Kids Develop Better When Moms Push Them, Just a Little

Mothers help their children develop best when they teach them based on their abilities, according to Amanda Carr of the Department of Psychology at the University of Roehampton in London. Carr, who is the lead author of a recent study exploring how a mother’s teaching style affects a child’s development, stated that mothers who instruct their children to reach just above their potential, engaging an effective scaffolding process, are providing the most developmental benefits to their children. “Thus, when the task is beyond the child’s current attainment, help is increased; this reduces task complexity and allows the child to focus on what is within his or her capability,” said Carr. “As the child’s competency for the task grows, the mother can gradually withdraw her help, enabling the child to perform more and more of the task independently. This process is referred to as contingent shifting and involves the mother altering the level of specificity of her instruction in a manner that is dependent on the previous success or failure of the child.”

Carr noted that previous evidence has shown that this type of teaching not only benefits the child academically, but socially and psychologically as well. “In addition to the immediate learning opportunities that scaffolding provides, early parent-led tutoring interactions are linked to several indicators of children’s later school success including self-regulatory competence, patterns of achievement motivation, scholastic aptitude, and more recently executive function development,” she said.

Carr and her team studied 96 sets of mothers and children to determine how scaffolding would affect development. They assessed the children at age five and ten and found that the more educated mothers practiced the most effective scaffolding and used the least harsh parenting techniques. “Specifically, we found a direct association between positive parenting and mothers’ proclivity to provide contingent support during problem solving,” said Carr. She added that interventions that are designed to address behavior issues in the child-parent relationship may benefit from addressing this aspect of the dynamic.

Carr, A., & Pike, A. (2011, October 17). Maternal Scaffolding Behavior: Links With Parenting Style and Maternal Education. Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0025888

© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Savannah


    October 22nd, 2011 at 5:22 AM

    Yay for the great moms out there!
    But there is that fine line that you cen’t cross between trying to motivate your child and trying to get them to do something that they have absolutely no interest in or that is going to be too challenging for them.
    You have to find that perfect balance in order for them to experience the greatest success.

  • cherie m

    cherie m

    October 23rd, 2011 at 5:28 AM

    So I am that mom who has always been behind the scenes giving her kids a little push here and there when I felt like they needed it. And there wer those of you out there who looked down on me and told me that the kids should make their own choices, that I needed to stay out of it. So as a result of this study I just want to go on record saying: see? I told you so! They need a littke guidance every now and then, a nudge in the right direction. I am not some gangster mom, just one who is concerned and who wants to give her kids the support that they need to achieve all that they can be. And now I feel a little more justified in doing so.



    October 23rd, 2011 at 5:38 AM

    “As the child’s competency for the task grows, the mother can gradually withdraw her help, enabling the child to perform more and more of the task independently.”

    This sounds like a parent teaching his/her child to ride a bicycle.We hold them a little and provide support but slowly we let go and they can ride it themselves.What a wonderful process if you ask me.This is how we should help our children and is the best method.

    Giving all the help all the time or providing no help at all both seem unfair and will be detrimental to the child’s development.



    October 24th, 2011 at 12:14 PM

    Mother really is the first teacher and time and again studies have indicated that an educated mother is a lot better for a child than one that isn’t and this message needs to be resonating in the developing countries.

    Educating women and girls is not just educating them but also preparing better mothers so that their children can be educated and basically developed in a much better way.

  • Rhonda


    November 3rd, 2011 at 1:31 PM

    I love the fact they used the image of scaffolding. The wisest thing I ever heard when my girls were little was that I was raising adults not children. I took some time to really wrap my thinking around that and it really changed the way I did things and stopped doing things. They are now 19,16,and 13 and I am very proud of the way they are on the way to be productive humans in this world of ours. We still have our bumps along the way, but I know in the long run they will succeed at whatever they choose, because I am teaching them to find their way.

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