Intrusive parenting style may predict externalising behaviours in children

Emerging research has identified intrusive parenting—characterised by excessive control and restriction of autonomy—as a risk factor for childhood externalising behaviours, such as hyperactivity and conduct problems. However, the cognitive mechanisms underlying this relation were unclear. Moreover, given that children from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds are especially at-risk for punitive parenting, sparse attention has been paid to this demographic.

In view of the above, Germaine Tng Yue Qi, a first-year student PhD in Psychology student, had embarked on a research which sought to examine inhibitory control as a cognitive process that can account for the relation between intrusive parenting and childhood externalising outcomes in 35-month-old children from socioeconomically disadvantaged families. Inhibitory control refers to the ability to suppress impulses that are not relevant to one’s goal; for example, a child’s ability to inhibit the impulse to shove their peer, and instead use verbal communication.

Her research paper “Inhibitory Control Mediates the Relation between Intrusive Parenting and Externalising Behaviours in Socioeconomically Disadvantaged Children: A Structural Equation Analysis" received an 'Honorable Mention' at the 2021 RISE Research Award by the Association for Psychological Society (APS), one of the largest and most prestigious Psychology conferences in the US.

Germaine said, “Receiving this RISE award was such an honour and I’m very grateful to APS and everyone who has been supporting me – my family, loved ones, and of course my advisor Prof Yang Hwajin without whom this would not have been possible. This has definitely inspired me to challenge myself more in advancing my research!”

Using a mediation model, Germaine’s research indicated the important role of inhibitory control in explaining how intrusive parenting style may predict externalising behaviours in an extensive sample of 35-month-old children from socioeconomically disadvantaged families. She found that children who experienced a higher degree of intrusive caregiving tend to report weaker abilities to suppress aggressive responses (i.e. inhibitory control abilities), which is in turn linked to more externalising behaviours. Notably, these findings held true when key covariates—gender, ethnicity, household income, and expressive verbal abilities—were controlled for. 

On the potential impact of her research, Germaine shared that given the heightened vulnerabilities of socioeconomically disadvantaged children and the long-term repercussions of childhood behavioural difficulties, identifying intermediary cognitive mechanisms can inform early intervention aimed at alleviating conduct problems in young children. Specifically, in light of the malleability of inhibitory control during the early preschool years, interventions that target young children’s inhibitory control difficulties may be conducive to fortifying cognitive functioning and preventing conduct problems from manifesting and worsening during developmental transitions. 

Further, by highlighting the developmental ramifications of intrusive parenting, her findings provide important grounds for parents and educators to restrain from caregiving practices that interfere with children’s autonomy and acquisition of critical cognitive capacities. 

Having completed this research paper, Germaine plans to expand on this project by examining the mediation model using a longitudinal design that incorporates different developmental time points (e.g., 36-months, 48-months, 60-months), which will allow her to reach more fruitful conclusions. She is also applying for a grant to develop a new project that further explores empathy and other facets of cognitive functioning as potential mediators in the relation between caregiving practices and childhood behavioural outcomes. 

On the SMU PhD in Psychology programme, Germaine said that “the faculty have been very helpful in helping us to hone our analytical skills when understanding and developing research. I’ve really appreciated being able to pick their brains and exchange ideas with both my professors and course mates. The PhD programme has been challenging but very fulfilling, pushing us to hone relevant skillsets and expand the boundaries of our research. SMU also provides great facilities and support for its Postgraduate Research Programmes students which enables us to focus on our research.” 

Looking further ahead, after graduation, Germaine hopes to continue developing research which sheds light on important issues such as childhood behavioural maladjustment, mental wellbeing, and the impact of media and technology. “If given the opportunity, I would love to be a mentor to psychology students and aspiring researchers too!”, she added.