Background The purpose of this research was to examine the manner in which multiple influences on child social adjustment operated together to predict differential outcomes for young children. Specifically, this study was designed to (i) examine the role of social cognitive and emotional factors in parents’ observed and self-reported behaviour towards their children, and (ii) investigate the impact of parenting and children’s social information processing (SIP) patterns on children’s subsequent social adjustment in the school setting.
Methods A model of children’s peer social adjustment was evaluated using a group of 166 children, over-sampled for history of physical child abuse. Assessment of constructs was multi-method, including parent and child self-reports as well as teacher reports of child adjustment and observations of parent–child and child–peer interactions.
Results Using structural equation modelling, support was found for our theoretical model. Specifically, parents’ negative child-related beliefs and clinical elevations in emotional distress were predictors of harsh, insensitive parenting, which in turn predicted children’s SIP operations and social maladjustment 6 months later. However, children’s SIP did not significantly predict their social adjustment above and beyond the impact of parenting.
Conclusions Results indicated that the quality of parenting that children received was more central to subsequent adjustment in peer interactions than were children’s SIP operations. Furthermore, the quality of parenting children experienced was closely linked to parents’ beliefs about their children and parents’ mental health status. Directions for future research and potential implications for clinical practice are discussed.