As you might imagine, it’s no simple task to develop reliable measures of parenting practices that can be used to examine relationships between parenting and child behavioral disorders. A 1996 study out of the University of Alabama’s Psychology Department reports progress on the development of the Alabama Parenting Questionnaire (APQ), which was designed to provide more consistent and reliable measurements of parenting practices for use in research on child behavioral disorders. Yet, results demonstrate that there is still much room for
improvement, especially when it comes to gathering accurate information from young children. Research into child behavioral development has continued to emphasize the importance of five parenting and discipline habits—parental supervision, parental involvement, positive strategies (like positive reinforcement), excessive corporal punishment, and inconsistent discipline. Not only does research emphasize the importance of these factors, behavioral interventions show the most success in focusing on them as well. Yet, assessment of these parenting dynamics has presented many challenges. Observations in the home or clinic are expensive and make it difficult or impossible to gage natural behaviors, especially in children beyond pre-school. The most common method is the use
of surveys, though existing questionnaires either lack key parenting factors or measure “parenting styles” rather than parenting practices, and feature insufficient or inconsistent questions.
The APQ seeks to address these limitations. It is modeled after the Oregon Social
Learning Center (OSLC) assessment, which combines multiple phone interviews with one general questionnaire. However, the OSLC assessment is not well suited to compare questions between parents and children, or between questionnaire and phone interviews. To solve this, the APQ provides analogous questions across parent/child assessments and questionnaire/interview formats.
Students ranging from 6-13 years old were recruited with their primary caretaker for the study. Of these, 124 children were referred for behavioral disorders, while 36 consisted of volunteers to represent a control group. They first filled out a questionnaire that covered all components according to general parenting practices. Both parent and child then participated in four phone interviews scheduled anywhere from 3-7 days apart, where on the same day each
party would answer their own set of questions regarding the five parenting factors as they were practiced over the past three days.
The authors wanted to determine if the APQ would be valid and consistent across
parent/child responses and between telephone/questionnaire formats. They also wanted to confirm that respondents would treat the five parenting practices as five different domains in their answers. Importantly, they also wanted to confirm that the APQ would be able to distinguish between the families with diagnosed child behavioral disorders and those from the control population.
While the parent surveys and interviews were able to distinguish between the two
samples, the data obtained from children were not. Researchers found that the child interviews, especially those younger than 9, were unreliable, as they appeared to consistently answer with either high or low ratings. The children’s questionnaires and interviews also proved unreliable in terms of internal and between-format validity, leaving only the parents’ data as validated measures of parenting practices.
However, answers provided by the parents in both formats did allow researchers to differentiate between families with child behavioral disorders and those without. Additionally, question validity and consistency were generally confirmed in parents’ answers, although the two factors associated with positive parenting seem to have been treated as one component.
Several suggestions for improvements are offered. Notably, the APQ must be tested with larger and more representative samples. These results can only speak to women as caretakers since fathers were not represented. Furthermore, the control sample suffered in that it was small, primarily comprised of Caucasian boys, and differed significantly from the clinical sample in terms of socioeconomic status. Despite (or perhaps due to) these limitations, the authors confidently state that parent self-reporting is more useful in assessing parenting practices than child reports.