Family Factors and Parenting Style
Because parents play so vital a role in their children's development, they are an easy target whenever challenging behavior appears on the scene. Parenting is difficult and complicated work that requires a vast amount of time and energy—which are in short supply in many families. It is important for teachers to understand the parents' role in challenging behavior, but it is equally important not to blame them. It is far better to become their partners.
Any life circumstance that hinders a parent's well-being can put children at risk, including:
- A mother who had her first child when she was very young (Haapasalo and Tremblay, 1994)
- Parents with little education (Coie and Dodge, 1998)
- A parent with mental illness, especially a mother who's depressed (Shonkoff and Phillips, 2000)
- A parent who is abusing alcohol or drugs (Farrington, 1991)
- A parent with antisocial or criminal behavior (Farrington, 1991; Frick et al., 1991)
- Four or more children in the family (Farrington, 1991; Raine, 1993)
Indirectly, all these factors influence the parent-child relationship, the first line of defense against later aggressive behavior. According to attachment theory, first described by John Bowlby (1969/1982) and Mary Ainsworth (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waaters, and Wall, 1978), a secure attachment to a sensitive and responsive primary caregiver provides the foundation for a child's emotional development, enabling her to learn to regulate and express her feelings, cope with stress, and see herself as an effective and lovable person. But when the primary caregiver is unavailable, unpredictable, insensitive, or rejecting, the child forms an insecure attachment; and she doesn't trust adults to care for her or help her organize her world, has difficulty regulating her emotions, and feels ineffectual and unworthy of love. Because the parent-child relationship acts as a prototype for the child's future relationships (Bowlby, 1969/1982), children with an insecure attachment have trouble getting along with their peers and teachers at school, and their behavior is often challenging and aggressive (Greenberg, Speltz, and DeKlyen, 1993; Renken, Egeland, Marvinney, Mangelsdorf, and Sroufe, 1989).
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