Parental experiences of difficulty: a study of how parents perceive and respond to their child's temperament
This study addresses two central questions: How do parents form perceptions of their child's temperament? And, how do these perceptions influence their parenting? Qualitative research methodology was employed in order to explore multiple factors and processes that contribute to parental perceptions and responses. Data were obtained through semi-structured interviews and observations of parent-child interactions. Transcripts of interviews and field notes were analyzed to address the following clusters of questions: (1) How do parents form perceptions of their children's temperaments? What characteristics of children's temperaments are especially salient? How do parents' own temperaments influence judgments about their children? What other factors influence judgments about children's temperaments? How are judgments about the "goodness" or "badness" of temperament characteristics assigned? How do "informal" judgments of temperament compare to standardized measurements? (2) How do perceptions of children's temperaments influence parenting decisions? Do parents consider their children's temperaments when making decisions and forming parenting strategies? (3) How do parents feel about parenting a child with a more difficult temperament? How do their feelings influence parenting and how are feelings managed? What kind of support is helpful?The results of this study suggest that parental perceptions of their child's difficult temperament reflect characteristics of the child as well as characteristics of the child's physical and social environment. The specific factors that influenced parents' perceptions and responses varied across families but included: parents' histories, especially in their families of origin; current environmental stressors and supports; cultural perspectives; and parents' personalities, psychological states, and philosophical views. The euphemistic concept of the "spirited child," popular through parenting books and workshops, influenced several parents' views of their child's temperament.Parents differed in their response to perceived difficult temperament. Two parenting styles emerged in response to perceptions of difficult temperament: parenting based on control and parenting based on containment. These parenting styles led to differences in parenting goals, interventions, and definitions of difficulty. This study has implications for family assessment, counseling, and parent education. Recommendations are offered that broaden the focus on difficult temperament to include attention to family and environmental factors.
- Education - Seattle