Social Psychology of Education

, Volume 16, Issue 1, pp 95-109

First online:

Whose fault is it anyway: How do parents respond to their child’s setbacks?

  • Marnie ShapiroAffiliated withPsychology Department, California State University, Northridge (CSUN) Email author 
  • , Ellie KazemiAffiliated withPsychology Department, California State University, Northridge (CSUN)
  • , Bernard WeinerAffiliated withPsychology Department, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)

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We documented what parents report as the cause of their child’s academic and conduct setbacks and what they say they do in response. We recruited an opportunity sample of 479 parents and narrowed our sample to parents of children without disabilities between the ages of 5–18 (N = 312). Parents responded to open-ended questions, and we coded responses into categories of disciplinary tactics and types of attributions. Parents who reported experience with child setbacks significantly differed from parents who did not report such experience on several outcome variables. Parents did not exhibit hedonic biasing such that most reported causes of setbacks were controllable by the child; reported controllable causes correlated with the reported use of punishment. Our findings suggest that parental behavior change efforts must also address parents’ attributions, or verbal explanations, of causes of events. We discuss implications of our findings for child and parent researchers, educators, and practitioners.


Parents Children Discipline Attributions