Good parenting can serve as a powerful buffer against the stresses faced by children growing up in poor, urban environments, according to researchers at the University of Rochester, New York.
Children who thrived despite the stresses of an inner-city childhood had parents who were nurturing and emotionally responsive, were consistent and authoritative in using discipline, and had positive expectations for their children's future, reports Peter A. Wyman, Ph.D., head of the study.
"Quality parenting can promote sound child development under high-risk conditions, over and above the effects of influential factors such as family socioeconomic level and parent mental health," says Wyman.
The researchers examined 159 seven- to nine-year-olds drawn from an inner city school district. Of these, 85 were classified as "resilient" - well adjusted according to ratings on standard scales by their parents and teachers - despite having experienced four or more traumatic events or circumstances, such as the death of a family member, family alcohol problems, or neighborhood violence.
The remaining students (74) were judged poorly adjusted by their parents and teachers. More than half of the students in both groups came from families with incomes below the poverty level.
The researchers interviewed both groups of parents using a structured interview designed to elicit such factors as the child's temperament, the parents' attitudes and approach toward parenting, and the support the children received from fathers or extended family members.
Compared with parents of poorly adjusted children, parents of resilient children were more responsive and nurturing, more consistent in applying discipline, and more positive about their children's abilities and future. Parents of resilient children also reported better mental health, a better view of themselves, and more support from friends and family members.
Interestingly, parents of resilient children in the study did not report more positive relationships with their own parents. In fact, many had histories of neglect, abuse, or parental substance abuse.
"The present findings suggest that some parents can develop an orientation toward responsive caregiving, and a close, nurturant relationship with their children under a wide range of early life experiences," Wyman and colleagues say. "A clearer understanding of how parents develop responsive parenting attitudes is important both for shedding light on life-span development and informing interventions designed to enhance effective caregiving."
The results of the study are reported in the current issue of Child Development.
The research was supported by a grant from the W.T. Grant Foundation.
Child Development is the bimonthly peer-reviewed journal of the Society for Research in Child Development. For information about the journal, please contact Jonathan J. Aiken, 734-998-7310.