Parent-Child Relationships Are Critical For Children’s Mental Health And Wellbeing

Mental health problem is prevalent in 1 in 10 children which includes depression, anxiety and conduct disorder. It is important to raise awareness on mental health because it is estimated that around 70% of these children did not have appropriate interventions at an early age. Children’s emotional wellbeing often leads to outcomes such as poor academic, more anti-social behaviour and suicides. Therefore, we care about mental health and wellbeing because if children have good mental health, it would enable them to build up on the flexibility to adapt and develop into healthy adults (Mental Health Foundation, 2019).

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This main focus of this essay is to discuss how parent-child relationship are critical for children’s mental health and wellbeing. The term parent-child relation refers to the bond between the parent and the child and is important for the child’s development. This essay will specifically look at Diana Baumrind parenting style, Belsky’s process model of parenting and bidirectionality. We care about parenting because for the vast majority of children, family are the early experience and socialisation context. Therefore, parent-child relationship is critical in impacting a child in terms of emotional/internalising problems such as depression, anxiety, externalising problems such as aggression, conduct problems and also social competence.

There is a large body of influential literature linking parental styles with child outcomes (Bugental & Grusec, 2006). Diana Baumrind identified four major parenting style, authoritative, authoritarian, permissive and rejecting-neglecting and elaborated by Maccoby & Martin (Baumrind, 1996; Maccoby & Martin, 1983).

Authoritative parenting is a style of rearing described by both expectations and warmth. They portray themselves as authority figures and anticipate for their orders to be followed yet they are likewise caring, loving and responsive. The related results with this parenting style are higher academic performance, increasingly confidence, better social abilities, less mental illness and lower delinquency. A study by Wolfradt et al investigated the relationship between parenting styles, anxiety and coping behaviour. The study found higher scores on problem coping in children with authoritative parenting. It was also found those who received parental warmth was negatively correlated with anxiety (Wolfradt, Hempel & Miles, 2003). A longitudinal study of authoritative parenting provides further support for authoritative parenting in being the most effective style based on mental wellbeing (Shucksmith, Hendry & Glendinning, 1995). The evidence demonstrates that it is critical for a healthy parent-child relationship for a child mental health and wellbeing. In particular, authoritative parenting style leads to the most positive outcomes.

Authoritarian parenting is characterized by demanding and rigid parents. They are extremely strict and anticipate that their request should be complied. These parents show low levels of warmth and responsiveness, which means they are not mindful to their kids’ needs. This results in lower academic performance, less confidence, poorer social skills, less antisocial behaviour and mental illness. Wolfradt study also demonstrated that there was a higher anxiety scores in children with authoritarian parents (Wolfradt, Hempel & Miles, 2003). Furthermore, several previous studies maternal authoritarian attitudes predicted conduct problems in children (Najman et al, 2002; Ostman & Hansson, 2002). Therefore, the impact of parent-child relationship on children’s mental health is widely supported by previous research.

Permissive parenting is a child rearing style on the contrary end of the range, where the parent isn’t strict in any way. The parent does not enforce many rules or disciplines. The outcomes associated with permissive parenting is conduct problems, poor social skills and problematic relationship.

Rejecting-neglecting parenting unresponsive and cold parents, they are uninvolved and have no rules. Therefore, this parenting style leads to the poorest outcomes which includes, delinquency, low academic and suicides. Lamborn et al found that children suffered from poor psychological adjustment such as anxiety and depression when receiving rejecting and neglecting parenting (Lamborn, Mounts, Steinber & Dornbusch, 1991). In addition, Wagner et al reported the children who received rejecting-neglecting parenting style were more likely to suffer symptoms of depression compared to those who received warm parenting (Wagner, Cohen & Brook, 1996). This suggest that parent-child relationship is critical in children’s mental health and wellbeing.

Despite general agreement about the parenting styles on children and its associated outcomes, questions have been raised and remains unanswered. In particular, questions were raised about the child’s cultural background. Baumrind’s model research involved primarily middle-class European family and thus it was criticised for the model being unrepresentative of the wider population. In addition to this, there was inconsistent findings found when research used a diverse sample (Dornbush, Ritter, Leiderman, Roberts & Fraleigh, 1987) which implies that the model is not universally applicable.

Parenting style do not affect everyone in the same way because of individual differences. Some children may perceive for example authoritarian parenting style differently compared to another child.

One major issue with the empirical evidence on parenting style is that most the research is based on mothers. The parent-child relationship could affect the child’s mental health slightly differently depending on whether the child’s bond is with the father or mother. Research have found mothers with authoritative parenting style was associated with higher self-esteem, life satisfaction and lower depression but with authoritative fathers, there was less defined outcomes and was more evident for depression (Milevsky, Schlechter, Netter & Keehn, 2006). This implies that more work needs to be done on differences between parents in order to increase the validity of the model.

Furthermore, instead of focusing on different types of parenting, Belsky proposed a process model of parenting whereby the parenting quality is influenced by 3 factors, personal psychological resources of parents, the child characteristics of individuality and contextual sources of stress and support. The model assumes that these factors influence parental functioning thus impacting the child mental health and wellbeing (Belsky, 1984).

However, from Belsky model questions were raised about bidirectionality. Unidirectional models once dominated in terms of assuming parent is impacts and is critical for a child development. Decades of research provides evidence that parenting behaviour, children development and relationship quality involve both parents and children as socializers (Bell, 1968; Pardini, 2008; Sameroff & Mackenzie, 2003). This suggest that parenting behaviour and children mental health are bidirectional thus parent-child relationship is critical for a child outcome (Katherine W. Paschal & Ann M. Mastergeorge, 2015). Even though parents affect children’s outcome suggesting a causal link, it is more complicated than this as it involves bidirectional process.

Parents have multiple stressors such as, managing the child, financial responsibilities and personal responsibilities and because of this parent may display authoritarian parenting style and may be less responsive and more neglecting, this would result in depression in children (Deater-Deckard, 1998). Likewise, children often face challenges and stress, and some may not be able to cope as well as others, this will lead to conduct problems and in return, this will impact the parenting style received by parents (Compas et al, 2001; Eisenberg et al, 1997). For example, because of challenges in the children environment they may develop conduct problem and thus parents may have to adopt a certain parenting style such as authoritarian parenting style which in return will mean the parent is strict and is not taking account of the child’s need and therefore increasing mental health and wellbeing issues. Hence, a positive parent-child relationship needs to be formed in order to reduce any mental illness and wellbeing problems in children.

Moreover, further research supports bidirectional parent-child relation. A study by Lee et al explored whether child temperament predicts parenting style and whether parenting style predicts child temperament. The results found support bidirectional relations between children temperament and authoritarian parenting style for instance, children with strict inflexible parents were more likely to display anger and conduct problems and inversely children with anger and conduct problem often meant the parent had to change their rearing style to a higher authoritarian parenting. In addition to this, these findings of bidirectional parent-child relationship were extended to other cultures (Lee, Zhou, Eisenberg & Wang, 2012).

To conclude, there are decades of research suggesting the significance of parent-child relationship on the child’s mental health. However, most research involves self or adolescent reports of parenting but if studies employed observational method, will there still be the existing styles or will new ones be found? This would be useful to conduct cross culturally. In addition, issues like bidirectionality suggest that parent-child relationship is not casual and is more complicated. It is also important to remember parenting style is a continuous process and can change overtime, so it is difficult to claim whether the parenting style actually affected the child’s mental health and wellbeing. With that being said, Baumrind parenting style model are strong empirical basis, despite many years of previous research which implies parent-child relationship is critical in children’s mental health and wellbeing. Most importantly, from parent-child relationship research we can understand that it is crucial for children’s development and this can help in improving intervention.


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  8. 10 October 2020

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