Academic journal article Merrill-Palmer Quarterly

Stability in Parents' Causal Attributions for Their Children's Academic Performance: A Nine-Year Follow-Up

Academic journal article Merrill-Palmer Quarterly

Stability in Parents' Causal Attributions for Their Children's Academic Performance: A Nine-Year Follow-Up

Article excerpt

Although a substantial amount of research has already been conducted on the kinds of causal attributions that parents form regarding their children's school performance (Ames & Archer, 1987; Dunton, McDevitt, & Hess, 1988; Phillipson, 2006; Rytkönen, Aunóla, & Nurmi, 2005; Yee & Eccles, 1988), and on how parental causal attributions are linked to children's academic achievement (for a review, see S. Miller, 1995; see also Georgiou, 1999; Khodayarifard, Brinthaupt, & Anshel, 2010; Räty & Kärkkäinen, 2011; Rytkönen, Aunóla, & Nurmi, 2007), still little is known about how stable parents' causal attributions are over time. There are two possibilities: Parents' causal attributions for their offspring's academic performance may change over time due to feedback they receive (S. Miller, 1995), or their causal attributions may reflect more general attributional styles that will be relatively stable over time (Peterson & Steen, 2009). It has previously been found that, although parental causal attributions change to some extent, at the mean level, during children's transition from preschool to primary school (Rytkönen et al., 2005), interindividual differences in these attributions are relatively stable across this period (Natale, Aunóla, & Nurmi, 2009). However, as far as we know, no previous studies have examined the interindividual stability of parents' causal attributions for their children's academic successes and failures over longer periods. The stability of parents' causal attributions over a longer period can be assumed to be important for children's academic achievement and adjustment, because such attributions form a stable developmental environment for children that does not only include parents' thinking but also their parenting practices (Murphey, 1992). Consequently, the present study examined the interindividual stability of parents' causal attributions for their children's academic successes and failures from children's first to ninth years of compulsory education. The changes in the mean levels of causal attributions over this period were also investigated.

The attributional theory of achievement motivation (Weiner, 1985, 1986) has been extended to encompass the waj^s in which parents explain and evaluate their children's academic performance. The four most common causes that parents attribute to their children's success or failure at school are ability, effort, teaching, and task difficulty (Cashmore & Goodnow, 1986; Dunton et al, 1988; Holloway, 1986; Räty, Vänskä, Kasanen, & Kärkkäinen, 2002; Rytkönen et al., 2005; Yee & Eccles, 1988). These causal attributions vary along three dimensions: (a) the locus of control (internal vs. external); (b) the amount of stability; and (c) the amount of controllability. In this way, these causal attributions can be roughly compared in the same terms. Ability, for example, is an internal, stable, and uncontrollable factor, whereas effort is an internal, unstable, and controllable factor. Meanwhile, teaching and task difficulty are both external, stable, and uncontrollable factors (Weiner, 1986).

Parents' causal attributions for their offspring's academic performance may affect their behavior toward their children and hence the ways in which their children develop (S. Miller, 1995). It has been suggested, for example, that parents' causal attributions not only influence the expectations and aspirations they have regarding their children's performance but also the support, advice, and guidance they give to their children (Murphey, 1992). Previous studies have also shown that, in addition to parenting practices, parents' perception of their children's academic achievement is associated with their children's self-concept of ability, even more strongly than the children's grades (Frome & Eccles, 1998; Rytkönen et al., 2007). Moreover, if parents praise their children for intelligence, this increases their performance orientation in learning situations, whereas praising them for effort promotes their mastery-orientated strategies (Kamins & Dweck, 1999). …

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