more than European and American adults.

These varying parenting styles influence not only how a child develops and socializes but they affect the child’s adaptation to teaching approaches at school and affect his or her performance and relationships in the classroom, too.

The impact of parents in early socialization

We have to emphasize that parenting must change with the age of the child, because infants and toddlers have other needs than adolescents, so parents have to be responsive to their differences. Now we focus on how parenting influences the early socialization.

Parental warmth is influential in primary socialization because it provides children with the feeling of being loved and so they develop trust and are motivated to cooperate with others. Young children also need security which is a biologically based motivation, so they need secure trust. According to attachment theory if children are in secure attachment it provides them with confidence to explore the environment and to encounter with other adults and peers. On the other hand, security facilitates children to be more cooperative and receptive to the parents’ socialization efforts, too.

Parents are models for their children, their acts are observed and imitated by their children for example they are role models to the gender-typed behaviours how a girl or a boy has to behave. Researchers suggest that later parental practices may also be related to the children’s academic self-concepts and achievement too.

Finally, we will use the concept of social domain theorist (Bugental, 2000) to organize knowledge about socialization process. According to this there are four different domains of social life where different tasks are to be solved during the socialization process: protection and safety domain, control domain, group identification domain and mutual reciprocity domain.

Children need to be protected, want to feel autonomous, want to be like other members of the group and reciprocate the behaviour of others” (Grusec & Davidov, 2008, p. 302).

Protection domain is studied by the attachment theorists as we here mentioned earlier. Children need protection and when parents are protective, responsive to their needs and their distress, they facilitate positive socialization outcomes. Children learn to regulate their negative emotions, to respond empathically and it fosters trust in their parents.

In the control domain parents’ task is to use their greater power in a way that facilitates children to accept and internalize the social norms that they wish and this don’t threaten their children’s autonomy. Researchers of parenting styles focus on this topic examining the effects of parental control on children’s self-esteem, social competence as we here described earlier. The positive socialization outcome of the parental control is that children learn the socially appropriate behaviours.

In the group identification or affiliation domain children want to be the members of a group with which they identify themselves, so they adapt the rules and actions of this group. In the socialization process first parents are the model of the socially acceptable behaviours, and as a result, children learn how to behave in a community. In addition the daily routines also help children how to be effective members of a group, because they learn that life is predictable and it involves repetition, unquestioned events and it is useful in social groups, too. On the other hand, when socially acceptable behaviours (e.g. helping others) are part of the daily routines, these actions are more likely to occur later in group situations.

In the mutual reciprocity domain parents teach their children that socialization is the accommodating behaviour to each other’s needs, and cooperation and participation in mutually positive exchanges and these don’t threaten their autonomy.

To summarize we can suggest that parents’ role in their children’s socialization is determinative and they have great responsibility, because the majority of young children’s behavioural and emotional problems stem from the family, especially from the problematic relationship with their parents. Child psychologists often use children’s drawings to explore the backgrounds of their emotional or behavioural symptoms, because it is difficult for young children to verbalize their problems. There are different types of family drawings which can show the problematic emotional relationship within the family, you can see one in Picture 2. This is the family drawing of a 6 year-old girl and the instruction was: “Draw your family”. The psychological understanding of these family drawings needs drawing analysis skills and it has a special method; you can read more about it in the book of Vass (2012).

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Picture 2. Family drawing of a 6 year-old girl (Source: Own collection)


Relationships with our siblings are important experiences in our life, so next we will outline the effects of siblings on the socialization. We can suggest that there are differences in the socialization of those children who have brothers or sisters and between those children who don’t have any siblings. In the literature the systematic study of the siblings’ impact is rare and recent; and most of the research focuses on two domains: the effect of this relationship on children’s adjustment and the development of social understanding (how they understand other people’s thoughts, beliefs and emotions).

Studies found that older siblings play an important role in the caring of young children, they show voluntary responsibility and are models for them. In addition older siblings teach skills (e. g. washing, dressing) to their younger siblings. Siblings help each other and can give support in stressful situations, but it depends on the nature of their relationships.

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Picture 3. Brother and sister (Source: 2013.02.02)

The emotional quality of the relationships between siblings has mixed feelings, positive and negative too, and depends on the gender of the siblings. Researchers found that in early childhood children who have the same sex have better relationships than different-sex siblings, and boys have less intimacy and warmth than girls (Dunn et al., 1984).

Researchers demonstrate the connection between the quality of siblings’ relationships and children’s adjustment, they emphasize that siblings’ conflicts cause problems in adjustment. Those children who grow up with an aggressive hostile sibling show low self-esteem, increased anxiety and depression. In this process the parent-child relationship could play an important role, because those siblings who perceive their parents demonstrate less favour towards them, show more adjustment problems than the favoured one. So parenting and marital conflicts also influence the siblings’ relationship and adjustment.

The joint playing and interactions between the siblings contribute to the development of the understanding of others, how she or he feels, and the understanding the connection between people’s behaviours and their thoughts, intentions. Some studies found that children who had older siblings were better in the assessment to others’ mental states than those who didn’t have older siblings.

To summarize, we can demonstrate that siblings colour children’s socialization and siblings research is a growing area of socialization. Especially the influences of step-siblings or half-siblings are less examined and we need to know more about them, because the number of the families which include step or half-siblings is increasing (Hetherington et al., 1999).