Family Relationships Quarterly No. 19

AFRC Newsletter No. 19 – August 2011

Parenting efficacy: How can service providers help?

by Maggie Yu

Parenting efficacy is a parent's belief in their effectiveness as a parent. It helps parents respond to and engage with their children, and to cope with stressful and challenging situations (O'Neil, Wilson, Shaw, & Dishion, 2009) thereby contributing to positive early development and future child outcomes. This article reports on how parenting efficacy is related to several contextual factors (or resources) in a sample of Australian parents with infants, and offers suggestions for enhancing parenting efficacy, in particular for those who reside in disadvantaged communities.

Parenting efficacy refers to the belief parents have in their ability to provide the social, cultural and emotional support their children need to function successfully during development (Pelletier & Brent, 2002). Parents' efficacy levels are a strong predictor of parenting behaviours and later child development, demonstrating that parenting efficacy is related to:

  • the amount of effort parents will expend and how long they will persist when facing life difficulties (O'Neil et al., 2009);
  • greater parenting satisfaction (Coleman & Karraker, 2000);
  • positive parenting behaviours (Thomas, Feeley, & Grier, 2009);
  • lower levels of stress and depression (Halpern & McLean, 1997); and
  • promotion of children's self-efficacy, behavioural development and their academic success in areas such as language skill development (Ardelt & Eccles, 2001; Coleman et al., 2002).

Parenting efficacy is also related to external factors, such as positive neighbourhood interactions (Lunney, Edwards, Weir, & Barr, 1998), better family relationships (Elek, Hudson, & Bouffard, 2003), stronger social support (Cook & Kilmer, 2010) and positive financial circumstances (e.g., Ardelt & Eccles, 2001). However, there are few Australian studies that investigate the relationship between these resources and parenting efficacy (Waanders, Mendez, & Downer, 2007).

Given the association between parenting efficacy and positive parenting behaviours, it is worthwhile examining these other factors (community support, financial security, family/friend support, and couple support) in order to better understand and support Australian parents.

Community support (social cohesion and access to services)

Community support is considered to be a parenting resource that influences parenting efficacy. For example, lower levels of parenting efficacy are associated with living in isolated neighbourhoods with high violence, drug use and unemployment rates (Ardelt & Eccles, 2001). From a different perspective, parents who engage in positive interactions with local people are more likely to access information about local support, services and practical assistance during times of stress or uncertainty (Clinton, Lunney, Edwards, Weir, & Barr, 1998).

Financial status (prosperity vs poverty)

Financial security can influence parents' behaviours inside and outside the home. For example, parents with high family income are less likely to have depressive symptoms and are less likely to engage in marital conflicts (McLoyd, 1998). Parents who are less wealthy and face economic pressures may be overwhelmed with the challenges of financial strain and have difficulties in meeting their children's needs (O'Neil et al., 2009; Raikes & Thompson, 2005).

Family and friend support (help received from family and friends)

Parents who have strong emotional support from their family and friends are more likely to have warm parenting behaviors and better handle stressful events, and therefore feel more effective as parents (Izzo, Weiss, Shanahan, & Rodriguez-Brown, 2000).

Couple support (support received by each partner from the other)

Actively sharing infant care tasks has been found to increase marital satisfaction and reduce parenting stress (Elek et al., 2003). Where parenting is not shared, one parent is likely to feel overloaded and stressed (Clulow & Donaghy, 2010) and less likely to be confident about their capacity to meet their children's developmental needs.

Current study

This study uses a national representative sample from Wave 1 of Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC).1 Data for 5,017 parents with infants aged from 3-14 months were analysed. Information about parenting efficacy and the four parenting resources outlined above is collected from Parent 1 (person who knows the child best), in most cases the study child's biological mother.2

What have we found?

The following figures present the proportion of parents with high level of parenting efficacy. The overall proportion of parents with high parenting efficacy (Parents who perceived themselves as "very good" or "good" parents) was 72%.3

Figure 1 presents the association between different levels of parents' perceived local community support and parenting efficacy. It shows the proportion of parents with high levels of parenting efficacy according to whether the parents had "greatest", "high", "modest" or "low" levels of community support.

Parenting efficacy is positively related to community support as parents who rated their level of community support as "greatest" or "high" have higher levels of parenting efficacy than parents who reported "modest" and "low" community support.4

Figure 1. Community support and parenting efficacy Figure 1. Community support and parenting efficacy

Source: LSAC B Cohort Wave 1.

Figure 2 presents the same information according to parents' perceptions of their financial status. This figure suggests that parents who perceive their financial status as "prosperous" and "very comfortable" have higher rates of parenting efficacy than parents who perceive their financial status as "just getting along" and "poor/very poor".

Figure 2. Perceived financial status and parent efficacy Figure 2. Perceived financial status and parent efficacy

Source: LSAC B Cohort Wave 1.

Figure 3 presents the proportion of parents who reported high parenting efficacy by the amount of support they received from their partner. This figure indicates that parents who received "high" levels of support from their partner have higher rates of parenting efficacy. The proportion of parents with high parenting efficacy is smaller in the "medium" and "low" couple support groups.

Figure 3. Couple support and parenting efficacy Figure 3. Couple support and parenting efficacy

Source: LSAC B Cohort Wave 1.

Figure 4 represents the proportion of parents with high levels of parenting efficacy according to whether they thought they received "enough help", "not enough help" and "no help" from their family and friends. Parents in the "enough help" group have the highest proportion of high parenting efficacy. Parenting efficacy is positively related to family and friend support as those parents reported having adequate support have higher levels of parenting efficacy.

Figure 4. Family and friend support and parent efficacy Figure 4. Family and friend support and parent efficacy

Source: LSAC B Cohort Wave 1.

The positive effects of supports

This study confirmed the importance of local community support, financial support, family and friend support, and marital support for parenting efficacy. Parents with greater local community support, positive financial status, strong social network and a supportive partner reported higher levels of parenting efficacy.

Conclusions

Local community supports and resources, such as community-based parenting services, play an important role in building parenting efficacy and should be accessible for all parents. Local councils could provide information about these services through newsletters and advertisements.

Interventions that focus on helping parents have better financial capacity and help in relieving financial pressures for them are also important. For instance, current policies such as paid maternity leave and family tax benefits should help parents cope with decreased income when they need to reduce working hours to perform parenting tasks.

An important part of support interventions can involve assisting parents to develop new relationships with people in their social networks and to help them enlarge their social networks by making new friends. For example, local community activities such as "street parties" or activities at neighbourhood houses can be encouraged as parents are often able to meet other parents who can help them to make friends and enlarge their social networks.

Strengthening parents' partnerships is an effective aspect of parenting efficacy, and interventions could increase marital support through developing co-parenting awareness and skills to better support each other. For example, postnatal parenting support groups, parenting workshops and telephone helplines could be beneficial to parents.

Limitations and suggestions for future research

Some methodological limitations of this study should be kept in mind before interpreting the findings. Limitations include the reliance on self-report measures of parenting efficacy and other characteristics. Although self-report is necessary as the key concepts are perceptions of self, validity concerns such as social desirability bias may need to be kept in mind. Qualitative studies may help to determine how parenting support resources help parents to increase parenting efficacy levels, and how parenting efficacy is developed or diminished.

In addition, by relying on statistical correlations between self-reported characteristics, this study shed no light of causality. Although the results suggest that social, financial and emotional support are reliably associated with high levels of parenting efficacy, the results were unable to demonstrate that by enhancing these supports, parents will necessarily strengthen their beliefs about being good parents. Future research could attempt to identify whether improving social, financial and emotional support for parents leads to an increase in parenting efficacy levels.

Moreover, this study was a one-time study using Wave 1 data of LSAC. Future research could investigate the longer-term effects on parenting efficacy in parenting support resources. To gain a more comprehensive understanding of how parenting support resources influence parenting efficacy and child development over time, longitudinal studies at a range of time intervals would be desirable.

References

  • Ardelt, M., & Eccles, J. (2001). Effects of mothers' parental efficacy beliefs and promotive parenting strategies on inner-city youth. Journal of Family Issues, 22(8), 944-972.
  • Clinton, M., Lunney, P., Edwards, H., Weir, D., & Barr, J. (1998). Perceived social support and community adaptation in schizophrenia. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 27, 95-965.
  • Clulow, C., & Donaghy, M. (2010). Developing the couple perspective in parenting support: Evaluation of a service initiative for vulnerable families. Journal of Family Therapy, 32, 142-168.
  • Coleman, P., Trent, A., Bryan, S., King, B., Rogers, N., & Nazir, M. (2002). Parenting behavior, mothers' self-efficacy beliefs, and toddler performance on the Bayley Scales of Infant Development. Early Child Development and Care, 172(2), 123-140.
  • Cook, J. R., & Kilmer, R. P. (2010). The importance of context in fostering responsive community systems: Supports for families in systems of care. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 115-123.
  • Coleman, P. K., & Karraker, K. H. (2000). Parenting self-efficacy among mothers of school-age children: Conceptualization, measurement, and correlates. Family Relations, 49, 13-24.
  • Elek, S., Hudson, D. B., & Bouffard, C. (2003). Marital and parenting satisfaction and infant care self-efficacy during the transition to parenthood: the effect of infant sex. Issues in Comprehensive Pediatric Nursing, 26, 45-57.
  • Halpern, L. F., & McLean, W. E. (1997). Hey mom, look at me! Infant Behavior and Development, 20, 515-529.
  • Izzo, C., Weiss, L., Shanahan, T., & Rodriguez-Brown, F. (2000). Parental self-efficacy and social support as predictors of parenting practices and children's socio-emotional adjustment in mexican immigrant families. Journal of Prevention & Intervention in the Community, 20, 197-213.
  • Lunney, P., Edwards, H., Weir, D., & Barr, J. (1998). Perceived social support and community adaptation in schizophrenia. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 27(5), 955-965.
  • McLoyd, V. (1998). Socioeconomic disadvantage and child development. American Psychologist, 53, 185-204.
  • O'Neil, J., Wilson, M., Shaw, D. S., & Dishion, T. J. (2009). The relationship between parental efficacy and depressive symptoms in a diverse sample of low income mothers. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 18, 643-652.
  • Pelletier, J., & Brent, J. M. (2002). Parent participation in children' school readiness: The effects of parental self-efficacy, cultural diversity and teacher strategies. International Journal of Early Childhood, 34(1), 45-61.
  • Raikes, H. A., & Thompson, R. A. (2005). Efficacy and social support as predictors of parenting stress among families in poverty. Infant Mental Health Journal, 26(3), 177-190.
  • Thomas, J., Feeley, N., Grier, P. (2009). The perceived parenting self-efficacy of first-time fathers caring for very low birth weight infants. Issues in Comprehensive Pediatric Nursing, 32, 180-199.
  • Waanders, C., Mendez, J. L., & Downer, J. T. (2007). Parent characteristics, economic stress and neighborhood context as predictors of parent involvement in preschool children's education. Journal of School Psychology, 45, 619−636.

Acknowledgements

I am heartily thankful to Matthew Taylor, with his inspiration, and his great efforts to explain things clearly and simply, he helped to make STATA fun for me. Throughout the research project, he provided encouragement, support, sound advice, and good company.

I would like to thank my supervisor Daryl Higgins, who kindly provided me the opportunity to take this valuable placement and made this paper possible. I also owe my deepest gratitude for Elly Robinson and Robyn Parker's kind support. They provided very insightful comments on the later drafts.

At the time of writing, Maggie Yu was completing a Master of Occupational Therapy at Deakin University, and undertook a student placement with the AFRC.

Footnotes

1  Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) is a major study following the development of 10,000 children and families from all parts of Australia. Visit the LSAC website for details <www.aifs.gov.au/growingup/>

2  Parenting efficacy, financial support, and family and friend support were measured using multiple choice questions. Community support and couple support were measured using 4-point and 5-point scales respectively.

3  Associated analyses of these data (reported elsewhere) showed that the relationships between these four factors and parenting efficacy was largely unchanged by the inclusion of parents’ country of birth, education or employment.

4  Parents rated their community support on a 5-point scale, ranging from 1="Strongly agree" to 5 "Strongly disagree".  The average score on the scale is achieved by adding the scores of all 4 items and divide by 4. A higher average score reflects lower levels of community support. The level of community support was classified as "Greatest" (scores below 2), "High" (scores above 2 and below 3), "Moderate" (scores above 3 and below 4), and "Low" (scores above 4).