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Mothers’ Perceptions of Stress, Parenting Self-Efficacy, and Permissive and Inconsistent Discipline: Insights from China, Japan, and the United States


Decades of parenting research has shown that heightened stress may interrupt the parenting process and negatively affect the child and the family. However, most existing studies have primarily focused on how stress can undermine parenting, and relatively few have attended to the role of cognitive appraisal in shaping the interpretation and ultimate effects of stressful conditions on parenting behavior. Following theoretical recommendations associated with social cognitive theory as well as transactional theory of stress and coping, the current study examined the association of psychological stress to mothers’ use of inconsistent and permissive discipline, focusing particularly on the mediating role of parenting self-efficacy (PSE) in the link between perceived stress and parental discipline. Separate path analyses were conducted with survey data collected from a total of 540 mothers of young children in China (n = 113), Japan (n = 262) and the United States (n = 165). Results indicated significant associations among mothers’ perceived stress, PSE, as well as permissive and inconsistent discipline in all three samples, with exceptions in the Chinese sample. Furthermore, path models supported the mediating effect of PSE in the link between mothers perceived stress and the inconsistent parenting in all three samples. In the US and Japanese samples, PSE also mediated the relationship between stress and permissiveness. Overall, these findings suggest the important role of PSE in parents’ stress and coping processes across diverse contexts as well but also underscore the importance of examining relevant sociocultural factors that might also contribute to the salience and strength of certain associations.

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