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What role do child temperament and parenting style play in the development of later behavioral and emotional problems? Recent findings from the Social Development Project suggest that both factors are important influences on child adjustment, and that the "best" style of parenting may differ for children with different temperaments.
Behavioral problems have been notoriously difficult to treat and there is an increasing emphasis on prevention (that is, intervening before problems are detected) and early intervention (that is, intervening at early signs of difficulties) to avoid the development and entrenchment of such problems.
In order to identify children at risk of difficulties, and to intervene effectively, an understanding of the factors influencing the development of children's behavioral problems is vital. Two of the main factors implicated in the development of behavioral problems are child temperament and parenting. Most research has investigated the influence of child temperament and parenting separately but there is increasing evidence that the interaction between the two may be particularly important. In the section that follows, these key constructs are defined and their role in children's development outlined.
Approach/inhibition describes the tendency of a child to approach novel situations and people, or conversely to withdraw and be wary. Persistence refers to the ability to stick at one task for some time and sustain organized play.
Punishment refers to the use of harsh, high-intensity disciplinary strategies, with the parent attempting to assert power over the child through direct commands and threats, or physical punishment. This style of parenting has been associated with later child aggressive behavior and noncompliance (Booth et al. 1994; Patterson et al. 1989; Pettit and Bates 1989).
Parental warmth includes the expression of verbal and physical affection towards the child, as well as praise and acceptance. Low parental warmth (criticism, disapproval and rejection of the child) has also been associated with childhood aggressive behavior and noncompliance (Booth et al. 1994; Chamberlain and Patterson 1995; Patterson et al. 1989). In contrast, high warmth has been linked to positive adjustment (Baumrind 1966; Booth et al. 1994).
Inductive reasoning refers to parents explaining consequences of misbehavior to a child, setting limits on behavior, and allowing child input into disciplinary decisions. High levels of inductive reasoning also have been associated with children's positive social adjustment (Chamberlain and Patterson 1995; Hart et al. 1992), whereas low levels might be expected to predict behavioral problems such as aggressive behavior and noncompliance.
Match between temperament and parenting
There is continuing debate about the optimal ways of measuring temperament and parenting. Many studies have relied on parental report of their style of parenting and also of their child's temperament. There are obvious opportunities for bias in such reports. Fine-grained observations of parents and children in situations which elicit a range of reactions from both of them offer valuable insights into the processes of parent-child interaction. In this study, questionnaire and detailed observational data were used.
- Hemphill, Sheryl & Ann Sanson; Matching parenting to child temperament; Family Matters; Winter 2001; Issue 59.
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