How to statistically test whether parents and children share similar humor styles?

How to statistically test whether parents and children share similar humor styles?

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I have data from children and their parents on their humor styles (using the Humor Styles Questionnaire by Martin (2003)).

For the adult version: It's a 32-item measure, with 4 subscales for each humor style (Affiliative, Aggressive, Self-Defeating, and Self-Enhancing) so there's 8 items for each subscale.

For the children's version: There are 24 items, with 4 subscales so 6 items per humor style. The items for the children are on a 4-point scale and the parents are on a 7-point scale.

Research Question: I want to assess whether children share humor styles with their parents.

What kind of test would help me find out if children have the same humor styles as their parents?


Martin, R. A., Puhlik-Doris, P., Larsen, G., Gray, J., & Weir, K. (2003). Individual differences in uses of humor and their relation to psychological well-being: Development of the Humor Styles Questionnaire. Journal Of Research In Personality, 37(1), 48-75. doi:10.1016/S0092-6566(02)00534-2

Assuming the data are dyadic (i.e., one child per parent), you would probably focus on correlating child scores with parent scores.

Hopefully, you have a sense of how the child and parent scales align. Hopefully, they are designed to measure equivalent constructs albeit with different items.

The fact that you've used different scales is a potential confound. Presumably, the are good reasons for this given that the humour of children and adults is expressed quite differently. But that's something, you'll have to reason through in terms of measurement and theory.

The fact that the scales have different numbers of items and response options is mostly irrelevant. As soon as you start using different items, then you've essentially got different variables.

Although not relevant to you, more commonly, data involving dyads involves using the same instruments. e.g., husbands and wive both completing the same measure of big 5 personality. In that case, you can do lots of things, like comparing descriptive statistics, ICCs, and other values. David Kenny has lots of resources in that case on dyadic data analysis:

I'm not sure about my answer but first of all, to have comparable variables, I think you need to divide children's scores to 4 and their parent's to 7. As far as I understood you want to understand if two groups (parents and children) have similar humor styles. I think you can do 2*4 mixed anova to solve this problem. Your parent and child variables can be within factor because they are paired with each other. Your sub-categories can be between factor. In the results, first, you need to look if age influences the humor score. If it did you can say that they have at least some diffirences in some categories. Then you can check the interaction. If there is no interaction between age and style, parents and their children are certainly different. If there is a interaction, you can look in which categories age doesn't differ significantly from each other. And you can say in… category parents and children have similar humor styles and in… they differ from each other significantly. I hope that I could express myself clearly.

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Each child had four transcripts: mother-child play-related storytelling task, mother-child reminiscence task, father-child play-related storytelling task, and father-child reminiscing task. Only children who produced four transcripts were included in the analysis.

Data Analyses

First, we present descriptive statistics for parents' talk and children's TEC scores. Next, correlations between the variables of interest are presented. Finally, regressions predicting children's emotion understanding at the second time point are presented.

Previous studies have analyzed emotion talk as total frequencies or as proportions. In this study and similar to previous research (e.g., Garner, 2003 Sales et al., 2003 Curenton and Craig, 2011 Garrett-Peters et al., 2011 Brownell et al., 2013), emotion words were analyzed as proportions. By using proportions rather than total frequencies, participants' total amount of talk was controlled. Proportions were calculated as the total number of emotion utterances divided by the total number of utterances. These were calculated separately for each participant.

Descriptive Statistics

The majority of parents discussed emotions throughout both storytelling tasks even though they were not explicitly asked to discuss emotions. During the play-related storytelling task, mothers used a mean proportion of 0.32 emotion labels (SD = 0.30) and 0.21 explanations (SD = 0.22), while during the reminiscence task, mothers used a mean proportion of 0.98 emotion labels (SD = 0.76) and 0.12 explanations of (SD = 0.15).

During the play-related storytelling task, fathers used a mean proportion of 0.24 emotion labels (SD = 0.22), and 0.10 explanations (SD = 0.12). Finally, fathers used a mean proportion of 0.66 emotion labels (SD = 0.58), and 0.08 explanations (SD = 0.14) during the reminiscence task.

Descriptive analyses on TEC 1 and TEC 2

Across both age groups, the minimum score was two and the maximum score was eight. A 2 (Children's age: 4, 6) × 2 (Children's gender: girl, boy) analysis of variance (ANOVA) conducted on the first administration of the TEC 1 as a dependent variable revealed no significant effect of gender. As expected, it revealed a significant age effect with 6-year-old children scoring higher on the TEC (M = 6.53, SD = 0.99) than 4-year-old children (M = 4.48, SD = 1.44), F(1, 62) = 42.35, p < 0.001, η 2 = 0.41. A 2 (Children's age: 4, 6) × 2 (Children's gender: girl, boy) analysis of variance (ANOVA) conducted on the situational level of TEC 1 as a dependent variable revealed no significant effect of gender. As expected, it revealed a significant age effect with 6-year-olds scoring higher on the situational level of TEC 1 (M = 2.54, SD = 0.58) than 4-year-olds (M = 2.00, SD = 0.94), F(1, 62) = 6.79, p = 0.01, η 2 = 0.10. There was also a significant Age × Gender interaction effect, F(1, 62) = 6.91, p = 0.01, η 2 = 0.11. There was no difference between girls and boys at age 4, F(1, 62) = 2.14, p = 0.15, whereas boys (M = 2.80, SD = 0.41) outperformed girls (M = 2.23, SD = 0.60) at age 6, F(1, 27) = 8.75, p = 0.007, η 2 = 0.25.

A 2 (Children's age: 4, 6) × 2 (Children's gender: girl, boy) analysis of variance (ANOVA) conducted on the mentalistic level of TEC 1 as a dependent variable revealed no significant effect of gender. As expected, it revealed a significant age effect with 6-year-olds scoring higher on the mentalistic level of TEC 1 (M = 2.25, SD = 0.64) than 4-year-olds (M = 1.45, SD = 1.01), F(1, 62) = 12.65, p = 0.001, η 2 = 0.18. Finally, a 2 (Children's age: 4, 6) × 2 (Children's gender: girl, boy) analysis of variance (ANOVA) conducted on the reflective level of TEC 1 as a dependent variable revealed no significant effect of gender. As expected, it revealed a significant age effect with 6-year-olds scoring higher on the reflective level of TEC 1 (M = 1.04, SD = 0.69) than 4-year-olds (M = 0.40, SD = 0.50), F(1, 62) = 9.02, p = 0.004, η 2 = 0.13. There was also a significant Age × Gender interaction effect, F(1, 62) = 8.04, p = 0.006, η 2 = 0.12. There was no difference between girls and boys at age 4, F < 1, whereas girls (M = 1.46, SD = 0.52) outperformed boys (M = 0.67, SD = 0.62) at age 6, F(1, 27) = 13.36, p = 0.001, η 2 = 0.34.

Similarly, a 2 (Children's age: 4, 6) × 2 (Children's gender: boy, girl) ANOVA conducted on the second administration of the TEC as a dependent variable revealed no significant effect of gender. There was, however, a significant age effect with 6-year-old children scoring higher on the TEC (M = 6.35, SD = 1.40) than 4-year-old children (M = 4.68, SD = 1.72), F(1, 62) = 16.56, p < 0.001, η 2 = 0.21. Scores for TEC 1 and TEC 2 were significantly correlated, r(61) = 0.78, p = 0.01. A repeated measures ANOVA revealed that across both age groups, children scored higher on TEC 2 than on TEC 1, F(1, 62) = 22.88, p < 0.001, η 2 = 0.27.

Relations between Parents' Emotion Talk, and Children's Emotion Understanding

Before conducting analyses, all data were screened. Children's TEC scores and mothers' emotion labels and explanation in each task were found to be normally distributed with kurtosis and skewness below 3.00 (Tabachnik and Fidell, 2007). In contrast, fathers' use of explanations during the storytelling task and explanations and labels during the reminiscence task were found to violate skewness and kurtosis assumptions. Removal of four outliers did not improve skewness and kurtosis to below 3.00. Thus, a square root transformation was applied to these variables in SPSS.

To examine which elements of mothers' and fathers' emotion talk were related to the TEC 1 and TEC 2, correlations were conducted between TEC 1 and TEC 2 and mothers' emotion talk (emotion labels and emotion explanations during the play-related storytelling task and the reminiscence task) and fathers' emotion talk (emotion labels and emotion explanations during the play-related storytelling task and the reminiscence task). Figure 1 indicates the relation between mothers' proportion of labels during the storytelling task and TEC 2 scores. These correlations were conducted separately for each group and combined across age groups using the transformed scores for three of the fathers' talk variables. Table 1 indicates that TEC1 and TEC 2 were highly correlated, r(61) = 0.78, p = 0.01, across both age groups combined. There was a significant relation between mothers' labels during the reminiscence task and TEC 2, r(61) = 0.28, p = 0.05. There was also a significant relation between fathers' labels during the reminiscence task (transformed variable) and TEC 2, r(61) = 0.28, p = 0.05, and fathers' explanations (transformed variable) and labels during the reminiscence task, r(61) = 0.27, p = 0.05. Fathers' use of labels during the two tasks was correlated, r(61) = 0.37, p = 0.003. There was a significant correlation between mothers' explanations and labels during the storytelling task, r(61) = 0.27, p = 0.05. Mothers' use of labels during both tasks was correlated, r(61) = 0.38, p < 0.01. Table 2 displays the correlations conducted separately for 4-year-old children. In the case of 4-year-old children TEC 1 and TEC 2 were related, r(61) = 0.73, p = 0.01. Table 3 displays the correlations conducted separately for 4-year-old children. There was a significant relation between 6-year-olds' TEC1 and TEC 2, r(61) = 0.65, p = 0.01. No correlations between parents' emotion talk and children's emotion understanding were significant when the statistics were conducted separately by age group, however as the tables indicate, there were relations between parents' talk variables. For example, when children were 4-years-old, there was a significant relation between mothers' use of labels during the two tasks, r(61) = 0.38, p < 0.05. For fathers, fathers' use of labels during the two tasks was significantly related, r(61) = 0.37, p < 0.01. When children were 6-years-old, there was also a relation between mothers' use of labels across the two tasks, r(61) = 0.43, p < 0.05.

Figure 1. Proportion of labels used by mothers during the storytelling task and TEC 2 scores.

Special Editorial: Does your child need therapy? Thoughts on parental fears and why we need you involved

By Nestor Lopez-Duran PhD

Historically, psychiatry has not been kind to mothers. Early (and mostly wrong) ideas about what ‘caused’ emotional/behavioral difficulties and psychiatric disorders made it easy for clinicians to blame parents for all childhood conditions. Autism is a classic example. In the 1940s Leo Kanner, one of the most influential child psychiatrists of the time, stated that children with autism were kept in “refrigerators that did not defrost.” By refrigerators, he was referring to mothers, who he believed were emotionally and interpersonally distant. As most of you likely know by now, Kanner was wrong.

Since then, the attack on parents appears to be relentless. Our media outlets are filled with misinterpretations (and sometimes accurate interpretations) of research findings and statements by clinicians that directly or indirectly blame parental behaviors for their kids’ problems.

  • You cuddle your kids too much
  • You don’t love them enough
  • You are too strict
  • You are too permissive
  • You are too emotional
  • You are not emotional enough
  • You give too much freedom
  • You hover over them
  • You don’t praise them enough
  • You praise them too much

The consequences of this parental blaming are devastating: parents full of either guilt and shame or anger and defensiveness, and worse, children who don’t get the treatment they actually need.

So I often find myself doing damage control with parents and explaining their new role in helping their kids improve. So today I wanted to share with you what I often tell parents who are either reluctant about therapy or are struggling with making decisions regarding their kids treatment.

  1. Does your child need help? Examine your childs academic, social, family, and emotional functioning to decide whether he needs help. If your kid’s behavioral or emotional difficulties are such that his functioning at home, school, or with peers is impaired, he may need help. You may ask, what is impaired functioning? There is no standard definition, but we usually become concerned when a child is unable to fulfill many of the basic tasks of being a kid: going to school, getting at least Cs in his courses, developing and maintaining friends, regulating his emotions, keeping himself out of trouble with the law, understanding and following basic rules, etc.
  2. Getting help does not necessarily mean medication or years of therapy! Getting help may simply involve an evaluation to determine what intervention, if any, may be beneficial to your child. So it is often less scary if parents think that the first step is simply to seek an evaluation or consultation, without any commitment to go beyond this initial consult. The process should not be any different than when taking your child to the pediatrician for an evaluation if your child is having some physical symptoms. If your child needs help, most of our current interventions are relatively short (20-30 sessions) and the times of keeping kids in never-ending years of therapy are gone (at least mostly).
  3. If you are concerned about your child’s functioning don’t accept a “he is just fine” answer from your pediatrician, especially if the pediatrician only asked you a couple of questions. I am always reluctant to say anything negative about other professionals, but the reality is that many pediatricians have little training in child psychology and psychiatry and especially in the proper evaluation of child psychological conditions. This is not just my perception. A comprehensive national survey of pediatricians revealed that about 70% of pediatricians feel that they lack appropriate training in diagnosing and treating mental health conditions and over 60% felt that they were not competent in proper diagnostic practices . So if you dont agree with your pediatricians opinion that your child is just fine, request a referral for a consultation with a child mental health provider, such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, or clinical social worker.
  4. In many, many, many, cases, what “caused” your child’s condition does not really matter. This is likely a controversial statement, especially with some traditional therapists, but I say it because parents are frequently overly concerned about finding out what “caused” their kids OCD or ADHD. Often parents feel guilty and want to know if they caused the problem somehow or they are seeking answers that help them understand and accept why things turned out this way. The reality is that in most cases the “cause” will never be known. Although good clinicians will have a deep understanding of the historical and current context (family dynamics, peer group, thinking style, etc.) that may contribute to some of the difficulties, what matters right now is what we do from this day forward to help your child improve. Remember, we can’t change the past but we can improve your child’s future.
  5. We can’t help your child without your help. There is very little we can do in one hour of weekly therapy without getting parents, and often teachers, involved in the treatment process. This is because the most effective interventions usually require that we make changes at home and in some cases at school. On that note:
  6. When we suggest a different parenting or discipline strategy we are not saying that what you were doing was wrong or that you caused the problem. There are many, many parenting styles that are effective for most kids. In fact, some researchers even use the term “good enough parenting” to refer to the phenomenon that most kids will be fine regardless of what you do as a parent. But we also have extensive research suggesting that in some cases, such as when a child has a specific disorder, some parenting behaviors are more helpful than others. In addition, the most effective treatments for some conditions require that parents implement specific discipline plans that may be very different from what comes naturally to some parents. So we may ask you to change how things work at home, but not because we are judging your practices or skills, but because we need you to help us implement a treatment that may involve doing things differently. It is really not any different than if your child had a food allergy and the pediatrician recommended that you change your cooking. You were not doing it wrong. You did not cause the problem. But you can help your child by making the changes that need to be made.

In sum, I want parents to know that clinicians want first and foremost to help your child, not to find someone to blame for your child’s problems. We ask you to be involved because that is the most effective way to help your child improve. We need you to be our allies because without your help and support there is often little we can do.

Nestor L. Lopez-Duran Ph.D. is a child clinical psychologist and researcher currently working as an Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan. Follow him on twitter at @nestorlld


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Amato, P.R., and Rivera, F. (1999). Paternal involvement and children&rsquos behavior problems. Journal of Marriage and Family, 61(2), 375-384.

Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2012). Stepping Up for Kids: What Government and Communities Should Do to Support Kinship Families. Available: [October 2016].

Aubrun, A., and Grady, J. (2003). Two Cognitive Obstacles to Preventing Child Abuse: The &ldquoOther Mind&rdquo Mistake and the &ldquoFamily Bubble.&rdquo Washington, DC: Cultural Logic.

Barnett, W.S., Carolan, M.E., Squires, J.H., Brown, K.C., and Horowitz, M. (2015). The State of Preschool 2014. New Brunswick, NJ: National Institute for Early Education Research, Rutgers Graduate School of Education.

Bianchi, S.M., Robinson, J.P., and Milkie, M.A. (2007). Changing Rhythms of American Family Life: Table 4.1. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Bickham, D.S., Blood, E.A., Walls, C.E., Shrier, L.A., and Rich, M. (2013). Characteristics of screen media use associated with higher BMI in young adolescents. Pediatrics, 131(5), 935-941.

Bornstein, M.H. (1991). Cultural Approaches to Parenting (The Crosscurrents in Contemporary Psychology Series). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Bowlby, J. (1978). Attachment theory and its therapeutic implications. Adolescent Psychiatry, 6, 5-33.

Bowlby, J. (2008). A Secure Base: Parent-Child Attachment and Healthy Human Development. New York: Basic Books.

Bracht, G.H., and Glass, G.V. (1968). The external validity of experiments. American Educational Research Journal, 5(4), 437-474.

Bradley, R.H., and Corwyn, R.F. (2004). &ldquoFamily process&rdquo investments that matter for child well-being. In A. Kalil and T.C. DeLeire (Eds.), Family Investments in Children&rsquos Potential Resources and Parenting Behaviors That Promote Success (pp. 1-32). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Bronfenbrenner, U. (2009). The Ecology of Human Development: Experiments by Nature and Design. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Burkhardt, J.T., Schroter, D.C., Magura, S., Means, S.N., and Coryn, C.L.S. (2015). An overview of evidence-based program registers (EBPRs) for behavioral health. Evaluation and Program Planning, 48, 92-99.

Cabrera, N., and Tamis-LeMonda, C. (2013). Handbook of Father Involvement: Multidisciplinary Perspective (2nd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Routledge.

Why Parenting Styles Matter When Raising Children

Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a psychotherapist, the author of the bestselling book ൕ Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," and the host of The Verywell Mind Podcast.

Developmental psychologists have long been interested in how parents affect child development. However, finding actual cause-and-effect links between specific actions of parents and later behavior of children is very difficult.

Some children raised in dramatically different environments can later grow up to have remarkably similar personalities. Conversely, children who share a home and are raised in the same environment can grow up to have very different personalities.

Despite these challenges, researchers have posited that there are links between parenting styles and the effects these styles have on children. And some suggest these effects carry over into adult behavior.



The present study was a part of a larger research project investigating relations between attachment, executive functions, and mentalization in middle childhood, directed by the author of the present paper. Participants were recruited through seven public elementary schools in a large metropolitan area in Poland. The schools were selected randomly and should not differ systematically from other mainstream schools from larger Polish agglomerations. Letters were sent to parents of children explaining the nature of the study, and informed parental consent was obtained for the participants. The initial sample consisted of 165 children. However, 26 questionnaires from mothers did not return, and 6 of them were incomplete. Therefore, the main analyses were conducted on data from 132 children (51% boys) aged 8–12 years (M = 9.97 years, SD = 1.41 years for sample summary – see Table 1). The number of children in particular age groups did not differ significantly, χ2(4) = 0.06, p = .99. The number of boys and girls in particular age groups can be considered as not significantly different: χ2(1) = 0.19, p = .73 for 8-year-olds χ2(1) = 0.27, p = .60 for 9-year-olds χ2(1) = 0.03, p = .86 for 10-year-olds χ2(1) = 0.27, p = .60 for 11-year-olds and χ2(1) = 0.12, p = .72 for 12-year-olds. The sample was White European, quite homogeneous in terms of SES (middle-class families see also the Results section), and consisted of two-parent families. The population of Poland is ethnically homogeneous therefore, the sample selected for the present study can be considered representative.

Parenting skills

The child-parent relationship has a major influence on most aspects of child development. When optimal, parenting skills and behaviours have a positive impact on children’s self-esteem, school achievement, cognitive development and behaviour.

Parents’ Attitudes and Beliefs: Their Impact on Children’s Development

Joan E. Grusec, PhD, Tanya Danyliuk, BA

University of Toronto, Canada


Why do parents behave the way they do when raising children? One answer is that they are modelling the behaviour of their own parents, having learned how to parent in the course of being parented. Another is that they are behaving in accord with information about appropriate parenting acquired through books, Web sites, or informal and formal advice. Yet another major determinant of their behaviour lies in their general attitudes as well as specific beliefs, thoughts, and feelings that are activated during parenting: These have a powerful impact on behaviour, even if parents are distressed by or unaware of that impact. Researchers interested in children’s development have explored parenting attitudes, cognitions, and the resulting emotions (such as anger or happiness), because of their influence on parenting behaviour and on the subsequent impact of that parenting behaviour on children’s socioemotional and cognitive development.

Child-rearing attitudes are cognitions that predispose an individual to act either positively or negatively toward a child. Attitudes most frequently considered involve the degree of warmth and acceptance or coldness and rejection that exists in the parent-child relationship, as well as the extent to which parents are permissive or restrictive in the limits they set for their offspring. Researchers have also studied more situation-specific thoughts or schemas – filters through which parents interpret and react to events,, particularly ambiguous ones. These include cognitions such as beliefs about parenting abilities, expectations about what children are capable of or should be expected to do, and reasons why children have behaved in a particular way.

The influence of attitudes on parenting behaviours has been a favourite topic of investigation, with research suggesting that linkages are generally of a modest nature. 1 In part, this is because reported attitudes do not always have a direct impact on parenting actions which are often directed by specific features of the situation. For example, parents might endorse or value being warm and responsive to children, but have difficulty expressing those feelings when their child is misbehaving. As a result of this realization the study of parent cognitions has been widened to include more specific ways of thinking.

Research Context

The study of parent attitudes, belief systems, and thinking has taken place along with changing conceptions of child-rearing. These changes have emphasized the bidirectional nature of interactions, with children influencing parents as well as parents influencing children. 2 Accordingly, an interesting extension of research on attitudes and cognitions has to do with how children’s actions affect parents’ attitudes and thoughts, although little work has been done in this area.

Key Research Questions

  1. Which parental attitudes result in the best child outcomes?
  2. How do negative/positive thoughts and cognitions hinder/facilitate child development?
  3. How can parents’ harmful attitudes be modified?

Recent Research Results

A large body of research on attitudes indicates that parental warmth together with reasonable levels of control combine to produce positive child outcomes. Although not strong, as noted above, the results are consistent. Researchers have noted that what is seen to be a reasonable level of control varies as a function of sociocultural context. 3 Attitudes toward control are generally more positive in non Anglo-European cultures, with these attitudes having less detrimental effects on children’s development because they are more normative and less likely to be interpreted as rejecting or unloving. 3,4 In accord with the realization that children’s behaviour affects that of their parents, researchers have found that, whereas parent attitudes affect child behaviour, this relation shifts as the child grows, with adolescent behaviour having an impact on parenting style and attitudes. 5

Research on more specific cognitions also highlights the importance of parent thinking on child outcomes. As an example, parents look for reasons why both they and their children act the way the do. These attributions can make parenting more efficient when they are accurate. They can also interfere with effective parenting when they lead to feelings of anger or depression (a possibility if children’s bad behaviour is attributed to a bad disposition or an intentional desire to hurt, or the parent’s failure or inadequacy). These negative feelings distract parents from the task of parenting, and make it more difficult for them to react appropriately and effectively to the challenges of socialization. 6

Specific cognitions have been assessed both with respect to their impact on children’s socioemotional development and on their cognitive development. For example, Bugental and colleagues have studied mothers who believe their children have more power than they do in situations where events are not going well. 7 These mothers are threatened and become either abusive and hostile or unassertive and submissive. They send confusing messages to their children, with the result that children stop paying attention to them as well as showing a decrease in cognitive ability. 8 This view of the power relationship takes its toll on mothers’ ability to problem-solve and therefore to operate effectively in their parenting role. Similarly, mothers of infants who are low in self-efficacy, that is, do not believe they can parent effectively, give up on parenting when the task is challenging and become depressed. They are cold and disengaged in interactions with their babies. 9 Furthermore, parents who trust that their child’s course of biological development will proceed in a natural and healthy way are able to adjust better to their parenting role and less likely to develop a coercive parenting style. 10

Other aspects of parent thinking include the ability to take the perspective of the child. Mothers who recognize what is distressing for their children have children who are better able to cope with their own distress 11 and parents who can accurately identify their children’s thoughts and feelings during conflicts are better able to achieve satisfactory outcomes for those conflicts. 12 “Mind-mindedness,” the ability of parents to think of children as having mental states as well as being accurate in their assessment of these mental states, has been linked to children’s secure attachment, 13 with a positive link between mothers who describe their children using positive mental descriptors and mothers’ sensitivity. 14

Research Gaps

Little has been done to see how fathers’ cognitions and attitudes affect child development. There has been some investigation of how mothers and fathers differ in their parental cognitions and parenting style: Mothers report higher endorsement of progressive parenting attitudes, encouraging their children to think and verbalize their own ideas and opinions, whereas fathers endorse a more authoritarian approach. 15 What is unknown is the extent to which these differences in attitudes affect child outcomes. Another gap has to do with the direction of effect between parent and child, that is, how children affect their parents’ cognitions and attitudes.


The study of parent cognitions, beliefs, thoughts, and feelings can expand our knowledge of child development. Child-rearing cognitions influence parents to act either positively or negatively towards their children. These beliefs have been considered good predictors of parenting behaviour because they indicate the emotional climate in which children and parents operate and the health of the relationship. In sum, parents observe their children through a filter of conscious and unconscious thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes, and these filters direct the way they perceive their children’s actions. When the thoughts are benign, they direct positive actions. When the thoughts are accurate they will usually lead to positive actions. When they are distorted and distressing, however, they distract parents from the task at hand as well as leading to negative emotions and attributions that ultimately impair effective parenting.

Implications for Policy and Services

Most intervention programs for parents involve teaching effective strategies for managing children’s behaviour. But problems can also arise when parents engage in maladaptive thinking. Mothers at a higher risk of child abuse, for example, are more likely to attribute negative traits to children who demonstrate ambiguous behaviour, and see this behaviour as intentional. 16 Bugental and her colleagues have administered a cognitive retraining intervention program for parents which aims to alter such biases. They found that mothers who participated in the program showed improvement in parenting cognitions, diminished levels of harsh parenting, and greater emotional availability. In turn, children, two years after their mothers participated in the program, displayed lower levels of aggressive behaviour as well as better cognitive skills than those whose mothers had not undergone such cognitive retraining. 17,18,19 These findings, then, clearly underline the important role played by parental beliefs in the child-rearing process.


Findings from this study speak to both theoretical and practical issues of current importance. At a theoretical level, we have provided good evidence for the plausibility of viewing vocabulary as an early causal influence on later reading accuracy and reading comprehension. At a practical level, we have shown that a measure of vocabulary taken before 2 years of age is not a sufficiently reliable predictor of language outcomes. However, infants in their 2nd year of life with delayed vocabulary development and a family history of language/literacy difficulties have an elevated risk of developing reading difficulties. Such children might particularly benefit from close monitoring and even early structured language and literacy input (e.g. Fricke et al., 2013 Hamilton, 2013 ).


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Calafat A, García F, Juan M, Becoña E, Fernández-Hermida JR. 2014. Which parenting style is more protective against adolescent substance use? Evidence within the European context. Drug Alcohol Depend. 138:185-92.

Chao R. 1994. Beyond parental control authoritarian parenting style: Understanding Chinese parenting through the cultural notion of training. Child Development 45: 1111-1119.

Chen X, Dong Q, Zhou H. 1997. Authoritative and Authoritarian Parenting Practices and Social and School Performance in Chinese Children. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 21(4): 855-873.

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Content last modified 2/2018

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