There are many things that shape who we are as parents and Raudino and colleagues say that childhood behavior is one of them. In their study of parents that had been followed in a longitudinal study since birth, they found that conduct problems (behaviors like aggression and defiance of authority) mattered a whole lot in how they parented years later.
Conduct problems are no small potatoes. Raudino et al. reported that 10% of all kids have conduct problems and half of all child mental health referrals are due to this issue. Several studies have looked at outcomes for kids with conduct problems and have found increased risk for issues such as adult antisocial personality disorder, social troubles, parenting difficulties, and intimate partner violence.
Radino’s study looked specifically at parenting and intimate partnership. I will focus mostly on parenting for this post. The authors used data from New Zealand’s Christchurch Health and Development Study, a thirty-year longitudinal study that looked at a number of variables at birth, four months, 1 year, annually up to age 16, and at ages 18, 21, 25, and 30. Over 300 parents (133 fathers, 204 mothers) participated in Raudino’s study.
Using data from the participants at ages 7, 8, and 9, the investigators looked at conduct issues reported by parents and teachers. The participants were placed into one of four groups based on the severity of conduct disturbance (group 1 = 1st to 50th percentile, group 2 = 51st to 80th percentile, group 3 = 81st to 95th percentile, and group 4 = 96th to 100th percentile). And then at age 30, when the participants were parents, they completed interviews and observations in order to gather information on their parenting and intimate partner relationships. For the purposes of this post, I will focus primarily on parenting findings.
Very briefly, increased severity in childhood conduct problems was associated with lower intimate relationship satisfaction and investment, as well as increased intimate relationship conflict, ambivalence, and violence.
Parenting outcomes revealed that the more severe the childhood conduct problems, the less warm and sensitive the participants were toward their children. These parents also tended to be less equipped to effectively manage their children’s behavior and more over-reactive, punitive, and lax and/or inconsistent in their guidance of their children. After controlling for a variety of factors, such as the participants’ family background, gender, education level, and emotional problems, all of these parenting findings held true with the exception of lax/inconsistent parenting.
What we can take away from this study is more support for the body of research that suggests that early conduct problems can have very lasting effects, well into adulthood. And as with many issues, early intervention and prevention may be key. For example, equipping parents and teachers to effectively manage childhood misconduct, increasing children’s coping and social skills, and providing support throughout the developmental stages (including adulthood/parenthood) to children with increased levels of conduct problems can all be good ways to attempt to decrease negative outcomes for this group of children. And, by extension, these interventions may just help the next generation from developing the same behavior patterns that our participants had.