Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Mothering, Fathering, and Externalizing Behavior in Toddler Boys

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Mothering, Fathering, and Externalizing Behavior in Toddler Boys

Article excerpt

This study examined the effects of reported maternal and paternal support, psychological control, and spanking on externalizing behavior of toddler boys. Questionnaires were administered to both parents of 104 two-parent families with a 3-year-old son. Both maternal and paternal psychological control was related to boys' externalizing behavior. Interaction effects were found, in that the association between maternal spanking and boys' externalizing behavior was stronger when levels of maternal support were high. High levels of paternal support strengthened the association between maternal support and boys' externalizing behaviors. Results suggest that the associations between specific parenting dimensions and children's externalizing behavior need to be considered within the context of other parenting dimensions that are displayed within the family.

Key Words: antisocial behavior, early childhood, family interaction, fathers, mothers.

Research has consistently shown that toddlers displaying high levels of externalizing behaviors are at risk for continuing behavioral problems throughout their life course (Campbell, Shaw, & Gilliom, 2000), particularly in male toddlers (Alink et al, 2006), highlighting the importance of studying these behaviors during early childhood. A range of parenting behaviors has been linked to children's externalizing behaviors at this early age (Maccoby, 2000). Direct empirical tests of the notion that the effects of individual parenting behaviors depend on the context of the parent-child relationship are surprisingly scarce, however. Moreover, in spite of the acknowledgment that children's development occurs in the broader context of the family (Feinberg, 2003), there is little research examining combined effects of mothering and fathering on children's externalizing behavior. The current study will expand existing knowledge on the role of parenting in externalizing behaviors of 3-year-old boys by examining (a) the relative importance of concurrent parenting dimensions, (b) whether one parenting dimension moderates the effect of other parenting dimensions, (c) whether the effects of parenting on children's problem behavior are similar for mothers and fathers, and (d) the interaction effects between mothering and fathering.

Three parenting dimensions that have been the focus of many studies on the role of parents in children's externalizing behavior are support, psychological control, and spanking. Support (e.g., responsiveness, involvement) refers to parents' connectedness to the child and their interactional warmth and has been found to be associated with lower levels of externalizing behaviors in toddlers (Smith, Landry, & Swank, 2000). Psychological control refers to parents' attempts to control the child's behaviors through psychological means, such as by intrusive behavior (Barber, 1996), by the withdrawal of love (i.e., giving the message to the child that he is not loved when he misbehaves), or by yelling (i.e., intimidating the child). Although not often studied in early childhood, a growing body of evidence shows that this parenting dimension is associated with externalizing behavior in middle childhood and adolescence (Hart, Nelson, Robinson, Frost Olsen, & McNeillyChoque, 1998; Mills & Rubin, 1998). Spanking has repeatedly been shown to be linked with high levels of externalizing behavior (DeKlyen, Speltz, & Greenberg, 1998; Stormshak, Bierman, McMahon, & Lengua, 2000), although this seems to apply mostly for middle-class White families and not necessarily for ethnic and racial minorities (Deater-Deckard & Dodge, 1997).

One of the gaps in the literature on the associations between parenting and child behavior is that past research often studied parenting dimensions separately, ignoring, first, the possibility that parenting dimensions may be interrelated and, second, the possibility that the effects of particular parenting dimensions might be dependent on the broader context of the parent-child relationship. …

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