Empirical relationships among parenting styles, determinants of parenting, and children's school readiness in urban Head Start families

Kathleen Coyle Coolahan, University of Pennsylvania


In the 1990's, stubbornly high child poverty rates, mounting social disintegration in impoverished communities, changing demographics among the ranks of the poor, and the implementation of welfare reform challenge Head Start to continually advance the quality of its services for families in need. In response to these challenges, Head Start has launched a major initiative to improve program quality. This initiative emphasizes the enhancement of parenting skills as a strategy for strengthening families and promoting children's school readiness. Accordingly, Head Start is in need of information about the ways in which parenting styles relate to child outcomes in diverse subpopulations, as well as factors that contribute to the types of parenting practices employed by parents. This study investigated these issues in a large, urban Head Start program by: (a) establishing the construct validity of a parenting styles questionnaire adapted for use with this population; (b) investigating differences in parenting styles according to hypothesized determinant variables (parent age and education, child age and gender, and life event stress); (c) determining the relationships between parenting styles and child outcomes in three school readiness domains--peer play interactions, learning behaviors, and classroom behavior problems; and (d) ascertaining whether parenting styles, in interaction with the hypothesized determinant variables, related significantly to child outcomes. Indications of the questionnaire's construct validity were favorable, suggesting that its dimensions--authoritative, authoritarian, and permissive parenting--are viable constructs for this population. Overall, authoritative parenting was associated with positive peer play interaction, and co-occurred with higher levels of parent education and lower stress levels. Authoritarian parenting was associated with problematic peer play interaction, and occurred most often in highly-stressed families. Permissive parenting related to problematic peer play and withdrawn behavior, higher stress levels, and lower educational levels. Parenting styles related to behavior problems only in interaction with child age and gender, and did not relate to learning behaviors. Implications of these findings for future research and informing Head Start policy and practice are discussed.

Subject Area

Preschool education|Developmental psychology|Families & family life|Personal relationships|Sociology|Welfare

Recommended Citation

Coolahan, Kathleen Coyle, "Empirical relationships among parenting styles, determinants of parenting, and children's school readiness in urban Head Start families" (1997). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9727206.