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Joelle Zegas, Beth A. Kotchick, Ph.D., Carolyn M. Barry, Ph.D., Rachel L. Grover, Ph.D.

Parenting Style as a Moderator: The Relation between Parenting Practices and the Development of Prosocial Behavior

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Prosocial behavior refers to action intended to help others and create positive social interactions (e.g., Eisenberg, Spinrad, & Knafo-Noam, 2015). Prosocial behavior has been associated with various positive outcomes (Caprara, Barbaranelli, Pastorelli, Bandura, & Zimbardo, 2000; Stavrova & Ehlebracht, 2015), while a lack of prosocial behavior has been linked to several negative outcomes (Caprara, Dodge, Pastorelli, & Zelli, 2006; Haapasalo, Tremblay, Boulerice, & Vitaro, 2000; Scourfield, John, Martin, & McGuffin, 2004). Given the negative consequences associated with prosocial deficits and the positive outcomes associated with prosocial behaviors, it is important to foster prosocial behaviors at a young age.

The development of prosocial behavior is related to genetics, culture, family, peers, and school factors (Eisenberg et al., 2015). There is a trend for environmental factors, including family influences, to be more strongly related to the prosocial behavior of younger children than are genetic factors (Scourfield et al., 2004). As such, it seems especially important to examine how family factors, specifically parenting, is associated with the development of prosocial behavior in early childhood. Previous research has found that parenting practices such as sensitivity (Blandon & Scrimgeour, 2015, Newton et al., 2014), warmth (Daniel et al., 2016; Yagmurlu & Sanson, 2009), responsiveneness (Healy, Sanders, & Iyer, 2015), discipline, and control (e.g., Deater-Deckard, Pike, Petrill, Cutting, Hughes, & O’Connor, 2001; Hart, DeWolf, Wozniak, & Burts, 1992; Knafo & Plomin, 2006; Whiteside-Mansell, Bradley, Owen, Randolph, & Cauce, 2003) are correlated to child prosocial behavior. Additionally, the authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, and neglectful parenting styles have been studied in the context of child prosocial behavior with the authoritative style being the most highly positively correlated to child prosocial behavior.

The aim of the present study is to examine how various parenting practices are associated with prosocial behavior in early childhood and how the authoritative parenting style may moderate any associations between parenting practices and child prosocial behavior. We hypothesize that 1) positive parenting will be positively correlated to child prosocial behavior, 2) parental support/engagement will be positively associated with child prosocial behavior, 3) harsh/inconsistent/negative discipline practices will be negatively correlated to child prosocial behavior, 4) parental prosocial behavior will be positively associated with child prosocial behavior, 5) authoritative parenting will be positively correlated to child prosocial behavior, and 6) authoritative parenting style will moderate the aforementioned correlations between parenting practices and child prosocial behavior, such that the association will be strongest when authoritative parenting is high.

Data will be collected from approximately 210 parents and teachers of 3- to 6-year-old children. These participants will be recruited from six daycare centers, preschools, parochial schools, and private schools located in Baltimore, Maryland and the surrounding area. Each site will be contacted separately and arrangements will be made to invite parents of three- to six-year-old to complete the study measures. Parents will complete several self-report measures that assess parenting practices, parenting style, and parent prosocial behavior. Additionally, parents will complete a prosocial behavior questionnaire about child prosocial behavior and children’s teachers will complete a corresponding measure of child prosocial behavior. It is hoped that this study will begin in the fall of 2017.  Any findings from analysis of the parent and teacher data would be beneficial in order to better understand not only the parenting practices that may promote children’s prosocial behavior, but also the context in which these practices should be displayed.

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