Social withdrawal in children moderates the association between parenting styles and the children's own socioemotional development

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BackgroundSocial withdrawal in early childhood is a risk factor for later socioemotional difficulties. This study examined the joint effects of children's social withdrawal and mothers' and fathers' parenting styles on children's socioemotional development. Based on diatheses-stress, vantage sensitivity, and differential susceptibility models, socially withdrawn children were assumed to be more prone to parental influences than others.MethodsTeachers rated 314 children on prosocial skills, and internalizing and externalizing behaviors at three points in time between grades 1–3. Mothers (n = 279) and fathers (n = 182) filled in questionnaires measuring their affection, and their behavioral and psychological control at the same points in time. Teacher reports on children's level of social withdrawal were obtained at the end of kindergarten.ResultsPanel analysis showed that particularly those children who showed signs of social withdrawal were vulnerable to the negative effects of low maternal affection in terms of externalizing behavior. Moreover, among these children, mothers' and fathers' psychological control predicted high levels of internalizing problem but, at the same time, mothers' psychological control predicted also a high level of prosocial behavior and low levels of externalizing problem.ConclusionsThe results supported the diathesis–stress model more than the differential susceptibility model. For example, socially withdrawn children were found to be particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of low maternal affection. Although maternal psychological control had positive effects on the prosocial skills of socially withdrawn children, and reduced the amount of externalizing problems, it was at the same time associated with an increase in their internalizing problems. In this way, socially withdrawn children seem to be at risk of pleasing their mothers at the cost of their own well-being.

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