Parents’ spontaneous attributions about their problem child: Associations with parental mental health and child conduct problems

Sophia M E Palm, Vilas Sawrikar, Olivia Schollar-Root, Alicia Moss, David J Hawes, Mark R Dadds

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Parents’ attributions about their child’s personality and behaviour are known to predict the quality of parent-child interactions and outcomes for the child, including those from parenting interventions. Nothing is known, however, about the quantity and quality of attributions parents use during free speech about their children referred for treatment of behavioural and emotional problems. We tested hypotheses about the types of attributions and associations among parental attributions, parental psychopathology and child conduct problems, using 504 five-minute speech samples (FMSS) coded using the Parent Attribution Speech Sample (PASS) coding system. Both mothers and fathers talked about their thoughts and feelings regarding their children with disruptive behaviour problems (N = 295; 74% male; 3–8 years old). The assessment of spontaneous parental attributions via the PASS coding system was shown to be valid and reliable. Mothers made more negative, dispositional attributions than fathers, however, parents of either gender made, on average, more positive than negative attributions about their children. Parents’ natural attributions about these children with emotional and behavioural problems were rather independent from parents’ own mental health, but were consistently related to child factors. Specifically, across parent gender and across all attribution dimensions, levels of callous-unemotional traits were associated with spontaneous parental attributions above and beyond other child and parent factors. Overall, the results show that parents’ spontaneous speech about referred children contains important information about their causal attributions, and that these are associated with child temperament rather than specific referral symptoms.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1455-1466
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Abnormal Child Psychology
Issue number9
Early online date30 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sept 2019

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • parental attributions
  • parent attribution measure
  • conduct problems
  • callous-unemotional traits


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