Background Parents of children with intellectual disabilities (ID) typically report elevated levels of parenting stress, and child behaviour problems are a strong predictor of heightened parenting stress. Interestingly, few studies have examined child characteristics beyond behaviour problems that may also contribute to parenting stress. The present longitudinal study examined the contribution of child social skills to maternal parenting stress across middle childhood, as well as the direction of the relationship between child social skills and parenting stress.
Method Families of children with ID (n = 74) or typical development (TD) (n = 115) participated over a 2-year period. Maternal parenting stress, child behaviour problems and child social skills were assessed at child ages six and eight.
Results Child social skills accounted for unique variance in maternal parenting stress above and beyond child intellectual status and child behaviour problems. As the children matured, there was a significant interaction between child social skills and behaviour problems in predicting parenting stress. With respect to the direction of these effects, a cross-lagged panel analysis indicated that early parenting stress contributed to later social skills difficulties for children, but the path from children's early social skills to later parenting stress was not supported, once child behaviour problems and intellectual status were accounted for.
Conclusion When examining parenting stress, child social skills are an important variable to consider, especially in the context of child behaviour problems. Early parenting stress predicted child social skills difficulties over time, highlighting parenting stress as a key target for intervention.