Skip to main content Accessibility help

Maternal reports of child behavior problems and personal distress as predictors of dysfunctional parenting

  • Jean E. Dumas (a1) and Christine Wekerle (a2)


A community sample of 96 mother-child dyads participated in a study evaluating the extent to which directly observed differences in maternal parenting behavior could be predicted on the basis of both global and proximal maternal reports of child behavior problems and personal distress. To allow for simultaneous testing of a set of relations and make tentative causal inferences, a structural equation modeling approach was used. When the analysis was conducted on the entire sample, results indicated that global and to a lesser extent proximal measures of child behavior problems and personal distress made modest contributions to dysfunctional parenting, with neither child behavior problems or personal distress playing a more important role than the other. When the sample was divided into low (n = 54) and high (n = 42) socioeconomic disadvantage (SED) families, a different picture emerged. In low disadvantage families, parenting was most strongly predicted by mothers' proximal reports of their children's behavior; whereas in high disadvantage families, parenting was best predicted by mothers' proximal reports of their own personal distress. Results are interpreted in light of Wahler and Dumas' (1989) attentional hypothesis. It suggests that mothers who do not experience chronic sources of distress (such as SED) attend and respond to their children's behavior in a fairl accurate and consistent manner, but that mothers who experience chronic distress are unable to attend effectively to their children, responding to them often in light of the many stressors to which they are exposed, rather than in light of the children's actual behavior.


Corresponding author

Jean E. Dumas, Department of Psychological Sciences, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN 47907


Hide All
Abidin, R. R. (1983). Parenting Stress Index—Manual. Charlottesville, VA: Pediatric Psychology Press.
Achenbach, T. M., & Edelbrock, C. (1983). Manual for the Child Behavior Checklist and Revised Child Behavior Profile. Burlington, VT: University Associates in Psychiatry.
Beardslee, W. R., Bemporad, J., Keller, M. B., & Klerman, G. L. (1983). Children of parents with major affective disorder. American Journal of Psychiatry, 140, 825832.
Beck, A. T., Steer, R. A., & Garbin, M. G. (1988). Psychometric properties of the Beck Depression Inventory: Twenty-five years of evaluation. Clinical Psychology Review, 8, 77100.
Beck, A. T., Ward, C. H., Mendelson, M., Mock, J. E., & Erbaugh, J. K. (1961). An inventory for measuring depression. Archives of General Psychiatry, 4, 561571.
Belsky, J., & Pensky, E. (1988). Developmental history, personality, and family relationships: Toward an emergent family system. In Hinde, R. A. & Stevenson-Hinde, J. (Eds.), Relationships within families (pp. 193217). Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Brody, G. H., & Forehand, R. (1986). Maternal perceptions of child maladjustment as a function of the combined influence of child behavior and maternal depression. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 54, 237240.
Carmines, E. G., & Zeller, R. A. (1979). Reliability and validity assessment. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
Chamberlain, P., & Reid, J. B. (1987). Parent observation and report of child symptoms. Behavioral Assessment, 9, 97109.
Cicchetti, D. (1990). The organization and coherence of socioemotional, cognitive, and representational development: Illustrations through a developmental psychopathology perspective on Down syndrome and child maltreatment. In Thompson, R. (Ed.), Nebraska Symposium on Motivation (Vol 36, pp. 259366). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
Compas, B. E., Howell, D. C., Phares, V., Williams, R. A., & Ledoux, N. (1989). Parent and child stress and symptoms: An integrative analysis. Developmental Psychology, 25, 550559.
Conrad, M., & Hammen, C. (1989). Role of maternal depression in perceptions of child maladjustment. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 57, 663667.
Cronbach, L. J., Glaser, G. C., Nanda, H., & Rajaratnam, N. (1972). The dependability of behavioral measurements: Theory of generalizability for scores and profiles. New York: Wiley.
Dix, T. (1991). The affective organization of parenting: Adaptive and maladaptive processes. Psychological Bulletin, 110, 325.
Dumas, J. E. (1984). INTERACT—A computer-based coding system for family interaction. Manual. Unpublished manuscript available from the author.
Dumas, J. E. (1987). INTERACT—A computer-based coding and data management system to assess family interactions. In Prinz, R. J. (Ed.), Advances in behavioral assessment of children and families (Vol. 3, pp. 177202). New York: JAI Press.
Dumas, J. E. (1988). INTERACT—Data collection and analysis software. Manual. Unpublished manuscript available from the author.
Dumas, J. E., Gibson, J. A., & Albin, J. B. (1989). Behavioral correlates of maternal depressive symptomatology in conduct-disorder children. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 57, 516521.
Dumas, J. E., & LaFreniere, P. J. (1993). Mother-child relationships as sources of support or stress: A comparison of competent, average, aggressive, and anxious dyads. Child Development, 64, 17321754.
Dumas, J. E., LaFreniere, P. J., Beaudin, L., & Verlaan, P. (1992). Mother-child interactions in competent and aggressive dyads: Implications of relationship stress for behaviour therapy with families. New Zealand Journal of Psychology, 27, 313.
Dumas, J. E., & Serketich, W. J. (1994). Maternal depressive symptomatology and child maladjustment: A comparison of three process models. Behavior Therapy, 25, 161181.
Dumas, J. E., & Wahler, R. G. (1983). Predictors of treatment outcome in parent training: Mother insularity and socioeconomic disadvantage. Behavioral Assessment, 5, 301313.
Eyberg, S. M., & Ross, A. W. (1978). Assessment of child behavior problems: The validation of a new inventory. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 16, 113116.
Falk, R. F., & Miller, N. B. (1992). A primer for soft modeling. Akron, OH: University of Akron.
Fauber, R., Forehand, R., Thomas, A. M., & Wierson, M. (1990). A mediational model of the impact of marital conflict on adolescent adjustment in intact and divorced families: The role of disrupted parenting. Child Development, 61, 11121123.
Forehand, R., Lautenschlager, G. J., Faust, J., & Graziano, W. G. (1986). Parent perceptions and parent-child interactions in clinic referred children: A preliminary investigation of the effects of maternal depressive moods. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 24, 7375.
Fornell, C., & Barclay, D. W. (1986). Jackknifing in PLS. Unpublished manuscript, School of Business Administration, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
Fornell, C., & Bookstein, F. L. (1982). Two structural equation models: LISREL and PLS applied to consumer exit-voice theory. Journal of Marketing Research, 19, 440452.
Griest, D., Forehand, R., Wells, K. C., & McMahon, R. J. (1980). An examination of differences between nonclinic and behavior-problem clinic-referred children and their mothers. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 89, 497500.
Hartlage, S., Alloy, L. B., Vazquez, C., & Dykman, B. (1993). Automatic and effortful processing in depression. Psychological Bulletin, 113, 247278.
Huba, G. J., & Harlow, L. L. (1987). Robust structural equation model: Implications for developmental psychology. Child Development, 58, 147166.
Ketterlinus, R. D., Bookstein, F. L., Sampson, P. D., Lamb, M. E. (1989). Partial least squares analysis in developmental psychopathology. Development and Psychopathology, 1, 351371.
Kuiper, N. A., & Derry, P. A. (1982). Depressed and nondepressed content self-reference in mild depres-sives. Journal of Personality, 50, 6779.
Lohmoller, J. B. (1984). LVPLS 1.6 program manual. Latent variables path analysis with partial least-squares estimation. Zentralarchiv für Empirische Sozialfirschung, University of Cologne, Cologne, Germany.
Mash, E. J., Johnston, C., & Kovitz, K. (1983). A comparison of the mother-child interactions of physically abused and non-abused children during play and task sessions. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 12, 337346.
Meyer, H. (1988). Marital and mother-child relationships: Developmental history, parent personality, and child difficultness. In Hinde, R. A. & Steven-son-Hinde, J. (Eds.), Relationships within families (pp. 119139). Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Middlebrook, J. L., & Forehand, R. (1985). Maternal perceptions of deviance in child behavior as a function of stress and clinic versus nonclinic status of the child: An analogue study. Behavior Therapy, 16, 494502.
Miller, G., & Prinz, R. (1990). The enhancement of social learning family interventions for childhood conduct disorder. Psychological Bulletin, 108, 291307.
Panaccione, V. F., & Wahler, R. G. (1986). Child behavior, maternal depression and social coercion as factors in the quality of child care. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 14, 263278.
Patterson, G. R. (1986). Performance models for antisocial boys. American Psychologist, 41, 432444.
Patterson, G. R., Reid, J. B., & Dishion, T. J. (1992). A social interactional approach, Volume 4, Antisocial Boys. Eugene, Oregon: Castalia.
Radloff, L. S. (1977). The CES-D scale: A self-report depression scale for research in the general population. Applied Psychological Measurement, 1, 385401.
Rubin, K. H., & Mills, R. S. L. (1991). Conceptualizing developmental pathways to internalizing disorders in childhood. Canadian Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 23, 300317.
Rutter, M., & Quinton, D. (1977). Psychiatric disorder. Ecological factors and concepts of causation. In McGurk, H. (Ed.), Ecological factors in human development (pp. 173187). Amsterdam: North Holland.
Shaw, B. R., Vallis, T. M., & McCabe, S. B. (1985). The assessment of the severity and symptom patterns in depression. In Beckham, E. E. & Leber, W. R. (Eds.), Handbook of depression: Treatment, assessment, and research (pp. 372407). Home-wood, IL: Dorsey Press.
Shrout, P. E., & Fleiss, J. L. (1979). Intraclass correlations: Uses in assessing rater reliability. Psychological Bulletin, 86, 420428.
Snyder, J. (1991). Discipline as a mediator of the impact of maternal stress and mood on child conduct problems. Development and Psychopathology, 3, 263276.
Wahler, R. G., & Dumas, J. E. (1989). Attentional problems in dysfunctional mother-child interactions: An interbehavioral model. Psychological Bulletin, 105, 116130.
Webster-Stratton, C., & Hammond, M. (1988). Maternal depression and its relationship to life stress, perceptions of child behavior problems, parenting behaviors and child conduct problems. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 16, 299315.
Wold, H. (1982). Softmodeling: The basic design and some extensions. In Joreskog, K. G. & Wold, H. (Eds.), Systems under direct observation: Causality, structure, prediction (Vol. 2, pp. 154). Amsterdam: North Holland.


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed