Poverty, Parenting, and Problem Behavior in Children

How a child self-regulates his or her emotions is a strong predictor of how he or she will behave in adolescence. Children with little self-regulation may be at risk for externalizing behaviors, risk-taking, and conduct issues. Others may internalize their emotional problems and develop symptoms of anxiety or depression. Maternal influence plays a significant role in how a child self-regulates. And although there is much research examining the relationship between parenting and self-regulation in young children, there is less evidence of the long-term effects. Stacey N. Doan of the Department of Psychology at Boston University sought to determine how parental interactions, warmth, responsiveness, and harshness were related to self-regulation in children and, subsequently, externalizing and internalizing behaviors in adolescence.

Doan evaluated 265 children from a low-income neighborhood and assessed them at ages 9, 13, and 17. She also evaluated the interaction the children had with their mothers, and how external stress, such as poverty, affected the maternal behavior and self-regulation of the children. She found that children who had poor emotional self-regulation at age 9 had more externalizing behavior at ages 13 and 17. She also found the mothers who exhibited little maternal warmth had children with weaker self-regulation skills. Doan believes that living in impoverished conditions can add a layer of stress to the family dynamic, elevating the unresponsiveness of the mother. This can also lead a mother to withhold affection and increase harsh discipline measures, even to the point of abuse. These are merely theories, but according to the data presented here, the effects of chronic stress on self-regulation in children warrant further examination.

The findings of this study also imply that children’s self-regulatory functions do not increase their risk for internalizing behaviors in adolescence. This finding should be considered with caution, as the scope of this research was limited. For example, the mothers were not evaluated for depression, a condition which could significantly increase internalizing behavior in children. Also, the participants of this study were not culturally diverse. “It would be important for future work to examine the ways in which cultural values, beliefs, and practices may moderate these relationships,” Doan added.

Doan, Stacey N., Thomas E. Fuller-Rowell, and Gary W. Evans. Cumulative risk and adolescents’ internalizing and externalizing problems: The mediating roles of maternal responsiveness and self-regulation. Developmental Psychology 48.6 (2012): 1529-539. Print.

© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Brain

    November 23rd, 2012 at 1:47 AM

    Very interesting research. I think that these findings will help in the future.

  • Reese

    November 23rd, 2012 at 8:13 AM

    Children who are raised in homes where these is very little in the way of positive parenting and emotional regulation are destined to grow up and repeat the same behaviors and patterns that they have fallen victim to in their own childhoods. It is sad when you see mothers and fathers too who display very little warmth and emotion toward their children, and practically act as if they would prefer them to be non existent. It makes you wonder why they even chose to have babies in the first place! If it would only stip right there then it might not be so bad, but no these cycles never seem to end.

  • Peter.L

    November 23rd, 2012 at 12:47 PM

    Children always look towards parents for that warmth and support.And if that is absent or limited that will obviously lead to the child growing up with difficulties.Now when the scenario is that of a poor neighborhood,there is also more chances of exposure to violence and drug abuse and I think that takes a serious toll on any child’s mind.And in that situation,the presence of a parent mentally and psychologically as a support figure becomes even more important.If absent at such a time,then it could become a major problem for the child.

  • ashley

    November 23rd, 2012 at 5:33 PM

    they say kids throw tantrums and parents put up with it.well I have definitely seen the opposite where the parents act so immature and its so clear that they are harming the child with their behavior..and yet they continue to do the same every day..like Reese said,people really need to know and understand what it means to be a parent before they decide to become one.

  • Leigh

    November 24th, 2012 at 9:07 AM

    We all know that children look to their parents for cues on how to behave. If the moms show little effective self regulation then there is a great chance that the children won’t learn how to behave either. Add to this the chance that there won’t be another adult role model in the home in many of these cases, well then, there’s the answer. We are doing our kids a horrible disservice by bringing them up in homes that are seriously broken and then expect them to know what is expected of them in society.

  • kENTOn

    November 24th, 2012 at 2:43 PM

    most children mimic their parents and if the parents are not great at regulating their emotions, there is a fair chance that the kids will do the same too. its so important not only to provide kids with education and food but also to teach them about emotions and regulation. because your child might be great at academics but a emotionally weak person will always have issues, something that no parent would want his/her child affected by.

  • jevon

    November 25th, 2012 at 4:48 PM

    I think its common knowledge that mothers with depression tend to have children with more issues than mothers without depression.Maternal care therefore has a huge influence.And you’re right about the conditions too.These are like the determining factors that come into play all together to determine how things turn out.I think the most important is to ensure that the best conditions are created and provided to the children from what’s available.A little bit of extra care and discipline would go a long way.

  • gina

    November 25th, 2012 at 8:32 PM

    a lot of environmental and parental factors are studied as to how they influence a child and his/her emotional regulation and I think it is a good thing.but emotional regulation is not all about that.it is also genetics and personality.what I would like to know is just how much does genetics and/or personality affect emotional regulation compared to the factors that come into play once a child comes into the world?can one set of parameters be overcome by another?

  • karson

    November 26th, 2012 at 4:10 AM

    Too many sad ways that poverty continues to effect our children and society

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of GoodTherapy.org's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.