Positive Parenting Pentagon: A Child’s Journey to Purpose

Positive Parenting Pentagon: A Child’s Journey to Purpose

26 June 2021
Research

Introduction

As a student of science and a parent, I have always wanted to write a paper with a solution-focused approach, to appreciate the better side of humans – in this case – parents and children. This paper attempts at coming up with a system/framework through a foundation that will be relatable to children through their key developmental stages, from infancy to adolescence. Suggestions provided in this paper are supported by empirical pieces of evidence. Parents are advised to practise them on a best effort basis. There is ample freedom to choose timelines suited to the varying developmental milestones in children but might not be suited for special needs children. Being respectful of diverse cultural environment, the impetus is on the need for utilising the hard work done by researchers, scientists and academicians who are working on pieces of evidence on happiness to creating a good life for people.

The final framework is a combination of two parts:

  • Providing a natural bounce-back mechanism for children by adopting helpful habits acquired while growing up, and
  • Usage of guiding strategies, the discovery of self, and strong interconnected links with people to create a life with purpose.

Emotions

Defining and measuring emotions is difficult, for scientific and functional reasons, we can start by addressing emotions as, “episodic, relatively short-term, biologically based patterns of perception, experience, physiology, action, and communication that occur in response to specific physical and social challenges and opportunities” (Keltner & Gross, 1999, p. 468).

This definition allows us to gauge that the development of emotions starts from infancy and occurs with the relentless flow of energy and information throughout life in the human mind.

And here is a possible scientific definition of the human mind: “an embodied and relational, emergent self-organizing process that regulates the flow of energy and information” (Siegel, 2020, p. 47).

We know that children will receive numerous and multi-faceted information stimuli throughout their lifetime – serving as vital pieces of information, therefore, to make the best use of them, parents can enable an atmosphere of growth and learning behavioural management skills by engaging in functional practices (Brackett, 2020).

For example, parents can:

1. Provide a secure attachment to children with unconditional love and compassion (Schore, 2005; Fredrickson, 2014; Chapman & Campbell, 2016)

2. Create a safe, healthy, and non-judgemental environment for open dialogues to discuss the feelings by associating suitable words/expressions for emotional granularity, and taking events down to experiential learning for a wholesome neural integration (Gottman & DeClaire, 1997; Gross & John, 1997; Pennebaker, 1997; Barrett, Gross, Christensen, & Benvenuto, 2001; Golkar, Lonsdorf, Olsson, Lindstrom, Berrebi, Fransson, Schalling, Ingvar, & Öhman, 2012; Camras & Shuster, 2013; Barrett, 2020; Siegel, 2020)

3. Lead by examples of adopting healthy habits in day-to-day life and otherwise, like:

a) Deep breathing practices (Cho, Ryu, Noh, & Lee, 2016; Herrero, Khuvis, Yeagle, Cerf, & Mehta, 2018),

b) Sleep routines (Minkel, McNealy, Gianaros, Drabant, Gross, Manuck, & Hariri, 2012; Alvaro, Roberts, & Harris, 2013; Goldstein & Walker, 2014; Gariepy, Danna, Gobiņa, Rasmussen, Gaspar de Matos, Tynjälä, Janssen, Kalman, Villeruša, Husarova, Brooks, Elgar, Klavina-Makrecka, Šmigelskas, Gaspar, & Schnohr, 2020),

c) Meditation (Goleman & Davidson, 2017; Lomas, 2019),

d) Balanced diet (O’Neil, Quirk, Housden, Brennan, Williams, Pasco, Berk, & Jacka, 2014; Spencer, Korosi, Layé, Shukitt-Hale, & Barrientos, 2017)

e) Play (Brown & Vaughan, 2010)

f) Physical exercise (Deslandes, Moraes, Ferreira, Veiga, Silveira, Mouta, Pompeu, Coutinho, & Laks, 2009)

When parents and children practise these interventions, there is a strong correlation to show enhanced levels of consciousness; with plentiful solution-focused choices, children will attempt constructive decision-making (Bariola, Gullone, & Hughes, 2011; Morris, Houltberg, B. J., Criss, & Bosler, 2017)

Persistent action and practices of these interventions are also likely to lead children towards demonstrating self-efficacy and self-controlled mechanism for a benign circadian functionality (Nobre, Coull, Frith, & Mesulam, 1999; Saarni, 2000; Koechlin & Summerfield, 2007; Thompson & Goodman, 2010; Voss, Lucas, & Paller, 2012; Crum, Akinola, Martin, & Fath, 2017).

Parents can further encourage these practices in children by leading them into a self-actualising path through reinforcement and striking benevolent conversations on Mindsets, Self-Compassion, and Strength identifier (Muraven, Baumeister, & Tice, 1999; Baumeister, Gailliot, DeWall, & Oaten, 2006; Oatley, 2009; Whittle, Simmons, Dennison, Vijayakumar, Schwartz, Yap, Sheeber, & Allen, 2014; Waters, 2015; Dweck, 2017; Jamieson, Crum, Goyer, Marotta, & Akinola, 2018; Kaufman, 2021).

Strengths Culture

When we consider the experiences of emotions management as a learning platform, they serve as a natural precursor to introducing another important aspect of positive child development – Strengths. In this section, we will be aiming at the development of family culture for recognising strengths in each other, thereby making an even stronger parent-child bond.

Since the beginning of modern psychology, there have been mentions about addressing and classifying human behaviour inclined towards appellative functions viz. characters, assets, values, virtues, strengths, and the like. Here are a few attempts at positive framing and reframing them:

  • Development of psychosocial virtues in resolving social challenges (Erikson, 1963, 1982)
  • Characteristics of self-actualised individuals (Maslow, 1954, 1959, 1970)
  • Model of psychosocial maturity (Greenberger & Sørensen, 1974; Greenberger, Josselson, Knerr, & Knerr, 1975)
  • Ten Universal Values (Schwartz & Bilsky, 1987; Schwartz, 1994)
  • Dimensions of Well-Being (Ryff, 1995)
  • Internal Developmental Assets (Leffert, Benson, Scales, Sharma, Drake, & Blyth, 1998)
  • Internal Resilience Factors (Kumpfer, 1999)
  • CliftonStrengths (Rath, 2017)
  • Strengths of Character, also known as VIA Character Strengths (Peterson & Seligman, 2004)

It is quite an exhaustive inventory of vocabulary (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). Now to bring this practice into a parenting culture perspective, we will address the definition from the researcher, Robert Sapolsky, who puts it as, Culture, With Both A Big And A Little C:

“childhood is when culture is inculcated, and parents mediate that process” (Sapolsky, 2017, p. 202)

Parents can thus make use of this opulent strengths language, depending on the needs of their family culture and contextual parenting styles, preferably authoritative (Sapolsky, 2017). Some of the best ways to maximise the strengths usage could be by employing thoughts, interactions, and actions oriented towards children while engaging in:

  • Approach for everyday parenting and discipline (Nelsen, 2013; Shapiro & White, 2014; Waters, 2018)
  • Attention Training (Moyer & Gilmer, 1955; Giedd, Castellanos, Kozuch, Casey, Kaysen, King, Hamburger, & Rapoport, 1994; Ruff, Capozzoli, & Weissberg, 1998; Semple, Lee, Rosa, & Miller, 2009)
  • Educating children at home, especially in these pandemic times (Porwal, 2020)

Positive Affectivity

The tenets of Emotions & Strengths provide a robust foundation for creating a conducive family environment of child development and paves the way for the preparation of an exquisite recipe of friendship between parent-child pair – a strong predictor for the quality of future relationships (Bukowski, Hoza, & Boivin, 1994; Steinberg, 2001; Rubin, Dwyer, Booth-LaForce, Kim, Burgess, & Rose-Krasnor, 2004; Burk & Laursen, 2005; Denworth, 2020)

Gradually as children start exhibiting a positive change in confidence and understanding their abilities, there is a strong likelihood of appreciating continuous efforts, making pathways with optimism; subsequently, when they receive meaningful appreciations/reinforcements, it augments the frequency of their natural course of actions converging into broadening and savouring activities with persistence (Seligman, 1991; Deci & Ryan, 2000, 2002; Snyder, 1994, 2000; Harter, 2003, 2006; Csikszentmihalyi, 2009; Fredrickson, 2011; Duckworth, 2019).

As children grow into adolescence demonstrating the above-mentioned traits, parents are likely to observe high levels of participatory events that will be directed outwards and usually involving social interactions,  aimed at striving towards achievements of goals that are important and bring satisfaction, i.e., they will frequent into positive affectivity and the levels of affectivity recorded at this stage of their development are promising to sustain for a sufficiently long time to come (Diener, Sandvik, & Pavot, 1991; Myers & Diener, 1995; Parducci, 1995; Diener & Diener, 1996; Watson & Walker, 1996; Watson, 2000).

Social Interactions

Positive affectivity levels are positively correlated to multiple prosocial indicators such as befriending, enhanced social behaviour & contribution towards social groups, and these influence each other mutually (Myers & Diener, 1995; Watson & Clark, 1997; Watson, 2000). Cascading effects contribute to the evolution of children and adolescents, whereby they further their understanding of the value and importance of collaboration and cooperation among peer groups, social groups & organisations, and discovering new dimensions by creating deeper meaning in their work and transcending relationships through Quiet Ego (Nagel, 1970; Wayment & Bauer, 2008; Fletcher, Warneken, & Tomasello, 2012; Lieberman, 2015; Klein, 2016; Ricard, 2016; Murthy, 2020).

When these meaningful social events becoming a routine, they provide an excellent breeding ground for children to inculcate even further prosocial behaviour, adding remarkably high values in their social intelligence and making them ready for challenging interactions, though initially with fewer markers of success, but with time showing consistent surge (Almas, Cappelen, Sorensen, & Tungodden, 2010; Kanngiesser & Warneken, 2012; Ulber, Hamann, & Tomasello, 2015; Starmans, Sheskin, & Bloom, 2017; Koplewicz, 2021).

This brings us to another key aspect of cognition and affect – empathy – resonating with others’ feelings, it serves as a crucial cue for parents to be watchful in case anxiety surfaces, gently directing them with reasoning, in combination with the Emotion management techniques we discussed in the first tenet (Eisenberg, Damon, & Lerner, 2006; Eisenberg, 2010; Gopnik & Wellman, 2012; Barrett, 2020; Siegel, 2020)

As a scientific pathfinding approach and to keep up with our evolutionary prosocial behaviour traits, researchers have found that compassion acts as a workable strategy that benefits mutually, thereby developing caring, positive feelings, and satisfaction – optimising the human functionality in the process (Fabes, Eisenberg, Karbon, Troyer, & Switzer, 1994; Miller, Eisenberg, Fabes, & Shell, 1996; Snyder, 1994, 2000; Wayment & Bauer, 2008; Klimecki, Leiberg, Ricard, & Singer, 2013; Singer & Klimecki, 2014; Buchanan & Kern, 2017).

Proposal: Part I – A Foundation of Resilience

When we join the dots of the path, we have traversed through these intervention recommendations, resulting in an open box with boundless opportunities, protected by strong walls, as represented through lines and dots, depicted in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Child’s journey thus far – an open box with boundless opportunities and strong walls
Figure 1. Child’s journey thus far – an open box with boundless opportunities and strong walls

And as we continue to understand the Meaning in this journey, we realise that we have created a sturdy foundation for the Resilience of our children – a springboard mechanism, to fall back on in difficult times and bounce back from, with the support of parents and a network of people. Figure 2 demonstrates this mechanism with a hand-made sketch.

Figure 2. Proposal: Part I – Resilience foundation: A springboard mechanism for mutual well-being
Figure 2. Proposal: Part I – Resilience foundation: A springboard mechanism for mutual well-being

Understandably, with the advent of an adverse situation, children might be led to non-constructive thoughts and actions (Damon, 2010). But at the same time, with this resilient foundation in place, we are hopeful that the propensity will also be to understand and continue to help each other – motivated to find solutions and makes sense of their activities – with a hit sometimes and a miss at other times, resulting sometimes in mixed emotional states (Schneider & Stevenson, 2000; Kashdan, 2010).

Purpose

A group of researchers reviewing scientific literature and factors for a purposeful living have suggested the below functional definition of Purpose as, “…a stable and generalized intention to accomplish something that is at the same time meaningful to the self and consequential for the world beyond the self.” (Damon, 2010, p. 33)

At this critical juncture of life for children, where they are adolescents and are struggling to make sense of their Existence, parents can play a pivotal role by engaging them in thought-provoking discussions, asking relevant questions, and helping them in self-directed learning – embedded in realism and oriented towards the larger good – finding a suitable and helpful purpose (Benard, 1991; Werner & Smith, 2001; Damon, Menon, & Bronk, 2003; Damon, 2010; Singer & Ricard, 2015).

Proposal: Part II – Purpose Makes The Pentagon

When parents empower children through reflective inquiry, they will be reinforcing on creating pathways for adolescents to pursue their Purpose of life in this modern world, and that these practices then have shown to stay with them, as a healthy habit for an emotionally balanced and thriving life (Baltes, Lindenberger, & Staudinger, 2006; Reynolds, 2020).

Finally, we can represent a child’s journey to purpose in a framework – Positive Parenting Pentagon, PPP for short, as depicted in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Proposal: Part II – Positive Parenting Pentagon (PPP), with 5 vertices represented in the order and starting from Emotions (E), Strengths Culture (SC), Positive Affectivity (PA), Social Interactions (SI), Purpose (P)
Figure 3. Proposal: Part II – Positive Parenting Pentagon (PPP), with 5 vertices represented in the order and starting from Emotions (E), Strengths Culture (SC), Positive Affectivity (PA), Social Interactions (SI), Purpose (P)

The five vertices of this Positive Parenting Pentagon (PPP), are represented in the order and starting from Emotions (E) >> Strengths Culture (SC) >> Positive Affectivity (PA) >> Social Interactions (SI) >> Purpose (P).

It is noteworthy here that the arrows on the outside edge of this pentagon are a representation of strong positive correlates whereas the arrows inside the edge represent meaningful causal relationships.

Concluding thoughts

The creation of a PPP framework for parents to help their children find a life with purpose has provided further food for thought as enumerated below:

1. This framework is an attempt at6 joining the pieces of research and making a meaningful picture for an optimal life journey in a child’s development, and that parents need to consider their child’s needs as well. Here is an analogy – while making tea in a kettle, science recommends turning off the heat source when the water boils, however, the timing of heat exposure differs depending on the material of the kettle, source of heat, the composition of water, and the ingredients used.

2. Practising recommendations presented here will bring empowerment for parents into reflecting their actions and we are hopeful that parents will find meaning in doing that. We will come up with the next version to include interventions for parenting with a purpose.

3. In this global pandemic time, it has come to our realisation that there is a truth to human limitation and that we can focus on what we can do; with the introspection time provided by circumstances, we would recommend parents to generate a workaround – in conjunction with PPP, to discover what else works for their families for a Happier Living – this is a particularly good opportunity (Ben-Shahar, 2009).

4. We understand that many other factors also contribute to making a child the adult they become, most of them are not in our control, however, and perhaps, therefore, we intend to focus on the Intentional Activity with PPP, and one thing that we as parents can definitely do is LOVE our children (Lyubomirsky, 2007; Fredrickson, 2014).

Being a positive psychology practitioner, with a deep interest in human flourishing, sharing PPP via this paper gives me hope to enhance global well-being.

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