Differences in Sensitivity to Parenting Depending on Child Temperament: A Meta-Analysis

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Several models of individual differences in environmental sensitivity postulate increased sensitivity of some individuals to either stressful (diathesis-stress), supportive (vantage sensitivity), or both environments (differential susceptibility). In this meta-analysis we examine whether children vary in sensitivity to parenting depending on their temperament, and if so, which model can best be used to describe this sensitivity pattern. We tested whether associations between negative parenting and negative or positive child adjustment as well as between positive parenting and positive or negative child adjustment would be stronger among children higher on putative sensitivity markers (difficult temperament, negative emotionality, surgency, and effortful control). Longitudinal studies with children up to 18 years (k = 105 samples from 84 studies, Nmean = 6,153) that reported on a parenting-by-temperament interaction predicting child adjustment were included. We found 235 independent effect sizes for associations between parenting and child adjustment. Results showed that children with a more difficult temperament (compared with those with a more easy temperament) were more vulnerable to negative parenting, but also profited more from positive parenting, supporting the differential susceptibility model. Differences in susceptibility were expressed in externalizing and internalizing problems and in social and cognitive competence. Support for differential susceptibility for negative emotionality was, however, only present when this trait was assessed during infancy. Surgency and effortful control did not consistently moderate associations between parenting and child adjustment, providing little support for differential susceptibility, diathesis-stress, or vantage sensitivity models. Finally, parenting-by-temperament interactions were more pronounced when parenting was assessed using observations compared to questionnaires.

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