• By Dartington SRU
  • Posted on Thursday 20th October, 2011

Measures maketh the parent

While the quality of parenting needs to be measured, there is a lack of universally accepted standards. Indeed, there are a huge number of measures, reflecting the many aspects of parenting, which focus on attitudes, stress, style, satisfaction, skills, behavior and discipline. Marjorie Smith of the University of London has reviewed three standardized questionnaire-type measures to give a sense of the variation.First, she looked at the HOME Inventory, which is a comprehensive and widely used measure. Subscales include, among other things, learning stimulation, warmth/affection and physical environment. It is administered via observation and interview in the child’s home, with the parent and child present and taking about one hour. There are versions for children aged 0-15.The measures in this require some judgment, for instance about whether the parent’s voice conveys positive feelings for child. HOME has robust psychometric properties and is sensitive to change in evaluations of interventions. It has been adapted for different cultures and socially excluded populations, and there is also a short version.Smith also looked at two measures of parental stress, since this is known to contribute to harsher discipline and poorer parent-child relations and to have a negative impact on child well-being. The sources of such stress include poor environment, child behavior problems and a lack of social support.The 101-item Parenting Stress Index is particularly applicable for children aged up to three, although it has been used with children up to 12. It focuses on common stressors that result in dysfunctional parenting, such as demanding child behavior, parent depression, and relations with spouse. It has good psychometric properties and has been used widely in research and clinical settings. It as been translated into several languages, and there is also a short 36-item version.The 20-item Parenting Daily Hassles scale is for parents of young children and aims to assess minor parenting stresses in the context of parent-child relationships. It covers typical everyday events in parenting, such as “constantly cleaning up children’s messes” and “being nagged, whined at or complained to”. Parents are asked about how often these occur and how much they feel irritated or hassled by it. The measure has acceptable reliability. It exists in different languages and has been used in a variety of situations, including with teen mothers and parents of disabled children.As Smith notes, many measures exist and many were developed for specific purposes but used afterwards with little attention to their validity or reliability. Since there is no comprehensive measure, it is common to use several at once.She argues that in order to select the most suitable measure or measures, it helps to have a decent grasp of the underlying theory. This is because the development of measures reflects theoretical developments in the understanding of parenting.Early work focused on child-rearing tasks – parenting was something that adults “did” to children. The socialization perspective introduced an emphasis on parental warmth and control, which may be captured as “parenting style”.More recently there has been greater recognition of parenting as a “reciprocal interaction”, expressed through and influenced by relationships in the family. The effect of non-relationship factors on parenting, such as maternal depression or neighborhood quality, has also received more attention. Parenting has come to be understood as multi-dimensional and influenced by a range of factors, including parent personality, marital satisfaction, poverty and children’s behavior.Most widely used measures have followed theoretical developments, with, as Smith says, “a discernable shift over time form measures that focused exclusively on parents’ behaviour in child-rearing tasks, to parenting style, followed by measures more consistent with concepts of parenting determined by multiple factors, and process models”.Those that have stood the test of time focus on the qualitative nature of parent-child relationship and are either comprehensive, such as HOME, or consistent with interaction theories in that they are sensitive to stressors that disrupt parent-child relations and parenting behavior, such as the PSI and PDH.This change in focus has been accompanied by shift, at least in US, away from self-reports and standardized questionnaires and towards observation and semi-structured interviews. This reflects both an understanding of parenting as interactional and evidence that observations of parenting are more strongly predictive of outcomes than are other measures.It is a trend that is likely to continue because as Smith writes, “theoretical developments in concepts of parenting will increasingly require the use of assessments more sensitive to the interactive and dynamic aspects of parenting. It seems probable that these will be observational methods or semi-structured interviews, rather than questionnaires”.ReferenceSmith, M. (2011) ‘Measures for assessing parenting in research and practice’, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Review 16 (3), 158-166.

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