Abusive and inadequate parenting has been shown to be associated with both subtle and severe psychological disturbances in children, as well as neurological and other physical damage. A clear understanding of factors leading to such parenting is crucial for effective intervention development. The proposed series of studies will attempt to provide information bearing on a cognitive explanation of maladaptive parenting. The studies proposed will examine four cognitive factors that are posited as interfering with the steps of social information processing parent-child transactions such that more negative and less positive parental responses result. These factors are unrealistic expectations of what is appropriate child behavior, attributions of negative child intent, poor problem solving, and low perceived parenting efficacy. Five studies will be conducted. The first three will employ paper and pencil measures and will assess: 1) whether heightened levels of these cognitive disturbances are characteristic of samples at-risk for maladaptive parenting (abusive mothers, intellectually low functioning mothers, and adolescents with an abusive caretaking history) and 2) whether these factors are associated with higher levels of punitiveness in responses made to hypothetical aversive child behavior. Two additional studies with abusive and nonabusive mother samples will examine whether the first of these cognitive disturbances, unrealistic expectations relates to parental cognitive responses (parents' attributions, problem solving, and efficacy) and behavioral reactions in situations involving actual childbearing stress (e.g. naturally occurring discipline situations in the home and a laboratory manipulation of teaching success/failure). Measures of contextual factors (life event stress and social support) and mood state will also be employed to explore their relative contribution to predicting parental responses. Finally, a preliminary attempt will be made to relate these cognitive disturbances to child outcome by including a measure of child behaviors problems. Information gained from these studies will aid in the refinement of cognitive approaches to treating child maltreatment and parenting inadequacy by providing a clearer understanding of the manner in which social information processing occurs in parenting situation both in normal parents and individuals showing evidence of parenting risk.
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