Method: Data are from 1,238 mothers and fathers who participated in the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a national, community-based sample of diverse urban families. Analyses included a comprehensive set of self-reported paternal characteristics, including father involvement with the child and parenting stress. We conducted latent class analysis (LCA) of the Parent-Child Conflict Tactics Scales to examine distinct paternal parenting styles based on fathers' aggressive and non-aggressive parenting behaviors. We then conducted regression analysis to determine if class membership based on parenting styles was a predictor of child behavior problems, assessed by the Child Behavior Checklist 1.5 – 5.
Results: LCA analyses confirmed four distinct paternal parenting styles: low discipline, mild aggression, moderate physical aggression, and high psychological and physical aggression. Results suggested that there are important qualitative differences in the nature of fathers' parenting. Rather than functioning as a continuum of aggression, we see significant and meaningful variation among the groups in the frequency as well as the type (aggressive vs. non-aggressive) of parenting behaviors used to discipline children. Furthermore, the results indicated that even mild aggression (e.g., some spanking, threatening to spank, and greater use of restrictive non-punitive disciplinary strategies) is related to increased risk of child behavior problems. Importantly, we find evidence that psychological and physical aggression is a uniquely problematic combination, with children of fathers in this group at much greater risk for behavior problems. Finally, boys were more vulnerable to their fathers' aggression than girls.
Conclusions & Implications: By utilizing a risk profile approach we gain greater understanding of how fathers differ in their parenting. We find that fathers' use of non-aggressive discipline may not countervail the negative consequences of aggression. Although fathers in all groups (except low discipline) used high levels of non-aggressive discipline, their children remained at higher risk for problem behaviors. An implication is that parents need to be aware of the potential implications associated with even common and mild aggressive behaviors, such as spanking and threatening to spank their child. We find evidence that psychological aggression directed toward 3 year olds seems to be a unique risk factor, and this may help to identify parents most at risk and in need of more intensive intervention. Finally, young boys are more vulnerable to their fathers' aggression, pointing to the need for greater awareness and education regarding the developmental needs and appropriate discipline of boys. In sum, results suggest that in order to increase effectiveness, interventions need to target fathers' unique parenting styles.