When it comes to rearing children, just about any parent will say that what works with one kid might not work with another. Parents use all sorts of strategies to keep kids from being cranky, grumpy, fearful, or moody while encouraging them to be independent and well-adjusted.
A study by University of Washington psychologists provides advice about tailoring parenting to children’s personalities. The study was published online in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology.
At the end of the three-year study, the psychologists found that the right match between parenting styles and the child’s personality led to one-half as many depression and anxiety symptoms in school-aged children. But mismatches led to twice as many depression and anxiety symptoms during the same three years.
“We hear a lot about over-involved parents, like ‘tiger moms’ and ‘helicopter parents,’” says coauthor Liliana Lengua, PhD, a psychology professor. “It is parents’ instinct to help and support their children in some way, but it’s not always clear how to intervene in the best way. This research shows that parenting is a balance between stepping in and stepping out with guidance, support, and structure based on cues from kids.”
The researchers studied interactions between 214 children and their mothers during interviews at home. An almost even mix of boys and girls participated in the study and were, on average, 9 years old when the study began.
The children and their mothers met with the researchers once a year. The researchers observed as the pairs discussed neutral topics, such as a recap of the day’s events, and common problems, like conflicts over homework and chores. During the conversations, the researchers noted parenting styles, including warmth and hostility, and how much mothers allowed their child to guide the conversations.
The researchers also measured the children’s anxiety and depression symptoms and evaluated their personality characteristics. They paid particular attention to effortful control, the kids’ abilities to regulate their own emotions and actions, which is associated with lower levels of depression and anxiety.
At the end of the three-year study, the researchers found that:
• Children with greater effortful control had fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression compared with other kids in the study, and those symptoms usually remained low regardless of parenting style.
• When children were higher in effortful control but their parents used higher levels of guidance or provided little autonomy, those children showed higher levels of depression and anxiety.
• Children with low effortful control had less anxiety when mothers provided more structuring and less autonomy.
• Children low in effortful control doubled their anxiety symptoms if they had mothers who provided little control.
Lengua says the study shows how parents can use their child’s personality and temperament to decide how much and what type of help to give. For some kids, particularly those who have trouble regulating their emotions, more help is good. But for kids who have pretty good self-control, too much parental control can lead to more anxiety and depression.
— Source: University of Washington