Which came first: harsh parenting techniques or behavioral problems in the children? It may seem like a chicken and egg problem. A new study published in child development finds that there is a reciprocal relationship between parenting style and child behaviors, suggesting that modifying parenting behavior could greatly help children with social-emotional difficulties.
Having social-emotional behaviors in childhood is linked to increased risks of adverse effects later in life, such as mental health problems and delinquent behavior. It is imperative to understand the risk factors for the development of these social-emotional problems early, in order to make efforts to prevent them.
Tough parenting is one such risk factor and can include behaviors such as yelling and spanking. Patterson’s model of coercion views behavioral problems and maladaptive parenting as having a two-way relationship, one augmenting the other. Support for this model has been mixed, and this research seeks to explore the relationship further.
Lead author Lydia Gabriela Speyer and her colleagues used families from the UK who participated in a longitudinal study of children aged 0-17. Data were collected at 9 months, 3, 5, 7, 11, 14 and 17 years. . The current study used all children who participated in all waves up to age 7. Trained enumerators visited homes for data collection and measurements included a strengths and difficulties measurement and a conflict tactics measurement. These scales took into account the behaviors and parenting techniques of the children.
The results showed support for Patterson’s model of coercion. Harsh parenting was linked to hyperactivity at age 5 and emotional problems at age 7. Conduct problems in children at age 3 were associated with severe parenting at age 5, and hyperactivity and emotional problems at age 5 were both associated with severe parenting at age 7. This supports bidirectionality for hyperactivity and severe parenting, but does not support bidirectionality for conduct problems and severe parenting. Withdrawal tactics in parenting have been shown to be beneficial during the preschool years, but could lead to adverse effects between ages 5 and 7.
This research aimed to further explore the relationship between parenthood and socio-emotional problems in children. Despite the advantages of this study and its advantageous nuances, it also has limitations. First, the data collected was almost exclusively reported by mothers. In addition, the measures used to assess disciplinary parenting lacked reliability, which could skew the data.
“The results highlight not only that parenting practices such as spanking or yelling can have adverse effects on children’s mental health, but also that children with behavioral problems can put additional pressure on maternal parenting behaviors.” , the researchers concluded. “Therefore, it is crucial that interventions aimed at reducing the occurrence of social-emotional problems, and in particular the co-occurrence of emotional and conduct problems, focus on the whole family system and more specifically on the behaviors parents.”
“Furthermore, given that harsh parenting is still used, more attention should be paid to public health campaigns that can inform parents of the potential adverse effects of these parenting practices on the social-emotional development of children and equip them alternative and more adaptive parenting tools.”
The study, “The role of harsh parenting practices in socioeconomic development from early to middle childhood: an examination within the Millennial Cohort Studywas written by Lydia Gabriela Speyer, Yuzhan Hang, Hildigunnur Anna Hall and Aja Louise Murray.
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