Parent-child communication involving
the future cognitive style and self-efficacy beliefs
Prof. Simona Hoskovcová, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology, Philosophical Faculty, Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic
Prof. Ljubica Bakić-Tomić, Ph.D.
Faculty of Teacher Education, University of Zagreb, Croatia
Jasmina Božić, M.A.
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Zagreb, Croatia
Children's functioning gradually progresses from external to personal control. Once children acquire a sense of personal agency that they can make things happen, they develop affective self-reactions that serve as guides and motivators for action. A body of research has shown that perceived efficacy is a common mechanism through which psychosocial influences produce their effects. The family is the first source of efficacy information for children. Parents who are responsive to their child's communication create the opportunity for efficacious actions and offer a variety of mastery experiences. Experiences of success contribute to the build-up of a sense of personal efficacy. In this complex process parent – child communication plays an important role.
Our research has indicated the major importance of the way how parents “comment” on the
success or failure of the child, especially in preschool age. It is important for the child’s
development that the verbalized assessment of the child is, in case of success, on a general and personal level, and in case of failure, on a specific and problem-oriented level.
Key words: self-efficacy, preschool child, communication, cognitive style
Children's functioning gradually progresses from external to personal control. Once children acquire a sense of personal agency that they can make things happen, they develop affective self-reactions that serve as guides and motivators for action. A body of research shows that perceived efficacy is a common mechanism through which psychosocial influences produce their effects. Efficacy beliefs produce their effects through four major processes that usually operate in concert: cognitive, motivational, affective, and selection processes. Managing difficult tasks requires considerable effort to remain task-oriented, and it also requires the ability of analytic thinking. People of high efficacy set challenging goals before themselves and regulate the effort necessary to reach the goal and overcome impediments or threats. Efficacy beliefs also exert a major influence on stress and depression and the choices that people make.
The concept of self-efficacy, introduced by Bandura, represents the core aspect of his social-cognitive theory. Self-efficacy expectancies refer to personal action control or agency. A person who believes that she/he is able to produce a desired effect may conduct a more active and self-
determined life course. This “can do” condition mirrors a sense of control over one’s
environment, which should be one of the goals of children’s upbringing.
The study presented here examined the development of self-efficacy in preschool children. We focused on the level of self-efficacy, the influence of experience expected by parents on self-efficacy of preschool children, and the attending parent-child communication. We shall describe possible ways of supporting the healthy development of the child, and mistakes to be avoided in order to balance protection and risk in favor of protection.
The way adults guide the child through various situations, in terms of the social cognitive theory (social modeling, observation, mastery experience), is important for supporting a healthy development, especially in stress situations. A child with broader experience has better understanding of itself and its usual environment. Through this knowledge it is able to judge its own efficacy more realistically in various areas of activity.
The investigation of self-efficacy in small children is accompanied by a variety of methodological problems. In personality development we are able to define certain developmental stages, but at the same time we may observe that the self-concept of children of the same age group distinctly differs. Other problems involve the temporal stability of self-efficacy, the dependence of results on methods applied and the language skills of children. With regard to the character of the questions investigated, the pilot study revealed the advantage of a qualitative research approach.
In our opinion, crucial time to cultivate self-efficacy is the preschool age, which in this study means children aged 3-6 years.
One of the research tasks aims at finding possibilities of measuring or describing self-efficacy in children (there is no verified method for pre-school children, Bandura, 2001) in order to ascertain what influences its level. Among the influential factors we concentrate on the area of experience in coping with various situations (mastery experience), which in this phase of development is mainly mediated and communicated by parents.
The findings obtained resulted in recommendations for parents concerning ways of supporting self-efficacy of their child. These recommendations may be utilized also by other persons participating in the education of the child.
stSummary of the 1 phase of the study
The concept of self-efficacy has been proved useful for studying preschool children. Although the procedure of examination of self-efficacy in preschool children is methodologically demanding and time-consuming, it is still possible when triangulation of methods and observers is used.
Children show high self-efficacy, optimism and will to get new experiences. It is useful to support children in a positive way, because we build a good and steady base for resistance in various life-events and situations. Parents are the most important factor for cultivating self-efficacy of their children. The manner that parents use to mediate different experiences to children and the way they conduct their children through new and stressing situations, largely influences how the children will deal with new and stressing situations once they grow up. Parents are a model and also moderators who, in a positive case, transmit the experience of coping with and mastering new situations. For the child it is important to get experience with
autonomy, but it should not experience frustration and lack of success for a long time.
Implications for communication with the child
The family is the first source of efficacy information for children. Parents who are responsive to their child's communication create opportunities for efficacious actions and offer a variety of mastery experiences. Experiences of success contribute to building-up of a sense of personal efficacy. In this very complex process the parent – child communication plays an important role.
Communicated assessment in different situations may be rather dangerous for the growing self of the child. For instance, if a boy wants to jump over a distance of 1 meter, we may ask him: “Do
you think you can jump there?” “Yes” answers the boy. His grandmother comments: “Don?t jump, you can?t jump there anyway.” The boy jumps successfully and wants to jump again. His
grandmother comments: “Do not jump, you will hurt your leg.” Such comments quickly become
part of self-assessment and lower down child’s self-efficacy. Caregivers should avoid this kind of
assessment and let the child have the experience.
Our research has indicated the major importance of the way how parents “comment” on the
success or failure of the child, especially in preschool age. It is important for the child that the verbalized assessment or judgment is formulated in a careful way. These judgments often become self-talk, as the child repeats in his/her own head what she/he heard. Some of the external comments become internalized as thoughts.
Adults should praise what is praiseworthy and remember that identity gains strength only from consistent recognition of real accomplishments. If we praise, we can do it on a general level and focus on effort and persistence. Praising the effort tells people that the harder you work, the more you accomplish and the smarter you get.
The way of communication in case of failure is important for finding a constructive cognitive
style. The description of failure should be specific and problem-oriented, for instance one should say: “This tower broke down right now,” rather than “You are a lubber.” If such general
judgments become internalized, the child may become an anxious and pessimistic person, who, while dealing with any task, thinks: “I am a lubber, I can never do this.”
It is helpful if caregivers help not directly, but indirectly, through indirect questions. For
example, while building something from Lego “I think that the white brick should be elsewhere”
rather than “Take the white brick and put it two lines to the left.” Thus it is possible to support
child’s own activities in finding right solutions.
The child should learn to use social support. If we see that something is going wrong, we may
communicate an offer “If you need help, call me.” When children ask for help it is often possible
to hear parents telling them: “I do not have time now, don?t disturb me.” This cognitive style
makes children socially anxious: “I failed now, but I can not tell Mum, she could be angry.”
There are also possibilities to support optimistic communication and cognition by different communicative “games”. Here is an example: in the game “I praise, you praise, we praise” the
children in a group tell what kind of behavior of other children is praiseworthy. The group decides if it is indeed praiseworthy. This game may be played in different modifications. The goal is to think about positive things and train children to communicate positive messages to others.
There is another similar example in the game inspired by Seligman, called “positive review”. In
the evening we may sit with the child and talk about what happened that day. We count how many positive and how many negative things happened. The goal of the game is to find not just negative events, but also to focus on the positive ones. The ability to see more positive things is the characteristic of optimists.
The child listens to her/his authorities and models, repeats the sentences in his or her mind and internalizes them. Since part of what the child has heard shapes the child’s cognitive style, adults
should be careful while talking to children.
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