The relationship of parental stress to behavior problems in young children

Michael John Mandli, Marquette University


The relationships between parents' reported levels of stress and the emotional/behavior problems they reported in their young children were an unexplored gap in our knowledge of parenting and the behaviors of toddlers. While investigating these relationships, this study's goal was to establish a baseline on normal families in regards to the degree of emotional/behavior problems in toddlers and in regards to the levels of stress reported by parents. It also sought to determine if socioeconomic status had any relationship to the reports of parents. A total of 100 two parent families or 200 parents were selected to be representative of middle-class and working-class mothers and fathers of intact families in the Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Parents were within the age range of 18-to-50-years and had at least one child between 2-years, 1-month and 3-years, 11-months. Data were collected at daycare and learning centers, and at other sites and times convenient to parents. Mothers and fathers were asked to complete two questionnaires, the Child Behavior Checklist for ages 2-3 (CBCL/2-3) and the Parenting Stress Index (PSI), and a demographic form. They were advised to fill out the questionnaires separately and not to share their ratings. Parents' reports of stress were significantly related to their reports of emotional/behavior problems in their young children (p $<$.001). A significant relationship was also found to exist between high levels of stress and high degrees of emotional/behavior problems in toddlers. A multivariate analysis of variance was used to analyze behavior problems, stress levels, socioeconomic status (SES), and sex of parent. A significant main effect was found for SES which was due to working-class parents reporting significantly higher levels of stress than middle-class parents. Paired t-tests revealed that fathers reported fewer emotional/behavior problems in their children than did mothers. However, while fathers' reports of stress were lower than mothers', the differences were not significant. Interparent reliability for the CBCL/2-3 was r =.68 and interparent reliability for the PSI was r =.53. While this was a preliminary study, the findings have added new data about normal 2-to-3-year-old children and the experiences of their parents.

Recommended Citation

Mandli, Michael John, "The relationship of parental stress to behavior problems in young children" (1988). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI8925435.