Parents Are the Primary Cause of Disturbed and Disturbing Behaviour in Their Children Essay

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Parents are the primary cause of disturbed and disturbing behaviour in their children this essay will look at evidence for and against this claim. It will start by explaining the meaning of the phrase disturbed and disturbing behaviour and then move on to explain the role that parents play in the cause of disturbed or disturbing behaviour within their children. In the past theorists would have agreed with this phrase, having good evidence to support their theories. Nevertheless this is now considered by many to be a naive view of a childs development.

The essay will look at three different models, the medical model, the social environment model and the transactional model. It will conclude by looking at the role of the child in the process and looking at whether there is conclusive evidence to support this claim. There is a large minority of children who find certain circumstances difficult to adjust to and because of this; their behaviour is considered by others to be difficult, withdrawn, disturbed or even bizarre. Parents of these children may describe them as being hard to manage, demanding, and aggressive.

People who work with these children for example teachers or health care workers could consider them to have behavioural problems. The expression disturbed and disturbing behaviour is very unclear, it can have several meanings at one time. One suggestion could be that the child is the victim of incompetent or abusive parenting. Then another suggestion is that the child is the cause of the problem with behaviour that needs to be contained. What is meant by a problem? Childhood signs of psychological abnormality are, by and large, manifestations of behavioural, cognitive and emotional responses common to all children.

Their quality of being dysfunctional lies in their inappropriate intensity, frequency and persistence (Herbert, 1991, p. 13). Children are said to present problems when their behaviour falls out of the range of tolerance and age-appropriateness. That range maybe more or less wide depending both on the context and the attitudes of those making such judgments. To put it bluntly, many children are only seen as having problems when they become a problem to others. So, whose problem is it? Where does the problem reside (Chapter, 2, p. 63)?

Individuals have different perspectives of the problem. From the medical view the problem might be described in terms of disorders which locates the problem firmly within the child as part of their psychological make-up. The approach to treatment was to prescribe medication or psychotherapy. This model was very prevalent during the 40s and 50s which came under much criticism. Emotional and behavioural difficulties were not considered within the medical model. The social environment model was careful not to put labels like disturbed on to the child.

As the medical model focuses the problem within the child the social environment model sees the problem as being outside the child for example a poor home situation, incompetent or abusive parental care or inadequate discipline at school. Bowlbys theory of maternal deprivation is a good illustration of this perspective, which was highly influential in the 1950s in the construction of post-war social policy on the functions of the family and especially the role of women, as mothers, in promoting childrens mental health (Chapter, 2, p. 8).

Referring to children and their behaviour there is a very common phrase used in everyday life I blame it on the parents. This spanned many generations believing that the explanation for childrens bad or disruptive behaviour lay firmly within the home environment and the quality of parenting. Believing this removed the attention from the child themselves and the role that they might play in their behaviour and it also removed the attention from society and its responsibility for the welfare of the child.

Most importantly, this belief is not just a feature of a particular ideology; it has become a foundation stone for some psychological theories about the processes of typical and disturbed development (Chapter 2 Pg 69). Kessen (1979) alerts us to the fact that some ideologies masquerade as psychological knowledge, information which is extremely important when taking into account research links between mother and child relationships and the development of disturbed behaviour.

Many studies have suggested that disturbed/disturbing behaviour in children can be related to difficulties in the relationships with their mothers, which may reflect the mothers mental states (Murray and Stein, 1991; Garver, 1997; Wakschlag and Hans, 1999; Halligan et al. , 2004). Maternal responsiveness is important to an infant as is a mothers mind-mindedness (the ability to know what is going on in their infants mind) but this sensitive response can be affected by different factors. One example would be postnatal depression.

A study done by Murray (1992) found that 18-month-old infants whose mothers had suffered from postnatal depression were more likely to be assessed as insecurely attached in the strange situation. This was more prevalent in boys. Insecure attachment has been consistently linked with psychological difficulties (Greenberg et al. , 1993; Sund and Wichstrom, 2002). Murray also found that children of depressed mothers were more likely to have difficulties such as temper tantrums, eating problems, have trouble sleeping and be over clinging.

This could suggest that infant temperament may also be causing problems. However not all depressed mothers develop difficulties in their relationships with their offspring (Cox et al. , 1987). Although maternal depression is one pathway to behavioural difficulties there is another; research has been carried out which traces the origins of antisocial behaviour to harsh and inconsistent discipline and ineffective parental control strategies which unwittingly reinforce the childs negative, coercive behaviour (chapter, 2, P. 73).

In disturbed relationships the people involved not only behave towards each other but they also think about each other. They both have an internal working model of the relationship which means that the cognitive as well as the social and emotional dimensions of the relationship need to be taken into account. In an Australian large-scale longitudinal study they found that mothers who had negative attitudes towards their infants at 6 months old were more likely to report behaviour problems when their children were 5 years old, especially for boys (Bor et al. 2003).

The fathers also have a role in care giving. A fathers child-rearing beliefs, working hours, personality and age predicted fathers care giving activities. Fathers were more likely to assume care giving responsibilities if they had more positive personalities and were younger. They also assumed more care giving responsibilities when they contributed lower proportions of family income and were employed for fewer hours. Also marital intimacy predicted fathers care giving activities with fathers more involved when mothers reported more imitate marriages (Research summary 3, chapter, 2, p. 6).

Much of the research which has explored fathers roles in shaping childrens behaviour has focused on the relationship between antisocial behaviour in fathers and childrens development. There is now strong evidence that there is a significant relationship between the two (Deklyen et al. 1998; Margolin and Gordis, 2000; Jaffee et al. 2003). Absence or low involvement of the father has been shown to be associated with poor outcomes for children (Scott, 1998; Carlson and Corcoran, 2001).

Research shows that a fathers involvement at age 7 protected against psychological maladjustment in adolescents from disrupted families. For boys, early father involvement protected against later delinquency as measured by the childs history of trouble with the police (Flouri and Buchanan, 2002) and for girls, father involvement at aged 16 protected against subsequent psychological distress (Flouri and Buchanan, 2003). Many studies have focused only on the amount of father involvement, neglecting the quality of the relationship (Research summary 4 pg 77).

Although it is important to acknowledge the role of the parents involvement in their childrens adjustment we need to recognise that the child also has a role in the process. Attitudes about some styles of parenting as being the cause of atypical child behaviour, reflects a social environment perception seeing the child as a passive victim of circumstances. Traditional questioning of the effects of environmental variables on childrens development and adjustment has been challenged through various researches.

In a report from a study carried out by Sears et al. they offered a social environment interpretation, arguing that it was the combination of parents permissiveness and punitiveness that caused their children to become aggressive. A highly permissive style means that children do not have clear guidance on appropriate behaviour, where as a highly punitive style means that, at the same time, they may have been frustrated by bouts of severe punishment (chapter, 2, p. 79). Bell (1968) argued persuasively for changing the direction of effect.

He maintained that it was the childs temperamental characteristics that determined how aggressive he or she was and that it is the parental disciplinary approach that attempts to adapt the childs behaviour. Johnston et al. s research illustrates the dangers of presuming particular directions of causality. It would be wrong to assume that environmental risk factors would be in some sense causing childrens problems. There could be some circumstances where the characteristics of the child could add to family stress, changing parental attitudes and influencing maternal behaviour.

The relative influence of parenting behaviour versus child behaviour will vary, according to the characteristics of the child and of the parent and the circumstances affecting both (chapter, 2, p. 80). It is clear that children can have both direct and indirect influences on their environment. Children and environments can also share transactional relationships. Consider a child who is easily upset and also hard to soothe, the so called difficult temperament.

Such a child with a parent who has a good social support network an a well-provided home and is relatively easily able to contain the childs distress and minimise upsetting experiences, may end up experiencing only brief and infrequent periods of upset and evoking a lot of supportive, sensitive care giving from the environment. The same child, however, might evoke a very different kind of care giving in a more stressed household with a parent who is less able to behave sensitively and protectively and reacts to the childs distress in overly emotional ways.

Thus environments can differ in their reactivity to childrens behaviour (Method and Skills Handbook pg 41). Chess and Thomson introduced the concept of goodness of fit to describe the transactional relationship between child and environment. As they state, goodness-of-fit results when the childs capacities, motivations and temperament are adequate to master the demands, expectations and opportunities of the environment (Chess and Thomas, 1984, p. 80). Looking at the evidence presented above it is inconclusive that parents are the primary cause of disturbed and disturbing behaviour in their children; it is important to reaffirm that there are multiple pathways to disturbed behaviour and that maternal and paternal behaviour represent just two among a constellation of social context, family and parental risk factors that have been found to be associated with childhood difficulties (chapter, 2, p. 77).

The evidence presented by Murray and Stein, 1991; Garver, 1997; Wakschlag and Hans, 1999; Halligan et al. , 2004 stating that disturbed/disturbing behaviour in children can be related to difficulties in the relationships with their mothers, is refuted by Cox et al. saying, not all depressed mothers develop difficulties in their relationships with their offspring. The issue is not about whether the direction of effect runs from child to mother or from mother to child; it is about their mutual influence as partners in a relationship.

Children as well as parents play an active role in the process of development (chapter, 2, p. 80). In summary any particular problems that a child might present need to be understood in terms of the demands of the context, the history of similar experiences faced by the child and the history of the adult who finds the childs behaviour disturbing (chapter, 2, p. 64).

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