Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy

Research Article

The Impact of Parents' Expectations on Parenting Behaviour: An Experimental Investigation

Cathy Creswella1 c1, Thomas G. O'Connora2 and Chris R. Brewina3

a1 University of Reading, UK

a2 University of Rochester Medical Center, USA

a3 University College London, UK


Over-involved parenting is commonly hypothesized to be a risk factor for the development of anxiety disorders in childhood. This parenting style may result from parental attempts to prevent child distress based on expectations that the child will be unable to cope in a challenging situation. Naturalistic studies are limited in their ability to disentangle the overlapping contribution of child and parent factors in driving parental behaviours. To overcome this difficulty, an experimental study was conducted in which parental expectations of child distress were manipulated and the effects on parent behaviour and child mood were assessed. Fifty-two children (aged 7 – 11 years) and their primary caregiver participated. Parents were allocated to either a “positive” or a “negative” expectation group. Observations were made of the children and their parents interacting whilst completing a difficult anagram task. Parents given negative expectations of their child's response displayed higher levels of involvement. No differences were found on indices of child mood and behaviour and possible explanations for this are considered. The findings are consistent with suggestions that increased parental involvement may be a “natural” reaction to enhanced perceptions of child vulnerability and an attempt to avoid child distress.


c1 Reprint requests to Cathy Creswell, School of Psychology, University of Reading, Whiteknights, Reading, Berkshire RG6 6AL, UK. E-mail: