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Primary Parenting Functions

Parents’ behavior and ways of interacting with children are usually purposeful attempts to meet
what they perceive children’s needs to be (Clarke & Dawson, 1998), which in turn relate
strongly to the goals adults wish to accomplish in their socialization of children for adulthood.
Two broad categories describe parenting behavior aimed at meeting children’s needs in
preparing them for their future: structure and nurturance (Clarke & Dawson, 1998). These
constitute two principal functions parents perform in socializing children.
Structure describes those aspects of parenting behavior aimed toward providing children with
the means to regulate their lives and to lay the foundation upon which a child’s personality is
formed and expressed. Structure involves teaching children about personal boundaries,
teaching them the limits to which they may go in their behavior so that they do not infringe on
others’ needs and rights, providing the experiences that promote their acquiring a healthy
sense of self-worth, and providing a sense of safety and security so that they will learn to be
appropriately trusting of others. Structure also involves helping children to develop healthy
habits in thought and behavior; learn values and ethics; acquire healthy character traits such
as honesty, integrity, and personal honor; and develop personal responsibility for their actions.
Structure helps to provide a child with a healthy, strong sense of self-esteem that permits
growth toward meeting personal potential and becoming a well-differentiated individual who is
valued for distinct qualities and traits. Most parents are aware that their children have particular
needs. Parents attempt to meet these needs in the ways in which they provide structure and
Nurturance is the second function involved in parenting children. It relates to those parenting
behaviors intended to meet children’s needs for unconditional love. This is necessary for
children’s healthy growth and well-being. By learning that he or she is lovable, a child learns
that others can be loved as well. The assertive care and support that are given in unconditional
ways to children form the basis of nurture. Assertive care involves noticing, understanding, and
responding to the behavioral cues and verbal requests that children pose to parents. It is
expressed to children when adults determine children’s needs and respond to those needs in
loving, predictable, and trustworthy ways. Supportive care is expressed at those times when
adults offer care to children, but allow them the freedom to accept or reject the offer since
parents give it in terms of unconditional love. Adults provide structure to children by teaching
them rules and skills, which in turn allow children to accept nurturing more willingly.