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A new Child Trends research brief says kids aggravate their parents more than they did 15 years ago, creating stress that could lead to less effective parenting.
Using data from the National Survey of American Families, taken in 1997, 1999 and 2002, as well as the National Survey of Children's Heath, collected in 2003, 2007 and 2011/12, the researchers concluded that the proportion of parents who reported aggravation rose from 20 percent to 35 percent between 1997 and 2007. It has since flattened out; one-third of parents were aggravated when asked in 2012.
They determined aggravation using three markers: "how often the child does things that really bother the parent; how often the parent has felt the chid is much harder to care for than most other children of the same age and how often the parent has felt angry with the child," the brief said.
The researchers note that parental coping skills have a big impact on interactions with children. "High levels of stress associated with the parenting role and parents' impatience with their child may be reflected in inappropriately high behavioral expectations and/or coercive discipline. Over time, this parenting pattern can negatively affect child outcomes ranging from physical health to academic success to psychological and social well-being. Research finds that, on average, children of parents with high levels of aggravation are less well-adjusted and experience more negative outcomes."
What they don't know, they said, is whether recent economic shifts such as more employment for parents, family structure changes and less economic security have impacted overall parental aggravation.
The report also contains a breakdown by states of parental aggravation, finding that in 2011-2012, it was highest in Arizona (36.8 percent) and Pennsylvania (36.4 percent). Alaska had the lowest level, at 27 percent.
Aggravation has not been a hot research topic, but there have been studies that show the damage it can cause a parent-child relationship. A 2009 study in The Journal of Family Issues, for example, said "paternal aggravation and stress in parenting is significantly associated with lower levels of father engagement and with less supportive co-parenting relationships (controlling for mothers’ aggravation and stress in parenting)." That was particularly true, they found, among fathers living in poverty.
An earlier Child Trends report additionally connected the quality of the relationships that parents enjoy with each other to the degree to which aggravation impacts their relationships with the children.
It also noted that "high levels of stress and anger from difficult relationships can spill over to parents' interactions with their children. This spillover affects child outcomes ranging from physical health to academic success, to psychological and social outcomes. This body of research has led to several large-scale random assignment evaluation studies that are exploring whether relationship education can improve marital and relationship quality and thereby enhance child outcomes in lower-income populations."
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