How can parenting affect child development

The family as a child's experiential environment

In: Wolfgang Tietze / Hans-Günther Roßbach (eds.): Fields of experience in early childhood: inventory, perspectives. Freiburg: Lambertus 1993, pp. 16-34

Martin R. Textor


The family is the most important field of life for younger children - for small children who are not cared for outside of the family, it is the world par excellence: natural, self-evident, familiar and inescapable. Children are born dependent on their parents; they cannot survive in the first few years of life without the intensive care and education of adults. In the family they learn language, basic skills, social norms and social competencies, develop personality structures, character traits, thinking styles, ways of experiencing, role expectations and attitudes (Schneewind 1991). In this way, the foundation for their further development is laid in the family.

However there isn't the Family: On the one hand, historical studies and sociological studies have shown a large number of different types of families in the past and present (Rosenbaum 1982; Weber-Kellermann 1987). On the other hand, every family is unique. It has unique system characteristics, structures, relationship qualities, interaction patterns, rules, etc. Just as its members are unique individuals, the individual family is also unmistakable.

Accordingly there is no the Experience environment "family". Every toddler experiences his family differently and interprets the behavior of his parents, siblings and relatives differently. It grows up in a social milieu in which its caregivers respond individually to its unique characteristics, needs, emotions, activities as well as verbal and non-verbal messages. On the one hand it is shaped by the family in its behavior and experience, on the other hand it shapes its social environment through its reactions.

Due to the uniqueness of every child, every family and their context in life, only very general statements can be made in this chapter about families as worlds of experience for small children. First, however, the family change in the last two or three centuries is outlined (Section 1). Then the characteristics of today's families are described (section 2), with particular emphasis on family upbringing (section 3). Finally, the importance of the family for child development is discussed (Section 4). The books by Markefka and Nave-Herz (1989), Paetzold and Fried (1989), Schneewind (1991) and Textor (1991a) are particularly suitable for deepening the statements made in this chapter.

1. Family change

Like society, economy and culture, families are also subject to constant change (Kaufmann 1990; Weber-Kellermann 1987). Today, in comparison to the first half of the 19th and the previous centuries, marriages are no longer arranged and are no longer dependent on the consent of third parties. Due to the contraceptive means that have only been available for a few decades and the increasing tolerance towards single parents, "must marriages" have become rarer than in the past. We can therefore assume that most parents of young children married out of love (or out of less positive unconscious motives) and that most children were conceived intentionally (Textor 1991a). Of course, this has an impact on the family atmosphere and parental behavior towards the children.

The possibilities of birth control - but also the expansion of the welfare state, which has also meant that children are no longer needed to support elderly or sick parents - have led to a reduction in the number of pregnancies per woman. However, the family size has not decreased to the extent that was previously assumed: The view that large families predominated in the 19th or previous centuries has now been exposed as false by science. In Bavaria, for example, the average household size in 1818, 1852 and 1871 was 4.6 people, rose briefly to 4.7 people in 1900 and then fell to 4.3 in 1925, 3.2 in 1950 and 2.6 in 1980 People (Hubbard 1983); in 1987 there were only 1.9 people (Bavarian State Office for Statistics and Data Processing, no date). It has to be taken into account that these figures represent the size of the household. If one subtracts the large number of servants and maidservants, house staff and unmarried relatives who used to live together with conceiving families, family sizes for the 19th and early 20th centuries are far below that of "extended families". This means that even back then, children relatively rarely found playmates in their families, which was partly due to the large age differences (due to the high child mortality rate) between many siblings. Due to the different structure of the population pyramid, there were, unlike today, many people of the same age in their social environment.

How did the "myth of the extended family" come about? On the one hand, too little attention was paid to the high age at marriage, which, for example, at the beginning of the 19th century in rural regions of Bavaria averaged 28 years for the groom and 27 years for the bride (Ohe 1985). Coupled with lower life expectancy and earlier onset of menopause, it only left about 15 years to have children. On the other hand, too little consideration was given to the high maternal and child mortality rates.

The instability of families, which is often lamented today, the large number of single parents and the large number of stepfamilies are by no means new phenomena. The only thing that has changed is that the causes no longer lie in the premature death of one parent, but predominantly in the high divorce rate: in Bavaria, for example, the number of divorces per 1,000 marriages rose from 6 in 1936/40 (Hubbard 1983) to 283 in 1991 (Bavarian State Office for Statistics and Data Processing, verbal information). Many small children are affected by their parents' divorce, as they usually separate in the first few years of marriage. Here we have to consider that children usually find it more difficult to cope with the breakup of their family than the death of a parent (Textor 1991b). On the one hand, the divorce is preceded by a long phase of conflict and alienation and is associated with many arguments. This puts a strain on parents and children and worsens the family's educational performance. On the other hand, the parent who is not entitled to custody continues to exist and there is a risk of conflicts and pathogenic relationships continuing. Life in stepfamilies is also often stressed as a result. The situation is different from that of partial or second families in earlier centuries.

The view that today many families are isolated because of urbanization with the greater anonymity of the urban way of life, because of mobility or the outsourcing of relatives from the household, was also debunked as a myth: Almost all families are part of a large network of relatives and friends and acquaintances embedded (Marbach et al. 1987). There is a particularly intensive exchange of goods and services between families of origin and procreation families. Many grandparents often take on childcare (Tietze / Roßbach 1991); around 80% of elderly people in need of care are cared for in the family association (Federal Government 1986). However, families have become more autonomous today and are less controlled by relatives and neighbors. The family members can determine their own curriculum vitae and design it individually.

Compared to past centuries, there is also a clear development away from patriarchal family structures and towards more partnership and participation (Mitterauer / Sieder 1977). On the one hand, the husband has lost power over the wife; on the other hand, the parents have lost a large part of their authority over the children. Even smaller children are asked for their opinion on upcoming family decisions and have a say in family activities. In general, children are given more freedom of choice - e.g. when it comes to clothing, food and leisure. They are also given rights at a younger age than they used to be: For example, they are more likely to express their own opinion towards their parents or to make friendships of the opposite sex (EMNID Institute 1986).

The role of the woman

The role of women has changed particularly strongly: wives have become more independent, more independent and more emancipated. In addition, they are more likely to work outside of the home. While in 1882 only 29.2% of all employed persons were female (Hubbard 1983), this was already the case for 40.7% in 1990 (Federal Statistical Office 1992a). However, it can be assumed that in the past fewer women were housewives than they are today: They had to work on the farm, in the workshop or in the man's business. What is really new is, on the one hand, the employment of women outside the home and, on the other hand, the role of the housewife, who is almost exclusively responsible for the household and raising children. Accordingly, it must be assumed that in the past, mothers did not have more time to raise their children than working mothers do today. However, the children were mostly around, learned from them through imitation.

Furthermore, the role of women has changed due to increasing life expectancy: it was 38.5 years (at birth) from 1871-1880 (Hubbard 1983), but 78.7 years from 1986-1988 (Federal Statistical Office 1992a). In connection with the low birth rate, this has the consequence that the life of most women from the age of 40 can no longer be filled with child-rearing for the next 40 years. The roles of women and mothers have therefore diverged over the past 100 years; Compared to before, women can freely dispose of more than half of their adult life without being restricted by children.

In the course of the last 150 years, the family cycle has also changed: many couples initially live together unmarried and only "legalize" their relationship when they want to father a child or have fathered a child (Federal Minister for Youth, Family and Health 1985). Others postpone conceiving a child after they get married, which was previously not possible due to a lack of contraceptive means. The phase of the family cycle marked by pregnancies, births and the presence of young children has become much shorter. The phases with school children or young people have been added or become longer (compared to the 19th century) due to the long school and training periods (compared to the Middle Ages). Many young adults are financially dependent on their parents until they are 30 years of age or more. Basically, however, this is not a new phenomenon, as in the past children had to wait until this age before they were allowed to take over their parents' farm or craft business (Textor 1991a). In contrast, the phase of the family cycle after the children had been replaced and the phase of the "old" family only gained importance in this century.

Functional change

In the course of the past 150 years, families have undergone a clear change in their function. So they have lost a large part of their production function. Even in rural areas there are no longer any families who are largely self-sufficient. As a rule, all they have left is household production (i.e. housekeeping, raising children and minor repairs). Since this is not remunerated, society assigns it only a low value - although an assessment of the activities assigned to it according to the Federal Employee Tariff (BAT) in the mid-1980s would result in overall economic value added of DM 1,089 billion, which is 68% of the Gross national product (Krüsselberg / Auge / Hilzenbecher 1986). Here it becomes clear how strongly "female" fields of activity such as housework and childcare are underestimated. Even if men now help out more in the household than in the past, the 1988 Welfare Survey (Federal Statistical Office 1989) shows that married women with children continue to do around 80% of the daily housework.

Although the family has lost a large part of its production function, its importance as a subsystem of the economy has increased (Zimmermann 1985). While families used to be more or less self-sufficient and hardly took part in market relationships, today there is a strong market integration: families are consuming goods and services continuously and with an increasing tendency. In addition, its adult members are productive in business and administration up to retirement age.

This addresses a further development of the last 150 years, namely the separation of work and family life. One consequence is that one spouse often has no precise idea of ​​the other's professional activity, that children can no longer acquire professional skills by imitating their parents and that they are often strangers to the world of work. Another consequence is that family cohesion is no longer supported by external necessities: Families have become more fragile because the spouses are no longer economically dependent on each other and can "survive" separately from one another through gainful employment.

Compared to the past, the cultural function of the family has lost its importance. While in past centuries family members were involved in the organization of folk and church festivals, cultivated customs and traditions, orally handed down fairy tales and legends, cultivated house music and singing, today their participation in cultural life is mostly limited to media consumption or attending concerts and theater performances etc. (Textor 1991a). The same applies to the religious function of the family: there are more confessional mixed marriages; praying together or going to church have become rarer; only a few parents still impart church teachings to their children; family life is only shaped by Christianity in individual cases (Federal Statistical Office 1992b).

In contrast, the leisure function has gained in importance. In the course of the last few decades, weekly working hours have continuously decreased and vacation entitlements have increased (ibid.). This leaves more time for family activities. There are more and more commercial leisure activities that families can take advantage of. People are also increasingly looking for self-fulfillment and a meaning in life in their free time. Due to the high workload and the stress resulting from life in a high-tech society, the function of emotional stabilization has also gained in importance: family members expect understanding, warmth, affection, solidarity and emotional support at home (Ebel / Eickelpasch / Kühne 1983 ).

While the conception of children has receded into the background as a central function of marriage (as the population decline also shows), the socialization function has become more important. For one thing, society's expectations of family education have increased, particularly in terms of preparing for school, promoting academic achievement and being able to live in a highly complex society. On the other hand, parents place higher demands on themselves as educators and think more about upbringing (Dietrich 1985). This results in a development in the direction of more active parenting and more intensive support for children. There is more emphasis on schooling, vocational training or university studies. However, in the course of the last few centuries the family has also ceded many educational tasks to specialized subsystems of society.

2. Family today

Many characteristics of today's families have already been addressed in the previous historical outline. The world of experience of small children is shaped by the individualization and pluralization of familial forms of life: three-generation, multi-child, one-child, partial, step, adoptive and foster families, cohabiting and living communities coexist. Families can also be distinguished with regard to their socio-economic situation, based on the surrounding sociotope (e.g. scattered settlement, village, satellite town, inner city district) and with regard to their socio-cultural affiliation (e.g. Turkish families or resettled families) (Textor 1991a). Small children can grow up in families with a traditional, partnership-based or child-centered structure, with a gender-specific or gender-neutral division of labor, with a working or non-working mother, with intensive or weak network contacts.

While in the past some of these family forms were rated negatively with regard to their developmental conditions for (small) children, today it is assumed that they all have particular strengths and weaknesses. All familial and family-like forms of life are viewed as independent variants with specific structures and coping mechanisms.In terms of their upbringing performance, they should not be judged positively or negatively: what matters is rather the behavior, personality and upbringing style of the parents, and the entirety of family structures and processes. Thus, it is not the type of family that determines the quality of the child's developmental conditions, but their design.

The world of experience of small children can also be shaped by the instability of their family relationships. Many experience their parents' conflicts, which used to take place behind closed doors. Others are affected by the separation of their parents, which occurs particularly frequently in the first few years of marriage or when there are small children. You live in a cycle of first family, divorced family, partial family and second family, suffer in the transition phases from feelings such as fear, pain, sadness, anger, confusion or worthlessness. They often blame themselves for the separation of their parents (Textor 1991b).

Single Childhood - Sibling Childhood

Today around a third of toddlers grow up as only children. These are often fixated on their parents, need them as playmates or interlocutors and demand a great deal of time and energy from them. Conversely, parents tend to concentrate on the child, to bind them tightly, to overprotect them and to pamper them. Contrary to the still widespread public opinion that only children are disadvantaged compared to children with siblings, research results suggest that they do not differ from these children in terms of self-confidence, social maturity, leadership ability and energy. Rather, they are superior to them in the cognitive area and even achieve a higher level of education - partly because they received more attention and support from their parents (Kasten 1986).

A large proportion of all children experience the birth of a sibling when they are young. Nowadays most parents try to prepare the older child for the arrival of the younger one and to foster a positive relationship between the two after their birth. Nevertheless, around half of all firstborns react to the sibling part with regressive behavior, clinging, defiance or withdrawal - especially from the point in time when the sibling can move independently, seeks the proximity of the older child and then disturbs it when playing or doing other things ( Wilk / Beham 1990). The next born is thus experienced as an intruder. But jealousy, rivalry, and hostility also arise because siblings have to share their parents' affection, time, and energy.

The reaction of an older toddler to the newborn is determined by its age and the quality of the parent-child relationship. As a rule, the relationship between the siblings develops from a mere coexistence through a phase of sibling hostility to a relationship of more equal rank (Cicirelli 1985). At the same time, the sibling subsystem of the family arises with its own relationship definitions, interaction patterns and rules. In the case of a small age difference, the siblings form a twin-like couple; in the case of a larger one, the role of the "older brother" or the "older sister" is more pronounced (Duché 1987). Siblings share the same family environment, influence one another in personal development and socialization, experience solidarity and competition, community and participation.

Importance of the child

Over the past 150 years, children have moved more and more into the focus of the family. On the one hand, they are of great importance today as a source of meaning, love object, source of happiness and conversation partner. Many marriages are only concluded after the partners have decided to have a child. They expect their "desired child" to give their life meaning, to satisfy their emotional and psychological needs, to open up new opportunities for self-development and their own development (Seehausen 1989). On the other hand, adults attribute great "value" to children, they attribute great importance to their upbringing. Parents orientate themselves to their needs and desires, want to support them as best as possible, want to keep all development opportunities open to them (Dietrich 1985).

The great appreciation of children - but also the wish that they should be better off than their parents during their childhood - often leads to pampering, overprotection and making it difficult to relieve themselves, on the one hand, to pedagogy of childhood, to high performance expectations and fixed support programs on the other . Children grow up in perfectly furnished children's rooms, surrounded by tons of toys and cuddly toys. They are expensively dressed, taken on long trips abroad and taken to expensive restaurants. If possible, their wishes are fulfilled (Friesen 1991). At the same time, a lot of time, energy and money are devoted to their education and support. Sometimes an appointment calendar is created for small children so that individual development-promoting activities - mother-child group or kindergarten, swimming course, ballet school, music course, etc. - are not forgotten. This means that childhood is planned (Struck 1992). Child activity is shown predominantly in the consumption of games and child-oriented programs, but less and less in personal activity, in the exercise of assigned tasks and duties, in unobserved play or in exploring nature.

However, the great stress caused by the children can from time to time collide with the desire of many parents for self-development, relaxation and active leisure time activities. Small children in particular force parents to follow their rhythm of life and prevent their parents from satisfying their needs immediately. That is why they are often experienced as psychologically stressful. This is how neglect sometimes occurs; or the children experience a constant alternation between a high level of attention and willingness to play on the one hand or sudden rejection and ignoring on the other - depending on whether the parents need them to satisfy emotional needs or whether they feel restricted in their self-development by them (Seehausen 1989 ).

The parent-child relationship

In our society, characterized by pluralism of values ​​and individualization, roles and relationships are hardly standardized any more. With regard to the parent-child relationship, this means that it can be defined in many ways and that it is shaped by each parent in a way that he or she determines got to. How this happens depends firstly on the personality traits, attitudes and behaviors of the adult and his child. Second, mutual perception and the interpretation of each other's behavior play a major role. Thirdly, the social context is important - the definition of the relationship between the other parent and the child, the family structures and processes, the network, etc. The design of the parent-child relationship is, for example, influenced by whether the parent is gainfully employed or to what extent can reconcile professional and family duties, whether he lives in a harmonious or conflicting marriage or partnership or to what extent he is confirmed by relatives in the exercise of his parenting role.

With regard to the father-child relationship, it should be noted that, according to a large number of scientific studies, fathers develop a relationship with their children that is equivalent to the mother-child relationship and can just as easily satisfy their needs (Fthenakis 1985). Younger fathers also experience themselves to be more affectionate, more emotional and softer than their own fathers, are more involved in bringing up their children and want to develop a loving, friendly relationship with them (Wilk / Beham 1990). The so-called "new fathers" and especially men who take on a large part of the housework, body care of the toddler or changing diapers, are still very rare. The commitment of the fathers is mostly limited to playing, going for a walk with the child and similar activities (Erler et al. 1988).

Some mothers do not want to grant their partners too many upbringing rights (ibid.). The exclusivity and priority of the mother-child relationship can still be determined today. The infant initially lives in symbiosis with its mother and demands the highest level of attention, loving care, caring activities and stimulation from her. As the child ages, this relationship loosens and the child becomes more self-reliant and independent (Sigelman / Shaffer 1991). But up to elementary school age - and often even later - the mother remains the most important caregiver and the preferred contact person for worries and problems (Tietze / Roßbach 1991).

Most children under three years of age are cared for by their mothers all day. But children of kindergarten age also spend the greater part of the day with the family, unless they have a working mother and a daycare provider or a full-time place in a day-care center has not been found for them. But that doesn't mean that they spend all the time with the mother. A representative study showed that mothers spend an average of 189 minutes a day on an only child under the age of three and 129 minutes on a three to six year old child (Krüsselberg / Auge / Hilzenbecher 1986). Incidentally, fathers usually only spend around 20 minutes a day for their children. According to another study, they do not appear at all as the main carer for one in four toddlers (Tietze / Roßbach 1991).

In many cases, working mothers cannot look after small children as intensively as housewives. They are often overworked, have problems with childcare and experience separation pain and feelings of guilt when they hand over their children to the childminder, the day nursery or the all-day group of the kindergarten. They are impatient and easily irritated, suffer from lack of time and constant agitation (Seehausen 1989). Inactive mothers, especially those who worked before the birth of their first child, often feel isolated, unfulfilled, inferior and disadvantaged. Their dissatisfaction and negative mood often put a strain on the mother-child relationship. However, some women also try to develop a positive self-image by wanting to be a "perfect" housewife and mother. In these cases it is easy to overprotect and spoil the children, but also to overwhelm them (ibid.).

3. Family education

For many parents, raising children has become a difficult task. For example, a non-representative survey of 155 pairs of parents with at least one child of kindergarten age showed that 52% of mothers and 40% of fathers often experienced problems in dealing with their children (Stein 1983). One reason is certainly that young adults today have little experience with infants and toddlers in their family of origin and their network. They often do not know how to behave towards their newborn or toddler, and they feel overwhelmed and helpless. In addition, they often do not have married couples with slightly older children in their circle of acquaintances whose behavior they can orientate themselves on (Kaufmann 1990).

Another reason for the insecurity of many young parents is the high social demands on family education (Struck 1992). Parents are expected to optimally support their child's development, develop their talents and compensate for their deficiencies. Most parents have internalized these high expectations and only want the best for their child. However, they do not know how to achieve their goals. They are confronted with a multitude of different parenting theories and recipes through magazines, newspapers and parenting guides, on radio and television as well as in family education courses, and receive various pieces of advice in their network. In many cases, due to the pluralism of values ​​that is typical of our society, they are not even sure of their educational goals. In addition, they often do not want to orientate themselves on their own upbringing. Today, a good half of all adults have broken with their parents' tradition of upbringing (Jugendwerk der Deutsche Shell 1985).

To make matters worse, parents are now more aware of the problem and are therefore more critical of their own efforts to raise their children than they used to be. They have lost the unbroken trust in their role, doubt their competence, feel dequalified by experts such as educators, teachers and psychologists (Duché 1987). In addition, they repeatedly find that they have to raise their children for two worlds: In the family world, the focus is on trust, openness, consideration, solidarity, etc., in the outside world it is competitive thinking, pressure to perform, consumerism, etc. (Mayntz 1955 ). Since a positive upbringing environment is increasingly lacking, parents are thrown back on themselves.

Parenting behavior

Parents' educational goals have changed over the past few decades. Instead of obedience, diligence, politeness, a love of order, etc., independence, maturity, a sense of responsibility, tolerance, maturity and self-actualization are emphasized today. The latter goals are mainly represented by adults with a higher education (Wilk / Beham 1990). The child is also increasingly recognized as an independent individual whose life of its own, uniqueness and autonomy must be tolerated and accepted. It is not the educator who should be active, but the child. Even small children are given so much freedom that they are often overwhelmed (Braun 1992).

Correspondingly, the parenting style of parents has become more cooperative, sometimes even anti-authoritarian (Jugendwerk der Deutsche Shell 1985). A camaraderie prevails in many families. Parents are increasingly willing to talk to children about anything and to justify their educational behavior. Family upbringing has also become less gender-specific; Gender-atypical behavior in young children is increasingly tolerated by parents (Hagemann-White 1984).

Sometimes parents are also delusional about pedagogical feasibility: they want a perfect child. This is constantly under pressure; its limits are not seen. In order to achieve their educational goals, parents often use psychological techniques developed for problem children. You want the child to do what the parents want and believe that they want to do so (behavior therapy). Or they are constantly looking for the motives behind the child's behavior and striving to influence them (psychoanalysis). Some parents also try to influence the behavior of their children by adding and withdrawing love because they reject corporal punishment. In doing so, however, the toddler experiences that he is not loved for himself, but only for his actions. The same applies in the event that positive behavior is rewarded with sweets or gifts (Struck 1992).

The role of grandparents

Due to the increased life expectancy, more and more small children experience their grandparents and often their great-grandparents as well. Through them you discover the continuity of the family, find security and emotional support with them. The latter is particularly important if the children's family of origin breaks up or if they live in part of a family. If the grandparents live in the neighborhood, they are often involved in educational work due to the continuous contact with the children. This is all the more true if they take on the care of a small child because the mother is employed (Tietze / Roßbach 1991). However, due to the increased number of women in employment, many grandmothers are still working themselves and are therefore unable to take care of them (Bundesregierung 1986).

The role of grandparents in our society is not clearly defined or linked to certain concrete behavioral expectations. It must be designed by the grandparents, taking into account the leeway set by their adult children (ibid.). For example, some parents reject the parenting goals and practices of their grandparents and accordingly do not want close contact between their children and their grandparents. Thus, distant, companionable and close relationship patterns can be distinguished, whereby companionable ones predominate (Wilk / Beham 1990). The relationship between grandparents and small children is experienced as satisfactory above all if it is characterized by mutual understanding, emotional warmth and behavior on the part of the grandparents that is appropriate to the age of the child.

4. Importance of the family for child development

Human development takes place in a lifelong process. It is influenced by "internal" and "external" factors. The internal factors include, for example, hereditary disposition, temperament and physiological processes, but also the results of previous development such as personality characteristics, attitudes, motivations, self-image, perceptual and behavioral tendencies.The external factors come from the living environment of the respective person, include influences of the natural environment, the family, the day care center, the socio-cultural context, etc. (Textor 1992).

Here it becomes clear that the family only a Is a factor that influences child development - but it is one of the most important factors during early childhood. The effect of family structures and processes on the child must not be understood as a form of influence either: external influences usually only become effective when they are perceived and consciously or unconsciously processed. The stimuli are interpreted at the same time. Children can react very differently to the same stimuli - or the same way to different stimuli. But a child's self-image and feelings of self-worth also depend heavily on how they interpret other people's statements.

Development from the beginning of conscious human life is therefore also an active engagement with the environment. Even small children are active people who work on themselves and influence their surroundings. They evoke reactions from other family members, interpret them and learn from the experiences they have made. They also imitate other people and have a great ability to adapt and adapt. Children are not only recipients of their parents' and other people's efforts to socialize, but also actively help to shape their development (Wilk / Beham 1990). This becomes a dynamic and very complex process.

Example: cognitive development

Using the example of the cognitive development of small children, it is intended to briefly illustrate which characteristics of families have what effect. An overview of seven longitudinal studies (Gottfried 1984), in which children were examined during the first five years of life, shows that the family life context clearly influences cognitive development. The correlations were clearer and stronger the older the children were at the time of the investigation phase. They persisted even if, for example, the class affiliation of the parents, the school education of the mother or her intelligence quotient were taken into account.

In general, the cognitive development of young children is better when they are firstborn or only children and when they have only a few siblings. It also has a positive effect if you have your own room in the apartment and have good quality, age-appropriate game material. Furthermore, the home and living environment should encourage and allow for visual and physical exploration. However, overstimulation (e.g. from a continuously running television) has a negative effect. The behavior of parents is particularly important: they have a positive influence on the cognitive development of children if they are performance-oriented, carry out intellectually pleasing activities with their children, offer them stimulating experiences (e.g. through excursions) and take part in the children's games. Their verbal behavior plays a very important role - whether they speak to or with their children, to what extent they answer their questions and interpret new experiences, whether they encourage their children in new development tasks or rather hold back. Finally, the effects of the socio-economic status of the family, their atmosphere, their emotional climate and the degree of cohesion between family members on the cognitive development of young children can be determined.

However, it can also be seen from the research results that factors on the part of children are important (MacPhee / Ramey / Yeates 1984). It shows that the willingness of toddlers to react to stimulation varies with their temperament, gender and other characteristics. Children also strive for different forms of stimulation, trying to influence and change their social environment in different ways. After all, different characteristics of children elicit different reactions from other people.

Positive and negative development conditions

Positive and negative familial development conditions for toddlers could already be gleaned from the last paragraphs. Parents are of central importance in this context (Textor 1992). The (spouses) partners are the "architects of the family" (Virginia Satir). You have established the family hierarchy, role definitions, relationship patterns and rules that a child finds after its birth and are therefore responsible for their quality. Your personality and your relationship as a couple are of great importance here. For example, if they are mentally healthy, mature and responsible and live in a satisfying couple relationship, it will have a positive effect on the development of their children. Then they are more often good role models, give their children the freedom to develop themselves and are not so burdened by their own problems or conflicts that their ability to raise children suffers as a result (Kaslow 1981).

Above all, however, the quality of the parent-child relationship and family upbringing determines whether a child finds positive or negative developmental conditions in his or her family. For example, it has negative effects when parents show too little warmth, affection and empathy, are insensitive, rarely praise their children and have little confidence in them. Parents often ignore their child's pleasing, normal behavior or take it for granted. In this way, your children often develop conspicuous behaviors in order to attract the parents' attention. Some parents fail to take care of their upbringing and neglect their children, while others spoil and overprotect them. Often they do not treat their children appropriately, overwhelm them or react inappropriately to their behavior. It is also problematic when children are rejected or tied into symbioses, when certain personality aspects or drive impulses are projected onto them, when roles such as scapegoat, symptom carrier or substitute partner are assigned to them (Textor 1985).

Furthermore, pathogenic family structures and processes such as communication disorders, rigid or unclear rules, isolation or open borders of the family system, etc. can lead to negative development conditions (ibid.). Child abuse and sexual abuse can also affect young children. Chronic disharmony in the family, loss of a parent through death or divorce, lengthy hospitalization of an infant, loss of income for parents (e.g. due to unemployment) and similar factors also have a negative effect (Ulich 1988).

However, pathogenic influences do not automatically lead to developmental or behavioral disorders. Children are "vulnerable" to different degrees: gender, age, genetic makeup, personality characteristics, temperament, state of health, skills, flexibility and social contacts outside the family play a role here (ibid.). In addition, later positive influences or self-education can have a balancing effect, so that the children affected grow into mentally healthy adults who are satisfied with their lives. Even if the family is very important for child development, the further life of a person is not determined by their early childhood experiences: human development is a lifelong process.


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Dr. Martin R. Textor studied education, counseling and social work at the Universities of Würzburg, Albany, N.Y., and Cape Town. He worked for 20 years as a research assistant at the State Institute for Early Education in Munich. From 2006 to 2018 he and his wife headed the Institute for Education and Future Research (IPZF) in Würzburg. He is the author or editor of 45 books and has published 770 specialist articles in magazines and on the Internet.
Autobiography at