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The Power of Parental Acceptance

Over seventy years ago, Dr. Carl Rogers first presented his revolutionary theory of unconditional positive regard at a conference for educators and psychologists at the University of Minnesota (Raskin, Rogers & Witty, 2011). Dr. Rogers hypothesized that acceptance was the basis for mental health and rejection was the basis for psychological disturbances. Accepting your child as they are is one of the most powerful influences on a child’s emotional well-being. Children who are raised in an environment where they feel total acceptance for who they are and how they feel at any given time, are more likely to feel loved and valued and internalize that feeling of self acceptance. You might be reading this and thinking “wait does this mean my kid can do whatever they want?” No! Accepting your child and their FEELINGS is not the same as accepting BEHAVIOURS. At Connecting Parents and Children we counsel parents on how to incorporate acceptance into the parent child relationship while managing behaviours and setting reasonable limits at the same time.

A child’s concept of self is shaped through their relationship with their primary caregiver. Most parents, if not all profess to love their children – however we know simply loving children is not enough. Children need to be loved unconditionally for who they are in order to develop into healthy, fully functioning adults. Parental acceptance allows the child to feel valued which in turn helps to develop a more caring attitude toward him or herself leading to an internalization of self worth. Counselling parents on how to use the Rogerian principle of unconditional positive regard provides them with an additional parenting strategy, while promoting a way of relating that encourages optimal development of a healthy sense of self worth and a more solid parental foundation for the adolescent years.

The premise of this approach is that a child’s self concept emerges through his/her interaction with caregivers. In ideal conditions a child’s feelings should be fully accepted and respected by their caretakers, although certain behaviours not permitted (Fernald, 2000). Research has demonstrated a strong association between parental rejection and children’s psychopathology (Coleman , 1956). Rejection of a child’s feelings not only hurts the child’s concept of self, but also serves to undermine the feelings of relatedness the child has for his or her parents as well as results in a sense of alienation from the child’s authentic self (Dwairy, 2009). Children learn that some parts of their selves are best rejected and repressed or erased from their consciousness (Winnicott, 1965). Getting children to behave based on parental acceptance works in the short term but can have damaging long term consequences. Children parented in this way are more likely to feel stressed and conflicted by the internalization of parental expectations, exhibit a rigid and low quality performance in the domain in which the parents regard was contingent, have an overall poor sense of well being, and display a negative affect in relation to themselves; children who received conditional approval were more likely to act as their parents wanted but the compliance came at a steep price. These children tended to resent and dislike their parents, reporting their happiness after achieving something was short lived, and that they often felt guilty and ashamed (Assor & Roth, 2007). Lack of parental emotional support during childhood was associated with increased levels of depressive symptoms and chronic health problems in childhood (Shaw et al., 2004). Cross-cultural research has found that in various cultures, children who were rejected by their parents were more aggressive and had a more negative view of the world than the non-rejected children (Rohner, 1975). Parental rejection has consistent negative effects on the psychological well being of children across race, ethnicity and culture constituting a dangerous factor affecting people’s mental health (Rohner, 1975).

Research by Shaw, Krause, Chatters, Connell and Ingersoll-Dayton (2004) explored the relationship between receiving parental emotional support early in life and an individual’s physical and mental health in adulthood. Parental emotional support was defined as gestures of caring, acceptance and assistance expressed by a parent toward a child. A study by Ross, Morowsky and Goldsteen (1990) found that adolescents who rated their parents high on parental support felt cared for, loved and valued which they then internalized as a feeling of self worth. Wickrama, Lorenz and Conger (1997) reported higher parental support was associated with few psychological and physical problems in adolescence.

Neuroscience research on the developing brain has shown the mind develops within the context of relationship. The parent child relationship is the most significant environment in a young child’s life and a positive parental influence can have a profound impact on brain development. Further, coherent interpersonal relationships have the power to produce coherent neural integration within the child, which is at the root of adaptive self-regulation (Siegel, 2001). Neurobiological research shows us that parenting in this accepting way builds brains, and that neural connections that are necessary for healthy emotional functioning are created with positive, nurturing experiences between the parent and child.

At Connecting Parents and Children we can show you how to create a parental connection that focuses on acceptance of who the child is, not how they behave, creating an optimal relationship for the child to grow and realize his or her full potential.


Assor, Avi & Roth, Guy. (2007). The harmful effects of parental conditional regard. Scientific Annals of the Psychological Society of Northern Greece, 5. Retrieved from

Coleman, J.C. (1956). Abnormal psychology and modern life. New York: Scott Foresman.

Dwairy, Marwan. (2009). Parental acceptance-rejection: a fourth cross-cultural research on parenting and psychological adjustment of children. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 19(1).

Fernald, P.S. (2000). Carl Rogers: Body-centered counselor. Journal of Counseling & Development, 78 (2).

Raskin, R., Rogers, C. & Witty M.C. (2011). Client-centered therapy. In R. Corsini & D. Wedding (Eds.), Current psychotherapies (9th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole, Cengage Learning.

Rogers, C. (1959) A theory of therapy, personality and interpersonal relationships, as developed in the client-centered framework. In S. Koch (Ed.), Psychology: A study of a science. (pp. 184-256). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Rogers, Carl R. (1979). The foundations of the person-centered approach. Education 1000(2).

Rogers, Carl, R. (1992). The necessary and sufficient conditions of therapeutic personality change. Journal of Consulting & Clinical Psychology, 60(6).

Rogers, Carl, R. (1995). What understanding and acceptance means to me. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 35 (4). Rohner, R.P. (1975). They love me, they love me not: A worldwide study of the effects of parental acceptance and rejection. New Haven, CT: HRAF Press.

Ross, C. E., Mirowsky, J., & Goldsteen, K. (1990). The impact of the family on health: The decade in review. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 52, 1059-1078.

Shaw, B. A., Krause, N., Chatters, L. M., Connell, C. M., & Ingersoll-Dayton, B. (2004). Emotional support from parents early in life, aging, and health. Psychology and Aging, 19, 4-12.

Siegel, Daniel. (2001). Toward an interpersonal neurobiology of the developing mind: Attachment relationships, “mindsight”, and neural integration. Infant Mental Health Journal, 22(1-2).

Wickrama, K. A. S., Lorenz, F. O., & Conger, R. D. (1997). Parental support and adolescent physical health status: A latent growth curve analysis. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 38, 149-163.

Winnicott, D.W. (1965). The maturational processes and the facilitating environment: Studies in the theory of emotional development. New York: International Universities Press.

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