The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children
Annual statistical report 2010

5 Parenting practices and behaviours

Nina Lucas, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute
Jan M. Nicholson, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and the Parenting Research Centre
Brigit Maguire, Australian Institute of Family Studies

What does parenting look like in Australian families? How does it change as children get older? How do parents judge the quality of their own parenting? Do family circumstances affect parenting? This chapter describes the parenting practices of mothers and fathers between 2004 and 2008, for children aged 0-9 years. It also examines variations in these practices according to parent and child characteristics, and family circumstances.

"Parenting" is a term applied to a complex set of behaviours that characterise how parents interact on a daily basis with their children, and the beliefs and attitudes that underpin these behaviours. An enormous amount of research over the last 40 years has demonstrated that parenting plays a crucial role in children's healthy development.

Nurturing, warm parenting that is sensitive and responsive has long been recognised as providing an essential foundation for children's wellbeing (Osofsky & Thompson, 2000; Pettit & Bates, 1989; Rothbaum & Weisz, 1994). The seminal work by Patterson and others (Patterson, 1982; Patterson, De Baryshe, & Ramsey, 1989) highlighted cycles of "coercive" exchanges, whereby angry, hostile, punitive parenting contributes to and exacerbates oppositional behaviours and problems of conduct in preschool and school-age children. Parenting that involves the consistent application of fair and reasonable rules and expectations, has been shown to be effective in reducing such problems (Sanders, Gooley, & Nicholson, 2000). More recently, there has been recognition of the role of overprotective and anxious parenting in the development of internalising problems such as childhood depression and anxiety (Bayer, Sanson, & Hemphill, 2009; Rapee, Schniering, & Hudson, 2009). These parenting behaviours both shape and are shaped by parents' confidence in their skills as parents and their good or bad experiences in raising their children.

Few Australian studies have described patterns of "typical" parenting for the population, or documented how parenting varies for major subpopulations. The large-scale studies that have examined this have each been conducted within a single state (Sanders, Markie-Dadds, Rinaldis, Firman, & Baig, 2007; Silburn et al., 1996) and may be dated, given the nature of our rapidly changing family environments. This chapter addresses this gap by examining six dimensions of parenting (warmth, hostility, inductive reasoning, consistency, overprotection and self-efficacy) for the parents of study children in the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) at ages 0-1, 2-3, 4-5, 6-7 and 8-9 years.

It should be noted that we refer to these dimensions as "parenting practices" or "parenting behaviours" as distinct from "parenting styles". "Parenting styles" typically refers to multi-dimensional patterns, such as an authoritarian style characterised by a high degree of control and rule-setting, combined with a lack of warmth and responsiveness (Baumrind, 1973), but these are often loosely defined and lack validated measurement approaches.

This chapter aims to:

  • provide descriptive information on parenting practices, and assess Australian parents' confidence in their parenting skills across the first 9 years of their children's lives;
  • document changes in parenting practices according to child age; and
  • assess whether patterns of parenting differ according to socio-economic circumstances, child's gender, family type (lone-mother or two-parent households), mothers' age at the birth of the child, and mothers' hours of work. (See Chapter 2 for details about these groups.)

5.1 Parenting measures

LSAC data on parenting measures were collected via interview for mothers at Wave 1 (with a few exceptions where the child's mother was not the child's primary carer), and via self-complete questionnaires for mothers and fathers at all other waves. Parenting practices and competent parenting are related to the age of the child. Thus, the parenting measures used differed according to the child's age at the time of measurement. For example, inductive reasoning (how parents discuss rules and punishment with their children) was not measured at 0-1 years and maternal separation anxiety was used as a proxy for overprotective parenting for 0-1 year olds. For some measures, items were added to or dropped from scales according to their developmental appropriateness.

For all measures, final scores were the mean of item scores, with higher scores indicating more warmth, more hostility, more frequent use of inductive reasoning, more consistency, more overprotection and greater self-efficacy. Scores were calculated where there were no items missing on three-item scales, no more than one item missing on four-item scales and no more than two items missing on five- or six-item scales. Items and response formats for each measure at each age are described next.

Parental warmth

B cohort: Waves 1, 2 and 3
K cohort: Waves 1, 2 and 3

Mothers and fathers were each asked:

  • How often do you express affection by hugging, kissing and holding this child?
  • How often do you hug or hold this child for no particular reason?
  • How often do you tell this child how happy he/she makes you?
  • How often do you have warm, close times together with this child?
  • How often do you enjoy doing things with this child?
  • How often do you feel close to this child both when he/she is happy and when he/she is upset?

Responses were on a 5-point Likert scale, ranging from 1= "never" to 5 = "always/almost always".

Hostile parenting

B cohort: Waves 1, 2 and 3
K cohort: Waves 1, 2 and 3

In the B cohort, mothers and fathers were each asked how much the following statements described how they felt or behaved with the study child:

  • I have been angry with this child.
  • I have raised my voice with or shouted at this child.
  • When this child cries, he/she gets on my nerves.
  • I have lost my temper with this child.
  • I have left this child alone in his/her bedroom when he/she was particularly irritable or upset (Waves 1 and 2 only).

Responses were on a 10-point Likert scale, ranging from 1 = "not at all" to 10 = "all the time".

In the K cohort, mothers and fathers were each asked:

  • Of all the times you talk to this child about his/her behaviour, how often is this praise? (reverse scored)
  • Of all the times you talk to this child about his/her behaviour, how often is this disapproval?
  • How often are you angry when you punish this child?
  • How often do you feel you are having problems managing this child in general?
  • How often do you tell this child that he/she is bad or not as good as others? (Waves 2 and 3 only)
  • How often do you think that the level of punishment you give this child depends on your mood? (Waves 2 and 3 only)

Responses were on a 5-point Likert scale, ranging from 1 = "never/almost never" to 5 = "all the time".

Inductive reasoning

B cohort: Waves 2 and 3
K cohort: Waves 1, 2 and 3

Mothers and fathers were each asked how often they:

  • talk it over and reason with this child when he/she misbehaved;
  • give this child reasons why rules should be obeyed (Waves 2 and 3 only);
  • explain to this child why he/she was being corrected;
  • explain to this child the consequences of his/her behaviour (Wave 3 only); and
  • emphasise to this child the reasons for rules (Wave 3 only).

Responses were on a 5-point Likert scale, ranging from 1= "never/almost never" to 5 = "always/almost always".

Consistent parenting

K cohort: Waves 1, 2 and 3

Mothers and fathers were each asked:

  • When you give this child an instruction or request to do something, how often do you make sure that he/she does it?
  • If you tell this child he/she will get punished if he/she doesn't stop doing something, but he/she keeps doing it, how often will you punish him/her?
  • How often does this child get away with things that you feel should have been punished? (reverse scored)
  • How often is this child able to get out of a punishment when he/she really sets his/her mind to it? (reverse scored)
  • When you discipline this child, how often does he/she ignore the punishment? (reverse scored)

Responses were on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1= "never/almost never" to 5= "all the time".

Overprotective parenting

B cohort: Wave 1 (mothers only), Waves 2 and 3
K cohort: Waves 2 and 3

In the B cohort at Wave 1 (age 0-1 years), a measure of maternal separation anxiety was used as a proxy for overprotective parenting for mothers. Mothers were asked to what extent they agreed with the following statements:

  • Child is happier with me than with babysitters.
  • When away from child, I worry about whether or not the babysitter/carer is able to soothe and comfort the child if he/she is lonely or upset.
  • Only a mother just naturally knows how to comfort her distressed child.
  • I worry when someone else cares for child.
  • I am naturally better at keeping child safe than any other person.
  • A child is likely to get upset when he/she is left with a babysitter or carer.

Responses were on a 5-point Likert scale, ranging from 1 = "strongly agree" to 5 "strongly disagree".

At Waves 2 and 3, for both cohorts, mothers and fathers were both asked how often:

  • do you try to protect this child from life's difficulties?
  • do you put this child's wants and needs before your own?
  • does leaving this child with other people upset you no matter how well you know them?

Responses were on a 5-point Likert scale, ranging from 1 = "never/almost never" to 5 = "always/almost always".

Parenting self-efficacy

B cohort: Waves 2 and 3
K cohort: Waves 2 and 3

Mothers and fathers were each asked how often:

  • does this child behave in a manner different from the way you want him/her to? (reverse scored)
  • do you think that this child's behaviour is more than you can handle? (reverse scored)
  • do you feel that you are good at getting this child to do what you want him/her to do?
  • do you feel that you are in control and on top of things when you are caring for this child?

Responses were on a 5-point Likert scale, ranging from 1= "never/almost never" to 5 = "always/almost always".

5.2 Descriptive statistics

Tables 5.1 and 5.2 present the mean, standard error (SE), median and the range of scores for each parenting outcome for mothers and fathers and for each cohort. Sample weights and adjustment for complex sampling design were applied to all analyses. Note that descriptions of parenting differences between waves and cohorts, and between mothers and fathers are based on observation only, and are not tested statistically.1

Table 5.1 Descriptive statistics for mothers' and fathers' parenting scores at each wave, B cohort, Waves 1-3
  Mother Father
n Mean SE Median Range n Mean SE Median Range
Parental warmth  
0-1 years 5,072 4.56 0.01 4.67 2.17-5.00 3,646 4.25 0.01 4.33 1.67-5.00
2-3 years 4,470 4.60 0.01 4.67 2.17-5.00 3,146 4.32 0.01 4.33 1.00-5.00
4-5 years 3,800 4.51 0.01 4.67 2.17-5.00 2,766 4.23 0.01 4.33 1.67-5.00
Hostile parenting  
0-1 years 5,065 1.93 0.02 1.60 1.00-10.00 3,646 1.99 0.02 1.60 1.00-10.00
2-3 years 3,504 3.10 0.03 2.80 1.00-9.60 3,124 3.01 0.02 2.80 1.00-8.80
4-5 years 3,803 3.19 0.03 3.00 1.00-10.00 2,761 2.91 0.03 2.67 1.00-10.00
Inductive reasoning  
2-3 years 4,444 4.22 0.01 4.33 1.00-5.00 3,135 3.98 0.01 4.00 1.00-5.00
4-5 years 3,802 4.22 0.01 4.20 1.00-5.00 2,766 4.01 0.01 4.00 1.00-5.00
Overprotective parenting  
0-1 years 4,938 2.56 0.02 2.50 1.00-5.00 - - - - -
2-3 years 3,477 3.68 0.01 3.67 1.00-5.00 3,080 3.55 0.02 3.67 1.00-5.00
4-5 years 3,781 3.64 0.02 3.67 1.00-5.00 2,735 3.47 0.02 3.33 1.00-5.00
Parenting self-efficacy  
2-3 years 3,503 3.91 0.01 4.00 1.50-5.00 3,121 3.97 0.01 4.00 1.25-5.00
4-5 years 3,803 4.01 0.01 4.00 1.25-5.00 2,763 4.11 0.01 4.25 1.00-5.00

Note: Data collected in 2004 for 0-1 year olds; 2006 for 2-3 year olds; 2008 for 4-5 year olds.

Table 5.2 Descriptive statistics for mothers' and fathers' parenting scores at each wave, K cohort, Waves 1-3
  Mother Father
n Mean SE Median Range n Mean SE Median Range
Parental warmth  
4-5 years 4,904 4.44 0.01 4.50 1.00-5.00 3,397 4.08 0.01 4.17 1.00-5.00
6-7 years 4,283 4.45 0.01 4.50 2.00-5.00 2,996 4.12 0.01 4.17 1.00-5.00
8-9 years 3,739 4.33 0.01 4.33 1.33-5.00 2,730 4.02 0.02 4.00 1.33-5.00
Hostile parenting  
4-5 years 4,902 2.19 0.01 2.25 1.00-5.00 3,392 2.28 0.01 2.25 1.00-4.50
6-7 years 4,278 2.01 0.01 2.00 1.00-4.50 2,976 1.92 0.01 1.83 1.00-4.50
8-9 years 3,742 1.97 0.01 1.83 1.00-4.33 2,724 2.00 0.01 2.00 1.00-4.33
Inductive reasoning  
4-5 years 4,897 4.25 0.01 4.00 1.00-5.00 3,378 3.99 0.01 4.00 1.00-5.00
6-7 years 4,263 4.23 0.01 4.33 1.00-5.00 2,982 3.97 0.01 4.00 1.00-5.00
8-9 years 3,741 4.13 0.01 4.00 1.00-5.00 2,729 3.92 0.01 4.00 1.00-5.00
Consistent parenting  
4-5 years 4,900 4.02 0.01 4.00 1.20-5.00 3,394 3.96 0.01 4.00 1.00-5.00
6-7 years 4,278 4.11 0.01 4.20 1.25-5.00 2,972 4.06 0.01 4.20 1.00-5.00
8-9 years 3,739 4.14 0.01 4.20 1.60-5.00 2,720 4.07 0.01 4.20 1.00-5.00
Overprotective parenting  
6-7 years 3,418 3.55 0.02 3.67 1.00-5.00 2,915 3.47 0.02 3.33 1.00-5.00
8-9 years 3,691 3.59 0.02 3.67 1.00-5.00 2,695 3.45 0.02 3.33 1.00-5.00
Parenting self-efficacy  
6-7 years 3,443 4.11 0.01 4.25 1.00-5.00 2,942 4.17 0.01 4.25 1.50-5.00
8-9 years 3,723 4.08 0.01 4.25 1.00-5.00 2,720 4.17 0.01 4.25 1.50-5.00

Note: Data collected in 2004 for 4-5 year olds; 2006 for 6-7 year olds; 2008 for 8-9 year olds.

Parental warmth

In both cohorts and at every wave, both mothers and fathers reported high levels of warmth towards their children, reporting on average that they "often" or "almost always/always" displayed warmth towards their child. Warmth scores were slightly higher in the B cohort than in the K cohort, and mothers reported slightly higher mean warmth than fathers at all ages. Mothers and fathers of 4-5 year olds in the B cohort reported slightly higher warmth than mothers and fathers of 4-5 year olds in the K cohort.

Hostile parenting

Levels of hostile parenting were generally low for both cohorts and for both mothers and fathers. In the B cohort, hostility scores for both mothers and fathers were lower for 0-1 year olds than for 2-3 and 4-5 year olds. In the K cohort, hostility scores for mothers were slightly lower for 8-9 year olds than for 4-5 and 6-7 year olds, and highest at age 4-5 years. These results suggest a slight peak in parental hostility when children are aged 2-3 and 4-5 years.

It should be noted that scores were not extreme and parents reporting "higher hostility" generally did not report severe hostility.

Inductive reasoning

At all ages and in both cohorts, mothers reported that on average they "often" or "almost always/always" used inductive reasoning with their child, as indicated by mean scores. Fathers' mean scores indicated a slightly lower use of inductive reasoning than mothers on average, at all ages and both cohorts. There was very little difference in inductive reasoning scores according to the child's age. Inductive reasoning scores for 4-5 year olds were equivalent in the two cohorts for both mothers and fathers.

Consistent parenting

Both mothers and fathers reported high levels of consistent parenting at all ages of the K cohort, reporting on average that they "more than half the time" enforced their child's behaviour consistently. There were minimal age differences for both mothers and fathers, although levels of consistent parenting did increase slightly with the age of the child.

Overprotective parenting

In the B cohort at age 0-1 years, mothers reported a mean of 2.5 out of 5 on the maternal separation anxiety scale, indicating that they slightly agreed with the items. At all other ages for both cohorts, both mothers and fathers reported that they "sometimes" or "always" behaved in an overprotective way toward their child. Fathers reported lower mean overprotection than mothers at all ages, and overprotection scores tended to reduce with the child's age at ages 2-3 and older.

Parenting self-efficacy

In both cohorts, mothers and fathers reported high levels of parenting self-efficacy, reporting on average that they were "often" able to parent effectively. There were very slight tendencies for parents of 2-3 year old children to report lower levels of self-efficacy than parents of older children, and for mothers to report lower self-efficacy than fathers.

5.3 Sub-group analyses

This section examines differences in parenting outcomes by population subgroups. The population subgroups examined for mothers' and fathers' parenting are family socio-economic position and child gender. The population subgroups examined for mothers' parenting outcomes only are family type (lone-mother and two-parent households),2 mother's age at the birth of the child, and mothers' working hours (not working, part-time and full-time). (See Chapter 2 for details about these groups.)

To facilitate comparisons of parenting across children's age groups, parenting measures were dichotomised. Parents in the least optimal 20% for their child's age group and cohort for each measure were classified as having "poor" parenting practices relative to other parents. It is important to note that this definition is a relative (not an absolute) one - for the vast majority of parents, across most measures, reported parenting was not extremely poor.

For each parenting outcome, univariate logistic regression analysis was used to assess whether parenting behaviours differed between population sub-groups. Logistic regression analyses produce odds ratios (OR), which compare whether the odds for an outcome (e.g., a poor parenting practice) is the same for two groups (e.g., boys versus girls). An odds ratio of one implies that the event is equally likely in both groups. An odds ratio greater than one indicates an increased likelihood (e.g., OR = 1.25 indicates 25% increased odds) relative to the comparison group, while an odds ratio of less than one indicates a decreased likelihood. Analyses were conducted at the bivariate level, without adjustment for other confounding factors that could potentially explain the relationships between the two measures. For example, in analyses looking at parenting differences by maternal employment, no adjustment was made for parental education, which may influence both the extent to which mothers are in the paid workforce and their parenting practices. Sample weights and adjustment for complex sampling design were applied to all analyses.

Tables 5.3-5.6 present subgroup analyses for each age group for the B and K cohorts. Tables 5.3 (B cohort) and 5.5 (K cohort) present the odds ratios and confidence intervals of mothers' parenting scores according to socio-economic position (SEP), child gender, family type, mother's age at the birth of the child and mother's working hours. Tables 5.4 (B cohort) and 5.6 (K cohort) present the odds ratios and confidence intervals of fathers' parenting scores according to SEP and child gender.

Table 5.3 Poor parenting outcomes, by population subgroups, B cohort mothers, Waves 1-3
  0-1 years 2-3 years 4-5 years
OR (95% CI) p OR (95% CI) p OR (95% CI) p
Low parental warmth
SEP most disadvantaged 20% a 0.83 (0.69-1.01) 0.060 1.24 (1.02-1.51) 0.030 1.00 (0.79-1.26) 0.990
Boy b 0.95 (0.82-1.10) 0.530 1.00 (0.86-1.17) 0.980 0.98 (0.82-1.16) 0.790
Lone mother c 0.94 (0.72-1.24) 0.665 1.15 (0.89-1.48) 0.296 0.72 (0.53-0.97) 0.033
Mother < 25 years d 0.78 (0.62-0.98) 0.035 0.93 (0.75-1.15) 0.476 0.99 (0.77-1.27) 0.924
Mother's working hours: Full-time e 0.96 (0.73-1.27) 0.492 0.77 (0.58-1.01) 0.144 0.72 (0.54-0.95) 0.067
Mother's working hours: Part-time e 1.10 (0.93-1.30) 0.98 (0.83-1.17) 0.90 (0.74-1.09)
Hostile parenting
SEP most disadvantaged 20% a 1.11 (0.94-1.32) 0.210 1.08 (0.87-1.36) 0.480 1.14 (0.91-1.42) 0.240
Boy b 1.05 (0.89-1.23) 0.570 0.99 (0.83-1.19) 0.950 1.06 (0.91-1.25) 0.440
Lone mother c 1.04 (0.81-1.33) 0.782 1.17 (0.86-1.59) 0.309 1.18 (0.91-1.54) 0.210
Mother < 25 years d 1.51 (1.25-1.84) 0.000 1.04 (0.77-1.39) 0.811 1.20 (0.91-1.60) 0.201
Mother's working hours: Full-time e 0.75 (0.56-1.00) 0.155 0.82 (0.60-1.13) 0.413 0.74 (0.57-0.97) 0.095
Mother's working hours: Part-time e 0.97 (0.82-1.15) 0.93 (0.77-1.12) 0.94 (0.78-1.13)
Low inductive reasoning
SEP most disadvantaged 20% a     1.77 (1.46-2.14) 0.000 1.35 (1.09-1.67) 0.010
Boy b     1.12 (0.96-1.29) 0.140 0.94 (0.79-1.11) 0.460
Lone mother c     1.26 (0.99-1.60) 0.062 1.01 (0.77-1.34) 0.919
Mother < 25 years d     1.24 (1.00-1.55) 0.051 1.18 (0.89-1.57) 0.260
Mother's working hours: Full-time e     1.04 (0.82-1.33) 0.020 0.94 (0.72-1.23) 0.380
Mother's working hours: Part-time e     0.81 (0.68-0.97) 0.87 (0.72-1.06)
Overprotective parenting
SEP most disadvantaged 20% a 2.54 (2.14-3.00) 0.000 1.77 (1.44-2.19) 0.000 2.14 (1.80-2.54) 0.000
Boy b 0.98 (0.85-1.13) 0.771 0.85 (0.72-1.00) 0.050 0.82 (0.68-0.98) 0.030
Lone mother c 1.83 (1.43-2.35) 0.000 1.73 (1.30-2.30) 0.000 1.72 (1.29-2.28) 0.000
Mother < 25 years d 1.76 (1.44-2.14) 0.000 1.61 (1.25-2.08) 0.000 2.33 (1.84-2.95) 0.000
Mother's working hours: Full-time e 0.26 (0.18-0.38) 0.000 0.58 (0.42-0.80) 0.000 0.85 (0.65-1.11) 0.000
Mother's working hours: Part-time e 0.35 (0.29-0.43) 0.71 (0.59-0.85) 0.65 (0.54-0.78)
Low parenting self-efficacy
SEP most disadvantaged 20% a     1.59 (1.25-2.02) 0.000 1.49 (1.19-1.85) 0.000
Boy b     1.25 (1.03-1.51) 0.020 1.24 (1.04-1.48) 0.020
Lone mother c     2.08 (1.57-2.76) 0.000 1.69 (1.33-2.14) 0.000
Mother < 25 years d     1.17 (0.89-1.54) 0.250 1.51 (1.21-1.89) 0.000
Mother's working hours: Full-time e     0.97 (0.73-1.27) 0.889 0.83 (0.64-1.07) 0.029
Mother's working hours: Part-time e     0.95 (0.78-1.16) 0.76 (0.63-0.93)

Notes: Parents with poor parenting outcomes are those in the least optimal 20% for their child's age group and cohort for each measure. Data collected in 2004 for 0-1 year olds; 2006 for 2-3 year olds; 2008 for 4-5 year olds. SEP = socio-economic position. OR = odds ratio. CI = confidence interval. a Compared with the more advantaged 80%. b Compared with girls. c Compared with mothers in two-parent households. d Compared with mothers aged 25+ years. e Compared with mothers not working.

Table 5.4 Poor parenting outcomes, by population subgroups, B cohort fathers, Waves 1-3
  0-1 years 2-3 years 4-5 years
OR (95% CI) p OR (95% CI) p OR (95% CI) p
Low parental warmth
SEP most disadvantaged 20% a 0.96 (0.73-1.26) 0.780 1.19 (0.91-1.55) 0.210 1.62 (1.20-2.20) 0.000
Boy b 0.94 (0.79-1.12) 0.510 1.16 (0.95-1.40) 0.140 1.31 (1.06-1.62) 0.010
Hostile parenting
SEP most disadvantaged 20% a 0.97 (0.74-1.28) 0.860 1.17 (0.88-1.54) 0.280 0.98 (0.74-1.29) 0.870
Boy b 1.02 (0.86-1.21) 0.820 1.12 (0.95-1.34) 0.180 1.19 (0.98-1.45) 0.090
Low inductive reasoning
SEP most disadvantaged 20% a     1.30 (0.98-1.74) 0.070 1.53 (1.13-2.06) 0.010
Boy b     1.05 (0.86-1.30) 0.610 0.88 (0.72-1.07) 0.190
Overprotective parenting
SEP most disadvantaged 20% a     1.89 (1.46-2.45) 0.000 2.33 (1.80-3.00) 0.000
Boy b     0.95 (0.78-1.14) 0.570 0.82 (0.67-1.00) 0.050
Low parenting self-efficacy
SEP most disadvantaged 20% a     1.33 (1.02-1.74) 0.040 1.16 (0.87-1.55) 0.320
Boy b     1.10 (0.91-1.32) 0.340 1.18 (0.97-1.44) 0.090

Notes: Parents with poor parenting outcomes are those in the least optimal 20% for their child's age group and cohort for each measure. Data collected in 2004 for 0-1 year olds; 2006 for 2-3 year olds; 2008 for 4-5 year olds. SEP = socio-economic position. OR = odds ratio. CI = confidence interval. a Compared with the more advantaged 80%. b Compared with girls.

Table 5.5 Poor parenting outcomes, by population subgroups, K cohort mothers, Waves 1-3
  4-5 years 6-7 years 8-9 years
OR (95% CI) p OR (95% CI) p OR (95% CI) p
Low parental warmth
SEP most disadvantaged 20% a 1.29 (1.08-1.53) 0.004 1.17 (0.96-1.44) 0.128 1.07 (0.86-1.35) 0.527
Boy b 1.11 (0.97-1.28) 0.127 0.93 (0.78-1.10) 0.408 1.02 (0.86-1.21) 0.796
Lone mother c 0.87 (0.69-1.11) 0.270 0.89 (0.70-1.13) 0.322 1.03 (0.78-1.35) 0.856
Mother < 25 years d 0.81 (0.66-1.01) 0.056 0.92 (0.71-1.19) 0.522 1.15 (0.89-1.48) 0.275
Mother's working hours: Full-time e 0.71 (0.56-0.89) 0.007 0.78 (0.62-0.98) 0.075 0.77 (0.60-0.98) 0.053
Mother's working hours: Part-time e 0.84 (0.71-0.99) 0.84 (0.69-1.02) 0.81 (0.66-0.98)
Hostile parenting
SEP most disadvantaged 20% a 1.57 (1.35-1.84) 0.000 1.54 (1.29-1.85) 0.000 1.48 (1.19-1.83) 0.000
Boy b 1.29 (1.13-1.47) 0.000 1.48 (1.26-1.73) 0.000 1.37 (1.15-1.63) 0.000
Lone mother c 1.15 (0.93-1.42) 0.188 1.07 (0.86-1.34) 0.538 1.37 (1.06-1.76) 0.017
Mother < 25 years d 1.43 (1.18-1.73) 0.000 1.36 (1.08-1.70) 0.008 1.34 (1.03-1.75) 0.027
Mother's working hours: Full-time e 0.71 (0.58-0.88) 0.000 0.93 (0.75-1.14) 0.001 0.69 (0.54-0.88) 0.001
Mother's working hours: Part-time e 0.75 (0.64-0.88) 0.70 (0.58-0.85) 0.67 (0.54-0.83)
Low inductive reasoning
SEP most disadvantaged 20% a 1.31 (1.10-1.57) 0.003 1.17 (0.95-1.43) 0.132 1.45 (1.17-1.79) 0.001
Boy b 1.02 (0.87-1.18) 0.836 0.83 (0.71-0.96) 0.016 0.73 (0.61-0.88) 0.001
Lone mother c 0.92 (0.75-1.14) 0.451 0.92 (0.72-1.16) 0.458 1.15 (0.88-1.50) 0.295
Mother < 25 years d 1.00 (0.82-1.22) 0.985 0.96 (0.76-1.21) 0.724 0.8 (0.62-1.04) 0.101
Mother's working hours: e 0.88 (0.70-1.11) 0.312 1.00 (0.79-1.26) 0.552 0.78 (0.59-1.03) 0.146
Mother's working hours: Part-time e 0.89 (0.75-1.05) 0.92 (0.76-1.10) 0.98 (0.80-1.20)
Overprotective parenting
SEP most disadvantaged 20% a     1.86 (1.49-2.33) 0.000 1.86 (1.50-2.31) 0.000
Boy b   0.91 (0.74-1.10) 0.327 0.96 (0.81-1.13) 0.607
Lone mother c     1.48 (1.13-1.93) 0.004 1.63 (1.27-2.08) 0.000
Mother < 25 years d     2.14 (1.67-2.74) 0.000 1.54 (1.19-1.99) 0.001
Mother's working hours: Full-time e     0.55 (0.43-0.70) 0.000 0.68 (0.53-0.87) 0.001
Mother's working hours: Part-time e     0.53 (0.44-0.65) 0.68 (0.55-0.84)
Inconsistent parenting
SEP most disadvantaged 20% a 2.41 (2.03-2.87) 0.000 2.57 (2.16-3.06) 0.000 2.22 (1.84-2.70) 0.000
Boy b 0.94 (0.81-1.10) 0.440 0.92 (0.80-1.07) 0.286 1.02 (0.86-1.21) 0.784
Lone mother c 1.64 (1.34-2.00) 0.000 1.46 (1.16-1.83) 0.001 2.00 (1.60-2.50) 0.000
Mother < 25 years d 1.48 (1.23-1.79) 0.000 1.40 (1.15-1.71) 0.001 1.37 (1.06-1.78) 0.017
Mother's working hours: Full-time e 0.61 (0.48-0.77) 0.000 0.75 (0.59-0.95) 0.000 0.79 (0.60-1.02) 0.000
Mother's working hours: Part-time e 0.52 (0.45-0.61) 0.65 (0.54-0.79) 0.65 (0.52-0.80)
Low parenting self-efficacy
SEP most disadvantaged 20% a     1.36 (1.10-1.69) 0.006 1.43 (1.16-1.76) 0.001
Boy b     1.58 (1.31-1.91) 0.000 1.60 (1.34-1.90) 0.000
Lone mother c     1.40 (1.08-1.82) 0.011 1.40 (1.08-1.80) 0.010
Mother < 25 years d     1.17 (0.87-1.58) 0.283 1.44 (1.12-1.86) 0.005
Mother's working hours: Full-time e     0.87 (0.68-1.12) 0.043 0.72 (0.57-0.92) 0.000
Mother's working hours: Part-time e     0.77 (0.62-0.94) 0.64 (0.52-0.79)

Notes: Parents with poor parenting outcomes are those in the least optimal 20% for their child's age group and cohort for each measure. Data collected in 2004 for 4-5 year olds; 2006 for 6-7 year olds; 2008 for 8-9 year olds. SEP = socio-economic position. OR = odds ratio. CI = confidence interval. a Compared with the more advantaged 80%. b Compared with girls. c Compared with mothers in two-parent households. d Compared with mothers aged 25+ years. e Compared with mothers not working.

Table 5.6 Poor parenting outcomes, by population subgroups, K cohort fathers, Waves 1-3
  4-5 years 6-7 years 8-9 years
OR (95% CI) p OR (95% CI) p OR (95% CI) p
Low parental warmth
SEP most disadvantaged 20% a 1.27 (0.99-1.62) 0.057 1.46 (1.10-1.93) 0.009 1.29 (1.00-1.68) 0.053
Boy b 1.04 (0.88-1.24) 0.623 1.31 (1.09-1.58) 0.004 1.28 (1.03-1.59) 0.026
Hostile parenting
SEP most disadvantaged 20% a 1.15 (0.90-1.45) 0.257 1.12 (0.85-1.48) 0.409 1.32 (0.98-1.78) 0.066
Boy b 1.32 (1.10-1.58) 0.002 1.27 (1.05-1.53) 0.014 1.56 (1.27-1.90) 0.000
Low inductive reasoning
SEP most disadvantaged 20% a 1.35 (1.05-1.74) 0.018 1.15 (0.86-1.54) 0.332 1.25 (0.93-1.67) 0.135
Boy b 0.94 (0.78-1.13) 0.495 0.91 (0.76-1.09) 0.290 0.75 (0.61-0.93) 0.008
Inconsistent parenting
SEP most disadvantaged 20% a 2.42 (1.93-3.03) 0.000 1.84 (1.42-2.38) 0.000 2.21 (1.68-2.89) 0.000
Boy b 0.89 (0.75-1.06) 0.191 0.85 (0.70-1.04) 0.108 0.91 (0.74-1.11) 0.346
Overprotective parenting
SEP most disadvantaged 20% a     1.66 (1.26-2.19) 0.000 1.56 (1.15-2.11) 0.004
Boy b     0.84 (0.69-1.02) 0.084 0.80 (0.65-0.98) 0.034
Low parenting self-efficacy
SEP most disadvantaged 20% a     1.60 (1.23-2.08) 0.000 1.59 (1.21-2.09) 0.001
Boy b     1.32 (1.07-1.62) 0.009 1.72 (1.39-2.13) 0.000

Notes: Parents with poor parenting outcomes are those in the least optimal 20% for their child's age group and cohort for each measure. Data collected in 2004 for 4-5 year olds; 2006 for 6-7 year olds; 2008 for 8-9 year olds. SEP = socio-economic position. OR = odds ratio. CI = confidence interval. a Compared with the more advantaged 80%. b Compared with girls.

Socio-economic position

These analyses assessed whether the odds for poor parenting differed according to socio-economic position. The measure of socio-economic position distinguished the most disadvantaged 20% of the sample from the remaining 80%.

In the B cohort, mothers (Table 5.3) and fathers (Table 5.4) from disadvantaged families reported poorer parenting than other parents for the measures of inductive reasoning, overprotective parenting and parenting self-efficacy. The results were particularly strong for overprotective parenting, where disadvantaged mothers and fathers reported around twice the odds of overprotective parenting compared to more advantaged parents. Hostile parenting showed no associations with socio-economic position and parental warmth showed inconsistent relationships with socio-economic position.

Strong relationships between socio-economic position and parenting were also evident in the K cohort (Tables 5.5 and 5.6). Compared with other parents, disadvantaged parents had higher odds of poor parenting for every parenting measure for at least one age. Results were particularly strong for inconsistent parenting. Disadvantaged mothers reported over twice the odds of inconsistent parenting as more advantaged mothers at all ages, and disadvantaged fathers reported between 1.8 to 2.4 times the odds of inconsistent parenting as more advantaged fathers.

Child gender

These analyses assessed whether the odds for poor parenting differed according to child gender.

In the B cohort (Tables 5.3 and 5.4), there were significant differences in parenting practices according to child gender for parenting self-efficacy, parental warmth and overprotective parenting. Mothers of boys had 25% increased odds of poor self-efficacy than mothers of girls. Fathers of 4-5 year old boys also had 30% increased odds of low warmth compared with fathers of girls. Mothers and fathers of boys also tended to show reduced odds of overprotective parenting compared with those of girls.

More differences were evident in the K cohort (Tables 5.5 and 5.6). The odds of hostile parenting, for both mothers and fathers, were higher for parents of boys than for those of girls at all ages. Mothers and fathers of boys also felt less confident in their parenting skills than did parents of girls, with higher odds of poor self-efficacy at ages 6-7 and 8-9 years. Mothers and fathers of boys did, however, show higher use of inductive reasoning at some ages compared with parents of girls.

Fathers of boys in the K cohort reported less warmth than those of girls, showing higher odds of low parental warmth when their children were aged 6-7 and 8-9 years.

Family type

These analyses assessed whether mother's odds for poor parenting differed according to family type. The measure of family type distinguished lone mothers from mothers in two-parent households.

There were strong relationships between family type and mothers' parenting in the B cohort (Table 5.3) for both overprotective parenting and parenting self-efficacy. Compared with mothers in two-parent households, lone mothers reported 83% increased odds of overprotective parenting when their children were aged 0-1 years. These odds reduced to around 70% increased odds when children were aged 2-3 and 4-5 years. Readers should note that differences in overprotective parenting in the B cohort between 0-1 years and the older ages may be due to the different measure used at the younger age. Lone mothers also had lower confidence in their parenting skills than mothers in two-parent households, with two-fold increased odds of poor self-efficacy at age 2-3 years, and 70% increased odds at age 4-5 years. However, lone mothers of 4-5 year olds reported more parental warmth than mothers of 4-5 year olds in two-parent households.

Similar results for overprotective parenting and parenting self-efficacy occurred in the K cohort (Table 5.5). Compared with mothers in two-parent households, lone mothers had 40-60% increased odds of overprotective parenting, and around 40% increased odds of poor self-efficacy at ages 6-7 and 8-9 years. Lone mothers in the K cohort were also more inconsistent and hostile in their parenting than mothers in two-parent households, with 40-100% increased odds of inconsistent parenting at all ages, and 37% increased odds of hostile parenting at age 8-9 years.

Mothers' age

These analyses assessed whether mother's odds for poor parenting differed according to mothers' age at the birth of the study child. The measure of mothers' age distinguished mothers aged under 25 years at the time of the child's birth from those aged 25 years and over.3

In the B cohort, young mothers tended to report poorer parenting than older mothers (Table 5.3). This was particularly true for overprotective parenting, where young mothers had increased odds of between 1.6 and 2.3 at all ages. Young mothers also had higher odds of hostile parenting at age 0-1 years, poorer use of inductive reasoning at age 2-3 years, and poorer parenting self-efficacy when their children were aged 4-5 years. However, young mothers reported higher levels of parental warmth at 0-1 years than older mothers.

Young mothers also had increased odds of overprotective parenting in the K cohort, relative to older mothers (Table 5.5). When their children were aged 6-7 and 8-9 years, young mothers had 50-115% increased odds of overprotective parenting than their older counterparts. Relative to older mothers, young mothers in this cohort also had 30-50% increased odds of hostile parenting at all ages, 30-50% increased odds of inconsistent parenting all ages, and 44% increased odds of poor self-efficacy at age 8-9 years. There was no strong evidence for a relationship between mothers' age and parental warmth or inductive reasoning in the K cohort in any of the three age groups.

Mother's working hours

These analyses assessed whether mother's odds for poor parenting differed according to mother's working hours. The measure of mothers' working hours distinguished mothers who were not working (unemployed, not in the labour force or on maternity leave) from those working part-time (less than 35 hours per week) and full-time (35 or more hours per week).

The data suggest few differences in parental warmth and hostility according to mother's working hours in the B cohort (Table 5.3), but reduced odds of low warmth and high hostility for those working full-time at age 4-5 years. Compared with not-working mothers, overprotective parenting was markedly lower among full-time working mothers at 0-1 and 2-3 years, and among part-time working mothers at all ages. Part-time working mothers also had higher parenting self-efficacy when their children were aged 4-5 years. Mothers of 2-3 year olds who were not working or working full-time also reported poorer use of inductive reasoning than did those working part-time.

Employment was also mostly associated with reduced odds for poor parenting in the K cohort (Table 5.5), for every parenting outcome except inductive reasoning. Compared with not-working mothers, part- and full-time working mothers had reduced odds of hostile parenting, overprotective parenting, inconsistent parenting and poor self-efficacy at almost all ages. However, there was also some evidence at most ages of reduced parental warmth among part- and full-time working mothers, relative to not-working mothers.

5.4 Summary

Descriptive statistics are presented in Tables 5.1 and 5.2 for each child age group, for the B and K cohorts respectively. Overall, parents reported high levels of warmth and low levels of hostility toward their children, with few differences according to child age or cohort except for a slight peak in parental hostility when children were aged 2-3 and 4-5 years. Inductive reasoning and overprotective parenting appeared lower for fathers than mothers at all ages and for both cohorts. There were minimal differences in inconsistent parenting and parenting self-efficacy according to child age or cohort for both mothers and fathers.

In the sub-group analyses, socio-economic position showed strong relationships with parenting outcomes in both cohorts, with disadvantaged parents reporting poorer parenting practices than more advantaged parents on almost all measures. These effects were particularly strong for overprotective parenting in the B cohort, and inconsistent parenting in the K cohort. Parents of boys tended to be less confident in their parenting abilities than parents of girls, and were more hostile in the K cohort. Mothers' part- and full-time work was generally associated with lower odds for poor maternal parenting.

There was substantial similarity in the parenting behaviours of lone mothers and young mothers, which may reflect an overlapping sample in these two groups. Compared with mothers in two-parent households and older mothers, lone mothers and young mothers reported increased odds of overprotective parenting and poor self-efficacy in the B cohort. These patterns were also evident in the K cohort; however, in this cohort, lone mothers and young mothers also reported more inconsistent and more hostile parenting compared to their two-parent and older counterparts. This pattern suggests that poor practices are common in one or two specific dimensions of parenting at younger child ages but may diversify to include other dimensions at older ages.

Overall, the majority of parents of study children demonstrated competent parenting. Even among those who were classified as "poor", very few were extremely dysfunctional in their parenting practices. It was also notable that there were more similarities than differences between the parenting behaviours of fathers and mothers. The social patterning of parenting has been reported on numerous occasions (e.g., Centre for Community Child Health, 2004; Fergusson, Horwood, Shannon, & Lawton, 1989), but these data illustrate very clearly that social disadvantage is consistently associated with increased risks for poor parenting across multiple parenting dimensions. Undoubtedly, these patterns of family interaction contribute to the marked inequalities observed in the physical and developmental health of disadvantaged children (Nicholson, Lucas, Berthelsen, & Wake, 2010; Wake, Hardy, Canterford, Sawyer, & Carlin, 2007).

There are a number of limitations in these analyses that need to be considered. The analyses were conducted at the bivariate level, with no adjustment for potential confounders. This means that alternative explanations for the results cannot be eliminated, and that the results do not provide conclusive evidence of parenting patterns. Gathering such evidence would require a more sophisticated, multivariate investigation. A second limitation is that the overlapping nature of the subgroups was not considered. For example, younger parents are likely to have lower levels of education and income (key components of the socio-economic position measure), and lone mothers are likely to be younger and have less family income than mothers in two-parent households. Similarities between subgroups should therefore be interpreted with caution. A final limitation is that the data represent a series of cross-sectional snapshots of parenting, and the continuities and discontinuities of particular parenting practices over time are not considered.

Nonetheless, this chapter presents a unique picture of contemporary parenting practices and parenting behaviours for a representative sample of Australian parents of young children.

5.5 Further reading

  • Alexander, M., & Baxter, J. (2005). Impacts of work on family life among partnered parents of young children. Family Matters, 72, 18-25.
  • Baxter, J. (2007). When dad works long hours: How work hours are associated with fathering 4-5-year-old children. Family Matters, 77, 60-69.
  • Fletcher, R., Fairbairn, H., & Pascoe, S. (2004). Fatherhood research in Australia: Research report. Calligan, NSW: Family Action Centre, University of Newcastle.
  • Qu, L., Soriano, G., & Weston, R. (2006). Starting early, starting late: Socio-demographic characteristics and parenting of new mothers of different ages. Family Matters, 73, 52-59
  • Wake, M., Nicholson J. M., Hardy P., & Smith, K. (2007). Preschooler obesity and parenting styles of mothers and fathers: National population study. Pediatrics, 120(6), 1520-1527.
  • Zubrick, S., Smith, G. J., Nicholson, J., Sanson, A., & Jackiewicz, T. (2008). Parenting and families in Australia (Social Policy Research Paper No. 34). Canberra: Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs.

5.6 References

  • Baumrind, D. (1973). The development of instrumental competence through socialization. In D. A. Pick (Ed.), Minnesota Symposium on Child Psychology (pp. 3-46). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
  • Bayer, J. K., Sanson, A. V., & Hemphill, S. A. (2009). Early aetiology of internalising difficulties: A longitudinal community study. International Journal of Mental Health Promotion, 11(1), 22-32.
  • Centre for Community Child Health. (2004). Parenting Information Project: Vol. 2. Literature review. Canberra: Department of Family and Community Services.
  • Fergusson, D. M., Horwood, L. J., Shannon, F. T., & Lawton, J. M. (1989). The Christchurch Child Development Study: A review of epidemiological findings. Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology, 3, 302-325.
  • Nicholson, J. M., Lucas, N., Berthelsen, D., & Wake, M. (2010). Inequalities in the physical health, socio-emotional wellbeing and language and literacy skills of Australian children at ages 0-1, 2-3, 4-5 and 6-7 years. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. Advance online publication. doi:10.1136/jech.2009.103291
  • Osofsky, J. D., & Thompson, M. D. (2000). Adaptive and maladaptive parenting: Perspectives on risk and protective factors. In J. P. Shonkoff & S. J. Meisels (Eds.), Handbook of early childhood intervention. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
  • Patterson, G. R. (1982). A social learning approach: Vol. 3. Coercive family process. Eugene, OR: Castalia Publishing.
  • Patterson, G. R., De Baryshe, B. D., & Ramsey, E. (1989). A developmental perspective on antisocial behaviour. American Psychologist, 44, 329-335.
  • Pettit, G. S., & Bates, J. E. (1989). Family interaction patterns and children's behaviour problems from infancy to 4 years. Developmental Psychology, 25, 413-420.
  • Rapee, R. M., Schniering, C. A., & Hudson, J. L. (2009). Anxiety disorders during childhood and adolescence: Origins and treatment. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 5, 311-41.
  • Rothbaum, F., & Weisz, J. R. (1994). Parental caregiving and child externalizing behaviour in nonclinical samples: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 116, 55-74.
  • Sanders, M. R., Gooley, S., & Nicholson, J. (2000). Early intervention in conduct problems in children. In R. Kosky, A. O'Hanlon, G. Martin, & C. Davis (Eds.), Clinical approaches to early intervention in child and adolescent mental health: Vol. 3. Adelaide: Australian Early Intervention Network for Mental Health in Young People.
  • Sanders, M. R., Markie-Dadds, C., Rinaldis, M., Firman, D., & Baig, N. (2007). Using household survey data to inform policy decisions regarding the delivery of evidence-based parenting interventions. Child Care, Health and Development, 33(6), 768-783.
  • Silburn, S. R., Zubrick, S. R., Garton, A., Gurrin, L., Burton, P., Dalby, R. et al. (1996). Western Australia Child Health Survey: Family and community health. Perth: Australian Bureau of Statistics and TVW Telethon Institute for Child Health Research.
  • Wake, M., Hardy, P., Canterford, L., Sawyer, M., & Carlin J. B. (2007). Overweight, obesity and girth of Australian preschoolers: Prevalence and socioeconomic correlates. International Journal of Obesity, 31(7), 1044-1051.

Footnote(s)

1 The following descriptions of parenting differences between waves are based on observations of the patterns within the data and are not formally tested. As described earlier, the constructs measured and the items used with scales changed over time, as developmentally appropriate. It is beyond the scope of this chapter to undertake the analyses required to establish whether different measures of the same construct and measures with different item sets are able to be validly compared. Similarly, comparisons between scores on the parenting measures for mothers and fathers are described, not formally tested. Such testing would only be possible on the subsample of mothers whose partners completed questionnaires, giving a potentially misleading picture of mothers' parenting. (Indeed, as shown in section 5.3, mothers who were single parents differed from those in two-parent families on a number of parenting measures.) In addition, mothers' and fathers' scores are non-independent and, again, it is beyond the scope of this chapter to conduct the more complex analyses required to test for differences between mothers' and fathers' scores. We opted to present the mean scores for mothers and fathers separately in order to provide a more accurate portrayal of typical parenting for these two groups.

2 In these analyses, lone mother families and two-parent families are defined as described in Chapter 2 (lone-mother families have only one (female) parent present and two-parent families have two parents present). These parents are not necessarily the children's biological parents, and include foster parents and families where a grandparent has taken on a parenting role; however, the percentage of children living with non-biological mothers/fathers is very small at all waves (see Chapter 3).

3 This analysis was therefore restricted to biological mothers only.

Top