Many of us have experienced the emotional swings between joy and panic during the first few days, weeks, and months of being a parent. As children grow, the stresses of parenting change in nature but not necessarily in intensity. Those of us who work with children and families often witness the struggles of parents as they cope with the challenges of building a strong family life. There is no manual on parenting!
In families with certain types of stress or combinations of stressors, however, the parenting role can be overwhelming, and the effects of that stress on children can be devastating. “Parenting stress is an important factor in child development,” says Dr. Richard Abidin, emeritus professor of clinical and school psychology at the University of Virginia and author of the newly revised Parenting Stress Index™ (PSI™-4). “High levels of parenting stress are associated with and predict a wide range of dysfunctional parenting behavior and negative child outcomes. Reduced sensitivity, lack of warmth, harsh—if not abusive—and neglecting behaviors, and the inability to provide a secure and supportive home environment can negatively impact children’s psychological development and educational competence.”
According to Dr. Abidin, the most significant sources of parenting stress fall into three major domains:
Families with high levels of stress in these domains may be at increased risk for dysfunction in the parent-child relationship.
Research has clearly demonstrated that parenting stress is positively correlated to child abuse potential (Rodriguez & Green, 1997; Whipple & Webster-Stratton, 1991). Considering the impact that parenting stress has on child development as well as its potential as a risk factor for child abuse, the long-term consequences—not only for the child but also for society as a whole—are clear. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services reports that, in 2010, an estimated 695,000 children were victims of maltreatment. More than 80% of victims were maltreated by a parent, and children younger than 1 year had the highest rate of victimization.
Adult survivors of child maltreatment are more likely to have a poor quality of life, with higher levels of chronic diseases and mental health issues, than non-abused adults. “Childhood exposure to abuse and neglect has been linked...to a lifetime trajectory of violence perpetration and victimization,” says Dr. Phaedra Corso of the University of Georgia’s College of Public Health (Prevent Child Abuse America, 2012). Child abuse can be a vicious circle, and some families under stress need support to help break the pattern of abuse.
With the stakes so high, it is essential to distinguish between families with normal levels of stress and families who may need more significant support or intervention. The newly revised Parenting Stress Index™, Fourth Edition (PSI™-4) from PAR is a 120-item inventory that measures stress in the parent-child relationship and identifies the specific sources of that stress. Information from the PSI-4 can help you in designing a treatment plan, setting intervention priorities, and/or following up on the results of an intervention. Common settings for administration of the PSI-4 also include medical centers where children receive care, outpatient therapy settings, and pediatric practices. This edition of the PSI has been improved and updated, with new normative data stratified to match the demographic composition of the 2007 U.S. Census. Validation studies conducted within a variety of non-English speaking populations suggest that the PSI is a robust measure that maintains its validity with diverse cultures.
“Parenting stress is a universal phenomenon that all parents experience to one degree or another,” explains Abidin, who is also the author of the PSI-4. “What we have learned is that high levels of stress relate to a variety of dysfunctional parenting behaviors and negative child outcomes. Screening for and evaluating the sources of parenting stress allow for the implementation of prevention and early intervention in both primary health care and education systems.”
From its modest beginnings in Bob and Cathy Smith's home years ago, PAR has grown into a leading publisher of psychological assessment materials designed to help our customers better serve their clients.