Parents of Aggressive
and Withdrawn Children
Kenneth H. Rubin
Kim B. Burgess
University of Maryland at College Park
All children are essentially criminal.
— Diderot, 1713–1784
A child is a curly, dimpled lunatic.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1803–1882
Having children is like having a bowling ball installed in your brain.
— Martin Mull, 1978
A glance at the quotations offered above would lead one to assume that parenting is not a simple matter. For hundreds of years, writers of philosophy, fiction, and comedy have portrayed the child as a significantly stressful addition to the family unit. Nevertheless, it is also the case that the arrival of an infant usually brings a great deal of joy and enthusiastic anticipation. Or to offer yet another observation: “My mother had a great deal of trouble with me, but I think she enjoyed it” (Mark Twain, in Byrne, 1988, p. 301).
Most people would agree that children represent a challenge to their parents. Yet parents often meet the challenges with acceptance, warmth, responsiveness, and sensitivity. At times, however, parents meet the challenge of childrearing in unaccepting, unresponsive, insensitive, neglectful, and/or hostile ways. It may be that ecologically based stressors produce such negative childrearing behaviors (e.g., lack of financial resources, parental separation and divorce, lack of social support); or perhaps infant and child characteristics evoke negative parenting beliefs, affect, and behaviors. Also, perhaps parents themselves have experienced particularly negative childrearing histories and model the behaviors of their own parents and family culture or norms in rearing their own children (Covell, Grusec, and King, 1995; Main, Kaplan, and Cassidy, 1985). It is our belief that when parents