Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Parenting Stress, Parental Reactions, and Externalizing Behavior from Ages 4 to 10

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Parenting Stress, Parental Reactions, and Externalizing Behavior from Ages 4 to 10

Article excerpt

Parenting has been described as one of the most rewarding tasks of adulthood. Nevertheless, parenting is also challenging, and some parents feel that the demands of raising their children exceed available resources. The aversive psychological reaction resulting from a mismatch between perceived parenting demands and available parenting resources has been termed parenting stress (Deater-Deckard, 1998). Parenting stress has been linked with a number of maladaptive child outcomes, either directly (Crnic, Gaze, & Hoffman, 2005; Crnic & Greenberg, 1990) or indirectly via negative parenting (Abidin, 1986; Deater-Deckard & Scarr, 1996).

Although much has been learned about parenting stress and child behavior, several key issues are still unresolved. Theories of parenting stress and also key developmental and family theories-including transactional theoretical frameworks (Eyberg, Schuhmann, & Rey, 1998; Sameroff, 1975) and dynamic systems approaches (Granic & Patterson, 2006)- emphasize that parenting stress and child outcomes likely have reciprocal links over time. Yet, the most robust evidence on associations between parenting stress and child behavior comes from work predicting child externalizing behavior (Baker et al., 2003; Crnic et al., 2005; Neece, Green, & Baker, 2012). The literature examining the opposite direction of effects from child behavior to parenting stress (e.g., Scarr, 1992) is comparatively small. Furthermore, the role of key potential mediators in associations between parenting stress and child outcomes-most importantly, parenting-are not well understood. Although comprehensive longitudinal models of parental stressors (e.g., parental life events), parenting, and child behavior have recently been conducted (e.g., Yates, Obradovic, & Egeland, 2010), no such transactional examinations have focused on parenting stress specifically. Taken together, although some pieces of parenting stress-child outcomes models are already understood, the complex longitudinal interrelations among these constructs and the role of parenting in such a model have not been simultaneously studied to date.

The goal of the current study was to examine a transactional model (Eyberg et al., 1998; Sameroff, 1975) of parenting stress, negative perceptions of parental reactions, and child externalizing behavior across the late preschool years and middle childhood. We begin by reviewing the literature on the direct effects between parenting stress and child externalizing symptoms and then discuss the role of negative parenting reactions to child negative emotions as a possible mediator.


Studies have shown support for the direct effects model between parenting stress and externalizing behaviors during childhood, suggesting that elevated levels of parenting stress may directly contribute to child behavior problems. For example, data collected from Head Start revealed that high levels of parenting stress were directly related to high, concurrent levels of externalizing behavior problems in 2- to 6-year-olds (Anthony et al., 2005). Similarly, daily parenting hassles during the preschool period predicted both concurrent child behavior problems and behavior problems 2 years later (Crnic et al., 2005; Crnic & Greenberg, 1990). This literature suggests that stress has a direct effect on child outcomes and that greater levels of stress result in greater levels of behavior problems; however, there are limitations to these conclusions. Most notably, an assessment of related but separate constructs (e.g., parenting daily hassles) and of very specific samples (e.g., children participating in Head Start) may not generalize to broader assessments of the association between parenting stress and child outcomes.

Although often not a focus within the parenting stress literature, theoretical frameworks focused on child effects suggest that child characteristics, including behavior problems, also contribute to parental stress (Deater-Deckard, 1998; Mash & Johnston, 1990). …

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