Parents determine their level of parenting competence by gauging how well their children have grown and developed over time. It is important that a parent feels competent with their parenting abilities throughout a child’s life because this sense of competence directly impacts the parent’s self-esteem and well-being, which indirectly influence the child. When children are unruly and unresponsive to parental discipline, parents feel that their competence is in question. During adolescence, children act more impulsively, ignore parental guidance and engage in more externalizing behaviors than during early childhood. But until recently, determining how these adolescent behaviors affect parenting competence has not been fully examined. To further explore the link between children’s behaviors and parenting competence, and the reverse influence, Meike Slagt of the Department of Developmental Psychology at Utrecht University in the Netherlands studied children and their parents over a 6-year period.
For the study, Slagt evaluated 551 families with children who were approximately 8 years old. The parents and children were assessed for levels of parenting discipline, competence, and child externalizing behaviors. Six years later, Slagt evaluated the families again and found that the mothers of the children with externalizing trends at age 8 felt less competent as parents 6 years later. Specifically, the mothers of these children felt like their disciplining techniques were inept and that they were unable to adequately discipline their teens. However, when Slagt examined the reverse effect, the findings were different. Slagt said, “Parents’ sense of competence did not predict children’s externalizing problems, either directly or indirectly via parenting behaviors.”
This is one of the first studies to demonstrate that parents’ competence levels are directly related to the behaviors of children during childhood and adolescence and that these behaviors can significantly deteriorate a parents’ sense of self-esteem and well-being. Slagt also noted that the study showed positive results. The parents who believed they were capable and qualified parents at the onset of the study had higher levels of effective discipline 6 years later, which directly enhanced the parents’ levels of competence. These findings clearly emphasize the importance of addressing children’s externalizing patterns as a factor for later conduct and behavior problems and the influence these factors have on parental self-perceptions.
Slagt, M., Deković, M., de Haan, A. D., van den Akker, A. L., & Prinzie, P. (2012). Longitudinal associations between mothers’ and fathers’ sense of competence and children’s externalizing problems: The mediating role of parenting. Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0027719
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