Throughout this summer, working with the SafeCare Colorado program has brought many issues to my attention. Among them mostly surround child abuse and neglect. While starting my research with very broad topics and interests, I finally found a topic that sparked my interest and pushed me to explore it further; my research now focuses mainly on parenting and a child’s subsequent behavior. Many factors play into this relationship, including the personality of the parent, the parenting style, and the parent-child dyad itself. Many issues can come of a disharmonious parent-child dyad, including aggressions and both internalizing and externalizing behaviors, specifically from the child. This can be avoided however with simple screening and evaluation. Ultimately, when parents and children do not pair well as far as parenting styles and personalities, there is bound to be a clash between them. The most important thing a parent can do is learn what both they and the child need and how they can accomplish that safely and with loving support.
Researching parenting is extremely convenient since I have been working with SafeCare Colorado this summer. The SafeCare Colorado program is a unique home visiting program for child abuse and neglect prevention. Trained providers enter the home and teach parents about safety and best ways to interact with their child or infant; the four main pillars of the program are safety, health, parent-child interactions (PCI), and parent-infant interactions (PII). These pillars assist at-risk parents and families in creating and maintaining a safe and nurturing home environment. At-risk parent demographics include but are not limited to single parents, teen mothers, low socioeconomic status (SES) families, and parents with a history of their own abuse. Before I could start my own research, I had to be well informed on the SafeCare program and trained as a mandated child abuse reporter. Some of the other trainings I was fortunate enough to complete were child development trainings specifically for home visitors. These trainings through the Institute for the Advancement of Family Support Professionals and Colorado Child Welfare Training System explained both normative and atypical language, emotional, social, cognitive and physical development and how a home visitor can best support a family in these ways. Trainings for home visitors lay the foundation of their education on creating a harmonious family, which starts with the parent-child dyad.
During my time at the SafeCare Colorado program, my focus has been on research for my honors thesis in Dr. Lindsey Hamilton’s class. When I initially started, I had a plethora of interests revolving around children, parenting, personality, abuse, neglect, and mental illness. All of these topics fall under the SafeCare umbrella, so any of them would have been appropriate. Unfortunately however, that was too many different directions in which to go, so Dr. Casillas and I worked very hard to narrow these interests down to find something more specific for me to study. My finalized focus became the relationship between parenting and child mental illness. This helped immensely in searching through an overwhelming amount of literature. By working through SafeCare’s models and research methods, I found five different assessment surveys relating to my focus. The first was the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ), which examines anxiety, depression, alcohol use, physical symptoms, and psychosis. This interested me in imagining how a parent might answer the survey and how that might affect a child. The second assessment that relates to my research is the Child Behavior Questionnaire (CBQ), which examines child behavior and temperament. This is helpful in exploring how children react to a specific parenting style. Third, the Parenting Self-Agency Measure (PSAM) seemed useful for assessing how a caregiver thinks of himself or herself as a parent overall. Fourth, the Parenting Scale interested me in my research in its assessment of exactly what a parent’s parenting style is. Fifth, the Parent-Child Conflict Tactics Scale (CTS) Form A examines the parent-child dyad and the parent’s form of discipline (yelling, time-out, physical aggression, etc.). The survey advertises the identification of child maltreatment. Finally, coupling the CTS is its results, identifying different levels of assault, reasoning, non-violent discipline, and psychological aggression. Through these surveys, I hope to uncover data on the most important dyad in the family by learning about the parent’s behavior, the child’s behavior, and the way the parent responds to the child in the dyad.
In my research, multiple scholars have confirmed that parenting plays a significant role in a child’s development. Achtergarde, Postert, Wessing, Romer, & Miller (2014) found that a parent’s personality affects their parenting and the subsequent child reaction. Mazur & Mickle (2017) found that primary caregivers who sought support on online forums were hoping to find advice, support, understanding, and/or a place to vent about their child’s mental illness. Finally, Nikolaev, Baranova, & Petunova (2016) discovered maternal well-being being a significant influence of adolescents and children with developmental problems.
Parents model their child’s behavior through their personality, which directly influences child development and mental health. When a child’s temperament frustrates a parent, the parent is likely to resort to harsh parenting. This type of parenting, which includes power-assertive or overprotective behaviors, is proven to create dysfunction in the parent-child dyad, worsening the cycle of a disharmonious dyad. The “Big Five” personality traits that directly affect parenting are openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Neuroticism suggests an individual’s tendency to feel a negative affect such as fear, depression, sadness, anger and insecurity, and mothers who scored high on neuroticism showed more power-assertive and less supportive parenting, which manifested more behavior problems in their children. Extraversion encapsulates not only sociability, but also warmth. High extraversion in fathers was associated with more responsive parenting, but interestingly the same was not true for mothers. Openness refers to aesthetic sensitivity, active imagination, intellectual curiosity, and independence of judgment; high openness was associated with parental support, but low openness was associated with parental control. People high on conscientiousness tend to make plans and are organized, structured, tenacious and purposeful, and these characteristics are positive influencers on parenting behavior. Finally, agreeableness characterizes people who appear altruistic, sympathetic, kind, and willing to help others; as a result, maternal agreeableness was positively associated with mothers’ observed responsiveness, while low parental agreeableness correlated with less supportive parenting.
Parenting a child with a mental illness is undoubtedly more stressful than parenting a child without one, so the parent-child dyad is challenged even more than normal. Problems for the parents include the stress of discipline, feelings of helplessness, and needing advice for their own coping. When a parent reaches out for help on an online forum, the overall topics of the posts fell into eight main categories: effects on parents, medication, other therapies, school and education, cause of child’s mental illness, child’s symptoms and illness-related behaviors, child diagnosis, societal attitudes and discrimination, and concerns for child’s future. Within these categories, parents, stepparents, spouses and primary caregivers alike all elicit a certain type of help. If a parent already struggles with some of the negative aspects of the Big Five traits however, chaos is guaranteed in the dyad. Specifically, data proves that parents of children with Bipolar Disorder (BD) are eleven times more likely to report verbal or physical conflict than parents of children diagnosed with ADHD.
As crucial as the parent-child dyad is to a harmonious environment, a mother’s well-being plays a key role in said environmental harmony. When a mother fails to cope in a healthy way, young children are more likely to exhibit both emotional and behavioral disorders. Specifically, young boys are more prone to these disorders in the conditions of authoritarian or rejecting parenting styles. In addition, her coping methods directly affect her parenting style. Possible coping strategies include problem-solving, social support-seeking, or avoidance coping. Parenting styles have direct correlations to a child’s mental health, and especially maternal characteristics are strong predictors of child behavior problems and cognitive competence.
This all affects my opinion on the subject; in my opinion, parents have a crucial responsibility to learn about both themselves and their children in order to create a harmonious development environment with minimal conflict. Firstly, a parent should understand where they stand in the Big Five personality traits. Next, it is up to the parents to have both them and their child analyzed in the assessments described above, or something similar. With that knowledge and proper action, a safe and peaceful parent-child dyad can be born. There is no relationship in the world that is more key than the relationship with a parent. Coming in close second may be your spouse, but parents set up a foundation for all other relationships, so it has to start with the parent. In the situation of a disharmonious parent-child dyad, there is high risk for mental illness in the parent and/or child. This issue affects me in many ways. As the child of a single mother, I understand being at-risk, as my biological father was very problematic. Our parent-child dyad was the farthest thing from harmonious, and it ended up being an extremely traumatic relationship. This man is high on neuroticism in terms of insecurity, and is very low on openness and agreeableness. If other parents at similar risk can prevent a destructive parent-child dyad, every measure should be taken to prevent it. This is one of the closest things to my heart as a victim of abuse as a result of this toxic dyad, and specializing my work with kids makes it all the more special to me. I am proud to be an advocate for children in my personal life and through multiple jobs working with children. Anything I can do to reduce or prevent disharmonious parent-child dyads helps me feel just a little better about the global and cross-cultural issue, so this research helps me with that. I will be using this research to continue my education in a Clinical and Counseling Psychology PhD program, after which I will be accredited with the American Psychological Association to be free to begin my practice somewhere in the country.
Though there is much more research to be discovered on a parent-child dyad, this is a humble start towards understanding parenting styles, personalities, and a child’s behavior or mental illness. Working with SafeCare Colorado has given the tools I need to begin my research project in relation to types of parenting and child behavior, and this internship has really taught me a lot about parents, children, and how to conduct research.
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