The Differential Impact of Mothers' and Fathers' Discipline on Preschool Children's Home and Classroom Behavior

Article excerpt

This study explored the relationship between mothers' and fathers' discipline, as well as their disagreement on discipline, with externalizing behaviors of preschool children in the home and classroom. Parents and teachers of 39 preschool children participated in the study. Families with two participating parents were included. Baumrind's three discipline styles (Authoritarian, Authoritative, and Permissive) were measured using the Self Report Measure of Family Functioning for Children Revised (SRMFF-C-R). Externalizing behavior in the home and classroom was measured using the Behavior Assessment System for Children (BASC). Multiple regression analyses indicated that maternal authoritarian discipline and paternal permissiveness were related to externalizing behaviors in the home and classroom. The relationship between parent disagreement on permissive discipline and externalizing behaviors in the home approached significance, while parent discipline disagreement was not predictive of classroom externalizing behaviors. These findings indicate a differential relationship between parent discipline and the development of externalizing behaviors in preschool children.


While behavior disorders in children and adolescents have always garnered some attention from researchers and society, this focus has become even greater in recent years. Behavioral problems in youth negatively impact society both financially and psychologically (Snyder, 2003). Additionally, for many youth with behavioral problems in adolescence and young adulthood, the pattern of negative behavior began at a much earlier age, often in preschool (Lahey, Loeber, Hart, & Frick, 1995; Lavigne, et al., 2001). Parent discipline has been of great interest to researchers in this area, and has consistently been found to be significantly related to behavior problems in youth (Baumrind, 1996; Patterson, 1982). However, study on this topic often restricts its examination of outcome variables to the home environment, often ignoring the child's behavioral functioning in other critical contexts, namely the classroom. Additional research on the role of fathers' discipline attitudes and behaviors is needed as well (DeKlyen, Biernbaum, Speltz, & Greenberg, 1998). Therefore, the purpose of this study was to investigate how parental discipline is related to externalizing behaviors in the home and classroom for preschool-aged children. The following literature review discusses the extent to which preschoolers exhibit problematic behavior as well as our current understanding of the relationship between parental discipline and children's behavior.

As young children continue to grow physically and cognitively, they also begin to develop knowledge and skills in the area of social functioning. During the toddler years, children enter a social world that expects them to understand rules and directions, and comply with them. While some assertiveness at this age is appropriate, and serves to promote independence and self-efficacy, it is the job of the primary caregivers and other adults to guide children toward healthy, prosocial behavior. While it is expected that during the preschool years children will exhibit some noncompliant behavior, frequent noncompliance at this age can become a significant and long-lasting problem (Baumrind, 1996).

Behavioral problems in early childhood are prevalent in both the home (Lavigne, et al., 1996) and classroom (Merrett & Taylor, 1994). Parents often report behavioral problems with their preschoolers. The most commonly reported problem in children between 2 and 5 years old is temper tantrums, which remain a relatively stable problem throughout early childhood (Jenkins, Owen, Bax, & Hart, 1984). While there is certainly a broad continuum of severity regarding behavioral problems in early childhood, some preschool children meet criteria for a Disruptive Behavior Disorder (DBD; American Psychiatric Association, 2000) and warrant professional intervention. …


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