7.1 Social Interaction in Early Childhood: What are the six stages of appropriate interaction, what are the parenting tasks & roles in each?

Chapter 7


7.1  Describe the six stages of appropriate interaction.

7.2  Explain the tasks of parenting at each stage

7.3  Describe the factors that are likely to affect the image making stage.

7.4  Discuss the parents’ roles at each stage


If you have driven a car with manual gears you understand that it is necessary to change gears for smooth driving. So is the case of parent –child interaction.  Surprisingly some parents interact with their children in the same way from infancy until they are adults. Worse still, there are some who extend their “parenting first gear” to their adult children who have already left the nest. Ellen Galinsky came up with a theory on the appropriate parent –child interaction at the various stages of development. In this Chapter, we are going to focus on each of these stages.





Hellen Galkinsky (1981) contended that ideal parent- child interaction goes through six stages that begin from conception through adulthood. According to the view, at every stage parents have a task to accomplish through interacting with their child. The stages are as follows


1: Image Making Stage

This runs from conception to birth. The core task of parenting is to prepare for parenthood. This requires one to change her or his self concept to include all that entails to be a parent of the expected baby. For example, the mother thinks of her schedules that will have to include the new responsibilities such as breast feeding.  Each spouse figures out how the relationship between them as partners will be affected by the arrival of the new baby. Each of them comes up with plans of parenting. The parents also figure out how the baby will be like. For example a mother may wish to have a strong looking son or a girl with beautiful hair and the like. All these are images since the reality is experienced once the baby is born.

Images that parents have are affected by a number of factors. Some of these include:

  • The birth position of the baby in the family. Normally parents’ imaginations may be exaggerated as they expect the first born since they are going to be new parents. This makes them wonder what parenting is like and thus make many images. For subsequent pregnancies, parents still make images but not as wild.
  • The presence of any defect within the family. This not only takes account of the nuclear family but the extended family also. The parents wonder whether a defect especially those believed to be genetically transmitted will affect their child. For example, in a family where some members of the family have six fingers, parents may be contemplating on how to deal with the sixth finger long before a baby is born.
  • The relationship between spouses. If the couple lives in harmony, they are likely to exchange their images and influence each other. In case of some conflict between the two, parents may have negative feelings about the unborn baby.
  • Circumstances that surround the pregnancy. There are occasions when pregnancy is planned for but other times it is not only unplanned for but also unwelcome. Parents expecting such a baby may have their images affected by the conflicts thus caused.
  • Parents’ childhood experiences. Often individuals borrow cues of responding to their circumstances from their parents. There are cases when individuals feel that their parents were wrong and want to be completely different. In either of the viewpoints, the experiences that parents had as children affect their thoughts on how to react to their unborn child.
  • Religious or ethnic background. The dimension that parents take could be influenced by their faith. For example, there are parents who due to their beliefs vow to offer the child for some certain religious service before the baby is born. There are others whose cultural beliefs make them have distinct expectations of the unborn baby.


Describe other factors that may affect the images that parents have on their unborn baby

Stage 2: Nurturing  stage ( birth- 1½ or 2 years)

This is the time when the baby is born. The parents settle for the image that fits their baby. Since there is nothing they can change, parents are expected to cope with their baby and to attend to her or his needs. The core task of parents at this stage is to form on attachment with the baby. Formation of this attachment depends on how a baby’s needs are met. This means that parents have to learn their baby’s likes and dislikes. They learn how to respond to the baby’s signals. These aspects have to be learnt and re-learnt. At the preliminary stages, parents must learn the baby’s patterns such as needs for diapers change, time for sleep and the regularity of hunger. Parents have to learn to attend to the baby’s needs as well as inculcating autonomy, an aspect that children should acquire by the time they are two years.


Describe factors that may adversely affect interaction  at this stage


  1. Authority Stage (2-4 years)

Now children can understand simple commands. They can now distinguish between “No” and  “Yes.” The core task at this stage is to determine children’s scope of independence and introduction authority and control. The child has to be taught that unlike the jungle where animals run anywhere doing anything within their ability, in human world there are rules and regulations that govern behaviour. This is the critical period for instilling control and discipline.


During this period  children want to feel free from the parents. They try to find out whether their  parents are serious. They also embark on finding out how much freedom they have. In this attempt they try to defy their parents’ directives. Consequently, parents must communicate rules and remain firm to enforce them. Those who become permissive lose their power to control their children forever. It is very difficult to say ”NO” to children later if this is not well introduced at this stage, when the formation of a child’s repertoire of behaviour is being founded.


As parents introduce authority, it is necessary to remember that these children cannot understand cause and effect. For example, if you tell a child not to light fire because he will burn, he will seek for an opportunity to light it to know what burning is all about.  These children are very inquisitive and their quest to know may lead them to weird experiments.


Although children are being introduced to control, they also need freedom to choose and explore. However they must work under supervision. It is unwise to allow them to do whatever they want since they are naïve and may flirt with danger. Safety should never be compromised. These children need surveillance even at their free play.


  1. Interpretive stage (5 years to Adolescence)

This stage covers the last year in pre-primary and a large portion of the primary school years. Parents’ task at this stage is to look into their child rearing practices in relation to the acquired skills and autonomy. Now, parents need to introduce the new authority figures such as the teachers. Unlike in the preceding stage, at this stage children are capable of understanding cause and effect. They can therefore be made aware of consequences of their behaviour.

These children like being with peers as they prove their competence in various aspects. Parents should teach them values and morals that are necessary for effective existence as they interact with the outside world. However, these children are not as responsive to their parents as in the earlier stages.


  1. Interdependent Stage (Adolescent to Early Adulthood)

The core task of this stage is to redefine, parent-child relationship. This depends on how effectively parents have played their roles in the preceding stages. At this stage the parent recognizes the adolescents’ areas of independence as well as their authority.  In their interactions, the two parties should ideally respect each other’s areas of independence or control.


Adolescents often test their new found autonomy. They are to a large extent egocentric hence seek to have their way. It is therefore important for parents to remain firm while interacting with them. Parents must remember that the adolescent may not understand her or himself in search for an identity. They must remain supportive and loving. The stage requires remarkable understanding. Parents or those who interact with the youth should be patient with them. It is necessary to avoid getting into fruitless conflicts with the adolescent. Often adolescents are manipulative and can be very frustrating in case of a conflict.


In spite of the tendency to defy, adolescents whose parents remain warm towards them eventually adopt the proposed values after testing them. On the other hand those whose parents have been harsh defy throughout to prove their independence.

  1. Departure Stage: (Adult Children)

This is the last stage of parent to child interaction. Adult children become autonomous and able to live on their own and they leave the nest. The parents’ task is to let go. The adult children become members of the society and live independently. Parents can now evaluate their child rearing practices and their impact on their adult children. They also re-define their identities, that is, they have to relearn living without their children. They also  build new relationships with their grown-up children.


Berns, R.M. (1997). Child, Family, School, Community: Socialisation and Support.        USA: Harcourt Brace College Publishers.

Kate, Robinson  & Pullan, (2003). Early years care and Education. UK: Heinemann

Kostelnik, Stein, Whiren and Soderman(1993). Guiding Children’s Social Development. USA: South-Western Publishing Company


Test exercise 7

1)    Describe the following stages of interaction between parents and their children

  1.   i) Image making stage
  2.   ii) Nurturing stage

  iii) Authority stage

  1.   iv)  Interpretive stage
  2.   v)  Interdependence stage

2) Explain the parental tasks in each of the above stages of interaction between parents and their children



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