A new study published this week in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology suggests that the wrong approach to parenting for a particular child’s personality could increase the child’s anxiety and depression.
The study found that kids who lack self-control become more anxious if their mom uses a laid back style of parenting. Kids who have more self discipline tend to be more anxious and depressed if their mothers don’t give them enough autonomy.
According to study co-author Liliana Lengua, a University of Washington psychology professor (and mother of three children ages 12, 8 and 4), when the parenting style of the mom fits well with their child’s temperament, the child had half as many depression symptoms as those whose moms’ parenting style wasn’t as good a fit.
Study co-author Cara Kiff (who’s working on her Ph.D in psychology at the University of Washington) said “The results show that how much parents need to step in … really does depend on the kid.”
The study consisted of 214 mom-child pairs (with the kids in grades three through five) being visited in their homes by trained interviewers once a year for three years. The interviewers observed parenting styles, then evaluated the children’s personality traits, depression and anxiety using standard questionnaires. The researchers paid particular attention to how much independence the children had and how well they could control their emotions and actions.
One major limitation of the study, which the authors acknowledge, is that dads’ participation wasn’t required, so the researchers only collected information about fathers in only 40 percent of the families.
To find the right parenting style, Lengua suggests taking a step back and taking a hard look at your children. “Can they stop themselves from doing things on an impulse? Can they power through things they don’t want to do?” If you answer yes to these questions, then your child might thrive with more independence. If you answer no, you may need to assert your authority more. The trick is to get an understading early. “Trying to control your kids starting when they’re 14 is much harder than getting a handle on it when they’re 4, 5, 6 or even earlier,” Lengua said. “The main take-home message…it’s not one size fits all. The same parenting might not work with each child.”