Poster Paper: Parenting Style As a Moderator of Head Start Participation and Children's Problem Behaviors: Relationships with Maternal Depression and Immigrant Status

Saturday, November 5, 2016
Columbia Ballroom (Washington Hilton)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Allison Cooperman, Northwestern University

The Head Start Impact Study found significant benefits of Head Start participation on children’s problem behaviors after a year in the program, yet these favorable impacts differed by selected subgroups and were not sustained for most children (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2010). Such outcome patterns suggest that alternative factors may be influencing Head Start’s impact on socioemotional development. Parenting style is one of many environmental factors known to influence children’s development, especially problem behaviors. For example, parental neglect is associated with child rebelliousness (McDermott & Barik, 2014) and authoritarian parenting influences preschool children’s relational aggression (Casas et al., 2006). However, there is little research investigating how parenting style can differentially improve or impede children’s behavioral development when participating in early childhood education. The current study examines whether different parenting styles moderate the relationship between Head Start participation and children’s problem behaviors.

The authors use parent and child psychosocial data from the Head Start Impact Study (n = 3,203; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2006). Baseline parenting style encompassed four domains – authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, and neglectful. Mothers also completed the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression scale (CESD). Children’s problem behaviors (aggression, hyperactivity, and withdrawal) were based on mothers’ reports approximately one year after randomization. Ordinary least squares regressions were used to examine the moderating influences of each parenting style on the relationship between Head Start participation and child problem behavior. Each model included a variety of child and family background measures as covariates, as well as each of the baseline child behavior ratings.

We find that neglectful parenting style was a key moderator of program impacts. Maternal neglect moderated the relationship between Head Start participation and children’s hyperactive behavior (β = 0.45, p = 0.020). For children with a neglectful mother, participation in Head Start was related to an increase in hyperactive behavior, whereas for children with a non-neglectful mother, Head Start participation was related to a decrease in hyperactive behavior. Because numerous factors may influence a mother’s parenting style, we also examined whether the influence of neglectful parenting on Head Start’s impacts was related to either maternal depression or immigrant status. The moderator remained significant when controlling for baseline maternal depression or immigrant status, and triple interactions were non-significant, suggesting the independent influence of neglectful parenting style above and beyond maternal depression and immigrant status.

The present study finds evidence of moderating relationships between parenting styles, Head Start participation, and children’s problem behaviors wherein the impact of Head Start on hyperactive behaviors is dependent upon the presence of maternal neglect. Maternal depression and immigrant status did not serve as moderators of Head Start’s effects on hyperactive behaviors nor did they affect the role of neglectful parenting style as a moderator, suggesting that they influence program impacts only insofar as they affect parenting style. These results provide support for investing in parent engagement strategies that help develop positive parenting styles to increase Head Start’s effectiveness.