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Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, Vol. 24, No.

4, 1996

Preschool Children with Externalizing Behaviors: Experience of Fathers and Mothers

Bruce L. Baker 1,2 and Tracy L. Heller 1

Childhood behavior disorders are related to family stress and maladjustment. Little is known, however, about the adjustment of families with preschool-aged children at risk for subsequent behavior disorders. Moreover, fathers' perceptions of child problem behavior and the& reactions to it generally have been neglected. Subjects were mothers and fathers of 52 preschool-aged children assigned to one of three groups: control, moderate externalizing, and high externalizing. Higher child externalizing behavior was associated with greater negative family impact, lowered parenting sense of efficacy, and childrearing practices that were more authoritarian and less authoritative. Mothers and fathers did not differ in actual perceived level of child behavior problems, although both believed that mothers saw more problems. Child Group x Parent interactions indicated that mothers experienced increased stress and a need for help with moderate as well as high child externalizing behaviors, whereas fathers were not elevated on these measures unless the child's externalizing behaviors were high. Implications of these findings for early family intervention are considered.

The strains of childrearing are exacerbated for parents when the child has difficult-to-manage behavior. Researchers have found that families experiManuscript received in final form July 5, 1995. This study is part of the Preschool Project, conducted at UCLA's Fernald Child Study Center, Co-PIs Bruce L. Baker and Barbara Henker. We appreciate the involvement of Barbara Henker, Erin Gallagher, Laurel Smith, and Terry Webster. We also appreciate the very helpful anonymous feedback from the two journal reviewers. 1Department of Psychology, University of California at Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California 90024. 2Address all correspondence to Bruce L. Baker, Department of Psychology, University of California at Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California 90024. 513 0091-0627/96/0800-0513509.50/0 1996PlenumPublishingCorporation


Baker and Heller

ence increased stress if their child has a developmental disability or their school-aged child has emotional-behavioral difficulties. Little is known, however, about the impact on the family of a preschool-aged child who is already evidencing problem behaviors. Moreover, almost everything that is known pertains exclusively to mothers--fathers have been largely overlooked (Phares, 1992). The focus of the present study was on the well-being of mothers and fathers of preschool aged boys and girls with a range of externalizing behavior problems (e.g. aggression, hyperactivity, noncompliance). We addressed two primary questions. First, does the extent of child externalizing behavior relate to parents' stress, adjustment, and childrearing practices? Second, do fathers differ from mothers in their perceptions of, and reactions to, a child with externalizing behavior?

Parental Stress and Adjustment

A relationship between family stress and child behavior problems invites bidirectional interpretations, as parents and children continually influence one another (Bell & Harper, 1977). Hence it can be argued that the child's acting-out behaviors are the cause of the parents' stress, the consequences of the parents' stress, or, more likely, a combination of both, in an escalating cycle of child misbehavior and parental reactions (Patterson, 1982). Some researchers interested in the effects of the child's difficulties on parents have studied infants and young children with developmental disabilities, where it is less arguable that parental stress could have produced the child's core difficulties. These have typically reported elevated stress, especially in domains more directly related to the child and childrearing (Cameron, Dobson, & Day, 1991; Donenberg and Baker 1993; Wolf, Noh, Fishman, & Speechley, 1989). Parental stress when a preschool-aged child has behavior problems has received less study. Donenberg and Baker (1993) found that mothers of preschoolers with externalizing behavior problems reported significantly more child-related stress, negative impact on their social life, and negative views of parenting than mothers of control children--indeed, they scored as high as mothers whose children were diagnosed with autism. Beyond child-related stress, on measures of individual or marital maladjustment, families with older children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have shown elevated levels (Barkley, Anastopoulos, Guevremont, & Fletcher, 1992; Brown & Pacini, 1989; Mash & Johnston, 1983). Donenberg and Baker (1993) did not find elevations, however, with parents of preschoolers.

Parents of Externalizing Preschoolers


Fathers versus Mothers

Most studies of parents' well-being have only included mothers, although this is changing somewhat with the evolving parenting role of fathers. The "new father" of the late 20th century is more physically and emotionally involved with his children than in previous generations (Lamb, 1986; Thompson & Walker, 1989), although his involvement is quantitatively still much less than the mother's. Father involvement and reactions may be particularly noteworthy when a child has behavioral difficulties. Externalizing behavior disorders are much more prevalent in boys (American Psychiatric Association, 1994) and fathers have been found to spend more time with their male children (Barnett & Baruch, 1987). Fathers act toward children in more gender-stereotyped ways than mothers do (Siegel, 1987), and thus might be expected to be more accepting of externalizing behavior ("He's all boy!"). In planning family-based early intervention programs when a child has externalizing behavior problems, it seems especially important to understand how fathers see and react to their children's behavior. Do fathers perceive child behavior problems to the extent that mothers do? This question has received little attention, although Achenbach (1991) did not find parent absolute differences beyond those expected by chance when standardizing the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) scales. Do fathers of children with behavior problems differ from mothers on measures of stress and adjustment? Where comparison data are available, father and mother scores on broad measures of child-related stress typically have not differed, in families of preschool-aged children with normal development or a range of developmental disabilities (Cameron et al., 1991; Hagborg, 1989; Kazak, 1987; Perry, Sarlo-McGarvey, & Factor, 1992; Weinhouse, Weinhouse, & Nelson, 1992; Wolf et al., 1989). Mothers did report higher levels of stress than fathers in a study of specific symptoms of autism (Freeman, Perry, & Factor, 1991) and in a study of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (Webster-Stratton, 1988). On measures of individual adjustment, mothers have reported higher levels of depression than fathers in studies of children with developmental disabilities (Sloper, Knussen, Turner, & Cunningham, 1991; Wolf et al., 1989) and also ADHD (Brown & Pacini, 1989; Webster-Stratton, 1988). Mothers and fathers have not typically differed, however, in their perceptions of marital adjustment (Fisman, Wolf, & Noh, 1989; Kazak, 1987; Perry et al., 1992; Webster-Stratton, 1988). Although some studies of father-mother differences have included a control group and one or more clinical groups, the presentation of findings has usually been incomplete. Authors have reported main effects, of group (control vs. clinical) and of parent (mother vs. father), but they have not


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reported whether Group x Parent interactions were significant. Yet the question of primary interest is whether mothers and fathers score differently when the child is experiencing difficulties--an interaction question. Even the relatively few parent main effects that have been reported (e.g., for depression) only tell us that mothers and fathers (or that men and women) differ. The question of whether mothers and fathers react differently to children with problem behaviors remains largely unexplored.

The present study, then, had two primary aims. One was to determine whether there was a relationship between degrees of preschool children's externalizing behavior and their parents' stress, adjustment, and childrearing practices. The other aim was to determine whether fathers and mothers differed in their perceptions of child behavior problems and, when externalizing problems were present, whether they differed in their reports of stress, adjustment, and childrearing practices.


Subjects were selected from a pool of 97 families with young children who were participating in a longitudinal study. The 52 subject families were those with intact marriages where mothers and fathers both completed measures. Families were recruited through local preschools, kindergartens, and day care centers. Flyers given to directors invited participation of families with children demonstrating (1) externalizing behavior problems (e.g., disruptive, overly active, disobedient), (2) internalizing behavior problems (e.g. withdrawn, shy, anxious) or (3) no significant behavior problems. Children were parent and usually teacher identified and ranged widely in the number and types of their problem behaviors; they were accepted into the study if they had normal intellectual functioning. An effort was made to recruit roughly equal numbers of boys and girls. The 52 participating children averaged 4.5 years of age, were almost equally divided in gender (52% male), and were predominantly Caucasian (83%). In 73% of families this child was the only or the eldest child. Mothers averaged 38.5 and fathers averaged 41.4 years of age. These were generally well-educated parents of middle to upper socioeconomic status (SES) (see below).

Parents of Externalizing Preschoolers


Diagnostic Groups
The 52 children were classified as controls (n = 22), moderate externalizing (n = 22), or high externalizing (n = 8) by a set of decision rules. Control children were referred to us as such, and both mother and teacher Child Behavior Checklist (Achenbach, 1991) scores were below 60 on the broad-band Externalizing and Internalizing scales, the narrow-band Attention score, and the Total score (see below for description of the CBCL). High-externalizing children were referred to us as having behavior problems; the mother's and/or the teacher's broad-band Externalizing CBCL score was in the clinical range (at least 64), and the other was at least in the borderline range (60 or above). Moreover, neither the mother's nor the teacher's internalizing CBCL score was 10 points higher than the externalizing score.

Table I. Demographics by Diagnostic Group a Control Child variables Child age (months) Child sex (% boys) Child race (% caucasian) Siblings at home Birth position Only child (%) Eldest (%) Second (%) Parent variables Mother age (years) Father age (years) SES score Mother education (category) Father education (category) Child Behavior Checklist Mother Externalizing Internalizing Father Externalizing (n = 24) Internalizing (n = 24) Teacher Externalizing Internalizing 54.7 50.0 77.3 0.59 40.9 50.0 9.1 38.0 40.9 54.1 6.09 6.14 45.9 46.3 51.3 53.9 47.2 45.1 ModExt 55.3 59.1 86.4 1.00 27.3 40.9 31.8 38.7 41.5 57.0 5.95 6.50 61.2 55.7 54.6 51.7 60.6 59.6 HighExt 52.1 37.5 87.5 1.00 12.3 25.0 62.5 38.9 43.5 55.6 5.75 6.13 65.9 54.5 64.0 57.3 70.1 53.9 F(X2) 0.46 (Z2) 1.15 (Z2) 0.79 2.23 (X2) 9.13

0.18 0.58 0.59 0.48 0.93 32.77a 7.21 c 2.24 0.29 33.29a 16.34a

aModExt = moderate-externalizing group; HighExt = high-externalizing group; SES = socioeconomic status. bp < .05. < .01. < .001.


Baker and Heller

Moderate-externalizing children, a middle group, were referred as having behavior problems; either the mother's or the teacher's CBCL Externalizing score was at least 60 (borderline range), but scores did not meet the above criteria for high externalizing. Children with predominantly internalizing problems were not included in the present study. Demographic characteristics and CBCL scores are shown by child groups in Table I. The groups did not differ significantly on any demographic variable.

Families were recruited in three annual cohorts of similar size. Procedures were essentially the same, although the acceptable child age range was broader in the first cohort (3.5 to 6 years) than in subsequent cohorts (4 to 5.5 years) and two measures (CBCL, Parenting Daily Hassles) were not administered to fathers in the first cohort. Parents initiated contact with the center, at which time a telephone screening elicited the primary child-related concerns. Only one child participated per family. Exclusionary criteria included mental retardation, autism, or other significant developmental delays. Parents were sent consent and release forms, measures to be completed by both parents, and measures for the child's teacher. Families then participated in two 2-hour assessment sessions at the research center. The measures described below were among those obtained.

Measures of ChiM Behavior Child Behavior Checklist. The CBCL (Achenbach, 1991) is a widely used and well-standardized parent rating scale for child behavior problems, with separate forms for ages 2 to 3 and 4 to 16 years; we used the 2- to 3-year form for 13 3-year-olds. Parents indicate the degree or frequency of occurrence of 113 behaviors on a scale of 0 to 2. Raw scores are converted to T-scores, based on age and gender norms; scoring yields broad band- scores for Internalizing and Externalizing dimensions and a series of narrow-band clinical scales. ChiM Behavior Checklist--Teacher Report Form (TRF). The teacher version of the CBCL is similar in format, with 118 items. Although the T R F is widely used, well-established norms are not available for the preschool version. Rudolph and Heller (1995) found a high correlation (.85) between the T R F and another commonly used measure, the Preschool Behavior Questionnaire.

Parents of Externalizing Preschoolers


Measures of Stress and Impact Parenting Stress Index. The Parenting Stress Index (PSI; Abidin, 1990) is a 101-item questionnaire that assesses stress in the parent-child system. Items are endorsed in a Likert-type fashion on a 6-point scale ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree. The measures yields subscale scores that sum to two domain scores: Child Domain (stress reflecting child characteristics that make it difficult to fulfill the parenting role) and Parent Domain (stress as a consequence of parental functioning). Family Impact Questionnaire. The Family Impact Questionnaire (FIQ; Donenberg & Baker, 1993) is a 50-item questionnaire that asks about the "child's impact on the family compared to the impact other children his/her age have on their families" (e.g. Item 1: "My child is more stressful"). Parents endorse items on a 4-point scale ranging from not at all to very much. There are six scales: (1) Positive Feelings Toward Child, (2) Negative Feelings Toward Child, (3) Impact on Social Life, (4) Impact on Finances, and, where relevant, (5) Impact on Marriage, and (6) Impact on Siblings. Parenting Daily Hassles Scales. This measure (Crnic & Greenberg, 1990) lists 20 problems that parents might experience in the daily care of a child (e.g., cleaning up after him/her). Parents indicate the extent of each problem and how much of a hassle it is, each on a 4-point scale (not at all to very much). Because extent and hassles are highly correlated, we only analyzed hassles.

Measures of Parent Adjustment Beck Depression Inventory. The Beck Depression Inventory (BDI; Beck, Ward, Mendelson, Mock, & Erbaugh, 1961) is a 21-item self-report measure of the cognitive, affective, and somatic dimensions of depression. Each item is comprised of four statements, ranging from no indication of depression ("I do not feel sad") to high indication ("I am so sad or unhappy that I can't stand it"). Items sum to a total score that can range from 0 to 63; a cut-off score of 16 is often used to indicate depression. Symptom Checklist-90. The Symptom Checklist-90 (SCL-90; Derogatis, 1976) is a 90-item self-report measure of symptoms of psychopathology; the respondent rates the extent of distress from 0 (not at all) to 4 (extremely). Items sum to a total score than can range from 0 to 360. Dyadic Adjustment Scale. The Dyadic Adjustment Scale (DAS; Spanier, 1976) is a 32-item self-report measure of marital adjustment, and sums to a total score.


Baker and Heller

Measures of Parenting Parenting Sense of Competence. The Parenting Sense of Competence (PSOC; Gibaud-Wallston & Wandersman, 1978) has 17 items, endorsed in a Likert-type fashion on a 6-point scale ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree. The measure was revised and validated by Johnston and Mash (1989) to reflect two dimensions of parenting self-esteem: Efficacy (perceived skills/knowledge about being a parent) and Satisfaction (value and comfort attached to the parenting role). Child Rearing Practices Report. The Child Rearing Practices Report (CRPR; Block, 1965) employs 91 cards, each describing a childrearing practice. The respondent sorts an equal number of cards (13) into each of seven envelopes, from most descriptive to most undescriptive of his or her attitudes and behavior. Block reported a test-retest correlation over 8 months of .71, and found Q-sort responses related to childrearing practices observed in direct mother-child interactions. In developing the scoring system employed here, a panel of experts on the Block project assigned weights to each item for how well it represented each of four parenting styles making up four scales: Authoritarian/Autocratic, Authoritative/Responsive, Indulgent/Permissive, and Indifferent/Uninvolved. The panel's responses were averaged to create a prototype of the four parenting styles. Each parent receives four scores which are correlation coefficients reflecting the degree of agreement between that parent's responses and each of the four prototypical parenting styles. SpousalAgreement and Support Scale. The Spousal Agreement and Support Scale (SASS), developed for this project, asks mothers and fathers 13 questions designed to assess spousal agreement about the child's problems and spousal support in childrearing. The first three items provide a direct assessment of the respondent's views of the child's behavior: "I think my child has a problem," "I am concerned about my child's problem" and "I think my child needs help." These are rated on a 6-point Likert scale, from definitely disagree to definitely agree. The next three questions ask about the same areas in reference to "my spouse" (e.g. "My spouse thinks our child has a problem"). Perceived agreement is reflected in differences calculated between the ratings of own and spouses's views on each of the three dimensions. The remaining seven items, rated on the same 6-point scale, ask directly about spousal agreement and support in childrearing (e.g., "My spouse and I respond to our child's problem behaviors in the same way"; "My spouse shares a lot of the responsibility for raising our child"). To determine the SASS total, scores on these six items are added to the perceived agreement on the Problem, Concern, and Needs Help dimensions. Scale alphas in this sample were r = .87 for mothers and r = .82 for fathers.

Parents of Externalizing Preschoolers



Perceptions of Child Problems: Mothers and Fathers

Table II shows mother and father ratings on the single SASS child Problem, Concern, and Needs Help items and on the CBCL broad-band Externalizing and Internalizing scales. A multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) with these five scores showed a significant child group effect [F(10, 26) = 3.68, p < .01], but no significant effects for parent (motherfather) [F(5, 13) = 0.62] or Parent x Child Group Interactions [F(10, 26) = 1.02]. Individual analyses of variance (A_NOVAs) for the SASS child Problem, Concern, and Needs Help items and the CBCL Externalizing broad-band scales were as expected--scores increased significantly across child groups. Parent main effects did not even approach significance; neither fathers nor mothers as a group reported more child problems, concern, or need for help. There was a significant Child Group x Parent interaction

Table II. Parent Ratings of Child Problems by Child Group (C) and Parent (p)a
r SASS Problem Mother Father SASS Concern Mother Father SASS Needs Help Mother Father CBCL Externalizing Mother Father CBCL Internalizing Mother Father Control ModExt HighExt ANOVA F


2.1 2.1

3.9 3.4

4.8 5.0

C P C x P

16.75 d 0.07 0.67


3.6 3.6

5.3 4.5

6.0 5.5

P C x P C P C x P C P C P C P C x P

lO.O6 ~
1.59 0.58 15.00d 0.47 4.37 b 6.94 c 0.10 1.93 0.39 0.29 0.23


1.7 1.9

4.3 3.0

4.2 4.8


47.5 51.3

58.1 54.6

66.3 64.0


51.0 53.9

52.4 51.7

54.7 57.3

aModExt = moderate-externalizing group; HighExt = high-externalizing group; A N O V A = analysis of variance; SASS = Spousal A g r e e m e n t and Support Scale; CBCL = Child Behavior Checklist.

bp < .05.

< .01. < .001.


Baker and Heller

on the Needs Help item; mothers of children in the moderate-problem group perceived a greater need for help than fathers did, but fathers of children in the high-problem group perceived a greater need for help than mothers did. Correlations between fathers' and mothers' scores are another measure of parental agreement. These, also shown in Table II, were significant for the SASS ratings and for the CBCL Externalizing scores. 4

Parent Stress and Adjustment: Child Group and Parent Effects

Parent measures were divided into four groups: child-related impact and stress, adjustment, parenting perceptions and practices, and spousal agreement. A series of 3 (Child Group--between subjects) x 2 (Parent-within subjects) MANOVAs was conducted, followed by ANOVAs. Child-Related Impact and Stress. Did parental ratings of child-related stress increase with increasing child problem behavior, and did they differ between fathers and mothers? Table III shows nine measures of child impact and parenting stress. A MANOVA was conducted on just seven of these measures, excluding two variables with much missing data: FIQ Impact on Siblings (missing for families with only one child) and Parenting Daily Hassles (not completed by fathers in the first cohort). The MANOVA revealed a significant child group (CG) effect IF(14, 76) = 2.52, p = .005], no significant parent (P) effect [F(7, 38) = 1.80, n.s.), but a significant Child Group x Parent (CG x P) interaction IF(14, 76) = 2.07, p = .02]. Individual ANOVAs, conducted on all nine variables shown in Table III, showed main effects for child groups. FIQ Positive Feelings Toward Child scale scores decreased as externalizing behavior increased. FIQ Negative Feelings Toward Child, Impact on Social Life, and Impact on Siblings, as well as PSI Child Domain sum scores increased as child problem behaviors increased. There were significant parent effects on three scales.
4It is also interesting to contrast parent and teacher perceptions of child behaviors. Here findings have been equivocal. One study (Schaughency & Lahey, 1985) found that mothers' ratings of externalizing behaviors related to teacher ratings, while fathers' did not. Another study (Webster-Stratton, 1988) found just the opposite: that father ratings correlated with teacher ratings, while mothers' did not. In the present study, mothers and teachers showed modest but significant agreement on Externalizing [r(49) = .35, p < .01] and Internalizing [r(49) = .33, p < .01] scores. For fathers and teachers, however, the respective correlation coefficients were .10 and .24, not approaching significance. In contrast to the low to modest correlations between respondents, there were high interrelationships within each respondent's CBCL. Externalizing and Internalizing broad-band scores were significantly correlated for mothers [r(49) = .57, p < .001], fathers [r(22) = .52, p < .01], and teachers [r(50) = .47, p < .001].

Parents of Externalizing Preschoolers


Table III. Impact and Stress Measures by Child Diagnostic G r o u p (G) and Parent (P)
r FIQ-social Mother Father FIQ-negative Mother Father FIQ-positive Mother Father FIQ-finances Mother Father FIQ-marriage Mother Father FIQ-siblings Mother Father PE: Hassles Mother Father PSI: Child Domain Mother Father Control ModExt HighExt ANOVA F


5.0 4.2

8.5 6.8

12.9 9.9

C P C x P C P C P C P C x P C P C x P C P C x P C P C x P C V C x P C P C x P C P C x P

13.01 d 6.47 b 0.72 16.52`/ 6.96 b 1.61 7.06 c 0.31 3.17 b 0.60 0.78 0.74 2.50 1.35 0.94 3.48 b 2.09 0.15 2,18 7.37 b 1,03 12,61 c 0.04 3.95 b 2.23 0.00 5.59 c


7.0 6.4

12.4 9.5

14.6 12.9


15.1 16.3

11.3 14.6

10.9 8.0


4.1 3.5

2.3 3.3

2.6 4.4


5.4 5.7

7.9 6.8

10.1 8.6


4.8 4.1

5.9 4.4

9.4 8.2


47.1 44.8

51.9 45.4

61.5 49.5


103.4 102,2

123.7 113.0

121.2 131.5

PSI: Parent Domain Mother Father


118.9 121.3

130.7 115.1

129.9 143.8

aModExt = moderate-externalizing group; HighExt = High-externalizing group; A N O V A = analysis of variance; FIQ = Family Impact Questionnaire; FIQ-social = FIQ Impact on Social Life scale; FIQ-negative = FIQ Negative Feelings Toward Child scale; FIQ-positive = F I Q Positive Feelings Toward Child Scale; FIQ-finances = F I Q Impact on Finances scale; FIQ-marriage = FIQ Impact on Marriage scale; FIQ-siblings = F I Q Impact on Siblings scale; PE: Hassles --- Parenting Daily Hassles scale; PSI = Parenting Stress Index. bp < .05. < .01. < .001.

Mothers scored higher than fathers on FIQ Negative Feelings Toward Child, FIQ Impact on Social Life, and Parenting Daily Hassles scales.

140 uJ 130

Baker and I-Idler

O 120 O 09 110 D CO 100 90 C MEXT HIEXT



150 F


140 ~ i
j-@-~/--@, / _ ,j


O 130 ~ O ' 120

09 110


100 I


Fig. 1. PSI Child Domain and PSI Parent Domain scores by child diagnostic group (control, moderate externalizing, and high externalizing) and parent (mother and father). PSI = Parenting Stress Index.

The Child Group Parent interaction was significant for FIQ Positive Feelings Toward Child and the PSI Child Domain and Parent Domain sums. Mothers' FIQ Positive Feelings Toward Child scores were lower in the moderate-externalizing group, while fathers' scores dropped only when externalizing behavior was high, but then markedly. PSI scores, shown in Fig. 1, were the mirror image. In the moderate-externalizing group, mothers reported greater stress than fathers; in the high-externalizing group, fathers reported high stress, greater than mothers. Adjustment. Did parents' assessments of their own adjustment decrease with increasing child problem behavior, and did the adjustment differ for mothers and fathers? Table IV shows measures of parent adjustment. A MANOVA conducted on these measures did not reveal significant effects for child group [F(6, 78) = 0.82], parent [F(3, 39) = 1.39] or Child Group

Parents of Externalizing Preschoolers Table IV. Adjustment Measures by Child Diagnostic Group (G) and Parent (p)a r DSA Mother Father BDI Mother Father SCL-90 Mother Father Control 104.4 106.0 ModExt 104.3 103.2 HighExt 104.8 99.9 ANOVA C P C x P C P C x P C P C x P F 0.08 0.40 0.58 1.74 3.42 0.62 0.85 1.40 0.43




7.1 5.1

6.2 5.6

11.2 7.2


37.0 32.5

41.4 39.2

60.2 40.5


aModExt = moderate-externalizing group; HighExt = high-externalizing group; A N O V A = Analysis of Variance; DAS = Dyadic Adjustment Scale; BDI = Beck Depression Inventory; SCL = Symptom Checklist-90. bp < .05. < .01. < .001.

x Parent interaction IF(6, 78) = 0.51]. Exploratory ANOVAs also revealed no significant main effects or interactions. Parenting Perceptions and Practices. Did perceptions of parenting and parenting practices differ across child groups and/or between mothers and fathers? Table V shows measures of parenting perceptions and practices. Two childrearing practices scales (Authoritarian/Autocratic and Indulgent/Permissive) were very highly correlated for mothers [r(47) = -.94, p < .001] although only modestly for fathers [r(39) = -.34, p < .05]. Only the Authoritarian/Autocratic scale was included for the MANOVA, which was then conducted on five of the measures that appear in Table V. The M A N O V A revealed significant main effects for child group [F(10, 64) = 2.19, p = .03] and parent [F(5, 32) = 7.95, p < .001] but no significant Child Group x Parent interaction IF(10, 64) = 0.70]. Individual A N O V A s revealed significant diagnostic group effects: parents' sense of efficacy in childrearing and authoritative-responsive childrearing practices decreased with increasing externalizing behavior, while parents' authoritarian-autocratic childrearing practices increased. There were parent main effects, with fathers being more authoritarian-autocratic and more indifferent-uninvolved (as well as less indulgentpermissive) in their childrearing practices. There were no Child Group x Parent interactions. Spousal Agreement and Support. Did perceptions of spousal childrearing agreement and support differ across child groups or between mothers and


Baker and Heller Table V. Parenting Measures by Child Diagnostic Group (G) and Parent (P)

r PSIC Satisfaction Mother Father PSOC Efficacy Mother Father

Control 29.9 29.9 21.2 20.5 -.47 -.45 .69 .62 .57 .51 -.24 -.13

ModExt HighExt ANOVA 28.0 29.9 18.7 19.2 -.41 -.34 .66 .65 .51 .48 -.18 -.05 26.1 26.9 17.5 12.6 -.36 -.21 .56 .47 .53 .29 -.22 -.07 C P CxP C P CxP C P CxP C P CxP C P CxP

F 1.33 0.60 .33 6.26c 2.34 1.68 6.63c 4.76b 0.85 4.05b 2.68 0.59 2.96 6.14b 0.90



CRPRAuthoritarian/Autocratic Mother Father .14 CRPRAuthoritative/Responswe Mother Father .26 CRPR Indulgent/Permissive Mother Father .41c CRPR Indifferent/Uninvolved Mother Father .11

C 3.14 P 16.47d CP 0.10 aModExt = moderate-externalizing group; HighExt = high-externalizing group; ANOVA = analysis of variance; PSOC = Parenting Sense of Competence; CRPR = Child Rearing Practices Report. bp < .05. < .01. < .001.

fathers? Mothers consistently reported themselves to be higher than fathers, in perceiving child problems, being concerned about problems, and feeling a n e e d for help. Fathers agreed, also reporting that mothers were higher o n all three dimensions. I n fact, though, mothers' a n d fathers' actual reports of problem, concern, and n e e d for help did not differ (see Table II). A n A N O V A o n Spousal A g r e e m e n t a n d S u p p o r t Scale total scores revealed n o child group effect, a significant p a r e n t effect [F = 5.37, p < .05] a n d n o significant Child G r o u p x P a r e n t interaction. Fathers r e p o r t e d significantly greater a g r e e m e n t a n d spousal s u p p o r t t h a n m o t h e r s did. H o w did m o t h e r s a n d fathers agree in their p e r c e p t i o n s of stress a n d impact, a d j u s t m e n t , and p a r e n t i n g satisfaction, efficacy, a n d practices? T h e correlations b e t w e e n m o t h e r s a n d fathers scores are also shown in Tables II, III, a n d IV. M o t h e r s ' a n d fathers' reports of negative impact or stress, as m e a s u r e d by F I Q factors a n d the PSI Child D o m a i n score, were m o d -

Parents of Externalizing Preschoolers


erately and significantly correlated. Parenting satisfaction showed a modest relationship, but efficacy did not. Mothers and fathers showed little agreement on the measures of parenting practices. 5


Our study of fathers and mothers of young children with problem behaviors was guided by an interest in how best to provide services to families. The focus of intervention programs for parents varies, from concentrating on specific child behavior changes to addressing broader adjustment issues within the family system (Graziano & Diament, 1992; Nixon & Singer, 1993). Decisions about focus should follow, at least in part, from knowledge of how families with difficult-to-manage children differ from other families (Baker, 1996). Children with externalizing behaviors appear to have mothers and fathers who experience greater child-related distress, and this needs to be considered in designing interventions or measuring outcomes on the family as a whole. When mothers and fathers scores were considered together, parents of children with externalizing behavior problems reported greater child-related stress and impact and a lower sense of parenting efficacy than control parents. Also, their childrearing practices were somewhat more authoritarian-autocratic and also more indifferent-uninvolved. These elevations not only held for the high-externalizing group of children whose scores fell in the CBCL clinical range, a group typical of A D H D studied by other investigators (Breen & Barkley, 1988; Mash & Johnston, 1990; Webster-Stratton, 1988), but also for the moderate-externalizing group whose scores fell in the borderline clinical range, a group often excluded from study. These
5The present sample was comprised of intact families in which fathers and mothers both participated. We examined the representativeness of the mothers' scores in these families by two additional sets of analyses. First, mothers in the present sample (n = 52) were contrasted on the measures of demographics, stress, adjustment, parenting, and spousal agreement and support with married mothers in families where children met criteria for one of the three child groups but where husbands did not participate (n = 27). Only three differences on 41 t-tests were significant at p < .05, about as many as would be expected by chance. (The present sample had younger children, a greater percentage of boys, and scored lower on the CRPR Indifferent/Uninvolved factor.) Hence mothers in the present sample were comparable to mothers with nonparticipating spouses. Second, all married mothers (n = 79) were contrasted with single-parent mothers (n = 18) whose children fell into one of the three defined child groups. Five differences in 34 t-tests were significant at p < .05; none were on variables of primary interest. Single mothers were from lower SES groups and reported greater financial stress; they were younger, with smaller families, and the target child was more likely to be first or only born. On all of the remaining measures of stress, adjustment, parenting, and perception of the child, mothers in the present sample were comparable to single mothers.


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preschool-aged children with moderate, or less pervasive, externalizing behaviors were of interest to us, as their diagnoses and need for treatment are often more uncertain. Parents' personal and marital adjustments, on the other hand, did not differ across child groups. This contrasts with findings of some other investigators, where parents with older children showed increased personal and marital maladjustment (Mash & Johnston, 1983). We have hypothesized elsewhere (Donenberg & Baker, 1993) that there may be a gradual broadening in effects on the family system as the child ages and if difficulties persist. Our primary interest was in mother-father differences. It is a common clinical observation that mothers often approach professionals with concerns about their children's behavior and requests for help, while noting that the children's fathers feel that there is "no problem." In our sample, mothers' and fathers' own direct assessments of child problems did not differ. However, there was a shared perception that fathers saw less to worry about; mothers and fathers both reported that mothers saw more child problems, were more concerned, and felt more need to seek help. It may help in understanding this apparent contradiction to consider the extent to which each parent assumes responsibility for a child's problems and for help-seeking. Watson (1985) examined maternal and paternal self-held responsibility for the cause of children's disturbed behavior and found that although mothers and fathers both acknowledged their children's difficulties, fathers were much less likely to assume personal responsibility for those problems. Moreover, fathers did not engage as well in remediation efforts (Heubeck, Watson, & Russell, 1986). Mothers and fathers across child groups differed on measures of stress and impact, with mothers reporting more negative impact on social life, negative feelings about parenting, and daily hassles. Mothers and fathers also differed on measures of childrearing practices, with fathers scoring as more authoritarian-autocratic, less indulgent-permissive, and more indifferent-uninvolved. These are relative differences, however, since the sample as a whole scored highly in the direction of authoritative childrearing practices. These parent main effects tell us about the parenting experience generally, regardless of a child's problem behavior. The Child Group x Parent interaction speaks to whether mothers and fathers respond differentially with increasing externalizing behaviors. The measures where this interaction was significant assessed positive attitudes toward parenting, child-related stress, parent-related stress, and perceived need for professional help for the child. Mothers were more reactive than fathers when their children's problems were at a moderate level. When the child problems reached clini-

Parents of Externalizing Preschoolers


cal levels, however, fathers' reactions were as great if not greater than mothers'. The findings in the moderate-externalizing group were of special interest to us. These are children with subclinical or situation-specific difficulties; their mothers feel greater impact than their fathers do, and often come in seeking clarification about whether they "should" be concerned. Beyond mother-father group differences, we can ask how well mothers and fathers within each family agreed in their perceptions and practices. These correlations were, in fact, quite low for many variables of interest. Mothers and fathers did not correlate significantly in their assessment of internalizing problems, sense of efficacy in childrearing, or most childrearing practices dimensions. We cannot say from the present data whether parents had discussed these issues at length and simply did not agree, or whether in these families with young children the parents had not communicated well about parenting beliefs and practices. In either case, parent training programs might usefully extend their focus beyond specific management practices to include consideration of mothers' and fathers' observations of their children's behavior, stress reactions to problem behaviors, and childrearing strategies. Future directions for research are suggested by several issues pertaining to the sample, grouping of children, and interpretation of findings. The sample of 52 families was relatively small; with a larger sample, some further group differences and mother/father correlations, although still modest, may have reached statistical significance. Moreover, with a larger sample differences by child gender could be explored. Our effort to recruit girls resulted in the moderate- and high-externalizing groups not having the preponderance of boys found in clinical samples of older children with externalizing problems, perhaps limiting the generalizability of the findings. Also, we classified by CBCL T-scores, which have separate gender norms; hence the boys may have had greater absolute levels of behavior problems than the girls, but this was not reflected in T-scores. It will be of particular interest to examine gender differences in clinical diagnoses when these children reach school age. The grouping we used was based on mothers and teachers. We reasoned that this would maximize ecological validity as members of each group see a child in a unique context; the high-externalizing group of children required a high score from both mothers and teachers. Using just teachers' scores would reduce the problem of shared method variance introduced when mothers are reporters of both their children's problems and their own experience, but it would ignore the majority of the preschool children's lives (as many children are in preschool for as few as 8 to 12 hours a week). Moreover, if the mother does not perceive a problem, it is unlikely that the family will seek help for the child. As mothers' and teach-


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ers' agreement about child behavior problems was only modest, however, more study is needed of these two sources of information. Finally, our correlational design precludes clear interpretations about the direction of relationships. While the preponderance of research has emphasized the effects of parents on children, we approached this topic with an interest in exploring the other side of what is commonly now believed to be a bidirectional equation (Bell & Harper, 1977): the impact of the child on the family. We noted that in families where a child is developmentally disabled (e.g., Down syndrome, cerebral palsy) there is logic to viewing high family stress levels as resulting from the child's disability rather than causing it. Moreover, with A D H D children, Barkley (1981) found marked positive changes in mothers' behavior in parent-child interactions on days when the children's hyperactive behavior was reduced by Ritalin. Child problem behaviors certainly influence parents in some ways, although we may never be able to tease out the exact contributions of parent stress and child problem behavior to one another. We anticipate that subsequent longitudinal analyses may contribute to an understanding of this relationship based on changes over time.

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