I have been reading a book called Raising Self Reliant Children in a Self Indulgent World. The book points out that when children perceive themselves as personally capable and significant in their own world, they tend not to fall into the common modern negative behavior patterns: drugs, peer dependency etc. The book describes a balance between parental "control" -- setting firm boundaries, expectations of behavior etc and parental "autonomy" -- letting children practice good judgement, develop their own constructive ways of doing things. The balance between these two elements adds up to loving parenting. Of course, a lot of what we might do in day to day life is swing too far one way and then too far the other, but going TOO far into control or permissiveness is perceived by children as being unloving.
The part about children perceiving themselves as personally capable and significant was a big one for me to ponder in terms of unschooling. I realize that I went through many years of schooling where the messages were basically the opposite -- you are one of a crowd, your contribution is to stay quiet and compliant. So thinking about unschooling is helping me to see that I can let my homeschooling get a bit that way if I am not careful. The child has to fit some course plan or feel "behind" or different if he doesn't; he has to do what's expected not on his terms, but on someone else's. This doesn't contribute to feelings of competence and personal significance.
Now there might be another side to this? where meeting expectations DOES increase a feeling of personal capability? the book talks about this too, using the analogy of religions. Some religions or "cults" expect a high standard "be ye perfect..." but celebrate and foster any incremental step in the right direction, and focus more on the heart and the will's movement than on external "correctness". Other cults expect much, and it's fear-based. There is a lot of pressure, and negativity.
The story of the Colfaxes and the Wallaces can be read in terms of developing a sense of personal significance and competence. Also, there was an interesting article I read online about day care vs staying at home. It was from a feminist perspective and was flawed in its abortion view, which was contradictory to the rest, but that was a minor part of the argument which was that kids potentially lose something very important when they spent most of their days in a day care, even a very good one. She says they lose that sense of being an important, irreplaceable part of an organic ecology of relationships, that instead they gain an essentially consumeristic, economically-driven lifestyle where they pay to go to a place where everything is geared around them and there is no real partaking of the adult, "real" world. Everything is artificial and they are both marginalized (because they are not a real, organic, functioning part of the society) and also supremacized (because the daycare world revolves around the child-world in its scheduling, furniture, activities, everything).