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Mazur Publishes Article on Biased Appraisals of the Daily Hassles of Parenting

Dr. Elizabeth Mazur
11/4/2006 —

Associate Professor of Psychology, Elizabeth Mazur, was recently published in the journal Cognitive Therapy and Research, currently available on SpringerLink, a premier data source for researchers in the sciences.

A developmental psychologist, Dr. Mazur's previous research with children of divorced parents suggested that biased appraisals influence adjustment to stressful life events. In her most recently published article, the focus is on parenting stress and how biased appraisals among mothers of young children predict parenting adjustment.

For her study Dr. Mazur used information collected from 72 mothers with at least one preschooler between the ages of 2 and 5. Most of the participants were recruited from six parenting groups in the Flint, Michigan metropolitan area.

As children enter the preschool period, parents often enter into a more adversarial relationship with their children as the child develops his/her own personality and tests the limits of parental authority.  Mazur's research shows that mothers who consistently endorse negatively biased appraisals, or "negative cognitive errors" of their child's behavior, experience more psychological distress and parenting stress, and less satisfaction and less sense of a control as a parent. For example, these parents are more likely to see a child's occasional temper tantrum as the willful noncompliance of a "bad" child.

On the other hand, parents who understand that tantrums are age-appropriate assertions by preschool-aged children adapt more readily to this often challenging phase of the child's life and are more likely to enjoy both parenting and their young children. Their realistic or even positive outlook allows these parents to cope more effectively with their children’s difficult behavior by allowing them to regroup their energy and psychological resources.

Information collected for the study included demographic information on the parent and child, measures of typical everyday events that can be a hassle to the parent, inventories of psychological distress, parenting stress, and parenting sense of competence, as well as information from a scale which rates parents on their strength of endorsement to negative and positive illusions as they are presented with hypothetical events.  The hypothetical events described are frequently occurring and perceived as undesirable behaviors for their children (whining, acting defiantly, ignoring parental requests, etc.)

Mazur's research indicated that the frequency and intensity of daily parenting hassles (such as children arguing, interrupting, and making messes, among others) are important determinants of mothers’ psychological distress and parenting stress and satisfaction.  However, among these mothers, those who endorsed negative cognitive errors showed greater levels of psychological distress and parenting stress and lower levels of parenting satisfaction and parental self-efficacy than mothers who did not think in this negatively biased way.

It may be that a mother who personalizes her child’s bad behavior as "her fault" or considers her day as a catastrophe due to one child's misbehavior does not consistently use effective discipline strategies, such as ignoring that behavior, because she feels responsible or that her day has now been ruined. In summary, the results indicate that no matter the frequency or intensity of the parenting hassles mothers experience, realistic appraisals of parenting hassles are key in maintaining positive parenting adjustment.

Dr. Mazur's previous publications include research on the relationship between negative and positive appraisal biases and adjustment to parental divorce. Those studies also concluded that it is important to teach positive appraisal biases so that children can cope more effectively with their stressful family situations. Mazur has taught here for four years. Previously, she worked at the University of Michigan at Flint and within that community as a parent educator, which, combined with her own parenting experiences, helped to inspire the present project.

For more information, contact Dr. Mazur (emazur@psu.edu).

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