Imperial College London

Mums and dads ape their mothers' parenting style, suggests study


mother playing with young child

Mothers' and fathers' parenting behaviour is more likely to resemble their own mothers' than their fathers', according to a new study.

Researchers filmed 146 mothers and 146 fathers interacting with their young children, and used questionnaires to record their perceptions of the quality of parenting they received.

Parents whose mothers showed more affection showed more positive parenting behaviour with their own children, while those whose mothers were more controlling showed more negative parenting behaviour. The parenting behaviour of their fathers was not associated with how parents interacted with their children.

Warm and supportive parenting is associated with academic achievement, psychosocial development and emotional stability, while harsh parenting is associated with child aggression and conduct problems. But the extent to which parenting quality is transmitted from one generation to the next is unclear.

The new study, funded by the Wellcome Trust, is one of only a few to address this question by observing parents’ behaviour directly, looking at both positive and negative aspects of parenting in both mothers and fathers. The findings are published in the European Journal of Public Health.

Study author Dr Paul Ramchandani, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London, said: “Parenting plays a fundamental role in children’s development, affecting health, social and educational outcomes in later life, so it’s of utmost importance to society that we have a greater understanding of the complex issue of parenting behaviour.” 

The participants were recruited from maternity wards in Oxford and Milton Keynes as part of the Oxford Fathers Study, and followed up for two years from the birth of their child. They were filmed interacting with their children aged two at home.

Lead author Dr Vaishnavee Madden said: “The results should be interpreted with caution due to the various limitations of the study, but they suggest that interventions to help parents be more engaged and responsive could have longer-term benefits that aren’t currently appreciated.”


V. Madden et al. ‘Intergenerational transmission of parenting: findings from a UK longitudinal study.’ European Journal of Public Health DOI: First published online: 2 June 2015

See the press release of this article



Sam Wong

Sam Wong
School of Professional Development

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