Parent Research

PhotoGiven the positive results of the ICPS studies, Shure and Spivack adapted the program to the home. To investigate the impact that a mother's means-ends skills have on her child's ICPS skills, the researchers administered a battery of tests measuring problem-solving skills and styles of handling problems that arise at home to 40 low-income African-American mothers of 4-year-olds. The tests that yielded the most interesting results involved child-related stories and child-rearing style.

Bullet Means-Ends Thinking: Child-Related Stories. Each mother was given the beginning and ending of a story depicting hypothetical problems between a mother and child, or between two children, and asked to explain what can happen in between to produce the outcome. For example, in one story, a child is depicted as unhappy and unmotivated to go out and socialize with his or her friends. The test scored the number of means to the stated goal (e.g., "Get him a toy and he'll want to go out and show it to the kids"), the number of obstacles (e.g., "But she can't afford a new toy right now" or "He's afraid the kids would break it"), and the number of statements of time the mother could produce (e.g., "For 3 days we talked about it, and he finally went out and talked with the kids").
Bullet Childrearing Style. Each mother was given six general categories of typical problems that arise in the home, such as a child wanting something he can't have or refusing a request. The mother was asked to relate, as best as she could, everything she said or did in that situation and everything her child said or did (or what might happen if the problem occurred). While no claim was made that mothers always reported exact details of what took place (although that was the stated intent), their reports were still an indication of their ability to think about handling problems that came up.

Test Results

The testing showed that a mother's means-ends skills regarding hypothetical child-related problems have a direct impact on her childrearing style, with high means-ends scorers being more likely to offer positive suggestions in real life and/or explanations of the impact of an act on another. Low means-ends scorers are more likely to handle real problems with negative punishment, threats, demands, and commands (Shure and Spivack, 1978). A mother's child-related means-ends problem-solving ability and her childrearing style were correlated with her child's ICPS skills. Curiously, in two studies, this occurred only if the child was a girl (Shure and Spivack, 1978). While one might conjecture that boys, no more deficient in their ICPS ability than girls, learn ICPS skills from their fathers, more than 75 percent of this sample came from homes in which the father was absent. Flaherty (1978) found that, among 30 low-income intact families, the same correlation existed between mothers and their 5-year-old daughters but not between fathers and either their daughters or sons, a finding replicated in the middle class by Howie (1977). Although the way boys acquire their ICPS skills has still not been identified, the question became whether mothers could learn to be effective training agents for their children and whether systematic ICPS intervention at home could equally affect the thinking skills and behavioral adjustment of boys and girls (for further discussion of the natural parental impact on a child's ICPS skills, see Shure and Spivack, 1978).

Preventing Violence Juvenile Justice Bulletin   ·  April 1999