A parent’s outlook on life can have a significant influence on the child’s behavior, according to a new study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.
The findings show that parents with an “external” view of life — the belief that personal efforts and actions have little to do with what actually happens to people in life — tend to have children with more social, eating and sleeping problems. But if just one parent has a more “internal” view of life — the belief that people have more control over what happens to them — then the child’s behavior improves.
The study used data collected on more than 10,000 preschool children and their parents who had participated in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) in the U.K., also known as the Children of the 90s’ study.
Co-author Professor Jean Golding and her team from the University of Bristol sent questionnaires to thousands of pregnant women to obtain information about their personalities and attitudes. They followed up by asking these women about their prenatal preparation and the behavior of the child between 6 and 57 months old.
“We find that the greater the degree of externality rather than internality of parents before children are born, the greater the likelihood that children will have greater difficulties in behaving, sleeping and eating during their first five years of life,” said Dr. Stephen Nowicki, professor of psychology at Emory University.
“This can be explained by the behavior of internally controlled parents, which are characterized by what is called the Big 5; that is their (1) persistence, (2) feeling of responsibility, (3) pursuit of information, (4) ability to tolerate a longer delay of gratification, and (5) resistance to being coerced.”
In contrast, women with a more external view were less likely to attend parenting classes, less likely to breastfeed and less likely to ensure their child was fully immunized by 6 months of age.
The researchers also examined the personality and attitude of the father, to see if this had any influence.
“Being able to assess the impact of internality and externality of each partner helps to identify the relative impact and contribution of mothers’ and fathers’ prenatal locus of control to their child’s future adjustment,” said Nowicki.
“It is apparent from our findings that it doesn’t matter which parent is internal, if one of them, father or mother, is internal then it increases the positive effect on children’s social, eating and/or sleeping behavior.”
The researchers hope the findings will guide programs to reduce externality and increase internality in parents, enabling them to interact more positively with their children and reduce problems in behavior, eating and sleeping.