Association between Hypothesized Parental Influences and Preschool Children's Physical Activity Behavior

Article excerpt

Background: To date, most research investigating the influence of parents on children's physical activity behavior has been conducted among school-aged children. As a result, we have a limited understanding of the mechanisms through which parents can influence their young children's physical activity behavior. The purpose of this study was to examine the influence of various hypothesized parental influence variables on children's physical activity behaviors. Methods: An on-line survey assessing various hypothesized parental influences and an estimate of the amount of time their child engaged in physical activity behavior was completed by 176 parents. Results: Parents who perceived physical activity to be important for their child, had confidence in providing support for their child's physical activity, had good physical activity experiences as a child, and had high perceptions of their child's physical ability were more likely to employ activity-facilitating parenting practices and behaviors that were associated with their preschool children's physical activity behaviors. Discussion and Translation to Health Education Practice: Parenting practices and behaviors (e.g., parental support for children's activity behaviors) may play an important role in preschool children's physical activity behaviors. Future prospective studies are needed to confirm the findings of the present study.

Undeniably, parents play an important role in shaping their children's beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors across a wide spectrum of developmental domains, including the cognitive, social, and emotional domains. Parents can shape their children's behaviors through both negative and positive interactions. Inadequate (i.e., negative) parent-child interactions (e.g., lack of warmth and inappropriate parental reactions, responses, practices, and behaviors), may increase children's risk for developing behavioral and emotional problems, including substance use and antisocial behavior. (1) Conversely, positive parent-child interactions (e.g, displays of warm affection) have long been shown to play an important role in the development of children's psychological, social, and economic well-being. (2,3)

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In addition to eliciting positive psychological and social improvements, empirical evidence suggests that parents may play an important role in shaping and maintaining their children's physical activity behavior during early development (i.e., ages 2-11 years), (4-11) which is an important time period in the learning process of establishing health behaviors. (12) Adequate parenting that establishes regular participation in physical activity during early childhood may help attenuate the rising trajectory of childhood obesity (13) and its comorbidities. (14-16)

Several theories have been developed to help guide research studies examining parental influences on child physical activity. In particular, social cognitive theory (17) is a model extensively used to examine interpersonal relationships and design physical activity interventions. (18) In brief, social cognitive theory postulates a reciprocal relationship between cognition, behavior, and environmental influences and that behavior is a function of these interactions. With respect to environmental influences, and in accordance with social cognitive theory, Taylor et al. (19) indicated that parents can positively influence their children's physical activity behavior primarily through role-modeling and social influences, such as the provision of sufficient levels of instrumental support (e.g., providing transportation to activity-facilitating areas, such as parks). Furthermore, other models, including Eccles' expectancy value model, (20,21) suggests that parental beliefs, attitudes and expectations influence key parenting practices and behaviors (e.g., parental support) that have often been associated with children's physical activity behaviors. (8) Given the potential direct (e. …

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