Sociologist Jessica McCrory Calarco of Indiana University found working-class parents coached their children on how to avoid problems, often through finding a solution on their own and by being polite and deferential to authority figures. Middle-class parents were more likely to encourage their children to ask questions or ask for help.
Calarco studied the interactions among parents, children and teachers during the students' fourth- and fifth-grade years at a public elementary school. Her school observations took place at least twice a week, and then she interviewed the students and parents the summer following their fifth-grade year.
She said both working-class and middle-class parents were "relentless" when it came to teaching their children important lessons -- some even involved role-playing. The students were very receptive.
"Even very shy middle-class children learned to feel comfortable approaching teachers with questions, and recognized the benefits of doing so, working-class children instead worried about making teachers mad or angry if they asked for help at the wrong time or in the wrong way, and also felt that others would judge them as incompetent or not smart if they asked for help," Calarco said in a statement. "These differences, in turn, seem to stem not from differences in how teachers responded to students -- when working-class students did ask questions, teachers welcomed and readily addressed these requests -- but from differences in the skills, strategies and orientations that children learn from their parents at home."
The findings were presented at American Sociological Association's annual meeting in Denver.