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Parenting Styles

Differentiating Parents' Use Of Affect: Anger, Shame, And Guilt

Parents also use different affective strategies to socialize their children. Research has shown that parents are more likely to employ negative affect, including dramatizations of distress and greater anger, in response to moral than other types of transgressions. When used with explanations that focus on others' welfare and rights, this may enhance the effectiveness of reasoning because it helps focus children on the harm or injustice their actions caused and therefore may lead them to experience other-oriented emotional reactions such as sympathy. However, parental anger may be effective only when it is moderate and not too negatively arousing, because highly arousing negative affect may become aversive and lead children to focus on the self, rather than on the consequences of their acts for others. A great deal of recent work by Nancy Eisenberg and her colleagues (reviewed in Eisenberg 1998) on vicarious emotional arousal has distinguished between other-oriented emotional reactions (such as sympathy) and self-oriented aversive emotional reactions.

In examining children's emotional reactions to parenting, researchers also have distinguished between shame and guilt. It is assumed that guilt and shame differ in their effects on children's development and the internalization of societal standards and that they are influenced by different parenting practices. June Tangney (2001) proposed that shame pertains to the self, whereas guilt pertains to the behavior. Children experience shame when they discover themselves to be deficient, unacceptable, or incompetent in relation to a social norm and when they see interpersonal relationships as being damaged or threatened. In contrast, guilt has been associated with feelings of responsibility to others, acknowledgement of misdeeds, and the desire to make the situation better. According to Tangney, guilt is constructive for children's development because it is associated with empathic responsiveness and perspective taking. In turn, parenting that displays high levels of parental warmth and open expression of emotions while displaying low levels of power assertion appears to be conducive to the development of internalized guilt feelings (Maccoby and Martin 1983). According to Martin Hoffman (1982, 1983), this type of parenting capitalizes on children's internal discomfort associated with wrongdoing and produce high levels of moral internalization. Moreover, there is empirical support for the relationship between this form of parenting and children's pro-social and moral behavior.

At the same time, research reviewed in Tangney and Fischer (1995) demonstrates that parenting that displays high levels of restrictive or coercive discipline, such as threats or physical discipline and/or high levels of love withdrawal, produces a fear-based sense of guilt and in some cases, expressions of shame. In turn, these have been associated with children's distress, lack of empathy, arousal of anger, and maladjustment. This type of parenting is assumed to induce an external moral orientation by shifting children's focus away from the internal discomfort produced by their wrongdoing and towards the consequences to them. Fear-based guilt and shame have been associated with less resistance to temptation and lower self-esteem (Grusec and Lytton 1988). Furthermore, guilt appears to be more associated with hostility and anger, while shame has been associated with depression and obsessive-compulsiveness.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaPregnancy & ParenthoodParenting Styles - Parenting Styles, Cultural And Ethnic Variations In Parenting Styles, Differentiating Parenting Styles And Parenting Practices