Program Outcomes for Parents & Families



The capacity of parents to nurture their children has been recognized for years as an important variable in terms of predicting positive developmental outcomes for children (Becker, 1964; Baumrind 1969). This parental behavior or construct includes love, warmth, affection, support, responsiveness, encouragement, attachment and acceptance.

Researchers have found that nurturance is positively related to many other impact areas evolving through parent-child relationships. For example, Belsky (1984) found that parents who were attentive, nonrestrictive and warm fostered intellectual development in their children. Children have been found to respond to the guidance of nurturing parents more positively than to those parents who are punitive in their parenting practices (Eisenberg, 1992). Additionally, there are indications that a strong linkage exists between nurturing by parents and positive social behaviors of children (Eisenberg, 1992); Main and George, 1985; Zahn-Waxler, et al., 1979). Conversely, there is evidence that the lack of parental nurturing is related to reduced child competence (Cohn, 1990; Denham, 1989).

Research suggests parental nurturing of children may be the most significant contribution parents can make for their childrenís positive growth and development. Children who experience a nurturing home environment are more likely to develop into healthy, capable, fully functioning adults. Parents who are nurturing are warm, affectionate, good at listening, respectful, and attend to the basic care and well-being of their children (Smith, et al., 1994).

However, nurturing can be challenging-especially when a family's emotional resources often are stressed by a variety of factors. In addition, it is sometimes difficult for parents to understand that children can have different needs and different preferences for parental nurturing. Parenting programs focusing on enhancing parents' ability to nurture their children need to help parents learn how to attend to their children's needs by building positive relationships and by sending consistent messages of love and support.

Rollins and Thomas (1979, p. 320) define parental nurturing as "behavior manifested by a parent toward a child that makes the child feel comfortable in the presence of the parent and confirms in the child's mind that he is basically accepted and approved as a person by the parent." Research in parent-child attachment (Ainsworth, 1978) stresses the importance of parents being prompt and sensitive in responding to children's needs. Maccoby and Martin (1983) suggest that the combination of warm, nurturing parenting with clear behavioral standards results in children who are competent, responsible, independent, confident, achievement-oriented, and able to control aggression. Similarly, Belsky (1984) found that attentive, warm, and nonrestrictive maternal behaviors contributed to young children's intellectual development. Patternson et al. (1989) found that high maternal warmth is a protective factor against risks associated with peer rejection and behavior problems among six-year-old children.

According to Coombs and Landsverk (1988), warm feelings of closeness with parents typify adolescents who abstain from drugs. In their study, fathers who developed and maintained warm relationships, compared with those that did not, experienced greater success in terms of preventing future drug involvement. Similarly, Dix (1991) found evidence that the more positive the emotions parents experience and express, the more favorable is the caregiving environment for children.

Conversely, the absence of parental nurturing has been found to impair child competence. Denham's (1989) review of the research concludes that infants and toddlers cope poorly with stress when mothers are emotionally nonresponsive or express mostly negative emotions. Similarly, six-year-olds who are insecurely attached to their mothers are more likely to be reported by their teachers as having behavior problems in school (Cohn, 1990). Other negative outcomes have also been found to be related to poor parental nurturance. For example, bulimic behavior in adolescents was found to be positively correlated with inconsistent affection by parents (Scalf-McIver and Thompson, 1989).

Nurturance has so consistently been found to be important in the raising of children that some researchers refer to it as the "super-variable" in parenting. Nurturing has both direct and indirect impacts on children. Nurturance has been shown to impact how other parenting behaviors influence children (e.g., Darling and Steinberg, 1993; Pettit and Mize, 1993). For example, a child will respond more positively to discipline from a nurturing parent than from a punitive parent. In addition, parents who nurture their children are likely to be more powerful models for other behaviors they hope to encourage in their children (Eisenberg, 1992). By engaging in nurturing behaviors, parents can establish a nurturing environment which supports the development of other positive outcomes for their children. Parental nurturing is clearly linked to prosocial behavior. Zahn-Waxler, et al., (1979) found that parents who responded positively to their children's upset had children who responded positively to upset in others and were more often prosocial in their behavior. In contrast, Main and George (1985) reported that toddlers who were abused by their parents became emotionally distressed by their peers' emotional upset and attacked them physically and verbally.

The following parental behaviors can be used to develop more specific outcome objectives based for programs focusing on the nurture outcome area. Parents who nurture:

Plan and engage in activities that bring mutual enjoyment with their children.
Express their feelings of affection in both word and action.
Take the time to talk with their children.
Help their children feel significant as well as to develop their verbal, intellectual, and social skills.
Understand and implement strategies for becoming involved with their children (e.g., understand age-appropriate play).
Show respect for each member of the family including children.
Adjust the way they talk with children to show respect for the child's age.
Affirm the child's dignity and worth.
Provide sincere praise.
Maintain a healthy balance between encouragement and nurturance.
Balance discipline and limit setting in order to foster positive feelings in the parent-child relationship.
Help their children develop a sense of family history and culture unique to the family.
Help their children develop a sense of spirituality by involving them in related activities in the home and/or community.
Demonstrate an understanding that children are unique in terms of their needs.
Listen more responsively to their children.
Give significance to their children's place in the family by discussing their births and how their names were selected.


Parents who nurture learn to attend to their children's unique needs by building positive relationships with them, and by sending consistent messages of love and support (Smith, et al., 1994).

Component elements

Parents who nurture:
Express affection and compassion
Foster children's self-respect and hope
Listen and attend to children's feelings and ideas
Teach kindness
Provide for the nutrition, shelter, clothing, health and safety needs of their children
Celebrate life with their children
Help their children feel connected to family history and cultural heritage (Smith et al., 1994).

Brief summary with application to State Strengthening Projects

As the "super-variable" of positive outcomes for children, nurturance has become the focus of many parent education program. With clear evidence of positive child outcomes being linked so strongly with parental nurturing, many State Strengthening projects have developed local parent education programs centered on the development of nurturing skills in parents.


Baumrind, D. (1967). Child care practices anteceding three patterns of preschool behavior. Genetic Psychology Monographs, 75, 43-88.

Becker, W.C. (1964). Consequences of different kinds of parental discipline. In M. L. Hoffman & L.W. Hoffman (Eds.), Review of child development research (Vol. 1) (pp. 509-535). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Belsky, J. (1984). The determinants of parenting: A process model. Child Development, 55, 83-96.

Cohn, D. A. (1990). Child-mother attachment of six-year-olds and social competence at school. Child Development, 61, 152-162.

Denham, S.A. (1989). Maternal affect and toddlersí social-emotional competence. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 59(3), 368-376.

Eisenberg, N. (1992). The caring child. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Goddard, H. W., Smith, B. L., Mize, J., White, M. B., & White, C. P. (1994). The Alabama children's trust fund parent education evaluation manual. Auburn, AL: Auburn University.

Maccoby, E. E. & Martin, J. A. (1983). Socializations in the context of the family: Parent-child interaction. In P. H. Mussen (Ed.) Handbook of child psychology, Vol. IV. New York: John Wiley.

Main, M., & George, C. (1985). Responses of abused and disadvantaged toddlers to distress in age mates. Development Psychology, 21, 407-412.

Rollins, B. C. & Thomas, D. L. (1979) Parental support, power and control techniques in the socialization of children. In W. R. Burr, R. Hill, F. I. Nye & I. L. Reiss (Eds.), Contemporary theories about family. Vol. 1. New York: The Free Press.

Smith, C. A., Cudaback, D., Goddard, H. W., & Myers-Walls, J. A. (1994). National extension parent education model of critical parenting practices. Manhattan, KS: Kansas Cooperative Extension Service.

Zahn-Waxler, C., Radke-Yarrow, M., & King, R. (1979). Childrearing and childrenís prosocial initiations towards victims of distress. Child Development, 50, 319-330.



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