Inconsistent parenting: Is there evidence for a link with children's conduct problems?


Traditional interview studies of inconsistent parental discipline show a strong link with young children's conduct problems. Observational studies of inconsistency show weaker links with problem behavior and suffer from methodological problems. This study proposed a new observational definition of parental inconsistency, which analyzed whether mothers follow through their demands during sequences of mother-child conflict. A home observational study showed that mothers of conduct-problem preschoolers acted inconsistently during a greater proportion of conflict episodes than did their normal counterparts. There was a strong correlation between inconsistency and amount of family conflict. Inconsistency varied as a function of the context from which conflict arose. Results are discussed in terms of both coercion (Patterson, 1979) and predictability theories of problem behavior (Wahler & Dumas, 1986).

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Correspondence to Frances E. M. Gardner.

Additional information

This work was supported by the Medical Research Council of Great Britain and was part of a Ph.D. awarded to the author by Oxford University. I am particularly indebted to Dr. K. D. Sylva for her helpful suggestions, and to Prof. P. E. Bryant, who assisted during the early stages of this research.

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Gardner, F.E.M. Inconsistent parenting: Is there evidence for a link with children's conduct problems?. J Abnorm Child Psychol 17, 223–233 (1989).

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  • Observational Study
  • Conduct Problem
  • Strong Link
  • Weak Link
  • Methodological Problem