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Parenting Skills with Conduct Disordered Pre-Adolescents
Parenting Skills with Conduct Disordered Pre-Adolescents

Section 17
Influences on Early Childhood Behavioral Problems

CEU Question 17 | CE Test | Table of Contents | Parenting
Counselor CEUs, Psychologist CEs, Social Worker CEUs, MFT CEUs, Nurse CEUs

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 Childhood Behavioral Parenting psychology continuing educationimportant influences on child adjustment, and that the "best" style of parenting may differ for children with different temperaments.

Childhood behavioral problems have been defined in many different ways, but in the context of this article, they refer to "acting-out" behaviors such as aggressive behavior and noncompliance. The prevalence of children's behavioral problems is concerningly high, with rates of about 15-20 per cent being recorded (Prior et al. 2000; Zubrick et al. 2000). Rates of problems seem to vary by gender, particularly in middle childhood to adolescence, with boys exhibiting more behavioral problems than girls. Once entrenched, behavioral problems are likely to continue through childhood and adolescence and into adulthood. For example, aggressive behavior in childhood is associated with adolescent delinquency and criminality (Loeber et al. 1991; Prior et al. 2000).

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.

Child temperament
Child temperament refers to constitutionally-based individual differences in behavioral style that are visible from early childhood (Rothbart and Bates 1998). Three broad aspects of temperament are gaining wide acceptance. Negative reactivity refers to high-intensity negative reactions such as irritability, whining and whingeing.

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.

The aspects of child temperament that seem to be risk factors for the development of childhood behavioral problems are high negative reactivity and low persistence (Azar 1995; Prior et al 2000; Rothbart and Bates 1998). Inhibition (a tendency to withdraw from novelty) may reduce the likelihood of the development of childhood aggressive behavior (Rothbart and Bates 1998). In the study reported here the focus is on the influence of negative reactivity and inhibition on the development of behavioral problems.

Three key aspects of parenting relevant to child behavioral problems are punishment, warmth, and inductive reasoning.

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
Research has shown that both a child's temperament and the parenting s/he receives are important in the development of behavioral problems. However, little research has examined whether a particular parenting style has the same effect on all children, or whether it differs according to the child's temperament. The concept of "goodness of fit" (Thomas et al. 1968) suggests, for example, that a child with a negative, reactive temperament whose parent uses harsh punishment may be more likely to develop behavioral problems than the same child with a parent who uses inductive reasoning. For example, Crockenberg (1987) found that irritable infants with angry and punitive adolescent mothers were more likely than less irritable infants to be angry and non-compliant at two years of age. And in a study of five to six year-olds, Paterson and Sanson (1999) found that temperamental inflexibility (including negative reactivity) and punitive parenting predicted parent-reported behavioral problems.

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.

Personal Reflection Exercise #3
The preceding section contained information about influences on early childhood behavioral problems.  Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 17
What two factors are implicated in the development of behavioral problems? Record the letter of the correct answer the CE Test.

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