Ongoing cycle

Many studies have suggested that relationships with parents are crucial in the adjustment, socialisation and integration of a child with their environment. As noted a lack of parental attachment and significant disruption of parental involvement such as a divorce can have notable consequences on the wellbeing and subsequent behaviour of a child. However it is not solely as a result of the parents or as a result of the absence of parental involvement that children display disturbing behaviour. In fact such behaviour it is thought to evolve via an interaction between the parents and their children.

Richard Bell in contrast to Bowlby et al changed the attitude that parents alone influenced children’s behaviour. Bell found considerable evidence to suggest that children actually shape the behaviour of adults. The socialisation process therefore is bidirectional i.e. it has effects in both directions. For example if a child is behaving in an undesirable manner then this has an influence on the way in which the parents react to the child. As suggested by Bell; “parents with difficult youngsters got tough with them, while those with compliant offspring had no need to resort to severe methods.”

Sameroff and Chandler (1975) expanded Bells ideas about bidirectional socialisation. Sameroff suggested that the transactional model best recognises the bidirectional influence that shapes individual development. According to this model, the individual actively shapes his or her own experiences, and the individual’s experiences in turn shape the nature and development of the individual. As suggested by Sameroff; “The development of the child is seen as a product of the continuous dynamic of interactions between the child and the experiences provided by his or her family and social context.”

Sameroff uses the example of a mother who has experienced difficulty in giving birth to illustrate his theory. For example Sameroff suggests that the anxiety that the mother experiences when interacting with her child serves as a catalyst for reducing intimacy. According to Sameroff this develops as a consequence of the mother feeling diminished pleasure from the interaction that she has with her child. A reduction in maternal contact in turn affects the way in which the child behaves and as such the child may develop irregular habits. Such anomalies in turn irritate the mother leading to further indifference. Interestingly Sameroff concludes that; “if there are no adults interacting with the child then the child may not meet the norms for development.”11

The temperament of the child will also have an effect on the parents. For example the moody, violent or even withdrawn child may well provoke certain adverse reactions from his or her frustrated parents, who often respond with a mixture of negative emotions which may actually reinforce the behaviour of the child. As suggested by Chess et al (1991); “easy children usually elicit the most positive reactions from others, while children with more challenging temperaments typically draw more negative reactions.”

In response to this Chess developed the concept of “goodness to fit”. As argued by Chess therefore; “goodness of fit results when the child’s capacities, motivations and temperament are adequate to master the demands, expectations and opportunities of the environment. The “goodness of fit” model is interesting as it not only addresses the issue of social and personal circumstance but more importantly it looks at the influence of individual personality and the effect that this has on development. Temperament is an important variable as it influences the way in which a child react to any external factor such as economic disadvantage, violent parents etc.

Traditionally researchers who have studied the link between the family and child development have tended to focus exclusively on the role of the mother and the effect that this has on the children. There is no doubt that a correlation exists between parental contact and development. For example Goldfarb highlighted the negative characteristics displayed by children raised in “inadequate institutions”. Although this is an extreme example, the role of the primary care giver is never the less very clear. In addition efforts have been made to measure the effects of domestic disruption and even the loss of a parent on the development of the child. Undoubtedly these factors will have an effect on individual behaviour but cannot explain disturbing behaviour alone.

The transactional model proposed by Sameroff however is perhaps a more plausible explanation for disturbing behaviour in children as it describes the long-term bi-directional effects of parents and child whilst taking into account social and economic factors. For example Sameroff noted that children born into poverty can and do place incredible demands on already over taxed parents. This in turn elicits new parental responses, which in turn further influence the child and so on in an ongoing cycle. This is apparently particularly acute when the child has experienced birth complications in which case the parents become increasingly exhausted through the need to provide special care and attention. As suggested by Sameroff; “Birth complications, were thought to have generally negative behavioural outcomes later in life.”14 In addition the Chess model is particularly significant in view of its attempts to reconcile the influence of the environment and caregivers with the individual personality of the child.

If we analyse the five factors presented by Liu (1999), which are known to increase problem behaviour, and apply these situations to what we have learned about the transactional model. It is easy to see how each factor could become intensified through the interplay between the parent and child i.e. the bidirectional dynamic. For example a household suffering from a low income could make things very difficult in view of how expensive children can be. This may increase friction and even give rise to a certain degree of resentment surrounding the situation. In addition the mental state of both parents may become increasingly stressed as children bring with them a tremendous responsibility. This could lead to the parents engaging in anti-social behaviour themselves as a form of escapism. Logically the arrival of a child can place a tremendous strain on the parent’s relationships with each other leading to a hostile atmosphere at home and even divorce.


Bukatko. D. 1995. Child Development. Houghton Miffin Company.

Ding. S. 2005. Children’s Personal & Social Development. Open University Press. Blackwell

Dworetzky. J.P. 1989. Introducing Child Development. West Publishing.

Glietman. H. 1999. Psychology, Norton. London.

Gross. R. 1996. Psychology. Hodder & Stoughton. London

Sameroff. A.J in 2006 Skills Handbook. Open University Press.

1 Glietman. H. 1999. Psychology, Norton. London. Pg 576

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