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Parenting style can change child behaviour

CTV.ca News Staff, February 21, 2005

Parents who are more punitive tend to have aggressive children. But a new survey suggests that when parenting practices change, a child's behaviour also changes.

The results of the National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth (NLSCY) suggests children show higher levels of aggression, are more anxious and less altruistic when parents have a more punitive parenting style.

However, the study also says if parents became less punitive, over time, the child also became less aggressive. The same is true for the reverse.

"That's the big message: When parenting practices change, child behaviour changes," Eleanor Thomas, a senior research analyst from Statistics Canada, told CTV.ca.

A psychologist and mother of two thought the findings were common sense.

"If we're hitting our children ... to get them to do what we want, then it only makes sense to me that they'll take that type of behaviour and use it to get what they want," says Jacqueline Milner-Clerk.

The study, conducted by Social Development Canada and Statistics Canada, followed 4,129 children over an eight-year period.

Researchers surveyed parents in 1994-95 when children were between the ages of two and five. They again question parents and children in 2002-03, when the children were between 10 and 13 years of age.

Over that eight years, if a parent became less punitive, children scored just as low in aggression as children whose parents were never punitive.

"This occurred regardless of the children's level of aggressive behaviour when they were younger," the study suggests.

However, if a parent became more punitive over that time period, children scored just as high on aggression as those whose parenting styles were punitive at both ages.

The survey found similar results with regard to anxiety in children, and pro-social behaviour, defined as actions that benefit another person with no reward for oneself.

"People have been so interested in how parenting affects children in different ways, but it's hard to pin down change," says Thomas.

"When you've got a longitudinal survey like this one, you can look at change."

Thomas said the results of the survey do not prove punitive parenting practices cause aggressive behaviour, anxiety or pro-social behaviour in children.

"But it does confirm research that many people have done that very strongly suggests there a causal role between punitive parenting and aggression."

Low-income

Aside from parenting styles, the study looked at the effect of income on aggression in children.

It found that children from low-income homes tend to have a "slightly higher" probability of aggressive behaviour than other children.

However, "many of them are resilient to this situation and have outcomes that compare with children from other income groups."

It said that children who were resilient, or those who scored lower in aggression in 2002-03, were exposed to significantly lower levels of punitive parenting practices than less resilient children.

"FurtherRead More ..the resilient children experienced parenting practices that were significantly more nurturing, and their parents monitored their activities more closely," the survey said.

Other findings of the report:

  • Children from low-income families experienced higher levels of family dysfunction, up to the age of 11
  • Low-income was linked with maternal depression in the first and second round of testing
  • Dysfunction in the family was linked with anxiety in children aged two to five.

Aggressive behaviour in children was measured by how often the child reacted in aggressive ways, such as getting into fights, or how often by bullied others.

A punitive parenting style was characterized by how often the parent yelled or used physical punishment.

Milner-Clerk has this advice: "I would say not to smack the child when they do something wrong, but try to redirect the child, teach them the proper way to do something."

With a report from CTV's John Vennavally-Rao

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