Parenting and child externalising behavioural problems: an exploration of the role of parental cognitions and characteristics
Background/Aims: Understanding predictors, moderators and mediators of child externalising behaviour problems could lead to improvements in engagement and outcomes for children and their families. Parental cognitions, including self-efficacy and attributions, have been proposed as mediators in the relationship between parenting and child behaviour problems. Although mediation is increasingly recognised as an effective way of examining relationships between variables, only a small proportion of studies that identify potential mediators actually conduct a mediation analysis. This thesis consists of two studies: a systematic review (Journal Article 1) and an empirical study (Journal Article 2). The systematic review investigated the ways in which mediation analysis has been used to examine the role of parental cognitions in studies of child behavioural problems, and to assess the methodological quality of these studies. The empirical study investigated the role of parental cognitions and characteristics in relation to pre-school child externalising behaviour problems. Methods: In Journal Article 1, a systematic search of three electronic databases, a quality assessment of included studies, and a subsequent narrative synthesis were conducted. In Journal Article 2, 125 parents of children aged 3-6 years old attending a community-based parent management training programme, across three local authorities, completed a battery of self-report questionnaires before and after the intervention. Correlational and mediation analyses were conducted to investigate relationships between child behaviour and parental attachment style, metacognition, dysfunctional attributions and parental stress. We also tested the possibility that parents’ reported levels of stress and child behaviour problems, and their demographic variables, played a role in whether they completed the intervention. Results: In Journal Article 1, after screening, 14 studies were reviewed using an adapted quality criteria tool. The most commonly studied parental cognition was parental self-efficacy, with a small number of studies investigating parental attributions. A variety of approaches to mediation analysis had been used and caution should be exercised when interpreting the results of many of the reviewed studies. Despite a growing recognition of the limitations of some traditional methods (e.g. causal steps approach), research into mediators of child externalising behaviour could be improved by a wider adoption of more appropriate tools, in line appropriate theoretical frameworks. In Journal Article 2, as hypothesised, the results indicated significant relationships between parents' attachment insecurity and baseline levels of parental stress, parental attributions and child behaviour problems. Support was found for the hypothesis that parental attributions mediated the relationship between attachment insecurity and child externalising behaviour problems. We did not find significant that any demographic variables other than parent age predicted whether parents completed the programme. Conclusions: Taken together, the two studies provide evidence of a complex relationship between parental factors, particularly parental cognitions, and externalising child behaviour problems. The systematic review found some evidence that parental cognitions mediate how aspects of parenting (e.g. behaviour and affect) and child externalising behaviour problems are associated, and the empirical study also showed that parental attributions are important in relation to child behaviour problems. Of particular interest was the finding that they mediate the relationship between child behaviour problems and attachment insecurity. However, to advance the field both theoretically and clinically, future studies should endeavour to ensure adequate sample size and power, using optimal study designs, in conjunction with strong theoretical grounding. Exploring cognitive mediators beyond self-efficacy, such as parental attributions, will allow us to further develop our understanding of the relationship between child behaviour and parenting.
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