Whether she's checking up on her 7th graders' book report, getting filled in on her kindergartner's day, or helping her 3rd grader get down to homework, Liliana Lengua is tailoring parenting to each child's temperament. It's something she bases on her own research. Psychology Professor Dr. Lengua is Director of the University of Washington's Center for Child and Family Well-Being.
"Our research shows that kids with different temperament characteristics need more or less of different parenting efforts," explained Dr. Lengua.
She and UW Psychology Resident Cara Kiff M.S wanted to see how parenting styles affect kids. They co-authored a study along with University of California Postdoctoral Fellow Nicole Bush. The study was published online in August in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. The researchers followed 214 Seattle area parents, mostly moms, and children ages 9 to 12, for three years. They found kids whose mom's parenting style best matched their own temperament had half as many depression and anxiety symptoms.
"Most parenting advice seems to be a one size fits all approach. And our study would suggest that really we should move away from that," said Cara Kiff.
They found for kids who were more impulsive, less focused, and lower in self control, more guidance from parents lowered the children's anxiety.
"Cleaning your room means getting all your clothes off the floor, putting the books on the shelf, making your bed, so a little more coaching and structuring," said Dr. Lengua.
But for children who could manage better on their own, with more ability to regulate their own emotions and actions, it was different.
"Frequent reminders, or structuring or control from parents might be seen as micro-managing, and so for those kids in our study they actually reported more anxiety across time," said Kiff.
The key the researchers said, is not about changing the rules for each child, but about learning when to step in and when to step out, as we teach them to follow those rules.
"The more we can fine tune our parenting to our child's needs, the more effective we can be," said Dr. Lengua.
The researchers didn't have many dads participating in their study. Cara Kiff said she believes future parenting research should focus on fathers too.