The results of this investigation enhance our knowledge regarding the manner through which parenting behavior, and current caregiver posttraumatic symptoms are related to child and caregiver reports of child functioning following exposure to a PTE.
Consistent with our hypotheses, hostile and coercive parenting behaviors were a strong predictor of child-reported symptoms in all domains, such that negative parenting behaviors were associated with greater PTSD and internalizing symptomatology. Supportive and engaged parenting was a strong positive predictor of child-reported adjustment. These findings augment the body of literature supporting the link between hostile/coercive parenting and both internalizing and externalizing symptoms by being the first to demonstrate that hostile/coercive parenting is specifically associated with child PTSD symptoms.
Caregiver posttraumatic symptoms following children’s exposure to a PTE were generally unrelated to child self-reported symptoms. This finding advances prior research which has exclusively focused on parents’ self-report of trauma symptoms in relation to parents’ report of their children’s symptoms. The current findings suggest that current caregiver posttraumatic symptoms do not account for a significant proportion of variance in predicting child self-reported symptoms.
In contrast, caregivers’ current trauma symptoms following their children’s exposure to a PTE was a strong predictor of their report of children’s internalizing, externalizing, and PTSD symptoms; this finding coheres with prior studies that have demonstrated a significant association between parental distress following a PTE and their report of child symptoms (Daviss, et al., 2000
, Kassam-Adams, et al., 2006
). Thus caregiver-report of child symptoms is partly driven by their own traumatic reactions and symptoms. Correlations between parent and child reports of symptoms were poor suggesting caregiver -report alone may not be fully reflective of children’s functioning in the context of significant caregiver symptoms post trauma.
There are limitations of the current investigation including lack of parallel forms for assessing child and caregiver report of Internalizing and Externalizing symptoms and sample size constraints that limited examination of specific subtypes of trauma exposure in this sample that could be related to symptoms reported.
The findings of the current investigation possess important clinical implications. Given that hostile and coercive parenting behaviors are associated with greater child symptoms, interventions following a PTE that focus on increasing parental support and decreasing hostile/coercive interactions may result in reduced posttraumatic symptoms. Prospective research is necessary to clarify the strength of the relation between parenting support and child posttraumatic stress. Moreover, assessment of caregivers’ symptoms will be essential in treatment planning as caregivers’ own traumatic reactions are clearly related to their perceptions of their children’s functioning and may impact how they respond to their children following a PTE.