Academic journal article Journal of Early Childhood and Infant Psychology

Mothers' and Fathers' Perceptions of Conflict and Closeness in Parent-Child Relationships during Early Childhood

Academic journal article Journal of Early Childhood and Infant Psychology

Mothers' and Fathers' Perceptions of Conflict and Closeness in Parent-Child Relationships during Early Childhood

Article excerpt

The quality of the relational bond between parent and child affects children's emotional development, school performance, and social growth. Parents perceive their relationships with their children in a variety of ways and numerous researchers have attempted to assess these connections. This study investigated the stability of mothers' and fathers' perceptions of parent-child relationships with sons and daughters across 3 years during the transition to school. This study describes stability and patterns of parents' perceptions across time, gender, and informant in terms of dimensions of relational conflict and closeness. The results have implications for understanding how parents have different relational experiences with sons and daughters.

Parent-Child Relationships and Child Development

The following section reviews current literature on parent-child relationships as they relate to children's emotional, academic, and social outcomes. The relationship between a child and his or her parents forms a foundation for all other interpersonal relationships. Bowlby (1982) suggested that parents' behavior in parent-child relationships is guided by an underlying system, referred to as the caregiving system, and remarked, "the study of caregiving as a behavioral system, differing somewhat between mothers and fathers, is an enterprise calling for attention" (p. 376). The caregiving behavioral system between parent and child is in part composed of parents' internal representations of relationships of the child and of caregiving. Bowlby's concepts have been developed in recent years by numerous attachment researchers (e.g., Bretherton, Biringen, Ridgeway, Maslin, & Sherman, 1989; George & Solomon, 1991, 1996; Slade & Cohen, 1996; Solomon & George 1996; Solomon, George & De Jong, 1995; Zeanah, Benoit, Hirshberg, Barton, & Regan, 1995) who view the development of parents' representations in relating with the child as intrinsic to the development of the caregiving relationship and key features of their caregiving behavior. Relational representations can affect children's emotional development, school performance, and social growth.

Numerous studies demonstrate the important role that the parent-child relationship plays in predicting academic performance during the early school years (e.g., Barth & Parke, 1993; de Ruiter & van IJzendoorn, 1993; Greenberg & Speltz, 1988; Pianta, 1997, 1999). For example, preschool age measures of mother-child interaction have been shown to be more predictive of special education referrals in school than were standardized tests (Pianta, Erickson, Wagner, Kreutzer, & Egeland, 1990; Wagner, 1993). Accurate measures of parent-child relationships could aid in the identification of children who are at-risk for school adjustment problems (Pianta & Harbers, 1996). Testing a conceptual model of a psychosocial pathway to academic competence in preschool, Wood (2007) found that early secure attachments to parents were associated with decreased anxiety, removing emotional barriers to learning.

Parental sensitivity and stimulation are two specific characteristics of families that are empirically associated with children's abilities upon school entry (Comer & Haynes, 1991; Downer & Pianta, 2006; Estrada, Arsenio, Hess, & Holloway, 1985; National Institute of Child Health and Human Development [NICHD] Early Child Care Research Network, 2003; Pianta & Harbers, 1996; Pianta, Smith, & Reeve, 1991; Ramey & Campbell, 1991). Specifically, parents' sensitive caregiving, ample learning materials, opportunities for cognitive stimulation, and predictable routines facilitate children's motivation to learn, self-regulation, language, literacy, and social-emotional development. In another study using this NICHD sample, maternal sensitivity was found to have the strongest associations with social-emotional outcomes (NICHD Early Child Care Research Network). …

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