Mothers Affiliated with a Positive Parenting Program Report Rearing their Children Differently

Abstract

Objectives

An orientation to child rearing, ambiguously labeled “positive parenting,” has proliferated in the popular literature. It differs in philosophy from mainstream child-rearing practices and most contemporary parent education programs by espousing a relationship-oriented, child-centered, and punishment-free approach. However, the approach lacks empirical evidence. In this study, we investigated one prominent positive parenting program, named Attachment Parenting International (API). Three claims the program makes were examined concerning parental warmth, disciplinary practices, and child adjustment. Along those lines, we predicted API parents would report engaging in warmer parent-child interactions, use more non-coercive discipline, and use less coercive discipline with their children than other parents. We also expected that API parents would report fewer child adjustment problems than comparison mothers.

Methods

A total of 593 mothers of 3- to 10-year-old children participated in the online study about their parenting practices and their children’s behavior. Three hundred and sixty participants self-identified as being API mothers; 233 mothers were recruited from Mechanical Turk.

Results

As expected, the API mothers reported significantly warmer mother-child relationships and engaging in more non-coercive discipline but less coercive discipline than the matched comparison mothers. However, there were no significant group differences on children’s adjustment problems. Nevertheless, API membership moderated two of the six regression analyses. API mothers’ use of warmth was associated with fewer internalizing symptoms than the comparison mothers. Additionally, API mothers’ use of non-coercive discipline was linked to fewer child externalizing symptoms than the comparison group.

Conclusions

Mothers affiliated with API indicated they engaged in childrearing behavior that was inline with the teachings of the program. An addition, API involvement moderated two of the relations be parenting and child behavior problems. Consequently, this study provides some of the first empirical evidence about how affiliation with a positive parenting organization is related to childrearing behavior as well as child behavior. Observational and prospective studies are needed to more thoroughly examine the relations between positive parenting programs, child-rearing behavior, and child adjustment.

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Author Contributions

MS assisted with study design, executed study, analyzed data, and wrote paper. GH assisted with study design and assisted in the writing and editing of the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Margaret M. Smith.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were approved by the Southern Methodist University IRB committee in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Smith, M.M., Holden, G.W. Mothers Affiliated with a Positive Parenting Program Report Rearing their Children Differently. J Child Fam Stud 29, 955–963 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-019-01653-9

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Keywords

  • Attachment
  • Parenting
  • Positive parenting
  • Discipline
  • Child adjustment