Healthcare Training Institute - Quality Education since 1979
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This study investigated the protective or exacerbating effects of temperament on the relation between parenting and adjustment problems in children of divorce. The focus was on two negative parenting variables representing the dimensions of warmth and control, parental rejection (lack of warmth) and inconsistent discipline, which are consistently associated with adjustment problems in general, as well as in divorce samples (e.g., Hetherington & Camara, 1984; Peterson & Zill, 1986). Temperament was studied because there is increasing interest in transactions between temperament and socialization experiences (Reiss & Price, 1996) and attention to tailoring parenting programs to address temperament differences in children (e.g., Sheeber & Johnson, 1994). This study investigated whether the relation between children's adjustment and maternal rejection and inconsistent discipline would depend on children's temperament.
Direct Effects of Parenting and Temperament: Consistent with previous findings, parenting was directly related to children's depression and conduct problems (Loeber & Stouthamer-Loeber, 1986; Maccoby & Martin, 1983). Parental rejection may lead to insecurity or low self-esteem in children, and inconsistent discipline might result in inconsistent behavioral contingencies, an unpredictable environment, and a reduced sense of control, which in turn might increase the likelihood of adjustment problems. Temperament was also directly associated with adjustment problems as in previous studies (Rothbart & Bates, 1998). Numerous mechanisms are posited for the association between temperament and adjustment problems. For example, temperament may operate as a diathesis, predisposing an individual to develop adjustment problems under conditions of stress. Temperament may also shape an individual's environment or experiences by influencing the settings one chooses or by biasing information processing (Rothbart & Bates, 1998).
It is important to note that the effect of each of the temperament variables is a unique effect, controlling for the parenting variables. These findings are consistent with previous findings that both parenting and temperament independently predict children's adjustment in divorce samples (e.g., Hetherington, 1989; Kurdek, 1988), as well as in nondivorce samples (e.g., Bates et al., 1998; Colder et al., 1997; Smith & Prior, 1995). The variables appear to have additive effects in predicting children's symptoms following divorce, highlighting the importance of taking both parenting behaviors and child characteristics into account when predicting children's adjustment (Sanson & Rothbart, 1995).
Although there are main effects of the parenting and temperament variables, the presence of significant interaction effects suggests that some of the effects of the parenting variables may depend on child temperament characteristics. However, numerous nonsignificant interaction effects suggest that the direct, additive effects of parenting and temperament on adjustment problems may be more salient than interaction effects in predicting children's adjustment problems.
Parenting and Temperament Interactions: Investigation of interaction effects can help differentiate the children most strongly affected by negative parenting, which may help improve the prediction of children's adjustment problems and the identification of children at greatest risk for developing adjustment problems. Six interactions between the three temperament and two parenting dimensions were proposed and tested using cross-reporter measures of the constructs. The use of measures that combined both mother and child report of the constructs minimized the likelihood that the significant interactions were simply due to shared method variance.
Positive emotionality moderated the relations between rejection and both depression and conduct problems. Rejection was more strongly related to adjustment problems for children who were low in positive emotionality than those high in positive emotionality. Positive emotionality appears to operate as a protective factor, buffering the impact of maternal rejection. Children high in positive emotionality may be better able to focus on positive aspects of their environment and to maintain positive affect in the presence of parental rejection, which may result in greater self-esteem or satisfaction with their life. In addition, children high in positive emotionality may have more positive interactions or supportive relationships with others that might further mitigate the impact of parental rejection. Several studies have shown that positive temperament dimensions such as approach, adaptability, and attention control predict lower adjustment problems or positive adjustment (e.g., Eisenberg et al., 1997; Rubin, Coplan, Fox, & Calkins, 1995; Wertlieb, Weigel, Springer, & Feldstein, 1987) and interact with other risk factors (e.g., Werner & Smith, 1982; Wertlieb et al., 1987). For example, activity level and social responsiveness or approach discriminated resilient versus nonresilient children in a sample of children exposed to multiple risk factors (Werner & Smith, 1982). Because this is the first study to document protective effects of positive emotionality in interaction with parenting, replication of these findings is important. If the protective effects are replicated, future research should examine the mechanisms that explain this protective effect.
Impulsivity interacted with inconsistent discipline to predict both depression and conduct problems. As expected, inconsistent discipline was more strongly related to adjustment problems for children who were high in impulsivity. Impulsive children may be more vulnerable to the effects of parental inconsistency in enforcing limits because, unlike less impulsive children, they have difficulty regulating their emotions and behaviors on their own. For impulsive children, parental control may play a particularly important role in facilitating self-regulation, without which impulsive children may be at greater risk for developing conduct problems. In addition, the interaction of impulsivity and inconsistent discipline also predicted depression such that inconsistent discipline was more strongly related to depression for children high in impulsivity. Impulsivity generally has not been found to be directly related to depression, but rather has been identified as a specific predictor of externalizing problems (cf. Rothbart & Bates, 1998). It is possible that for highly impulsive children inconsistent parenting is related to greater difficulty with behavioral regulation or compliance, which may in turn lead to more aversive interactions with others. Highly impulsive children may engender more negative interactions with parents, teachers, peers, and their environment, which can lead to low self-esteem, withdrawal from social interactions, and depression. None of the Parenting x Negative Emotionality interactions were significant. Thus, although negative emotionality uniquely predicted depression, it did not appear to exacerbate the effects of rejection or inconsistent discipline on children's adjustment problems. Negative emotionality has been identified as a general risk factor for adjustment problems in children (Rothbart & Bates, 1998) and appears to predict adjustment problems independently of negative parenting. This pattern of results may have been related to the use of a general negative affect measure in this study. It is possible that specific dimensions of negative emotionality would interact differently with parenting, thus masking the presence of effects for a general dimension. For example, the measure of general negative emotionality used in this study includes dimensions of fear and frustration. Interactions between children's fearfulness and parental rejection may be more likely to predict depression, whereas the frustration dimension may interact with rejection and inconsistent discipline to predict conduct problems. There was a trend toward significance in the interaction between negative emotionality and rejection in predicting depression that lends support to this possibility. With more specific measures, interactions between dimensions of negative emotionality and parenting might emerge. Such specificity in the prediction of adjustment problems should be explored in the future.
The moderating effects of temperament may apply to other risk or protective factors as well. For example, Wertlieb et al. (1987) found that temperament dimensions of distractibility, threshold, and approach moderated the relation between stressful life events and adjustment problems in children. Another study investigated the interaction between temperament and coping, finding that the coping efforts of children high in adaptability and flexibility were more effective in reducing anxiety than the coping efforts of children low in adaptability and flexibility (Lengua & Sandler, 1996). Further tests of the interactions between temperament and risk or protective factors may increase our understanding of which children are most vulnerable or resilient in high-risk situations.
Summary and Implications
The impact of family structure on the health of children: Effects of divorce
- Anderson J. (2014). The impact of family structure on the health of children: Effects of divorce. The Linacre quarterly, 81(4), 378–387. doi:10.1179/0024363914Z.00000000087.
Reflection Exercise #1