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Growing Up in Scotland: Birth Cohort 2. Results from the First Year

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Chapter 6 Parenting

Alison Parkes, Daniel Wight and Helen Sweeting CSO/MRC Social and Public Health Sciences Unit

6.1 Introduction

Parents play a critical role in their young child's socio-emotional and cognitive development (Campbell 1995; Taylor, Clayton et al. 2004; Bracken and Fischel 2008); yet the effectiveness of parenting behaviours may depend on how these are shaped by parents' psychological resources and sources of stress or support (Belsky 1984).

Psychological resources affecting parenting may include parents' attitudes on how their child should be brought up, stresses and other negative feelings associated with parenting; and parents' domestic organisation. Stress and other negative attitudes such as resentment, lack of confidence and hostility towards the child may impair responsive, effective parenting (Dix 1991; Deater-Deckard 1998; Peterson and Hawley 1998; Fagan, Bernd et al. 2007) and compromise the development of a secure attachment (De Wolff and van Ijzendoorn 1997).
A number of studies suggest that household disorganisation may also impair effective parenting (Coldwell et al. 2006; Valiente et al. 2007; Deater-Deckard et al. 2009; Mokrova et al. 2010).

Factors shaping parents' psychological resources have, in turn, been linked to children's socio-emotional and cognitive development. Poor parenting appears to be part of the mechanism involved (Deater-Deckard 1998). Parental attitudes reflecting an authoritarian parenting style may result in poorer socio-emotional outcomes, such as increased conduct problems and lower self-esteem (Thompson, Hollis et al. 2003; Rudy and Grusec 2006). Parenting stress has been linked with the development of children's emotional and behavioural problems, although poor parenting practices may not always be responsible for such associations (Anthony, Anthony et al. 2005; Crnic, Gaze et al. 2005; Ashford, Smit et al. 2008; Pahl, Barrett et al. 2012). Children's behavioural and emotional problems may also be exacerbated by negative parental feelings such as hostility (Brannigan, Gemmell et al. 2002); and both poor adjustment and low school achievement have been linked to parents' own perceived lack of competence (Coleman and Karraker 2003; Jones and Prinz 2005). In addition, parental disorganisation has been found to predict children's behavioural problems (Dumas, Nissley et al. 2005; Coldwell, Pike et al. 2006; Valiente, Lemery-Chalfant et al. 2007).

Sources of stress on parenting behaviours may relate to economic and social deprivation (Conger, Ge et al. 1994; Belsky, Bell et al. 2007; Flouri 2007), while social support for parents may have a buffering effect (Crnic, Greenberg et al. 1983; Hashima and Amato 1994). In part, sources of stress and social support may act via their respective negative and positive influences on parents' psychological resources (Coleman and Karraker 1998; Leinonen, Solantaus et al. 2003; Mistry, Stevens et al. 2007), although stress and support may also have direct associations with parenting practices (Peterson and Hawley 1998). Poor parenting appears to account for some (but not all) of the associations found between stressors and young children's mental health and cognitive ability (Campbell 1995; Prevatt 2003; Kiernan and Huerta 2008; Lugo-Gil and Tamis-LeMonda 2008).

This chapter examines how parents' attitudes and domestic organisation may be shaped by family circumstances and parenting support, and how all these factors may in turn affect parenting and the parent-child relationship. A longer-term goal will be to examine associations with children's outcomes including cognitive development and behavioural and emotional problems. The role of parenting support is of particular relevance to the Scottish Government's recently launched National Parenting Strategy (October 2012). The Parenting Strategy aims to highlight the importance of parenting and the need to strengthen the support available in order to ensure that services meet a wide range of needs and are accessible to all. It includes continued investment in the Play, Talk, Read campaign aimed at building early literacy skills.

This chapter refers to 'parents' throughout, although for simplicity the analyses were restricted to 5870 families where the child's natural mother was the main carer interviewed, and where the child was a singleton birth. This represents 96% of the 6127 families interviewed.

6.2 Key findings

In these findings, 'family disadvantage' refers to indicators including low maternal education, low household income and area deprivation. 'Social support for parenting' refers to informal support from family or friends, and/or formal support (eg organised groups and classes). The findings relate to an analysis of mothers only.

  • Family disadvantage and a lack of social support for parenting were both independently associated with parental attitudes and domestic organisation likely to impair responsive, effective parenting.
  • Parenting stress was greater for:

- parents without informal parenting support from family or friends

- parents in both the most disadvantaged, and the most advantaged groups.

  • Parents from disadvantaged families were more likely to have negative feelings about parenting (incompetence, resentment, impatience or irritation).
  • Family disadvantage and a lack of social support for parenting were both independently associated with less frequent activities important for child development, including:

- looking at books/reading stories

- singing or saying nursery rhymes

- visiting other families with young children.

  • Almost all (95%) of mothers reported frequently hugging their child.
  • Parents from disadvantaged families were less likely to have a warm relationship with their child, and to limit TV viewing to under 2 hours daily.
  • Parental attitudes, feelings and domestic organisation were associated with lower frequency of activities important for child development. These associations held after taking account of family disadvantage and social support for parenting.
  • Differences between the cohorts in parental reading to children (but not in negative feelings) are possibly attributable to increased provision of formal parenting support.

6.3 Parents' attitudes and organisation

This section examines parents' attitudes and feelings, together with aspects of the home environment that are likely to reflect parents' organisational skills. It describes the measures used, and gives information on their distribution in the whole sample.

Parental views on bringing up children

Traditional, authoritarian beliefs about parenting were measured using three items drawn from the Parental Modernity Scale (Schaefer & Edgerton 1985, Shears et al. 2008). Items invited respondents to indicate their agreement with three statements:

  • "The most important thing to teach children is absolute obedience to whoever is in authority"
  • "Children should always obey their parents"
  • "Parents should teach their children that they should be doing something useful at all times"

Responses (Cronbach alpha=0.65, indicating acceptable reliability) were coded on a 5-point scale (1) 'strongly agree', (2) 'agree', (3) 'neither agree nor disagree', (4) 'disagree', (5) 'strongly disagree'.

Mean scores were divided into three groups according to the strength of authoritarian beliefs. Since there were many parents who gave identical responses ('tied scores'), it was not possible to create three equal groups. In the sample overall, 50% of parents were classified as having high levels, 14% medium levels and 36% low levels of authoritarian beliefs. Those with 'high' levels were parents with a mean score of less than 3, indicating that on average, they 'agreed' with the importance of teaching absolute obedience, that children should obey parents and that parents should teach children to be useful.

Parenting stress

Stresses involved in parenting were measured using three items from the Parental Stress Scale (Berry and Jones 1995) asking respondents for agreement with the following statements:

  • "Having a child leaves little time and flexibility in my life"
  • "It is difficult to balance different responsibilities because of my child"
  • "Having a child has meant having too few choices and too little control over my life"

Responses (Cronbach alpha=0.62, indicating acceptable reliability) were on a 5-point scale from (1) 'strongly agree' to (5) 'strongly disagree'.

Mean scores were divided into three approximately equal groups, representing low (34%), medium (30%) and high (36%) parenting stress.

Infant-maternal attachment: negative feelings about parenting

Negative feelings about parenting were measured via four items taken from the Condon Maternal Attachment Scale (Condon and Corkindale, 1998) relating to feelings of incompetence, resentment, annoyance and impatience (Cronbach alpha=0.54, indicating moderate reliability).

Parental perceptions of incompetence were measured with one item, asking respondents which statement applied best to them:

When I am caring for ^childname I feel…

1 Very incompetent and lacking in confidence

2 Fairly incompetent and lacking in confidence

3 Fairly competent and confident

4 Very competent and confident

5 Can't say

Parental resentment about being a parent was measured with one item, asking them which statement applied to them "when thinking about the things I have had to give up because of (the child)…":

1 I find that I resent or mind it a lot

2 I find that I resent or mind it a fair amount

3 I find that I resent or mind it a bit

4 I don't resent or mind it at all

5 Can't say

Parental annoyance or irritation when caring for the child was measured with one item, asking how often the statement: "When I am caring for ^childname I get feelings of annoyance or irritation…" applied to them. Responses were coded using a 6-point scale from 'almost all the time' to 'never'.

Impatience was measured with one item asking parents which statement applied to them:

"Usually when I am with ^childname …"

1 I am very impatient

2 I am fairly impatient

3 I am fairly patient

4 I am very patient

5 Can't say

Only a small minority of parents (5% or less) reported each negative attitude. Overall, 8% of parents reported one or more negative feelings.

6.3.1 Home environment

Here an abbreviated version of the Confusion, Hubbub, and Order scale was used (Coldwell et al. 2006). The scale was devised as a measure of household disorganisation that captures noise, crowding, home 'traffic' (people coming and going) and a lack of routine or regularity. Respondents were asked for their agreement with three items (Cronbach alpha=0.65, indicating acceptable reliability):

  • "It's really disorganised in our home"
  • "You can't hear yourself think in our home"
  • "The atmosphere in our home is calm" (responses to this statement were reverse-coded)

Responses were coded on a 5-point scale (1) 'strongly agree' to (5) 'strongly disagree'.

Mean scores were divided into three groups indicating low, medium or high levels of home disorganisation or 'chaos'. Due to the presence of tied scores, it was not possible to create three equal groups, and the distribution was high 47%, medium 37% and low chaos 16%. The 'high chaos' group comprised parents with a mean score of less than 4, indicating that they on average, agreed (or were ambivalent) with the notion that their home was 'disorganised' and it was difficult to 'hear yourself think'; and did not agree that the atmosphere was 'calm'.

6.3.2 Unrestricted household TV

As previously mentioned, domestic disorganisation or "chaos" may affect parenting behaviours. Although the length of time a household television set is switched on has been found to correlate with home chaos measures (Matheny, Wachs et al. 1995), unrestricted TV access might additionally affect parents' ability to provide routine and structure. We therefore consider unrestricted TV access separately from home chaos here. This was measured using one item asking parents whether they agreed with the statement: "Sometimes the television can be on all day in our house even though no-one is necessarily watching it." Responses were coded on a 5-point scale. Nearly half of parents (49%) either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement, and this was taken as an indicator of parental restriction of the time the TV set was switched on. This group was contrasted with the remainder, consisting of 45% of parents either agreed or strongly agreed and 5% who neither agreed nor disagreed.

6.4 Do parenting attitudes and organisation differ according to family circumstances?

This section describes how parenting attitudes and organisation varied by socio-economic status, and according to the type of any parenting support reported by mothers.

Maternal educational level, household income and area deprivation have been selected as indicators of socio-economic status. Other indicators, such as lone parent status, showed similar associations with parenting attitudes and organisation to those reported here.

GUS measured two main sources of social support for parenting: informal (from family, friends and/or neighbours)[19] and formal (including parenting programmes, groups such as mother and toddler groups, and use of government websites providing advice on parenting)[20]. The majority (90%) of parents had at least one form of informal support, with 25% having all three forms. The majority (71%) also used formal support, with 12% using all three forms.

6.4.1 Do parental attitudes and organisation vary according to socio-economic status?

Overall, levels of negative feelings and disorganisation were higher for mothers with fewer educational qualifications (Figure 6.1). Gradients were particularly steep for authoritarian attitudes, home chaos and unrestricted TV. The same pattern existed for parenting stress with the exception that mothers with degree-level qualifications reported higher levels than all other mothers except those with no qualifications. Mothers with no qualifications were also more likely to admit to one or more negative feelings about being a parent than other mothers.

Similar trends were observed for household income and area deprivation (see Figure 6.2 and Figure 6.3). For area deprivation, differences in parenting stress and negative feelings were not statistically significant.

Figure 6.1 Prevalence of parental attitudes and organisation according to mother's educational level

Figure 6.1 Prevalence of parental attitudes and organisation according to mother's educational level

Base - respondent was child's natural mother and child was a singleton birth, n = 5870

Figure 6.2 Prevalence of parental attitudes and organisation according to household income

Figure 6.2 Prevalence of parental attitudes and organisation according to household income

Base - respondent was child's natural mother and child was a singleton birth: n = 5870

Figure 6.3 Prevalence of parental attitudes and organisation according to area deprivation

Figure 6.3 Prevalence of parental attitudes and organisation according to area deprivation

Base - respondent was child's natural mother and child was a singleton birth: n = 5870. Differences in parenting stress and negative feelings were not statistically significant

6.4.2 Do parental attitudes and organisation vary according to social support for parenting?

Mothers with more informal support were most likely to report highly authoritarian attitudes, but less likely to report high levels of parenting stress and home chaos (Figure 6.4). Negative feelings and unrestricted TV did not seem clearly associated with levels of informal support.

Mothers with more formal parenting support were less likely to have highly authoritarian attitudes, high levels of home chaos and unrestricted TV use (Figure 6.5). Mothers with some formal support were less likely to have one or more negative feelings about being a parent. There was no clear association with levels of parenting stress, although there is a trend for stress to be lower with higher formal support.

Figure 6.4 Prevalence of parenting attitudes and organisation according to level of informal parenting support

Figure 6.4 Prevalence of parenting attitudes and organisation according to level of informal parenting support

Base - respondent was child's natural mother and child was a singleton birth: n = 5870. Differences in negative feelings were not statistically significant.

Figure 6.5 Prevalence of parenting attitudes and organisation according to level of formal parenting support

Figure 6.5 Prevalence of parenting attitudes and organisation according to level of formal parenting support

Base - respondent was child's natural mother and child was a singleton birth: n = 5870. Differences in parenting stress were not statistically significant

6.4.3 Multivariate analysis of family characteristics associated with parenting attitudes and organisation

Variation in parental attitudes and organisation according to socio-economic status or parenting support described thus far have not allowed for the possibility that circumstances and support levels are linked. In practice, lower socio-economic status was associated with lower formal parenting support. Informal parenting support was less clearly associated with deprivation. In the GUS dataset, both highly educated mothers and those with no qualifications experienced relatively low levels of informal support.

In addition, there may be confounding influences, such as a mother's general health and the number of children in the family. Poor health and a greater number of children each had associations with more traditional attitudes, greater stress, greater chaos and unrestricted household TV; and poor health was also associated with more negative feelings (detailed findings are not shown here due to lack of space). Additionally, both health and family size were associated with family socio-economic status (as measured here by mother's educational level) and parenting support. Allowing for health and family size enables us to assess the role of parenting support and maternal education, independent of other key aspects of family circumstances likely to affect parenting.

Multivariate analysis assessed the simultaneous influence of maternal educational level, any informal parenting support and any formal parenting support on attitudes and organisation. (Here, maternal education was used as an indicator of socio-economic status: findings were similar when other indicators, such as household income and area deprivation, were substituted.) Logistic regression models were used for each measure[21]. In the case of authoritarian attitudes, parenting stress and home chaos, parents in the highest category of each measure described were contrasted with all other parents. Further details of multivariate models are available on request.

In these models, mother's educational level remained significantly associated with all the outcome variables (Table 6.1). The odds of mothers with no educational qualifications having highly authoritarian attitudes or negative feelings about being a parent were more than three times higher than for the most educated group. Their odds of having high levels of home chaos were also more than twice as high and were nearly five times as high for having the TV switched on all day. Interestingly, levels of high parenting stress in this group were no different from those in the most educated group. As we saw earlier in the simple associations between education and stress, levels of stress among mothers with qualifications below degree level were lower than those reported by the most highly educated group. In the multivariate model of stress, we allowed for differences in informal parenting support, which (as already noted) appeared lower for mothers with degree-level qualifications. The remaining difference in stress might be due to differences in other pressures (for example, employment- related), but might also reflect differences in reporting style.

Mothers without any informal parenting support were more likely to report high parenting stress and home chaos compared with mothers with such support, even allowing for other factors such as mother's education. However, informal support was not associated with authoritarian attitudes, negative feelings or TV restriction after taking account of other factors in the models.

Mothers with no formal parenting support were more likely to have highly authoritarian attitudes and to have the TV on all day, even after allowing for mother's education and other factors. Formal support was not associated with parenting stress, negative feelings or home chaos after taking account of other factors in the models.

Table 6.1 Multivariate models of parental attitudes and organisation: summary of findings

Highly traditional, authoritarian attitudes High parenting stress Negative feeling - one or more High home chaos Unrestricted TV
p p p p p
Lower maternal educational qualifications *** *** *** *** ***
No informal parenting support NS *** NS ** NS
No formal parenting support * NS NS NS ***

Base - respondent was child's natural mother and child was a singleton birth: n = 5870. Models adjusted for mother's health and number of children in the family. Probability p associated with effect of each measure where * denotes p<0.05, **p<0.01, ***p<0.005, NS = not statistically significant

6.5 Child activities and the parent-child relationship

In this section, we examine several activities that parents undertake with their child, and the warmth of the parent-child relationship. Two of these activities (looking at books or reading stories, and reciting nursery rhymes or singing) form part of the GUS Home Learning Environment index associated with children's cognitive development (Melhuish, 2010). Warmth in the parent-child relationship was measured by asking about spontaneous affection through hugs or holding the child. Showing affection through bodily contact is likely to indicate secure attachment (Tracy and Ainsworth 1981).

This section describes the measures used, and their distribution in the whole sample.

6.5.1 Child activities

Parents were asked three questions on frequency of activities undertaken with their child: "How often do you or your partner look at books with ^childname or read stories with him/her?"; "How often do you or your partner recite nursery rhymes or sing songs with (^childname)"; and "How often do you or your partner take ^childname to visit friends who have young children?". Answers to each question were recorded on a 9-point scale from 1 'every day/most days' to 9 'never'. For the purposes of this analysis, frequencies of looking at books and nursery rhymes/singing were divided into those who did the activity every day or most days, and those who did the activity less often. For visiting friends with young children, responses were divided into those who visited once a week or more often, and those who visited less than weekly.

Parents were also asked: "How long would ^childname usually watch television for in total on an average weekday?" (open-ended response). For this analysis, responses were divided into children watching for up to 2 hours daily, and those watching for more than 2 hours.

More than two-thirds of parents (70%) said they looked at books or read stories with their child every day or most days; a further 20% did so once or twice a week; while the remaining 10% looked at books or read stories once a fortnight or less often.

The majority of parents (88%) said they recited nursery rhymes or sang with their child every day or most days, with a further 9% doing so once or twice a week and the remaining 3% reporting this activity once a fortnight or less often.

Two-thirds of parents (67%) took their children to visit friends with other young children once a week or more often, 16% took them once a fortnight and 17% less often than this.

A quarter of children did not watch TV, a further 57% watched for up to 2 hours daily while 18% watched for over 2 hours on a typical day.

6.5.2 The parent-child relationship

Mothers were asked: "Thinking about the time you spend with ^childname, how often do you hug or hold him for no reason?". Responses were on a 5 -point scale. 95% of mothers reported either 'often' or 'always/almost always' hugging for no reason, the remaining 5% 'sometimes', 'rarely' or 'never/almost never' showing affection in this way.

6.6 Do children's activities and the parent-child relationship vary according to family circumstances?

This section describes variation in children's activities and the warmth of the parent-child relationship, according to socio-economic status and parenting support.

Less educated mothers were less likely to report looking at books, saying rhymes or singing with their child daily, or limiting their child to 2 hours of TV a day. They were also less likely to enjoy a warm relationship with their child, although the differences were small and the vast majority of mothers at all educational levels reported giving their child spontaneous affection (Figure 6.6). Visiting friends with young children did not vary markedly with mother's educational level.

Similar associations were found for activities and warmth of relationship in relation to household income and area deprivation (Figure 6.7 and Figure 6.8).

Figure 6.6 Prevalence of activities and warm relationship according to mother's education

Figure 6.6 Prevalence of activities and warm relationship according to mother's education

Base - respondent was child's natural mother and child was a singleton birth: n = 5870. Differences in visiting friends were not statistically significant

Figure 6.7 Prevalence of activities and warm relationship according to household income

Figure 6.7 Prevalence of activities and warm relationship according to household income

Base - respondent was child's natural mother and child was a singleton birth: n = 5870. Differences in visiting friends were not statistically significant

Figure 6.8 Prevalence of activities and warm relationship according to area deprivation

Figure 6.8 Prevalence of activities and warm relationship according to area deprivation

Base - respondent was child's natural mother and child was a singleton birth; n = 5870

Parents without informal parenting support were far less likely to visit other friends with young children at least weekly, and said rhymes or sang together less often, although differences for the latter activity were small. The presence/absence of such support was not associated with variation in other activities or with the mother-child relationship (Figure 6.9).

Figure 6.9 Prevalence of children's activities according to informal parenting support

Figure 6.9 Prevalence of children's activities according to informal parenting support

Base - respondent was child's natural mother and child was a singleton birth: n = 5870. Differences for looking at books, watching TV and warm relationship were not significant

Mothers without formal parenting support were less likely to look at books, say rhymes or sing daily with their child, or to visit friends at least weekly. They also had a less warm relationship, although here differences between mothers with and without formal support were small (Figure 6.10). There was no statistically significant difference in children's TV according to take-up of formal support.

Figure 6.10 Prevalence of children's activities according to formal parenting support

Figure 6.10 Prevalence of children's activities according to formal parenting support

Base - respondent was child's natural mother and child was a singleton birth: n = 5870. Differences for watching TV were not significant

6.7 Do children's activities and the parent-child relationship vary according to parental attitudes and organisation?

Parents' attitudes to bringing up children, feelings about being a parent and their organisational skills may affect both what they do with their child and the warmth of the relationship (see paragraph at beginning of section 6.2).

The key statistically significant individual associations between activities/warmth of relationship and measures of attitude and domestic organisation were:

  • Reading and singing daily were both slightly less common among parents with highly authoritarian attitudes, high parenting stress levels, negative feelings about parenting, high home chaos and low household TV restriction.
  • Visiting friends at least weekly was less common among parents with high stress levels, high home chaos and low TV restriction.
  • Children were more likely to watch TV for more than 2 hours daily if their parents had high parenting stress levels, negative feelings about parenting and had the TV switched on all day.
  • A warm mother-child relationship was slightly less common among mothers with highly authoritarian attitudes, and where there were high levels of home chaos and unrestricted TV. However, differences were very small. Most mothers reported showing spontaneous affection, regardless of their attitudes and level of organisation.

6.8 Multivariate analysis of factors associated with children's activities and the parent-child relationship

Thus far, our investigation of factors influencing children's activities or the parent-child relationship has not taken account of the interrelationships between socio-economic status, parenting support, parent attitudes and organisation (see section 6.4.3). Multivariate analysis modelled the simultaneous influence of all of these factors on each of the four children's activities measured, and on the warmth of the parent-child relationship.

This analysis also took account of mothers' general health and the number of children in the family, as possibly confounding influences. Mothers in poorer health were less likely to visit friends, more likely to let the child watch TV for more than 2 hours daily and less likely to report a warm relationship. Mothers with more children were less likely to read or say rhymes/ sing with their cohort child. Including health and family size in the Multivariate models allows for a better assessment of the role of parenting support and maternal education, independent of other key aspects of family circumstances likely to affect parenting.

The main findings are summarised in Table 6.2. Further details of models are available on request.

Children's activities and warmth of the mother-child relationship all varied according to mother's educational level, after allowing for other influences. In general, a higher level of education was associated with more beneficial outcomes with the exception of visiting friends, where less educated mothers visited slightly more often than highly educated mothers.

After controlling for other influences, including mother's education, informal parenting support was associated with more frequent nursery rhymes or singing, and with visiting friends. The latter is not altogether surprising, since friends provide one element of such support. Formal support was associated with looking at books and visiting friends.

There were also several associations between parenting attitudes and children's activities/relationship with their parent, even after allowing for mother's education, parenting support and other influences. Authoritarian attitudes were associated with less frequent reading and rhymes/singing, and with a less warm relationship.

Parenting stress was associated with less reading, rhymes/singing, visiting and unrestricted TV. Negative feelings about being a parent were also associated with less rhymes/singing and unrestricted TV.

Home chaos and unrestricted household TV were both associated with less reading, rhymes/ singing and visiting, even after allowing for other influences. Perhaps surprisingly, after controlling for the influence of mother's education on patterns of TV use, parents who left the TV switched on all day were no more likely to report having a child who watched it for more than 2 hours daily.

Table 6.2 Multivariate analysis of factors associated with less frequent children's activities and a less warm parent-child relationship: summary of main findings

Looking at books - less than daily Nursery rhymes/songs - less than daily Visiting friends - less than weekly TV -
more than
2 hours daily
Mother-child relationship - less warm
p p p p p
Lower maternal education *** *** * ** **
No informal parenting support NS ** *** NS NS
No formal parenting support *** NS *** NS NS
Traditional, authoritarian attitudes to parenting * * NS NS *
Higher parenting stress *** *** *** * NS
Negative feelings about parenting NS * NS ** NS
Higher home chaos *** ** * NS NS
Unrestricted household TV *** * * NS NS

Base - respondent was child's natural mother and child was a singleton birth: n = 5870. Models adjusted for mother's heath and number of children in the family. Probability p associated with effect of each measure where * denotes p<0.05, **p<0.01, ***p<0.005, NS = not statistically significant

6.9 Comparison with the first birth cohort

This section examines differences between the two Growing Up in Scotland birth cohorts. Similar measures were collected at the first (age 10 months) sweeps of both the first cohort in 2005/06 (BC1) and the second cohort in 2011 (BC2). Note that it was not possible to compare all measures.

6.9.1 Parents' negative feelings

Parents in BC2 were less likely to report any negative feelings (incompetence or lack of confidence, resentment, annoyance or irritation) than parents in the first birth cohort (see Figure 6.11). These differences remained after allowing for family circumstances (mother's education and health, household income) and the child's exact age in months. When these influences were taken into account, the odds of parents in BC1 expressing negative feelings about being a parent were 1.8 times higher than those of parents in BC2.

The reasons for this difference are not clear, and could be due to other differences between the two sample populations that have not been taken into account. Parents in BC2 were more likely to report formal parenting support compared with those in the BC1 (71% compared with 39% respectively). However, taking presence/absence of formal support into account resulted in only a small reduction in the difference in negative feelings between the two cohorts. (Note that it was not possible to compare levels of informal support measured at BC2 with informal support in BC1, due to differences in measures collected.)

Figure 6.11 Parents' negative feelings according to birth cohort

Figure 6.11 Parents' negative feelings according to birth cohort

Base - respondent was child's natural mother and child was a singleton birth: First birth cohort = 5051, second birth cohort = 5870

6.9.2 Children's activities

Similar measures of looking at books/reading stories and saying nursery rhymes/singing were collected for the first sweep of both cohorts (measures were not collected for visiting friends and hours of TV watching for this age group).

Parents in BC2 were slightly more likely to report looking at books or reading stories every day/most days with their child than parents in BC1. However, they were slightly less likely to say nursery rhymes or sing every day/most days (see Figure 6.12 below).

The Play, Talk, Read campaign was targeted at parents in deprived areas. Figure 6.13 suggests, however, that the increase in reading between cohorts was similar in all areas, regardless of the level of deprivation.

The difference between the two cohorts for reading remained statistically significant after taking account of cohort differences in mother's education, household income and child's age in months. The difference between cohorts in nursery/rhymes singing was no longer statistically significant. However, differences between birth cohorts were small compared with variation according to family circumstances. For example, across both cohorts the odds of mothers with degree level education reading daily were 2.5 times greater than the odds of mothers with no qualifications; and the odds of mothers in the highest household income quintile reading daily were 1.6 times greater than those in the lowest income quintile. The odds of reading daily in BC2 were only 1.16 times higher than those in the first birth cohort.

As already noted, parents were more likely to report formal parenting support in BC2. Allowing for formal parenting support in the modelling of reading reduced the difference between birth cohorts to non-significance. In this modelling, the odds of reading among parents with formal support were 1.54 times the odds of reading among parents without such support. (Note that this model did not take into account informal support, as comparable measures were not collected for the first birth cohort.)

It therefore appears that more formal parenting support could offer one explanation of the increase in reading between cohorts. Since the improvement in reading was similar across affluent and more deprived areas, it seems that other factors besides the targeted element of the Play, Talk, Read campaign were responsible for the overall increase.

Figure 6.12 Children's activities according to birth cohort

Figure 6.12 Children's activities according to birth cohort

Base - respondent was child's natural mother and child was a singleton birth: First birth cohort = 5051, second birth cohort = 5870

Figure 6.13 Looking at books/reading by deprivation and birth cohort

Figure 6.13 Looking at books/reading by deprivation and birth cohort

Base - respondent was child's natural mother and child was a singleton birth: n = 5870. Differences for watching TV were not significant

6.10 Summary and conclusions

Within the second GUS birth cohort, in 2011, the attitudes of parents of 10-month olds to bringing up children, their feelings about being a parent and their organisational skills were patterned by family disadvantage and parenting support. Family disadvantage and support also patterned the activities parents carried out with their child, and the warmth of the parent-child relationship.

Low maternal education provides a relatively stable indicator of family disadvantage. Compared to mothers with degree level education, mothers with few or no educational qualifications were:

  • more likely to have highly authoritarian attitudes and negative feelings about their parenting role (resentment, incompetence, annoyance or impatience)
  • more likely to report high levels of home chaos
  • more likely to have the TV switched on for long periods, and to have a child watching TV for 2 or more hours daily
  • less likely to look at books or say nursery rhymes/sing with their child
  • less likely to enjoy a warm relationship with their child.

Parenting stress was higher for both mothers with no qualifications and mothers with degree-level qualifications, compared to mothers with intermediate qualifications. Further work is needed to identify possible differing sources of stress in well-educated and poorly educated groups, which were not clearly related to differences in parenting support.

Informal and formal sources of parenting support were each associated with different, but overlapping, aspects of parenting. Parents lacking informal support were:

  • more likely to experience high parenting stress and report high levels of home chaos
  • less likely to say nursery rhymes/sing with their child, and less likely to visit friends with young children.

Parents lacking formal support were:

  • more likely to report highly authoritarian attitudes and unrestricted TV
  • less likely to look at books with their child or to visit friends with young children.

Parents' authoritarian attitudes, stress, other negative feelings, and domestic organisation were associated with children's activities and the warmth of the parent-child relationship. These associations held after taking account of family circumstances (mother's education, health, the number of children in the family and parenting support). In particular:

  • Parents with more authoritarian attitudes were slightly less likely to read or sing with their child, and had a less warm relationship with them.
  • Parents experiencing high levels of stress parenting their child, as well as parents reporting negative feelings such as incompetence or annoyance, were less likely to read or sing with the child, and more likely to let the child watch TV for 2 hours or more daily. High parenting stress was also associated with less contact with friends with young children.
  • Parents who reported high levels of home chaos, as well as parents who left the TV switched on for long periods, were less likely to look at books/read stories, say nursery rhymes/sing with their child or visit friends with children.

In summary, the findings suggest that family disadvantage, parent support, parental attitudes and feelings, and parental organisational levels, may all have independent associations with aspects of parenting thought to be important for children's cognitive and socio-emotional development, and for the development of a secure attachment between the parent and child.

The limited comparison possible between the first and second GUS birth cohorts suggested a decrease in the proportion of parents with negative feelings about parenting, such as incompetence, resentment, impatience and irritation. There was a small increase in the proportion of parents who looked at books or read stories with their child daily. The difference in reading, but not the difference in negative feelings, is possibly attributable to increased provision of formal parenting support since the first birth cohort was surveyed.

Care should be taken when interpreting the findings from BC2 as the survey is cross-sectional at this stage. Associations found between measures might reflect other confounding influences or reverse causation (for example, mothers with certain attitudes may be more or less likely to seek formal parenting support, rather than such support changing attitudes and feelings). The analysis is limited to mothers' self-reported views. These may reflect biases such as social desirability, and differ from the views of fathers and other carers.

However, the findings do allow for the possibility that both informal and formal parenting support may boost both a parent's own psychological resources and important parenting behaviours. Few measures of the child's socio-emotional development were available at this stage; but subsequent sweeps will allow longitudinal associations between parental attitudes or feelings, parenting behaviours and child development to be examined.

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