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How are children’s perceptions of parenting constructed and how do these vary between age and gender Essay

This developmental research project aims to consider perceptions of parenting from a child’s perspective and whether the age and gender of the child bare any influence. A cross cultural study was carried out on a convenient sample group of ten children aged between four and eight. A format of semi-structured recorded interviews was conducted using an adapted version of the Macarthur Story-Stem Battery technique. The research was qualitatively based, using Thematic Analysis as a method of establishing main themes which were extracted from transcriptions of the interviews. The main themes established from the interviews were role of the mother and father individually, punishment and achievement. The results of this study indicated that the age and gender of the participant group exerted no significant influence on individual perceptions of parenting.

Introduction

This body of research attempts to discuss the developmental topic of childhood perceptions in relation to parenting. Age and gender will be discussed in terms of whether these two areas of child development have an impact on the research question and final conclusions. Due to the research methodology being qualitatively based, utilising Thematic Analysis, it will be necessary to explore epistemological approaches as to how the research data has been interpreted. This will be discussed further within the discussion section of this document.

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This study and the research question was initially formulated due to reference to a still ongoing longitudinal online research project and part of the popular programme ‘Child of Our Time’ (best_mum_best_dad, 2005). This particular research posed the question that much if not most research into childhood perceptions of parenting has been based on research from the parents perspective, very little research had been completed whereby the child’s perspective was the main focus of the research process.

As a basis on which to structure this research project, key themes have been extracted from the data and applied to the concepts of attachment from a developmental psychological approach. In particular the concepts of age and gender will be considered from the child’s perspective. Two influential theorists associated with attachment theory are Freud, Psychodynamic theory (1926) and Bowlby, Behaviourist theory (1969, 1973) who conducted much research into childhood attachment traits. Kagan (1978 as citied in Gross, 2005) advocated that early development of attachments between parents, more so the mother though and siblings will provide a template or model for all subsequent relationship traits as the child matures.

Bowlby (1969, 1973 as citied in Gross, 2005) stated that all new born infants are genetically born with a predisposition to bond with their parents because they know that their very survival depends on it. At the same time, mothers display a genetic caring response mechanism towards their infant child. Bowlby also believed that a child will develop a need to become attached to one female figure which doesn’t necessarily have to be the maternal mother, a term he referred to as monotropy. However this aspect of Bowlby’s work has been criticised, Rutter (1981 as citied in (Bee & Boyd, 2003) demonstrated that infants displayed numerous behavioural attachments with varying persons other than their mother. The role of the father is not emotionally beneficial to the child, more so the father is viewed as a supportive figure to the mother and child.

Dunn (2000) stated that sibling relationships will be the longest lasting and most beneficial relationship a child can experience. By the time a child is at school age they will have formed an understanding of identity and become more independent. This transition impacts on how they relate to their parents, siblings, extended family and friends.

Dunn (2000) also conducted research which led to the belief that children who were securely attached to their parents reciprocated this feeling with their siblings. However Dunn also discovered evidence which contradicted this belief but only in the circumstance when the child was experiencing stress, discomfort and turmoil within the family unit.

By the time a child reaches the age of between seven and ten, relationships with peers become stronger and more important. Extra curriculum activities move from being family orientated to preferring to socialise with peers (Bee, 2000). These peer activities are also gender-orientated i.e. boys assume a dominant stance often including issues of competitiveness (Maccoby, 1990). Girls tend to revert to roles associated with compliance, self-discipline etc. The evidence suggests that boys exert stronger same gender preferences than girls do.

This current research seeks to discover whether any of the above traits emerge as main themes within the data. The research aims to discover whether differences in the age and gender of a child can affect perceptions of parenting.

Methodology

Design

The research was conducted using semi-structured interviews based on the Macarthur Story-Stem Battery technique (MSSB) which were audibly recorded (Oppenheim, Emde & Warren). This method of interview was designed to provide the researcher with an ethically acceptable manner in which to investigate the inner thoughts of a participant without causing any retrospective psychological harm. The researcher conducted the interviews on a one to one basis with only the researcher and the interviewee present within the room.

An initial pilot study was conducted on two children using the original MSSB question sets (see appendix XI). However as the original question themes were mostly associated with aspects of dysfunction, it was decided to amend the original MSSB format so it more accurately reflected the requirements of the research question (see appendix XII).

During the main interviews it was decided to provide the participants will small dolls which acted as distracters. The dolls worked extremely well providing a focus for the children to channel their thoughts for each question. Once the data had been collated each interview was transcribed and Thematic Analysis was used to interpret the data.

Participants

A convenient sample group was used consisting of ten children between the ages of four and eight. The sample group consisted of equal sets of five males and five female.

Materials

A Sony digital recorder and external microphone was used to record the interviews. Small toy figure dolls of mixed sexes were also provided as a means of distraction. The researcher read from a pre -scripted set of story’s adapted from the MSSB. No other materials were used in order to maintain a recognisable, safe environment in which to conduct the interviews.

Procedure

The Herdley Bank First School was approached and permission sought to conduct a series of interviews with a selection of their pupils (see appendix XIII). A selection of pre-requisites were requested the main one being that the interviewer was CRB vetted. Permission was also sought from the selected children’s parents (see appendix XIIIV). The ten children selected for interview were chosen by the class teacher

Each interview commenced with the researcher introducing herself and explaining that she would tell the first part of a story and then the child would be required to finish the story as they wished. It was also explained that this would happen for seven stories in total. The child was then given a selection of small toys to play with or use as props. Each interview lasted for between seven and fifteen minute. After completion of each interview, the researcher ensured that the child was happy with the experience and offered the opportunity to ask any questions. They were then escorted back to their classroom.

Discussion and Results Analysis

A qualitative research methodology was used to extrapolate emerging themes from the data which was collected via recorded interview and subsequent transcription. A process of Thematic Analysis was conducted in order to organise the information into main and sub themes. Prior to this process, an epistemological approach had to be chosen, in the case of this study a realist epistemology was chosen which allows the researcher to consider motivations, experience and meaning in a relatively straightforward manner from the perspective of the participant as opposed to societal influences (Greene & Hogan, 2005).

The initial coding process, themes and sub themes were identified via a process of deductive theoretical analysis (see appendices I, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, IX & X). This method of analysis aims to provide a data set which doesn’t contain a comprehensive analysis of all the data, more so providing a detailed analysis of a small selection/aspect of the data. By doing so the researcher can concentrate on just a few main themes which link to the research question itself (Braun & Clarke, 2006).

The aim of this study was to ascertain whether children’s perceptions of parenting can change and whether age and gender has an effecting part to play. Four main themes emerged from the data sets as listed below:

* Role of Mother

* Role of Father

* Achievement

* Punishment

Each main theme will be discussed individually including excerpts from the transcription document. In order to view the full extract please refer to the colour coded idents and relate to the transcription document : (Appendix II).

Main Theme: Role of the mother

The mother emerged as the first point of contact when emotional crisis occurred. There was a repetitive theme of the mother taking on the role as the main care provider, viewed by the child as a supportive figure who could be trusted. The following excerpts from the transcript demonstrate this observation.

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