Parenting Style as a Mediator between Children’s Negative Emotionality and Problematic Behavior in Early Childhood
Parenting style is of particular interest in the negative emotional development leading to difficult behavior in children. This paper evaluates research focused on the impact parenting has on children’s negative behavior. The objective was to determine the affects of authoritative and authoritarian parenting as it relates to negative behavior in children. Comparisons will be made to several studies showing similar results. The objective, procedures and results will be evaluated to determine the strength of the research conducted and the validity of the study. Even with limitations, the research does in fact support that authoritative parenting – which is firm but loving – is more effective at helping children not act out than is authoritarian parenting, which emphasizes compliance and conformity.
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Anyone who has ever spent time with preschool children knows that the lives of such young people are marked both by negative emotions and by acting out (often described as “temper tantrums”). Both are typical and age appropriate. However, also age appropriate to the preschool cohort is the need to begin to learn how to regulate their behavior. While young children have some ability to be self-regulating (as opposed to infants), they lack the cognitive and emotional skills to be able to do so on their own in any consistent matter. Thus one of the tasks of parenting preschool-aged children is to help them learn to separate negative emotions from negative actions.
Key to this process is teaching children that negative emotions are perfectly acceptable. The parenting style that is best geared to teaching both aspects of this – that negative emotions are natural but that negative acting out is not acceptable – is the authoritative parenting style. In contrast, an authoritarian parenting style can be fundamentally harmful to the process of teaching young children to honor but contain their negative emotions such as anger, fear, and dislike.
Authoritarian parenting is marked by the parents’ having very high expectations of compliance to the rules that they put into place and a high level of conformity to the parents’ beliefs. Authoritarian parents tend to give commands rather than explanations. Authoritative parents also set standards and hold expectations for their children but also allow an appropriate amount of independence on the part of the child and allows for questioning and discussion.
Statement of the problem
The problem explored in by the research focused on here is how may parents help young children learn how to separate their negative emotions (especially anger and frustration, both very common – and entirely acceptable – emotions at this stage of life). Parents may often find themselves both angry and frustrated at the child who turns around and bites a friend on the playground or who collapses onto the grocery store floor when denied an especially sugary treat and respond in much the same way as their children – yelling back and losing their own tempers. This is hardly an effective response.
The most effective response, according to the research examined here, is for parents to help their children understand their emotions, put words to those emotions, and to find appropriate ways to act out their emotions – perhaps by tearing paper into small pieces, building up towers of blocks and knocking them over, etc. Parents who help their children separate negative emotions from negative actions are authoritative, allowing children to ask questions and receive honest answers. Parents who insist on compliance and conformity tend to exacerbate their children’s negative behavior.
The hypothesis that this paper examines is the following: An authoritative parenting style helps reduce negative behaviors in preschool children that are associated with negative emotions.
The research summarized here fully supports the idea that parents using an authoritative style are more successful at helping their children reduce their negative behaviors than are parents using an authoritarian style. Paulessen-Hoogeboom et al (2008) found that while young children will act out in negative ways at times regardless of parenting style (this is only to be expected at this developmental stage), authoritative parenting helped reduced this behavior. In other words, “that the relations between child negative emotionality and internalizing and externalizing behaviors were partially mediated by mothers’ authoritative parenting style” (p. 209).
Moreover, when the authors used confirmatory factor analysis to decontaminate possible overlap in item content between measures assessing temperament and problematic behavior, the association between negative emotionality and internalizing behavior was fully mediated by authoritative parenting. (p.209)
The researchers used the following definition for authoritative parenting: “Authoritative parenting is characterized by a combination of high warmth, firm but fair control, and the use of explanations and reasoning” (p. 212). They observed 98 male and 98 female children from two and a half to four years in Dutch daycare centers. They assessed the parents’ style of interaction with their children and determined how effective authoritarian and authoritative parents were in terms of helping their children disconnect negative emotions from negative “externalization”. They found that there was a statistically positive correlation between authoritative parenting and children’s ability to disconnect negative feelings from negative actions.
The study attempts to provide insight by measuring maternal perception of their children as it relates to their problematic behaviors both internal and external. In an effort to fill in gaps that exist in previous research studies, the focus was on 3 year old toddlers. In collaboration with child health centers in Holland, 196 preschool children and their mother were randomly selected through a letter distributed to 750 families from the health center. The researchers set out to find direct associations on negative emotions and higher levels of negative emotionality based on authoritarian parenting compared to authoritative parenting. The study intended to indirectly relate problematic behavior to the type of parenting style. Lastly, they wanted to show the association between decreased levels of SES in relation to the level of authoritative parenting and the internalizing and externalizing behaviors. (Figure 1, 2008)
Paulessen-Hoogeboom et al (2008) present us with a number of key findings that have such pervasive implications for parenting. All toddlers engage in behaviors such as biting, hitting, screaming, or otherwise acting out. Such behaviors arise as a result of negative emotions. Parents often find these behaviors hard to deal with – along with other children and other caregivers. The response by others in the children’s world may be highly negative itself and may thus provoke additional negative feelings, which in turn provoke additional negative behaviors. This is a cycle that is bad for all concerned.
Paulessen-Hoogeboom et al (2008) further validated the finding of others that an authoritarian parenting style is aimed at getting children to stop these negative behaviors by commanding them to follow parental orders. However, they also found, such a parenting style ignores the underlying emotions and so is ineffective in preventing the negative behaviors involved. Authoritative parents talk with their children about these emotions, help them understand that such emotions are natural and appropriate, and that there are better ways to express these feelings that will not be seen as negative by others. It is this key part – acknowledging emotions while helping children disconnect emotions from actions – that makes authoritative parenting effective in reducing negative actions.
In other words, parents and young children can work together (with the far greater amount of work being done by the parents, of course) to create a positive feedback system in which children learn to value their emotions while moderating their behavior.
The next important finding by Paulessen-Hoogeboom et al (2008) was that whatever elements of “personality” or “temperament” are innate, any inborn tendency to act out negatively is far less important than parenting style in terms of the behavior of children. IN other words, Paulessen-Hoogeboom et al (2008) found that authoritative parenting can overcome innate tendencies in children to act out. This is a very important finding for parents and other caregivers.
In this longitudinal study, research showed that while young children will act out in negative ways at times regardless of parenting style authoritative parenting helped reduced this behavior. (Paulessen-Hoogeboom, et al, 2008) Using correlation and covariance showed in preliminary analysis there was no significant differences in the mean scores based on gender or birth-order variables. Using a variety of statistical analysis tools including chi-square, AGFI to measure the amount of variance and covariance the results indicated a good fit. The adjusted model, which omitted certain paths, resulted in removing the authoritarian parenting from the model. This revealed a negative association between emotionality and maternal authoritative parenting. (Figure 2, 2008)
The study sets out to determine possible cause and link to children’s negativity emotionality and problematic behavior through a sample drawn from the general population. There was evidence that a child’s negative emotions and problematic behavior is related to parenting and is mediated by authoritative parenting from the maternal parent.
This research is echoed by others and in fact substantiates the body of research in this area. Similar findings were reported by Kochanska, Murray, & Coy (1997) found that mothers who scored high on sensitivity measures and responded quickly to requests made by their toddlers (that is, mothers who used an authoritative parenting style) were effective in limiting negative behavior on the part of their children. Both sensitivity and speed in responding to requests were made in response to children’s expressing negative emotions in words: The maternal response emphasized and supported the children’s use of verbal expression rather than physical acting out when the child felt negative emotions.
In this longitudinal study, one year after the researchers initially observed the toddlers, they found that the children rated higher on cooperativeness and prosocial behavior than did children who had parents with a less responsive style.
Kochanska, Murray, & Coy (1997) found that both outgoing and shy toddlers benefited from a responsive but firm parenting style. This finding is important because it suggests that parenting style can at least in some measure trump temperament or personality, or “Different socialization experiences can predict the same developmental outcomes for children with different predispositions, and a given socialization experience can predict divergent developmental for different children.”
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Another study that that the groundwork for the work by Paulessen-Hoogeboom etal was Clark & Ladd (2000). In observing kindergarten-aged children and their mothers, they assessed the level of mutual warmth, happiness, reciprocity, and engagement. (They used these terms to operationalize the concept of authoritative parenting.) They found that children and mothers who scored high on all of these measures (and who thus met the requirements for an authoritative family) scored much higher on positive behavior regardless of internal emotional state. Both teachers and peers described these children as being more empathetic, more socially accepting and acceptable, as having more friends, and as having more harmonious relationships with both other children and adults.
The body of research in this area was confirmed and consolidated by Paulessen-Hoogeboom et al (2008). All three of these studies find clear, significantly statistical results between an authoritative parenting style and the ability of young children to contain negative emotions in an appropriate way. Paulessen-Hoogeboom et al (2008) summarized their findings:
The finding that an authoritative parenting style mediates the relations between negative emotionality and problematic behaviors underscores the importance of providing effective parenting support to parents who have difficulties in dealing with their young child’s negative emotionality on a daily basis.
When parents can be trained and encouraged to react to their children’s negative emotionality in an adaptive way, parent-child interactions may become more enjoyable, thereby reducing the occurrence of problematic behaviors and preventing more serious behavioral problems later in life (Campbell, 1995; Patterson, 1982). We note that even in general population samples, a substantial percentage of children (up to 10%) may develop internalizing- and externalizing-behavior problems in the clinical range. (p. 226)
In any research, you must consider any limitations that may affect the results of the study. In this study, there were several limitations to be noted. The correlation design set limits on the causal interpretation, some findings may be accounted for based on genetics, there was a not a diversity in socioeconomic backgrounds and the study only focused on one parent. The findings also revealed a significant association between increased negative emotionality associated with less supportive parenting and was more prevalent in lower socioeconomic backgrounds. (Paulussen-Hoogeboom, Stams, Hermanns, & Peetsma, 2007).
The findings of Paulessen-Hoogeboom et al (2008) reveal that young children can be helped by authoritative parenting to disengage negative emotions from negative behavior. This is a lesson that has immense value for the entire lifespan. Through authoritative parenting, mothers were able to help them understand that such emotions are natural and appropriate, and that there are better ways to express these feelings that will not be seen as negative by others. These findings are consistent with other studies that have been done. The study is not without limitation but still successfully supports the hypothesis presented.
Grazyna Kochanska,Kathleen Murray,&Katherine C Coy.(1997). Inhibitory control as a contributor to conscience in childhood: From toddler to early school age.Child Development,68(2),263-277. Retrieved February 23, 2010, from Career and Technical Education. (Document ID:12543990).
Karen E Clark,&Gary W Ladd.(2000). Connectedness and autonomy support in parent-child relationships: Links to children’s socioemotional orientation and peer relationships.Developmental Psychology,36(4),485-498. Retrieved February 23, 2010, from Research Library. (Document ID:56531644).
Marja C Paulussen-Hoogeboom,Geert Jan J M Stams,Jo M A Hermanns,&Thea T D Peetsma.(2007). Child Negative Emotionality and Parenting From Infancy to Preschool: A Meta-Analytic Review.Developmental Psychology,43(2),438. Retrieved February 23, 2010, from Research Library. (Document ID:1249797641).
Paulussen-Hoogeboom,M.,Stams,G.,Hermanns,J.,Peetsma,T.,&van den Wittenboer,G..(2008). Parenting Style as a Mediator Between Children’s Negative Emotionality and Problematic Behavior in Early Childhood.The Journal of Genetic Psychology,169(3),209-26. Retrieved February 23, 2010, from Research Library. (Document ID:1548809441).
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