Key Concepts

Introduction

Parenting, child-rearing, care-giving, and parenting education are key concepts that can impact child outcomes.  Therefore, it is imperative to provide definitions of each concept before learning about “parenting.” I invite you to critically think about each concept and analyze how the information within this book can be applied to each of these words.

A photo of a family at a student graduation
Figure 1. A family celebrating graduation.

Parenting is a process of raising, promoting, and supporting the physical, emotional, social, and cognitive development of a child to adulthood and across the lifespan. [1]

Child-rearing is oftentimes defined interchangeably with parenting.  However, there are many non-parental figures (e.g., society, day care providers, teachers, governments) who offer similar types of care without being a child’s legal “parent.” [2]

Care-giving is the act of assuming the main responsibilities for someone who cannot provide all basic needs for oneself.  Examples might include a parent, day care provider, trained professional, or family member. [3]

Parenting education is a process that can help caregivers (and prospective caregivers) understand how to provide developmentally-appropriate care in a safe, loving, nurturing, and stable environment that contributes to a child’s positive health and well-being.  Successful parenting education provides participants with individualized, culturally-relevant knowledge, resources, strategies, tools, networking support, and guidance regarding best-practice approaches to child-rearing.  The goals of parenting education include caregivers learning and implementing this information to facilitate a child’s long-term, positive, emotional, social, physical, and cognitive development. [4]

Research continually shows that parenting practices can influence a child’s social, emotional, and intellectual development, especially during the early years.[5] Studies also demonstrate that parenting practices can impact a child’s behavioral health, ability to focus (attention), and enhanced sense of security. [6]

Further, parenting processes and outcomes can be influenced by factors such as personality, biology, temperament, and the unique experiences of a parent and a child.  Therefore, these processes should be examined within the contexts of social, economic, historical, and psychological factors related to individuals, families, communities, and cultures. [7]

Across the world, a variety of definitions exist for many topics concerning “parenting” and “family.” For instance, the European Court of Human Rights jurisprudence recommends that “family” be defined on culturally-sensitive and case-by-case bases by giving consideration to the personal ties between the persons concerned.[8]

Further, it is fairly-well agreed upon that those who work with children and families embrace, respect, and understand that subjective definitions of these concepts (a) exist within and between individuals, cultures, and organizations (e.g., UNICEF, U.S. Census Bureau, etc.), (b) can change over time, and (c) are based on personal experiences, views, values, beliefs, historical time and place, culture, etc.[9]

Throughout this entire book, it should be assumed that

the following terms are defined as follows:

Parent: The words, “family member,” “primary caregiver,” and/or “parent” will be used interchangeably to denote the diverse groups of individuals who are primarily responsible for rearing a child. These terms can include, but are not limited to, extended family members, guardians, fictive kin, foster families, close friends, those bonded by legal and/or biological ties, etc.

Family: Similarly, the words, “family” and “families” will be used to signify the diverse social and cultural constructions that may be derived from (a) values, beliefs, or relationship bonds (e.g., cohabitation), (b) blood, marriage, or legal ties (e.g., adoption), (c) social bonds (e.g., fostering, nurturing, or economic ties), and (d) decision-making related to day-to-day functioning[10] “Family” may include, but is not limited to, extended family members, guardians, fictive kin, foster families, close friends, those joined by legal or biological ties, etc.


  1. Brooks, J. B. (2012).  The process of parenting: Ninth edition. McGraw-Hill Higher Education.
  2. Abrahan, H. (2017).  A family is what you make it? Legal recognition and regulation of multiple parents. American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law, 25(4) https://ssrn.com/abstract=2925886
  3. US Legal. (n.d.).  Primary-caregiver doctrine law and legal definition. Retrieved from https://definitions.uslegal.com/p/primary-caregiver-doctrine/
  4. Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2019).  Parent Education to Strengthen Families and Prevent Child Maltreatment. Issue Briefs https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/issue-briefs/parented/
  5. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2016). Parenting Matters: Supporting Parents of Children Ages 0-8. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/21868.
  6. Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2019). Parent Education to Strengthen Families and Prevent Child Maltreatment. Issue Briefs https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/issue-briefs/parented/
  7. Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2019). Parent Education to Strengthen Families and Prevent Child Maltreatment. Issue Briefs https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/issue-briefs/parented/
  8. UNICEF. (2016) Refugee and Migrant Crisis in Europe: The Right of the Child to Family Reunification. Advocacy Brief.  Retrieved from https://www.unicef.org/eca/sites/unicef.org.eca/files/ADVOCACY_BRIEF_Family_Reunification_13_10_15.pdf
  9. https://courses.lumenlearning.com/wm-introductiontosociology/chapter/defining-family/
  10. Sharma R. (2013). The Family and Family Structure Classification Redefined for the Current Times. Journal of family medicine and primary care2(4), 306–310. https://doi.org/10.4103/2249-4863.123774

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